Rights & Wrongs: China, U.N. Peacekeepers, Cambodia and More

August 21, 2008 at 1:37 am Leave a comment

Juliette Terzieff | Bio | 19 Aug 2008
World Politics Review Exclusive

CONTINUING CONCERNS ABOUT CHINESE HUMAN RIGHTS — The spectacular Olympic picture China has sought to paint for a world audience continues to be marred by human rights abuses, as media outlets, human rights groups and international diplomats put pressure on the Olympic host to ease controls on the Chinese people.

U.S. President George W. Bush made several public calls for China to end repression during his high-profile visit to Asia and the Games, including an appeal outside a Beijing church, where Bush told journalists “God is universal and God is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion.”

Within hours of Bush’s remarks, reports began to surface of the dramatic escape from detention and flight into hiding by of one of China’s religious freedom advocates, Hua Huiqi. Security personnel nabbed Hua on Sunday, Aug. 10 as he attempted to make his way to the church where Bush and his entourage were celebrating mass. Later that evening, while his captors slept, Hua escaped from the makeshift detention center where he was being held and disappeared into hiding. Hua managed to get word of escape out through a few well-placed phone calls and emails.

Protests during the games have been minimal, thanks mostly to Beijing’s carefully crafted restrictions, which have made large-scale demonstrations impossible. Chinese authorities were extremely selective in issuing visas, forbidding entry to virtually anyone associated with rights groups that have a history of protests. They also announced the creation of official protest zones for the games just weeks before the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies, where would-be protesters could apply for permits to demonstrate. However, those foolish enough to actually apply have found themselves facing questioning and, in some cases, detention.

A few protesters — mainly from Students for a Free Tibet — have managed to stage small, highly public protests in Beijing and Hong Kong (where the equestrian events are being held), though all involved have been quickly arrested and deported. In one instance, a British reporter was detained and assaulted by security services while covering a small Tibet protest.

U.N. FINDS EVIDENCE OF D.R. CONGO SEXUAL ABUSE — An internal United Nations investigation into allegations of abuse by members of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has reportedly found that at least 100 Indian peacekeepers were involved in the sexual abuse of young girls and boys over a period of several years.

While details of the investigation have not been made public, U.N. and DRC officials have indicated there is evidence the peacekeepers were running a prostitution ring. Indian and Pakistani peacekeepers are also accused of trafficking gold and weapons in the African country.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Indian authorities to investigate and punish the offending soldiers to the “maximum degree permitted under Indian law.” The U.N. does not have the power to punish soldiers serving as part of peacekeeping missions.

Indian authorities have not denied the investigation’s findings and have vowed disciplinary action once their own investigation is complete.

“In a whole range of African countries where there are factional fightings, there are paramilitaries operating all over and serious violations of human rights by everybody, the U.N. peacekeepers have also been tempted and fallen prey to this utterly unacceptable standard of behavior,” Retired Indian Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee, now director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, told Voice of America.

This is not the first time the U.N.’s Congo mission has been accused of human rights abuses. In 2004, U.N. peacekeepers and staff were accused of a host of abuses in a “sex-for-food” scandal that included incidents of rape, videotaping and distribution of sexual encounters with young girls, and coerced prostitution.

Peacekeepers and aid workers serving in other countries, including Burundi, Haiti, Sudan and the Ivory Coast, have also been accused of abusing the children they are supposed to be helping, according to a report released in May 2008 by Save the Children.

KHMER ROUGE TRIALS MOVE FORWARD AMID CONTROVERSY — Cambodia’s United Nations-backed genocide tribunal formally indicted its first defendant Aug. 12, paving the way for the long-awaited first trial of a Khmer Rouge official. But even as the court’s mission moved forward, the tribunal created an “ethics monitor” to investigate persistent corruption allegations that have endangered the tribunal’s future.

Sixty-six-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Dutch, faces charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes for offenses committed when he was chief of the notorious S-21 prison. Just over a dozen of the approximate 17,000 Cambodians that passed through the Khmer Rouge’s largest detention and torture center survived.

Cambodians have waited three decades for trials of the men and women responsible for mass atrocities during the Khmer Rouge’s disastrous 1975-1979 rule, when an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from torture, starvation and disease. Five top Khmer Rouge leaders have been arrested in the last year and face indictments at the tribunal, though age and health may prevent some of them from ever standing trial.

International donors have been withholding payments to the tribunal since June due to corruption concerns, as the proceedings continue to run over budget and behind schedule. The tribunal is seeking an extra $87 million to continue operations through 2010.

BRITISH ANTI-TERROR LAWS CRITICIZED — Britain’s counterterrorism laws are infringing upon the right to free expression, the United Nations Human Rights Committee alleges in a new review.

The Human Rights Committee is “the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” by those states that are party to the covenant.

In a review of the United Kingdom’s compliance with the provisions of the covenant that was released in July, the U.N. body made observations about the human rights situation in Britain, noting three “positive aspects” and 24 “principle subjects of concern,” along with recommendations for addressing those concerns.

The British press particularly picked up on the committee’s recommendations with respect to Britain’s 2006 Terrorism Act.

“The Committee notes with concern that the offence of ‘encouragement of terrorism’ has been defined in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 in broad and vague terms,” the committee said. “In particular, a person can commit the offence even when he or she did not intend members of the public to be directly or indirectly encouraged by his or her statement to commit acts of terrorism, but where his or her statement was understood by some members of the public as encouragement to commit such acts.”

The committee recommends that Britain consider amending portions of the terrorism act relating to the “encouragement of terrorism” so that the application of these provisions do not “lead to a disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.”

Great Britain has enacted a series of tough anti-terrorism measures in the last three years that human rights groups have often criticized. Human rights groups have also criticized Britain for its participation in U.S. “extraordinary rendition” operations. With regard to the latter, the U.N. committee’s report recommends that the U.K. “investigate allegations related to transit through its territory of rendition flights and establish an inspection system to ensure that its airports are not used for such purposes.”

British lawmakers are due to consider further anti-terrorism measures later this year, including extending the limit on pretrial detentions without charge to 42 days and extending the amount of time access to a lawyer may be denied to suspects.

Juliette Terzieff is a journalist specializing in human rights. She pens Rights & Wrongs for World Politics Review every week.

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