Tag Archive | "Human Rights"

Identifying Torture: A conspicuous ambiguity

In any endeavor requiring the employment of language, ambiguity is an inescapable
complication.

That is not to say however, that all attempts at specificity ought to be abandoned. The need for special care in language increases with the gravity of the subject of consideration. Discourse concerning topics such as torture requires the utmost care, and is deserving of maximal precision. It is for this reason that the language of the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) is so unsatisfactory. The mere creation of the convention itself is inadequate without language sufficient to bind its signatories in the way intended.

There are two terms that are particularly problematic in Article I of CAT. The relevant sections state that torture is defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering…is intentionally inflicted on a person.” Both “severe” and “intentionally” represent troublesome gaps in the convention’s injunction. This lack of fastidiousness has led to problematic rulings by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. courts, which have taken advantage of the open-ended nature of the terms contained within the convention. One example of this abuse of ambiguity is a memorandum handed down by the U.S. Justice Department in 2002, which provided an incredibly narrow interpretation of the term “severe.” In the memorandum, severe was interpreted as meaning “intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body function will likely result.” While this memorandum was ultimately repudiated, it is a somber example of the vast discretion that can be applied to the language of CAT.

The second example is the 2008 case Villegas v. Mukasey, which represents a troubling interpretation of the term “intentionally.” One of the explicitly enumerated elements of torture is the underlying motivation. This motivation can consist of “obtaining…information or a confession, punishing…or intimidating or coercing.” In this case, the applicant, a citizen of Mexico who had been lawfully admitted to the United States, was found guilty of second degree robbery. The applicant, suffering from bipolar disorder, argued that removal to Mexico would result in his being confined to a Mexican mental institution, “where conditions are deplorable.” In Article III, CAT specifically prohibits extradition to countries where torture is likely. On this basis, the applicant argued that removing him to Mexico would be sending him to a torture chamber masquerading as a mental institution. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the earlier rulings, and found against the applicant. The court, operating under the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, and its construal of the term intentionally, held that intentionally refers to “specific intent,” or an intent to bring about the consequences of the action, not merely to “general intent,” or an intent to bring about the action itself. The court held that the awful conditions prevalent in the Mexican medical institutions were not a product of specific intent, and thus the applicant was removed to Mexico, to face the horrors of Mexican institutionalization, as punishment for his crime.

It is not necessarily the case that there are readily available terms simply waiting to replace the existing language of CAT. However, taking the time to unpack what is meant by this vague terminology is what is required for CAT to be effective in its mission. It has been said that those things which “[violate] the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, [and] physical and mental torture…are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer [the] injustice.” Of the many quandaries that plague modern society, the question of torture is of pivotal importance. It is therefore deserving of exceptional care in the declarations made which pertain to its tolerability.

Cameron Hunter is a 2L law student and first year master’s student at the University of Denver and is the incoming Survey Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Mistaken as Terrorists: How innocent Syrian refugees are prevented from resettling in the US

The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the most horrific this generation has ever seen.

Syrian refugees living in a camp Credits: © Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian refugees living in a camp Credits: © Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

The United States, which has a long history of welcoming refugees into its borders and giving protection to those fleeing from persecution, has yet to put a significant resettlement initiative for Syrian refugees into motion. The United States has resettled 546 Syrian refugees since the crisis began.  UNHCR, on the other hand, hopes to resettle 50,000 Syrian refugees in 2015, and another 50,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 in permanent resettlement placements around the world.  The lack of action on the part of the United States is due, in part, to its strict immigration laws in regards to terrorism.  The Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Grounds (“TRIG”) sweep broadly over many individuals who are not dangerous in any way.  The TRIG statutory language, codified in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) prevents many innocent Syrians from finding a stable and safe living situation.

There are two areas of the INA that stand as a significant obstacle for many Syrian refugees wanting to resettle in the United States. First is the definition of “terrorist activity,” defined in INA §212(a)(3)(B)(iii) as “any activity that is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed.” Because the law defines any military action against a regime as “terrorist activity,” individuals who were once seen as friends of the Untied States are now labeled as terrorists. For Syrians, opposition fighters are labeled as terrorists and are excluded from entering the United States, even though the United States government supports them. In contrast, those who were in Assad’s army, which the United States opposes for its violations of international law, would still be admissible, because the statute only applies to non-state actors.

Second, many Syrians may be found inadmissible due to their insignificant material support to a Tier I or Tier II terrorist organization (designated terrorist organizations by the Secretary of State and Attorney General, respectively). In INA §212(a)(3)(B)(iv)(VI), the giving of material support to a terrorist organization labeled as “terrorist activity.”  DHS, in past oral arguments before the BIA, has stated that they would consider even the most minimal support given to a terrorist organization, like a glass of water or five cents, as material support.  Syrians deemed inadmissible due to their material support of a terrorist organization include a family that sheltered an opposition fighter in their home when their town was being bombed, a young boy who joined the opposition fighters for a short time when his father was killed, eventually leaving the war to join his mother and siblings, and even the man who sold falafel sandwiches to opposition fighters in a war-zone.

In order for the United States to continue its longstanding tradition of welcoming people fleeing from persecution, the TRIG laws need to be changed.  DHS needs to use its discretionary authority and expand the available TRIG waivers. Civilians living in Syria were subject to innocent contact with Tier I and Tier II terrorist organizations on a regular basis; this is the nature of living in a conflict zone.  The armed group that took control over the territory they lived in became their customers in their stores—innocent, insignificant material support is unavoidable.  Additionally, exceptions should be given on a case-by-case basis to former combatants who pass a security background check and are not barred for any other statutory reason, including those who were children at the time they were combatants, or to individuals who did not participate in targeting civilians.

Kitty Robinson is a 2L at the University of Denver and is the incoming Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy  

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Critical Analysis: R2P – Whose responsibility is it?

Nigerian Refugees in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW. http://www.dw.de/stranded-near-the-nigerian-border-a-visit-to-the-minawao-refugee-camp/a-18275323

Nigerian Refugees in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW. http://www.dw.de/stranded-near-the-nigerian-border-a-visit-to-the-minawao-refugee-camp/a-18275323

On April 14, 2014 the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls began trending on Twitter as the abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in Chibok flooded news outlets around the world.  The Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and, with the exception of a few victims who have since escaped, the majority of the girls whereabouts are still unknown. According to UNICEF, in the year since the Chibok abductions, 1.2 million people in northeast Nigeria have been displaced due to Boko Haram-insurgency. Schools have been a target for Boko Haram since its militant operations began in 2009. In the past three years over 300 schools have been destroyed in the northern region of Nigeria, depriving 10,000 children of an education.

Perhaps the most troubling trends since Boko Haram’s reign of terror began have been the increasing number of the displaced being subject to human trafficking and Nigeria’s lack of effectiveness in preventing it from spiraling out of control. According to the Global Slavery Index an estimated 800,000 people are enslaved in Nigeria. However, by the Nigerian government’s own admission, 8 million children are currently subject to human trafficking. Many of those trafficked children are forced into labor, marriage, and prostitution. The displacement camps and their surrounding communities have had their access to humanitarian aid cut off by the violence, rendering them ineffective in supporting the overwhelming amount of refugees flooding their streets. The overcrowding, lack of food, and fear for safety has forced many young girls into prostitution, and young boys into joining the recruitment of Boko Haram in the armed conflict.

These atrocities have not gone unnoticed by the international community.

Hundreds of Nigerian Refugee Tents in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW.

Hundreds of Nigerian Refugee Tents in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW.

#BringBackOurGirls was tweeted 3.3 million times in the month following the kidnappings in Chibok, and UNICEF has responded by supplying 60,000 children with psychosocial support and by raising an estimated $3.84 million to further its efforts during 2015. Yetdespite worldwide awareness of the crisis in Nigeria the international community has done little. Similar to its inability to address the plight of the Palestinian refugees, international humanitarian law has yet again proven to be inefficient in address humanitarian crises in an urgent and effective manner. While intergovernmental organizations and state commenters have been in favor of implementing a Responsibility to Protect in these situations, they have yet to do so.

Is the lack of any real progress towards the implementation of Responsibility to Protect an indication that it may not be the answer to grave and immediate humanitarian atrocities? In late 2011, multiple states took a stand against a United Nations Security Council draft resolution draft on Syria’s violent response to the protests in Damascus against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. China and Russia vetoed the draft fearing that it would be construed by western states as legitimizing “unilateral sanctions and [an attempt] to forcefully overthrow regimes.” Brazil, India, South Africa, and Lebanon abstained from the vote, with South Africa expressly stating its concern that the resolution may be abused to justify implementation of “punitive measures on Syria.” Brazil, in its comments, stated its belief that “[a] meaningful, inclusive national dialogue leading to reform” was the only answer to the Syrian crisis.

Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President-elect, stated in an op-ed piece for the New York Times: “The answer to defeating Boko Haram begins and ends with Nigeria.” This is a unique answer for many states facing seemingly insurmountable issues with terror like that of Nigeria. However, it may very well be the key to effectively staving immediate humanitarian crises in the future. Buhari’s plans focus on Boko Haram’s target – education. Instead of waiting for the international community to accept its Responsibility to Protect Nigerian citizens from the atrocities committed by Boko Haram, Buhari seems prepared to set the onus on his own government, stating:

“My government will first act to defeat [Boko Haram] militarily and then ensure that we provide the very education it despises to help our people help themselves. Boko Haram will soon learn that, as Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’”

It remains to be seen how effective Buhari’s government will be at shouldering the Responsibility to Protect in Nigeria. However, its success could go a long way in solving the conundrum of the international community: “whose responsibility is it?” In the meantime, the international community will continue to grapple with forming a framework in which the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect can adequately address future humanitarian concerns.

Philip Nickerson is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is Managing and Production Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar

Myanmar religion law restricts conversion and criminalizes adultery

International organizations are outraged over proposed legislation being negotiated in the Myanmar Parliament which would require individuals to obtain government approval before converting to, or adopting, a new religion. Myanmar (Burma) is a primarily Theravada Buddhist nation of 54 million people with a generally poor, but improving, human rights record. President Obama has visited Myanmar twice in recent years, placing an international spotlight on the country as it begins its path to reform. Although Myanmar President Thien Sein has introduced increased governmental transparency, the inaugural elections under the new democratic system upcoming in October are already marred in controversy. Myanmar parliamentarian and famed pro-democracy advocate Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi claimed in November that domestic reforms had stalled.

Burmese Parliament

The Burmese Parliament in Naypyidaw with Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi center. Photo: Reuters, irrawaddy.org

Human Rights Watch reports that the proposed legislation would also prohibit Buddhist women from joining an inter-faith marriage, criminalize extra-marital affairs, and penalize women who have multiple children within a 3-year period. Amnesty International (AI) insists that Parliament reject or revise the laws, which they claim would “risk fueling further violence against religious minorities,” and contribute to the already widespread discrimination against women. The proposed legislation also prescribes discriminatory obligations on non-Buddhist citizens, particularly effecting Muslim minority populations.

Concerns with the proposed legislation focus on four draft bills, which are opposed by AI and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on the grounds that they violate international law and have dire human rights implications.

  • The Religious Conversion Bill requires anyone who wants to convert to a different faith to apply through a state-governed agency. It establishes “registration boards” who “approve” conversions. It is a clear violation of the ICCPR.
  • The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill exclusively regulates marriage between Buddhist women and men from other religions. It discriminates against women and non-Buddhist men. It is a violation of CEDAW.
  • The Population Control Healthcare Bill establishes a 36 month “birth-spacing” interval between allowed child births. It does not have a clear enforcement mechanism and could lead to forced reproductive control.
  • The Monogamy Bill is aimed at consolidating existing marriage and family laws, but most notable criminalizes extra-marital relations.
Undocumented Muslim immigrants gather at the Immigration Detention Center during Ramadan

Undocumented Rohingya Muslim immigrants gather at the Immigration Detention Center during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand on July 10, 2013. Photo & Caption Credit: Reuters, HRW.org

Ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar have been subjected to ongoing and systematic discrimination for years. Recent reports from Rakhine state show that discrimination against the ethnically Muslim Rohingya population is pervasive and is only likely to increase if public sentiment generated by the proposed laws encourages the discrimination. Non-Buddhist women in Myanmar are subject to widespread discrimination and the law would increase the potential for legally sanctioned abuse. AI’s Asia-Pacific Director, Richard Bennett, is particularly concerned that the language of the laws plays into the “harmful stereotypes about women and minorities, in particular Muslims, which are often propagated by extremist national groups.”

Racial and religious tensions in the country are rising; heightened by the election and the November 18th arrest of a Burmese ISIS member following an accidental blast in bordering Burdwan, India.

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar

Buddhist monks in Meiktila, Myanmar, where violence between Muslims and Buddhists left 43 dead in March 2013. Photo Credit: CNN

Some Buddhists in Myanmar feel the laws are necessary to prevent further violence. Myanmar Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann urged Parliament to pass additional legislation establishing and protecting a national religion. Political activist Monk Ashin Parmouhka told a Democratic Voice of Burma reporter “If you want to see peace and an end to religious and racial conflict in Burma, [the religion legislation] must be adopted. If you want more conflicts and unrest in the country, then don’t adopt the laws.”

While Myanmar is not party to the International Covenant on Cultural and Political Rights, it is a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In a joint statement, AI and the ICJ claim the laws are in violation of the country’s existing international treaty obligations. They fear that these draft laws are discriminatory and will result in human rights violations, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to privacy, children’s rights and the right to freedom of expression. The legislation is currently tabled in Parliament, no date has been set for a vote.

Jeremy Goldstein is a 2L law student at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Handwritten sign from California 2007 reading "My life, my choice at the end of my life!"

Critical Analysis: Is Choosing to Die a Human Right?

October 31, 2014

As the world focuses on saving people from the Ebola epidemic, there is little focus on the push for the right to die with dignity. Generally, the right to die with dignity means the right to decide and choose how one should die. Recently, a new category has been suggested—physician-assisted suicide—which appears to be an uncertain blend of assisted suicide or active euthanasia undertaken by a licensed physician.

Later this year Canada could join the rank of nations that allow physician-assisted suicide as the Supreme Court of Canada hears an appeal case that argues Canada’s criminal laws deny the right to die with dignity. If Canada rules in favor of the right to die with dignity, Canada will follow the precedent set by the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Canada, however, is not the only country thinking of permitting physician-assisted suicide. Israel and England are among other nations debating on allowing the right to die with dignity. As this issue continues to be highly debated, the question becomes whether the right to die with dignity should become a universal right?

Handwritten sign from California 2007 reading "My life, my choice at the end of my life!"

Pictured is a sign posted in 2007 when California was weighing a bill that would have allowed doctors to give dying patients life-ending drugs.
Photo/Caption Credit: RICH PEDRONCELLI/AP, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/mass-votes-physician-assisted-suicide-article-1.1198305

A human right, as defined by the United Nations, is an inherent right that all people are equally entitled to obtain. In looking at the right to die with dignity, there is a need to look at the right to life. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both state all human beings have an “inherent right to life.” The right to life is a liberty right, thus the right cannot be interfered by the government. As a codified liberty right, the right to life is an explicit and positive right that must be enforced. However, there are rights that are not explicit, such as the right to die with dignity. These rights are classified as moral rights. Since this discussion is about human rights, the definition of a moral right for all people is needed. According to noted philosopher Maurice Cranston, a moral right for all people is a right “that everybody has…not rights a man acquires by doing certain work…they belong to him simply because he is a human being.” However, to prove that a moral right for all people exists in order to protect that right, Cranston believes it is necessary to determine if the right is practical and if it is universal. In this two-step process, according to Cranston, two questions need to be asked. First, is the right practical to accomplish or is the right impossible? Second, is the right a universal right that pertains to everyone?

First, the right to die with dignity is not an impossible right to accomplish. Rather, the right to die with dignity is a right that can easily be protected by law. Cranston believes the right to die with dignity is similar to the right to life in that protecting the right, it “is not a very costly exercise” nor unreasonable. It would be very simple for governments and the international community to protect the right to die with dignity. Like the right to life, writes Cranston, the right to die with dignity requires “governments, and other people generally, to leave a man alone: let him live as he decides to live and enjoy what is his.”

Second, the right to decide how one should die is a right that belongs to every human being. Unlike economic rights, (such as the right to paid maternity leave or the right to a paid vacation,) which are rights only given to some, the right to die with dignity belongs to everyone. Everyone has the right to decide when and how he or she should die, even if people do not choose to exercise this right. The right to die with dignity is not a right given to certain people but a right that can be given to all. However, the counterargument is that only terminally ill people have this right; thus only a group of people, rather than every human being, has this right. In most states and countries that allow physician-assisted suicide, two doctors must determine a person is terminally ill and is competent to give consent. While it is true that only terminally ill people are allowed to exercise the right to die by physician-assisted suicide, if the right is looked as solely a right to choose how one dies, then that right is a right that belongs to every human. Suicide itself is not an action that is criminalized in most of the world; therefore, the decision to end one’s life is seen as an act that anyone can exercise. Therefore, the right to die with dignity, which is the right to choose how to die, is a right given to all.

Now that it is established that the right to die with dignity is reasonable right to protect and is a right that belongs to everyone, it must be determined if the right is of “paramount importance.” As Cranston explains, paramount importance is the notion that common sense cannot ignore the right. He gives the example of “Common sense knows that fire engines and ambulances are essential services, whereas amusements parks and holiday camps are not…” which suggests that a right must be one that humans should not be without. The right to die with dignity is such a right that humans should not be without. The right to choose how to die, unlike the economic right to a paid vacation, is one that is necessary to people. It is common sense to allow a person to choose how to live; therefore, it is common sense to allow a person to choose how to end their life.

Whether or not it is agreed that the right to die with dignity is a human right, the argument can be made that the right to die with dignity is a universal right that belongs to every human and is an important and reasonable right to protect. However, like most rights involving morals, the arguments for and against the right to die with dignity will continue until the international community creates a treaty that recognizes this universal and important right. Only time will tell.

Teresa Milligan is a 2L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Events editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea

Critical Analysis: Will the Crimes Against Humanity perpetrated in North Korea be prosecuted in the ICC?

October 28, 2014

Speaking before the UN General Assembly on Oct. 28, 2014, Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) encouraged action to stem the ongoing human rights abuses in the country.  Specifically, Mr. Darusman encouraged submitting the Commission of Inquiry’s report to the Security Council to “send an unequivocal signal” to the DRPK that serious follow up would be taken.

The report itself found systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations amounting in some cases to crimes against humanity.  The human rights violations are unsurprising to most members of the international community.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both reported on the many egregious conditions imposed upon the people of the DRPK.  One example are prison camps for political offenders that impose ‘collective punishment’ (imprisoning entire families, including the children of offenders).  According to the US State Department, the political prisoners number in the tens of thousands and may exceed 80,000 individuals.

Although Mr. Darusman’s recommendation before the General Assembly made headlines, the statement is a reiteration of the findings of the Commission.  Specifically, the Commission stated that:

The United Nations must ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People’s Rebublic of Korea are held accountable.  Options to achieve this end include a Security Council Referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal by the United Nations.

The language used in the Commission’s report demonstrates a clear call for justice on the international stage.

Michael Kirby, Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea

Chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, Michael Kirby, spoke at U.N. headquarters, urging action on the report. Photo Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi / European Pressphoto Agency, http://articles.latimes.com/2014/feb/17/world/la-fg-un-north-korea-20140218.

Non-cooperation has been an ongoing problem for the Commission, as is noted in the report, but recent developments must have caught the attention of the DRPK officials.  Mr. Darusman was “unexpectedly” met by four North Korean diplomats who sought to discuss a potential visit to the DPRK.  The meeting was the first contact with a UN inspector regarding the human rights situation in the last 10 years.  Reaching out may be a good sign, but it remains to be seen whether North Korea will allow Mr. Darusman access to the political prisons much less acknowledge their existence.

Equally unclear is whether the issue would withstand the veto powers of Russia or China if it reaches the Security Council.  Both nations have aligned with North Korean interests in the past.  Russia itself currently faces significant political pressure in the international arena, but that is certainly no predictor of how the delegation will vote.

Jordan Edmondson is a 3L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: The World is Taking Notice of Boko Haram

With the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls last month, the bombing in a bus station on April 14 that killed 71 and injured 124, and a car bombing on May 1st, the international community is waking up to the horrors of Boko Haram.

A militant Islamist group, Boko Haram was initially founded as a religious organization by radical Muslim cleric Mohhammed Yusuf in 2002. Yusuf set up a complex and school in the northeast city of Maiduguri under the premise that all western education was corrupt and sinful. In fact, Boko Haram, loosely translated from the local Hausa language means “western education is forbidden.” The complex quickly became a recruiting ground for jihadist militants and Boko Haram carried out a series of attacks on government offices and police in Maiduguri. Following a shoot-out with police in 2009, Nigerian security forces reported the death of Yusuf and declared that the group had been disbanded.

The group did not disband, and in 2010, current Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a 25-minute video clip denouncing western civilization and pledging to continue militant attacks. Since then, the group has staged numerous assaults including a bombing of police and UN headquarters in Nigeria. The group has continued to reject any notions of opening a dialog with the Nigerian government. Boko Haram was labeled a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department in November of 2013, and following the group’s public statement vowing to attack the U.S. and Europe last year, the U.S. issued a $7 million bounty for the capture of Shekau.

Parents of the kidnapped girls plead for more help to safely return their daughters. Image Source: Reuters

Nigerian parents of the kidnapped girls plead for more help to ensure a safe return of their daughters. Image Source: Reuters

On April 14 over 100 armed Boko Haram militants stormed an all-girl boarding school in Chibok in the remote north-eastern state of Borno and kidnapped over 200 young girls age 16 to 18. The girls had been called in to sit for their final physics exam when all other schools in the area had been closed due to security concerns. While two groups of girls escaped, recent reports indicate that the remaining kidnapped girls have been taken into Boko Haram strongholds in the Sambisa forest and sold as brides to the militants. Shekau first threatened to capture young women and girls as slaves and brides in video released in May 2013 and it is believed that the group intends to adhere to ancient Islam beliefs that state women and girls captured during war are slaves with whom their “masters’ can have sex with at will. Parents of the kidnapped girls have organized searches into the area, and last week several hundred protesters braved heavy rain to assemble in Abuja, and deliver a letter to the National Assembly complaining that the government was not doing enough to search for the girls. “All we want from the government is to help us bring our children back,” said one parent last week.

Other schools are also in an abysmal situation. At least three professors have been killed at the University of Maiduguri, students have withdrawn and teachers have relocated out of fear and threats of continued violence.

With recent announcement that Nigeria had surpassed South Africa as the leading economy in sub-Saharan Africa, and with the World Economic Forum on Africa set to take place in Abuja on May 9th, the government and President Goodluck Jonathan are struggling to quell concerns over recent violence. While security has been stepped up amid fears that Boko Haram is moving its focus closer to the capital, many are reporting that it appears that the group intends to align itself with similar extremist assemblies in Niger, Mali, and the Middle East. Scholars and members of the international legal and political community are calling for assistance to be given to the Nigerian government.

Former British prime minister and current UN advisor Gordon Brown has called for international military assistance to be offered to the Nigerian government in a hunt for the missing girls. “The International community must do something to protect these girls,” Brown said in an interview last week. “We could provide military help to the Nigerians to track down the whereabouts of the girls before they’re dispersed throughout Africa.” A government advisor to the President said that the government welcomes international assistance in the matter.

Local community protests against the Boko Haram for stealing young school girls. Image Source: BBC/AFP

Local women dressed in red to protest against the Boko Haram for stealing over 200 young school girls and criticized the government’s rescue efforts. Image Source: BBC/AFP

Large-scale pledges are not bringing home the missing 200 girls, and the guerrilla nature of the insurgency requires specialized local measures. “We know where these girls are being held in the forest,” one local Nigerian soldier reported, “[but] somebody high up in the chain of command is leaking up information to these people.” Although officials have long ruled out foreign intervention, many are calling for improved tactics. A representative of the government said that “if countries can help us by way of arming our people through modern surveillance equipment, for defence and all that, it will be most welcome. [But] what Boko Haram is doing is not a formal kind of fight, but a guerrilla kind of fight, and it is only the local people that will tell you how to fight it.”

It seems then, that a two-fold approach must be taken, one where large-scale international assistance is given to the Nigerian government to combat overall strikes of violence and immediate and targeted assistance is given to troops in Chibok in order to bring home the abducted girls as quickly as possible. Whether it be through international intervention, or the systematic arming of local governments, without assistance, the outwardly booming Nigerian government seems to be powerless to quell the continued threat of violence from Boko Haram.

 

Bree Plasters is a rising 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is the Executive Editor-Elect for the 2014-2015 Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Protests and Violence Continue in Venezuela

Opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro continued to protest this past weekend, despite a controversial court ruling limiting protests in the troubled country. The Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling gives police the power to suspend protests that don’t have a permit. The ruling states that Article 68 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which provides for a right of peaceful protest, does not grant an absolute political right to protest. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that political organizations and Venezuelan citizens must exhaust all administrative remedies before potentially being allowed to peacefully protest. Even then, the protests must be pre-approved.

Protests began earlier this year in February amid reports of food shortages and high consumer prices. Current reports from the Central Bank and various economists show that food prices have risen 6.1 percent since February, and that the inflation rate is currently running at nearly 60 percent. These protests have been widely student-driven, but have also included opposition forces.

Violent protests in Venezuela have left 41 people dead and hundreds injured. Image Source: Washington Post

Violent protests in Venezuela have left 41 people dead and hundreds injured. Image Source: Washington Post

Often, protests have become violent, and at least 41 people have been killed since they began. Furthermore, almost 600 people have been injured, and around 100 have been detained. According to some who were detained, they were “kicked, pistol whipped, doused with pepper spray and battered with helmets and shotgun butts” in an attempt to discourage further protests. Allegations of murder and other human rights violations have also spread. However, the government’s actions have only made Venezuelan opposition forces more defiant; this weekend’s protests are evidence of just that.

These facts are only recently coming to light in international news, as President Maduro’s government censored most, if not all media coverage of the protests and strife. Due to the rampant censorship, many Venezuelan students turned to foreign sources and social media to have their voices heard. However, reports from late February stated that the Venezuelan government had blocked many Venezuelan users’ Twitter access in an effort to curb further social unrest and protest. Twitter eventually confirmed the government’s supposed actions.

So far, peace talks and negotiations between the Maduro government and opposition forces have not been particularly fruitful. Many students do not trust the current government enough to enable healthy negotiation, as they claim that “years-old efforts” to negotiate with various local, state, and federal officials about problems in Venezuela have solved nothing. There are, however, several hopeful signs. Venezuela’s neighbors are becoming increasingly dismayed with the government’s alleged actions of human rights violations and brutality, leading to more of their involvement in the situation. Recently this month, foreign ministers from the Union of South American nations, which included diplomats from Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, pressed both sides into limited negotiation, with the government and opposition forces agreeing to create a commission to investigate supposed human rights abuses during protests. Despite the small improvement, however, protest and opposition in Venezuela do not show any sign of slowing down.

 

Bailey Woods is a 3L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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March 14 attack in Nigeria

Critical Analysis: Religiously Motivated Violence Escalates in Nigeria

On Monday, April 7, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law will welcome Nigerian human rights attorney Hauwa Ibrahim. Ibrahim has spent her career protecting woman from the harsh penalties meted out under Shariah law in Nigeria’s northern states such as death by stoning and amputations for stealing. Another area of grave concern in Nigeria is the lack of religious freedom, primarily due to attacks by the Boko Haram, a fundamentalist terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the secular Nigerian government and replace it with a theocracy based on Islamic law.

Nigeria is the largest country in Africa with a population of over 177 million people. The country is divided approximately equally between Muslims and Christians. Islam is the dominant religion in the northern states, including the twelve northern states that have adopted Sharia law, while Christianity is most prevalent in the southern states. Interreligious conflicts occur frequently along Nigeria’s central states, or the “Middle Belt” where Christians and Muslims live in approximately equal numbers.

March 14 attack in Nigeria

The March 14 attacks killed approximately 150 people and destroyed 240 homes (World Watch Monitor)

On Friday, March 14, the tragic trend of sectarian violence continued in three villages in the central northern state of Kaduna. At about 11 pm, Muslim Fulani herdsmen raided the mainly Christian villages with guns and machetes. The Fulani are one of Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups, are predominately Muslim, and have a history of land grievances against Nigerian Christians. The herdsmen descended on the villages and burned 240 houses and three churches to the ground. More than 150 people were killed and the victims were buried in mass graves.

One survivor, Emmanuel Tonak, recounted the attack: “We were fast asleep when we heard gun shots and chanting of ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Suddenly we came out and saw them advancing and some houses in flames. They came around 11 pm. I escaped into the forest, when they came I started hearing cries and gun shots.” Because the villagers’ homes were destroyed, many other survivors slept in the local primary school and other areas nearby. Sadly, the attack in Kaduna is unlikely to be the last. Since 1999, religiously motivated violence has killed more than 14,000 Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, displaced thousands, and destroyed churches, mosques, businesses, and private homes.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan commission that monitors global religious liberty and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress, has recommended that Nigeria be labeled a “Country of Particular Concern” for the past four years for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. As USCIRF explains, the United States can play a role in mitigating the sectarian violence in Nigeria including by prioritizing religious freedom in U.S.-Nigerian bilateral relations (which is significant as Nigeria is the eigth largest U.S. aid recipient) and officially designating Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern under Section 402(b)(1) of the International Religious Freedom Act.

 

Bryan Neihart is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Survey Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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Critical Analysis: Turkey’s Failed Ban On Twitter

On March 20, 2014, Turkey blocked its citizens from the social media website, Twitter. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the main culprit for this act. During a campaign rally, he stated “Now there is a court order. Twitter, mwitter, we will eradicate it all.” His purported reason behind the block: privacy concerns.

Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that the block was a response to Twitter’s refusal to implement several court orders. The court orders stipulated that the social media platform “remove some links” per alleged complaints filed by Turkish citizens. Despite this, many people around the world believe that the prime minister wanted to remove tweets that included hyperlinks to incriminating audio of the prime minister and other top officials engaged in corruption. One such link contained audio of a male’s voice that closely resembled Prime Minister Erdoğan’s. The voice instructed another man to “dispose of large amounts of cash from a residence amid a police investigation.” Predictably, the prime minister denied any corruption. However, due to Turkey’s recent history of blocking social media websites, this looks more like an abuse of power to silence any opposition. Such drastic measures present two immediate concerns.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

First, blocking Twitter debilitates some Turkish citizens’ hopes of ascension into the European Union (“EU”). Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, recently stated that blocking Twitter “raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.” This shows that Prime Minister Erdoğan only has his own political interests in mind, not the interests of Turkish citizens.

Second, social media platforms like Twitter empower people because it gives them a way to speak out against an authoritarian regime. This is especially important given Prime Minister Erdoğan’s recent restrictions on the flow of information through traditional media, such as newspapers and television news. Sadly, Twitter is the only remaining avenue for the Turkish citizens. It is clear that the Internet has become the “last preserve of freedom of information in Turkey.” Thus, without Twitter, the prime minister hoped to silence the Turkish people.

Objectively, Turkey’s block on Twitter was predictable. Many countries before Turkey have clung to such efforts in a last ditch effort to silence any opposition. However, the fact Turkish citizens have found ways around the restrictions showed that such oppressive measures are as draconian as the authoritarian regimes that instituted the blocks. As has been the case with other situations around the world, Turkey is the latest example of an undeniable truth: countries cannot block Twitter. Because of this, historically oppressive countries are losing their ability to deny a fundamental human right: the freedom of expression.

Casey Smartt is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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