The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Sin Padre, Thy Wither

How Venezuela, Iran, China, and Russia are Undermining Human Rights Everywhere

If you’re ever feeling overly happy and want to come down a bit, take a survey of the human condition around the world. Among a sea of rights violators in Africa, you’ll find the worst cases in Darfur, the D.R. Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Robert Mugabe is systematically destroying Zimbabwe. The Middle East has long seen gross injustice and political repression in Syria, Iran, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has its Kurdish problem, which flares up from time to time when it feels Europe slipping away. To the north, Russia fights endlessly in the Caucuses and forces compulsory military service on its poor, dehumanizing a generation of young men with beatings and forced labor. Political opponents are jailed and attacked. Andijan and the “Stans” of Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, and North Korea. Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, the favelas of Brazil and the poverty of Bolivia and Peru. The folks at Human Rights Watch are depressingly busy.

Depends on How You Look at It

Yet in spite of this dispiriting image and the gruesome confrontations between riot police and protesters caught on tape for everyone see, the news is not all disheartening. To be sure, most of these places were never free, open, or safe. It is only because of modern communication and the existence of vociferous groups like Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders that one can list the egregious examples above. And there are also examples of places where life has improved: autocratic dictators are out in Indonesia, the Philippines, Chile, South Korea, Spain, parts of eastern Europe, and the states of the former Yugoslavia. Something may finally be done about Darfur. And perhaps most importantly, great power war has been avoided for sixty years.

Sportily Taking in a Soccer Match

So between the good news and the bad, what the world needs is a state or organization exerting pressure on countries to uphold human rights. Near-inherent anti-Americanism means that most of the world no longer views the United States as this model, with consequences for both equality and U.S. objectives of every stripe. The United Nations is a misunderstood body that is limited here because it is merely a collection of self-interested states. Europe espouses many of the right ideals but is mostly focused on itself, often has an uncomplicated view of the world, and has its own internal conflicts to settle.

What the world does not need is a provider of money and material through which outcast regimes can sustain themselves in the face of international pressure. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was this source and when it broke apart Syria, Cuba, and other former dependents found it far harder to resist outside pressure. Desiccation of patronage led to the signing of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians, largely because of a trickle down effect: without Soviet support Syria couldn’t continue to fund Palestinian resistance on par with American aid to Israel. Syria is weak now for this reason; without oil so too would be Iran and other former Soviet clients.

With Friends Like These

But today there is oil, and there are several antagonists capitalizing on anti-Americanism and spreading their largesse with debilitating effects for human rights. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is using oil profits to destroy institutions within his own country, promote populist movements (see the election of Evo Morales), and reportedly to fund resistance in Colombia. Fidel Castro has found renewed sustenance through friendship with Chavez. Iran – crucially demonstrating that the Iranian issue encompasses more than just the nuclear dispute – is channeling aid to Hamas in Palestine and trying to build ties from Indonesia to Venezuela. In an effort to isolate Taiwan, China is active in Africa (Zimbabwe, Sudan), Asia (North Korea, Burma), and to a lesser degree Latin America. In unison with Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China helps prop up Central Asian dictators.

Patronage from all of these states allows rights violators to defy international norms while finding support elsewhere and thus avoiding isolation. Minatory characters everywhere find it easy to become eloquent, usurp valid arguments, and draw more reasonable people to their side (see Ahmadinejad’s letter to George Bush). Without a paragon of virtue the debate becomes muddled, the message unconvincing, and gross human rights violations overshadowed.


 2006. All rights reserved.


May 30, 2006 Posted by | Africa, Author: DML, China, Darfur, Foreign Aid, Hamas, Human Rights, Iran, Israel, Korea, Middle East, Oil, Palestine, Politics, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United States, Venezuela | 1 Comment

Out of the Shadows

Cambodia’s Good Fortunes

When speaking of the Asian tigers, Cambodia isn’t one of the countries that come to mind. For most of the past 40 years this Southeast Asian nation has been plagued by civil war, foreign domination, and even genocide. The reprehensible, murderous Khmer Rouge was beaten back long ago but it continued to play spoiler in the west and northwest near the Thai border until just five years ago, emerging from jungle sanctuaries under cover of darkness to battle despairingly against government soldiers. Ordinary Cambodians hated them.

Despite Rouge devastation, the highest HIV infection rate in Asia, widespread corruption, and ineffective and unresponsive government, it is perhaps astonishing then that Cambodia saw 13% GDP growth in 2005 according to the IMF. For a Cambodian or any visitor to the country though this is unsurprising: having endured so much privation and devastation for longer than most can remember, Cambodians are ecstatic to know peace and ready to get on with things.

Angkor Wat: At least they didn’t destroy this one

Helped by tranquility and the friendly and sanguine attitudes of the Khmer people (as Cambodians are known), tourism has been a boon. Cambodia has possibly the world’s most awe-inspiring and fantastic attraction in the world: the temples of Angkor. Each year brings increasing numbers of visitors flooding north from the capital and east from more prosperous Thailand to visit Angkor Wat, bringing with them valuable cash to a region often ignored –political retribution, many suspect, for the Rouge’s former influence in the area – by the central government in distant Phnom Penh. Instead, informal patronage networks distribute cash to those who need it most. Tourist operators ferrying busloads of foreigners to their destination slow while passing cash to women on foot along the muddy roads. Less blithely, they are also required to make payment to government soldiers manning antiquated checkpoints.

While Cambodians won’t leave their future to the whim of outsiders, there is much that other nations can do to assist. Governments and aid agencies looking for a positive model of development aid should look to Japan’s grant that established the building of National Route 6. Ask any resident of Siem Reap – the busy town adjacent to the Angkor temples – what he is most proud of and he is likely to name the flat and evenly tarred road, a bustling artery that facilitates so much commerce and industry. Other laudable assistance include efforts to create sustainable aid by rebuilding temples destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, thus generating greater tourist revenue in future. A solid next step would be the paving of the 100-or-so-mile ruin that runs from the Thai border to Siem Reap, and which takes about 8 nerve-wracking hours to traverse. And after that, the replacement of Hun Sen, Cambodia’s long-serving, ruthless, inexorable, one-eyed Prime Minister.


 2006. All rights reserved.

May 17, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, Business, Cambodia, Country Profiles, Emerging Markets, Foreign Aid | Leave a comment