The United Nations saw the 27th Regular Meeting of the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council
Lithuania, just beginning their presidency of the European Council, opened discussions with a general statement of the EU position on Human Rights. The delegation from Ireland put forward a draft motion about maintaining pluralist civil society.
The delegations began to grow more adversarial Allegations of forced sterilizations of Tamils were issued against Sri Lanka. Myanmar was criticised for its discrimination and the violence against Rohingya Muslims.
Then a representative of Human Right’s Watch began accusing Egyptian human rights activist, Mona Seif, of not being eligible for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA), Egypt raised point of order that it was not relevant to the agenda. America disagreed, Cuba backed up Egypt as did China, UK went with the US then Pakistan supported Egypt. Human Rights Watch went on to call Mona Seif a “terrorist supporter”.
This was not unexpected as the last few months have seen increased controversy over Seif’s nomination following the publicising of Tweets where she celebrating the sabotage of the Egyptian pipeline bringing gas to Israel and the burning of an Israeli flag. Seif defended herself by saying:
“One of the rights that we, the young people of Egypt, have succeeded in seizing is the right to insult our own government and to insult anyone whose policies are bad for our people. We insist on this right.”
Another NGO raised the issue of the Falun Gong in China and their persecution. China objected calling the Falun Gong an “evil cult” which had been outlawed and denying that this was relevant to the agenda. While supporting this point of order from China, Cuba wandered from the point to criticise Israeli violence against Palestinians using the word “genocide” for which the Americans and UK delegations criticised the Cubans.
It is both a good and bad time to be a journalist. The internet means there’s more access to information, it’s easier to make yourself heard without a big news agency behind you and news breaks from around the world in moments. But it is also a dangerous time to be a journalist, every day it seems like someone has found a new way to spy on you, more journalists are in jail as of last year than any other time in the last decade and it seems like people are having more and more trouble deciding what a journalist is.
The US Senate seems to think you need some corporation or agency behind you to be a journalist or that it matters how long you’ve been employed. I’ve talked about this before and I disagree. I believe it is the lengths you go to in order to share the truth with the public, to information and educate and provide the context to understand the world we’re in, that makes you a journalist. However those criteria discount many of the overpaid talking heads the Senate seems to have had in mind.
The reaction to the revelations of widespread illegal surveillance by the NSA was surprising. Rather than turning on their government, many mainstream American journalists turned on Greenwald, calling him an “activist” or a “blogger” rather than a journalist.
Then in August, while travelling between Berlin and their home in Rio, Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was stopped and held for 9 hours under the UK’s terrorism powers.
“for the purpose of determining whether the detained person is a terrorist. The use of the power to detain and question someone who the examining officer knows is not a terrorist is plainly not for this purpose, so it would neither be within the spirit nor the letter of the law. There is no suggestion that Miranda is a terrorist, or that his detention and questioning at Heathrow was for any other reason than his involvement in his partner Glenn Greenwald’s reporting of the Edward Snowden story.”
During Miranda’s 9 hour illegal detention in Heathrow, his phone, laptop and external hard drive were confiscated. He was forced to give up the passwords to his social media sites.
It’s hardly as if British security forces thought that Miranda was hiding classified material on Twitter. No, this was a tactic of intimidation and humiliation.
When Greenwald said in an interview that he would continue to report on Snowden documents that had not yet been released it was reported as if he were vowing some mad revenge scheme.
“The US and UK governments are apparently entitled to run around and try to bully and intimidate anyone, including journalists – “to send a message to recipients of Snowden’s materials, including the Guardian”, as Reuters put it – but nobody is allowed to send a message back to them. That’s a double standard that nobody should accept.”
Agents were then sent to supervise the physical destruction of hard drives in the paper’s basement. Rusbridger described the behaviour as “thuggish” but also useless as of course there were multiple copies around the world so they achieved nothing but, in Greenwald’s own words, to make “themselves look incompetently oppressive”.
Multiple journalist protection and human rights organisations around the world have condemned these acts of intimidation and attempted censorship by the British government, including the Committee to Protect Journalists among others.
There must be vigilance and caution when observing attempting abuses of journalistic freedoms, particularly in countries such as the UK and US that previously so highly valued their freedom of the press.
Reading the story of the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner and the following harassment of the Guardian, should concern everyone. It should frighten people. The censorship of the press, intimidating and threatening a journalist’s family are hardly the precursors to good times. In fact I would go out on a limb and say that they are a consistent and undeniable sign that we are losing control of government agencies allegedly in place to protect us. Unfortunately we are now subject to them regardless of what country we are citizens of, rather than the agencies being subject to the will of their citizens.
Now that the use of chemical weapons has come up many feel that the president has trapped himself into responding. But the original comment does not promise military intervention and a question some journalists are asking is why were chemical weapons the ‘red line’ to begin with?
Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began over two years ago with bullets and bombs. Conventional weapons are just as capable of mass death as chemical ones so why this line in the sand?
Obama defended this distinction to CNN last week:
“When you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale… that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”
Phrases such as “National interests”, “protect our allies” and especially “weapons of mass destruction” cannot help but call some of Bush’s rhetoric to mind.
But Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official argues that chemical attacks if proven, must be taken more seriously than conventional attacks because chemical agents disperse to affect large numbers of people and “can produce horror for a lifetime.” He goes on to say that “it’s a slippery slope”, if a chemical weapons attack goes unchecked, what about some other form of weapon of mass destruction – a biological or nuclear attack?
But it can hardly be said that cluster munition or drone strikes are somehow less devastating or that they could not just as easily lead to weapons escalation.
“The administration says the US National Security is threatened by the possibility that the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on allies or US bases – do you have any evidence that they plan to take that step? You’ve warned chemical weapons could be given to “terrorist groups that would harm the US” – how does a military intervention make that less likely and not more?”
A question that should also be asked at this point is whether a military intervention by US or France or any nation’s army would reduce the suffering of the people of Syria or even reduce the risk of chemical weapons being used again.
Also another question that is not being ask is what would the US government do if it was discovered that the rebels were responsible? Will the US military still intervene in the country? Will they intervene on behalf of the government?
That seems unlikely.
“There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the “credibility” of those doing the bombing. Relatedly, it’s hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one’s national “credibility” depend upon periodically bombing other countries.”