By Salil Shetty, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Salil Shetty is Amnesty International's secretary general. The views expressed are his own.
Egypt’s criminal justice system was in the spotlight again after a court agreed to hand down the largest number of death sentences in modern memory. But this was not the work of a rogue judge, as some have suggested. Instead, the rulings were simply the latest in a series of incidents that point to a judicial system that is spiraling out of control.
In the space of a few short months, courts have made ready to sentence hundreds of people to death, jailed leading activists and protestors, including young women for protesting peacefully, and put journalists on trial for merely doing their job.
The courts have also hammered independent civil society. Last week, a court ruling effectively banned the April 6 Youth Movement, the activist group that spearheaded the mass protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s government in January 2011. And Egypt’s human rights groups may be next in the firing line, with memories of last year’s NGO trial still vivid in the minds of many activists.
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By Global Public Square staff
The protests in Ukraine - and Russia's response to them - have monopolized headlines…but there is one other uprising that could have a big, global fallout. We are talking about Venezuela, where for weeks now, demonstrations against the government have been met with violent and sometimes deadly force. Keep an eye on that country because what happens there could have consequences across the continent - and all the way to Cuba.
We were surprised to read that one of the guiding lights of these protests is actually not on the ground in Caracas, but more than a thousand miles away…in Miami, Florida. Reinaldo dos Santos is a self-proclaimed "prophet" from Brazil…and he claims that Venezuela's president will soon be out of a job. For whatever reason, his prophesies have resonated with his 1.3 million Twitter followers as he emboldened them to fight the good fight. (A fun fact - Venezuela has the 5th highest Twitter penetration in the world, according to ComScore.)
It's a bizarre, kooky sideshow to what is actually a very serious situation - not only for Venezuelans, but for the global economy. Remember, Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves, and it is the 4th largest exporter of oil to the United States.
By Evan Fraser, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Evan Fraser holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security at the University of Guelph and is the author of Empires of Food. You can visit his website here. The views expressed are his own.
This week’s headlines may have been dominated by the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, but three seemingly unrelated stories that have developed over the past week might have much broader and long lasting implications for the international community.
The first story is that of the terrible drought that is currently affecting large parts of the Middle East. According to U.N. analysts, two thirds of the arable land in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories are now extremely dry, and the United Nations is expected to declare the winter of 2013-14 the worst in terms of rainfall in decades. This will almost certainly prompt many countries in the region to turn to international wheat markets as a way of compensating for local production shortfalls.
This leads to the second story, namely the escalating crisis in Ukraine, which is significant for two reasons. First, if tensions between Russia and the West continue, it seems increasingly likely that trade sanctions against Russia will be imposed. Second, the disruption in Crimea could affect Ukraine's ability to export wheat since the Crimean region is a major route by which eastern European grain arrives on international markets.
CNN’s Piers Morgan speaks with Fareed about the latest developments in Ukraine, Russia’s deployment of troops and how the West should respond. Watch the video for more.
Vladimir Putin is clearly pretty paranoid about what he perceives has gone on here. He probably thinks the West has ganged up, and has been pretty duplicitous over this whole issue and therefore is perfectly justified in taking this action. What is your reaction to that if that is indeed what he is thinking?
I think that’s exactly right. But here’s Putin’s problem: Whether in Georgia or Ukraine, the West has not been particularly provocative in regard to Putin. They have been trying to deal with him. George W. Bush said he looked into his eyes and saw someone he could trust. Obama tried to reset the relationship with him…
…But the point is this – the people of Ukraine, the large majority of them, have wanted to move West, to have their destiny to be with Europe. They have wanted a modern future in the 21st century. It’s similar to what happened in Georgia. And that is the dynamic on the ground that Putin doesn’t know what to deal with. What you have in Ukraine surprised the West as much as it surprised Vladimir Putin.
…I readily admit it’s a complicated situation. But surely the way to respond to that is not to send in thuggish paramilitary troops who don’t have markings because you don’t even have the courage to admit that you have effectively invaded Crimea, and so you are doing it in this surreptitious way with gangs and paramilitary forces.
The best way to have dealt with this, I think, would have been to have negotiations, diplomacy, perhaps ask for a referendum in Crimea to see what the people there want. And if they want a special autonomous status, or even if they wanted secession, then maybe that’s possible. But surely no one would argue that this is a good principle of international life to argue that anytime the country next door is acting up then they go and gobble a piece of it up. If China were to do that with its neighbors, how would we feel? If other countries were to do that.
That is the principle that is at stake, not the fact that Ukraine is divided and complicated – that’s true. But surely the answer is not the men in ski masks.
By Mattison Brady and Matthew Rojansky, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Matthew Rojansky is the director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Mattison Brady is the program assistant for the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are their own.
The bloodiest winter in Ukraine for more than half a century may at last be giving way to an early spring thaw of peace, reconciliation and rebuilding. True, major challenges remain, but the emerging signs of cooperation between the victorious opposition forces and the vanquished president’s erstwhile allies offer some hope that Ukrainians can begin to recover from the violence that shook the Maidan for weeks.
While many remain shocked by the speed and intensity with which the situation deteriorated, the fact that the standoff turned violent in the first place is no surprise, which should force Ukrainians to pause a moment as they contemplate how to heal the country’s wounds. One vital lesson from all of this suffering must be that if Ukrainians seek a brighter future, if they want to live decently with or without the EU, then they must recognize, isolate and reject the inclinations to use violence that are now deeply rooted in the country’s political culture.
By James F. Collins, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: James F. Collins, a senior associate and diplomat-in-residence at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was the U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation from 1997 to 2001. The views expressed are his own.
The issuance of an arrest warrant for deposed President Viktor Yanukovych at the weekend was just the latest twist in a dramatic few months in Ukraine. But if the country wants to achieve accountable government, economic recovery and preserve its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, it is vital that all sides focus on reconciliation, a political way forward and most immediately an end to violence.
Of course, seeing, hearing and living Ukraine’s present agony, the impulse to do something is unavoidable. The images of a Maidan on fire, bloodied faces in helmets and headscarves, and flames engulfing the heart of Kiev moves anyone who cares to rage at the senseless brutality that has engulfed the heart of this new nation. But there is little more disheartening than the reversion of outside commentary to talk about Ukraine’s catastrophe as some kind of Super Bowl conflict between the U.S. and Russia or East and West – and an obsessive focus on who is winning and losing. It is quite clear that the real losers in this conflagration are Ukraine’s citizens, whose fate is in the balance and whose future is perilous.
CNN speaks with Fareed about the ongoing unrest in Ukraine, why it matters to the West, and why there is little the United States can do.
You have followed this crisis very closely, but many may not. What is this fight about in the Ukraine, and why does it matter so much to the United States and Russia?
If you think of Ukraine, we think of it as a country, we assume it's always been the country with the same borders and the same people. But Ukraine is really divided, and historically has been divided between a western half and eastern half, roughly speaking. The western half of what is now Ukraine used to be part of Poland. So it was only joined after World War II. So that point is in a sense longing to reunite with its European history and heritage.
The eastern part, on the other hand, has long been attached to Russia. So this is a struggle between east and west for the soul of Ukraine. And of course, naturally, Russians feel a natural affinity to the eastern part, and westerners, including in Europe and in the United States, feel that the western part of Ukraine deserves to be in Europe. So it's really a struggle for the soul of Ukraine. As you say, it involves the rest of the world because each side is searching for an identity.
At the beginning of this, we do know that protestors were calling for a close relationship with Europe. But now, we're hearing protestors call for really the overthrow of the Ukrainian government, calling for President Yanukovych to resign and step down. Is that at all a possibility here?
It seems unlikely. It really depends which way the Ukrainian army goes.
CNN speaks with Fareed about the unrest in Ukraine and what, if anything, the United States should do. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Earlier this month, a phone conversation was leaked between a high-ranking State Department official, Victoria Nuland, and the current U.S. ambassador in Ukraine. Nuland had some embarrassing comments about the E.U. on what is going on in Ukraine now. Is it your sense that this was leaked by the Russians or the pro-Russian Ukrainians to embarrass the United States?
My guess is it was leaked by the Russians because they do have the capacity to overhear that kind of conversation. The basic point Victoria Nuland was trying to make, I think, is that the European Union has been playing a kind of slow economic game here, whereas the Russians have been playing a fast geopolitical game.
By which I mean the European Union has been offering the Ukrainians a deal and association, but as long as they make certain kinds of structural economic reforms and get rid of subsidies on various industries. In other words, it's a kind of almost like a regular trade negotiation where they're trying to get the Ukrainian economy to become more market friendly.
The Russians, on the other hand, are playing a geopolitical game, and they first offered Ukraine essentially a $15 billion bribe, subsidized fuel and such, and then just recently, another $2 billion. So, Putin is basically saying here's cash, no conditions asked, you be part of my sphere of influence.
The Europeans, however, are playing this much longer-term game to try to turn Ukraine into a kind of middle class, you know, liberal democratic, capitalist society, and the two timetables are completely off. So, the Europeans have badly misplayed this hand. They should have, if they were going to step in there and try to wean Ukraine away from Russia, they needed to do something fast. They needed to do something that was overwhelming and that made it very difficult for the president to turn them down.
GPS speaks with Duncan McCargo, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds in the UK and author of 'Tearing Apart the Land,' about the ongoing protests in Thailand, what the demonstrators are hoping to achieve, and whether the military is likely to intervene.
Anti-government protesters in Thailand have launched a campaign to “shut down” Bangkok. What are they so unhappy about, and what are they trying to achieve with this latest demonstration?
The protesters are unhappy about the political direction which Thailand has taken for more than a decade. In the past, Thailand was run by a relatively small Bangkok-based elite which I term “network monarchy,” centering on the palace, the military, the bureaucracy and major business groups. While electoral politics have been the norm for more than 30 years, elected governments needed the blessing of this network in order to remain in office. Without this endorsement, governments quickly collapsed – or were removed by military coups. Conservative groups in Thai society, including the Bangkok middle classes and voters in the upper South – stronghold of the Democrat Party – have normally backed the ruling network.
Since the 2001 general election, however, most Thai voters have consistently supported parties linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Pro-Thaksin parties with strong backing in the populous North and Northeast won solid majorities in the 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011 general elections. The Democrat Party squeaked a narrow election victory in 1992, but has not won convincingly since 1986. Protestors are furious that Bangkokians no longer have veto power over election results; indeed, they feel they are no longer in control of “their” country. They claim that Thailand has been held hostage to the corrupt financial interests of Thaksin, his family and his cronies. The real picture is much more complicated. Voters in the North and Northeast are no longer poor farmers, content to be marginalized and patronized by their “betters” in Bangkok. Thaksin has not created the wave of electoral resentment against the Democrats and the power of the capital city. He has simply tapped into that resentment for his own ends.
By Javier Zúñiga, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Javier Zúñiga is a special adviser to Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
It was starting to get dark as I was staring into the crowd from an avenue overlooking the square.
“The army! The army!” people began to shout from the nearby buildings. Then we saw small armored vehicles and soldiers with rifles moving into the square. I took my little daughter and my wife out of there and we found shelter in a nearby building. As we were leaving, a helicopter flew overhead and shot a flare. Then the gunfire started.
Early the next morning, we returned to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco area, and saw the piles of belts and shoes. Pools of blood remained on the ground and there were bullet holes at eye level on concrete pillars around the square.
A university professor at the time, I had gone there to see my students who were on strike, riding the wave of the protests of ’68. But the aftermath of the protest and the brutal crackdown was to become an education in impunity for all of us.
By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a staff member covering Middle East issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are his own.
Barely a week after having been released from prison, prominent Saudi rights activist Mohammed Al-Bajadi was reportedly detained again on Wednesday. Sadly, Al-Bajadi had already served more than two years in jail for something that should not have been a crime in the first place: establishing a human rights NGO that urged Saudi officials to live up to their own stated legal code.
Ironically, Al-Bajadi first ran afoul of Saudi authorities by calling attention to the plight of other individuals detained without charges, often for years at a time. In 2007, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for four months for highlighting this issue.
In 2009, he was hauled in for questioning about his continued peaceful activism for democratic reform and for the rights of prisoners. Although he was released without further punishment, his passport was confiscated to prevent him from traveling abroad. The organization he helped found that year, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, has consistently been denied requests for a license. Earlier this year, the group’s assets were confiscated, and two of its other founders were each sentenced to at least a decade in prison.
By Erin Evers, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Erin Evers is a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.
I awoke at 7 a.m. on Wednesday to a frantic telephone call. A contact inside of Raba’a al-Adaweya, one of the two six-week-old Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins that took over two Cairo neighborhoods, was on the line. “It’s starting,” he told me. “We’re surrounded. They’re firing on us from three sides.”
I spent the rest of the day alternately seeking out the injured and trying to avoid becoming one of them. Dozens, if not hundreds, have been killed at Raba’a, at the Cairo University sit-in, and at flashpoints throughout Cairo and the rest of the country.
Society here seems to hang by a thread. Fighting continues and it is unclear who’s on what side. I spoke to a man injured at the Cairo University sit-in who said he and 25 others had come to fight the Brotherhood alongside police.
Checkpoints litter the city, some manned by the army or police, others by groups of men in civilian clothes reminiscent of the “neighborhood watches” who took matters into their own hands during Egypt’s January 2011 revolution. The country is polarized in a way I never imagined.