Tag: Democracy and Rule of Law

Who killed these people?

I received this note this morning from the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade:

Approximately 1,400 civilians were killed in the area of responsibility of the 37th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo in 1999. The mortal remains of a number of victims were discovered in mass graves in Serbia. The present Chief of General Staff of the Serbian Army, Ljubiša Diković, was the Commander of the Brigade at this time. Neither he nor any members of his unit have been held accountable for these crimes.

The evidence showing the presence and the role of the Yugoslav Army in the mass killings of civilians in Izbica, Čirez, Savarine, Rezala and other villages in the Drenica region is presented in the film titled “Ljubiša Diković and the 37th Brigade in Kosovo”, made by the Humanitarian Law Center. This evidence has already been presented in the “Ljubiša Diković” and “Rudnica” Dossiers.

A number of TV services in Serbia, including the public broadcasters Radio and Television of Serbia and Radio and Television of Vojvodina, have refused or have not responded to the request that they screen the film.

So here is the film, which apart from the spooky music seems to me worthy of the attention of anyone concerned with justice in the Balkans:

I hasten to add that there are of course Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others about whom the same question could be asked. It is to the credit of the Humanitarian Law Center that it has been concerned about all the individuals killed in the 1990s Balkan wars.

Injustice does not justify injustice. The failure to assign responsibility in one case does not excuse the failure to assign responsibility in others. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had limited capacities and is now closed to new cases. The governments of the region owe it to each other and to themselves to assign responsibility, even to their highest officials if that is where the evidence points.

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Trump is losing, but still making chaos

@MaxBoot tweeted last night:

Xi forces affirmation of “One China.” Mexico won’t pay for wall. 9th Circuit stops EO. Flynn/Conway scandals. Is Trump tired of winning yet?

140 characters permitting, he might have added that

  • Trump is delaying the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
  • The administration is forgetting Secretary of State Tillerson’s pledge to prevent Chinese access to the islands it has fortified in the South China Sea.
  • The wall is now projected to cost more than twice candidate Trump’s projection.
  • The President has expressed displeasure that Kellyanne Conway has been “counseled” for violating ethnics regulations.
  • Congressional Republicans are questioning whether National Security Adviser Flynn can remain in place, and the 9th Circuit decision makes it unlikely that the Administration will win an appeal.
  • Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has suggested that criticism of judges, which the President has indulged in repeatedly, is demoralizing and disheartening to the judiciary.

From my Schadenfreude perspective, these are all positive developments. To stimie Trump, or at least try to hold him and his minions accountable, is to make the world better place.

But let’s not kid ourselves. the Trumpistas have already had a devastating impact on American prestige and influence abroad. Trump’s doubts about the NATO Alliance have shaken European confidence. He won’t even be able to visit the UK, where giant crowds would protest his appearance. His immigration ban has demoralized allies in the Arab world, especially Iraq, and boosted extremist recruiting. His bromance with Putin has encouraged the Russians to continue their interventions in Syria and eastern Ukraine. His hostility towards Iran has encouraged its worst impulses, including additional missile tests after being put “on notice.”

While I have good friends who think Barack Obama was a frighteningly weak foreign policy president, his retrenching America is looking coherent and even visionary by comparison. In a few short weeks, Trump has weakened America, not strengthened it.

The ramifications are many. I had a note this morning from the Balkans that read in part:

I have to say that Trumpizm effects the rest of the world in which provinces like Balkans can not understand who is who and what is real American politics and interest towards them!

The same thing might be said in eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific and even in Latin America. At the current rate, it will be true in the Arctic and Antarctica before long. All American presidential transitions are unsettling, but this one is an order of magnitude more chaos-producing than most. It has brought people to power in the White House who simply do not adhere to the well-established lines of American foreign policy, which have served pretty well since 1945. When you need to be reading an obsure Italian Fascist writer to understand the intellectual antecedents of the chief strategist to the President, you know something is wrong.

I’m not immune to radicalism. I indulged in it during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. There are things today that merit hard opposition in my estimation, including Trump’s appointment of cabinet members who oppose the missions of the agencies they are supposed to lead and his appointment of a documented and committed racist as Attorney General. But Trump’s radicalism appears to have little more than his own impulsive and erratic whims as its basis, combined with a few repugnant right-wing shibboleths about race, public education, the environment, and energy production.

The bully is already backing down on some of his worst impulses, but that does nothing to give the world an America that it can understand and rely on. Trump likes unpredictability. Friends and adversaries alike do not.

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Shortest route to Balkans peace

Filip Raunic of Croatia’s Telegram asked some questions about Bosnia and Herzgovina. I replied: 
Q: Republika Srpska celebrated its National Day, despite the fact that Constitution Court marked it as unconstitutional. The President of Republika Srpska said a few days ago that Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) should disintegrate. How do you see his actions and his role in BiH?

A: It has been clear for a long time that Dodik opposes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is the core of the Dayton agreements. Respecting court decisions, even if you disagree with them, is vital to rule of law and democratic governance, not only in BiH but also here in the US.

Q: If Republika Srpska really decides to call a referendum on independence, do you see the possibility of the reaction from Federation and potentially a new military clash?

A: I don’t think you can expect those who support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which includes most people who live in the country as well as the international community, not to react in some fashion to a referendum on independence. But such referenda often are not fulfilled, since sovereignty requires recognition by other sovereign states. I would expect an RS that declares independence to end up in limbo, with minimal recognition, no serious foreign support, and little ability to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of its people for security and prosperity.

Q: Do you see some similarity in  the situation and behavior of the political elites in Bosnia in the 90’s and today?

A: Yes, I do. But the circumstances are different. Serbia is no longer willing to risk its own prosperity for irredentist political aims, many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are far better off than they were at the end of the war, Europe’s and NATO’s doors are in principle open to BiH, and its population expects more transparent and accountable governance. The nationalist fervor is far less murderous, but no less dangerous.

Q: Former English diplomat Timothy Less wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs in which he suggest disintegration of Bosnia – Republika Srpska would unite with Serbia and parts of Hercegovina with Croatia. What do you think about this idea?

A: It is just as bad an idea as it was in the 1990s. It would result in the formation of a non-viable rump Islamic Republic in central Bosnia and Herzegovina heavily dependent on Islamist funding from Iran, Saudi Arabia or somewhere else. Why would Croatia or Serbia want such a neighbor on their borders?

Q: You mediated between Croats and Muslims in the 90s and brokered the first agreement of the Dayton peace talks. How do you now look on these days and Dayton agreement. Was Dayton a good framework for Bosnia, and is it still good?

A: It was good enough to end the war, but not good enough to make real peace. It now needs updating, but how and what to do is now up to the citizens of BiH, not the internationals.

Q: Do you think that BiH should enter EU as quickly as possible?

A: I think BiH should qualify to enter the EU as quickly as possible.

Q: If Brussels will hesitate with BiH membership, is there a possibility and danger that Russia and Turkey will gain more influence in Bosnia and would it mean instability for the country?

A: Yes. Russia is already interfering in BiH in ways that are destabilizing. Moscow’s aim seems to be pernicious: to create as much trouble as possible at the least cost.

I don’t see Turkey’s influence in the same light, but it certainly increases the weight of Islamist politics and makes it harder to reach mutual accommodations among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

Q: Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović recently said that Bosnia is becoming more radicalized in terms of more rigid interpretation of the values of Islam. Do you see Islamic radicalization? Is there a possibility of it if the situation in Bosnia remains tense?

A: I might not see things quite the same way President Grabar Kitarović sees them, but there is certainly a possibility of radicalization if Bosnia and Herzegovina is unable to succeed in satisfying its population’s aspirations. Tension produces polarization and exclusion, which are ingredients that will radicalize at least a few people.

Q: What could we expect from Trump administration for Bosnia and this region?

A: I don’t know what to expect. The new administration has said precious little about the Balkans and nothing to my knowledge about Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are not high on the priority list these days in Washington. The only clear statement I’ve seen is from Secretary of Defense Mattis, who supports the formation of the Kosovo Security Force.

Q: If you would advise Mr. Trump on Bosnia, what would you tell him to do?

A: I’d say a lot has changed for the better in the Balkans since the early 1990s. The United States should commit itself wholeheartedly to finishing the process by helping all the remaining countries to qualify for EU, and if they want it, NATO membership. I’d say that is the shortest and least troublesome route to lasting peace and stability.

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Silence is eloquent

The Senate Republicans silenced Elizabeth Warren last  night after she read a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King that they viewed as impugning the reputation of Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration’s nominee for Attorney General. The letter and attached statement definitely do call into question Senator Sessions’ reputation and qualifications, based in part on his service as a US Attorney in Mobile, Alabama. That is apparently contrary to Senate rules, according to McConnell, even though examining reputation and qualifications is obviously an important to advising and consenting (or not) to the nomination.

Why all this sensitivity about a more than 30-year-old letter? The problem is this: the letter cites Sessions’ efforts to “intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens….Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”

That is precisely what President Trump has set out to inspire by claiming that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in last November’s presidential contest. It is also what Republicans nationwide have been trying to do for years by adopting unjustified voter identification laws, closing polling places, gerrymandering Congressional districts, and encouraging unqualified “poll watchers.” The only difference 30 years have made is that the target is no longer limited to elderly black voters but now includes young ones, Hispanics, and immigrants of all sorts. These efforts are well-documented in court cases throughout the country, many of which the Republicans have lost.

Silencing Warren has attracted far more attention than allowing her to complete her statement. McConnell should have anticipated that, but whether he did is unclear.

What difference does all this make to foreign policy, international affairs, or war and peace, which are the subjects of www.peacefare.net In short, the effort to suppress voting is inconsistent with American values and interests, both of which the US government spends a good deal of time, money, and effort promoting abroad. If the Trump administration, Republicans in Congress, and Republican-controlled states continue in this direction, the United States will have no credibility at all in promoting democracy abroad.

That will trouble serious Republicans, but it is not going to bother Trump. He has no intention of promoting democracy at home or abroad. His executive order on immigration is intended to establish the broadest possible scope for presidential authority to protect national security, including non-fact based measures that deny individuals equal treatment under the law. As Nora Ellingsen puts it on Lawfare:

Since January 2015, the FBI has also arrested more anti-immigrant American citizens plotting violent attacks on Muslims within the U.S. than it has refugees, or former refugees, from any banned country.

If Trump wins on immigration, he’ll try to import the broad, irrational, and unequal application of presidential national security authority to the domestic scene.

That’s why Coretta Scott King’s aging letter is so problematic. It accuses Sessions, who will play a vital role in Trump’s administration as Attorney General, of doing precisely what the Trump administration intends to do: deny individual rights, created its own alternative facts, and use them to empower the President to do as he pleases, even if that means silencing critics like Elizabeth Warren.

Fortunately, silence is eloquent.

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Rewriting social contracts in the Middle East

Authors and experts convened last Wednesday to launch of the report Carnegie Endowment Arab Fractures: Citizens, States, and Social Contracts and the future of Arab regional order. The first panel included Amr Hamzawy, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and Bassma Kodmani, Co-Founder and Executive Director at the Arab Reform Initiative. Perry Cammack, Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment acted as moderator. The second panel included Hafsa Halawa, an independent political analyst and lawyer, Mehrezia Labidi, member of the Tunisian Assembly of the Representatives of the People, and George Abed, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the International Institute of Finance. Marwan Muasher, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment acted as moderator.

Cammack discussed the broad themes of the report, which aims to understand the Middle East based on the experiences of people in the region expressed in a survey of more than 100 Arab intellectuals. They assessed the top regional challenges to include authoritarianism and corruption. Cammack said that the report operates within three main frameworks—the citizen, state, and institutions to better examine these challenges. The authoritarian bargain and prevailing social structures have collapsed post-Arab Spring, and new social contracts must be developed for the future.

Kodmani commented on Arab resilience and institutions as well as Syria in particular. She sees the onus of leadership in Syria now falling on society, especially youth, to manage diversity and unify the country after conflict. Local governance within communities works well, so she advocates negotiating a decentralized political system (not de facto partition). By grooming national leaders at the local level, government can be reconstructed with greater transparency and accountability. Kodmani sees the new social contract and a new balance with the army and security forces, so people feel protected by trusted security forces.

Hamzawy discussed the situation in Egypt, in which deep distrust of institutions and lack of social services have led to a revival of pockets of activism in unions and associations, universities, and among Egyptian youth. Although many have lost faith in the formal political arena, Hamzawy expressed hope in the new wave of activism and demands for a new social contract in which government is held accountable and citizens participate in the decision-making process.

Asked to assess what went wrong in Syria and Egypt respectively, Kodmani said that opposition figures failed to incorporate the younger generations into the movement, so the vision of the initial protests was never realized. The opposition was subsequently radicalized and militarized while youth turned to civil society organizations. She believes democracy could make government accountable to the people and incorporate mechanisms to combat corruption. In Egypt, Hamzawy said that an obsession with identity politics obscured the need to build democratic institutions and effect substantive policy change, resulting in an empowered military apparatus taking the reins in 2013.

In the second panel, Labidi discussed the progress Tunisia has made in building trust between the state and citizens. Many citizens feel ownership in the new system and do not want to abandon it or give it up. This translates into a spirit of consensus and participation. Although there are still difficulties, such as economic development and infrastructure building, Tunisian youth and previously marginalized regions now have a stake in the system.

Abed suggested that in states such as Saudi Arabia, oil revenue allows the government to pay its citizens in exchange for carte blanche political power, but with declining oil prices the people will start to ask questions and demand more accountability. Similarly, countries with a history of anti-colonial struggle and failed industrial nationalization must reckon with what Abed called a second Arab awakening as more people demand liberty, dignity, and transparency.

Speaking about Egyptian youth, Halawa said that civil society must balance conversations about governance with debates over identity and visions for Egypt’s future. Egyptians underestimated the entrenched nature of the country’s institutions and do not trust them. Thus, the problem is not political engagement but rather the disconnect between civil society and politics, called “the trust deficit,” which deprives Egypt of any real drivers of change.

The panelists were asked how best to engage the next generation in a way that will create change and how national and civic identity might play into this dynamic. Halawa said that there is only a bottom up approach, getting civil society actors to buy into the system and further explore what civic engagement means and how it’s expressed. Labidi said Tunisians must still define a unifying national identity that prevents fighting among themselves. Abed remained doubtful that regional governments recognized human rights as natural rights, and hoped that governments could be built to protect these rights for their citizens.

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It’s the oil

On Monday, Georgetown University’s Centers for Contemporary Arab Studies and Latin American Studies hosted an event “Oil, Authoritarianism, and Populism” to compare governance in the Middle East and Latin America after the discovery of oil. The discussion featured Daniel Neep, author of Occupying Syria under the French Mandate: Space, Insurgency and State Formation, Georgetown Associate Professor Joseph Sassoon (author of Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime), and Angelo Rivero Santos, adjunct professor and director of Venezuela Programming at the McDonough School of Business.

Neep described the study of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as idiographic, isolated in part due to the complexity and variety in the region itself. At the end of the Cold War, the field of international relations started to shift and scholars increasingly focused on democratization. By the 2000s, the conversations switched to ways authoritarianism evolves and roots itself in the context of state and society. Much of this research is concerned with individual nations or bilateral comparisons, with little attention paid to international trends. Neep argued that there is much to learn from international interregional comparison. Comparisons between Latin America and the Middle East are particularly interesting. Populist authoritarianism is more successful in the Arab world, but Neep pointed out that political society’s conception of authoritarianism started in Latin America. He highlighted state-led industrialization, class uprisings, and land reform as key elements in comparisons of pre-2005 Syria, Egypt under Nasser, and South American countries. It is essential that scholars look at similar experiences across the globe to fully understand long term trajectories.

Additionally, Neep highlighted the error in thinking of authoritarian and democratic systems as diametrically opposed, or even as different“species.” He rejected the tendency to consider authoritarian regimes as a stage before the development of a democratic system. A more accurate way of thinking frames authoritarianism as a particular type of state. He went on to cite the current political crisis in the US as an example of crossover, a democratic regime with (potential?) authoritarian characteristics.

Sassoon identified fundamental elements of Middle Eastern regimes congruent with Latin American history such as widespread use of torture, a strong security apparatus, and a strong military. Yet, despite its military dictatorships, Latin America managed to move past authoritarian structures. Sassoon proposed that oil might be the factor retarding democratic progress in the MENA region, especially considering the failure of the 2011 uprisings in the region. Sassoon points out that Iraq and Egypt were more developed than Chile in the 1960’s, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth today. Aspirations for reform suffered from a lack of proper opposition and control of the ruling party.

Latin America possessed requisite structures to establishing a strong opposition entrenched in civil society that are not present in the Middle East. Sassoon warned that whether nations are producers or intermediaries of oil, there is too much reliance on the resource. This is a fundamental issue. No country has figured out how to divert oil wealth into something more productive. Sassoon used Libya as an example of this challenge; when Gadhafi took power Libya was a rich country, with no border disputes and no enemies in the world. Forty years later it is a failed state.

Santos identified Venezuela as the best country in Latin America to compare with the Middle East because of its position as the second biggest oil producer in the Western hemisphere after the US. The history of democracy in Venezuela is complicated, with over 25 constitutions since it’s independence in 1810. Equally complex is its relationship with oil: it is both a curse and a blessing. Oil propelled Venezuela to relevancy in the world stage through membership in OPEC and the Jose Accords, and triggered social and political transformations at home. But the country is a classic example of “Dutch Disease,” where the discovery of oil shifted the formerly diverse agricultural economy to one dependent on a single resource.

Venezuela differs from many countries in the MENA region because the government always believed that the oil belonged to the people, and worked to create social contracts that addressed the role of oil in society and how to distribute resource wealth. However, you cannot distribute wealth that you do not have, and Santos remarked that low oil prices cause problems such as the current unrest.

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