Saturday, August 30, 2014

Egypt: Grand Mufti to rule on Badie sentence

Country's highest Islamic authority had rejected Brotherhood leader's death sentence but court asked him to reconsider. Al Jazeera's Mereana Hond reports.

Georgia: Georgia’s Thieves-in-Law Reinvent Themselves to Survive

Originally published by
Georgia’s Thieves-in-Law Reinvent Themselves to Survive

Eurasianet Book Review

With a Georgian church as a demure backdrop, a few unremarkable, tubby middle-aged men stare grimly into the camera. At first glance, this might seem a photo of devout pilgrims. But it is not. The beer-bellied men pictured are alleged Georgian crime-bosses, and they are busy doing what Georgian crime-bosses have learned to do since the collapse of the Soviet era -- adapt to change, and survive.

It used to be all much simpler. Originally products of the Soviet prison-system, Georgia’s kanonieri kurdebi (thieves-in-law), groups of criminals who live by a strict code of conduct, once ranked as a “criminal nobility” worthy, in one instance, of a government-supplied VIP escort from the Tbilisi airport

In a new study from Oxford University Press, “Reorganizing Crime: Mafia and Anti-Mafia in Post-Soviet Georgia,” British criminologist Gavin Slade, however, strips away these images to look at the Georgian thieves-in-law with a social scientist’s clinical detachment -- as products of their ever-changing environment, and not as the stuff of legend.

In this lies the book’s greatest value.

Arguably the foremost non-Georgian expert on the kurdebi, Slade names the country’s robust Soviet-era shadow economy and the lack of any effective law-enforcement or judicial system as the real reasons behind the thieves’ rise to power in the 1980s and 1990s.

Quite simply, whether for Italian chocolate-spread or to find a stolen car when the police could not, Georgians had mundane demands, and the thieves met them.

But some contradiction is involved here. Even while brushing aside cultural explanations for the thieves’ former influence – such as claims about a “mentality” that scoffs at written laws and favors freewheeling macho-men --
Slade concedes that certain cultural explanations do exist.

“The inter-connectedness of Georgian social life” essentially “facilitated” the thieves’ connections with the state, he notes.

That prompts reader interest in elaboration from both parties to this prior relationship. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come.

Granted, the thieves and their friends, past or present, are not known for chattiness with outsiders. And this is a reference book, rather than The Godfather.

Yet, out of 53 interviews cited in the book, only three are with individuals who once had ties with so-called “criminal authorities” or had been convicted in a thief-in-law case.

The book also does not include a Who’s-Who list of the most prominent and undisputed Georgian thieves-in-law, though it does offer a glossary of the most common thieves-in-law terms

The work’s most compelling moments for readers come in those chapters that try to explore the dynamics of how the thieves actually managed to integrate into broader Georgian society -- by being seen as “good arbitrators without recourse to violence,” effective security guards or, more crudely, as one ex-Kutaisi police chief observed, just by showing they had “big cars” and “money.”

Those perceived advantages, of course, came to a screeching halt once Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili began a brutal crackdown on the kurdebi in 2004.

But the changes, notes Slade, already had begun. Money ($300,000 in one case) or family-ties came to take the place of the former sine qua non of prison-experience for gaining the title of a thief-in-law.

As one respondent drily commented, the process was like British soccer team “Manchester United signing some awful player . . . and then you see he can’t play . . .”

Public attitudes toward the thieves sagged in response. Restoring their reputation became key, and with that, such tactics as currying favor with society by identifying with the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church.

Others, faced by Saakashvili’s zero-tolerance campaign for thieves-in-law, disappeared abroad -- a trend that, in one 2012 case, led to the initiation of a new thief via Skype.

To his credit, in covering this era, Slade, who has served as a source for stories, does not revisit the worn-out tale of Saakashvili’s makeover of the traffic-police; a topic which can cause jaw-splitting yawns among long-term Georgia-watchers.

He terms the police reforms “a success story,” but cautions that “continuing police abuses, lack of civilian oversight, and politicization,” as well as “wide-scale human rights abuses and torture in the prison system” mean that Georgia is no “model for others” in fighting organized crime.

Justified criticism. Yet, nonetheless, he sometimes paints in broad strokes the Saakashvili policies toward thieves-in-law.

While the thieves were a fixation in Saakashvili’s early years in power, by the end of his 2004-2012 tenure, they were not the government’s explanation for “every crisis or challenge to its power.” Rather, that was a role primarily given to Russia to play solo.

How those policies have changed since 2012 under the current ruling Georgian Dream is not addressed. It is a topic that already has emerged as a political football in Georgia.

That lack of information leaves questions open about the police and prison reforms’ long-term impact on Georgia’s thieves.

Slade cautions, though, that the country’s large number of ex-convicts and relatively high unemployment (officially, 14.6 percent) could provide opportunities for a kurdebi-comeback.

Whether or not it will ever materialize remains to be seen. After all, as Slade argues, Georgia’s thieves-in-law, ultimately, are creatures of change.  

Africa: Hope deferred: abrupt end to the Katanga case fails victims

Source: ISS
Hope deferred: abrupt end to the Katanga case fails victims

On 25 June 2014, the defence team of Germain Katanga, former commander of the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri (FPRI) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), withdrew its notice of appeal against his conviction by the International Criminal Court (ICC). On the basis of Katanga’s withdrawal of appeal, the Prosecution also filed a notice of discontinuation of its appeal against the same judgment.

All that remains in the case is a decision on reparations for victims of the attack in the village of Bogoro on 24 February 2003 that Katanga was convicted of. There is, however, little promise for these victims, because most of them have now been barred from court-led reparations following the acquittal and conclusion of the case.

The Rome Statute of the ICC is clear that court-ordered reparations are available only to victims of crimes for which an accused has been convicted. The court will not make an order to award reparations to victims for crimes that the accused has been acquitted of.

In its March judgment, Trial Chamber II of the ICC found Katanga guilty on one count of crime against humanity (murder) and four counts of war crimes (murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property and pillaging). The ICC, however, acquitted him of rape and sexual slavery as crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the war crime of enlisting child soldiers.

He was subsequently sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, but will serve a sentence of slightly less than six years as he has been in the ICC’s custody since 18 September 2007. The ICC Prosecution argued in its appeal application that the sentence was erroneous and requested a revision to 22 years on the grounds of proportionality to the crimes. The ICC Prosecution also requested the Appeals Chamber to reverse or amend the judgment of Trial Chamber II, or order a new or partially new trial of Katanga before a different Trial Chamber.

Attached to the notification of discontinuation of appeal by the Katanga defence is a signed statement of regret by Katanga for the crimes he committed, and an apology to the victims in Bogoro. Since reparations for victims who participate in legal proceedings before the ICC depend on an accused being found guilty, the discontinuation of the Prosecutor’s appeal extinguishes the quest for reparative justice for the victims of rape, sexual slavery and recruitment of child soldiers in Bogoro.

Besides the ‘interests of victims’ standard that is brought to question in this case, Katanga’s apology revives the debate about the place of apologies by perpetrators in the international criminal justice system. Do apologies contribute at all to the reconciliation process in fragmented communities affected by international crimes?

The ICC Prosecutor expressed hope that the final resolution of the Katanga case will assist in reconciliation efforts and contribute to the healing process for the victims in Bogoro. This sentiment is, however, not shared by the legal representatives of two of the groups of victims in this case – the victims of rape and sexual slavery; and the child soldier victims. These representatives observe that their clients feel disappointed, dissatisfied and even betrayed by the ICC Prosecution’s surprising decision to discontinue its appeal.

These victims had participated in the lengthy legal proceedings against Katanga, including the pre-trial phase, a right explicitly granted to them by the Rome Statute. Once their applications are accepted, victims of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC are allocated legal representatives, who appear before the court on their behalf at the pre-trial, trial and appellate phases. Victims are allowed to participate in legal proceedings at the ICC. However, the procedural right to appeal the judgment of a Trial Chamber is reserved for the accused and the prosecution, leaving victims with no further recourse.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the victims of rape, sexual slavery and recruitment as child soldiers in Bogoro would look to the ICC Prosecutor to back their plight on appeal. The ICC Prosecutor has indicated that, ‘[t]he decision to discontinue the Prosecution appeal took into account all of the relevant factors, including sensitivity to the interests of victims in the present case [and that] the decision [is] in conformity with her statutory obligations and in the responsible exercise of her prosecutorial discretion.’

Considering the number of victims – approximately 359 victims were granted leave to participate in the early days of the case – and the procedures for their participation, what is being brought into question is how effective and meaningful the participation of victims really is. In practice, the application and evaluation processes for victims to participate in the proceedings of ICC cases have, to date, been lengthy, cumbersome, expensive and administratively difficult to manage by court officers and victims’ representatives.

In the Katanga case, the question of how meaningful and effective victims’ participation is becomes even more pertinent. In this instance, the victims of the crimes that Katanga was acquitted of are unable to assert themselves outside of the Office of the Prosecutor following the withdrawal of her appeal.

Simultaneously, although not on par with the pain and suffering of the victims, the ICC failed to effectively pronounce itself on sexual and gender-based crimes. The much-awaited application and further development of the principles on reparations related to sexual and gender-based crimes – as established in the 2012 decision on reparations in the case against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – also remain unimplemented.

The expediency in completing a case at the ICC does not outweigh the interests of victims to reparative justice. Hope deferred for the victims of rape, sexual slavery and the child soldiers in Bogoro is a poor reflection of the protection afforded to victims by the international criminal justice system.
Allan Ngari, Researcher, Transnational Threats and International Crime, ISS Pretoria

Honduras: Leading opposition broadcaster in Honduras faces criminal libel charges


A Tegucigalpa-based high court announced this week that it is ready to hear a criminal defamation action by Sonia Inéz Gálvez, a lawyer married to the deputy prosecutor-general, against David Romero Ellner, the head of Radio Globo.

The lawsuit could result in a sentence of up to 15 years in jail for Romero and the closure of Radio y TV Globo, one of Honduras' most popular opposition broadcasters since the June 2009 coup d'état.

In her suit, Gálvez accused Romero and three of his Radio y TV Globo colleagues – Ivis Alvarado, Rony Martínez and César Silva – of insulting and defaming her on the air in connection with a 2002 case involving her and Romero. The court said it would only consider Gálvez's complaint against Romero.

Romero recently accused Gálvez of abusing her influence over the public prosecutor's office to obtain his conviction in the 2002 case.

A few days before she filed her complaint, Romero reported having been threatened by suspicious individuals and accused Gálvez of being behind an attempt to intimidate him. The National Commission for Human Rights (CONADEH) was asked to protect him.

“We call for the immediate withdrawal of this criminal defamation action against Romero,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “Journalists were already censoring themselves so who will dare to speak out now? The closure of one of Honduras' leading opposition media would deal a major blow to freedom of information.”

The case exacerbates an already critical moment for freedom of information in Honduras five years after the 2009 coup, which saw physical attacks by the security forces against Tegucigalpa-based Radio Globo, as well as Radio Progreso in the north of the country and Canal 36 Cholutelsat-Sur in the south.

The current offensive against Radio Globo comes just days after a court convicted Lieutenant Colonel José Arnulfo Jiménez, the military officer responsible for the armed assault and forcible closure of Canal 36 during the coup.

Attempts to tighten control of the media and an escalation in violence against journalists have eclipsed the start of a debate with civil society – to which Radio y TV Globo was not invited – about a proposed law on protecting human rights defenders, journalists and others that is currently before the national congress.

Dagoberto Díaz, the owner of local TV station Canal 20, was gunned down in Danli, in the southeastern province of El Paraíso, on 23 August, becoming the eighth journalist to be murdered in Honduras this year. He was killed just nine days after TV presenter Nery Soto was gunned down in the northern city of Olanchito.

Honduras is ranked 129th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

International Relations: The Cycle of Nationalism in North East Asia

Source: ISN
The Cycle of Nationalism in North East Asia

Tom French believes that China, Japan and South Korea are locked into a spiral of mutual suspicion, insecurity and even hate. So what should they do about it? He believes it’s time to jettison the hyper-nationalism and pursue mechanisms that lift the three countries beyond their troubled pasts.

By Thomas French for ISN

The anniversary of the defeat of Japan in 1945 regularly triggers a cycle of provocative actions, condemnatory statements and nationalist rhetoric between Japan and its near-neighbors China and South Korea. But while relations between Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul have significantly deteriorated in recent years, the causes of mutual distrust, suspicion and rivalry remain more or less the same. Among the most significant is the subjective perceptions of history that each state ‘feeds’ to its general population.

‘Minimizing’ Japan’s Past

In Japan, where modern history is poorly taught, most textbooks gloss over the country’s brutal colonial rule. And while some of this neglect is due to time pressures on the Japanese school system, there has nevertheless been a longstanding drive to minimize the 'masochistic' content of Japan’s past. These shortcomings have resulted in a population that possesses a very limited understanding of their country’s imperial past. Instead, many Japanese view their country as a victim (of nuclear weapons, aerial bombardment etc.) rather than an erstwhile expansionist power responsible for its own fate. This ignorance and sense of victimhood, in turn, leads a lack of understanding of the grievances held by Japan's neighbors. In addition, the idea that modern Japan is still being victimized for the misdeeds of a previous generation is also proving to be a fertile breeding ground for renewed nationalist sentiment – something the Shinzo Abe government has sought to harness through its policy agenda.

It’s not a view shared by the entire Japanese population. Many view the policies and statements made by the current Prime Minister as harking back to Japan's past as both an ultranationalist regime and foe of the United States. Such concerns undoubtedly resonate with statements coming out of Beijing and Seoul that also link Japan's current outlook to the pre-war era. But that’s not to say that nationalism plays no part in China’s and South Korea’s anti-Japan rhetoric.

Papering over South Korea’s ‘Cracks’

Like Japan, education and political discourse in South Korea has taken on a much more nationalistic tone in recent years. The content of many history textbooks has arguably adopted an equally distorted view of South Korea’s past as those of Japan. Issues which have allegedly been downplayed include collaboration with the Japanese occupiers, atrocities committed by South Korean troops during the Korean War and the human cost and authoritarian character of the Rhee and Park regimes. Accordingly, this approach papers over some of the darkest episodes of South Korea's modern history in an effort to promote unity and preserve the 'legitimacy of the South Korean government', as has been claimed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. This 'editing of history' was resisted by more liberal scholars in Korea, who sought to push a more critical stance of both the Seoul government and colonial period.

Yet, despite their differences both sides appear to be moving towards a shared and heavily critical perspective of the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. This undoubtedly benefits those South Korean politicians with direct links to previous hard-line regimes and aspects of the country’s less-than-illustrious past. This is particularly true of the current President Park Guen hye, the daughter of a former military strongman and imperial Japanese Army officer. Her particular brand of anti-Japanese rhetoric helps to decouple her from her father's rule and his collaboration with the Japanese. It also demonstrates that there are perhaps more opportunities for the ratcheting up of nationalist sentiment in South Korea, given that the country is free from the constitutional restraints and war guilt associated with Japan.

It Also Works for China

Nationalism has also been used by China to mitigate the social stresses of development and economic growth. After the reforms of the late 1970s and the decline of the prestige of communism after 1989, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could no longer rely on communist rhetoric as a unifying factor. As a result, economic growth and nationalism became the key pillars of the Party’s legitimacy and the tools to divert China's growing middle class away from calls for political reform and towards focusing on material gain and the 'rise' of the country.

Another major element of China’s nationalist message focuses upon catching up with and overtaking those states that subjected the country to its era of 'national humiliation' , with Japan being the most obvious target. The content of many history books extensively detail the wartime atrocities committed by Japan. Historical memories of the war and the general antipathy towards Japan are also reinforced by the vast amount popular cultural products set during the Japanese invasion . Yet, in keeping with its neighbors, China’s history books also ignore some of the darkest episodes in the country’s recent history, such as the millions of deaths in the Mao era and the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Mounting Concerns

Each of these instances of nationalism and seemingly wilful ignorance of past deeds are worrying enough in isolation. Yet, their interconnected nature and the cycle of worsening relations they seem to be fostering are an increasing cause for concern. Through this mutually reinforcing cycle of deeds and statements in which one side responds to the other's actions and/or statements, relations between Japan, China and South Korea are increasingly being locked into an ever worsening trajectory.

The cycle takes the form of statements or provocative actions by one side, such as visits to controversial or contested sites likeYasukuni shrine or Liancourt rocks. These actions necessitate a response by the other side, often in the form of condemnatory statements, but also occasionally taking the form of concrete actions, which in turn propagates the cycle. Through this process relations deteriorate and both sides increasingly see the other as intransigent, and in many cases strengthen their determination to further resist / contest the issue at hand as a point of national pride, prestige or sovereignty.

In addition, this mutual antagonism and the insecurity it helps to generate are regularly used to garner greater domestic support for the governments involved. In doing so, the nationalist rhetoric coming out of Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul appears to replicate two of the most powerful effects of nationalism itself: the ability to both unify and divide. Such actions promote the unity of the side conducting them, often manifesting themselves in greater support for the leadership. They also create a greater sense of division and difference between the two opposing counties involved. The same impact is also felt in the other country. In this respect, it could even be argued that provocative symbols such as Yasukuni Shrine are, in fact, symbols of Korean and Chinese nationalism; dark and opposite reflections of the pure and sacred image some Japanese have of the shrine .

Another worrying trend is that this mutually reinforcing cycle of deteriorating relations, at least in the case of South Korea and Japan, is actually being exacerbated by China. In what appears to be an effort to increase tensions between Seoul and Tokyo - and with the possible overall goal of weakening South Korea's ties to the US – Beijing regularly expresses solidarity with South Korea and encourages it to further criticize Japan in the process. China has also taken more concrete steps to boost ties with South Korea and provoke Japan, such as the construction of the An Jung-geun memorial hall (the Korean national hero who assassinated Itō Hirobumi, Japan's first Prime Minister) in Harbin.

Playing with Fire

Looking at such a mutually reinforcing cycle of antagonism, it is logical to ask where such a process might end up, and whether it could trigger a more serious breakdown in relations or even conflict. Modern East Asian international relations, like that of all regions of the globe, operate on multiple interconnected levels including economic, security and cultural relations. Thus far the influence of these other dimensions, have helped to slow the pace of the cycle of nationalism and antagonism across the region. The leadership of all three powers have also shown their willingness and ability to step back from such rhetoric when needed, turning the ratchet back a notch or two for the sake of the strong economic ties that exist between them. However, if the mitigating effects of the other fields of exchange were to weaken as a result of an economic or security crisis, nationalist sentiment could be reignited to such an extent that it will be difficult to reign in. For example, if the legitimacy of the CCP was to be undermined by an economic crisis, nationalism would almost certainly become a much more important tool for maintaining control over China.

A further risk is that while the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea can now slow the progress of the cycle of nationalism when desired, by invoking such rhetoric directly at home and indirectly overseas, they potentially weaken their ability to control it in the future. As feelings of mutual antagonism and distaste increase between the respective populations of each state, compromise and de-escalation become more difficult. Moreover, as the feelings of distrust and concern increase, more conservative political elements could be become more powerful thereby limiting opportunities for rapprochement. However, perhaps the most dangerous permutation of this situation is that of a government becoming unable to control the forces it has engendered and being overtaken by the nationalism it has instilled in the population.

Accordingly, the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea risk playing with fire every time they stoke nationalist sentiment. As a counter, the spiral of nationalism could be broken through greater communication and exchange between the people and leaders of the region that is built on a genuine desire to move on from a past shared by all parties. Unfortunately the unwillingness to do this by the leaders of all three countries, their use of nationalism as a domestic political tool, their shifting power relationships, unresolved territorial disputes, and the arrival of an arguably increasingly nationalistic younger generation unfortunately make this an unlikely prospect.

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Thomas French is an Associate Professor in the College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. His research interests include US-Japan relations, Northeast Asian security and the Japanese Self Defense Forces. He is author of National Police Reserve: The Origin of Japan’s Self Defense Forces (Brill, 2014).