Mali, Algeria and the Arms Trade Treaty: A Parable for US Security?

© YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

© YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Could the NRA’s opposition to an arms trade treaty have consequences for US security?

There are many confusing messages coming from the National Rifle Association with regard to the effort to forge a global arms trade treaty. The NRA poo-poos arguments that point to the incredible human suffering the unregulated global arms trade is causing, including the thousands of children who are forced to become soldiers. The NRA also continues to deliberately and falsely claim that the treaty will undermine gun rights in the United States, in spite of the fact that the draft treaty text from the July United Nations conference reiterates that the treaty’s ambit is the arms trade between nations, not within them.

Underpinning the NRA’s view of the treaty and the world is that any effort to restrict small arms and conventional weapons is bad, as it undermines individual security, which can only be safeguarded by arming the “good guys.” If this is the case, then what does the NRA have to say about the recent events that transpired in Algeria and are still unfolding in Mali?


A Perverse Equality in Malawi and Other Gay Rights News

Uganda's proposed "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" received support from Christian groups © Demotix/Edward Echwalu

Last year, a couple was imprisoned for several months in Malawi following a traditional engagement ceremony based on a law criminalizing homosexuality. Similar laws exist in about 2/3 of African Union member nations. They were eventually pardoned by President Mutharika following loud international condemnation. Apparently, however, this incident served to bring to light a gap in Malawi’s laws members of Parliament decided to address.

Early last month, a bill was passed in Malawi’s parliament criminalizing homosexuality between women. Evidently there was concern the prior law could be construed to only apply to men, and since Malawi is clearly dedicated to making all things equal, decided it was necessary consenting adult women sharing their love also deserved the right to go to prison. As far as I know, the bill has yet to be signed into law by President Mutharika.

In more positive news this week, a court in Uganda decided publishing the names of LGBT people is completely uncool. While a pending law  allowing for punishment by the death penalty for engaging in homosexuality lingers in limbo, an enterprising tabloid decided putting names and pictures in papers with the words “hang them” was an appropriate vigilante maneuver.  

So boo to Malawi legislators and three cheers to the Ugandan high court as LGBT individuals struggle to be treated with respect, dignity and human rights in Africa.

All Malawians Should be Treated with Love

ADAM-022473-0005-C003049973-026548Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika will purportedly participate in a traditional engagement ceremony on Valentine’s Day with the lovely woman he has been seen escorting of late. I wish him all the happiness in the world. But at the same time Mutharika looks forward to sharing his life with the person of his choice, two men remain jailed in Malawi because they tried to do the same.

At the end of December 2009, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested following their participation in a traditional engagement ceremony. They are currently on trial for “unnatural practices between males” and “gross public indecency.” They remain imprisoned after being denied bail, purportedly for their own safety, and face public ridicule when appearing in court. They have applied for relief to the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of their arrest under Malawian law but have yet to receive a ruling.

Following the arrest of Monjeza and Chimbalanga, three things have happened. First, Malawi’s gay rights movement has become much more active. Second, Malawi has harshly cracked down on gay rights activists. Third, the international community has mobilized, demanding the release of these two men and the repeal of homosexuality as a crime in Malawi. I view two of these outcomes as very positive, and unfortunately, one of them not so much. The arrest of someone for putting up posters that read “Gay Rights are Human Rights” is not only harassment, but it is violative of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Malawi is a signatory.

Malawi is also pushing back against the international community, stating other nations and individuals have no right to dictate the laws in their country, raising fears Malawi will only entrench further on its anti-homosexuality stance in the face of this criticism. As a general rule, I appreciate the concept of sovereignty and that other States should stay out of the business of running a nation. However, when persons are discriminated against, their rights violated, their civil liberties trampled, their basic freedoms curtailed and their safety endangered purely because of who they are as individuals, it is the duty of all human beings to stand up and say that this is wrong.

President Mutharika looks to have a very busy year between settling into a new marriage and assuming the African Union chairmanship.  The increased visibility and prestige of chairing the African Union makes it incumbent upon Mutharika to set positive standards for all of the continent.  Monjeza and Chimbalanga return to court tomorrow as their case resumes. Stand up and do your duty as a global citizen and urge Malawi to treat all its citizens, gay and straight, president and average Joe, with love.

Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau

Tentative Hope for Internally Displaced Persons in Africa


Children in Kalma Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, South Darfur, Sudan.

An internally displaced person is someone forced from their home by natural disaster, extreme poverty or political conflict but do not leave the borders of their homeland. This is the crucial difference between internally displaced persons and refugees; refugees cross a border, leaving their homeland and subject to protections afforded by international treaties. There are more than 25 million internally displaced persons (IDP’s)  in the world, outnumbering refugees by a ratio of two to one. However the vast majority of relief efforts target refugees rather than IDPs and there are no United Nations agencies or international treaties that specifically target this population-until now.

 Africa is home to at least half of the world’s IDP’s. Algeria, Sudan, Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) all have at least a million IDP’s each. “[In Africa,] forced displacement … is mostly attributable to the acts or omissions of the state, such as human rights violations, political and socio-economic marginalization, conflicts over natural resources and governance challenges, according to the AU.” In late October, seventeen member nations of the African Union signed the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons. Previously, the only international law document specifically targeted to IDP’s was the Guiding Principles for Internal Displacement. As the name suggests, this document only lists suggested principles of behavior to prevent and manage situations of displacement; it is what’s referred to as “soft law” in that it is not binding on State’s behavior. Conventions and treaties, on the other hand, are binding on State’s behavior and can lead to sanctions or adjudication. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

No Good Governance in Southern Africa?

Even though The Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided no former African leader merited its $5 million prize this year; when it ranked African nations on good governance, five of the top 10 were countries monitored by Amnesty International USA’s Southern Africa Co-group: Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Sao Tome y Principe and Lesotho. Zimbabwe was in the bottom five. (I know: shocking.)

Botswana, which you might only be familiar with through The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is often hailed as a shining light of democracy in Africa. Last week, Batswanans went to the polls and elected Ian Khama to a new 5 year term as president. Khama assumed the presidency last year when then President Festus Mogae  stepped aside for his then-Vice President in order to allow him to run as an incumbent this year. Talk about your smooth transitions of power, right? Except this is the second time this has happened and also ensures that the same ruling party remain in power for the past 43 years.


Mozambique Rocks the Vote

Mozambique goes to the polls tomorrow in its fourth general election since independence from Portugal in 1975. Parliamentary control and the Presidency are up for grabs. Election observors from the African Union, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community have arrived to monitor the elections. Which is good, because so far things have been a bit bumpy.

President Armando Guebuza of the governing Frelimo party is being challenged by Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo, and Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira city and founder of the Mozambican Democratic Movement. Seventeen parties and two coalitions are meanwhile in the running for seats in the Mozambican parliament and, for the first time, provincial assemblies.

So far, there have been several incidents of violence between supporters of Frelimo and Renamo, resulting in harm to persons and property. Several people have been hospitalized or forced to seek medical attention while offices have been vandalized and property stolen. Violence is often a serious issue in Mozambique; Amnesty International has documented many incidents of extra-judicial killings by the police with few prosecutions of the perpetrators and no justice for the victims or their families.

Mozambique has recently been praised by the International Monetary Fund for its economic policies and last month President Guebuza chaired the World Climate Conference, taking a strong stand on the need for new environmental policies to address climate change. Emerging in 1992 from a devastating civil war, Mozambique is now poised to take strong strides in the region and become a leader on climate change, tourism and economic development (despite the nation’s current continuing desperate poverty). Let’s hope a free and fair election unmarred by further violence or human rights violations speeds Mozambique further along this path.

(Trying to) block out the world

On Thursday, March 12th, Amnesty USA posted a new web action aimed at getting Sudan to reinstate the operations of 13 international humanitarian aid agencies that were kicked out of Sudan and 3 domestic agencies that were shut down after the International Criminal cort issued an arrst warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.  The action targets the UN Missions of the African Union and League of Arab States and the Sudanese Embassy in the U.S.  

On Friday, calls from activists started pouring in, all with the same complaint: their emails to all three targets were being returned as “undeliverable”.   It would seem that facing a deluge of emails, the targets blocked their accounts from receiving incoming messages. So, now, Amnesty is asking activists to fax messages to these three targets urging them to persuade Sudan to rescind its orders.

The very people who ought to be looking out for the victims of the conflict in Darfur are trying to block words from reaching them that urge the continuance of life-saving support for millions of vulnerable men, women, and children.  Just as Sudan would pull the plug on this life-support system, people who could persuade Sudanese authorities to reinstate these 16 key aid groups are plugging their ears to the world’s outrage and urgent plea for help.