May 13, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It has been hailed as the first conviction for genocide of a former head of state in his own country, and certainly the first of a former Latin American strongman. Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted by a Guatemalan court on Friday for his participation in crimes against the Mayans during his rule in 1982 and 1983. Montt’s sentences were steep: 50 years for genocide and 30 for crimes against humanity.
As ever with genocide, evidence of an intentioned plan to destroy a race had to be shown. The three-judge panel led by Yassmin Barrios was satisfied that the definition had been made out, finding that there had been a clear and systematic plan to exterminate the Ixil people. Prosecutors allege that up to 1,700 of the Ixil Maya were killed, in addition to torture, rape and the destruction of villages. The acts had occurred as part of a policy of clearing the countryside of Marxist guerrillas and sympathisers.
The heart of the defence by Ríos Montt was that, as a political leader, Montt could not be held accountable for military matters conducted in a rural province some few hours northwest of the Guatemalan capital. “I never authorised it, I never signed, I never proposed, I never ordered that race, ethnicity or religion to be attacked. I never did it!” In this, Montt was echoing the sentiments of the Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was found constructively guilty for having not stopped the massacres that took place in the Philippines.
May 11, 2013 by Velani Dibba
In 2011, the actions of a young street vendor in Tunisia initiated a movement that reverberated throughout the Arab world. Bouazizi’s startling act of self-immolation highlighted the subdued political dissatisfaction brewing within the modern Arab state. Within weeks, the leadership of Tunisia had fallen to dissident forces, and one by one other nations followed suit. Hundreds of people were left dead in what many considered political martyrdom while US policymakers struggled to react to the sudden change in this Arab state.
As the Center for Strategic and International Studies observed, “the fact that no one had even appeared to entertain the possibility of events unfolding in the way they did raises troubling questions about the assumptions made about countries and the strength of the contingency plans put in place to deal with unexpected events.”
With Africa’s increasingly potent ties to the Middle East under the southern spread of Islam, the extension of Arab Spring’s effects into its sub-continental region could threaten US influence in what has historically been a region of Westernized colonialism, a growing example of globalization, and a testimony to the effects of aid on influence. Should the events of Arab Spring cause a significant impact on Sub-Saharan Africa, the US would be faced with either setting a precedent for other Western nations, or remaining silent in what could be a massive allegiance sector for the Middle East.
May 9, 2013 by Ramzy Baroud
As they spoke to a BBC correspondent in their run-down room which they call home in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a man sobbed as his 12-year-old daughter sat close to him. His face, wrinkled before its time, was a picture of utter anguish. It could only be understood by a parent whose child was dying under giant slabs of concrete where nothing could be done.
“If she is dead,” he said, “I just want to bury her with my own hands, so at least in my mind I know that I have finally found my daughter.” Then the despairing man succumbed to his uncontrollable tears.
His daughter Hamida had been working right along his other young daughter who had miraculously escaped the collapse of several factories in the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka on April 24.
May 2, 2013 by William Thomson
One of the most pressing issues currently facing Afghanistan is the difficult economic transition set to occur at the end of 2014. Although security is the concern that grabs headlines, it’s the economy, and the ability of the Afghan government to afford itself, that will determine the long-term success of the Afghan state. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to domestically source revenue to cover the military and security expenses it faces, let alone finance development and the social safety net, thus far provided largely by NGOs and donors nations, that the population has come to expect.
Although significant funding has been committed by donor nations it falls well short of the $10 billion a year through 2025 that President Hamid Karzai asked for. The $10 billion request represents significant figure for foreign donors, between 61% and 78% of GDP depending on which GDP estimates are used. The $4 billion committed by the international community at the 2012 Tokyo Donors Conference is not even a sure thing, as donor fatigue and historic failures to live up to development aid commitments are likely. This means, in the best-case scenario, that the government of Afghanistan would face a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion a year starting in 2014, but odds are it will be far greater.
April 27, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Mexico’s President Nieto was handed a poor set of cards when he assumed power last December. His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, was brought down by a bloody war against the drug cartels that led to more civilian deaths than the total number of U.S. troops killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Mexico’s GDP per capita shrank more than seven percent between 2008 and 2010. And Nieto received just 38 percent of the popular vote representing the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — which had a corrupt and authoritarian past for much of Mexico’s modern political history. While economic and security conditions have improved under his brief leadership, it cannot yet be said that President Nieto has earned the average Mexican’s trust, or that his honeymoon period will last.
Between December 2012 and March 2013, Mexico’s homicide rate decreased 14 percent year-on-year, but many Mexicans remain justifiably skeptical that this trend will continue given the ongoing drug-related violence in many parts of the country. Early in Calderon’s presidency, the national army was sent to confront the drug cartels and the homicide rate also declined, only to be followed by a surge in killings that cost more than 60,000 lives.
April 22, 2013 by Patrick Hall
Truth commissions are implemented in countries where the judicial system has been tainted by corruption and malfeasance, typically to find ways to defend or justify the perpetrators of human rights abuses. The recent decision to suspend the trial of Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala City illustrates the weakness and susceptibility of Guatemala’s judicial system.
Guatemala’s progression toward truth and reconciliation began during the 1994 Oslo Accords with the formation of the Historical Clarification Commission. The internationally sponsored commission was created to investigate human rights violations that occurred throughout the 36-year conflict. Its resulting evidence, based upon domestic and international documents, illustrated the state’s devastating assault on the country’s rural, primarily Mayan, communities.
After a five-year investigation, the commission found “that human rights violations caused by state repression were repeated, and…were…especially severe from 1978 to 1984.” Moreover, it was found that the bloodiest period of the civil war occurred “between 1981 and 1983,” where the military, commanded by then-President Efraín Ríos Montt, willingly “committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people.”
April 20, 2013 by Nicholas Parker
With the election of Enrique Peña Nieto late last year, Mexican voters demonstrated that their distrust of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was overshadowed by their anxieties surrounding the pressing issues facing the country. The PRI claims that its decades-long tenure during the 20th century means that it knows how to successfully run Mexico, and this time Mexican voters agreed by a substantial margin.
Setting arguments regarding its record aside, the PRI holds only a plurality in both houses, and so it remains to be seen whether it can be consistent and effective in forming the coalitions necessary to pass meaningful legislation. In his first four months in office Enrique Peña Nieto has quickly set the tone of his administration through a series of bold, attention-grabbing measures designed to build momentum and gain popularity. Nieto’s progress in taking on telecoms and television monopolies and reforming Mexico’s abhorrent education system has been meaningful and real; it is paramount, however, to not mistake substance for style.
Nieto is off to a good start, but if he is indeed serious about succeeding in his ambitions to raise Mexico’s annual growth rate to 6% and to nurture the country into a fully developed power, his battle for reform has only just begun.
April 18, 2013 by John Price
Nearly taken for granted by the West, education is a noble struggle in Somalia, requiring generous contributions from citizens and foreign donors to help ensure a future of stability and prosperity for Somali children.
Devastated by drought, famine and conflict in recent years, Somalia offers an arid, hardscrabble existence in which much of the populace subsists on just $1 per day. It has one of the lowest primary-school enrollment rates in Africa, and education is available to less than 20 percent of the country’s children. Only one-third of the students are girls.
But “with basic reading skills, a child has the opportunity to be lifted out of poverty,” says Hodan Guled, founder of the nonprofit Somali and American Fund for Education (SAFE).
April 18, 2013 by David H. Shinn
Adapted from Amb. David H. Shinn’s Speech to the Cosmopolitan Club in Manhattan.
Before making any predictions it is important to begin with a few basic assumptions about China that will also impact its relations with Africa. I believe China’s leadership will remain stable and in full control of the country through at least the Xi Jinping era. China’s focus will remain on ensuring domestic political stability and economic development. But structural challenges such as its aging demography, continued migration to cities, higher population growth rate as a result of loosening restrictions on the one child policy, higher labor costs, dangerous levels of income inequality, lack of a universal social security system, worsening environmental conditions, more severe weather events due to climate change, increasing domestic pressure for input on decision-making by ordinary Chinese, and growing global competition from other emerging nations will take their toll on China’s society and system of governance.
Nevertheless, China’s GDP growth rate will continue to out-perform the world average, but at a less impressive rate than during that past three decades. China will also maintain a high savings rate and contribute disproportionately to global economic growth. While it will try to change elements of the existing international order, it will operate within this system rather than try to replace it.
April 13, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
Talk about the death penalty as it is employed by states has been bubbling away of late. The battle against life continues in terms of how states wish to punish those who do not comply with their promulgated order.
Transgressors, depending on perceived severity of offence, are still up for the chop (or the shot, electric or otherwise). Amnesty International has issued its latest list of bloody reading on the death penalty and which states continue to use it. Disturbing, some countries have decided to renew use in it.
Naturally, the world’s greatest indulger of freedom – the United States – figures alongside one of the deemed rogues of international order – Iran. Extremes meet on the equal plane of policing and punishment. Talk about civilisation and difference on such points is babble. When it comes to treating citizens and guests in a certain way, various governments have form.
April 11, 2013 by John Price
President Obama’s plan to renew sanctions against Somalia to weaken Islamist militants would wrack the war-torn country’s economy just as an elected government is restoring stability for the first time in 22 years and as thousands of refugees are returning to their homeland. The sanctions, imposed in 2010, are scheduled to be lifted Friday. They prohibit charcoal exports a key source of funding for al-Shabab terrorists, whose grip on parts of Somalia has been loosened by U.N.-backed African Union forces.
Charcoal exports are also a basic economic resource that affects thousands of Somali villagers. In announcing to Congress his intention to extend sanctions for one year, Mr. Obama last week noted that his administration in January formally recognized Somalia’s new government, led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The U.S. action allows the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Somalia, as well as civilian and defensive military aid.
April 8, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
Times are exciting, and terrifying, for the Malaysian electorate. The voters will be going to the polls to consider the prospects of uncertain change or a continued embrace of the status quo, which resembles a decaying carcass of ill-promise. There are no dates in the pipeline as yet.
No election in Malaysia is ordinary, even if the result has always been the same ruling party – Barisan Nasional joined to the hip with the Malay-dominated Umno. Theatre is inevitable. Corruption is mandatory, confirmed in such studies as the Bribe Payers Survey conducted by Transparent International, which found in 2012 that Malaysian companies were the most likely in the world of business to take a bribe. Second in the study was Mexico.
Promise is dangled only to be withdrawn, leaving a politically stunted electorate confused. It has always been the same story – the ruling national front coalition threatened at stages but never overturned. But things are changing, and the minders of the status quo are worried. The People’s Alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, hovers with menacing promise after garnering a third of the Parliament’s seats in the 2008 polls. “For the first time in the country since 1957,” observes academic Clive Kessler of the University of New South Wales, “the prime minister and his government are fighting for political survival, for their political lives.”
April 5, 2013 by John Price
Mali’s upcoming July elections will be a defining moment — to unify the country, re-establish democratic institutions and restore the West African country’s territorial integrity. On Saturday, President Dioncounda Traore took the first step in the election process by announcing the formation of a Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission. “This puts the elections back on track,” said Mayor Yeah Samake of Ouelessebougou, a village near the capital, Bamako, and a leading presidential candidate.
Mayor Mahamadou Toure of Bourem Sidi-Amar, a village near the northern town of Timbuktu, said, “Politically, we are moving forward.” He noted Mr. Traore’s nomination of Mohamed Salia Sokona, a former defense minister and Malian ambassador to France, to lead the commission.
April 4, 2013 by Jort van Oosterhout
During the last three months, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, brazenly reached out to European leaders in a purported attempt to settle long drawn-out differences. Cooperation between the European Union (EU) and Minsk, which gained momentum after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, was put on ice after the rigged Presidential elections of 2010 and the subsequent crackdown on opposition protests. Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius revealed his discontent with the status quo when asked about Europe’s quarrel with Belarus.
Linkevičius claimed that a renewed dialogue between the two parties would bolster the EU’s influence over Minsk and increase its foothold within Belarusian society. While couched in notions of democracy, the Lithuanian position seems to be primarily driven by geopolitical concerns, and a deeper motive. Many countries within the Union’s eastern confines remain deeply suspicious of Russia’s strategic ambitions.
April 2, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
As the Times of India reports, India started granting product patents on medicines in 2005 with one striking proviso. New forms or variations of known substances could not fall under the patent umbrella unless they exhibited “enhanced efficacy”, terminology which has troubled foreign pharmaceutical firms. Section 3(d) of the Indian patent law is the magic provision that distinguishes India from the United States and the European Union in approaches to how those patents are to be determined. It also allows, much to the worry of pharmaceutical giants, standing to public interest groups to object to the grant of a patent.
It is for that reason that the Swiss company Novartis was refused a patent for the beta-crystalline form of imatinib mesylate, a drug used in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Novartis’ history with getting a patent in India on this drug is extensive, with an application for a patent filed as far back as 1998. After the passage of the legislation in 2005, the CPAA (Cancer Patients Aid Association) filed its opposition to the grant of a patent, citing the relatively high price Novartis was setting for its version of the drug (Glivec) at 130,000 rupees ($2400) a month against the considerably cheaper 8000 to 12000 rupees a month. The opposition did its trick, and Novartis’ patent application was refused by the Patent Office.