Tag Archive | "Human Rights"

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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Critical Analysis: The Resurgence of the Modern Baby Box

Baby hatches (also called baby boxes) are not an entirely modern concept, as their use can be traced back to medieval times.  Their purpose has also largely remained the same: to allow a mother to anonymously leave the child in a safe and protected place, the baby box, when she feels she is not capable of providing for the child.  The child’s father or other family members can utilize the baby box as well.  Whether the mother is leaving the baby at a local hospital, church, or charity, mothers do so for different reasons, be it to avoid having an abortion or female infanticide (in some countries), or to leave an illegitimate or disfigured child in the care of others.  However, the resurgence of the baby box in numerous countries throughout Europe and Asia has spurred a hotly contested debate between the desire of the mother to leave the baby anonymously and the right of the child to discover the identity of his or her parents, a conflict that may never be resolved.

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

In Germany, there are nearly 100 baby boxes in existence.  Generally, the baby is cared for by the providers of the baby box before going through Germany’s legal system for adoption.  In some instances, a mother has the opportunity to return to the site where she left her baby and reclaim him or her within a certain time period.  After a set time, however, the mother cannot return to reclaim the baby and the adoption will be final.  However, the entire operation of baby boxes in Germany is at odds with the country’s laws.

Abandoning a baby is illegal in Germany, and the country’s Constitution provides its citizens with the right to know who their parents are and gives fathers a right to help raise their children.  So allowing the continued operation of the baby boxes falls within a legally gray zone, one that strongly nods towards the social policy that is the foundation of its existence.  Supporters of the baby boxes view them as a last hope for women who are unable to shoulder the burden of taking care of their baby.  Those in opposition believe that baby boxes send the wrong message to society that women can hide their pregnancies and then abandon their babies.  For now, Germany appears to be allowing the operation of the baby boxes despite strong criticism against their existence.

In France, the law gives women the right to have an anonymous birth and a right for their identity be kept secret from their child if they so desire.  The European Court of Human Rights upheld the law in 2003, stating it does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.  However, the operation of baby boxes in France, Germany, and other countries clashes with the right of a child to know or preserve his or her identity, which is guaranteed in Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 7 also gives a child the right, as far as possible, to know and be cared for by his or her parents.  If a country allows a mother to legally leave her child in a baby box, the child will never know the identity of his or her parents let alone be given the opportunity to be cared for by them.

The continuing conflict between the mother’s desire and (in some countries) right to give birth anonymously and the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents is prevalent in not only Europe but other corners of the world as well.  Whether or not governments will continue to allow the operation of baby boxes in the midst of a debate with no clear right or wrong answer is yet to be determined.

Laura Brodie is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: High Stakes for GLBTQ Community in Uganda

After a controversy spanning five years, Ugandan President Museveni signed a bill into law expanding the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda.  GLBTQ individuals could now face up to life imprisonment.  Besides an inherent anti-GLBTQ sentiment, the rhetoric surrounding the passage of the bill has been strongly anti-colonial and anti-West.  Decried by nations and NGO’s as potentially violating human rights, the Ugandan government is defying international pressure and embracing an extreme stance on homosexuality.

Ugandan government takes an extreme stance against the GLBTQ community. Image Source: Reuters

The Ugandan government takes an extreme stance against the GLBTQ community with anti-homosexual laws. Image Source: Reuters

In contrast to many other anti-GLBTQ laws, the stakes for GLBTQ individuals in Uganda are particularly high.  Beyond the discrimination enshrined in laws in the United States, or even criminalization as seen in Russia and most of the rest of Africa, Uganda’s GLBTQ community faces a substantial threat of violence.  The original bill made some homosexual acts a capital offence.  Though this punishment was removed from the final bill amid international outcry, the 2011 beating death of activist David Kato demonstrates the grave risk homosexuals face in Uganda.  A recently published list of high-profile homosexuals makes the potential for violence very real.  GLBTQ individuals, their supporters, and their families are understandably alarmed by the passage of the law.

Despite the anti-West rhetoric, the anti-GLBTQ movement can trace back to evangelical Christian roots in the United States.  Though not explicitly supporting the legislation, American evangelicals are accused of exporting their culture wars by using Uganda and other African countries push back against the growing support for GLBTQ rights in the United States.  Indeed, a group of American Christian politicians called “the Family” are tied to the Ugandan leaders who brought forth the legislation.  The result is that much of the debate surrounding gay rights in the United States has transplanted into Uganda, but with the more extreme goal of eradicating homosexuality at any cost.

The backlash for Uganda promises to be significant.  The European Union released a statement noting Uganda’s obligations under human rights laws and Sweden has announced potential redirection of funding away from the government.  Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have halted aid, while the United States has announced a review of aid.  Financial implications may be limited, however, because of the important role Uganda plays in addressing the unstable situation in Somalia.

The international community faces the dilemma of how to support human rights while respecting a nation’s ability to determine social policy.  Given American involvement in the development of the law, we have a particular responsibility to take some sort of action.  Direct financial pressure on Uganda may not be effective, because it may lead to economic and political instability in a relatively fragile state.  Rather, we can back indigenous efforts to establish GLBTQ rights as human rights in Uganda. The West can accomplish this by supporting Ugandan organizations (like this one), activists (as Sweden is), or high-profile Ugandan GLBTQ supporters (like here). Most significantly, we can hold our own citizens accountable for their involvement in GLBTQ persecution, such as through lawsuits, boycotts, and political pressure.

Alicia Gauch holds a Ph.D in International Peace Studies, and is a second year law student and Staff Editor at the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Putin Signals Change in Human Rights Policy… Every Time the Olympics are in Town

Famed Russian political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was released from prison last week in a surprise pardon by President Vladimir Putin.  Khodorkovsky, was an oil tycoon before incarceration as well as the richest man in Russia at one time.  Through a series of deals negotiated with the government, Khodorkovsky bought up many state oil companies following the collapse of the communist government in the early nineties.  Officially charged with tax evasion – many believed that he was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to Putin as well as using his immense wealth to back Putin’s opposition.

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

According to the Kremlin, after ten years Mikhail Khodorkovsky requested a pardon because of humanitarian reasons.  Although attorneys for Khodorkovsky had appealed many times, this was the first pardon requested.  Furthermore, the request apparently came directly from Khodorkovsky as initial reports stated his lawyers knew nothing about it.  Some surmise it was in response to rumors that Russian prosecutors were readying a third case against him, in spite of his scheduled release date this upcoming August.

This move from Putin has left many wondering what is to become of two other high profile cases – that of two members in the political rock group “Pussy Riot” and thirty Greenpeace activists.  Both cases have drawn tremendous publicity worldwide.  The incarcerated rock band members received two-year sentences for performing a song in a Russian Cathedral.  The song was received as being both raunchy as well as critical of Putin.  The Greenpeace activists are awaiting trial on their cases for protesting aboard an oil rig.

President Putin recently introduced legislation that will likely answer the question of their fates.  The legislation, often referred to as an “Amnesty Bill,” is being rushed through legislation.  Once signed, all of the cases in question will qualify for pardons – something most in and out of Russia believe will occur.   Given the current temperature of media inside the state, these pardons are no longer a surprise.  Weeks and months ago, however, Putin had promised that nothing of the sort would occur, stating, “This is a serious thing for us. And we do not plan to soften (our stance), we will only be toughening it.”

Two things have some questioning the sincerity of the Kremlin’s generosity.  First is the proximity of these moves to the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  With the spotlight on Russia’s human right’s record, the timing of these releases is peculiar to say the least.  Additionally, the releases are, so far, small in scale.  The prison doors are far from being flung open.  Secondly, is the way that the releases were carried out.  The releases – both past and impending – are centered around the executive rather than the judiciary.  That raises the question of whether these maneuvers are any actual departure from Putin’s measured democracy whatsoever.

Tom Dunlop is a 3L at Denver University and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: Russia Still Under International Scrutiny for Imprisonment of Greenpeace Activists

After two months of imprisonment in Russia, nine Greenpeace activists were released on Tuesday, November 19th, by a St. Petersburg court order. The activists, who were among 30 imprisoned since September, still face charges of “hooliganism” for protesting offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The detainment of these individuals, who hail from countries including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Poland, and France, increased international criticism of Russia’s legal system and human rights violations.

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for "hooliganism" by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for “hooliganism” by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

On September 18th, two Greenpeace activists were captured while attempting to board the Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform to remove a banner in protest of the oil drilling. Initially traveling aboard the Greenpeace ship “Arctic Sunrise” with 28 other activists, the ship and its occupants waited in the international waters for the release of the two captured activists.  All of the activists were subsequently arrested at gunpoint by Russians stationed on the platform. Dubbed the “Arctic 30,” the Greenpeace activists were initially charged with piracy by Russian authorities. Later, the charges were reduced to “hooliganism,” which carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years, less than half of the maximum sentence a piracy charge carries.

Greenpeace continually pushed for the release of the Arctic 30 on bail, but Russian authorities were reluctant, claiming that they wanted to hold the prisoners for another three months for further investigations. Greenpeace released a statement in early November indicating that the imprisonment of the Arctic 30 “represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Those brave men and women went to the Arctic armed with nothing more than a desire to shine a light on a reckless business.” Greenpeace’s Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, remained staunch in his position that Russia was violating the Human Rights Act by detaining the Arctic 30.

Greenpeace is not without its critics though. The arrests came after the Arctic Sunrise asked for permission to enter the Northern Sea Route but was denied by Russian authorities. Nonetheless, the ship ignored this denial and entered the route. Some see Greenpeace’s efforts as attention tactics, characterizing the organization’s actions as ways to make as much of a spectacle as possible, which therefore detracts from the underlying objective of environmental awareness and improvement.

Originally held in the Arctic city of Murmansk, the Arctic 30 were moved to St. Petersburg where they were able to be visited by family and lawyers. As of now, nine of the prisoners are eligible for release if the bail of $61,000 is met for each of the activists. Greenpeace stated that the organization has raised enough money to meet the bail amounts. While this is an indication that Russia is relaxing their stance on this internationally criticized situation, it should be noted that the activists have not been released of the charges against them. Furthermore, this event coupled with Russia’s highly publicized anti-gay laws, has spiked international scrutiny over the country’s human rights record.

Lydia Rice is a 3L and is Candidacy Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy

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Critical Analysis: Another Olympics, Another Human Rights Situation

In 2008, the International Olympic Committee was widely criticized for allowing China to showcase Beijing while not adequately addressing human rights concerns.  Five years later, the IOC is now embroiled in another human rights situation, as Sochi, Russia, will host the 2014 winter Olympics.  The 2014 Sochi Olympics have been criticized for a number of human rights issues, including passing laws that discriminate against the LGBT community.  Have the IOC and its main sponsors learned anything from 2008 or are they repeating the same mistakes?

LGBT athletes face possible discrimination at the Russian Olympics.

Athletes will face possible discrimination at the Russian Olympics as new laws specifically target LGBT groups.

In 2013, Vladimir Putin has signed multiple bills into the law that discriminate against the LGBT community.  These include laws that prevent the adoption of Russian children by gay couples or individuals.  Another law allows police to arrest tourists and foreign nationals who are suspected of being gay or for being “pro-gay.”   Furthermore, a law has been passed that categorized any gay propaganda as pornography.   These discriminatory laws have created an international backlash.  There have been a number of protests, including bars not serving Russian vodka.

The second Fundamental Principle of Olympism includes “the preservation of human dignity.”  The IOC has tried responding to the outrage and protests over these laws.   After these laws were passed, the IOC reiterated their commitment to ensuring that the 2014 Olympics were free from discrimination.  In October, 2013, the IOC president received assurances from Putin that athletes and visitors to the games will not be affected by these laws.

In addition to dealing with the government of Russia, Human Rights Watch has also pressed Olympic sponsors about the human rights concerns within Russia.  Human Rights Watch wrote to the top sponsors of the Olympic games, including Coca-Cola, General Electric, and McDonald’s, to ask them to take steps to help alleviate these abuses.   While several of the corporations responded, none have been willing to actively speak out against the abuses.  Human Rights Watch highlights that these corporate sponsors have failed to take active steps to reverse the negative human rights situation in Russia.

It appears that the IOC and the major Olympic sponsors have failed to learn any lessons from the 2008 games.  Once again they have failed to live up to the Olympic Charter and continue to showcase a country that is violating its citizens’ human rights.  While the IOC has received assurances that surround the games, this does nothing to protect the individuals that have to live in Russia after the games.  Russia’s sports minister stated that the law was not a mistake, but the timing of the law was a mistake.  While individuals in and around the games may be free from anti-gay laws for three weeks in February, the IOC and its sponsors have again failed to take action to prevent human rights abuses in a country that it is willing to highlight for three weeks.

Wesley Fry is a 3L and Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: The Deliberate Campaign Against Christians in Syria

Amidst a civil war and pervasive persecution, nuns gather for mass in the Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus in September. Source: Christian Post

Amidst a civil war and pervasive persecution, nuns gather for mass in the Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus in September. Source: Christian Post

News of human rights abuses in Syria, ranging from the plight of more than two million refugees to the use of chemical weapons against civilians, has filled international headlines over the last few months.  Conspicuously absent from any significant media coverage, however, is the persecution of the Christians remaining in Syria.  Though all religious communities have been devastated and suffered unthinkable harm, the Christian community in Syria faces an “existential threat.”

Prior to the current war, approximately seventy-four percent of the Syrian population was Sunni Muslim while thirteen percent were members of other Muslim groups, including Alawites, Ismailis, and Shi’a Islam, and Shi’as.  Members of the Druze sect accounted for approximately three percent of the population. And the ten percent of the country belonged to various Christian groups, including Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic.  These religious communities enjoyed a “modicum of freedom of religion” under Assad’s authoritarian regime, tempered by government control of the selection of Sunni Muslim imams, occasional minor tensions between religious groups, and other restrictions.

As early as February 2012, whatever religious freedom existed in Syria had vanished.  Christian families expressed their fear of being trapped and targeted during the civil war.  Their fears have been confirmed. In early September 2013, Christians were forced to flee the ancient Christian town of Maaloula after extremist Islamists led an incursion into the town.  Maaloula is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria and is now nearly empty of inhabitants.  Due to the heavy shelling, one of the monastery was bombed, and more than thirty Christians went missing and six were killed. On September 21, rebels brutally beat a 26-year-old Assyrian Christian to death after they learned he was a Christian.  On September 26, 36 ulemas of Douma, a large suburb of Damascus, issued a fatwa justifying the confiscation of Christian homes and property to purchase weapons, to help orphans and the poor, and to provide for the families of martyrs. In October, Islamist militias began raiding Sednaya, another Christian village north of Damscus, killing and wounding some of the Christians who lived there.

These attacks are part of a pattern that some Syrian Christians believe is an attempt to eradicate them from the country.   As Nina Shea, a human rights activist and former commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, has explained that rebel groups have also targeted Christian leaders.  In June a Catholic Syrian priest was murdered, allegedly by beheading.  Priests and clergyman from various backgrounds were abducted, kidnapped, and killed during the summer.

In this context, it is naïve to think that the end of persecution will follow the end of the civil war.  The Christian population in Iraq has plummeted by fifty percent since 2003 due to religiously motivated acts of violence and intimidation.  In Egypt, the fall of Mubarak has led to a rise in attacks on Coptic Christians and their places of worship.  In fact, throughout the Middle East, sectarian bombings, murders, kidnappings, and threats have caused an exodus of Christians from the faith’s birthplace.  These precedents are ominous for Syrian Christians. The Apostle Paul visited the thriving church in Damascus in the first century, but if the suffering of Christians in Syria continues to be ignored, this millennia-old population, including some who even speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, could become extinct.  It is time for this possibility to rank equally with the other human rights violations in Syria.

Bryan Neihart is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, a master’s candidate at the Korbel School of International Studies, and the Survey Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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