The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘human rights

Pakistan Army accused of extrajudicial killings in Swat. Again.

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This video, which has been doing the rounds on the internet for over a week, allegedly depicts the Pakistani Army engaging in an extrajudicial execution of six unidentified men, purportedly in the Swat region. It was reported on blogs and Twitter, but the mainstream media was slow to pick it up, and most interestingly, so was Human Rights Watch.

Since then, it has been picked up by several agencies, and while it was also briefly linked to the Indian Army in Kashmir, most of the discussion seems in favour of declaring it the real Pakistani deal.

The New York Times report:

But American officials, who did not want to be identified because of the explosive nature of the video, said it appeared to be credible, as did retired American military officers and intelligence analysts who have viewed it.

After viewing the graphic video on Wednesday, an administration official said: “There are things you can fake, and things you can’t fake. You can’t fake this.”

Al Jazeera English has a better report that delves deeper into the video and its authenticity:

An organisation called the International Pashtuns’ Association posted the video on Facebook and says that the incident took place during the military’s crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley the summer of 2009.

The uniforms and rifles appear to be consistent with Pakistan’s standard military equipment, and a former Pakistani general told Al Jazeera that while the video could not be verified, the images should be taken seriously.

“We have to take it at face value at the moment, and take it seriously,” said Talat Masood. “My view is that the CIA and ISI are in a much better position to authenticate this.”

“It looks as though they are Pakistani troops, but there are several other aspects that need to be re-checked  before we can say that it is authentic.”

Human rights groups say the video fits in with “credible allegations” they have received about the conduct of Pakistani troops. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in June that 282 extra-judicial killings by the army had taken place in the Swat region in the past year.

The AJE report also includes responses from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who also say that the video is consistent with numerous reports in the past of the Pakistani Army engaging in such executions. Indeed, both HRW and the NYT have reported it in the past.

The Pakistani Army has, predictably, denied reports and declared the video fake.

The real question is over what fallout this will cause.

Reuters says that it could threaten US aid to Pakistan and includes a quote from State Department spokesman PJ Crowley: “Human rights and the issue of extra-judicial killings has been a part of our ongoing conversation … with Pakistan.” I’d say that quote pretty much sums up the US response, an “ongoing conversation” is vague enough to indicate some sort of action, but nothing concrete or real.

Scarecrow at Fire Dog Lake sums up the inconsistency in relation to drone attacks:

But then one must ask whether there is some moral or legal distinction between what the Pakistan forces are alleged to be doing, which if true would be an egregious crime and warrant protests from all civilized nations, and what our own military teams are doing when they observe a Pakistani village or group of individuals via drone cameras and then, from targeting rooms that may be located in the US, direct the drones to bomb and kill those individuals. Because I’m having a hard time seeing a meaningful difference.

Indeed, it is difficult to find a meaningful difference. Moreover, there’s the much publicised case of Anwar al-Awlaki, and reportedly three other US citizens, all of which are in line to be assassinated by the US Army. Legal challenges to these assassinations have been blocked by the Obama Administration by invoking the State Secrets doctrine to shield it form judicial review. And, of course, there’s the ongoing protection of those involved in Bush-era torture allegations.

So is the US going to withhold aid from Pakistan or take any real action over these killings? Hell no, there won’t even be a statement of condemnation. Why? Because obviously, the Obama Administration doesn’t care. It will put sanctions on Iranian diplomats for torture, but it’s not going to censure a key strategic ally for the war in Afghanistan. In this case, American exceptionalism must, to some extent, be extended to strategic allies.

So anyone looking for something concrete to come out of this, don’t hold your breath. Instead, just wait for it to blow over, as undoubtedly it will.

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Written by alexlobov

October 1, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Can Afghanistan have both Peace and Women’s Rights?

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TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “Reconciliation and Women’s Rights: Easier Said Than Done”.

recent report by Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Afghanistan to “ensure that all those who agree to the reconciliation process have made explicit their acceptance of the constitutional guarantees of equality for men and women.”

This is in reference to the planned dual processes of reconciliation, negotiations with high-level insurgent commanders, and reintegration, encouragement of lower level fighters to give up their arms.

However, how the government of Afghanistan is expected to achieve this is unclear. The weaknesses of the Karzai government and its many failures to adhere to the constitution in the past are mentioned several times in the report (specifically, pages 6, 34, and 43), as are the inherent contradictions in pursuing reconciliation with insurgent groups that are clearly ideologically opposed to any law that contradicts their version of Islamic law.

As activist Wazhma Frogh tells HRW, “President Karzai himself has done many things against the Afghan constitution. There have been hundreds of things — including illegal things — that were against the constitution. What was the result? Nothing happened.” If the government itself does not have a strong record of upholding the constitution, how can it be expected to do so after bringing the Taliban into the fold?

The HRW report is important because it brings attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in Afghanistan, particularly the disproportionate targeting of women by the Taliban and other insurgent organizations. A vivid and terrifying picture is painted of the fear these women must go through in just trying to live a normal life. A number of recommendations are made for what the major players in Afghanistan should do (on pages 59 to 64). Apart from the unwavering adherence to the constitution mentioned above, there are also recommendations for greater female representation in decision-making processes and a repealing of the Amnesty Law, which grants amnesty to individuals who committed war crimes before the war began in 2001.

However, it is difficult to read this report without coming to the conclusion that HRW’s recommendations are near impossible to implement. Great pains are taken to highlight the Taliban’s commitment to the brutal oppression of women and disdain for the constitution, and presumably they wouldn’t be so hot on a repeal of the Amnesty Law either. This is further coupled with a widely held belief that the main insurgent groups are not that interested in reconciliation in the first place.

Concerning women’s involvement in decision-making, the report argues that there is a prevailing culture of indifference among male Afghan decision makers, when it comes to upholding women’s rights, thus requiring adequate representation for women in the process itself. However, this is also a clear barrier to that representation, in the face of reconciliation efforts with insurgent groups even more violently misogynistic than any member of the government, it is unlikely that women’s representation in decision-making will be treated as a priority.

I applaud HRW’s work in drawing attention to the plight of Afghanistan’s women but when its recommendations for improving the situation are compared with the reality the NGO itself presents, it’s hard to envisage a situation where reconciliation is achieved and women’s rights, as well as general respect for the constitution, are upheld simultaneously.

Thus, we are left with another very important takeaway from this report. The reality is that these much needed recommendations may well be deal-breakers when it comes to reconciliation. Sadly, the emerging scenario is that something will have to give, and HRW is right to fear that it will probably be women who will suffer once again.

Written by alexlobov

July 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Indian Labourers in Dubai to get a new Code of Standards

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photo credit - limeasia.net

photo credit - limeasia.net

Well we’ve been a little obsessed with the Goldstone Report over here recently, which is all fine and dandy really because it’s kind of a big deal. There’ll be more to come on it but now for something slightly different.

The cause of migrant rights in the Gulf is a long standing one and there has been a lot written recently about the exploitation of migrants and the adverse working conditions under which they labour. For more of a background on the issue, I suggest you visit Mideast Youth as they do a lot of work and have some great information about the issue.

Having lived and worked in the Gulf myself, it’s an issue that I’ve come face to face with on numerous occasions, and the disparity between rights and lives of migrant workers in the Gulf is really quite confronting.

However, it seems changes may be afoot, as Abu Dhabi’s the National reports:

A set of minimum standards covering working and living conditions is to be introduced to protect Indian labourers from exploitation, and companies that breach them face action from the UAE and Indian governments.

In the Emirates, offending employers could be fined, banned from hiring expatriate workers or have their businesses downgraded.

While these changes are being worked out by the Indian and Emirati governments, meaning they will only be enforced on behalf of labourers from Indian (and not labourers from other countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, etc.) it is still an important step forward.

India’s ambassador to the UAE, Talmiz Ahmed, explains that these standards are not focusing on wages, or attempting to implement a minimum wage system, but rather more focused on living conditions:

“You may get good wages, but if you are living in squalid conditions, without air conditioning, eating inferior food or having to do long hours of compulsory overtime, you won’t be happy. So, living and working conditions are as important for me as minimum wages.”

There isn’t any word in the article when exactly these conditions will come into force or, indeed, how stringently they will be enforced. However it seems any implementation this year is unlikely as:

The embassy is looking for a company to prepare the software for the programme in time for it to be presented at the next conference of Indian ambassadors in New Delhi in November.

Mr. Ahmed also notes that increasingly, due to the economic downturn’s adverse effect on Dubai, more Indian labourers are leaving Dubai and heading for Abu Dhabi.

Written by alexlobov

September 19, 2009 at 5:00 pm