Archive | April 2011

From Death Row to Oslo: Mumia’s case spotlights U.S. non-compliance

An appeals court yesterday unanimously declared Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence unconstitutional, marking the second time the court has agreed with a lower court judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding that jurors were given confusing instructions that encouraged them to give the former Black Panther a death sentence.

Abu-Jamal, convicted in 1982 of murdering a white police officer, has always professed his innocence. For years, human rights groups have said his original trial was deeply flawed and have been calling for a new chance for Abu-Jamal to prove his innocence. In 2000, Amnesty International called for a new trial on the basis that his original trial was racially biased.

“This is not about an issue affecting the life of just one man,” Amnesty International said. “This is about justice – which affects us all. And justice, in this case, can only be served by a new trial.”

Amnesty’s exhaustively researched report, “A Life in The Balance — The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” begins by noting the international significance of Mumia’s case, which has generated “more controversy and received more attention, both national and international, than that of any other inmate currently under sentence of death in the United States of America.”

It goes on to discuss the factual discrepancies and procedural problems of the original trial:

In a case where the prosecution’s theory of the crime rests on a specific sequence of events involving an exchange of gunfire, the gathering of ballistics evidence is crucial – as is the ability of the defence to present its own expert testimony on the significance of that evidence. The failure of the police to test Abu-Jamal’s gun, hands and clothing for evidence of recent firing is deeply troubling. Without the ability to hear and assess that missing evidence, the jury was required to reach a verdict based largely on the contradictory  and variable testimony of a limited list of eye witnesses.

The United States has consistently come under fire from its European allies for its application of the death penalty, which sets it apart from all other Western democracies. Last year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the OSCE PA, which counts the U.S. as a member – reiterated its call for all of its 56 participating states to abolish the death penalty.

The United States is one of only two OSCE countries – along with Belarus – that continues the practice of putting its citizens to death.

Last year, the OSCE PA, in its Oslo Declaration, expressed its deep concern that people are still being sentenced to death and executions are carried out in Belarus and in the USA.

Recalling previous resolutions on the death penalty passed by the OSCE PA, the Oslo Declaration urges a moratorium on capital punishment and to respect safeguards protecting the rights of those facing the death penalty, as laid down in the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council Safeguards.

In response to European criticism at the OSCE’s October 2010 Review Conference Session on the human dimension commitments, the U.S. delegation maintained that capital punishment is used in the United States only as a measure of last resort and is reserved for particularly heinous crimes, and administered only after due process has been followed.

Further, the United States Mission pointed out that capital punishment is not prohibited under any international law, nor does it violate any OSCE commitments. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes its legitimacy,” said the U.S. ambassador, “and our Constitution has vested individual states with the authority to take decisions on this matter.”

Yet, human rights groups would take exception to this claim as it pertains to Mumia Abu-Jamal. As Amnesty International said in 2000:

After many years of monitoring the case and an exhaustive review of the original documents, Amnesty International has concluded that the proceedings under which Mumia Abu-Jamal was tried, convicted and sentenced to death fail to reach the minimum international standards for fair trials.

The latest development in the saga of Mumia Abu-Jamal is indeed a cause for celebration, but at the same time, there is no indication that he will be granted a new trial as called for by international justice. Therefore, we must continue to call for Mumia’s freedom.

Obama cynically claims the U.S. is ‘a nation of laws’

In response to a question raised at a fundraiser in San Francisco last week about the detention and abusive treatment of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, President Obama said, “We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our decisions about how the laws operate.” Referring specifically to PFC Manning, Obama stated flatly: “He broke the law.”

Besides the impropriety of the President of the United States declaring the guilt of a suspect before that individual has even had a day in court, it is really the height of cynicism for Obama to claim that as “a nation of laws,” Manning must be punished for what he has allegedly done.

Accused of leaking thousands of secret government documents to WikiLeaks that provide abundant evidence of criminal wrongdoing at all levels of government, including spying on UN officials in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, as well as the commission of brazen war crimes in Iraq, as revealed in the “Collateral Murder” video, Manning has been held in punitive solitary confinement conditions for nine months.

Just today, newspapers published reports based on new documents WikiLeaks has provided, which show that the military has been knowingly holding innocent people for years on end at the Guantanamo detention facility. As the Telegraph reported today,

Only about 220 of the people detained are assessed by the Americans to be dangerous international terrorists. A further 380 people are lower-level foot-soldiers, either members of the Taliban or extremists who travelled to Afghanistan whose presence at the military facility is questionable.

At least a further 150 people are innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs and drivers who were rounded up or even sold to US forces and transferred across the world. In the top-secret documents, senior US commanders conclude that in dozens of cases there is “no reason recorded for transfer”. …

About 20 juveniles, including a 14-year old boy have been held at Guantanamo. Several pensioners, including an 89 year old with serious health problems were incarcerated.

Guantanamo has been criticized for violating international law since its opening in January 2002, when the Bush administration announced that it was waiving the prisoners’ Geneva Convention protections. Bush claimed that the prisoners were unlawful enemy combatants not protected as prisoners of war.

On Feb. 8, 2002, the International Committee of the Red Cross disputed this claim, saying that both the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were prisoners of war fully protected by the Geneva Conventions. “They were captured in combat (and) we consider them prisoners of war,” ICRC spokesperson Darcy Christen told Reuters.

Shortly after taking office  Obama signed an executive order promising to close Guantanamo within a year. He then broke his promise by delaying the closure of the prison, and even extended the worst aspects of the Guantanamo system by continuing indefinite detentions without charge or trial, employing illegitimate military commissions, and blocking accountability for torture.

One of the reasons given by Obama for not trying the Guantanamo suspects in civil courts is that some of their confessions may have been extracted through torture, and thus considered inadmissible in any traditional court of law.

“This is Obama’s Guantánamo now,” says the Center for Constitutional Rights. “He has failed in his pledge to close the island prison from a lack of leadership and by bowing to political pressure. He should not have failed to say that innocent people have been imprisoned there for years, or failed to move quickly to charge people in federal courts. The transparency we were promised has been discarded.”

CCR also points out that the prison camp and the treatment of prisoners there violates a host of international and domestic laws:

The Obama administration has not stopped grave psychological and physical abuses including torture at Guantánamo nor secured accountability for the well-documented torture authorized and committed by Bush administration officials. Not only do reports of systematic abuses—including forced tube-feedings and beatings by a team of military guards known as the Immediate Reaction Force—continue, but so does severe prolonged solitary confinement, a form of torture that leaves invisible psychological damage long after physical wounds heal.

Under international standards for human rights, extended isolation is considered a form of torture and is banned. Also, as noted by the UN Committee against Torture, indefinite detention itself constitutes torture and is a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. CCR published a report on abusive conditions of confinement at Guantánamo under Obama. Some of these abuses are ongoing and continue to violate U.S. and international human rights law.

Now, as Obama claims that as a “nation of laws” PFC Bradley Manning must be punished, it appears that the illegal tactics developed by the military at Guantanamo are being turned against this alleged whistleblower.

In response to last week’s decision to move Manning from the Quantico Marine Corps Brig to a medium-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Amnesty International said: “We hope that Manning’s conditions will significantly improve at Fort Leavenworth, but we will be watching how he is treated very closely.  His conditions at Quantico have been a breach of international standards for humane treatment of an untried prisoner.”

NATO forces hit civilian areas in Libya, commence drone attacks

Protest against drone attacks in Pakistan on April 22, 2011

The UN Security Council resolution purportedly authorizing U.S./NATO operations in Libya was further undermined yesterday when NATO airstrikes reportedly hit civilian targets in Tripoli and other cities.

As France 24 reports today,

NATO planes staged raids on civil and military sites in the Libyan capital Tripoli and other cities, JANA news agency said, without confirming the number of people killed and wounded. Earlier air raids conducted by the Western alliance struck near a compound in Tripoli where Kadhafi resides.

“A military source said civil and military sites were targeted by the colonialist aggressor,” said JANA, specifying that the strikes had also covered Al-Khums, Gharian, El Assa and Sirte, the birthplace of strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

Three new explosions rocked the Libyan capital in the late evening as NATO warplanes overflew Tripoli, AFP journalists said, after several earlier blasts in the city centre and outlying quarters.

The Chinese news agency Xinhau adds that civilian infrastructure was among NATO’s targets:

NATO warplanes bombed several military and civilian targets in Tripoli, resulting in casualties Saturday night.

Three loud explosions were heard near the Women’s Military Academy in downtown Tripoli after NATO fighter jets flew over the capital, a Xinhua correspondent said.

The NATO airstrike also targeted cities of al-Khums and Sirte, destroying water-supply and sewage systems as well as private cars, the state-run JANA news agency quoted the Libyan military as saying.

Even before the new reports of NATO hitting civilian targets, the military alliance was coming under criticism from the Libyan opposition — which NATO is ostensibly supporting — for not doing enough to protect civilians from pro-Gaddafi forces.

Last week, NATO reportedly halted operations in defense of civilians in the city of Ajdabiya, due to inclement weather conditions that inhibited their military capabilities. Libyan rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, however, pointed out to CNN that the loyalists who were bombing the city “have no problem with the weather conditions there.”

Gaddafi’s forces were using Grad missiles and mortars, the spokesman said, “and sometimes we feel that NATO wants to use any excuse out there so they don’t carry out their duties.”

But NATO leaders have already made it clear that they view their mission as deposing Gaddafi, not necessarily enforcing a no-fly zone or protecting civilians which Resolution 1973 originally authorized.

Two weeks ago, President Obama and his British and French counterparts, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, made public their objective of regime change, which was specifically not authorized by Resolution 1973. In a  joint op-ed, they wrote:

So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

They subsequently made it clear that they were stretching Resolution 1973 even further, by sending in ground forces, despite the resolution’s explicit prohibition of “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

The reports of NATO attacks on civilian infrastructure are simply the next logical step in this process of mission creep. While NATO will undoubtedly deny that it is intentionally hitting infrastructure, history shows that this is certainly within its modus operandi.

In the 1999 bombing of Serbia, for example, NATO intentionally bombed bridges, a television station and other civilian targets in an effort to weaken Slobodan Milosevic’s communication and transportation capabilities. The attacks were a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as are the alleged bombings of water-supply and sewage systems yesterday in Libya.

More civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. and NATO in Libya should be expected going forward, especially with the recent deployment of Predator drones in the country. These unmanned flying bombers have become notorious in Pakistan and Afghanistan for indiscriminately killing civilians.

While the Pentagon insists on the targeting precision of drones, their track record is less than impressive. As Geoff Simons, author of Drone Diplomacy, points out in a letter to the Guardian,

The evidence is overwhelming that drone usage in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere massively increases “collateral damage”. On 6 May 2002 a drone killed 10 Afghan civilians in a car convoy. On 5 January 2006 a drone targeting al-Qaida‘s Ayman al-Zawahiri blew up a house in Pakistan. He wasn’t there and eight civilians were killed. A week later a Predator ordered into action from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, destroyed three houses in Demadola, Pakistan, killing 22 civilians, including five women and five children.

On 19 May 2009 a drone attacked homes of villagers in North Waziristan thought to be aiding insurgents, killing 14 women and children. On 2 December 2010, Conflict Monitoring Centre in Islamabad issued a report charging that the US was deliberately ignoring Pakistani civilian deaths (2,043 over five years) caused by drones. On 23 January 2011, after 13 more civilians were killed, 2,000 tribesmen in North Waziristan held a protest against drone missile strikes.

In May 2010 Philip Alston, UN special representative on extrajudicial executions, warned of a “PlayStation” mentality among drone operators in the United States. Alston, a professor of law at New York University, said that he’s “particularly concerned that the US asserts an ever-expanding entitlement to target individuals across the globe … an ill-defined licence to kill without accountability.”

The deployment of drones in Libya comes just on the heals of a drone attack in Pakistan that reportedly killed five children and four women, who were among the “militants” targeted for execution.

As the weapons are now being used in Libya, these sorts of tragedies will be expected, especially since the U.S. and NATO have already made clear that they are not bound by international law. Having already exceeded Resolution 1973 with declarations of regime change and commitment of ground forces in Libya, they now appear to be disregarding the Geneva Conventions in targeting civilian infrastructure.

The violations can only be expected to continue going forward, unless the U.S./NATO intervention is halted in its tracks.

Survey finds widespread support for torture and other war crimes

A survey recently conducted by the American Red Cross found that 59% of American teenagers and 51% of adults believe that it is sometimes acceptable to torture enemy fighters. Other war crimes supported by sizable minorities of Americans include “Deliberately attacking religious and historical monuments when there are no enemy combatants present,” (10% of youth and 6% of adults) and “Taking civilian hostages to be used in bargaining with the enemy,” which was supported by 30% of youth and 20% of adults.

37% of youth also support “Depriving civilians in combat areas of food, medicine, or water in order to weaken the enemy,” a war crime that is also supported by 29% of adults. A whopping 71% of youth and 55% of adults support “Refusing to allow prisoners to be visited by a representative from a neutral organization to confirm that they are being treated well.”

The fact that there is such widespread for these sorts of flagrant violations of international law could serve as a warning that these war crimes are likely to take place when these young people are sent off to fight in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and now, possibly Libya.

It’s also a sign of how far the U.S. has fallen from international norms that it once championed. While TV shows such as “24” may be responsible to some extent for the normalization of torture, it also should be noted that these are policies that the U.S. has been engaged for going on ten years now. The Obama administration’s failure to prosecute the greatest crimes of the Bush years has sent a clear signal that the United States does not take these matters seriously, and that perhaps these crimes are not even that objectionable after all.

Since the Enlightenment, torture was considered a thing of the past in Europe until the Nazis rose to power and legislated the permissibility of “third-degree” interrogation. Nazis used torture extensively in the nations Germany invaded and occupied in order to obtain information about resistance activities.

After World War II, torture was perceived as an aberration that must never be allowed to recur. In the official commentary on the text of the Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross wrote in 1949 that the conventions were intended to prevent “acts which world public opinion finds particularly revolting—acts which were committed frequently in the Second World War.”

President Bush, however, declared that he has the authority to suspend the Geneva Conventions. In interrogation practices from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay to Iraq, the United States disregarded not only the Geneva Conventions but the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were all created in response to World War II and have as their purpose preventing another Nazi-style descent into barbarity.

The fact that these laws are considered by so many Americans to be obsolete does not bode well for the future. Unless Americans can be convinced that these principles are important, and that we must never allow the return of medieval barbarity, it seems we should expect more torture and other war crimes in the years to come.

With ground forces in Libya, violations of Resolution 1973 abound

When Resolution 1973 was adopted by the UN Security Council, it was pitched to the public as the “establishment of a no-fly zone.” The Security Council’s press release on March 17 began,

Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters.

Initially, it appeared that Muammar Gaddafi was complying with the resolution’s first demand, “the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against civilians,” as he instantly declared a ceasefire following the vote.

Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, further promised that government troops would not try to enter the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, backing away from earlier threats, Agence France-Presse reported.

The United States, however, called the ceasefire announcement insufficient, demanding that the regime immediately pull all of its forces out of eastern Libya, which apparently Gaddafi failed to do in time.

The next day, the bombing began. In announcing the attacks, President Obama said,

Today I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians. That action has now begun.

In this effort, the United States is acting with a broad coalition that is committed to enforcing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for the protection of the Libyan people. …

Even yesterday, the international community offered Muammar Gaddafi the opportunity to pursue an immediate cease-fire, one that stopped the violence against civilians and the advances of Gaddafi’s forces. But despite the hollow words of his government, he has ignored that opportunity. His attacks on his own people have continued. His forces have been on the move. And the danger faced by the people of Libya has grown.

The Arab League, which had tentatively lent support to Resolution 1973, promptly objected to the bombing campaign. “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on March 20.

Despite the narrow limitations placed on the U.S. and NATO forces by the Security Council to enforce a no-fly zone in order to protect civilians, the Western powers soon made it clear that their objective was not simply to protect civilians, but to aid the rebels in the their efforts to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

As the L.A. Times reported on March 24, leaders of the rebel opposition were making regular contacts with allied military officials to help commanders identify targets for the U.S.-led air assault.

“There is communication between the Provisional National Council and UN assembled forces, and we work on letting them know what areas need to be bombarded,” rebel spokesman Ahmed Khalifa said.

Less than a month later, President Obama and his French and British counterparts made public their objective of regime change, which was specifically not authorized by Resolution 1973. In a  joint op-ed published last week, Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy wrote:

So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

It now appears that the Western powers are stretching Resolution 1973 even further, by sending in ground forces to the beleaguered North African nation. Despite Resolution 1973’s explicit prohibition of “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory,” Britain said Tuesday that it will send about a dozen senior soldiers to Libya to help organize the country’s haphazard rebel forces, joining British diplomats already cooperating with rebel leaders.

“They will advise the National Transitional Council on how to improve their military organizational structures, communications and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

The U.S., for its part, has said that it will not be sending ground troops to Libya, but that it supports the decision to do so by European allies.

“The President, obviously, was aware of this decision and supports it, and believes it will help the opposition,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “But it does not at all change the President’s policy on no boots on the ground for American troops.”

While claiming to exclude the possibility of “boots on the ground,” it has been clear for weeks that the U.S. at least has “shoes on the ground.” As the New York Times reported on March 30, “small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron is insisting that the UK’s decision to send “advisers” to Libya do not exceed the limits set by Resolution 1973.

“What we’ve said is there is no question of an invasion or an occupation, this is not about Britain putting boots on the ground, this is not what we are about here,” he said.

Cameron claimed that international forces in Libya would not exceed the terms set by the resolution, which specifically prohibits a foreign occupation force.

“It is because we have said we are not going to invade, we are not going to occupy (that) this is more difficult in many ways because we can’t fully determine the outcome with what we have available,” Cameron said. “But we are very clear that we must stick to the terms of the UN Security Council Resolution, we must keep the support of the Arab world.”

The UK and the U.S. – with its CIA advisers already in Libya – seem to be parsing words very carefully regarding how an “occupation” is defined. Under international law, a territory is considered occupied when it is placed under the authority of a foreign power.

Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations (HR) states that a “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross cites common Article 2 of the four Geneva Conventions, which apply to any territory occupied during international hostilities.

The ICRC, which is considered the world’s foremost authority on the Geneva Conventions, says,

The rules of international humanitarian law relevant to occupied territories become applicable whenever territory comes under the effective control of hostile foreign armed forces, even if the occupation meets no armed resistance and there is no fighting.

The question of “control” calls up at least two different interpretations. It could be taken to mean that a situation of occupation exists whenever a party to a conflict exercises some level of authority or control within foreign territory. So, for example, advancing troops could be considered bound by the law of occupation already during the invasion phase of hostilities. This is the approach suggested in the ICRC’s Commentary to the Fourth Geneva Convention (1958).

An alternative and more restrictive approach would be to say that a situation of occupation exists only once a party to a conflict is in a position to exercise sufficient authority over enemy territory to enable it to discharge all of the duties imposed by the law of occupation. This approach is adopted by a number of military manuals.

Regardless of whether one accepts the more narrow view of how an occupation is defined or the broader view embraced by the ICRC, the decision to send ground forces into Libya – even as advisers – appears to violate the letter and the spirit of Resolution 1973, which excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

As the Libyan intervention enters its second month, the violations of its “authorization” abound. This renders the U.S. and NATO actions unlawful under the UN Charter, which prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

While Resolution 1973 “Demands that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law,” it seems that this compliance is not required of the self-appointed enforcers of international law.

U.S. walks fine line in (almost) condemning cluster munitions in Libya

In a report being repeated endlessly in Western media, Human Rights Watch claimed last week that “Government forces loyal to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, have fired cluster munitions into residential areas in the western city of Misrata, posing a grave risk to civilians.”

When asked about this on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said,

I’d have to say I’m not surprised at anything that Colonel Qadhafi and his forces do, but that is worrying information and it’s one of the reasons why the fight in Misrata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas, and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.

Clinton’s tepid response is interesting for a few reasons, not the least of which because she uncharacteristically declines the opportunity to flat-out condemn the enemy for its barbaric tactics.

Instead, she points out that fighting in Misrata is “difficult,” being at “close quarters,” which poses “challenges to both NATO and to the opposition,” i.e., the forces that NATO is supporting in their efforts to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. The implication seems to be that “accidents may happen,” and that both NATO and the opposition should be forgiven if they happen to kill a few civilians.

It should also be noted that she falls far short of condemning outright the alleged use of cluster munitions by pro-Gaddafi forces. It might be said, in fact, that she sidesteps the question altogether.

While Human Rights Watch blames the Libyan side for the cluster bombs, the group has provided no evidence that the Gaddafi regime — or its backers — was responsible. The only “proof” that Human Rights Watch provides is the physical evidence of the bomb itself, which raises more questions than it answers.

HRW researchers inspected a submunition found in the el-Shawahda neighborhood of Misrata on the night of April 14 and determined that it was “a Spanish-produced MAT-120 120mm mortar projectile, which opens in mid-air and releases 21 submunitions over a wide area.”

The Libyan authorities, however, have categorically denied using the weapons. Mussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for Gaddafi, said on Sunday, “Absolutely no. We can’t do this. Morally, legally we can’t do this.”

Ibrahim called on HRW to provide more evidence:

We will never do it. We challenge them to prove it. To use these bombs, you know, the evidence will remain for days and weeks, and we know the international community is coming en masse on our country soon.

It is ironic, to say the least, that while Libya vociferously denies using these weapons, their origin is not in dispute. Being manufactured by NATO ally Spain, it is at least conceivable that they were in fact dropped by the U.S. or NATO rather than Libya, yet this possibility has apparently not been entertained by Western media or Human Rights Watch.

All we have are the claims of the armed rebels attempting to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. CNN quotes an unnamed “opposition spokesman” going by the alias of “Muhammed,” who said today,

The shelling and destruction by Gadhafi’s forces has not stopped since yesterday. They are shelling mortar shells, cluster bombs and splinter mortar shells. The splinter mortar shells explode and throw lethal shrapnel, which has caused most of the tragedies.

There are painfully few independent sources within Libya that can confirm claims by either side, yet the burden of proof remains on the pro-Gaddafi forces, and decidedly not on the U.S./NATO forces. This, despite the fact that all verifiable evidence would seem to point to Western complicity.

While the media dutifully reports that Libya has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, it is rarely noted that neither has the United States of America, nor that the U.S. has repeatedly used these weapons and has consistently defended their use.

In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for example, the U.S. dropped nearly 10,800 cluster bombs on residential areas in the country, according to an investigative report by USA Today. According to the four-month investigation,

The Pentagon presented a misleading picture during the war of the extent to which cluster weapons were being used and of the civilian casualties they were causing. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on April 25, six days before President Bush declared major combat operations over, that the United States had used 1,500 cluster weapons and caused one civilian casualty. It turns out he was referring only to cluster weapons dropped from the air, not those fired by U.S. ground forces.

In fact, the United States used 10,782 cluster weapons, according to the declassified executive summary of a report compiled by U.S. Central Command, which oversaw military operations in Iraq. Centcom sent the figures to the Joint Chiefs in response to queries from USA TODAY and others, but details of the report remain secret.

While the U.S. banned the export of cluster munitions in March 2009, there has been no stated policy change regarding their use, which at least raises the possibility that the bombs found in Libya may have been dropped by coalition forces.

Spain, which manufactured the weapons discovered by Human Rights Watch, is a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It claims that it has never used cluster munitions, although has acknowledged that in the past it produced, stockpiled, and exported them.

The Spanish Ministry of Defense stated that Spain completed the destruction of its stockpile of 5,587 cluster munitions on March 18, 2009, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.

Although Libya did not participate in any of the international preparatory meetings to develop the text of the international cluster munitions ban, it did attend two regional conferences promoting it and endorsed declarations supporting the ban convention.

“Libya chose to attend the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008 only as an observer,” says the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, “and thus did not join the 107 full participants in adopting the convention.”

The U.S., on the other hand, has effectively rejected the ban on cluster munitions and opted out of the international negotiations altogether. In justifying the U.S.’s use of cluster bombs and its refusal to accede to the international ban on the weapons, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in 2008,

The US did not participate in the Cluster Munitions Convention negotiations because we believe that cluster munitions are an integral part of our and many of our coalition partners’ military operations. The elimination of cluster munitions from our stockpiles would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk. There are no substitute munitions, and some of the possible alternatives could actually increase the damage that results from an attack.

In November 2009, an Obama administration State Department official said that “many States, including the United States, have determined that their national security interests cannot be fully ensured consistent with the terms of the [Convention on Cluster Munitions].”

It is little wonder then that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would decline the opportunity to condemn the alleged use of these weapons by pro-Gaddafi forces. The U.S., after all, is walking a very fine line — on one hand attempting to demonize an enemy, but on the other reserving the right to use the enemy’s tactics, however deplorable.

U.S. silent over hospitalized Bahraini hunger striker

Bahraini activist Zaynab al-Khawaja

A 27-year-old Bahraini woman who launched a hunger strike last week in protest of the violent arrest of her husband and father was taken to the hospital yesterday, so ill that she could not talk or move, said Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

CNN is reporting that she was released after refusing doctors to administer an intravenous tube.

Zaynab al-Khawaja is the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini human rights activist who was severely beaten by Bahraini police and arrested earlier this month. Her husband, brother-in-law and uncle were also arrested, accused of taking part in peaceful protests against the Bahraini regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. None of them have been seen since being taken into custody.

Zaynab  wrote the following letter to President Obama and began her hunger strike on April 12, 2011, pledging that she will refuse food until all four men are released.

Mr. President,

I write to you from Bahrain, after living through horrible injustice that I would never wish upon anyone in the world. Security forces attacked my home, broke our doors with sledgehammers, and terrified my family. Without any warning, without an arrest warrant and without giving any reasons; armed, masked men attacked my father. Although they said nothing, we all know that my father’s crime is being a human rights activist. My father was grabbed by the neck, dragged down a flight of stairs and then beaten unconscious in front of me. He never raised his hand to resist them, and the only words he said were “I can’t breathe”. Even after he was unconscious the masked men kept kicking and beating him while cursing and saying that they were going to kill him. This is a very real threat considering that in the past two weeks alone three political prisoners have died in custody. The special forces also beat up and arrested my husband and brother-in-law.

Since their arrest, 3 days ago, we have heard nothing. We do not know where they are and whether they are safe or not. In fact, we still have no news of my uncle who was arrested 3 weeks ago, when troops put guns to the heads of his children and beat his wife severely.

Having studied in America, I have seen how strongly your people believe in freedom and democracy. Even through these horrible times many of the people supporting me are Americans who never thought their government would stand by dictators and against freedom-loving people. To the American people I send my love and gratitude.

I chose to write to you and not to my own government because the Alkhalifa regime has already proven that they do not care about our rights or our lives.

When you were sworn in as president of the United States, I had high hopes. I thought: here is a person who would have never become a president if it were not for the African-American fight for civil liberties; he will understand our fight for freedom. Unfortunately, so far my hopes have been shattered. I might have misunderstood. What was it you meant Mr. president? YES WE CAN… support dictators? YES WE CAN… help oppress pro-democracy protesters? YES WE CAN… turn a blind eye to a people’s suffering?

Our wonderful memories have all been replaced by horrible ones. Our staircase still has traces of my father’s blood. I sit in my living room and can see where my father and husband were thrown face down and beaten. I see their shoes by the door and remember they were taken barefoot. As a daughter and as a wife I refuse to stay silent while my father and husband are probably being tortured in Bahraini prisons. As a mother of a one-year-old who wants her father and grandfather back, I must take a stand. I will not be helpless. Starting 6pm Bahrain time tonight I will go on a hunger strike. I demand the immediate release of my family members. My father: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja. My husband: Wafi Almajed. My brother-in-law: Hussein Ahmed. My uncle: Salah Alkhawaja.

I am writing this letter to let you know, that if anything happens to my father, my husband, my uncle, my brother-in-law, or to me, I hold you just as responsible as the AlKhalifa regime. Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime. I still have hope that you will realize that freedom and human rights mean as much to a Bahraini person as it does to an American, Syrian or a Libyan and that regional and political considerations should not be prioritized over liberty and human rights.

I ask of you to look into your beautiful daughters’ eyes tonight and think to yourself what you are personally willing to sacrifice in order to make sure they can sleep safe at night, that they can grow up with hope rather than fear and heartache, that they can have their father and grandfathers embrace to run to when they are hurt or in need of support. Last night my one-year-old daughter went knocking on our bedroom door calling for her father, the first word she ever learnt. It tore my heart to pieces. How do you explain to a one-year-old that her father is imprisoned? I need to look into my daughter’s eyes tomorrow, next week, in the years to come, and tell her I did all that I could to protect her family and future.

For my daughter’s sake, for her future, for my father’s life, for the life of my husband, to unite my family again, I will begin my hunger strike.

Zainab Alkhawaja
11th April 2011

Washington, however, has remained silent over the recent bloodshed in Bahrain, and U.S. military aid continues to flow. The U.S. provided Bahrain $19 million for the fiscal year 2010, and this fiscal year, the island monarchy is on track to receive $19.5 million in military aid. Human rights organizations have called for cutting off the aid, pointing to Western enabling of gross human rights violations. A coalition of 19 human rights groups based in the Middle East wrote on April 12,

[T]he continuation of the despotic campaign against human rights defenders and political groups that are calling for profound democratic reforms reflect complicity and lack of political will from international actors, particularly the US and EU. These actors remain to prefer securing their strategic interests in the Gulf region by choosing to sustain the political stability of repressive regimes, turn a blind eye to the people’s aspirations for democracy, and remain silent on massive and systematic human rights violations in this region of the world.

It could also be pointed out that by continuing to support despotic regimes such as the Bahraini monarchy, the U.S. is violating both international and domestic law.

According to the International Law Commission (ILC), the official UN body that codifies customary international law,

A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State” (Article 16 of the International Law Commission, “Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts,” (2001) which were commended by the General Assembly, A/RES/56/83).

Further, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” and the Arms Export Control Act  authorizes the supply of U.S. military equipment and training only for lawful purposes of internal security, “legitimate self-defense,” or participation in UN peacekeeping operations or other operations consistent with the UN Charter.

Obama’s illegal war in Libya

It took less than a month to figure out that the main casus belli for the military campaign in Libya — the protection of civilians — was probably a lie. As Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) pointed out in a House floor speech on April 4,

We’re told that the president has legal authority for this war under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, but this resolution specifically does not authorize any ground elements. Furthermore, the administration exceeded the mandate of the resolution by providing the rebels with air cover. Thus, the war against Libya violated our Constitution and has even violated the very authority which the administration claimed was sufficient to take our country to war.

It now appears that NATO allies are over-reaching even further by adopting a stated policy of regime change, which was clearly not authorized by Resolution 1973.

In a joint op-ed published on Friday, David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy make it clear that while protection of civilians remains central to NATO’s operation in Libya, “we are determined to look to the future” — a future without Gaddafi.

The three leaders essentially acknowledge that regime change is the goal:

Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power.

The op-ed claims that the intervention has saved “tens of thousands of lives,” but that it cannot be considered a success until permanent regime change takes place:

So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

While citing UN Security Resolution 1973 as the legal basis for the attacks, the leaders fail to mention that their newly stated goal of regime change exceeds that authority. Specifically, the resolution:

Authorizes Member States that have notified the [UN] Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights imposed by paragraph 6 above, as necessary, and requests the States concerned in cooperation with the League of Arab States to coordinate closely with the Secretary General on the measures they are taking to implement this ban…

Yet, immediately after the bombing began, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that the bombing could actually lead to more civilian deaths, which would negate the very legal basis for the attacks.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Moussa said.

In the fog of war, it is not clear how many civilians may have been killed as a result of the ongoing NATO attacks. What is clear is that NATO is failing to live up to its role in protecting civilians, as pointed out recently by the Libyan opposition.

As Voice of America reported on April 6,

The head of the armed forces of Libya’s eastern-based opposition has sharply criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, saying it is failing to protect civilians from artillery attacks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. General Abdul Fattah Younes made the charge as his forces were forced to withdraw once again from the oil-town of Brega 200 kilometers west of Benghazi.

Younes said NATO was causing hundreds of civilian deaths in Libya’s third largest city, Misrata, 200 kilometers east of Tripoli.

In their op-ed, Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy make the claim that NATO had prevented a  “bloodbath that [Gaddafi] had promised to inflict on the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi.”

But this dubious claim appears to distort what Gaddafi actually threatened, which was directed to the armed rebels in Benghazi, not the city inhabitants as a whole.

“The matter has been decided … we are coming,” he said on March 16, promising that there would be amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.” Only for those who resist would there “be no mercy or compassion.”

Gaddafi said his forces would “rescue” the people of Benghazi from “traitors” and warned them not to stand alongside the opposition. “The people will see tomorrow if the city if one of traitors or heroes … Don’t betray me, my beloved Benghazi.”

Two months into the Libyan civil war and one month in to the allied intervention, there is still no compelling evidence that the Libyan regime has intended to commit indiscriminate massacres of civilians, as claimed by the Obama administration.

Human Rights Watch — which has welcomed the NATO intervention — has documented the deaths of hundreds of civilians, but has provided little proof of any widespread targeting of the civilian population.

In a report released last week on the civilian death toll in Misrata, HRW notes that at Misrata Hospital, medical facilities have recorded 257 people killed and 949 wounded and hospitalized since February 19, 2011. The wounded include 22 women and eight children, a doctor told HRW.

While such casualties are indeed tragic, they do not seem to indicate a strategy of systematic targeting of civilians. If anything, the fact that just 22 women and eight children have been wounded in two months of fighting with armed rebels would seem to indicate the opposite: that the Libyan regime is taking steps to protect the innocent.

As violence against civilians continues in spite of the NATO intervention, there is now also an unfolding humanitarian crisis with food shortages reported throughout the country.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Wednesday that “Libya faces a humanitarian crisis following an unprecedented level of upheaval and violence.”

“The future of the public subsidised food distribution system in Libya is very worrying to WFP and food security partners.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that up to 3.6 million people in Libya may need humanitarian assistance as rebels press their fight against Gaddafi.

An Arab League conference in Cairo last week examined how to put a stop to the conflict in Libya, bring about a political dialogue and resolve the country’s humanitarian crisis.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa emphasized that Arab states are worried about the plight of Libyan civilians. He stressed that diplomatic efforts are now focusing on achieving a ceasefire in Libya, and that this was the top provision of the African Union peace proposal or “roadmap.”

A political solution in Libya begins with a ceasefire, he stressed.

NATO allies should bear in mind that the international authorization for the enforcement of a no-fly zone — which they are now using as legal cover for a policy of regime change — mandates cooperation with the Arab League.

It is difficult to imagine how the Arab League’s calls for a ceasefire are compatible with NATO’s uncompromising stance on a Libya without Gaddafi. It appears that as both NATO and Libya double-down, a political compromise becomes less and less likely, and that the civilians — who NATO is mandated to protect — will continue to suffer.

China, Belarus accuse United States of double standards

China and Belarus, two of the world’s more notorious human rights violators, are claiming that the United States is applying a double standard in its insistence on respect for human rights.

China says that the annual State Department report on human rights, released last Friday, “turn[s] a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation.”

The violations that China has identified in the USA include:

  • Eroding civil liberties and privacy rights — “In the United States, the violation of citizens’ civil and political rights by the government is severe. Citizen’ s privacy has been undermined. According to figures released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in September 2010, more than 6,600 travelers had been subject to electronic device searches between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, nearly half of them American citizens.”
  • Police brutality — “According to a report of Associated Press on October 14, 2010, the New York Police Department (NYPD) paid about 964 million U.S. dollars to resolve claims against its officers over the past decade. Among them was a case that an unarmed man was killed in a 50-bullet police shooting on his wedding day. The three police officers were acquitted of manslaughter and the NYDP simply settled the case with money (China Press, October 15, 2010). “
  • Incarceration rates — “The United States has always called itself ‘land of freedom,’ but the number of inmates in the country is the world’ s largest. According to a report released by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project in 2008, one in every 100 adults in the U.S. are in jail and the figure was one in every 400 in 1970.”
  • Racial inequality — “Minorities do not enjoy the same political status as white people. The New York city’s non-Hispanic white population is 35 percent, while more than 70 percent of the senior jobs are held by whites. Since winning a third term in November 2009, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced a parade of major appointments: bringing aboard three new deputy mayors and six commissioners. All nine are white. (The New York Times, June 29, 2010).”
  • The rights of children — “Children’ s physical and mental health is not ensured. More than 93,000 children are currently incarcerated in the United States, and between 75 and 93 percent of children have experienced at least one traumatic experience, including sexual abuse and neglect.”

The United States has taken up the issue of human rights as “a political instrument to defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests,” the report said (full text here). The U.S. releases “the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse and blame other countries for their human rights practices,” China said, accusing the United States of politically motivated hypocrisy.

Belarus is taking a similar tract against U.S. efforts in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to force the country that Condi Rice once referred to as “Europe’s last dictatorship” to submit to an investigation into human rights abuses that allegedly took place in response to demonstrations against the results of the December 19 presidential election, which international observers assessed as fraudulent.

Fourteen countries — the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States — have invoked Paragraph 12 of the 1991 Document of the Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, which provides for the establishment of fact-finding rapporteurs to investigate the human rights situation in OSCE member states.

Specifically, Paragraph 12 states that

If a participating State considers that a particularly serious threat to the fulfilment of the provisions of the CSCE human dimension has arisen in another participating State, it may, with the support of at least nine other participating States, engage the procedure set forth in paragraph 10.

Belarus, naturally, has categorically rejected the invoking of this mechanism. The country’s ambassador to the OSCE stated on April 7 at the OSCE Permanent Council that “there are no objective grounds” for its invocation.

“First of all,” Belarus said,

the attempt to portray Belarus as a particular case of non-compliance with commitments is clearly of a biased and contrived nature. There is no threat to the fulfilment of OSCE commitments in Belarus, and much less a ‘particularly serious’ one. The situation in the country is stable, and there are no inter-ethnic or interreligious conflicts. The Republic of Belarus takes a responsible approach to the implementation of its international commitments, including those in the human dimension of the OSCE.

Belarus went further in its attacks on the motivations of the 14 countries that have initiated the effort to investigate Belarus’s human rights record:

The initiators of the Moscow Mechanism are to all practical purposes openly sending a clear signal to the entire OSCE. They want to manipulate the Organization for their own ends and will stop at nothing in their intentions. They are pursuing goals that have nothing to do with the human dimension or the OSCE in general. What is more, these goals contravene the spirit and fundamental principles of our Organization, which spurns the use of pressure and unilateral approaches.

In this way, the initiators are guided not by principles but by their own group interests.

While it certainly appears that Belarus engaged in systematic human rights violations in response to post-election demonstrations that turned violent in December, it is difficult to argue that in practice, the same standard is being applied to all members of the OSCE. There have been no rapporteurs appointed to investigate abuses committed at demonstrations in the U.S. in recent years, for example the systematic repression of demonstrators and journalists at the Republican National Convention in 2008:

The same can be said of China’s response to the U.S. human rights report. While China criticizing the U.S. on human rights is undoubtedly a case of the pot calling the kettle black, until the U.S. cleans up its own human rights problems — many of which have been correctly identified by China — it is really in no position to pressure other countries on their situations.

State Department human rights report exposes U.S. violations of international law

The U.S. State Department’s annual report on the global human rights situation was released yesterday, coinciding with ongoing rebellions in the Arab world and continued repression of pro-democracy demonstrators by authoritarian U.S. allies. The report provides valuable insight into the human rights practices of governments around the world, but is perhaps even more useful in analyzing the duplicitous nature of U.S. foreign policy — often carried out in violation of international law.

In releasing the report, Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, explained that it is intended to demonstrate the United States’ “commitment to the protection of human rights around the world.”

The report serves “as a source of information for our own policy making,” she said. “As we are dealing with different countries, we consult this report, we use it in order to be able to advance our work.”

Yet, there is little evidence of this in practice, at least in situations in which economics and geopolitics trump principles. Despite the fact that international and domestic law requires the United States to cut military aid to governments that systematically violate the rights of their people, U.S. aid continues to flow to countries such as Bahrain and Yemen, which are using excessive force to crush pro-democracy rebellions.

In the State Department’s report on Bahrain, for example, the U.S. notes that in 2010:

Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of foreign resident workers continued to be significant problems. There were numerous reports of abuse against foreign workers, particularly female domestic workers. There were many reports of domestic violence against women and children. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect, especially against the Shia majority population, persisted. There were multiple allegations of mistreatment and torture, especially of Shia activists associated with rejectionist and opposition groups. Authorities arbitrarily arrested activists, journalists, and other citizens and detained some individuals incommunicado. Some detainees did not always have adequate access to their attorneys. At least two of the detainees were dismissed from their publicsector jobs prior to the commencement of judicial proceedings. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices. There were instances of the government imposing and enforcing official and unofficial travel bans on political activists. The Shia are underrepresented in positions of leadership in the civil service, police, and security forces.

It is little wonder then that Bahrainis would be rising up to challenge their repressive government. However, rather than stand unequivocally with the demonstrators, as the U.S. has done in Libya and in Iran, the U.S. seems to want it both ways: express rhetorical support for the rights of the people, while continuing to financially back the Bahraini monarchy, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

In an interview with Daivd Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press, Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations said,

Well, we’ve been very clear with our partners in Bahrain that they ought to exercise restraint, that there’s no place for violence against peaceful protesters there or anywhere else, and we’ve condemned that violence. We’ve had outreach from President Obama, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Clinton and other senior officials, urging that restraint and encouraging what is now transpiring, which seems to be the pullback of the military forces and now a real effort to engage the opposition in a broad-based dialogue that will enable the people’s aspirations to be discussed and, we hope, respected.

Even while expressing this “hope,” however, the U.S. continues to enable the very crackdown that it criticizes. The U.S. provided Bahrain $19 million for the fiscal year 2010, which ended on September 30, 2010. This fiscal year, the island monarchy is on track to receive $19.5 million in military aid. So far, there has been no indication that this aid will be frozen.

A similar situation is playing out in Yemen, which the U.S. State Department report describes as “a republic whose law provides for presidential election by popular vote.”

But the report makes clear that the human rights situation in the country is grave, and that in practice there is no opportunity for the citizens to effect change through democratic processes:

The main government human rights abuses included severe limitations on citizens’ ability to change their government due to, among other factors, corruption, fraudulent voter registration, administrative weakness, and close political-military relationships at high levels. Arbitrary and unlawful killings, politically motivated disappearances, and reports of torture and other physical abuse accompanied the use of excessive force against civilians in internal conflict. Prisons and detention centers were in poor condition, and some private, largely tribal, ones operated without legal authorization or control. Arbitrary arrest and detention, sometimesincommunicado, and denial of fair public trial were widespread. Official impunity was common. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech and of the press, including access to the Internet, peaceful assembly, and religious freedom. The judiciary was weak, corrupt, and lacked independence.Official corruption and lack of government transparency were severe problems. International humanitarian groups estimated more than 300,000 persons were internally displaced as a result of the Saada conflict. Pervasive discrimination against women continued, as did early marriage, child labor, and child trafficking. Discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, and ethnicity was common.

As in Bahrain and other countries in the region, the people of Yemen have risen up to demand change, and the government has responded with brutal repression. More than 300 people have reportedly been killed and several hundred others injured in nationwide protests against the rule of Yemeni President Saleh over the past two months.

As Bloomberg reported on Thursday, Saleh’s “treatment of the protest movement, now in its third month, has hardened. The shooting of 46 protesters by police and snipers in the capital, Sana’a, on March 18 sparked a wave of defections from the regime.

“This week, at least a dozen protesters were killed in the town of Taiz when they battled with police, and in Sana’a there were reports that soldiers from a rebel-led division clashed with Saleh’s supporters.”

Like Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, Saleh has justified his violent crushing of protests by arguing that his downfall would lead to a greater threat from Islamic terrorists. The difference is that Saleh is facing down mass protests and defections with backing from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

As Bloomberg reports:

This year’s wave of Arab unrest has shown the U.S. is willing to dump longtime partners like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak as well as more recent ones like Qaddafi. In Yemen, the poorest Arab state and already a base for al-Qaeda attacks, Saleh’s army, government and much of his tribal base have abandoned the president, yet the U.S. is reluctant to do so. The standoff adds to the risk of a Libya-style conflict as violence escalates.

“Two weeks ago, it was really looking like game over for Saleh, then all of a sudden he seemed to have gotten a second wind,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University. “The only two foreign voices that matter for Yemen are the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. They are scrambling now with the reality that Saleh’s days may be numbered.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that he saw the possible fall of Saleh as a “real problem.” Mark Toner, acting deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said on April 4 that while Saleh must respond to public demands, “it’s not for us to impose a solution.”

Human rights organizations have repeatedly called for Washington to halt aid to the country. “The United States should back up its words condemning the carnage with action, and halt military aid to Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director.

Washington has provided “more than $US 300 million in military and security aid to Yemen in the past five years,” the New York-based group said.

The Pentagon, however, is making clear that military aid will continue to flow. As Reuters reported on Tuesday:

The United States is urging a negotiated transition in Yemen “as quickly as possible” but so far has not cut off military aid seen as vital to the fight against al Qaeda, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, is clinging to power after weeks of mass demonstrations demanding an end to his 32-year rule.

The continued financial support to both Bahrain and Yemen violate both U.S. and international law.

According to the International Law Commission (ILC), the official UN body that codifies customary international law,

A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State” (Article 16 of the International Law Commission, “Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts,” (2001) which were commended by the General Assembly, A/RES/56/83).

Further, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The Arms Export Control Act authorizes the supply of U.S. military equipment and training only for lawful purposes of internal security, “legitimate self-defense,” or participation in UN peacekeeping operations or other operations consistent with the UN Charter.

In releasing the report on human rights, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the “struggle for human rights begins by telling the truth.”

Societies flourish,” she said, “when they address human rights problems instead of suppressing them. Freedom from fear makes economies grow as citizens invest, innovate, and participate. Where human rights matter, children grow up with the precious belief that they matter, too; that they should be able to live in dignity and shape their own destinies. People everywhere deserve no less. And we hope that this report will give comfort to the activists, will shine a spotlight on the abuses, and convince those in government that there are other and better ways.

Perhaps it is time for the United States to heed its own words, and stop enabling the very abuses that it condemns.

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