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How the West failed Rwanda

April 2

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH published a report this week on the Rwanda genocide in which an estimated 500,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered.

Many of the report’s conclusions have been heard before (particularly the fact that Western powers, including the U.S., willfully ignored the genocide while it was happening). But the HRW report makes at least one important addition. It argues that even harsher condemnation of the genocide by the West, to say nothing of intervention, could have slowed the killings.

A section called “Rwandans Listened” argues the killers were sensitive about their image: “At a communal council meeting in remote Bwakira commune … the burgomaster warned local leaders that satellites passing over head could track continued violence, and that such displays would make re-establishment of good relations with the U.S. impossible.”

Based on such evidence, the authors conclude: “International censure, timid and tardy though it was, prompted Rwandan authorities to restrict and hide killings. If instead of delaying and temporising, international leaders had immediately and unambiguously called the genocide by its awful name, they would have shattered the masquerade of legitimacy created by the interim government and forced Rwandans to confront the evil they were doing.”

The document is long, but the introduction gives a summary of the findings. Plus, the table of contents is well labeled with links to each section. It is a great opportunity to get a clear understanding of how such horrifying violence develops, as well as to put the events of the past week, particularly Clinton’s claim of the “moral imperative” for NATO’s Kosovo intervention, in perspective.



Campaigners to ban landmines exaggerating?

April 1

It’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy when you think about the campaign to ban landmines (not that you think about it very often). But, according to THE BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS, one of the campaign’s strategies hasn’t been so noble: In order to win attention to their cause, campaigners have been wildly overestimating the number of uncleared mines. As a result, many governments and philanthropic organizations assume mines are so ubiquitous that de-mining is a lost cause. So, instead of giving money toward the removal of mines, governments are focusing on ending their proliferation.

The result is that folks who are actually on the ground removing mines seem to be getting the short end of the financial stick (if there is such a thing). One example: Princess Di’s charity organization, The Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, has given over $1.6 million to support anti-landmine organizing — and none to landmine-clearance efforts.

The article isn’t particularly well-written. It takes a while get to the point and relies too much on quotes from pissed-off, under-funded de-miners. Nevertheless, the story highlights a legitimate tension that should be brought out into the open.



Nike’s embarrassing sweatshop slip-up

March 31

Nike has been fighting to polish its image after numerous reports of human-rights abuses of Asian laborers surfaced in the past decade. But according to THE NATION, the shoe company has made it abundantly clear that its “enlightened labor policy” is nothing more than public-relations pabulum.

The evidence comes in the form of a letter written by Nike Vice President Joseph Ha to Vietnam’s top labor official, Cu Thi Hau. In the letter, Ha wrote, “A few U.S. human-rights groups, as well as a Vietnamese refugee who is engaged in human-rights activities, are not friends of Vietnam,” and warned that the activists’ ultimate goal is not to improve working conditions, but to turn Vietnam into “a so-called ‘democratic’ society, modeled after the U.S.”

The “refugee” referred to in the letter is Thuyen Nguyen, founder of the Vietnam Labor Watch. The group monitors working conditions in Nike’s Vietnam factories and has documented abuses ranging from violations of minimum-wage laws to corporal punishment of female workers.

According to the NATION article, the Vietnamese government, pleased by Ha’s sentiments, published the letter in its state-owned newspaper.

A humiliated Nike Corp. apologized for the letter and assured the U.S. media that it did not reflect Nike’s position on human rights. As evidence of this, a Nike spokeswoman pointed out that Nike participates in the White House’s Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP).

But Nike critics such as GLOBAL EXCHANGE and the INTERNATIONAL LABOR RIGHTS FUND say the AIP is little more than a feel-good standards body that is easily circumvented. Many of the labor unions and human-rights organizations that had originally been partners in the AIP have since left the group in protest.



Conservative think-tanks increase influence

March 30

Have you ever wondered if conservative think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation actually influence policy? Okay, I don’t either. But, even if think-tanks aren’t the stuff of spicy conversation, they still have an important impact. According to a new article in THE CHR ONICLE OF PHILANTHROPY, right-leaning think tanks “have succeeded not only in helping to win major political battles on social issues but in framing the very dimensions of the national debate.”

Based on a report (or perhaps just a press-release) issued by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), THE CHRONICLE paints a picture how conservative non-profit policy institutions, funded by corporations, individuals and foundations are helping to drive American politics to the right. Spending by right-leaning think tanks has more than doubled between 1992 and 1996 ($158 million in 1996 alone).

All this money isn’t just going toward William Buckley’s life-support systems — it’s influencing national policy from the privatization of Social Security to the role of the FDA. But it’s not all about greenbacks, either.

According to THE CHRONICLE, conservative think-tanks have developed a successful strategy of incorporating specific issues into unified social agendas. Meanwhile, their liberal counterparts “have far fewer resources and tend to focus on single issues without weaving them into an overarching philosophical framework.”

It isn’t a thriller, but the article is well-written and worth a read. Unfortunately if you’re interested in reading the report itself (assuming you have too much time and not enough interests on your hands) you’ll have to shell out $25.



INS detentions called inhumane, illegal

March 29

From the MoJo Wire’s “least favorite government bureaucracy” files: The reasons to revile the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) just keep multiplying. The agency’s immigrant detainee policies have drawn a lot of criticism in the last few months, from Amnesty International to the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, reports the VILLAGE VOICE. “Immigrant detainees are the fastest-growing segment of America’s exploding jail population,” according to the article.

For a thorough and well-researched study of the issue, check out last September’s Human Rights Watch report “Locked Away: Immigration Detainees in Jails in the United States.” It details how the INS — running out of detention space of its own — has been placing thousands of its non-criminal detainees in local jails, where they may face physical mistreatment and substandard conditions, among other things. Even some asylum-seekers, who came to this country hoping to find freedom, are instead languishing behind bars, sometimes for years, while their cases are waiting to be heard in backlogged courts. (Jailing asylum seekers, by the way, violates international refugee laws.) The report, which is full of sobering information, also notes that the “INS detainees are a desirable source of profit to local jails,” which are paid from $35-$100 per day to hold each detainee.

If your thirst for information (or ammunition against the INS) isn’t satiated by HRW’s report, check out the General Accounting Office’s recently released report, “CRIMINAL ALIENS: INS’ Efforts to identify and Remove Imprisoned Aliens Continue to Need Improvement.” (You need Acrobat Reader to download the report)



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