News Monitor for July 2002
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NYT 14 July 2002 A Hint of the Coming Battle for Africa's Future By RACHEL L. SWARNS DURBAN, South Africa THE trumpets blared, the drums thundered and Africa's leaders democrats and despots alike gathered here last week to proclaim a new era of democracy, stability and good governance. "This is the place to draw the line on the past," said President John Kufuor of Ghana, who came to celebrate the birth of the African Union, a new regional group that requires its members 53 presidents and prime ministers to renounce corruption, conflict and autocracy. Cynics rolled their eyes. There, alongside the progressive presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, stood Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, who has yet to hold a single election during nearly 33 years in power in Libya. The longtime leaders of Kenya and Zimbabwe, both accused of jailing critics and manipulating polls, shared the stage with Nelson Mandela, the beloved first black president under South Africa's multiracial democracy. Many fear the autocrats will sabotage the aspirations of the new union. But others argue that the awkward juxtaposition of reformers and recalcitrants offers a rare glimpse of the battle simmering over the future. After a flurry of multiparty elections in the 1990's, democratically elected leaders outnumber autocrats in Africa. And some are demanding change. No one knows which side will carry the day. Some leaders are still clearly willing to ignore the abuses of their colleagues, as many did in March when they declared Zimbabwe's presidential election "free and fair" even though the police used tear gas to drive thousands of voters from election booths and government-backed militants kidnapped opposition poll monitors. But for some Africa watchers, the struggle between the old guard and the new democratic leaders is progress. In the early 1980's, only four sub-Saharan countries held regular multiparty elections. Members of the Organization of African Unity, founded in 1963 and dismantled last week to make way for the African Union, assailed white oppressors but stood mostly silent when black autocrats violated human rights, sanctioned massacres or looted state treasuries. "The O.A.U. has been silent and powerless," said Kikaya bin Karubi, Congo's information minister. UNLIKE the O.A.U., the African Union requires members to commit to democratic principles and to respect human rights. It will have the power to intervene in member states in cases of genocide, war crimes or gross violations of human rights. Its members promise to hold free elections and to allow opposition parties to campaign freely and to disseminate their message in the state-controlled media. The group, which is modeled on the European Union, hopes to create a standing army, a regional parliament and a central bank. Western officials hailed the union as a positive step for a continent battered by war, corruption, disease and poverty. But the question remains: will the fine words translate into action? "What is worrying is that some of the leaders who will commit themselves to the A.U.'s objectives are themselves dictators, murderers and thieves," The Sunday Times of Johannesburg said in an editorial. There are other obstacles, too. The new organization, like the old one, will be financially strapped. Only 21 of 53 member nations have paid dues this year, officials said. And while the African Union has been praised for requiring member states to adhere to common election standards, recent reports suggest that it lacks the money to observe elections scheduled for this year. In addition, there is the continuing war in Congo, which has involved armies from Zimbabwe, Angola, Nambia, Rwanda and Uganda. "We're going into the African Union with one of the largest countries at war and occupied by African member states," Mr. bin Karubi, the Congolese minister, said. But he said the new group's commitment to resolving Africa's conflicts and to improving the lives of impoverished people should be commended. "All these things will not happen overnight, but at least it will be a start," Mr. bin Karubi said. Officials point to recent successes in resolving conflicts in the Comoros, Sierra Leone and Lesotho as signs of continental progress. They are encouraged by promises from Western leaders to increase aid and investment in states that adhere to democratic principles. There is also evidence that ordinary Africans are increasingly willing to hold their leaders' feet to the fire. It was public outcry that forced the presidents of Malawi and Zambia to back away from recent efforts to cling to power. IN Zambia, people took to the streets last year when its president, Frederick Chiluba, tried to change the Constitution to end presidential term limits. In Malawi this year, church leaders and students successfully prevented President Bakili Muluzi from making a similar move. No one doubts that Africa's leaders will continue to struggle with flagging economies, tensions between ethnic minorities and increasingly outspoken opposition parties and newspapers. But the problems that emerge in these new democracies do not necessary spell doom, some Africans said. After all, even the United States took more than 100 years to guarantee the promise of democracy in the form of voting rights and civil liberties to all of its citizens. "Nobody has any illusions; there is a lot of hard work to be done," said Patrick Hayford, the director of African affairs for the United Nations. "But if you have a historical perspective, you can see that what has been achieved here is significant."
IRIN 23 Jul 2002 Rights groups debate justice NAIROBI, 23 Jul 2002 (IRIN) - A five-day seminar on national and international law opened on Monday in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi traumatised by years of inter-ethnic conflict. Financed by the EC and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, participants are examining issues such as traditional African ways to end conflicts; transitional justice - the impact of a truth and reconciliation commission on a society in conflict; the role of NGOs in such a commission; various forms of compensation for victims of rights abuses; the death penalty; and respect for human rights. The seminar - organised by Burundian League of Human Rights, ITEKA, and the International Federation of human Rights - brings together some 50 politicians, human rights practitioners and members of civil society. BURUNDI: Rights groups debate justice A five-day seminar on national and international law opened on Monday in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi traumatised by nine years of inter-ethnic conflict. Financed by the EC and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, participants are examining issues such as traditional African ways to end conflicts; transitional justice - the impact of a truth and reconciliation commission on a society in conflict; the role of NGOs in such a commission; various forms of compensation for victims of rights abuses; the death penalty; and respect for human rights. The seminar - organised by Burundian League of Human Rights, ITEKA, and the International Federation of human Rights - brings together some 50 politicians, human rights practitioners and members of civil society.
Reuters 26 Jun 2002 New flames of ethnic violence flare in Ivory Coast By Matthew Tostevin DALOA, Flames leapt skywards from a burning market in Ivory Coast's town of Daloa on Wednesday as security forces fought to control ethnic and political clashes that have left at least three dead. The violence at the midwestern town was the worst for more than a year in the West African country, which has been trying to regain its balance since a 1999 coup destroyed its reputation for stability in a poor and troubled region. Some hideously burnt, others shot, stabbed or beaten, the injured continued to trickle into Daloa's hospital after clashes that flared on Tuesday during a rally by the ruling Ivorian Popular Front ahead of July 7 district elections. The violence has brought back to the surface Ivory Coast's old bitterness dividing the tribes of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in the largely Muslim north from those of the more heavily Christian and animist south. As Interior Minister Emile Boga Doudou tried to broker a peace between the rivals at a parley in the town hall on Wednesday, a gang of youths set ablaze market stalls held by Dioula tribe traders from the north. "The Bete (tribesmen) came armed with machetes and cans of petrol. Nobody was there to stop them because people had fled in the fighting," said Meite Abou, a northerner, as men fought to stop the flames from reaching a nearby petrol station. Officers of the paramilitary gendarmerie reported continuing disturbances in Daloa and the surrounding villages, at the heart of the cocoa-growing belt in the world's biggest producer. SHOOTINGS, STABBINGS, RAPES A government fighter jet made repeated passes over Daloa. According to officials, at least three people have been killed -- two shot and one stabbed repeatedly until he died -- but residents said they saw two more on the streets with throats slashed. They also said many women had been raped. Boga Doudou said he would order a curfew for at least two days but did not specify from which hours. Asked what was to blame for the clashes, he replied simply: "Intolerance". As a town with large populations from both sides of the divide, Daloa is an obvious flashpoint. "They jumped on us just after we left the hospital, where I had taken my father because he was ill," said Digbeu Desire, a Bete tribesman like President Laurent Gbagbo, his shirt torn and darkened by blood. Plasters covered many cuts and bruises. "The Dioula beat us savagely until we could reach the barricades where the Bete protected us," he said. Tension has been building ahead of the July elections for district councillors, the first ballot since a series of elections to end army rule in late 2000 and early 2001 during which at least 300 died in political and ethnic violence. Then, trouble was brought to boiling point by a court ban on Ouattara, a former prime minister who was barred from contesting presidential and parliamentary elections. Courts ruled that his roots lay in Burkina Faso like those of millions migrant workers. He said it was a ploy to exclude him from power in the former French colony of about 16 million. Ouattara's supporters now accuse the government of trying to stop them from voting next month by changing the rules on who is eligible to allow only those with an official identity card -- something they say few hold. The government says it has nothing to do with the elections since they are the responsibility of an independent electoral commission. Unhappy that Ouattara has not yet been granted nationality papers despite official hints he would get them, militants of his Rally of the Republicans are planning a march for July 9 which many Ivorians fear will lead to more violence. An Interior Ministry spokesman said Boga Doudou would meet party leaders on Thursday to discuss the situation.
BBC 24 May, 2002, 'Deaths' in Ethiopian demonstration A year ago, student protests were fiercely suppressed Between 30 to 60 people were killed and at least 40 injured during a demonstration in Awasa, sources in the town have told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. Government soldiers are said to have opened fire on around 3,000 demonstrators who began marching shortly before midday. Many of those marching were peasants who came from Awasa's surrounding rural areas. They were marching to demand what one local described as "their basic human rights". Curfew Currently, Awasa town, 250 km south of the capital, Addis Ababa, is administered by representatives of the local ethnic group, the Sidama. Plans by Ethiopia's central government to shift control of the town to the regional government have angered the Sidama people living in and around Awasa. They claim the land belongs to their ancestors and by right is theirs. After today's violence, a curfew has now been imposed on the town which is said to be extremely tense.
IRIN 25 Jul 2002 Villagers flee as army ultimatum expires LAGOS, Hundreds of people have been fleeing the Yelwa and Shendam districts in central Nigeria s Plateau State following the expiry of an army ultimatum for communities in the area to return weapons taken from a soldier and a policeman killed while on a peace mission, residents said. Many residents said they feared reprisal attacks by soldiers were imminent after the ultimatum expired on Wednesday. Many have taken refuge in the state capital, Jos, while others headed to other districts that had not been affected by ethnic clashes which broke out in the area in June. "I have taken my wife and children to Jos for safety and many people have fled to other parts of the state for the same reason, Joshua Dabup, a resident of Yelwa, told IRIN. He said he would return after a few days but would not take his family back until felt the danger had passed. Brig-Gen Ben Akpunonu, head of a military task force in charge of maintaining security in the increasingly volatile Plateau State, said last week the army would go in search of the weapons and deal with that situation decisively if they were not returned by Wednesday. The dead soldier and policeman had been part of security reinforcements sent to Yelwa late in June following clashes between Muslims and Christians that also spread to the state's Shendam, Wase and Langtang districts. The military have been known to deal harshly with communities where soldiers have been killed. In October last year soldiers invaded and ransacked several villages in Benue State, also in the central region, and killed more than 200 people in an apparent reprisal for the killing of 19 of their men by a local militia. Two years earlier in November 1999, troops razed the town of Odi in the southern oil region and left hundreds dead after militant youths killed 12 policemen. Clashes between mainly local Christians and Muslim settlers from farther north became frequent in Plateau State following ethno-religious disturbances in Jos in September 2001, when at least 1,000 people were killed in a week of fighting. Tension had been building up since 2000, when some 12 states in Nigeria's northern region began to adopt strict Islamic or Sharia law, which prescribes death by stoning for adultery, amputation of limbs for stealing and public flogging for drinking alcohol.
WP 28 Jul 2002 Intimidation in Guatemala Papal Visit Comes as Catholics Raise Fears of New Violence By Kevin Sullivan Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, July 28, 2002; Page A22 ANTIGUA, Guatemala, July 27 -- Pope John Paul II is scheduled to arrive in Guatemala on Monday as human rights activists, particularly those associated with the Catholic Church, face increasing death threats and other forms of intimidation aimed at preventing exposure of atrocities committed during the country's 36-year civil war. The church here has played a central role in investigating massacres and other crimes committed during the war, which ended with peace accords in 1996. The fighting, the bloodiest of Central America's civil wars in recent decades, resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and disappearances, most at the hands of the military or paramilitary groups working for the government. The war is no longer raging, as it was when the pope first visited in 1983. But the campaign of violence against the church and rights activists has revived fears that the political and military leaders who ordered or committed the wartime violence -- some of whom are still in power -- will drive the country back to levels of brutality not seen in years. In recent weeks a Catholic bishop, at least six priests and officials in the church's human rights office have received death threats. A Catholic church used to store equipment and records for anthropologists exhuming massacre victims was burned to the ground in February. Other church offices have been broken into. Nery Rodenas, executive director of the Archbishop's Human Rights Office, said he and others in his office have received death threats in faxes to their office and telephone calls to their homes. "It's had a very high cost for us," he said. "The pope's visit is important for us because it's an opportunity to show the world what is happening in Guatemala." A leading Catholic bishop, Juan Gerardi Conedera, was bludgeoned to death in 1998, as a report from an investigation he headed was being released. It blamed the Guatemalan military or its paramilitary forces for more than 90 percent of the country's war crimes. Although the government initially insisted that Gerardi's wounds were inflicted by a dog, three military officers were convicted in the case last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison. A priest was sentenced to 20 years as an accessory to the killing. Last week shots were fired at the courthouses where the officers were convicted and where their appeals are being heard. Frank LaRue, of Guatemala's Center for Human Rights Legal Action, said he believes that the shootings were "linked directly to the pope's visit," because in the government's view, "the visit of the pope is a threat." "Bishop Gerardi and the Catholic Church are symbols of the human rights movement here, and the pope has spoken out against poverty and he has challenged the structures of power here," LaRue said. "This is clearly an act of provocation to the Catholic Church." The government dismisses the violence and death threats as the work of common criminals. "Many of these acts are blown out of proportion and are aimed at discrediting the state, especially in light of the pope's visit," said Byron Barrera, spokesman for Guatemala's president, Alfonso Portillo. The 82-year-old pontiff, on his third visit to Guatemala, officially is coming to canonize Guatemala's first saint, Pedro de San Jose Betancourt, a 17th-century Franciscan friar known as the "St. Francis of the Americas" for establishing a hospital and ministering to poor Mayan Indians. In Guatemala City and here in Antigua, a colonial city just west of the capital, posters of "Hermano Pedro," or Brother Pedro, are pasted everywhere and many cars fly small flags bearing his image. As he has in the past, the pope is also expected to call for improved social justice in a country where the majority of wealth is held by a handful of families and business leaders. The U.N. Development Program says at least 83 percent of the country's 11.5 million people live in poverty. The pope's visit is also seen as another attempt to stem the church's losses to the fast-growing ranks of evangelical Protestant groups, which, according to many estimates, now account for 30 to 35 percent of a population that was once nearly exclusively Catholic. But, more than anything, the pope will bring his message of peace to a country with a violent past that seems to be haunting its present. "Guatemala is continuing down the path of lawlessness and terror," Amnesty International said in a recent report. Last Sunday, the offices of a Guatemala City human rights organization that had been investigating the military's involvement in war crimes was ransacked; six computers were stolen, along with files on the military investigation. In April, an accountant working in the organization of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, who is pursuing genocide cases against former and current national leaders, was shot dead. Shortly before he was killed, his office received four calls in which anonymous callers played taped funeral music. Human rights workers and journalists received faxes last month threatening the lives of 11 human rights activists labeled "enemies of the state." Four forensic anthropologists examining skeletons and other evidence of atrocities were forced to leave the country in May because of death threats to them and their families. Several lawyers and judges have also been killed under suspicious circumstances. In June, members of the Civil Defense Patrols, which worked with the military during the war and are accused of countless crimes, took over much of Peten province, blocking access to the famous Mayan ruins at Tikal and stranding 62 tourists. The paramilitary forces were demanding back pay for their bloody service to the government during the war. Facing threats of further violence, the government has agreed to explore a new tax to pay them. "Genocide will not return, nor torture nor disappearances, but the situation is grave," Menchu said recently. "True peace has become a myth." The Catholic Church has had an uncomfortable relationship with Guatemala's political leaders since civil war broke out in 1960. Catholic bishops and priests were leading voices against the growing abuses of the military junta, and simply being a Catholic was dangerous during the war. At the same time, the evangelical Protestant movement was growing rapidly. It was personified by Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who seized power in a March 1982 military coup, then ruled with a mixture of bloody ruthlessness and Scripture quotations. Many of the war's most brutal killings took place during his 18-month tenure. At 76, he still serves as president of Congress and leader of Portillo's Guatemalan Republican Front party. Rios Montt was antagonistic to John Paul II on the pope's 1983 visit. Three days before his arrival, Rios Montt ordered the execution of six suspected leftist rebels despite pleas from the Vatican to spare them. The pope said he felt insulted by the executions, which he called a "very grave offense against God." The pope has spoken out repeatedly against the efforts of evangelical Protestants to convert Catholics. Evangelicals in Guatemala responded by scrawling "The Beast" across promotional posters for the pope's 1983 visit. During his second trip, in 1996, Protestant leaders roamed the countryside with bullhorns calling him "the Antichrist." Some evangelical leaders say they welcome the pope's visit. But others grumble that the government should not have spent nearly $1 million in preparations for a visit by the leader of a single religion. Some said the church, and the pope, have brought the recent violence on themselves. "The truth is that the Catholic people are very political, and it is lamentable that in the name of God they use religion to manipulate people," said David Munguia, a leader of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala. "The pope isn't necessarily the Antichrist, but the general feeling is that he is a candidate."
WP 24 Jul 2002 Judgment Without Democracy By Madeline Morris Page A19 The Iraqi government is as likely to prosecute Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity as the Nazis were to prosecute Adolf Hitler. That is why the world needs a system for dealing with genocide and war crimes. A permanent International Criminal Court was brought into existence on July 1 at the Hague to fulfill this purpose. Why, then, did the Bush administration, in May, renounce the 1998 treaty that forms the foundation for creating this court? Critics have blasted U.S. opposition to the court as unilateralist and uncaring in a world that seems to produce atrocities on a regular basis. Having been involved in prosecutions of international crimes in Rwanda, Ethiopia and the former Yugoslavia, I join with those who want to deal more effectively with the Pol Pots and Slobodan Milosevices of this world. But I doubt whether, in its current form, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, is the answer. There are several principled and serious objections to the court. For one thing, although designed with the noblest of goals, the court lacks democratic legitimacy: Only one-third of the world's countries have become parties to the treaty that created the ICC, and yet the court claims the right to exercise prosecutorial authority over people from any country. Why, then, have the protesters from Seattle and elsewhere who question the "democratic deficit" of the World Trade Organization and other international institutions not expressed similar concern over the ICC? The reason is fairly simple. The assumption is that if ICC jurisdiction entails any loss of democracy, it is negligible -- because the court's mandate is so narrow. Unlike the WTO, the ICC, it is thought, is not intended to make law and policy. Rather, its mandate is simply to apply clear, existing international law. Since genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are unquestionably crimes, there will be no democratic or undemocratic decision-making to discuss. Not so. Although the general prohibitions of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are unquestionable, applying that law to specific cases will be complex and fraught with politics. Crucial questions about the content and interpretation of the law are inevitable. For example, there is a war crime of causing "excessive incidental death, injury, or damage." Are countries therefore obliged to minimize collateral damage by using precision-guided munitions rather than much less expensive ordinary weapons? Or, relative to the war crime of "attacking civilian objects": What is the status of "dual use" targeting, where the target is a bridge, or television station, or electrical grid, that is partially in military use and partially in civilian use? These and other questions that will arise involve areas where the law is indeterminate and the politics weighty. And this only describes the situation as it stands now. The ICC's domain will grow. For example, the ICC treaty provides that the crime of aggression will come within the ICC's active jurisdiction as soon as its member countries can agree on a definition of "aggression." So the next time NATO enters Kosovo on a "humanitarian intervention," the difficult question of whether this was an act of humanitarianism or of aggression may be decided by the ICC. Similarly, since the constituting documents of the court also contemplate expansion of its jurisdiction to include terrorism, the question of who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist may now find its answer, in any particular case, in a court established by a group of 76 states. The inclusion of drug crimes and other offenses is also contemplated. This allocation of decision-making power may be fine for the countries that are parties to the treaty creating the ICC. But it has not been agreed to by the other two-thirds of the world's countries that have not become parties to the treaty. Those countries will have no say in the decision-making done by the ICC. The people of those non-party states will not be represented in any way as the ICC makes law and policy, yet the ICC's purported authority over them will continue to evolve and expand. One might argue that it's worth sacrificing our democratic values to prevent or reduce genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But we must soberly confront the fact that recent international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda did little to halt the atrocities. Indeed, crimes continued unabated in both regions even while the tribunals were underway. Perhaps a permanent international court, rendering decisions over a period of years, would have greater effect. Perhaps not. As heart-rending as the crimes are, and as deeply as we wish to stop them, we should think long and hard about endorsing a system we know to be undemocratic when its benefits remain so speculative. The writer is a professor of international law at Duke University and director of the Duke Law Clinic for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Toronto Star 28 Jul 2002 An excuse for ethnic repression War on terrorism cited in government campaign against Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang province By Martin Regg Cohn ASIA BUREAU KASHGAR, China CROWDS OF devout Muslims file toward Aidkah Mosque, its mustard-yellow tiles glinting in the setting sun. Drawn by the call to evening prayers, bearded men in skullcaps pour into the adjoining square. A few blocks away, People's Square draws only a handful of orthodox Maoists party cadres, undercover police and soldiers in olive drab who stroll by the colossal statue of Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China. The story of Kashgar has long been a tale of these two town squares, where Muslims and Maoists rarely cross paths. In China's remote northwestern province of Xinjiang, 3,400 kilometres from Beijing, the two solitudes keep their distance. But in the wake of Sept.11, the bleak concrete expanse of People's Square has become the setting for a series of show trials. Accused Muslim terrorists are being hauled here, under the watchful gaze of Mao's 18-metre-high statue, and sentenced to death. Their crime: plotting to revive a separate Republic of East Turkestan, as this sprawling region was known before the Communists reconquered it a half-century ago. Adding muscle to the campaign, thousands of soldiers have been redeployed to this border region and a police dragnet has rounded up more than 3,000 local Muslims since Sept. 11, in addition to the dozens killed so far, human rights groups say. The upheaval is nothing new for Kashgar, which has been a locus of geopolitical ambitions since ancient times. A millennium ago, it was a trading centre for camel caravans plying the Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean. In the 19th century, it was a listening post for British and Russian spies mapping out the "Great Game" for control of neighbouring Afghanistan. Today, the winding alleys of the bazaar overflow with donkey carts and teahouses, hat makers and butchers. But the old foreign consulates are kitschy hotels and the city's romantic image has faded into history. Now, a climate of fear hangs over Kashgar, fallout from the global war against terror. The Muslims of Xinjiang 7 million indigenous Uighurs (pronounced Wey-gurs), who have long resented the flood of Han Chinese settlers who have made them a minority in this province of 15 million people may be paying a higher price than anywhere else in the Islamic world. Amnesty International points out that Xinjiang is the only region in China where political prisoners are regularly put to death. It documented 190 executions from 1997 to 1999, and all the signs point to the pattern continuing. The current "Strike Hard" campaign targets "hardened minority splittists, suspected violent criminal terrorists or religious extremists," according to government reports. Police in Xinjiang regularly raid "illegal religious centres" a euphemism for unauthorized mosques and arrest worshippers. After years of foreign criticism, China is making no apologies for its homegrown war against groups like the Front for the Liberation of East Turkestan and the Islamic Uighur party. "We find it hard to understand and a pity that some people don't believe our efforts to fight terrorism are part of the international campaign," says Xinjiang's Communist party secretary, Wang Lequan. Meeting foreign correspondents recently, he warned the West not to use a double standard. Wang said his intelligence reports showed that 1,000 ethnic Uighurs were trained by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan and that about 100 of them were captured on their return to China. A January report by China's cabinet office cited 162 deaths in more than 200 terrorist incidents over the past decade, though most dated to the early 1990s. The report claimed "bin Laden terrorists and Taliban leaders" were funnelling "a fabulous sum of money for the training of the East Turkestan terrorists." Xinjiang officials also said several pro-Beijing imams were assassinated last year. As part of the renewed propaganda offensive, Du Jianxi, chief of Xinjiang's dreaded Public Security Bureau, boasted that the crackdown was "smashing the bloated pride of violent terrorists." Visiting reporters were treated to a demonstration by special-forces soldiers who punched the air and smashed boards with kung fu kicks. The stepped-up police presence outside mosques, at train stations, in the bazaars has cast a chill over Kashgar. With informers lurking everywhere and journalists frequently followed by the police, Uighur dissidents live in fear of being found out. "Xinjiang used to be its own country before the Chinese took it over, and we want to recreate that time," says one Kashgar Muslim in his 30s, whose almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones classic features of the Uighurs set him apart from the Han. "But I don't dare talk about it," he says, looking furtively over his shoulder, "because if you talk a little, the Chinese cut off your arm, and if you talk too much, they kill you. His talk of severed limbs is a figure of speech. But fears of execution are hardly exaggerated. In the oasis town of Khotan, 430 kilometres southeast of Kashgar, seven accused separatists were paraded at a "public sentencing rally" in a local sports stadium in October. One of them Metrozi Metthoti, 34, accused of "separatism and storing weapons" was led away to be shot, according to Amnesty International. Near the stadium, in a carpet shop inside Khotan's bazaar, local Muslims grow palpably tense when talking about the latest round of executions. Sitting cross-legged on a rug over cups of tea, a dealer who calls himself Taher motions with his hands to show his throat being slit if he talks too much. "If I told you the truth," he whispers, "they would cut out my tongue." But Taher scoffs at the government's description of local Uighurs as Islamic fundamentalists. Far from being religious puritans adhering to the rigid Wahhabi school of Islam, most Uighurs in Xinjiang cling to the more mystical and tolerant Sufi strain. Uighur women often walk Kashgar's streets unveiled, wearing short skirts and high heels, without fear of harassment from fellow Muslims. Alcohol consumption is commonplace despite Islamic injunctions against it. Unlike the hard-line Wahhabis, who often despise the West, people here commonly look to America as a model of democracy and pluralism. Their wrath is directed toward Beijing, not Washington. "We're not Muslim fanatics and we don't hate the West. We just resent the Chinese," says Mohammed, a young tour guide. "Actually, we admire the West because we also want to have freedom and democracy and human rights." In government schools, female teachers are prohibited from wearing veils on the job and male teachers must shave their beards. Religious instruction is unheard of and Muslim students are often served hot lunches during the holy month of Ramadan as an inducement to break the obligatory daytime fast. Civil servants are required to stay at their desks at prayer time and are barred from bringing the Qur'an to work. Broadcasts of sermons are forbidden and signs posted in most mosques prohibit anyone under 18 from entering for regular prayers. Anyone with a Uighur name finds it almost impossible to obtain a passport in Xinjiang even for the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca expected of every able-bodied Muslim. Two months ago, the Uighur language was banned from Xinjiang University. As part of its political campaign to control Islamic clerics, the Chinese government has ordered 8,000 imams to attend compulsory "patriotic re-education" classes where they learn about "anti-splittism" laws. The classes are organized by the notorious Production Corps, a powerful state organization with a 100,000-strong militia that has recruited millions of ethnic Chinese to settle in Xinjiang over the past 50 years. According to the official Xinhua news agency, the lessons reinforce "correct ideological understanding and improve the political qualities of the religious leaders." That two-pronged approach to religious repression a ban on Islamic instruction in schools and a requirement that imams be coached in government seminars prompts many parents to teach their children behind closed doors. "They take our teenage children and shove Chinese propaganda down their throats so that they lose our own Uighur language and culture," says one Kashgar businessman, adding plaintively: "I want to tell you what is in my heart, but I dare not tell anyone." Many analysts are puzzled by Beijing's determination to apply massive force to a relatively minor resistance, arguing that the Uighurs are more interested in defending their cultural identity than promoting Islamic fundamentalism. As for terrorism, Chinese officials publicly downplayed the threat before Sept. 11, preferring to talk up foreign investment in oil and gas. Their biggest selling point was that no bombs had gone off in the last five years. "The Chinese definition of terrorism is different from our definition," says Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the Hong Kong-based French Centre for Research on Contemporary China. "It's an excuse to crack down on Xinjiang, because any terrorist actions in Xinjiang in the last few years have been minimal." But Beijing believes it has a geopolitical imperative for wiping out any traces of dissent: Despite its size one-sixth of China's total land mass Xinjiang is best known for the nuclear test sites and vast oil and gas reserves that dot its deserts. The war against terror is an opportunity for consolidation. "They're certainly using 9/11 as an excuse to clamp down," says Paul George, an independent consultant who wrote a report on Islamic unrest in Xinjiang for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that found the separatist movement to be weak and isolated. "Who cares? The greater goal (of the West) is to prevent terror and crush that force in Afghanistan. And they (Beijing) are getting away with it." Since Sept. 11, Western diplomats stopped criticizing China's repression of Uighur dissidents, for fear of losing Beijing's support in the broader anti-terrorist war. Mary Robinson, the United Nations human-rights commissioner, has publicly lamented the West's sudden silence. "Because of the coalition to curb terrorism, governments are not as prepared to raise the issue of human rights," the former Irish president said on a visit to Beijing. "There is a serious situation of imprisonment, detention and torture...bearing down very hard on the Uighur population." But the tensions in Xinjiang are only partly related to political repression. Much of the Uighur discontent flows from economic and social grievances. The Han dominate senior positions in government and commerce and live in modern, if antiseptic, high-rise towers that have sprung up in the provincial capital, Urumqi. Uighurs still live in mud-brick dwellings that ooze character but can't retain heat during Xinjiang's frigid winters. "The Chinese are very strong, but we Uighurs are weak," says Ahmed, a shopkeeper in Kashgar. "Always, the top guy in an organization is Chinese. They have the power and we don't." Racism is a perennial problem. Lin Yong, a Han driver in Urumqi, explains proudly that his parents settled in Xinjiang in 1959 and made the province what it is today. Without Han labour and leadership, he says, the region would be as dirt poor and disorderly as Kashgar's old city. "The Uighurs don't know the meaning of hard work," Lin complains, and then goes on to repeat a slur masquerading as fact: "The rural people are so poor that every year during Ramadan, a child dies of hunger in every family." Such ignorance of the Uighurs is typical among the Han, almost none of whom can speak the local language. So, too, is Lin's steadfast support for the government crackdown. "The Strike Hard campaign is nipping this rebellion in the bud," he says. "These executions and incarcerations strike fear in the heart of the Uighurs." Against this backdrop, resistance to Chinese rule takes many forms, some quite subtle. The loyalties of a Uighur often can be discerned by how he sets his watch: to official Beijing time or to unofficial "Kashgar time," which is two hours later. With thousands of kilometres separating Kashgar from Beijing, central Chinese time produces absurd results: traditional noon prayers would have to be scheduled for mid-afternoon. Which is why most observant Muslims quietly keep Kashgar time. The clash of clocks is most obvious in the main square surrounding Aidkah Mosque. The Persian-style clock tower erected beside the 600-year-old mosque has stopped working and no one has bothered to repair it. Frozen in time, the idled clock allows local Muslims to remain defiantly oblivious to Beijing time without being called to account in nearby People's Square.
Xinhuanet 31 Jul 2002 China launches first website in ethnic minority language China's first ethnic minority language website has been launched in Hohhot, capital of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The Mogolian-Chinese Bilingual official website of the Hohhot Municipal People's Government releases information in both languages and will be convenient for local Mongolian citizens browsing on the Internet, local officials said. ¡¡¡¡Local residents can also send complaints to the government or communicate with the mayor through emails in both Mongolian and Chinese, they said. ¡¡¡¡The website is expected to serve as a "bridge" between the people and the government, said the officials. There are a total of 49 ethnic groups in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where Mongolians account for more than 10 percent of the total population.
BBC 16 July, 2002
Kashmir massacre suspects 'innocent' The killings of the men led to
massive protests Five men killed by the Indian security forces in Kashmir two
years ago were innocent civilians and not foreign militants, the state authorities
say. The security forces said after killing the men that they were
foreign militants from a Pakistani-backed group who had carried out a massacre
of 35 Sikhs. But Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah told the Jammu and Kashmir state
assembly that DNA tests on the remains of the men proved that they were local
residents of Anantnag district in Indian-administered Kashmir as claimed by
their relatives. Their families had insisted all along that they had been killed
in a fake encounter after being arrested by the security forces. Probe ordered
Farooq Abdullah said he would be asking India's Central Bureau of Investigation
(CBI) to look into the killing of the men. He said he also wanted them to conduct
a probe into local officials responsible for DNA samples that were sent for
analysis to laboratories elsewhere in India. The samples were only taken after
huge protest demonstrations in Kashmir forced the authorities to exhume the
bodies of the men in order to establish their identity. It subsequently turned
out that the samples had been tampered with and fresh DNA had to be collected
in April this year. The massacre of the 35 Sikhs was one of the worst acts of
violence against civilians in Kashmir during the history of the insurgency against
Indian rule. It occurred on the eve of a high-profile visit to India by the
then US president, Bill Clinton. The security forces blamed it on the Pakistan-backed
Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group. Human rights activists and Kashmiri groups have
long accused the security forces of staging fake encounters, in which innocent
civilians are killed. The army always says it looks into such allegations. Militant
groups in Kashmir are fighting to end Indian rule in the territory.
July 14, 2002 Indonesia's Guerrilla War Puts Exxon Under Siege By JANE PERLEZ LHOKSEUMAWE, Indonesia The silvery pipes that extract hundreds of millions of dollars in natural gas a year for Exxon Mobil glint in the tropical sun here, a glittering contrast to the ramshackle huts and rice fields of the villagers nearby. The disparity might spell trouble enough in an era of increasing sensitivity about the gap between the wealth of Western corporations and the foreign workers who labor for them. But adding to the tension, this gas field, protected at its barbed-wire perimeter and well beyond by Indonesian soldiers, sits in the middle of a brutal conflict against separatist rebels here in Indonesia's northern province of Aceh (pronounced ah-CHAY). That leaves the company, the largest long-term foreign investor in Indonesia and one of the world's most profitable businesses, under siege. Exxon Mobil is also the object of a lawsuit filed on behalf of villagers who accuse the company of turning a blind eye to brutality by Indonesian soldiers, who have a long history of human rights abuses and have been paid to provide the plant's security. The company denies the charges. But the suit and Exxon Mobil's travails in Indonesia encapsulate the problems faced by big American companies that do business under the protection of ill-trained foreign armies in places where the United States has strategic interests. Now, the Indonesian government is considering imposing a military emergency in Aceh, a move that could spell still more trouble for the plant and rankle Congress, where the Bush administration will be pushing soon to renew ties with the Indonesian Army. Last year, attacks by the separatist guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement, who argue that the gas revenues belong to the province, forced the plant to shut down for four months, the first closing of its kind for a company that prides itself on toughing it out. Since the plant reopened a year ago , a beefed-up contingent of more than 3,000 Indonesian troops have patrolled much of the 50-by-10-mile swath of territory here, where the gas operations cut into fertile forest and sit alongside the simple plots of some of the world's poorest people. At night, the executives sleep in shipping containers inside the plant, having been forced to abandon their ranch-style homes a few miles away. Villagers are hostile. They say the presence of the oil and gas giant has brought them little but grief: no tangible improvement in their living standard, and the perpetual threat of violence from unwelcome Indonesian soldiers. On the outskirts of the complex, where generations of fishermen have eked out a living, a 60-year-old villager named Abdullah waded knee-deep in murky water. "I used to own land here," he said with a shrug. "When they built the plant, we had to move. Now I pay rent." The suit against the company was filed last July in the United States by a workers' rights group, the International Labor Rights Fund, based in Washington, on behalf of 11 villagers, and it is now coming to a critical juncture in the courts. It asserts that the villagers were victims of murder, torture and kidnapping by Indonesian soldiers paid to protect the plant. The State Department is to deliver an opinion on Aug. 5 on whether the suit interferes with the Bush administration's policy in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country and an uneasy partner in its campaign against terror. Lawyers for Exxon Mobil asked for the opinion, apparently in the expectation that an administration with a bent toward the energy industry would favor dismissing the suit. The case has aroused fractious debate at the State Department, pitting officials who view Indonesia as an important nation that needs all the money it can get against those who say America should stand firm on human rights. It is part of a rash of suits that have been brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which has been used by foreigners to sue corporations in the United States over charges of human rights abuses abroad. In the Exxon Mobil case, the judge has said that the State Department's opinion will be nonbinding. But Exxon Mobil's interests and those of the Bush administration are likely to be one and the same, and in the past the department's view has clearly been taken into account. Earlier this year, the State Department said that pursuit of a lawsuit against Rio Tinto, the international mining company, in Papua New Guinea, would harm American interests, and it was dismissed. But in another case, this one against Unocal, the California-based oil and gas corporation, involving accusations of abuses committed by the government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, its partner in the development of a gas field, the State Department saw no conflict. The gas field here, the biggest in the country, holds more than symbolic importance for both Indonesia and Exxon Mobil, which industry analysts say would be reluctant to relinquish the operation. The field generates more than $1 billion a year for the government, industry analysts say. When Exxon Mobil shut down operations last year, a senior government minister, apparently angered over the loss of revenues, called the company "cowards." During its heyday in the early 1990's, when the field was run by Mobil, it produced about one-quarter of the company's worldwide revenue. For the people of Aceh, who want independence, or at the very least a fair share of the natural gas revenues they send to the central Indonesian authorities, the gas production has been a vast disappointment since it first began in the mid-1970's. Abdullah, the fisherman, summed up the feelings of many in the area, as he tilted his cap (emblazoned with the logo of the company that has supplanted him) toward the plant. "The poor are getting poorer," he said. "The rich are getting richer." The fact that the plant employs about 800 local people as permanent staff members and 2,500 more as contract workers is small solace, critics say, for the permanent presence of the military. Unabashedly, villagers describe the Indonesian troops, who they say intrude, often brutally, in their daily lives, as "the Exxon Mobil army." To bring the suffering home to the company's investors, an Acehnese woman, Cut Zahara Hamzah, addressed Exxon Mobil's annual shareholder's meeting in Dallas in May. "With the pretext of searching for the Free Aceh Movement guerrillas, who are fighting to free Aceh from Indonesia, they arrest, detain, torture and make to disappear innocent villagers," she said of the Indonesian troops. Among educated Acehnese, hostility to the plant is also widespread. "I was born there, and grew up there, and even I really hate Exxon Mobil," said Yusuf Ismail Pase, a lawyer who heads the Aceh Environmental and Human Rights Defense Institute, a group financed in part by the United States Agency for International Development. "I'm one of the victims because our land was bought by Mobil very cheaply," he said. "I don't remember the total amount my father got but I know people got nothing." In the suit, the identities of the villagers alleging abuses have been kept hidden for fear of reprisals, human rights experts said. One woman, identified as Jane Doe, says that on Dec. 2, 2000, shortly after hearing cross-fire, she went to a nearby rice field and found her husband dead. "Three witnesses who were in the fields with my husband said that the soldiers from Unit 113, the Exxon soldiers, arrived in military vehicles and shot at the group of farmers who were working in the fields," she says in the suit. Lawyers for Exxon Mobil declined to answer questions about the case. Ronald I. Wilson, the president and general manager of Exxon Mobil Indonesia Inc., the subsidiary that operates the plant and is 100 percent owned by Exxon Mobil, said the company "doesn't condone human rights violations anywhere in the world, including Indonesia." "If troops did anything to violate human rights, we did not condone it and we're not party to it," he said.
AFP 22 Jul 2002 Some soldiers discourage East Timor repatriation: Indonesian JAKARTA, July 22 (AFP) - An Indonesian general admitted on Monday that some soldiers and civilians have been trying to discourage the tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees in Indonesian West Timor from returning home. "From the ranks of the TNI (the Indonesian armed forces) there are one or two people who are making efforts to change the wishes (of refugees) to return home because they are still emotional," Major General William da Costa said. Speaking in the West Timorese border town of Atambua, Da Costa was quoted by the state Antara news agency as saying that the military had already summonsed these individuals. "I told them that whatever they do to prevent the refugees from returning home I will not allow...if they are proven to do so, I will take firm actions," he said. Da Costa said civilians also had been discouraging the refugees from returning. He gave no details but said the intelligence service would root them out and they would be firmly punished. Da Costa, who heads the Udayana military command which also oversees West Timor, was speaking after seeing off 1,163 refugees who left for home in East Timor. More than 250,000 East Timorese either fled or were forced by pro-Jakarta militias across the border into West Timor when Indonesia pulled out of the territory in 1999 amid widespread militia violence. There have been numerous reports in the past that the militias were intimidating people in the camps from returning. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in January that although the threats were continuing, economic factors were now the main reason why many were reluctant to go home. Many who once served with the Indonesian army or civil service in East Timor feared the loss of pensions or severance pay. A fund has been set up to help meet some pension payments. The UNHCR now says fewer than 50,000 refugees are still in Indonesia, of whom 30,000-35,000 are expected to choose to return. Da Costa called on the remaining East Timorese to take advantage of the 750,000 rupiah (83.3 dollars) per capita financial assistance given by the government to each returnee until August 31. Another mass repatriation is to be held on August 17, Indonesia's independence day, he said. East Timor became independent on May 20 and has encouraged its people to return.
Narinjara News 6 Jul 2002 Rohingya Refugees Protest Repatriation Armed members of Rohingya refugee organization have attempted to hinder the repatriations process by resorting to violence, according to reports from officials in the region. Raising signs demanding Bangladesh citizenship and allegedly brandishing sticks and bricks, a few hundred refugees from the Nayapara camp confronted representatives from the World Food Program, the UN High Commission for Refugees, and other international organizations. Around 21,000 Rohingyas have been living in two of southeast Bangladesh s refugee camps for the past 11 years. The Bangladeshi government s recent attempts to expedite repatriation of refugees and illegal migrants have contributed to the growing tension of late.
BBC 26 July, 2002 The forgotten war By Frank Smith. Free Burma Rangers smuggle medical aid Reporting from Burma for Correspondent Democracy was not to last long in Burma following independence from the British in 1948. A military junta soon took power, crushing any dissent. A country torn by ethnic differences, independence brought with it mass insurgency. The source - a deep rooted divide over national identity. The country's largest ethnic group is the Burman people. Their dominance over the minorities such as the Karen and the Shan has long fuelled massive resentment. The minority groups took up arms and for over 50 years have been fighting for a state of their own. Moko, a Free Burma Ranger The generals that run Burma are intent on a country defined by a muddle of Buddhist and Marxist principles. The government proclaims its intention to "preserve and understand the culture and good traditions of the national races". Yet ethnic minorities are deprived of their economic, social and cultural rights on a massive scale. The regime has forced most minorities into various forms of ceasefire, but the Karen are still holding out. Correspondent joined them on a trip behind Burmese lines. Our aim was to find evidence of the regime's brutality. According to Amnesty International, the military regime commits a wide range of human rights violations including forcible relocation, torture, and extra-judicial killings. For the past 13 years Amnesty has documented the widespread use of forced labour of ethnic minorities by the army. The Karen have borne the brunt of this repression. American volunteers Early one morning we crouched in the undergrowth with a small group of people on the Thai-Burma border. They call themselves "Free Burma Rangers". As soon as the sun came up they were to sneak past the Burmese checkpoints and into Karen State. Their plan - to smuggle thousands of dollars of medical aid past the Burmese army lines to their own people. We joined two men who were waiting in the shadows. They are American, middle-aged volunteers in the war against Rangoon. Shannon's a dentist from Louisiana. He's a veteran of the trips. An ex-Special Forces soldier, he loves the adrenaline rush. His partner Don isn't so sure. Don is a Probation Officer in middle America. It's his first trip here and he knows the risks are high. "I am not here as a soldier of fortune or as a mercenary, I am here to help these people. But I will not sacrifice my life; I will defend my life, in anyway possible." Free Burma Rangers The Free Burma Rangers are a strange mix - young medics, soldiers and nurses. All trained by ex-American soldiers, running missions behind Burmese lines helping the internally displaced. Highly dangerous and illegal, the humanitarian assistance they give keeps the dream of Karen identity alive. I couldn't understand why the Americans were here - it's not their war. Shannon and Don's response was simple - somebody should do something. Shannon ignores the political dimensions of this conflict - for him it's a simple matter of good versus evil. "If they give up their arms, and give up their right to freedom all of a sudden the Karen tribe will exist no more. When you see that happening in front of your eyes in the modern day that is scary. It's the same thing the Nazis tried to do to the Jews. It is what was happening in Kosovo." Survival at great cost The regime denies a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. It claims the war is against the rebels, not the civilian population. But a few miles away the Burmese army was on the offensive, burning and looting its way through the Karen villages. From what we could see the aim was simple - to force the civilian Karen out towards Thailand and strangle any support for the rebels. It works - already 100,000 Karen are in refugee camps over the border. One of the nurses and team leaders, Paw Htoo, was reserved, hardly speaking to me. It took two weeks before she would tell me her story. Burmese soldiers attacked her village, killed her husband and threw her in prison. She was forced to give up her baby son so that he would survive. She escaped but returns to the jungle every year to give support to others in the same position. "Yesterday one woman told me her story and tears were flowing down her face but I didn't cry. If they cry, I don't. As a medic, I have to be strong. If I cry everyone would break down." Her tale was echoed by nearly everyone we met on our journey. Living in fear It's a forgotten war here. There are no bodies or mass graves - the regime knows better than to leave evidence of murder for outsiders to see. But the weapons it uses - starvation, terror and forced labour are just as effective. As we proceeded through the jungle on a journey of over 200 kilometres, we found pocket after pocket of frightened villagers hiding in the jungle, their homes destroyed by army raids. The Karen guerrillas are hardly an effective force any more - they cannot protect the people from the attacks. It is only outside groups like the Rangers who can make a difference to help the civilians. And even they can do little more than administer basic medical aid and encouragement. As we travelled through Karen State the most they could do was administer malaria pills and tend to simple illnesses like dysentery or wounds from landmines. By the time we left Burma, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi had just been released from house arrest and it seemed the regime had begun to show a willingness to talk to the outside world. But in the jungle itself the army was still on the move. The danger is - by the time the world wakes up to the plight of the Karen it will be too late.
Al-Ahram 11 - 17 July 2002 Issue No. 594 Untried, untested As the Belgian case against Sharon collapses, Frederick Bowie, in Brussels, goes in search of international justice On 26 June, a Belgian appeal court dismissed the civil suit brought by survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The decision was received with relief by the Israeli establishment, and with a combination of resignation and disgust throughout much of the Arab world. Yet the judgement was hardly a surprise to anyone who had been following either this particular case, or Belgium's recent attempts to act as judge and jury on behalf of the world's oppressed peoples. Only three months ago, a similar attempt to try Abdoulaye Yerodia Ndombasi, the former foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for allegedly inciting ethnic attacks which led to the death of hundreds of people in 1998, was dropped, after the International Court of Justice in The Hague upheld Yerodia's claim of diplomatic immunity. Whether any of the outstanding international suits -- whose targets include Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat -- will ever be heard is now a moot point. This flurry of judicial activity was made possible by a law passed in 1993, enacting universal jurisdiction for Belgian courts in cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. In theory, it is now possible for anyone to be tried for these crimes in Belgium, irrespective of where they may reside, or where the alleged crime was committed. However, to date, there has been only one successful prosecution, when last year four Rwandans were found guilty of crimes relating to the 1994 genocide. In the cases of both Yerodia and Sharon, the court's main argument rested on an obscure legislative provision of the Belgian Criminal Code dating from 1878, under which proceedings can only be brought against persons who either were on Belgian territory when the crime in question was committed, or are there now, and are thus susceptible of arrest. (In the case of the four Rwandans, the case was initiated after they were spotted in the streets of Brussels by relatives of the victims). Few would contest that this decision is essentially a political decision. But there is considerable disagreement among those involved on the Palestinian side as to the nature of the politics involved. Senator Vincent Van Quickenborne has been one of the main promoters of the case from the start. The youngest ever member of the Belgian senate when he was elected in 1999 at the age of 25, his interest in the region was kindled by a visit to Iraq last year. Since then he has been active on behalf of both the Kurds and the Palestinians. He was a member of the delegation which met with Lebanese Phalangist leader Elie Hobeika in February to persuade him to testify, just two days before he was murdered. A lawyer by training, Van Quickenborne had initially thought of representing the Sabra and Shatilla victims himself. For him, the appeal to Article 12 of the Criminal Code is archaic. "The article was devised at a time when there was no television and no newspapers," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The reasoning behind it was that as long as a Belgian national was living abroad, and was not bothering our society, we had no reason to prosecute him. Now we live in a world where people take airplanes and surf the Internet, and the same law is being used in the context of international justice, where we need to be able to prosecute people who do not live here. It is ridiculous." Dyab Abu Jahjah is president of the Arab European League, based in Antwerp, and has also been a prime mover in the Sharon trial from the outset. "We continued to hope," he told the Weekly, "even after the decision in the Yerodia case. Technically, the court was not obliged to take the same position. So it was still a blow when it came, even though we had been expecting it." For Abu Jahjah, the appeal to Article 12 was simply "surreal": "The Geneva Convention places every state under an obligation to pursue war crimes, wherever they are committed, and the 1993 law states explicitly that the Courts have universal jurisdiction in such cases. In that context, Article 12 looks very weak." As a result, it is only a short step to conclude that there must have been some form of political manipulation. Abu Jahjah calls the court's decision a 'scandal'. "It's one thing when politicians seek to influence the parquet," he observes, "but this decision came from the judge himself." Certainly, there have been many political attempts to derail the law -- most notably those orchestrated late last year by the deputy Fred Erdman, who as well as being president of the Justice Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, is also president of the Belgian-Israeli Friendship Association. Yet Erdman's attempt to emasculate the law failed to garner much support, suggesting as much the capacity of Belgian government for self- paralysing internal hesitation and contradiction, as a US-style powerful pro-Israeli lobby. Van Quickenborne agrees the decision was political, but interprets it in a narrower, more self- interested sense. "I think people thought: if we go ahead, we will have all these cases coming to Belgium. Do we really want to operate as a kind of international criminal court? I'm sure that if Article 12 had not existed, they would have found another argument. But to insinuate that this is the work of the Zionist lobby, is just absurd." In 1982, Israel colluded in the massacre of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra Abu Jahjah, however, sees things in a more complex light. "All the political and diplomatic tension over the law began with Sharon," he told the Weekly. "When it was Pinochet, everyone was proud of Belgium. The same when it was Rwanda. But with the Sharon case, a crescendo started. Then, it was the pro-Israel lobby which began to spread the criticism of the law, using the argument that this was too big a burden for a little country." Both Van Quickenborne and Abu Jahjah are equally pessimistic about the outlook for further prosecutions under the 1993 law. "The court's judgement in effect says that this law is too difficult to implement," said Van Quickenborne. For Abu Jahjah, "The decision represents a political will to empty this law of any substance. If they do it once, they can do it again. This was a historic opportunity, and clearly, Belgium did not want to take it." Other observers however, take a more nuanced view. For John Sigler, co-founder of Jewish Friends of Palestine, who has written extensively on the case, there were also tactical errors in the way the trial was approached. "From a humanitarian perspective, few people in the world deserve to face justice as much as Sharon -- for the Qibya massacre, the Gaza City massacre, for Sabra and Shatilla, and now for Jenin and Nablus," he told the Weekly. "But from a legal perspective, it was always going to be virtually impossible. Many heads of state and heads of government have been convicted of war crimes -- but only after they were removed from office and power, usually by force." While arguments within the defence team centered largely on whether or not to cite Hobeika and other Phalangist leaders by name, alongside Sharon and Brigadier General Amos Yaron, Sigler believes the mistake was going after Sharon himself. "What sank the case, ultimately, was the principle of immunity. Whether the case was heard or not, he is sitting prime minister of Israel, and he was never going to stand trial. It would have made more sense from a legal perspective to go after some of the smaller fish first, people like Yaron, for whom no immunity arguments could have been made. Once they had been indicted, then the courts would have been more sympathetic to assaults on the immunity of Sharon, because his role in the same actions could not be denied." Sigler believes that Belgium will continue to exercise universal jurisdiction, though heads of state and senior ministers will probably be beyond its reach. Van Quickenborne, with the support of his party, intends to introduce an amendment to the 1993 law to address the issue of Article 12, so that the requirement of presence on Belgian soil would be waived for citizens of countries which had not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. He believes it is possible that, at some time in the future, the case against Sharon could be filed again. Meanwhile, both men place more hope in the International Criminal Court, which officially came into existence five days after the Sharon decision, on 1 July. The ICC has had a rocky ride to date. Both the US and its acolyte Israel deferred signing the Convention until the 11th hour, and neither has yet ratified it. Previous attempts at international justice, in particular the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, have been subject to considerable political manipulation. Yet Sigler still believes that the ICC may represent a decisive break with the past. "The Rome Statute goes to enormous pains to make it virtually impossible for the court to be manipulated by anyone," he told the Weekly. "The problem with UN instruments is enforcement. The General Assembly is essentially powerless, and the veto of the five permanent members of the Security Council complicates the passing of binding resolutions. But assuming the Rome Statute is implemented, the ICC will not have this problem. It will represent the very first completely independent international entity not subject to the whims of the powers that be. Which is, of course, why those powers don't like it." Abu Jahjah is more circumspect. "The ICC should give us new hope. But when you see how the US and Israel are reacting, you begin to lose some of that hope. We still live in a world where the balance of power dictates the framework of international law -- who you can indict, who you can put behind bars. I am afraid the Court will remain inoperative, as long as the US doesn't want to see it operate." And the US and Israel have some pretty powerful motives to want to see the ICC paralysed. As Sigler himself wrote recently: "United States opposition to the ICC is quite justified, but not from fear of political or spurious investigations or prosecutions. The problem is the fact that, at least since the Gulf War, the US has routinely engaged in war crimes, and to a lesser extent crimes against humanity, as standard operating policy". As for Israel, they don't have to invade the West Bank or reduce Jenin to rubble to be liable for such action: their Ministry of Housing does it all for them. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are a straightforward contravention of the Geneva Conventions. As Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein remarked: "Israel cannot sign a convention which turns every settler into a war criminal and lumps together the mayor of the [West Bank] town of Ariel with a fighter-rapist from Bosnia." Faced with such recalcitrance, the temptation to abandon legal process altogether must be great. Yet despite his disappointment, Abu Jahjah does not view the Sharon trial as a complete waste of time. "We didn't put him behind bars, but we did expose him," he told the Weekly, "and a lot of people now associate his name with war crimes." He adds, not at all as an afterthought: "And we also learned that the separation of powers is a fiction, even in Belgium." The AEL have not entirely given up on the Western legal system. In particular, they are working to set up a documentation centre for Israeli war crimes, on the model of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, with a view to preserving precious documents which might otherwise be destroyed. Abu Jahjah does not exclude the possibility that they might take some of these cases to the ICC. Nevertheless, the lesson he takes away is a sobering one. "Arabs placed a lot of hope in the Sharon case, and some people took some wrong decisions based on that hope. We have to realise that people in the West may make gestures of solidarity, but we can't count on them. If we want justice, we will have to get it for ourselves -- whether through legal action, or through other forms of resistance." Sigler concurs that legal action can never in itself be the solution to the Palestinians' plight. "Such cases do help. Look at how seriously the Israelis took the Belgian case, even though they must have realised that it would probably never succeed." Yet he agrees with Abu Jahjah about the limits to the West's role. "The last 35 years of occupation should have made it obvious -- the West can help, but it can also hurt. No matter what happens, the end result is in the hand of the Arabs." Van Quickenborne for his part remains defiant, and determined that Belgium will continue to play its part. "I feel ashamed that we have a law and we cannot use it," he told the Weekly. "I feel especially ashamed for all those people who were gambling their hopes on us. But this is just one step. Maybe we have lost the first battle, but we will win the war." Sigler is more direct. "Demographic realities make Palestinian freedom inevitable. The only question is how many people the Israelis will slaughter in the process." John Sigler's essays on the Sharon trial and other related issues can be found at Essays and Commentary on Contemporary Middle East Issues: www.eccmei.net See also: www.arabeuropean.org http://www.sabra-shatila.be/english/ www.jewishfriendspalestine.org
WP 28 Jul 2002 Atrocities in Ukraine Sunday, July 28, 2002; Page B06 Thank you for publishing the July 23 front-page story "Soviet-Era Atrocity Unearthed in Ukraine." Sadly, it may have been news to the Western world, especially North America, but it was not in Ukraine. Almost every village there has graves, almost every family an atrocity to tell about. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians could not speak about what they had lived through. Those who had emigrated to the United States after the war, as refugees, were not believed. They were not believed about the genocide by famine of 1932-33, about the annihilation of the intelligentsia and clergy, about the skeletons and skulls surfacing in so many parks and woods, about the deliberate destruction of medieval churches and cultural antiquities. Now the Russians are concerned about the rehabilitation of Ukrainian freedom fighters of World War II? The Russians are also butting in to Ukrainian church affairs and language issues. The Russians should stay out of Ukrainian issues -- during the centuries of occupying Ukraine, they have done more than enough already. ORYSIA TRACZ Winnipeg, Manitoba