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?


5 Steps Forward, 5 Steps Back: Catching and Convicting War Criminals

international justice fugatives

Click image to view full infographic and list of wanted fugatives

Today, supporters of human rights mark the Global Day for International Justice, an anniversary the need for which makes ‘celebration’ difficult, if not impossible.  A cursory look over last year of developments as it relates to securing justice for the most egregious of crimes—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—might yield cause for optimism, however.

Five Steps Forward for Justice

  1. Over the last year, following a UN Security Council referral of Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found reasonable grounds for issuing arrest warrants for top Libyan officials, even as conflict was ongoing, demonstrating the ability and importance of the court in active crises.
  2. The ICC saw the first verdict and sentence handed down as Thomas Lubanga answered for conscription of children in devastating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
  3. Also over the last year, Laurent Gbagbo, the former head of state of Cote d’Ivoire, became the first head of state to be surrendered to the ICC for alleged crimes, only one week after his indictment.
  4. At the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic finally faces prosecution for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the largest mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II.
  5. The first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremburg trials, as my colleague Angela Chang describes, was a historic step for international justice.


Ex-Liberian President Who Brought "Blood Diamonds" Into the Public Consciousness, Found Guilty of War Crimes

Charles Taylor

Today, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in The Hague convicted Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, with aiding and abetting 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including murder, rape, sexual slavery and use of child soldiers – committed during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war.

Set up jointly by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations, the Special Court is  a “hybrid” or “mixed” tribunal, including both international and Sierra Leonean staff,  as well as  elements of both international and Sierra Leonean law.

Charles Taylor is the first former head of state to have been prosecuted in an international criminal court for crimes committed in Africa, and today’s conviction marks the first verdict for a head of state charged with international war crimes since the Nuremberg trials following World War II.


No One's Above the Law

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Last Thursday the Washington Post columnist and Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen launched a vitriolic attack on Amnesty International for advocating for former President Bush’s arrest during a trip to Africa.

Amnesty urged officials in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to detain Mr. Bush so that his role in ordering the torture of detainees in US custody could be properly investigated. Thiessen called for official Washington to shun Amnesty for taking this position, which he said took the organization out of the political mainstream and into the fever swamps:

“Conservative groups concerned with freedom, democracy, and human rights should similarly refuse to work with Amnesty. The group should pay a steep reputational price for stupidity such as this. If Amnesty wants to behave like a left-wing fringe group, it should be treated as such.”


Digging Deeper Into Naomi Campbell’s "Dirty Little Stones"

By Tom Turner, Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

Did Naomi Campbell know who Charles Taylor was, before the then president of Liberia gave her a bag of rough diamonds? Did she immediately know that the “dirty little stones” in the bag were in fact diamonds? What did she do next? All of this seems rather far from the concerns of Amnesty International, and perhaps more suited to Entertainment Tonight or TMZ than to a serious news outlet.

As I conceded during an interview on WCCO News Radio 830 (Minneapolis), perhaps we should be grateful for the brief attention to the blood diamonds issue in 2010, which had almost disappeared from view since receiving vast attention in 2006, when the Hollywood film starring Leonardo Di Caprio was earning millions of dollars. In my view, that is not really the case. The film stressed the link between the precious stones and the violence they fueled, albeit in a formulaic manner.

This time, however, the brief news stories and video footage provided too little information to enable the listener or viewer to contextualize the Campbell-Taylor episode. Often, one had to read several paragraphs of celebrity “she said, she said” regarding Campbell, her former assistant, and Mia Farrow, before even learning that all this was taking place in an international courtroom in The Hague (Netherlands).

A diamond merchant shows his wares in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Despite its pledge to support the Kimberley Process and Clean Diamond Trade Act, the Diamond Industry has fallen short of implementing the necessary policies for self-regulation. © Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

Charles Taylor is alleged to have traded weapons for rough diamonds from Sierra Leone and in so doing, to have fueled the civil war in that country. During Sierra Leone’s civil war, approximately 75,000 civilians were killed. Over one-third of the population—two million people—was displaced. More than 5,000 children were recruited to fight in both government and opposition forces. Many civilians suffered amputated limbs.

Former President Taylor stands accused of unlawful killings, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, abduction, and the use of forced labor by Sierra Leonean armed opposition groups, which he is alleged to have actively supported.

Amnesty International supported the Kimberley Process, by which diamonds would be certified conflict-free. It has called on the Kimberley Process to strengthen its commitment to protecting human rights and to improve the peer review mechanism. Amnesty continues to press the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in their countries. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done.

The diamond industry must be reminded that corporate impunity for past crimes relating to blood diamonds will not be tolerated. This is important, as a sign to the victims and the families that the crimes committed against them are not being forgotten. It is equally important as a warning to the people in the industry that we in the human rights community have our eyes on them and will not be as slow to react next time as we were in the case of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Tom Turner is Democratic Republic of Congo Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA. He is the author of The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality (Zed Books, 2007).