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.


(Trying Not to) Remember Tiananmen

© 1989 Hei Han Khiang

© 1989 Hei Han Khiang

It seems Chinese authorities were busy today. While people around the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstrations and ensuing massacre at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, police reportedly swarmed into the sqaure, in order to nip any potential protest in the bud. Numerous websites were blocked, including Twitter, Hotmail, and Flickr, along with many Chinese blogs and other sites. A former Tiananmen protester was sent on a government-sponsored “vacation” to keep him from carrying out a hunger strike.

Although the Chinese government seems to be doing all it can to help people forget about the people who died in the massacre, that didn’t stop 150,000 people from attending a vigil in Hong Kong, and it didn’t stop supporters in Washington, DC, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from speaking out about human rights in China.

Regardless of what one thinks of the demands the protesters were making 20 years ago today, no one can deny that there was a massacre, and nothing can justify killing peaceful protesters. The country may have come a long way economically since 1989, but China’s human rights record still leaves a lot to be desired.

Tiananmen 20th Anniversary Coming Up

© 1989 Hei Han Khiang

© 1989 Hei Han Khiang

As I’m sure many of you know, June 3-4, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Two decades after the crackdown, about 50 people who were involved in the demonstrations are believed to remain in prison. The Chinese authorities continue to refuse to carry out an open, independent and impartial inquiry into the events of 1989, and no one has been brought to justice for their role in the crackdown. Attempts to mark the anniversary of the crackdown have been suppressed, and public debate or discussion of the events is banned.

This Thursday, Amnesty International is co-sponsoring an event on Capitol Hill to commemorate the 20th anniversary. Speakers will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as survivors of the Tiananmen crackdown and other prominent faith, government and human rights leaders, as well as Amnesty’s own T. Kumar.

If you’re not in the DC area, there are lots of other events happening around the country and around the world this week. Get involvedkeep the memory of Tiananmen alive!

Momentum on accountability issues continues to build

It has been a busy week with developments on multiple fronts concerning the abuse of detainees held in the War on Terror. Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) has announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings next Wednesday to explore ideas on how best to establish a commission to examine past national security policies.

In an interview broadcast on MSNBC House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat, California 8th District) expressed support for the Commission of Inquiry proposed by Senator Leahy but only if it were to conduct its business without offering immunity to those who appear before it:

“Some of the issues involved here, like the services part, politicizing of the Justice Department, and the rest, they have criminal ramifications, and I don’t think we should be giving them immunity… No one is above the law.”  

News also emerged that  the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat, California), is considering launching an inquiry into the “extreme” interrogation practices used by the CIA under the Bush administration.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Finnish diplomat Martin Scheinin, delivered a report concluding that foreign agents committed “an internationally wrongful act” by participating in interrogations at Guantanamo even if they acted solely as observers. Intelligence Officers from 18 different countries have been granted access to their nationals detained at facility.

Scheinin also called on the Obama administration and Congress to press charges against anyone suspected of breaking US laws against torture and other crimes:

“We have had a witch hunt for alleged terrorists for the past 7 1/2 years. Now I think the witch hunt is over and it is time for the law to step in.”

Finally, one chilling reminder of just how important these issues remain comes from the legal charity Reprieve which represents 31 of the Guantanamo detainees, including British detainee Binyam Mohamed released earlier this week. 

Defense attorney Ahmed Ghappour reported that his clients are telling him that abuses at the facility have escalated sharply since the inauguration of President Obama as guards seek “to get their kicks in” before the camp is closed. Ghappour stressed that he believed that this abuse was not directed from above but reflected the frustrations and prejudices of individual guards, some of whom had served in Iraq and were scarred by their experience. In one of the six main camps at Guantanamo all of the detainees Ghappour knew of were on hunger strike and subject of forced feeding.

The Pentagon review of the Guantanamo facility led by Admiral Patrick Walsh also concluded this week. While the Admiral reported that the inmates were being treated in line with the standards laid down in the Geneva Conventions, he also acknowledged documenting 14 substantiated incidences of abuse including the “preemptive use of pepper spray” on detainees.  

The objectives of the Counter Terror with Justice campaign remain as vital and urgent as ever. We need AI sections across the country to keep up their good work pressing for accountability. With your help real reform may just be in reach.