Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Ongoing Crisis in Syria

Fairly recently, the Syrian government used sarin gas against its own civilians in areas hostile to the government, killing over a thousand people. An agreement was reached in which Syria agreed to hand over their weapons. However, the issue remains that Syria is killing thousands of innocent people through more traditional means. The question is: Is this any more acceptable than killing innocent people with chemical weapons? Little action is being taken to stop the Syrian government from killing its own people without the use of chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons seemed to get the whole world up in arms because of their “indiscriminate” destructive force. What really needs to occur is some kind of international tribunal to prosecute the entities responsible for these killings. It is not enough for them to hand over the weapons that they used. They need to face justice for their horrendous actions.
            If the US presses for charges against Syria, several other countries will press charges against Israel for occupying land originally earmarked for the Palestinians. The situation presents itself as quite a stalemate. If one side acts, the other side will counter, so options are very limited. Israel is a strong ally of the US, so it would be very difficult to put them in a position where they could be vulnerable. To resolve the issue of Syria killing its own people without taking military action, very smart and pragmatic policy must be enacted. We must recognize that things are not perfect as are, but also realize all possible ramifications for different courses of action.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cause I'm a Gypsy. Are You Coming With Me?

Little Maria is the girl with no identity. She was found in a Gypsy settlement harboring with adults whom authorities believe are not her biological parents. The reason why? Simply because of her blonde hair and blue eyes amidst the dark-haired Romani culture.

Lately, there has been much spotlight on the Gypsy culture, both good and bad. With shows like, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, it is easy for people to get a skewed outlook on Gypsies. The show
boasts big, lavish dresses, beautiful young Romani marriages, and wild wedding receptions that usually end with the first fight. However, most Gypsies can not afford to have this life. The majority have little education and live in poverty, settled in “gypsy camps” throughout Europe. They make their homes out of plastic, mud, and ruins. Those who are more financially able can afford a mobile home.

Throughout the years, European authorities have been cracking down on gypsy settlements illegally placed on government land. They arrive with no notice and bulldoze the entire site, forcing the Gypsy to find a new home. Hence is how they afforded their nickname, “travelers”. This spotlight leads to an inside look on the actual culture. It is shown through technology such as the television and the internet.

It is easy for one to come to the conclusion that the Romani are an oppressed culture, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They encase a lively spirit twined into them through decades of tradition and history. Although most have a negative of of the Romani, one should still take it upon him or herself to question the ethics of their removal. In many ways, little Maria represents the Romani culture as a whole: without a true identity, possibly stolen, and often neglected.

Gypsy Camp Sarajevo
‘Cause I’m a Gypsy. 
Are you coming with me?
I might steal your clothes 
and wear them if they fit me.
Never made agreements, 
just like a Gypsy.
And I won’t back down 
‘cause life’s already bit me.
And I won’t cry. 
I’m too young to die 
if you’re gonna quit me.
‘Cause I’m a Gypsy.”
- Gypsy by Shakira

Friday, October 25, 2013

Shocked that U.S. is Violating Human Rights?

When the industry for drone creation began in the United States back in 2011, no one thought it would lead to breaking news articles that read: “Will I be Next? U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan.” The whole idea and investment behind drone strikes is to fuel the counterattack on terrorism in the Middle East and to fight Al-Qaeda without use of actual U.S. soldiers. But, according to other sources, they have done everything but that. The human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released a report, saying that this newly funded program is unlawfully killing innocent bystanders in Pakistan and Yemen. The report investigates several of the forty-five drone strikes that have occurred and have disclosed information that some of the victims hit by the drones were not the intended Al-Qaeda or Taliban targets, and instead civilians.
                And to make matters worse, the organizations are having issues gathering information about the drone strikes due to the lack of U.S. government effort to address the problem at hand. “The Amnesty report suggests that the U.S. could possibly be committing international war crimes on account of some of the drone strikes that have occurred.” Unfortunately, these accusations will continue if the U.S. government continues to fail to make a statement about the issue. This could also lead to more people joining the opposition in the war on terror if what is being said is true. If these awful killings continue without someone taking responsibility the U.S. government may find itself in a serious “hot seat.”
                I think that the purpose of this drone project is one that is very important in determining the possible livelihood of many American soldiers, but if in the process, we are not doing what is humanely right, the problem needs to be fixed before it escalates any further. Before all the fingers are pointed at us.

Senegal: Thousands Urgently Need Pain Relief

You’re waiting and waiting and finally the doctor gives you a diagnosis: you have cancer. But what does that have to with human rights? In Senegal, tens of thousands of patients suffer from agonizing pain with no relief in sight. According to a report entitled “Abandoned in Agony: Cancer and the struggle for Pain Treatment in Senegal,” 70,000 people in Senegal are in need of pain relief care due to chronic, life-threatening diseases such as cancer. Morphine is an indispensable and cheap drug for treatment of severe pain. However, surprisingly, Senegal only imports enough morphine to treat 200 cancer patients. Furthermore, the medication is only available to people in the nation’s capital, Dakar, making it practically impossible for patients in more rural areas to gain access.

But if the drug is inexpensive, why can’t Senegal just buy more? Doctors’ lack of training, poor drug supply, and unnecessarily strict regulations for importing medication are the main reasons for Senegal’s lack of pain relief medication for patients in need. According to Human Rights Watch, denying access to pain relief may result in a violation of the right to health under international law and the Senegalese Constitution, as well as a violation of the strict prohibitions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

It’s not as though the medication is being requested for people who don’t deserve it or even for people with serious short-term pain, like broken bones. Far from it. These people are suffering from excruciating and long term pain that will not disappear anytime soon. When one’s life becomes centered around the pain one feels, life cannot be enjoyed and is hardly even bearable. Although lack of pain medication is not normally what comes to mind when one thinks of human rights violations, it is a serious problem that could be remedied with better rules and regulations regarding medication distribution and would save thousands of Senegalese from unnecessary suffering.

I Can Predict the Future, or Maybe Just Guess the Future

Azerbaijan, a small country near Georgia and Iran, is governed under a president who took over from his father and is periodically reelected by a "fair" vote. By hosting the most recent election, current President Ilham Aliyev attempted to silence activists who were protesting his restrictive ways, policies, and laws.
In the election, they attempted to switch to an electronic voting system which in turn backfired by exposing a clear rigging in the system and the votes. The electronic application accidently revealled the results in a landslide win for incumbent President Ilham Aliyev. However, revealling the results and vote tallies is not typically a big issue except when the voting has not actually openned yet.
This is not the response most people, especially activists and protestors, wanted from a country recently added to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The revalling of these fake results signify that the current Azerbaijani government had plans to fake the election in order to feign the publics rights to vote for their elected officials.
Now that this has been leaked to the world, it is brought to the world's public eye that these human rights violations still are prevelant. We often forget that others do not have the same priviledges and rights that we have here in America. We have always had the right to vote for our officials fairly. Furthermore, we have a bipartisan government to give us even more choice in our government and how we are ruled and governed.
Lastly, we are also further priviledged that these rights are not in danger here in America. There are rarely activists or protestors outside the polls in any section of the country. The Azerbaijani government attempted to stop these protestors from accomplishing their goals by providing the electronic voting method, but it was all a public-pleasing fake plan.

The Fukushima Problem

The aftermath of an tragedy is always a hotbed for problems. This is mainly because the tragedy overshadows all issues and becomes the center of media attention. Media coverage is a zero sum game; when you run a story it means that you are not running a competing story. However tragedies can sometimes have a positive effect by shining a spotlight on the difficulties a country is facing thus allowing the increased attention to provide an impetus for change.

Japan is currently facing some of the issues that come after a great tragedy. The Fukushima earthquake was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that caused widespread damage and greatly affected a nuclear powerpoint. Radiation was released leading to the formation of a UN special committee to determine the safety and future of the area.  

The human rights issue at the heart of this situation is whether the government should evacuate the region because the radiation is harmful. The Japanese government is at a precarious position, the Fukushima region is economically important and mass evacuations would be both politically and economically untenable. Yet ethically it seems that even the slightest chance of harm should supercede any replaceable economic interests. Governments have always faced these types of questions; having to weigh the interests of particular groups of people versus the overall interest of the group. While no right answer exists the terrible harms of radiation would suggest that an evacuation is in the best interests of all.

The Roadblock to Islamic Women's Equality

     The oppression of women in Middle East has long plagued the region. What is worse is that at a time when human rights and equality for all is at the forefront of societal issues, Muslim women feel even more patronized and repressed, as their equality for them has not made any strides.
     The blatant subjugation of women isn't more clear than in Saudi Arabia. The biggest issue is that the government of Saudi Arabia allows patriarchy to dictate how it rules over its citizens. For example, female citizens are assigned a legal male guardian who can legally marry her off to whoever he chooses, ban her from education, and approve whether she can travel internationally.
     The inability of women to drive or get transportation is a huge deterrent for them from pursuing education, following a career, or even maintaining their health. What is so infuriating for women is that when government officials are asked about the driving ban, they answer that it is not based in legal or Islamic laws, but simply social conventions. However when women try to drive, the police step in, not society. The women who violate the driving ban are usually taken to the nearest police station and forced to sign a pledge with her legal male guardian to ensure she won't do it again.
     There have already been several attempts to try and lift the ban on women driving, such as proposals to the council and petitions sent to the Royal Court. However, these proposals were never even allowed to be discussed. In 1990, 47 women drove on the streets in protest of the ban on driving. They were met with job suspensions and travel bans by the government. Finally, a Saudi woman named Manal Al Sharif made a Youtube video trying to unite women to join her in driving their own cars. She was imprisoned for over a week for her actions.
     Tomorrow, October 26th, The Women Driving Campaign will try to fight against the driving ban. It is the first real civil movement to occur in Saudi Arabia, and the petition has been written by over 30 unrelated people. 
     The campaign has a Youtube channel and Instagram account for signatories to upload their driving videos, photos, and arguments against the ban. Everyone who signs the petition is regarded as an organizer and leader who is boldly stepping forward to act in support of the campaign. By permeating through society, the campaign will make the argument for the government to stop considering the ban and subsequent female inequality as a societal or legal excuse.

Credibility of UN Findings on the Fukushima Community after 2011 Reactor Meltdown

Of all the nations in eastern Asia, I think it would be fairly safe to say that Japan is the most modernized and westernized. However, no matter how technologically advanced the nation is or how much the neon signs and buildings in Tokyo glow, there is little to be done to best Mother Nature when she throws an earthquake and a tsunami at you. (I will say that it is quite the testament to the advancement of that country though that they were able to bounce back from a triple disaster: earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor meltdown, and not devolve into utter chaos). Two years after that March 2011 devastation, a UN scientific report being compiled on the effects of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant has come under criticism from human rights groups.
                The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) presented findings that an "increased incidence of radiation-related health effects" should not be expected around Fukushima, or in layman's terms, the radiation levels are not out of the norm enough to be detrimental to the population. UN special rapporteur (different from just a reporter; rapporteurs are appointed by the UN and report on proceedings of an issue) on the right to health Anand Grover, however, claims that the data in the report is insufficient to state that there will be no bad health effects. Grover made his own findings "from a human rights perspective" when he flew to Japan in November 2012.
                Mari Inoue of the Human Rights Now organization says that the committee needs to take into account and further study workers exposed to radiation along with involving the communities in future response and action.
                So the issues that remain and seem to be recurring themes in this class are determining who can be considered an authority on a topic,who or what work is credible, and how should information be disseminated. I have trouble agreeing with Grover because although he does have public interests in mind, after doing a little research on him, I found that he specialized in HIV research, so nuclear science is somewhat out of his realm whereas UNSCEAR is composed of 27 nations, meaning at least 27 different scientists whose educations and/or careers have focused on nuclear energy. If it were not a scientific committee working on this, if it were instead just a government committee, I would be concerned with some kind of underlying political agenda running its course in the committee's findings because usually there typically is one. However, I like to believe that the scientific community, not just in the US but the global scientific community, is not one that likes to be involved with government or politics unless it involves passing laws for improving the environment or to get research/project funding. Thus, I wouldn't imagine that this committee would be willing to risk the safety of the communities around Fukushima. Furthermore, UN special reporters are only allowed to investigate within a country if that country's government allows it, so for Japan to let Grover in means that they more than likely have the public's interests at heart as well.
                 I do think that involving the communities around the plant is key in determining how to proceed with future actions from the UN and the Japanese government. When you can get first-hand, unfiltered accounts, it is typically best to use it. Also, Grover isn't unfounded in taking extra precautions. I'm not really questioning the merits of any of the figures in this article, but it does bring to mind the problem of who to consider an authority on certain issues. Just because you are named an expert or assigned to a specific position, does that make you qualified to be a proliferator of news and decisions about it, especially if it involves a group of people? We somewhat saw that with Adam Johnson and The Orphan Master's Son and how critics questioned how he could have the "audacity" or "authority" to write from the point of view of a group of people he isn't associated with. With Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi stated in interviews that her book is not a biography, but of course most parts were based on true events, which raises another question of what and how much to take in as truth when information/media is dispensed.