Category Archives: Amnesty International

Eyes Without The Prize: Stripping Aung San Suu Kyi’s Awards

It is impossible to see peace prize or freedom awards as anything other than fragments of an industry.  In time, ideals become marketable and matters of commodity. Those who go against this market rationale face the fires of moral outrage.  The business of promoting peace in the wrapping of human rights protections is its own market, with false advertising.  It is merely, in many instances, the flip side of conflict.

A point often forgotten in this indulgence is that most recipients tend to be not merely the advocates of peace but previous advocates of conflict.  Bloodied swords preceded ploughshares; the terrorist became, in time, a peace maker.  Realising this tense, and central reality, should put any committee responsible for peace prizes or humanitarian awards out of business.

The speed at which a previously celebrated Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of such awards shows the frustration and rage of peace bureaucrats and the cocktail set who suddenly deigned their choice a counterfeit.  Like an original hanging in a gallery, the award had to be removed, its bestowing reconsidered.

So many removals and revocations have taken place that Suu Kyi’s record now reads like a veritable Who’s Who of award deprivation.  Each has been accompanied with necessary doses of hurt and cant in the face of a sanctified figure who has rusted. Stripping Suu Kyi of the Freedom of City awards figures prominently in these grand moral gestures: Edinburgh, Oxford, Glasgow and Newcastle, to name but a few examples.  A good deal of this suggests an inflated brand gone wrong: the saint sinned in taking the steroids of pragmatism, and to that end, city councillors are left in search of other appropriate products and recipients.

When she was in fashion, Suu Kyi could rely on such remarks as those of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who described her in 2005 as “a symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.”  Comparisons were made to another figure rendered pure by a lengthy prison stint: Nelson Mandela.  Last November, the Lord Provost started getting nervous.  Use your “immeasurable courage and influence,” urged Frank Ross, to ensure the safe return of the Rohingya Muslims to Rakhine.

With total radio silence following, Ross tabled a council motion calling for her freedom of city to be stripped.  Suu Kyi found herself in curious company: the last, and previously only time Edinburgh had revoked a freedom of city award was in 1890, when the giddily nationalistic Charles Parnell was accused of conducting an adulterous affair with Katharine O’Shea.  Then, as now, the moralists were in charge of both tradition and award.

Much is also being made about her silence on matters that are, less the bread and butter of human rights than its publicity.  To air them is to incite a miracle.  The atrocities against the Rohingya by the Burmese military is marked out as a significant inkblot on previously unblemished paper.  In October, Canadian lawmakers, in an unprecedented move revoking Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship granted in 2007, cited her inaction on calling out “genocide” against the Rohingyas as a determining factor. Senator Ratna Omidvar was almost aggrieved at a symbol fallen from imposed grace. “The world pinned its hope on her as the shining light and hope for a democratic and peaceful Myanmar.”  Suu Kyi’s ambitions were evidently more modest and less global.

Amnesty International followed in November.  “Our expectation,” came an enraged letter from its Secretary General Kumi Naidoo this month, “was that you would continue to use your moral authority to speak out against injustice whenever you saw it, not least within Myanmar itself.”  The organisation thereby announced it revocation of the Ambassador of Conscience award.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has also been pressed to reconsider their award.  Olav Njølstad, secretary of the committee, tiptoed around the matter with a ballerina’s ease, finding relief in the certainty that the prize was not a presently relevant issue.  “It’s important to remember that a Nobel Prize, whether in physics, literature or peace, is awarded for some prize-worthy effort or achievement in the past.”  Using the past as apologia, escape and salvation for his organisation’s decision, Njølstad could argue that Suu Kyi’s award was based on “her fight for democracy and freedom up until 1991, the year she was awarded the prize.”

Committees often exhibit such pedantic, book-keeping tendencies.  Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, eschewed any prospective policing role by her organisation’s members in 2017.  “It’s not our task to oversee or censor what a laureate does after the prize has been won.” Once awarded, never to be revoked.

For Myanmar gazers, peace is a complex commodity, bought through complicity, acquiescence and the dictates of stability.  The National Coalition of Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a composite of exiled pro-democracy figures elected to the national parliament in 1990, left a specific tripartite rationale in place: unchallenged, near-divine respect for Suu Kyi; a reluctance to directly criticise the military (notable here is Suu Kyi’s own bloodline, tied to a father considered one of the founders of the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar military); and a chronic inability to confront ethnic problems within the country.

In the words of J.J. Rose, “The military controls all significant political action in Myanmar, despite its political wing winning less than 7 percent of the popular vote in the country’s major parliamentary house in 2015.”

Under conditions of house arrest, the activist becomes a symbol externally venerated rather than a practitioner able to exert meaningful action.  In time, Suu Kyi became a cipher for democratic impulses and sentiments, but hardly a genuine, substantive figure of effective leadership.

The sentiments of veneration and subsequent despair seem cute to bricks and mortar pragmatists who see the obsession with her refusal to use microphone and rostrum as complicit in culpability.  Abhijit Dutta, writing in the Hindustan Times, gives the leader far more time and consideration.  “Today, she has a job to do: remake a country that has systematically hollowed out its institutions over the past 50 years and ensure that it stays the course on its democratic transition.”

The vocal stance, or in this case its absence, has been elevated to the level of mystical influence.  To not speak is tantamount to the gravest of sins in the epoch of emoting, where the decibel range of outrage is taken as a measure of an activist’s worth.  Even a concession by a UN independent international fact-finding mission that “the constitutional powers of the civilian authorities afford little scope for controlling the actions of the Tatmadaw” does not sway proponents of necessary, and public condemnation. The present condemns the past.

500 years is long enough! Human Depravity in the Congo

I would like to tell you something about human depravity and illustrate just how widespread it is among those we often regard as ‘responsible’. I am going to use the Democratic Republic of the Congo as my example.

As I illustrate and explain what has happened to the Congo and its people during the past 500 years, I invite you to consider my essential point: Human depravity has no limit unless people like you (hopefully) and me take some responsibility for ending it. Depravity, barbarity and violent exploitation will not end otherwise because major international organizations (such as the UN), national governments and corporations all benefit from it and are almost invariably led by individuals too cowardly to act on the truth.

The Congo

Prior to 1482, the area of central Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was part of the Kingdom of the Kongo. It was populated by some of the greatest civilizations in human history.

Slavery

However, in that fateful year of 1482, the mouth of the Congo River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, became known to Europeans when the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao claimed he ‘discovered’ it. By the 1530s, more than five thousand slaves a year (many from inland regions of the Kongo) were being transported to distant lands, mostly in the Americas. Hence, as documented by Adam Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, the Congo was first exploited by Europeans during the Atlantic slave trade.

Despite the horrific depredations of the militarized slave trade and all of its ancillary activities, including Christian priests spreading ‘Christianity’ while raping their captive slave girls, the Kingdoms of the Kongo were able to defend and maintain themselves to a large degree for another 400 years by virtue of their long-standing systems of effective governance. As noted by Chancellor Williams’ in his epic study The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. the Kingdoms of the Congo prior to 1885 – including Kuba under Shyaam the Great and the Matamba Kingdom under Ngola Kambolo – were a cradle of culture, democracy and exceptional achievement with none more effective than the remarkable Queen (of Ndongo and Matamba), warrior and diplomat Nzinga in the 17th century.

But the ruthless military onslaught of the Europeans never abated. In fact, it continually expanded with ever-greater military firepower applied to the task of conquering Africa. In 1884 European powers met in Germany to finally divide ‘this magnificent African cake’, precipitating what is sometimes called ‘the scramble for Africa’ but is more accurately described as ‘the scramble to finally control and exploit Africa and Africans completely’.

Colonization

One outcome of the Berlin Conference was that the great perpetrator of genocide – King Leopold II of Belgium – with the active and critical support of the United States, seized violent control of a vast swathe of central Africa in the Congo Basin and turned it into a Belgian colony. In Leopold’s rapacious pursuit of rubber, gold, diamonds, mahogany and ivory, 10 million African men, women and children had been slaughtered and many Africans mutilated (by limb amputation, for example) by the time he died in 1909. His brutality and savagery have been documented by Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa which reveals the magnitude of human suffering that this one man, unopposed in any significant way by his fellow Belgians or anyone else, was responsible for inflicting on Africa.

If you want to spend a few moments in touch with the horror of what some human beings do to other human beings, then I invite you to look at the sample photos of what Leopold did in ‘his’ colony in the Congo. See A Nightmare In Heaven – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo.

Now if you were hoping that the situation in the Congo improved with the death of the monster Leopold, your hope is in vain.

The shocking reality is that the unmitigated horror inflicted on the Congolese people has barely improved since Leopold’s time. The Congo remained under Belgian control during World War I during which more than 300,000 Congolese were forced to fight against other Africans from the neighboring German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War II when Nazi Germany captured Belgium, the Congo financed the Belgian government in exile.

Throughout these decades, the Belgian government forced millions of Congolese into mines and fields using a system of ‘mandatory cultivation’ that forced people to grow cash crops for export, even as they starved on their own land.

It was also during the colonial period that the United States acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo without, of course, any benefit to the Congolese people. This included its use of uranium from a Congolese mine (subsequently closed in 1960) to manufacture the first nuclear weapons: those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Independence then Dictatorship

By 1960, the Congolese people had risen up to overthrow nearly a century of slavery and Belgian rule. Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the new nation and he quickly set about breaking the yoke of Belgian influence and allied the Congo with Russia at the height of the Cold War.

But the victory of the Congolese people over their European and US overlords was shortlived: Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a United States-sponsored coup in 1961 with the US and other western imperial powers (and a compliant United Nations) repeating a long-standing and ongoing historical pattern of preventing an incredibly wealthy country from determining its own future and using its resources for the benefit of its own people.

So, following a well-worn modus operandi, an agent in the form of (Army Chief of Staff, Colonel) Mobutu Sese Seko was used to overthrow Lumumba’s government. Lumumba himself was captured and tortured for three weeks before being assassinated by firing squad. The new dictator Mobutu, compliant to western interests, then waged all-out war in the country, publicly executing members of the pro-Lumumba revolution in spectacles witnessed by tens of thousands of people. By 1970 nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed.

Mobutu would rape the Congo (renamed Zaire for some time) with the blessing of the west  – robbing the nation of around $2billion – from 1965 to 1997. During this period, the Congo got more than $1.5 billion in US economic and military aid in return for which US multinational corporations increased their share of the Congo’s abundant minerals.  Washington justified its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its real interests were strategic and economic.

Invasion

Eventually, however, Mobutu’s increasingly hostile rhetoric toward his white overlords caused the west to seek another proxy. So, ostensibly in retaliation against Hutu rebels from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – who fled into eastern Congo after Paul Kagame’s (Tutsi) Rwanda Patriotic Army invaded Rwanda from Uganda to end the genocide – in October 1996 Rwanda’s now-dictator Kagame, ‘who was trained in intelligence at Fort Leavenworth in the United States, invaded the Congo with the help of the Clinton Administration and Uganda. By May 1997 the invading forces had removed Mobutu and installed the new (more compliant) choice for dictator, Laurent Kabila.

Relations between Kabila and Kagame quickly soured, however, and Kabila expelled the Rwandans and Ugandans from the Congo in July 1998. However, the Rwandans and Ugandans reinvaded in August establishing an occupation force in eastern Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans and Ugandans. Thus began ‘Africa’s First World War‘ involving seven armies and lasting until 2003. It eventually killed six million people – most of them civilians – and further devastated a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination, with Rwanda and Uganda establishing themselves as conduits for illegally taking strategic minerals out of the Congo.

During the periods under Mobutu and Kabila, the Congo became the concentration camp capital of the world and the rape capital as well. ‘No woman in the path of the violence was spared. 7 year olds were raped by government troops in public. Pregnant women were disemboweled. Genital mutilation was commonplace, as was forced incest and cannibalism. The crimes were never punished, and never will be.’

Laurent Kabila maintained the status quo until he was killed by his bodyguard in 2001. Since then, his son and the current dictator Joseph Kabila has held power in violation of the Constitution. ‘He has murdered protesters and opposition party members, and has continued to obey the will of the west while his people endure unspeakable hells.’

Corporate and State Exploitation

While countries such as Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK are heavily involved one way or another (with other countries, such as Australia, somewhat less so), US corporations make a vast range of hitech products including microchips, cell phones and semiconductors using conflict minerals taken from the Congo . This makes companies like Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM culpable for funding the militias that control the mines.

But many companies are benefitting. For example,a 2002 report by the United Nations listed a ‘sample’ of 34 companies based in Europe and Asia that are importing minerals from the Congo via, in this case, Rwanda. The UN Report commented: ‘Illegal exploitation of the mineral and forest resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place at an alarming rate. Two phases can be distinguished: mass-scale looting and the systematic and systemic exploitation of resources’. The mass-scale looting occurred during the initial phase of the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi when stockpiles of minerals, coffee, wood, livestock and money in the conquered territory were either taken to the invading countries or exported to international markets by their military forces or nationals. The subsequent systematic and systemic exploitation required planning and organization involving key military commanders, businessmen and government structures; it was clearly illegal.

For some insight into other issues making exploitation of the Congo possible but which are usually paid less attention – such as the roles of mercenaries, weapons dealers, US military training of particular rebel groups and the secret airline flights among key locations in the smuggling operations of conflict minerals – see the research of Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski.

Has there been any official attempt to rein in this corporate exploitation?

A little. For example, the Obama-era US Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 shone a spotlight on supply chains, pressuring companies to determine the origin of minerals used in their products and invest in removing conflict minerals from their supply chain. This resulted in some US corporations, conscious of the public relations implications of being linked to murderous warlords and child labor, complying with the Act. So, a small step in the right direction it seemed.

In 2011, given that legally-binding human rights provisions, if applied, should have offered adequate protections already, the United Nations rather powerlessly formulated the non-bindingGuiding Principles on Business and Human Rights‘.

And in 2015, the European Union also made a half-hearted attempt when it decided that smelters and refiners based in the 28-nation bloc be asked to certify that their imports were conflict-free on a voluntary basis!

However, following the election of Donald Trump as US President, in April 2017 ‘the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission suspended key provisions of its “conflict minerals” rule’. Trump is also seeking to undo the Obama-era financial regulations, once again opening the door to the unimpeded trade in blood minerals by US corporations.

Today

Despite its corrupt exploitation for more than 500 years, the Congo still has vast natural resources (including rainforests) and mineral wealth. Its untapped deposits of minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $US24 trillion. Yes, that’s right: $US24trillion. With a host of rare strategic minerals – including cobalt, coltan, gold and diamonds – as well as copper, zinc, tin and tungsten critical to the manufacture of hi-tech electronic products ranging from aircraft and vehicles to computers and mobile phones, violent and morally destitute western governments and corporations are not about to let the Congo decide its own future and devote its resources to the people of this African country. This, of course, despite the international community paying lip service to a plethora of ‘human rights’ treaties.

Hence, violent conflict, including ongoing war, over the exploitation of these resources, including the smuggling of ‘conflict minerals’ – such as gold, coltan and cassiterite (the latter two ores of tantalum and tin, respectively), and diamonds – will ensure that the people of the Congo continue to be denied what many of those in western countries take for granted: the right to life benefiting from the exploitation of ‘their’ natural resources.

In essence then, since 1885 European and US governments, together with their corporations and African collaborators, have inflicted phenomenal ongoing atrocities on the peoples of the Congo as they exploit the vast resources of the country for the benefit of non-Congolese people.

But, you might wonder, European colonizers inflicted phenomenal violence on the indigenous peoples in all of their colonies – whether in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Oceania – so is their legacy in the Congo any worse?

Well, according to the The Pan-African Alliance, just since colonization in 1885, at least 25 million Congolese men, women and children have been slaughtered by white slave traders, missionaries, colonists, corporations and governments (both the governments of foreign-installed Congolese dictators and imperial powers). ‘Yet barely a mention is made of the holocaust that rages in the heart of Africa.’ Why? Because the economy of the entire world rests on the back of the Congo.

So what is happening now?

In a sentence: The latest manifestation of the violence and exploitation that has been happening since 1482 when that Portuguese explorer ‘discovered’ the mouth of the Congo River. The latest generation of European and American genocidal exploiters, and their latter-day cronies, is busy stealing what they can from the Congo. Of course, as illustrated above, having installed the ruthless dictator of their choosing to ensure that foreign interests are protected, the weapon of choice is the corporation and non-existent legal or other effective controls in the era of ‘free trade’.

The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern Congo are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold. Much mining is done by locals eking out a living using Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM); that is, mining by hand, sometimes with rudimentary tools. Some of these miners sell their product via local agents to Congolese military commanders who smuggle it out of the country, usually via Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, and use the proceeds to enrich themselves.

Another report on South Kivu by Global Witness in 2016 documented evidence of the corrupt links between government authorities, foreign corporations (in this case, Kun Hou Mining of China) and the military, which results in the gold dredged from the Ulindi River in South Kivu being illegally smuggled out of the country, with much of it ending up with Alfa Gold Corp in Dubai. The unconcealed nature of this corruption and the obvious lack of enforcement of weak Congolese law is a powerful disincentive for corporations to engage in ‘due diligence’ when conducting their own mining operations in the Congo.

In contrast, in the south of the Congo in the former province of Katanga, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers tracked sacks of cobalt ore that had been mined by artisanal miners in Kolwezi to the local market where the mineral ore is sold. From this point, the material was smelted by one of the large companies in Kolwezi, such as Congo Dongfang Mining International SARL (CDM), which is a smelter and fully-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt) in China, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Once smelted, the material is typically exported from the Congo to China via a port in South Africa.

In its 2009 report ‘“Faced with a gun, what can you do?” War and the Militarisation of Mining in Eastern Congo’ examining the link between foreign corporate activity in the Congo and the military violence, Global Witness raised questions about the involvement of nearly 240 companies spanning the mineral, metal and technology industries. It specifically identified four main European companies as open buyers in this illegal trade: Thailand Smelting and Refining Corp. (owned by British Amalgamated Metal Corp.), British Afrimex, Belgian Trademet and Traxys. It also questioned the role of other companies further down the manufacturing chain, including prominent electronics companies Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Dell and Motorola (a list to which Microsoft and Samsung should have been added as well). Even though they may be acting ‘legally’, Global Witness criticized their lack of due diligence and transparency standards at every level of their supply chain.

Of course, as you no doubt expect, some of the world’s largest corporate miners are in the Congo. These include Glencore (Switzerland) and Freeport-McMoRan (USA). But there are another 20 or more mining corporations in the Congo too, including Mawson West Limited (Australia), Forrest Group International (Belgium),  Anvil Mining (Canada), Randgold Resources (UK) and AngloGold Ashanti (South Africa).

Needless to say, despite beautifully worded ‘corporate responsibility statements’ by whatever name, the record rarely goes even remotely close to resembling the rhetoric. Take Glencore’s lovely statement on ‘safety’ in the Congo: ‘Ask Glencore: Democratic Republic of the Congo’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the 2016 accident at a Congolese mine that one newspaper reported in the following terms: ‘Glencore’s efforts to reduce fatalities among its staff have suffered a setback with the announcement that the death toll from an accident at a Congolese mine has risen to seven.’

Or consider the Belgian Forrest Group International’s wonderful ‘Community Services’  program, supposedly developing projects ‘in the areas of education, health, early childhood care, culture, sport, infrastructure and the environment. The Forrest Group has been investing on the African continent since 1922. Its longevity is the fruit of a vision of the role a company should have, namely the duty to be a positive player in the society in which it operates. The investments of the Group share a common core of values which include, as a priority, objectives of stability and long-term prospects.’

Regrettably, the Forrest Group website and public relations documents make no mention of the company’s illegal demolition, without notice, of hundreds of homes of people who lived in the long-standing village of Kawama, inconveniently close to the Forrest Group’s Luiswishi Mine, on 24 and 25 November 2009. People were left homeless and many lost their livelihoods as a direct consequence. Of course, the demolitions constitute forced evictions, which are illegal under international human rights law.

Fortunately, given the obvious oversight of the Forrest Group in failing to mention it, the demolitions have been thoroughly documented by Amnesty International in its report ‘Bulldozed – How a Mining Company Buried the Truth about Forced Evictions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’  and the satellite photographs acquired by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science have been published as well.

Needless to say, it is difficult for Congolese villagers to feel they have any ‘stability and long-term prospects’, as the Forrest Group’s ‘Community Services’ statement puts it, when their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Are company chairman George A. Forrest and its CEO Malta David Forrest and their family delusional? Or just so familiar with being violently ruthless in their exploitation of the Congo and its people, that it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be less violent ways of resolving any local conflicts?

Tragically, of course, fatal industrial accidents and housing demolition are only two of the many abuses inflicted on mining labourers, including (illegal) child labourers, and families in the Congo where workers are not even provided with the most basic ‘safety equipment’ – work clothes, helmets, gloves, boots and face masks – let alone a safe working environment (including guidance on the safe handling of toxic substances) or a fair wage, reasonable working hours, holidays, sick leave or superannuation.

Even where laws exist, such as the Congo’s Child Protection Code (2009) which provides for ‘free and compulsory primary education for all children’, laws are often simply ignored (without legal consequence). Although, it should also be noted, in the Congo there is no such thing as ‘free education’ despite the law. Consequently, plenty of children do not attend school and work full time, others attend school but work out of school hours. There is no effective system to remove children from child labour (which is well documented). Even for adults, there is no effective labour inspection system. Most artisanal mining takes places in unauthorized mining areas where the government is doing next to nothing to regulate the safety and labour conditions in which the miners work.

In addition, as noted above, given its need for minerals to manufacture the hi-tech products it makes, including those for western corporations, China is deeply engaged in mining strategic minerals in the Congo too.

Based on the Chinese notion of ‘respect’ – which includes the ‘principle’ of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs – the Chinese dictatorship is content to ignore the dictatorship of the Congo and its many corrupt and violent practices, even if its investment often has more beneficial outcomes for ordinary Congolese than does western ‘investment’. Moreover, China is not going to disrupt and destabilize the Congo in the way that the United States and European countries have done for so long.

Having noted the above, however, there is plenty of evidence of corrupt Chinese business practice in the extraction and sale of strategic minerals in the Congo, including that documented in the above-mentioned Global Witness report.

Moreover, Chinese involvement is not limited to its direct engagement in mining such as gold dredging of the Ulindi River. A vital source of the mineral cobalt is that which is mined by artisanal miners. As part of a recent detailed investigation, Amnesty International had researchers follow cobalt mined by artisanal miners from where it was mined to a market at Musompo, where minerals are traded. The report summarised what happens:

Independent traders at Musompo – most of them Chinese – buy the ore, regardless of where it has come from or how it has been mined. In turn, these traders sell the ore on to larger companies in the DRC which process and export it. One of the largest companies at the centre of this trade is Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM). CDM is a 100% owned subsidiary of China-based Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Operating in the DRC since 2006, CDM buys cobalt from traders, who buy directly from the miners. CDM then smelts the ore at its plant in the DRC before exporting it to China. There, Huayou Cobalt further smelts and sells the processed cobalt to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these companies sell to battery manufacturers, which then sell on to well-known consumer brands.

Using public records, including investor documents and statements published on company websites, researchers identified battery component manufacturers who were listed as sourcing processed ore from Huayou Cobalt. They then went on to trace companies who were listed as customers of the battery component manufacturers, in order to establish how the cobalt ends up in consumer products. In seeking to understand how this international supply chain works, as well as to ask questions about each company’s due diligence policy, Amnesty International wrote to Huayou Cobalt and 25 other companies in China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, UK, and the USA. These companies include some of the world’s largest and best known consumer electronics companies, including Apple Inc., Dell, HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett-Packard Company), Huawei, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Microsoft Corporation, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone, as well as vehicle manufacturers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD. Their replies are detailed in the report’s Annex.

As backdrop to the problems mentioned above, it is worth pointing out that keeping the country under military siege is useful to many parties, internal and foreign. Over the past 20 years of violent conflict, control of these valuable mineral resources has been a lucrative way for warring parties to finance their violence – that is, buying the products of western weapons corporations – and to promote the chaotic circumstances that make minimal accountability and maximum profit easiest. The Global Witness report ‘Faced with a gun, what can you do?’ cited above followed the supply chain of these minerals from warring parties to middlemen to international buyers: people happy to profit from the sale of ‘blood minerals’ to corporations which, in turn, are happy to buy them cheaply to manufacture their highly profitable hi-tech products.

Moreover, according to the Global Witness report, although the Congolese army and rebel groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel force opposed to the Rwandan government that has taken refuge in the Congo since the 1994 Rwanda genocide – have been warring on opposite sides for years. They are collaborators in the mining effort, at times providing each other with road and airport access and even sharing their spoils. Researchers say they found evidence that the mineral trade is much more extensive and profitable than previously suspected: one Congolese government official reported that at least 90% of all gold exports from the country were undeclared. And the report charges that the failure of foreign governments to crack down on illicit mining and trade has undercut development endeavors supposedly undertaken by the international community in the war-torn region.

Social and Environmental Costs

Of course, against this background of preoccupation with the militarized exploitation of mineral resources for vast profit, ordinary Congolese people suffer extraordinary ongoing violence. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, four women are raped every five minutes in the Congo, according to a study done in May 2011. ‘These nationwide estimates of the incidence of rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010’. Despite the country having the highest number of UN peacekeeping forces in the world – where the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has operated since the turn of the century – the level of sexual violence soldiers have perpetrated against women is staggering. Currently, there is still much violence in the region, as well as an overwhelming amount of highly strategic mass rape.

Unsurprisingly, given the international community’s complete indifference, despite rhetoric to the contrary, to the plight of Congolese people, it is not just Congolese soldiers who are responsible for the rapes. UN ‘peacekeepers’ are perpetrators too.

And the Congo is a violently dangerous place for children as well with, for example, Child Soldiers International reporting that with a variety of national and foreign armed groups and forces operating in the country for over 20 years, the majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and most still exploit boys and girls today with girls forced to become girl soldiers but to perform a variety of other sexual and ‘domestic’ roles too. Of course, child labour is completely out of control with many impoverished families utterly dependent on it for survival.

In addition, many Congolese also end up as refugees in neighbouring countries or as internally displaced people in their own country.

As you would expect, it is not just human beings who suffer. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rain forests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotamuses, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.

The Congolese natural environment – including the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, together with their park rangers – and the indigenous peoples such as the Mbuti (‘pygmies’) who live in them, are under siege. In addition to the ongoing mining, smaller corporations that can’t compete with the majors, such as Soco, want to explore and drill for oil. For a taste of the reading on all this, see ‘Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC Ambush‘, ‘The struggle to save the “Congolese unicorn“‘, ‘Meet the First Female Rangers to Guard One of World’s Deadliest Parks‘ and ‘The Battle for Africa’s Oldest National Park‘.

If you would like to watch a video about some of what is happening in the Congo, either of these videos will give you an unpleasant taste: ‘Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth‘ and ‘Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo‘.

Resisting the Violence

So what is happening to resist this violence and exploitation? Despite the horror, as always, some incredible people are working to end it.

Some Congolese activists resist the military dictatorship of Joseph Kabila, despite the enormous risks of doing so.

Some visionary Congolese continue devoting their efforts, in phenomenally difficult circumstances including lack of funding, to building a society where ordinary Congolese people have the chance to create a meaningful life for themselves. Two individuals and organizations who particularly inspire me are based in Goma in eastern Congo where the fighting is worst.

The Association de Jeunes Visionnaires pour le Développement du Congo, headed by Leon Simweragi, is a youth peace group that works to rehabilitate child soldiers as well as offer meaningful opportunities for the sustainable involvement of young people in matters that affect their lives and those of their community.

And Christophe Nyambatsi Mutaka is the key figure at the Groupe Martin Luther King that promotes active nonviolence, human rights and peace. Christophe’s group particularly works on reducing sexual and other violence against women.

There are also solidarity groups, based in the West, that work to draw attention to the nightmare happening in the Congo. These include Friends of the Congo that works to inform people and agitate for change and groups like Child Soldiers International mentioned above.

If you would like to better understand the depravity of those individuals in the Congo (starting with the dictator Joseph Kabila but including all those officials, bureaucrats and soldiers) who enable, participate in or ignore the violence and exploitation; the presidents and prime ministers of western governments who ignore exploitation, by their locally-based corporations, of the Congo; the heads of multinational corporations that exploit the Congo – such as Anthony Hayward (Chair of Glencore), Richard Adkerson (CEO of Freeport-McMoRan), George A. Forrest and Malta David Forrest (Chair and CEO respectively of Forrest Group International), Christopher L Coleman (Chair of Randgold Resources) and Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (CEO of AngloGold Ashanti) – as well as those individuals in international organizations such as the UN (starting with Secretary-General António Guterres) and the EU (headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission), who ignore, provoke, support and/or profit from this violence and exploitation, you will find the document ‘Why Violence?‘ and the website ‘Feelings First‘ instructive.

Whether passively or actively complicit, each of these depraved individuals (along with other individuals within the global elite) does little or nothing to draw attention to, let alone work to profoundly change, the situation in the Congo which denies most Congolese the right to a meaningful life in any enlightened sense of these words.

If you would like to help, you can do so by supporting the efforts of the individual activists and solidarity organizations indicated above or those like them.

You might also like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ which references the Congo among many other examples of violence around the world.

And if you would like to support efforts to remove the dictatorship of Joseph Kabila and/or get corrupt foreign governments, corporations and organizations out of the Congo, you can do so by planning and implementing or supporting a nonviolent strategy that is designed to achieve one or more of these objectives.

If you are still reading this article and you feel the way I do about this ongoing atrocity, then I invite you to participate, one way or another, in ending it.

For more than 500 years, the Congo has been brutalized by the extraordinary violence inflicted by those who have treated the country as a resource – for slaves, rubber, timber, wildlife and minerals – to be exploited.

This will only end when enough of us commit ourselves to acting on the basis that 500 years is long enough. Liberate the Congo!

Camilo Comes to San Francisco and Analyzes the Soft Coup Attempt in Nicaragua

Western media has described the unrest and violence in Nicaragua as a “campaign of terror” by government police and paramilitary. This has also been asserted by large non governmental organizations (NGOs). In May, for example, Amnesty International issued a report titled “Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua’s Strategy to Repress Protest”.

A Miami Herald op-ed summarized, “It’s not like there’s any confusion over who’s to blame for the recent killings amid Nicaragua’s political violence. Virtually all human rights groups agree that Ortega’s police-backed paramilitary goons are the culprits.”

Much less publicized, other analysts have challenged these assertions. They claim the situation is being distorted and the reality is very different. For example, Camilo Mejía wrote an open letter condemning the Amnesty report for being biased and actually contributing to the chaos and violence.

To learn more about the situation, Task Force on the Americas (TFA) invited Camilo Mejía to speak in the San Francisco Bay Area. TFA has a long history of work in Central and South America educating the public, lobbying around US foreign policy and leading delegations to see the reality in Central and South America.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) quickly agreed to co-sponsor events with Camilo in San Francisco and Oakland. Veterans for Peace also has a long history with Nicaragua. VFP was founded partially in response to US aggression in Central America. VFP members protested against US shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras. VFP member Brian Willson had both legs cut off when a train carrying weapons destined for Central America ran over him. The current VFP president, Gerry Condon, was at that protest and helped stop the blood gushing from Willson’s severed legs. Brian Willson lives in Nicaragua today.

Camilo Mejía was born in Nicaragua, the son of famous musician Carlos Mejía Godoy. His mother was a staunch Sandinista activist but separated from the father soon after his birth. She brought Camilo to the United States as a single mother in 1994, four years after the Sandinista electoral defeat. Living in Florida, Camilo struggled to make ends meet and joined the US Army to pay for college. Just a few months before completing his service, Camilo was ordered into the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After serving one tour of war duty, he refused to return and was imprisoned for 9 months.

Camilo was honored as a “Prisoner of Conscience” by Amnesty International. Thus Camilo’s criticism of the Amnesty report on Nicaragua has special significance. Camilo is Nicaraguan, a member of Veterans for Peace, and a hero to both VFP and Amnesty. He is also the author of the compelling autobiography Road from Ar Ramadi.

As news of Camilo’s upcoming visit to San Francisco was spread, we quickly started to feel a reaction. There is a large and diverse Nicaraguan exile community in San Francisco. While some support the Sandinista government, others are adamantly opposed and some even supported the Contras decades ago. Anti-Ortega Nicaraguan exiles in San Francisco began organizing a protest.

Camilo’s visit to speak on Nicaragua also prompted a reaction from some Americans who had once supported the Sandinistas but now support the opposition. They campaigned to have their viewpoint presented at our events. TFA and VFP organizers thought there was no need to include the opposition voice since their characterization of the conflict is widespread. However, Camilo wanted to be transparent and not exclude the opposition. He thought that if we allowed an opposition supporter to speak briefly, they were more likely to listen to his analysis and he could directly address their concerns.

At the San Francisco event, protesters arrived early in front of the War Memorial Veterans Building. When the event started, protesters flooded into the venue. As promised, an opposition supporter was invited to speak briefly.The audience of about 120 was split between those who wanted to hear Camilo and those who came to protest. Camilo’s talk was repeatedly interrupted and police arrived to prevent violence. Camilo asked what kind of “democracy” was this they claimed to want for Nicaragua when they would not listen or allow him to speak here in San Francisco?

Camilo showed two short video clips. The first video showed opposition activists torturing a Sandinista supporter under the oversight of a Catholic priest and the remains of a Sandinista burned alive.

A second video showed a statement from an American who has lived in Nicaragua for many years. He described how gangs had invaded his town, set up road blocks, intimidated and abused local civilians. He described the joy of the community when the roadblocks were removed and masked “protesters” departed.

The audience got increasingly disruptive during the question period. A prominent Nicaraguan opposition supporter came forward, offering to quiet the disrupters. After receiving the microphone from Camilo, she did the opposite. The disruptions escalated and the event had to be ended early. The protesters had completed their mission: they had prevented Camilo from being able to present his perspective.

Organizers from TFA and Veterans for Peace decided the Sunday event in Oakland needed to be handled differently. Members of Veterans for Peace, including chapter president Paul Cox and others, prevented the protesters from entering. Ultimately the venue was packed with interested listeners. The anti-Ortega crowd protested on the sidewalk and street but were not able to disrupt the event.

Camilo Mejía speaking in Oakland (Photo by Bill Hackwell)

With the loud opposition outside, Camilo was introduced by VFP President Gerry Condon. He gave a clear and concise history of key events in Nicaraguan political history including:

* Nicaragua was connected to the gold rush in California in the the mid 1800’s. That is when the idea of a trans-oceanic passage through Nicaragua was born.

* When Cesar Sandino launched guerrilla war in the 1920’s and 30’s there were two priorities: advancing the working class and anti-imperialism.

* The Frente Sandinista which carried out the 1979 revolution had nine commanders: three from each of three factions.

After the Sandinistas lost the 1990 election, splits emerged and ultimately Sergio Ramirez formed the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS). The more affluent members plus intellectuals, writers, and musicians gravitated toward it. But though they were well connected to western solidarity activists, they had no popular platform nor base. They did poorly in elections and moved toward neoliberal policies and the NGO world.

* Since taking power in 2007, Daniel Ortega and Sandinistas have improved living conditions for the poor with free healthcare, free education and better economic policies. Nicaragua now supplies 80 – 90% of its own food needs.

* Up until April, Nicaragua was vastly safer than neighboring countries. Their “community policing” is considered a model.

* Support for Ortega and the Frente Sandinista has steadily increased. In 2006, they won 38% of the vote; in 2011, it increased to 62%; in 2016 support increased to 72% with 68% turnout.

* There has been much misinformation about the proposed changes in social security which sparked the protests in April. To stabilize the social security funding, the IMF wanted to implement an austerity plan which would have doubled the work requirements and raised the qualification age from 60 to 65. The Sandinista proposal was much more progressive, requiring wealthy individuals and businesses to pay much more with minor changes for others.

* The death count has been manipulated. Some deaths are counted twice; people who were said to be dead have turned up alive; dead Sandinista supporters have been counted as protesters. The first deaths on April 19 were one student, one police officer and one bystander killed by sniper fire. Camilo asks: Was this done by the government or by outside forces?

* The National Endowment for Democracy and other US agencies have trained students and others in using social media, video and symbols to stir up dissent and destabilize Nicaragua.

At the Oakland event, Camilo showed a torture video which demonstrates opposition violence. He also showed video of the huge July 19 celebration of the the revolution anniversary. His talk was followed by many questions including from opposition supporters.

At times during the event, there was tension and concern about violence from the protesters outside. Some Nicaraguan families were afraid for their safety. After the event, they had to be escorted with protection to their cars. The car of one Nicaraguan family was besieged by the anti-Ortega crowd. Camilo and his young daughter had to be quickly taken away amidst shouts and waving placards.

Ultimately Camilo’s visit accomplished the goal. Media interviews in Spanish and English reached many thousands.  In these and the public presentations, he brought information and analysis which has been largely censored or ignored in coverage of Nicaragua.

Camilo believes Nicaragua has temporarily defeated a “soft coup” attempt but the danger is not over. The opposition forces internally and internationally are still there.

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

Open Letter to Amnesty International by a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience

Through this letter I express my unequivocal condemnation of Amnesty International with regards to the destabilizing role it has played in Nicaragua, my country of birth.

I open this letter quoting Donatella Rovera, who at the time this quote was made, had been one of Amnesty International’s field investigators for more than 20 years:

Conflict situations create highly politicized and polarized environments (…). Players and interested parties go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate or manufacture “evidence” for both internal and external consumption. A recent, though by no means the only, example is provided by the Syrian conflict in what is often referred to as the “YouTube war,” with a myriad techniques employed to manipulate video footage of incidents which occurred at other times in other places – including in other countries – and present them as “proof” of atrocities committed by one or the other parties to the conflict in Syria.

Ms. Rovera’s remarks, made in 2014, properly describe the situation of Nicaragua today, where even the preamble of the crisis was manipulated to generate rejection of the Nicaraguan government. Amnesty International’s maliciously titled report, Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua’s Strategy to Repress Protest, could be dismantled point by point, but doing so requires precious time that the Nicaraguan people don’t have, therefore I will concentrate on two main points:

(a) The report completely lacks neutrality; and,
(b) Amnesty International’s role is contributing to the chaos in which the nation finds itself.

The operating narrative, agreed-upon by the local opposition and the corporate western media, is as follows: That president Ortega sought to cut 5 percent from retirees’ monthly retirement checks, and that he was going to increase contributions, made by employees and employers, into the social security system. The reforms sparked protests, the response to which was a government-ordered genocide of peaceful protestors, more than 60, mostly students. A day or two after that, the Nicaraguan government would wait until nightfall to send its police force out in order to decimate the Nicaraguan population, night after night, city by city, in the process destroying its own public buildings and killing its own police force, to then culminate its murderous rampage with a Mothers’ Day massacre, and so on.

While the above narrative is not uniformly expressed by all anti-government actors, the unifying elements are that the government is committing genocide, and that the president and vice-president must go.

Amnesty International’s assertions are mostly based on either testimony by anti-government witnesses and victims, or the uncorroborated and highly manipulated information emitted by U.S.-financed anti-government media outlets, and non-profit organizations, collectively known as “civil society.”

The three main media organizations cited by the report: Confidencial, 100% Noticias, and La Prensa, are sworn enemies of the Ortega government; most of these opposition news media organizations, along with some, if not all, of the main non-profits cited by the report, are funded by the United States, through organizations like the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has been characterized by retired U.S. Congressman, Ron Paul, as:

… an organization that uses US tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas. It underwrites color-coded ‘people’s revolutions’ overseas that look more like pages out of Lenin’s writings on stealing power than genuine indigenous democratic movements.

Amnesty’s report heavily relies on 100% Noticias, an anti-government news outlet that has aired manipulated and inflammatory material to generate hatred against the Nicaraguan government, including footage of peaceful protesters, unaware of the fact that the protesters were carrying pistols, rifles, and were shooting at police officers during incidents reported by the network as acts of police repression of opposition marches. On Mothers’ Day, 100% Noticias reported the purported shooting of unarmed protesters by police shooters, including an incident in which a young man’s brains were spilling out of his skull. The network followed the report with a photograph that Ms. Rovera would refer to as an incident “…which occurred at other times in other places.” The picture included in the report was quickly met on social media by links to past online articles depicting the same image.

One of the sources (footnote #77) cited to corroborate the alleged denial of medical care at state hospitals to patients injured at opposition events –one of the main accusations repeated and reaffirmed by Amnesty International- is a press conference published by La Prensa, in which the Chief of Surgery denies claims that he had been fired, or that hospital officials had denied care to protesters at the beginning of the conflict. “I repeat,” he is heard saying, “as the chief of surgery, I repeat [the] order: to take care of, I will be clear, to take care of the entire population that comes here, without investigating anything at all.” In other words, one of Amnesty International’s own sources contradicts one of its report’s main claims.

The above-mentioned examples of manipulated and manufactured evidence, to borrow the words of Amnesty’s own investigator, are just a small sample, but they capture the essence of this modality of U.S.-sponsored regime change. The report feeds on claims from those on one side of the conflict, and relies on deeply corrupted evidence; it ultimately helps create the mirage of a genocidal state, in turn generating more anti-government sentiment locally and abroad, and paving the way for ever more aggressive foreign intervention.

A different narrative

The original reforms to social security were not proposed by the Sandinista government, but by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and they were supported by an influential business group, known as COSEP. They included raising the retirement age from 60 to 65 and doubling the number of quotas necessary to get full social security from 750 to 1500. Among the impacted retirees, approximately 53,000, are the families of combatants who died in the armed conflict of the 1980s, from both the Sandinista army and the “Contras,” the mercenary army financed by the United States government in the 1980s, around the same time the NED was created, in part, to stop the spread of Sandinismo in Latin America.

The Nicaraguan government countered the IMF’s reforms by rejecting the cutting out of any retirees, with a proposed 5% cut to all retirement checks, an increase in all contributions to the social security system, and with fiscal reform that removed a tax-ceiling that protected Nicaragua’s biggest salaries from higher taxation. The business sector was furious, and together with nongovernmental organizations, organized the first marches, using the pretext of the reforms in the same manipulative way Amnesty International’s report explains them: “… the reform increased social security contributions by both employers and employees and imposed an additional 5% contribution on pensioners.”

The continuing narrative, repeated and validated by Amnesty International, is that the protesters are peaceful and the genocidal government is irrationally bent on committing atrocities in plain sight. Meanwhile, the number of dead among Sandinista supporters and police officers continues to rise. The report states that ballistic investigations suggest that those shooting at protesters are likely trained snipers, pointing to government involvement, but fails to mention that many of the victims are Sandinistas, regular citizens, and police officers. It also does not mention that the “peaceful protesters” have burned down and destroyed more than 60 public buildings, among them many City Halls, Sandinista houses, markets, artisan shops, radio stations, and more; nor does it mention that the protesters have established “tranques,” or roadblocks, in order to debilitate the economy as a tactic to oust the government. Such “tranques” have become extremely dangerous scenes where murder, robbery, kidnapping, and the rape of at least one child have taken place; a young pregnant woman whose ambulance wasn’t let through also died on May 17th. All of these crimes occur daily and are highly documented, but aren’t included in Amnesty International’s report.

While the organization is right to criticize the government’s belittling response to the initial protests, such response was not entirely untrue. According to the report, Vice-President Murillo said, among other things, that “…they [the protesters] had made up the reports of fatalities (…) as part of an anti-government strategy.” What Amnesty leaves out is that several of the reported dead students did turn up alive, one of them all the way in Spain, while others had not been killed at rallies, nor were they students or activists, including one who died from a scattered bullet, and another who died from a heart attack in his bed.

Amnesty’s report also leaves out that many of the students have deserted the movement, alleging that there are criminals entrenched at universities as well as at the various “tranques,” who are only interested in destabilizing the nation. Those criminals have created a state of sustained fear among the population, imposing “taxes” on those who want passage, persecuting those who refuse to be detained, kidnapping them, beating them, torturing them, and setting their cars on fire. In a common practice, they undress their victims, paint their naked bodies in public with the blue and white of the Nicaraguan flag, and then set them free, prompting them to run right before shooting them with homemade mortar weapons. All of this information, which did not make the report, is available in numerous videos and other sources.

Why Nicaragua?

The most basic review of the history between Nicaragua and the United States will show a clear rivalry. Beginning in the mid-1800s, Nicaragua has been resisting U.S. intervention into the country’s affairs, a resistance that continued through the 20th century, first with General August C. Sandino’s fight in the 1920s and 30s, and then with the Sandinistas, organized as the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which overthrew the U.S.-supported, 40-year Somoza family dictatorship in 1979. The FSLN, despite having gained power through armed struggle, called for elections shortly after its triumph in 1984, and eventually lost to yet another U.S.-supported coalition of right-wing political parties in 1990. The FSLN once again managed, aided by pacts made with the church and the opposition, to win the election of 2006, and has remained in power since.

In addition to Nicaragua’s close ties with Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, and especially China, with whom the country signed a contract to build a canal, the other main reason the United States is after the Sandinistas, is Nicaragua’s highly successful economic model, which represents an existential threat to the neoliberal economic order imposed by the U.S. and its allies.

Despite always being among the poorest nations in the American continent and the world, Nicaragua has managed, since Ortega returned to power in 2007, to cut poverty by three quarters. Prior to the protests in April, the country’s economy sustained a steady annual economic growth of about 5% for several years, and the country had the third fastest-growing economy in Latin America, and was one of the safest nations in the region.

The government’s infrastructural upgrades have facilitated trade among Nicaragua’s poorest citizens; they have created universal access to education: primary, secondary, and university; there are programs on land, housing, nutrition, and more; the healthcare system, while modest, is not only excellent, but accessible to everyone. Approximately 90% of the food consumed by Nicaraguans is produced in Nicaragua, and about 70% of jobs come from the grassroots economy –rather than from transnational corporations- including from small investors from the United States and Europe, who have moved to the country and are a driving force behind the tourism industry.

The audacity of success, of giving its poorest citizens a life with dignity, of being an example of sovereignty to wealthier, more powerful nations, all in direct contradiction to the neoliberal model and its emphasis on privatization and austerity, has once again placed Nicaragua in the crosshairs of U.S. intervention. Imagine the example to other nations -their economies already strangled by neoliberal policies- becoming aware of one of the poorest countries on earth being able to feed its people and grow its economy without throwing its poorest citizens under the iron boot of capitalism. The United States will never tolerate such a dangerous example.

In closing

The Nicaraguan government has deficiencies and contradictions to work on, like all governments, and as a Sandinista myself I would like to see the party transformed in various important ways, both internally and externally. I have refrained from writing of those deficiencies and contradictions, however, because the violent protests and ensuing chaos we have seen are not the result of the Nicaraguan government’s shortcomings, but rather, of its many successes; that inconvenient truth is the reason the United States and its allies, including Amnesty International, have chosen to “…create highly politicized and polarized environments (…). [And to] go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate or manufacture “evidence” for both internal and external consumption.”

At a time when even the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the Vatican have called for peaceful and constitutional reforms as the only way out of the conflict, Amnesty International has continued to beseech the international community to not “abandon the Nicaraguan people.” Such biased stance, obscenely bloated on highly manipulated, distorted, and one-sided information, has made the terrible situation in Nicaragua even worse. The loss of Nicaraguan lives, including the blood of those ignored by Amnesty International, has been used to manufacture the “evidence” used in the organization’s report, which makes the organization complicit in what future foreign intervention might fall upon the Nicaraguan people. It is now up to the organization to correct that wrong, and to do so in a way that reflects a firm commitment first and foremost to the truth, wherever it might fall, and to neutrality, peace, democracy, and always, to the sovereignty of every nation on earth.

Sincerely,

Camilo E. Mejia

Anti-Semitism and the Silencing of Debate on Palestinian Human Rights

While militarily strong and facing no existential threats, Zionism and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians has been taking a beating in world opinion.1

The UN passed six new resolutions against the Jewish state, including one denying Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem 151-6.

The United Nations General Assembly in New York passed six resolutions on [November 30, 2017] affirming Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli violations of international law, Middle East Monitor reported.

According to one resolution (‘Jerusalem’), “the Assembly reiterated that any actions by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem were illegal and therefore null and void.”

This resolution was adopted by 151 votes in favor to 6 against (Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, United States), with 9 abstentions (Australia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Honduras, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, South Sudan, Togo), the Monitor said.

Israel’s delegate condemned the resolutions, claiming that the UN “continued to annually adopt biased resolutions and devote precious resources…to politicized bodies whose sole purpose was to attack and denounce Israel”. The US representative “echoed that opposition.”2

Even in North American public opinion, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Israel is losing support.3 For example, here is a quote from an article in Jewish Forward magazine: “Where Zionism used to be a given among American Jews, it is increasingly being viewed with skepticism by Jews who see where the political ideology has led us. Startlingly only 40% of American Jews age 18-34 said they were ‘comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.’”4

Israel has been resorting to lawfare in an attempt to hold back the tide of negative opinion building against the “Jewish State” for its treatment of the Palestinians and its 50 year illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

An Israeli legal group is suing two New Zealanders, one Jewish and one Palestinian, for allegedly convincing the pop singer Lorde to cancel her performance in Israel. This appears to be the first lawsuit filed under a contentious 2011 Israeli anti-boycott law. The Israeli law opens the door to civil lawsuits against anyone calling for a boycott against Israel, including of lands it has occupied, if that call could knowingly lead to a boycott. The law, which is part of Israel’s fight against a global movement calling for boycotts against the “Jewish State,” allows for courts to impose damages against defendants. Critics said the law would stifle free expression.5

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The broad definition of boycott could apply to anyone seeking to use this non-violent means of dissent to criticize any individual or institution involved in human rights violations or violations of international law in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, he added.6

 
The Israeli anti-BDS law has not yet been tested in court. Even the Shurat Hadin leader Darshan-Leitner has said that the law poses a challenge, “because proving a link between a boycott and a call for one is difficult”. She said in this case the connection is clear, claiming that the first time Lorde brought up her reservations on the Tel Aviv performance was after the Sachs and Abu-Shanab’s open letter, and that the two women “took credit” for Lorde’s decision to cancel the concert on social media and elsewhere.6

Israel is now proposing to enforce its anti-BDS law against Amnesty International, after the human rights organization embarked on a campaign calling for a boycott of products from Judea and Samaria and a weapons embargo on Israel. Amnesty International has also accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Under its “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession” campaign, Amnesty calls for “governments to stop enabling the economy that keeps these illegal settlements growing and fuels the suffering of Palestinians … and help put an end to the cycle of violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.”

Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have proposed amendments to the anti-BDS law to enable the sanctions. They are going to have a public hearing at which Israeli citizens can voice their objections.

Before imposing sanctions on Amnesty International, Kahlon is expected to invite senior officials from the organization to a hearing. Amnesty International could also be sued for damages for violating the anti-BDS law.7

In what was described as “an unprecedented victory” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a federal judge has blocked Kansas from enforcing a state law which punishes those who express support or engage in the boycott of Israel. The anti-BDS law, required that all Kansas state employees sign a certification guaranteeing they do not participate in the boycott of Israel.
The Federal Judge, issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law until resolution of a lawsuit filed in October 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Esther Koontz, a public school teacher. The lawsuit is based on Koontz’s adherence to the Palestinian call for BDS. Following her fellow members of the Mennonite Church USA and in solidarity with Palestinians, she decided to boycott all consumer products from both Israeli companies and those that operate in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement, Micah Kubic, director of the ACLU of Kansas, called the judge’s ruling a “notable victory for the First Amendment” and protected speech. The ACLU Director said, “The government has no right telling people what they can and can’t support, and this preliminary injunction will protect other Kansans from enduring the First Amendment violation that Ms. Koontz has endured.” The ruling was the first of its kind on the judicial level to counter an escalation of anti-BDS measures passed by state lawmakers in twenty-four states with bipartisan support. Activists in several states have stopped similarly proposed legislation from becoming law. However, there are several federal anti-BDS bills that are before Congress.8

Another defeat for the Israeli anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign occurred where an attempt to force state contractors in Massachusetts to prove that they were not boycotting Israel. To quote the Palestine Legal press release on this topic, “Though not on its face an anti-BDS bill, as the coalition stated, “a substantial public paper trail shows that its actual target was the Palestinian civil society movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). As such, it was intended to inhibit the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action, a peaceful expression of dissent.” 9

There also is a recent judgement of the Ontario Court of Appeal that approved a libel decision against Canadian journalist Ezra Levant for calling a young Muslim law student a terrorist and an anti-Semite. The award of $80,000 against Levant was upheld.10

Another public relations setback for Israel’s campaign against BDS is the nomination of the BDS Campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize.11

  1. See, for example, “Israel accuses U.N. rights forum of bias over Palestinians,” by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, January 19, 2018. See also “Israel gets flak over human rights record in Geneva,” by Barbara Bibbo, Aljazeera, January 23, 2018. The South African representative said “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state.”
  2. UN votes 151-6 against Israel, an ‘occupying power’ with no rights to Jerusalem,” United With Israel, 1 December 2017.
  3. Vast Numbers of Progressive California Jews Are Disengaging From Israel, Survey Finds: Only a minority of young Jews in San Francisco’s Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians,” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, 14 February 2018. See also “Realization Is Growing That American Jews and Israel No Longer Share a Moral and Ethical Worldview,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, Issues, Spring-Summer 2017; See also “Netanyahu does not speak for all American Jews (COMMENTARY),” by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Washington Post, 25 February 2015.
  4. American Jews Have Never Needed Israel,” by Michael Robin, Forward, 21 February 2018.
  5. Israelis sue New Zealanders over Lorde boycott,” by Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press, 31 January 2018.
  6. Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International Release, 12 July 2011.
  7. Israel to apply anti-BDS law to Amnesty International,” by Sean Savage JNS, Cleveland Jewish News, 16 February 2018​.
  8. Federal judge blocks Kansas law punishing BDS supporters,” by Jesse Rubin, Mondoweiss, January 30, 2018. Link downloaded on February 12, 2018.
  9. Palestine Legal Press Release, 8 February 2018, Victory! Anti-Boycott Measure Defeated in Massachusetts.
  10. Ontario Court of Appeal confirms $80,000 libel judgment against Ezra Levant: Saskatchewan lawyer brought suit in response to blog posts,” by Alex Robinson, Canadian Lawyer, January 6, 2017.
  11. BDS movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” On February 8, 2018. Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes officially nominated the BDS movement for Palestinian rights for a Nobel Peace Prize. He did so with the support of his party, the progressive Rødt (Red) Party, explaining why BDS “should be supported without reservation by all democratically-minded people and states.” Mondoweiss, 8 February, 2018.

Anti-Semitism and the Silencing of Debate on Palestinian Human Rights

While militarily strong and facing no existential threats, Zionism and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians has been taking a beating in world opinion.1

The UN passed six new resolutions against the Jewish state, including one denying Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem 151-6.

The United Nations General Assembly in New York passed six resolutions on [November 30, 2017] affirming Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli violations of international law, Middle East Monitor reported.

According to one resolution (‘Jerusalem’), “the Assembly reiterated that any actions by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem were illegal and therefore null and void.”

This resolution was adopted by 151 votes in favor to 6 against (Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, United States), with 9 abstentions (Australia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Honduras, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, South Sudan, Togo), the Monitor said.

Israel’s delegate condemned the resolutions, claiming that the UN “continued to annually adopt biased resolutions and devote precious resources…to politicized bodies whose sole purpose was to attack and denounce Israel”. The US representative “echoed that opposition.”2

Even in North American public opinion, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Israel is losing support.3 For example, here is a quote from an article in Jewish Forward magazine: “Where Zionism used to be a given among American Jews, it is increasingly being viewed with skepticism by Jews who see where the political ideology has led us. Startlingly only 40% of American Jews age 18-34 said they were ‘comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.’”4

Israel has been resorting to lawfare in an attempt to hold back the tide of negative opinion building against the “Jewish State” for its treatment of the Palestinians and its 50 year illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

An Israeli legal group is suing two New Zealanders, one Jewish and one Palestinian, for allegedly convincing the pop singer Lorde to cancel her performance in Israel. This appears to be the first lawsuit filed under a contentious 2011 Israeli anti-boycott law. The Israeli law opens the door to civil lawsuits against anyone calling for a boycott against Israel, including of lands it has occupied, if that call could knowingly lead to a boycott. The law, which is part of Israel’s fight against a global movement calling for boycotts against the “Jewish State,” allows for courts to impose damages against defendants. Critics said the law would stifle free expression.5

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The broad definition of boycott could apply to anyone seeking to use this non-violent means of dissent to criticize any individual or institution involved in human rights violations or violations of international law in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, he added.6

 
The Israeli anti-BDS law has not yet been tested in court. Even the Shurat Hadin leader Darshan-Leitner has said that the law poses a challenge, “because proving a link between a boycott and a call for one is difficult”. She said in this case the connection is clear, claiming that the first time Lorde brought up her reservations on the Tel Aviv performance was after the Sachs and Abu-Shanab’s open letter, and that the two women “took credit” for Lorde’s decision to cancel the concert on social media and elsewhere.6

Israel is now proposing to enforce its anti-BDS law against Amnesty International, after the human rights organization embarked on a campaign calling for a boycott of products from Judea and Samaria and a weapons embargo on Israel. Amnesty International has also accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Under its “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession” campaign, Amnesty calls for “governments to stop enabling the economy that keeps these illegal settlements growing and fuels the suffering of Palestinians … and help put an end to the cycle of violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.”

Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have proposed amendments to the anti-BDS law to enable the sanctions. They are going to have a public hearing at which Israeli citizens can voice their objections.

Before imposing sanctions on Amnesty International, Kahlon is expected to invite senior officials from the organization to a hearing. Amnesty International could also be sued for damages for violating the anti-BDS law.7

In what was described as “an unprecedented victory” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a federal judge has blocked Kansas from enforcing a state law which punishes those who express support or engage in the boycott of Israel. The anti-BDS law, required that all Kansas state employees sign a certification guaranteeing they do not participate in the boycott of Israel.
The Federal Judge, issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law until resolution of a lawsuit filed in October 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Esther Koontz, a public school teacher. The lawsuit is based on Koontz’s adherence to the Palestinian call for BDS. Following her fellow members of the Mennonite Church USA and in solidarity with Palestinians, she decided to boycott all consumer products from both Israeli companies and those that operate in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement, Micah Kubic, director of the ACLU of Kansas, called the judge’s ruling a “notable victory for the First Amendment” and protected speech. The ACLU Director said, “The government has no right telling people what they can and can’t support, and this preliminary injunction will protect other Kansans from enduring the First Amendment violation that Ms. Koontz has endured.” The ruling was the first of its kind on the judicial level to counter an escalation of anti-BDS measures passed by state lawmakers in twenty-four states with bipartisan support. Activists in several states have stopped similarly proposed legislation from becoming law. However, there are several federal anti-BDS bills that are before Congress.8

Another defeat for the Israeli anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign occurred where an attempt to force state contractors in Massachusetts to prove that they were not boycotting Israel. To quote the Palestine Legal press release on this topic, “Though not on its face an anti-BDS bill, as the coalition stated, “a substantial public paper trail shows that its actual target was the Palestinian civil society movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). As such, it was intended to inhibit the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action, a peaceful expression of dissent.” 9

There also is a recent judgement of the Ontario Court of Appeal that approved a libel decision against Canadian journalist Ezra Levant for calling a young Muslim law student a terrorist and an anti-Semite. The award of $80,000 against Levant was upheld.10

Another public relations setback for Israel’s campaign against BDS is the nomination of the BDS Campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize.11

  1. See, for example, “Israel accuses U.N. rights forum of bias over Palestinians,” by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, January 19, 2018. See also “Israel gets flak over human rights record in Geneva,” by Barbara Bibbo, Aljazeera, January 23, 2018. The South African representative said “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state.”
  2. UN votes 151-6 against Israel, an ‘occupying power’ with no rights to Jerusalem,” United With Israel, 1 December 2017.
  3. Vast Numbers of Progressive California Jews Are Disengaging From Israel, Survey Finds: Only a minority of young Jews in San Francisco’s Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians,” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, 14 February 2018. See also “Realization Is Growing That American Jews and Israel No Longer Share a Moral and Ethical Worldview,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, Issues, Spring-Summer 2017; See also “Netanyahu does not speak for all American Jews (COMMENTARY),” by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Washington Post, 25 February 2015.
  4. American Jews Have Never Needed Israel,” by Michael Robin, Forward, 21 February 2018.
  5. Israelis sue New Zealanders over Lorde boycott,” by Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press, 31 January 2018.
  6. Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International Release, 12 July 2011.
  7. Israel to apply anti-BDS law to Amnesty International,” by Sean Savage JNS, Cleveland Jewish News, 16 February 2018​.
  8. Federal judge blocks Kansas law punishing BDS supporters,” by Jesse Rubin, Mondoweiss, January 30, 2018. Link downloaded on February 12, 2018.
  9. Palestine Legal Press Release, 8 February 2018, Victory! Anti-Boycott Measure Defeated in Massachusetts.
  10. Ontario Court of Appeal confirms $80,000 libel judgment against Ezra Levant: Saskatchewan lawyer brought suit in response to blog posts,” by Alex Robinson, Canadian Lawyer, January 6, 2017.
  11. BDS movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” On February 8, 2018. Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes officially nominated the BDS movement for Palestinian rights for a Nobel Peace Prize. He did so with the support of his party, the progressive Rødt (Red) Party, explaining why BDS “should be supported without reservation by all democratically-minded people and states.” Mondoweiss, 8 February, 2018.