Friday, July 25, 2014

Back Soon!

You may have noticed that the blog has not been published for a few days! Unfortunately, I fell ill - at the same time as other things cropped up!

However, the blog will be back Wednesday, July 30

Wherever you may be - be safe

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Immigration: Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.

Kyrgyzstan: Time Needed To Resolve Borders With Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

Kyrgyzstan: Time Needed To Resolve Borders With Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

A Kyrgyz official says the delimitation and demarcation of Kyrgyzstan's southern borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan may still take a long time to complete.

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Abdyrakhman Mamataliev told Interfax on July 21 that 1,007 kilometers of the 1,378-kilometer Kyrgyz-Uzbek border -- some 73 percent -- has been delimited.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the 970-kilometer Kyrgyz-Tajik border remains legally undefined.

The absence of agreed border lines around Uzbek and Tajik exclaves that are surrounded by Kyrgyz territory spark violence between locals and border guards.

In the latest incident, near Tajikistan's Vorukh exclave on July 10, one Tajik citizen was killed and seven others were injured.

Kyrgyz authorities say one Kyrgyz border guard was hospitalized in the incident.

The two countries have been locked in a tense border dispute over Vorukh for months.
Based on reporting by Interfax, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Argentina: What Threat does Argentina Currently Pose to the Falklands?

Source: ISN

Is Argentina militarily strong enough to assault the Falkland Islands anytime soon? Neil Thompson doesn’t think so. But that doesn’t mean that Buenos Aires can’t launch an aggressive ‘lawfare’ campaign to undermine the United Kingdom’s sovereignty over the Islands.

By Neil Thompson for ISN 

Argentina recently succeeded in persuading the UN Special Committee on Decolonization to call for further negotiations with the United Kingdom over the status of the Falkland Islands. In doing so, Buenos Aires has succeeded in persuading committee members to ignore the results of a referendum conducted by the local Falklands population in 2013 that voted overwhelmingly to remain an overseas UK territory. Argentina maintains that the issue is one of UK occupation of sovereign Argentine territory, so the islanders’ opinions are moot under international law.

Since neither Argentina nor Britain are economically or militarily strong enough to afford a war over the Islands, the risk of formal interstate conflict remains low. However, this does not guarantee the Islands’ future as a British overseas territory. The UK’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis many other states has dramatically weakened since 1982, leaving Argentina in a better position to further its policy goals. In this respect, Buenos Aires might choose to launch an aggressive postmodern “lawfare” campaign of economic, legal and diplomatic sabotage to delegitimize the UK’s administration of the islands. Like Russia’s current involvement in the Ukraine crisis, Argentina’s attempts to destabilize the Falkland Islands would occur below the level of open war.

Rule Britannia?
But would this ‘campaign’ ultimately result in the end of the Islands’ status as a British overseas territory? The UK certainly does not command the same level of hard and soft power that it had back in 1982. Indeed, the 2008 financial crisis merely completed what the ‘war on terror’ begun, debilitating the country’s military machine and the economic engine any modern state needs to project power and influence over others. Britain is also going through a period of tense relations with its European Union partners and faces an uncertain future as a united political entity. Consequently, London’s ability to shield the Islands from their giant neighbor is correspondingly diminished.

This is particularly significant given that many South American states not only sympathize with Argentina’s point of view but have also become far more important actors on the world stage. The UK has no real remaining regional allies in South America, a continent with dim views of the former European colonial powers. There is also a generational issue. Many key figures in contemporary Latin American politics, such as current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, remember when Britain provided support to the repressive dictatorships that they grew up in. London’s relations with the Pinochet regime in Chile, for example, were particularly close until the return of democracy there in 1990. Now, Latin America is run by self-confident democracies, not pliable dictatorships in need of outside support to bolster their rule. Britain is therefore kept isolated in South America by its past associations for many Latin Americans.

Malvinas Argentina’s? 

However Buenos Aires is by no means in the best shape to capitalize upon British weaknesses. Argentina’s government remains preoccupied by economic difficulties, rising inflation and foreign litigation. For instance, a recent ruling by an American court determined that the country must pay a group of “vulture funds” the full amount of their defaulted loans – an order that threatens already scarce foreign currency reserves.
Yet, parlous economic conditions and popular unrest did not stop Argentina’s last military junta from invading the Falkland Islands in 1982. Instead, reclaiming the Malvinas helped to distract the Argentine public from its disastrous economic policies. Consequently, if Argentinean politics were once again to become destabilized by economic difficulties, it is not hard to see a case where a populist government comes to power with a nationalist worldview that is once again committed to “recovering” the Falklands. Coercive gestures towards the Islands could easily become a substitute for hard economic reforms or their “price”. For instance, Argentina could easily unilaterally escalate the crisis on the ground by sending an exploratory oil rig with a naval escort to drill inside the Falklands maritime boundary. Alternatively, it could try to undermine the Islands economically with a blockade.

Which undoubtedly begs the question, what kind of military threat does Argentina pose to the Falkland Islands today? The Global Firepower website ranks Argentina in lowly 55th place, behind the likes of the Netherlands, Belarus and Ukraine. And despite its ongoing economic travails, the UK remains among the world’s leading military powers thanks to the $53.6 billion its spends on defense, compared to Argentina’s $4.3 billion. Moreover, the UK’s helicopters, aircraft and submarine capabilities significantly outnumber and outclass their Argentine equivalents. To further compound matters, Argentina’s armed forces are still equipped with outdated technology from the 1970s and 80s, whereas the UK has significantly improved its quality and capabilities since 1982. UK forces are also significantly battle-hardened from recent conflicts in the Middle East and Asia.

The only major vulnerability facing the UK’s armed forces is its current lack of aircraft carriers. Currently, Britain only has one carrier in active service which, in the context of the Falklands conflict, would be especially vulnerable to advances in anti-ship missile technology since 1982. Yet, with a significant military presence on the Islands since the end of the conflict, coupled with advances in surveillance and satellite technology, London can nevertheless rest assured that a surprise Argentine invasion remains highly unlikely.
But would this be enough to stop a populist government in Buenos Aires from capitalizing upon nationalist sentiment? Many analysts hold Argentina’s special-forces in high-regard and believe that they are capable of launching covert strikes against the Islands. Yet, even if such strikes were to succeed, it would still be extremely difficult for Argentina’s armed forces to hold the Islands and, indeed, reinforce and resupply them. Given the parlous state of Argentina’s navy especially, this idea makes no military sense. But as a public relations gesture to rally regional support for itself against Britain, a clash could easily be spun as a moral victory.

Around the World
So while Buenos Aires could make life very difficult for the Falkland Islands, its bid to return them to Argentinian legal jurisdiction nevertheless remains reliant upon the support of fellow Latin American states and international patronage for the foreseeable future. At present, these parties are happy to make sympathetic noises. However, genuine Latin American support does not extend much beyond symbolic gestures like supporting the UN vote or blocking Falklands-flagged ships from docking at ports. This could change, for example, if Brazil resumed its campaign for a permanent seat on the Security Council and used the issue to put pressure on the UK.

In addition, the UN Decolonisation Committee remains a deeply unsympathetic forum for British interests. With Russia, China and non-aligned states such as India and Brazil as members, the UK has no natural allies within this forum. While London remains free to ignore or veto its resolutions, by repeatedly doing so it nevertheless provides Buenos Aires with a useful and highly symbolic pretext for any actions short of war that it chooses to take to “enforce its sovereignty” over the Falkland Islands, such as sending over a flotilla of unarmed ships full of civilians to “reclaim” them.

Back to the Future?
Indeed, emphasizing ‘actions short of war’ to break the Falklands stand-off is particularly important given the current political climate in Argentina. It’s the only option Buenos Aires has in the absence of a superior local military presence, a friendly local populace and a disorganized opponent of the type that allowed Russia to “peacefully” occupy and subsequently annex Crimea earlier this year. Yet, the legal and moral threat that Argentina could pose might prove effective - if it is accompanied by a propaganda campaign that resonates with all the right sections of the international community. “Delegitimization” could make the economic and political costs so prohibitive that the UK determines that it no longer makes sense to maintain its sovereignty over the Islands.

Under this worst case scenario, a “Diego Garcia” situation could occur where, under the aegis of the UN, the “implanted” British population is removed and evacuated back to the UK. The administration of the Falkland Islands would then pass to Buenos Aires, a move that is unlikely to sit comfortably with most of the British public. Yet, with tact and sound diplomatic skills, the transfer might acquire the veneer of legalism that state conductors of “lawfare” rely upon to win international acquiescence for their actions.

There are plausible modern precedents for the surrender of overseas territories with large citizen populations. In 1962 then-President Charles De Gaulle gave up the three French overseas territorial “départements” in what is now Algeria. These had been regarded as an integral part of France up to that moment. Almost a million European Algerians (Pied Noirs) fled to mainland France afterwards, and today there is no significant French population in Algeria. The Falkland Islands had no indigenous population for Britain to mistreat the way the French did native Algerians, so the parallels here are not exact. Yet, from a legal standpoint it could be argued there are similarities between the two situations. When France retreated from Algeria, it did so because it was widely seen as having lost the “battle of ideas” against nationalist opponents, not the military conflict. Britain must not rest on its laurels and allow the same to happen with Argentina.

Neil Thompson is a freelance writer and member of Atlantic Community’s editorial team. He has lived and travelled extensively through East Asia and the Middle East. He holds an MA in the International Relations of East Asia from Durham University, and is now based in Berlin.

How the "Right to be Forgotten" affects privacy and free expression


Caro Rolando 21 July 2014
Based on IFEX member reports from Electronic Frontier Foundation , Index on Censorship , Privacy International , Reporters Without Borders

You may recall a rather bizarre hashtag floating around the Twittersphere a few months ago. On 19 May 2014, the term #Mutuallyassuredhumiliation was trending on social networking sites, accompanied by photos that are seemingly humiliating to those who posted them.

The hashtag was created by John Oliver, comedian and host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, in response to “The Right to be Forgotten” ruling, issued by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on 13 May 2014.

Ruling (C-131/12) states that European Union citizens have the right to request Internet search engines to remove links to potentially damaging or irrelevant information from its search results – even if the publication of the information in itself is lawful.

CJEU's judgment stems from a complaint filed by Spanish citizen Mario Costeja González against Google and La Vanguardia newspaper through the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD).

In 2010, Costeja González complained that a Google search for his name produced links to two articles published in 1998 in La Vanguardia that made reference to unpaid social security debts and the seizure of his real estate by the government.

Arguing that the debts had long been resolved and the articles no longer relevant, Costeja González requested that La Vanguardia remove the articles from their website and that Google remove them from its search results.

While the AEPD upheld that La Vanguardia's articles were published legally and were in the public interest at the time they were published, the CJEU eventually ruled that González's privacy rights override “…the interest of the general public in having access to that information upon a search relating to [González's] name.”

To John Oliver, the effect of this ruling on Costeja González's public profile is rather comedic. Instead of successfully concealing private information about his financial history, the case only brought more attention to Costeja González's past. “In doing so, he's now world-famous for being that Spanish guy with debts from 1998,” Oliver said on his show. “The only thing I know about him is the only thing he didn't want me to know.”

But for free expression advocates, the implications of CJEU's ruling go far beyond silly photographs and hashtags.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) views CJEU's ruling as a clear violation of freedom of information.

In a statement published on 14 May 2014, the organisation says that the ruling will enable individuals to demand that search results only show “the information that suits them,” thus permitting people to create digital images of themselves that differ from legally published reports. Commenting on the potential implications of this ruling, Grégoire Pouget, head of RSF New Media Desk, wonders: “will this right be extended from people to entities, taking us into a world where all information is manipulated?”

Other IFEX members have expressed similar concerns. On 3 July 2014, Index on Censorship (Index)'s Chief Executive, Jodie Ginsberg wrote that the ruling was like “the government devolving power to librarians to decide what books people can read (based on requests from the public) and then locking those books away.”

It's important to note that Index's criticism does not stem from a lack of respect for privacy. Indeed, the organisation acknowledges, “…it is clearly understandable that individuals should want to be able to control their online presence.”

Index is concerned, however, over the ruling's ability to offer sufficient checks and balances so that requests to alter search requests do not “…simply become a mechanism for censorship and whitewashing of history.”

Melody Patry, senior advocacy officer at Index, notes that while the ruling requires that a fair balance should be struck between the data subject's right to privacy and the public's right to access information, it “…does not provide any legal framework for the search engine operator to implement the removal, nor does it provide sufficient elements to guarantee public interest defence against removal.”

Jillian York, The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Director for International Freedom of Expression, echoes Patry's point. In an e-mail to IFEX, she notes that EFF is concerned about the way that intermediaries, such as Google, are being asked to become even greater regulators of speech than they already are. “When intermediaries are tasked with regulating speech,” York writes, “we are essentially turning over enforcement of the law to private companies, which are largely unaccountable to the public.”

It did not take long after the ruling for Google to begin implementing requests for the removal of links from certain search results. On 2 July 2014, James Ball published an article revealing that Google had removed several articles by The Guardian from its search results. After The Guardian publicised the information contained in the newly-'hidden' articles, and creating a Twitter account specifically to discuss similar future cases, Google reversed its decision to remove the articles from search results, without providing a reason why.

It is instances like these that give salience to a point that Jillian York makes about the ruling. In her e-mail to IFEX, York observed, “privacy and free expression don't have to be at odds with one another, but the CJEU ruling has placed them as such.”

The issue is complex. Other IFEX members do not necessarily view the CJEU ruling as a decision that pits privacy against free speech. In an e-mail to IFEX, Carly Nyst, Legal Director for Privacy International, wrote:

“While the result isn't uncontroversial, it is less about European law vs. American values, or privacy vs. free speech, and more about the technical application of the law and whether individuals should be able to contest how their information is used. A debate can certainly ensue, as it should have long ago, about the nature of search engines and whether they should be exempt from specific types of laws. This would be an interesting debate, worthy of a modern and digital democracy. But instead the debate that is occurring is one of incredulity that a company that collects and processes vast amounts of personal information has services that fall under privacy law.”

Meanwhile, Index on Censorship is offering platforms to those who hold opposing views on their own. Like those of Rik Ferguson, Vice President of Security Research at Trend Micro. On 21 May, Ferguson expressed his support for the ruling in a “counterpoint” article on Index on Censorship's site:

“Individuals are not being granted the right to rewrite history, they are being given the right to request, within the strictures of the law, that certain publishers cease to publish information about them which they consider deleterious,” Ferguson writes. “They are being given the right to be able to manage their own image online, it seems bizarre that this right is seen by some as the repression of free speech when in effect it gives the individual the right to speak up about something which they find personally damaging.”

“The Right to be Forgotten” ruling is a controversial one, which brings many rights to the forefront. Given individuals' increasing dependence and presence on the Internet, the ruling is something that will continue to be discussed as its implications on privacy, free expression and access to information are further explored. For now, perhaps one thing we can all agree on is that that the “Right to be Forgotten” goes far beyond deleting embarrassing pictures from our pasts.