Thursday, December 18, 2014

North Korea: Mocking Kim Jong Un, a Serious Matter

After major American theater chains decided not to run a new Hollywood comedy about a U.S. plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, its financial backer, Sony Pictures Entertainment, decided not to release it. The decision follows a threat by mysterious computer hackers to attack theaters showing the movie. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul that North Korea's reaction to the “The Interview” underscores its intolerance for any ridicule of the country's young leader.

Georgia: Freedom of Information Group Claims Police-Intimidation

Originally published by
Georgia: Freedom of Information Group Claims Police-Intimidation
by Giorgi Lomsadze

The detention of the head of a non-governmental organization promoting transparent government in Georgia has raised suspicions over the authorities' motivation.

Institute for Development of Freedom of Information Director Giorgi Kldiashvili was detained on December 12 while carrying a dismantled firearm in Tbilisi. His license did not allow taking the gun out of his house, but he admitted to taking the weapon to a repair shop, according to an IDFI statement.

The group, though, maintains that the nature of the offense and Kldiashvili’s reputation did not warrant the arrest that followed.

After being stopped for carrying the gun, Kldiashvili himself showed up for questioning by police, who arrested him on the grounds that he supposedly could try to avoid prosecution. Two days later, a Tbilisi court found that there were no grounds for remanding Kldiashvili and he was released straight from the courtroom.

Kldiashvili is an active participant in an ongoing campaign to restrict the government's right to eavesdrop on private communications. The IDFI alleges that police asked Kldiashvili asked questions about his work as a freedom-of-information activist during their questioning.*

It has accused both the interior ministry and prosecutor's office of trying to intimidate Kldiashvili. The organization already is suing the interior ministry for allegedly failing to meet a request to release public information,

A senior parliamentarian from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, Tina Khidasheli, however, has spoken out against the steps taken by police.

“If he had jumped out of a car with a gun in his hand, threatening the police , or was carrying a loaded gun… then tell us about it,” said Khidasheli, reported. “If not, please enlighten us, in a clear and consistent manner, why it was necessary to arrest for two days a fairly law-abiding citizen… and to waste public resources on that.”

“Also, do tell us when and how do you plan to do away with such terrible practices in your agency,” continued Khidasheli, a lawyer by training who frequently took issue with alleged abuses by officials during the era of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, too.

“An arbitrary labeling of a citizen as a ‘bad guy’ or ‘dangerous guy’ does not make for sufficient grounds to lock someone up.”

The police on December 17 took Khidasheli up on her demand for information, although not in the detail requested.

In a terse statement, the interior ministry claimed that Kldiashvili had stated that he had a permit for carrying the gun, although, during police questioning, was unable to present it to police. They maintained that he had been detained according to the law.

The ministry emphasized its respect for Georgian civil society, and underlined that the "incident" in question "will not have a negative influence" on what it termed "cooperation between the interior ministry and IDFI." ----
The IDFI receives funding from the Open Society Foundation - Georgia, part of the network of Open Society Foundations. is financed under the separate auspices of the Open Society Foundation - New York City. 

Torture: Collective Denial Does Not Wipe Out Torture

Source: IDN-InDepth News
Collective Denial Does Not Wipe Out Torture
By Julio Godoy* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BARCELONA (IDN) - A couple of weeks after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 against the Trade World Centre in New York, the U.S. playwright, actor, and essayist Wallace Shawn published a memorable analysis of the U.S. collective reaction to the attacks. Shawn diagnosed the U.S. a condition of denial. According to Shawn, the U.S. “cannot face (its) real problem, so (it) den(ies) that it exists and create(s) instead a different problem (to) solve.”

Meanwhile, Shawn went on, “the real problem, denied and ignored, becomes more and more serious”. In the U.S. case, he pointed out, the real problem “is simply the way that millions and millions of people around the world feel about” Washington.

“Who are these people?” Shawn rhetorically asked. “They share the world with (the U.S.) – one single world, which works as a unified mechanism. These people are the ones for whom the mechanism's current way of working – call it the status quo – offers a life of anguish and servitude. They're well aware that this status quo, which for them is a prison, is for (the U.S.) (or for the privileged among the U.S. population), on the contrary, so close to a paradise that (the U.S.) will never allow their life to change. These millions of people are in many cases uneducated… and yet they still somehow know that (the U.S.) have played an enormous role in keeping this status quo in place. And so they know the U.S. as the enemy. They feel they have to fight the U.S. Some of them hate the U.S. And some will gladly die in order to hurt the U.S. – in order to stop it.”

Shawn knew what he was talking about. He, born in 1943, came of age in the1960s, at the height of the cold war, and could witness first-hand the consequences of U.S. interventionist policies around the world, in South East Asia (for those forgetful, Viet Nam), in the Middle East (for those forgetful, Iran in 1954), and in Latin America (for those forgetful, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, Nicaragua all the time...) Shawn was aware that these policies had during the four decades after the end of World War II rightfully led millions of people outside the U.S. to consider Washington their enemy.

Almost 15 years later, the condition of denial that Shawn diagnosed, the U.S. continues to pervade the actions and behaviour of politicians in Washington and in the Western capitals. This time, the denial refers to the torture methods, or, as they are euphemistically called in official jargon, enhanced interrogation techniques, applied by the CIA and other U.S. agencies in their so called war on terror.

The torture methods the U.S. applied became known thanks to the brave actions by now forgotten people and organisations such Bradley Edward Manning, Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and WikiLeaks, who had the courage to publish photos and documents that show in an undeniable way the treatment the U.S. military inflicted upon detainees, many of them innocents. And yet, U.S. allies keep repeating the sham lie that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” became known thanks to the democratic nature of U.S. society… As if Edward Snowden would be leading a normal life in a free community.

The torture, perpetrated in Iraq, in Guantanamo, and in secret prisons around Europe and other countries, has now been confirmed by the report of a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which concludes that the inhuman treatment was in addition to its cruelty and brutality simply useless.

As SSCI Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein has stated that the report "uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight ... [T]he creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced-interrogation techniques' were terrible mistakes."

“Terrible mistakes” for more than half a century

The U.S. has been committing these “terrible mistakes” for more than half a century. In Guatemala, right wing military officers, all of them taught by U.S. experts in the infamous School of the Americas (SOA, now officially known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), have since the late 1950s abducted, tortured and assassinated thousands of opposition leaders, students, union members, and peasants, using methods such as the “capucha” – the tortured would tighten a plastic bag full with flour over the detainee’s head. Or the officer would pull the detainee’s nails with nippers. Or he (practically all torturers were male) would apply electroshocks to the detainee, particularly at her (many victims were female) or his sexual organs. The bodies of the victims would be cut in pieces, and thrown in the Pacific Ocean.

These practices were repeated in Argentina, also by military officers, who learnt these from U.S. experts. It is said that the Argentine military tortured even pregnant students, and in many cases abandoned them, bleeding, in rat-infested prisons.

Guatemala and Argentina were by no means exceptions in the U.S. behaviour in Latin America – Chile, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua . . . In 1996, the U.S. military ministry, the Pentagon, was forced to release SOA training manuals, which explicitly advocated torture, summary executions, extortion, blackmail and the targeting of civilian populations.

On September 21, 1996, the U.S. newspaper Washington Post reported that the manuals said that “counterintelligence agents could use fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum, according to a secret Pentagon summary of the manuals compiled during a 1992 investigation of the instructional material."

At the time, Democratic congress representative Joseph Kennedy, an advocate of shutting down the SOA, said the manuals "show what we have suspected all along, that taxpayers' money has been used for physical abuse. The School of the Americas, a Cold War relic, should be shut down."

It is important to recall these shameful events to rebuff the claims of Western journalists and political leaders, who now try to minimise the U.S. torture methods as exceptional mistakes, and justify them arguing that Washington overreacted under a state of shock after the attacks against New York.

Quite the opposite is true: Such behaviour has been typical of U.S. policies all over the world since more than 50 years. Since the 1950s, the U.S. maintained alliances with political fanatics such as the Shah of Iran, Duon van Mihn and Nguyen Khánh in Viet Nam, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Anastazio Somoza in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the Apartheid leaders in South Africa, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the thug band UCK in Kosovo… The U.S. government has never doubted to commit the most horrendous crimes when it comes down to pursuing what it considers its interests.

And yet, despite such overwhelming evidence, European leaders and media insist that the U.S. represents “values”, and that torture and other political crimes the U.S. government has committed since 2001 represent an exceptional “treason” to those values. These reactions are the more sanctimonious, for European governments have cooperated with the U.S. in committing these crimes.

Germany for instance: The government in Berlin refused in 2002 to intervene in favour of the German citizen of Turkish origin Murat Kurnaz, whom the U.S. kept since late 2001 detained in Guantanamo under the charges of terrorism. That Kurnaz was innocent bothered neither the U.S. nor Germany. The German government even refused an U.S. offer to release Kurnaz; this refusal prolonged Kurnaz’s illegal detention until 2006.

German officers also took part in questioning detainees in Guantanamo and in secret prisons in Syria (yes, in Syria – until a couple of years ago the Syrian regime was a Western ally in the so-called war on terror). In 2006, the German minister of the interior Wolfgang Schaeuble argued that intelligence information obtained by torturing detainees be used in Germany. “It would be irresponsible on our part to say that when we’re not sure that the rule of law was absolutely respected (during the interrogations), we would not use the information.”

Now, after the release of the U.S. senate report, the German government, of which Schaeuble is still a leading minister, describes itself “shocked”, as Chancellor Angela Merkel put it.

At the same time, however, Schaeuble throughout the 2010s feigned ignorance on the torture methods used by U.S. agencies. But media couldn’t: The German news weekly Der Spiegel in 2009 complained “The torture virus eventually infected the rest of the world, including Europe and … Germany. The double standard employed by German counterterrorism personnel when confronted with the torture practices of their U.S. allies becomes clear in a remark Ernst Uhrlau, the head of the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, made in a 2007 interview with SPIEGEL: ‘U.S. officials have (…) explained to us that the information they gained from various interrogations worldwide has been instrumental in preventing further attacks and uncovering terrorist structures. So we have benefited from all this in the sense of preventing attacks and understanding the structures of the network.’”

In December 2014, Der Spiegel devoted a whole issue to repeat the complaint that, by torturing and executing detainees, the U.S. had betrayed Western values.

*Julio Godoy is an investigative journalist and IDN Global Editor. He has won international recognition for his work, including the Hellman-Hammett human rights award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting Online by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, and the Online Journalism Award for Enterprise Journalism by the Online News Association and the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, as co-author of the investigative reports “Making a Killing: The Business of War” and “The Water Barons: The Privatisation of Water Services”. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 16, 2014]

Top Picture: Murat Kurnaz | Credit: Schattenblick

Uruguay: Long-awaited communications law debated in Uruguay's parliament


This statement was originally published on on 16 December 2014.

Uruguay's senate will debate the proposed Broadcasting Communication Services Law (LSCA) today. Submitted to parliament in May 2013 and approved by the chamber of deputies the following December, it is finally going before the senate after a long break for elections and after a great of deal of criticism by media groups. Reporters Without Borders interviewed Daniel Lema, the head of the Uruguayan Press Association, about the bill on the eve of the senate debate.

Hailed as “exemplary” by the current UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression and backed by RWB, the LSCA aims to increase media pluralism in Uruguay, allowing a fair and transparent redistribution of broadcast frequencies among state-owned, commercial and community media, as recommended by RWB.

RWB is pleased that the bill's latest version again provides for the creation of a Broadcasting Communication Council that is independent of the government, as originally envisaged. This provision had to be dropped from last year's version because Uruguay's constitution forbids the creation of new public offices during the 12 months prior to a presidential election.

The council's independence constitutes a major guarantee for freedom of information.

Uruguay's leading media groups have been hostile to the LSCA since the outset. During the presidential election campaign, the National Association of Uruguayan Broadcast Companies (ANDEBU) said, “it is authoritarian regimes that regulate the media space.”

Extracts from RWB's interview with Daniel Lema:

RWB - ANDEBU, the association that represents the private-sector broadcasters, has called this a gag law and even a fascist law. What does the Uruguayan Press Association think?

DL - This position surprises me. Most countries have legislation regulating radio, TV and print media, either in their entirety or piecemeal, as in our case, and these countries are far from all being fascist. They include the United Kingdom, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. Our model is different from the models chosen in Ecuador and Venezuela. ADEBU says it is a bill designed to gag the media but we know perfectly well this is not the case. There are guarantees that are clearly designed to prohibit prior censorship and to guarantee the existence of all the mechanisms necessary for freedom of expression.

RWB - This bill has won the support of the special rapporteurs of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Will this support have an impact on the parliamentary debate?

DL - I think so. These people represent institutions that keep a close watch on freedom of expression and have mastered all there is to know about international standards. They have demonstrated a readiness to leap to the defence of freedom of expression and, for example, they questioned Ecuador's law.

RWB - What impact could the media groups have on the debate?

DL - The media groups have been very active for months trying to prevent the bill from being approved. They have brandished the spectre of curbs on freedom of expression but I think this hides the real reason for their opposition to the bill – the fact that it will regulate their activities. I think they will keep lobbying until the very end in an attempt to block its approval. We hope parliament will not back down.

After the senate vote, any changes to the bill will be examined by the chamber of deputies on 22 December.

Uruguay is ranked 26th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Congo: Ending the Status Quo

Source: International Crisis Group
Congo: Ending the Status Quo

A new consensus and strategy are urgently needed to tackle the numerous, brutal armed groups in eastern Congo and to save the February 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) in the Great Lakes region.

The M23 defeat by the UN’s Intervention Brigade (FIB) in November 2013 raised hopes that it would mark the beginning of the end for armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But the M23’s demobilisation remains unfinished and the civilian population continues to be terrorised by armed groups, as recent October attacks, which left 200 people dead in the Beni area, have shown. As the 2 January 2015 deadline for the demobilisation of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) nears, distrust and discord are high among the regional stakeholders, including those who are supposed to contribute to a solution under a UN mandate. The neutralisation of the armed groups is now the main stumbling block in the way of implementing the PSCF. In its latest briefing, Congo: Ending the Status Quo, the International Crisis Group examines the reasons behind the present stalemate and outlines possibilities to end it.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • The UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), the UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes and the UN Security Council should urgently build consensus around a comprehensive strategy to deal with armed groups, based on lessons learned from earlier operations. This should include effective military pressure built on intelligence-led operations and deployment of troops to disrupt the capacity of armed groups to collect revenue, along with contingency plans to avoid civilian casualties; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR); an agreement about the judicial treatment of group leaders; police action against local and international support networks; and third-country settlement options.
  • The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) should make a thorough and fair assessment of the progress in the voluntary disarmament process of the FDLR in January and abstain from further extension.
  • If no action is taken against the FDLR in January, the UN Security Council should convene a special high-level meeting bringing together the representatives of the DRC, other key regional players (Angola, Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda) and international actors (the World Bank, SADC, ICGLR, EU, U.S., UK, Belgium and France). This meeting should focus on the causes of the present stalemate and outline the humanitarian, political and economic cost of the status quo.
  • If the Congolese government and the FIB troop contributors remain unwilling to take action alongside the measures outlined above to help demobilise armed groups, particularly the FDLR, the UN Security Council should consider ending the mandate of the FIB.
“The UN presence should not be allowed to continue to serve mainly as a safety net for the Congolese government while Kinshasa calls for MONUSCO’s drawdown and troop contributing countries remain reluctant to implement key elements of the mission’s mandate”, says Hans Hoebeke, Congo Senior Analyst. “Some regional as well as international actors seem to favour the deadlocked status quo”.

“With the 2 January deadline, the moment of truth is coming”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Project Director. “The UN Security Council should attempt to build consensus around a clear and comprehensive strategy to deal with armed groups, but if this proves impossible, it may be time to turn the page and put an end to the UN’s Intervention Brigade”.