Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jewish Holocaust / Bystanders to Genocide

"Toy Nazi figurines in this exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum." (Drew Angerer/The New York Times)
Bystanders, Not So Innocent
By Edward Rothstein
The New York Times, April 25, 2013
"Whatever larger themes are sounded when the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum commemorates its 20th anniversary here this weekend, whatever is said at a Monday ceremony by former President Bill Clinton or by the museum's founding chairman, Elie Wiesel, and whatever assessments are made about its influence, accomplishments or limitations, it will take a visit to its new exhibition, 'Some Were Neighbors,' to grasp one aspect of this imposing institution's power. It reveals the demonic not in grand forces, but in the most minute details. In one video interview, for example, a Lithuanianwitness, Regina Prudnikova, recalls that before the massacres, she cared for a Jewish child in her town, Pilviskiai. But, 'I was very young and had a very red face,' she explains, and was 'on the chubby side.' That wasn’t good. 'I was told that Jews cut you and take your blood.' She stopped baby-sitting. She now mocks such beliefs, but her tone becomes uncertain: 'I know that they say the Jews can't live without Christian blood. During their holidays they had to have at least a drop of that blood to taste.' Then, the recollection returns. The Jews were taken away and shot, their homes plundered. And we see a photograph of a wagon piled with loot being auctioned to passers-by. Or listen to Stanislaw Ochman, who transported the Jews of his village, Zdunska Wola, in Poland, in a wooden wagon to the cemetery where they were murdered. The children, holding their mothers' skirts, were often too short for the raked gunfire, and fell into the pit, still clinging, as soil was piled atop them.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Japan / Second World War

"Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo April 19, 2013." (Reuters/Yuya Shino)
Japan PM Abe's War Shrine Offering Likely to Infuriate China
Reuters dispatch, April 21, 2013
"Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a ritual offering of a pine tree to a shrine seen as a symbol of Japan's former militarism on Sunday, a gesture likely to upset Asian victims of Japan's war-time aggression, including China and South Korea. Abe, an outspoken nationalist, offered the tree to the Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honored along with other war dead. Abe did not visit the shrine. Abe, who became prime minister for a second time after his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) election win in December, is unlikely to visit the shrine as he seeks to rebuild relationships with China and South Korea. Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply in September after Japan bought islets in the East China Sea claimed by Beijing, sparking anti-Japanese protests across China. Ties have been shadowed for years by what Beijing says has been Tokyo's refusal to admit to wartime atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in the country between 1931 and 1945. Memories of brutal Japanese occupation also run deep in North and South Korea. Two Japanese ministers and deputy chief cabinet secretary visited the shrine this weekend, as did Abe as main opposition party leader in October. 'It is natural for a lawmaker to offer condolences for the spirits of those who gave their lives for the country,' said Keiji Furuya, minister in charge of the issue of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals, who visited on Sunday, as did Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato. Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Yoshitaka Shindo visited on Saturday."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]

Friday, April 19, 2013

Serbia / Kosovo / European Union

"From left: Prime Minister Ivica Dacic of Serbia, Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of Kosovo." (Pool photo by Yves Logghe)
Serbia and Kosovo Reach Milestone Deal
By Dan Bilefsky
The New York Times, April 19, 2013
"Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement on Friday aimed at overcoming ethnic enmities in the former Serbian province, a milestone that could enhance stability in the region and help clear the path for their eventual membership in the European Union. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, told reporters that the prime ministers of both countries had initialed an agreement during talks in Brussels, marking the end of six months of often heated negotiations. European Union countries meeting Monday in Brussels will decide whether to give Serbia the go-ahead to start negotiations for its entry into the bloc, and analysts said the accord was likely to swing a decision in Serbia's favor. Under the agreement, Serbs in the small majority-Serb area in northern Kosovo will gain more autonomy in return for the Serbian government's recognizing the authority of the Kosovo government. Misha Glenny, a leading Balkan expert, said the potent symbolism of Serbs and ethnic Albanians casting aside their differences could help spur regional reconciliation, in particular in ethnically divided Bosnia, where lingering divisions have impeded progress. 'This remarkable deal demonstrates that the Balkans, once known as the powder keg of Europe, can change and develop in a positive direction,' he said. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008, nearly a decade after NATO bombs helped push out forces under the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Guatemala / Genocide Tribunals

In Guatemala, A Twist as Genocide Trial Nears End
By Daniel Hernandez
The Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2013
"On the first day of trial, a witness named Bernardo Bernal recounted how, as a 9-year-old in the spring of 1983, he hid in a stream and watched Guatemalan soldiers kill his parents and two younger brothers. On the second day of testimony in Guatemala City, a man named Pedro Chavez Brito described how soldiers found him and his siblings hiding in a traditional sauna in their village on Nov. 4, 1982. His sister was carrying a newborn. '"You are a guerrilla, you gave food to the guerrillas," they said to my sister,' the witness said, according to an unofficial transcript of the genocide case in Guatemala. Soldiers tied his sister to the stairs of the house and set fire to it, killing her, her children and perhaps six other relatives, Chavez Brito testified. Another witness said soldiers used an old woman's severed head as a soccer ball. The litany of terrors recalled in the genocide trial of former Guatemalan President Gen. Efrain Rios Montt has been relentless. The proceedings have been widely hailed by human rights groups as an important reckoning with the past, a rare prosecution of a former Latin American military dictator for war crimes in his own country. But on Thursday, nearly a month into the trial, the case suffered a potentially devastating setback. In a stunning turn, a judge from a different court granted an appeal from Rios Montt's defense to annul the entire case based on a technicality. That ruling in effect shut down the genocide trial and may force it to start all over. Prosecutors said they would appeal the decision. 'This is an absolute abuse of power, it is illegal, and of course we are going to appeal,' Arturo Aguilar, an aide to the attorney general, said shortly after the ruling. The uncertainty angered survivors, families and human rights advocates who had been attending day after day of wrenching testimony.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guatemala / Genocide Tribunals

"Guatemala's ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, attends the 19th day of his trial in the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City April 16. Montt is the first Latin American strongman to be tried on genocide charges." (Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters)
Guatemalan Court Faces Calls to Halt Former Dictator's Genocide Trial
By Romina Ruiz-Goiriena
The Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2013
"Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is the first Latin American strongman to be tried on genocide charges. The landmark case has garnered worldwide attention, presented expert testimony from three continents, and already made history books. International observers, diplomats, and indigenous survivors alike have packed the Supreme Court building every day since the trail began on March 19. A vast majority is astounded the watershed case moved forward in a nation overrun by crime and impunity. But as the verdict nears, sectors of Guatemalan society and leading figures including President Otto Pérez Molina oppose the trial. They deny genocide took place during the country's 36-year-civil war and warn a guilty verdict could throw the country into chaos. Guatemala experts say this is because politicians have made little progress reconciling the country since the signing of the peace accords in 1996. They agree that political maneuverings so close to the trial's end threatens Guatemala's fragile democracy and could derail the Central American nation's best shot at justice. 'This trial has the potential to expose the deep-rooted racism of Guatemalan society,' says Anita Isaacs, professor of political science at Haverford College. 'It is enormously threatening to those who have historically benefited from it.' Mr. Ríos Montt seized power in a March 23, 1982 coup that gave way to the bloodiest period of Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war. For years Ríos Montt avoided prosecution as a congressman, protected by a law that grants immunity to public officials. A judge charged the 86-year-old retired general in January 2012. The attorney general's office alleges Ríos Montt oversaw the torture, rape, and forced disappearances of 1,771 indigenous Ixils in 15 massacres between 1982 and 1983. The war left 200,000 people dead and more than 45,000 disappeared, mostly indigenous Mayans, according the United Nations.

Friday, April 12, 2013

D.R. Congo / Rape as a Crime against Humanity

"Congo: an army sergeant who says he was ordered to rape by his commanding officer." (Fiona Lloyd-Davies)
Congo: We Did Whatever We Wanted, Says Soldier Who Raped 53 Women
By Pete Jones
The Guardian, April 11, 2013
"In a small house on a hill overlooking Lake Kivu, a young Congolese soldier recounts the crimes he and his comrades committed in Minova a few months ago. 'Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,' he said. 'I've raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old. I didn't rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,' says 22-year-old Mateso (not his real name). 'When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted.' As William Hague unveiled a sexual violence prevention strategy at a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in London this week, what happened in Minova is a stark reminder of the huge challenges facing those seeking to solve the problem of rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo . On 22 November last year thousands of exhausted, battered and bruised Congolese army troops descended on the town having just lost a battle with the rebel M23 fighters in Goma, the main city in eastern Congo some 30 miles away. Their retreat was haphazard and chaotic. The soldiers were embarrassed, angry, upset and out of control; their commanders had disappeared and the battalion and regiment structures had disintegrated. When they arrived in Minova they were drunk, hungry and violent. The locals suffered two nightmarish days of looting, rape and murder before the army restored some discipline among its troops. Hundreds of women were raped.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Myanmar-Burma / Rohingya

"Smoke rises as people look on in Meikhtila on March 21, 2013, when 25 Muslims were killed in a massacre led by Buddhist monks." (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)
Myanmar Massacre Fuels Fears of Ethnic Cleansing
by Jason Szep
The Globe and Mail, April 10, 2013
"The Buddhist monk grabbed a young Muslim girl and put a knife to her neck. 'If you follow us, I'll kill her,' the monk taunted police, according to a witness, as a Buddhist mob armed with machetes and swords chased nearly 100 Muslims in this city in central Myanmar. It was Thursday, March 21. Within hours, up to 25 Muslims had been killed. The Buddhist mob dragged their bloodied bodies up a hill in a neighbourhood called Mingalarzay Yone and set the corpses on fire. Some were found butchered in a reedy swamp. A Reuters cameraman saw the charred remains of two children, aged 10 or younger. Ethnic hatred has been unleashed in Myanmar since 49 years of military rule ended in March 2011. And it is spreading, threatening the country's historic democratic transition. Signs have emerged of ethnic cleansing, and of impunity for those inciting it. Over four days, at least 43 people were killed in this dusty city of 100,000, just 128 kilometres north of the capital of Naypyitaw. Nearly 13,000 people, mostly Muslims, were driven from their homes and businesses. The bloodshed here was followed by Buddhist-led mob violence in at least 14 other villages in Myanmar's central heartlands and put the Muslim minority on edge across one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries. An examination of the riots, based on interviews with more than 30 witnesses, reveals the dawn massacre of 25 Muslims in Meikhtila was led by Buddhist monks -- often held up as icons of democracy in Myanmar. The killings took place in plain view of police, with no intervention by the local or central government. Graffiti scrawled on one wall called for a 'Muslim extermination.' Unrest that ensued in other towns, just a few hours’ drive from the commercial capital of Rangoon, was well-organized, abetted at times by police turning a blind eye. Even after the March 21 killings, the chief minister for the region did little to stop rioting that raged three more days. He effectively ceded control of the city to radical Buddhist monks who blocked fire trucks, intimidated rescue workers and led rampages that gutted whole neighbourhoods.

Myanmar-Burma / Rohingya

"A woman cries for her home, burnt down during the riot in Meiktila in March." (Associated Press)
"They Stood Shouting At Us to Come Out and Be Killed": Anti-Muslim Violence in Central Burma Has Left Thousands of People Homeless
By Peter Popham
The Independent, April 9, 2013
"In a wilderness of scorched rubble and twisted corrugated iron, a woman with wilted jasmine flowers in her hair was trying to locate what was left of her life. Ma Khin Aye lost her home and all her possessions when an anti-Muslim mob -- including Buddhist neighbours with whom she had been friendly for years -- set fire to it, along with all the others in the block in the central Burmese city of Meiktila. Armed with sticks and iron bars they then stood in the street, threatening to murder the terrified residents as they fled. Ma Khin Aye, 48, escaped the flames with her aged mother, who was almost comatose with shock. She braved the mob, got her mother on to the back of a scooter and took her to hospital. A week later, she came back to the ruins, rooting through the rubble to see if anything could be salvaged. While she did so, youths were looting the neighbourhood. They took anything of value that remained . Meiktila had been under army lockdown for a week, but neither the soldiers nor the police were there to stop them. 'I have no enemies. I have been living here for a long time,' Ma Khin Aye, who is unmarried and sells toys in a local market, told The Independent. 'Our communities have always been friendly: nothing like this has ever happened. At Thingyan [Burmese New Year] they would invite us into their homes; we would invite them into ours for Eid.' Who started the attacks? 'Some of them were strangers -- but when they wanted to find the homes of the kalar [Muslims], it was local people who brought them here. They stood there with sticks, shouting, "Come out, kalar, and we will kill you ..."'.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Israel / Iran / Anti-Semitism

Iran's Incitement to Genocide
By Michael Gerson
The Washington Post, April 4, 2013
"Over the years, Americans have come to discount statements on Israel and Zionism by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Repetition has rendered them unremarkable. Israel must be 'wiped off the map.' Zionism is a 'germ of corruption' that 'will be wiped off the face of the earth.' It is a 'cancer cell' that must be 'removed from the body.' The Zionist regime is 'heading toward annihilation.' 'They should know that they are nearing the last days of their lives.' 'Israel is destined for destruction and will soon disappear.' One is tempted to add: blah, blah, blah. It is easy to dismiss this rhetoric as being designed for domestic consumption. And soon after Iran's June election, Ahmadinejad will be out of a job -- history’s most persuasive argument in favor of term limits. But the problem is this: Ahmadinejad's language is not exceptional within the Iranian regime. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also has referred to Israel as a 'cancerous tumor.' 'The perpetual subject of Iran,' he has explained, 'is the elimination of Israel from the region.' 'There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state.' In recent weeks, Khamenei has promised, if the Iranian nuclear program is attacked, to 'level down Tel Aviv and Haifa.' Senior Iranian military leaders, presidential advisers and religious authorities can be quoted endlessly in a similar vein. Zionists are 'microbes' and 'bacteria' and a 'cancerous growth.' 'Jews are very filthy people,' who are responsible for spreading disease and drug abuse. There is a religious duty to 'fight the Jews and vanquish them so that the conditions for the advent of the Hidden Imam will be met.' Such arguments are deeply embedded in the Iranian regime -- as a statement of mission, an organizing principle. This won't be changed by a single election.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast Begins Exhuming Mass Graves
"Ivorian authorities have begun exhuming dozens of mass graves dating back to the country's 2011 post-election violence. The exercise started on Thursday as a new report accused Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast's president, of failing to bring his supporters to justice for crimes they allegedly committed during the conflict. Justice Minister Gnenema Coulibaly presided over the exhumations, observing a moment of silence at the site before digging started at the first grave on the grounds of a mosque in Abidjan's Yopougon district. The grave contained the bodies of four men aged 17 to 35, who were killed at the height of the violence in April 2011 while defending the mosque against supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo. More than 3,000 people died over a period of five months after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara in the November 2010 election. Addressing religious leaders and relatives of the men who died at the mosque, Coulibaly said 'the prevailing security situation' during the conflict made proper funerals impossible for many families. A government census identified 57 graves for exhumation in the commercial capital Abidjan alone, many of which contain multiple bodies. The graves together are believed to contain more than 400 bodies. The exhumation process will eventually extend throughout the country, Coulibaly said. Yopougon was a flashpoint during the violence, and Coulibly said 36 of the 57 graves identified in Abidjan were located in the district.

United Kingdom / Violence against Alternative Subcultures

"Sophie Lancaster: died after being attacked in a park in 2007."
Goths, Emos and Punks Designated Victims of Hate Crimes
The Irish Times, April 4, 2013
"A [British] police force has begun recording offences against members of alternative subcultures as hate crimes. Greater Manchester Police is believed to be the first force to add abuse towards groups such as goths, emos and punks in the same way they do attacks based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity. Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: 'People who wish to express their alternative sub-culture identity freely should not have to tolerate hate crime.' A police spokesman said: “From April 2013 Greater Manchester Police also now records alternative sub-culture related hate crime. 'We have done this following work we have carried out in partnership with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, as we feel that adding this extra category of hate crime will help us better understand how some people are suffering from crimes because of their appearance, and better respond to the needs of victims of crime. You can let Greater Manchester Police know about an alternative sub-culture hate crime via the national True Vision on-line reporting form -- simply select "other" as a category and write alternative sub-culture in the box provided.' Miss Lancaster (20), was kicked and stamped to death because she was dressed as a goth in a park in Bacup, Lancashire, in August 2007. She slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. The foundation is campaigning to get hate crimes laws expanded to include 'alternative subcultures or lifestyle and dress' and has gained support from musicians including Gary Numan and Courtney Love. There are no immediate plans to change the national hate crimes register, but last year Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone acknowledged that the five recognised categories of hate crime was 'an incomplete list'."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]

Monday, April 01, 2013

China / Structural Violence

"Shanghai in January. Researchers said the toll from China’s pollution meant the loss of 25 million healthy years in 2010." (Aly Song/Reuters)
Air Pollution Linked to 1.2 Million Premature Deaths in China
By Edward Wong
The New York Times, April 1, 2013
"Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total, according to a new summary of data from a scientific study on leading causes of death worldwide. Figured another way, the researchers said, China’s toll from pollution was the loss of 25 million healthy years of life from the population. The data on which the analysis is based was first presented in the ambitious 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, which was published in December in The Lancet, a British medical journal. The authors decided to break out numbers for specific countries and present the findings at international conferences. The China statistics were offered at a forum in Beijing on Sunday. 'We have been rolling out the India- and China-specific numbers, as they speak more directly to national leaders than regional numbers,' said Robert O'Keefe, the vice president of the Health Effects Institute, a research organization that is helping to present the study. The organization is partly financed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the global motor vehicle industry. What the researchers called 'ambient particulate matter pollution' was the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths in China in 2010, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure and smoking. Air pollution ranked seventh on the worldwide list of risk factors, contributing to 3.2 million deaths in 2010. By comparison with China, India, which also has densely populated cities grappling with similar levels of pollution, had 620,000 premature deaths in 2010 because of outdoor air pollution, the study found. That was deemed to be the sixth most common killer in South Asia.

Democratic Republic of the Congo / United Nations

"Congolese refugees at a camp in South Kivu were displaced this month by clashes between rebels and Congolese Army troops." (Jana Asenbrennerova/Reuters)
UN Approves New Force to Pursue Congo's Rebels
 "The United Nations Security Council authorized a new 'intervention brigade' for the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday with an unprecedented mandate to take military action against rebel groups to help bring peace to the eastern portion of the country. The resolution, which the Council adopted unanimously, gives the brigade a mandate to carry out offensive operations alone or with Congolese Army troops to neutralize and disarm militant groups. The intervention brigade will be the first such unit created within a traditional United Nations peacekeeping force. But the resolution states clearly that it will be established for one year 'on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping.' The resolution, sponsored by France, the United States and Togo, says the 'intervention brigade' must have 'a clear exit strategy.' It says the Council will determine its continued presence based on its performance and according to whether Congo has made sufficient progress in improving its security sector and creating a Congolese 'rapid reaction force' that can take over responsibility for neutralizing armed groups and reducing the threat they pose to civilians and the government's authority. A United States deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, said coordination between the military and civilian sides of the United Nations mission remained crucial to ensuring the protection of women and children, and to preventing 'the continuation of the horrible streak of sexual violence' in Congo.