“What Needs to Die?”

This was the title of the November 4 sermon by Executive Associate Pastor, Rev. Meghan K. Gage-Finn, at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s “Gathered at Five,” a casual, conversational worship service at 5:00 pm. The location: Westminster Hall in the church’s new addition. Below are photographs  of Rev. Gage-Finn and the Hall.

 

 

 

 

Sermon

(This sermon commented on All Saints Day, which was celebrated in the regular morning worship service with Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen’s “What Endures?” sermon.)

“This morning in worship we celebrated All Saints’ Day, remembering the names and lives of those in our congregation who died in the last year. We paused to recall their faces, their voices, their service to Westminster and community. The celebration of All Saints’ Day in the church began in the 9th century, but today in our context it is less about honoring the Saints (with a “Capital S”) and more about giving glory to God for the ordinary, holy faithful ones of our time whom we remember and love. It is yet another chance to declare and rejoice that nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love, as we pray that God’s good purposes would be worked out in us, that we would be helped in our weaknesses as we await the redemption of all things.” (Emphasis added.)

“It is a day when we think and talk about death and when we name the courage and hope with which others have lived, and imagine how we might model our lives of faith in the same way.”

“[For someone with a conflicted relationship with one of our deceased, All Saints Day was a] reminder that the final death of that relationship in life opened up something, created space for something new to emerge and begin. It was almost as if the death made way for a waiting change that couldn’t otherwise take shape.”

“This [observation] has pushed me to wonder about what we hold onto or are trapped by in our lives, and what happens when we are released from these burdens. In the context of All Saints’ Day, it led me to the question of, ‘What needs to die?’” (Emphasis added.)

“[The Ruth and Naomi story in Isaiah shows] cultural and religious norms at play for [them], which both women push back against. Both have to let these die in a way Orpah cannot, and because of this a new way forward opens up for them. They embrace each other and find healing and genuine friendship. [1]

“Dutch priest and theologian Henri Nouwen observed, ‘The dance of life finds its beginnings in grief … Here a completely new way of living is revealed. It is the way in which pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain.”[2]

“The women of the book of Ruth certainly didn’t desire to suffer, but in their journey of letting go, of letting expected structures and frameworks die, they found knowledge in the birth of something new.”

For about the past 8 years I have been involved in a progressive movement of the PC (USA) called NEXT Church, which . . . seeks to build the relational and connectional fabric of the denomination, by cultivating leaders and congregations to serve a dynamic church in a changing context. About 4 years ago I came onto the leadership board of NEXT, [which] . . . set a goal of having representation of 50% people of color around the table.”

“I was in the meeting when this was decided, and I am pretty sure we all thought we could say it, wave our magic white privilege wands, and sprinkle the same old Presbyterian power dust, and so it would be. We quickly found it was going to take more intentionality than that to build any type of appreciable change, and that, of course, bringing balance to the leadership board needed to be based on relationships. And in a denomination that is 95% white, nurturing lasting relationships between white people and people of color takes a whole lot more than wand waving, magic dust, and good intentions.”

“I can report that now, in 2018, we have achieved the goal set 3 ½ years ago, but we find ourselves as a leadership board in a very tenuous and precarious situation. We have called people of color from across the denomination and country, but what we haven’t done is change how we are organized, how we communicate, how we make decisions, how we raise money, and we haven’t brought about change to any other critical structural framework within the organization.”

“And that has created an environment where trust and welcome haven’t been properly established, openness and safety is lacking, blinders are on and assumptions are prevalent. Frankly, it feels like a mess, but we are doing our best to wade through it together.”

“We are reading as a board Robin Diangelo’s book White Fragility, and discussing it in small and large groups. Personally, Diangelo’s book casts a harsh light on things I have said and silences I have kept, decisions I have made and systems I have benefited from since before I was even born. I thought I had some understanding of my own privilege and whiteness, but I have so much work to do.”

“As for the state of our board community, it is complicated, but I hope it is akin to what happens when you clean out your closet or basement or garage, any place that has old, outdated pieces of you and your history, things you have carried around that weigh you down, or maybe you even look at them all the time, but you hardly even realize they are there. Letting go, letting things die in order to create space for newness of life — sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.”

“It is All Saints’ Day, and death is, and can be all around us, if we would but recognize it.”

“I recently read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. [3] Gawande is a surgeon in Boston and professor at Harvard Medical School, an accomplished writer, and he also runs a non-profit organization that strives to make surgery safer across the globe. And for his work in public health, he is a MacArthur Fellowship winner. He is one of those people who causes you question if you are really making the most of the 24 hours you are given each day.”

Being Mortal explores the relationship we have with death, both as individuals as our bodies fail us, but also as a society, as generations age and needs change and death approaches. He speaks of the experience of one patient, Felix, who said to him, ‘Old age is a continuous series of losses.”[3]

“I think in NEXT Church right now the white folks are feeling the reality of that necessary series of losses- the way we are accustomed to doing things, the loss of hiding behind our cult of whiteness, the default of not sharing, the posture of being the experts in the room. And since so much of this is deeply ingrained and largely unconscious, letting it die means naming its life in us first. In some ways, maybe even these losses are what is hardest, or as Gawande reflects: ‘It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death—losing their hearing, their memory, their best friends, their way of life.’ For many of us, our way of life works really well for us and for people like us, at the cost of the way of life of so many others.”

“Luther Seminary Professor Karoline Lewis, in writing on All Saints Day, says, ‘We allow death to have its way and a say before it should. We allow death to determine a way of being in the world that has acquiesced to a matter of factness, an inevitability that truncates the power of the Kingdom of God, the presence of God, in our midst. And finally, we allow death to have more power than resurrection.”[4]

“The same could be said of racism and the other social evils and ills of our day–  we let them have their way and say and we allow them to determine a way of being in the world that has acquiesced to a matter of factness, an inevitability that truncates the power of the Kingdom of God, the presence of God in our midst. We allow racism to have more power than resurrection.”

“[Gawande also says,]’Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?’”

“So once we name the things that need to die–racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity, the fracturing of our political bedrock, we must ask ourselves these same questions:

  • What is my understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?
  • What are my fears and what are my hopes?
  • What are the trade-offs I am willing to make and not willing to make?
  • And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding ?” [5]

“Just as Gawande emphasizes the concept of being an active participant in mortality and the dying process, so too must we be active participants in bringing about the death of the social sicknesses and diseases which are killing our children, our communities, our siblings of color, separating us from the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world, and separating us from God’s beloved.”

“So I close by giving us space in silence to ask ourselves these questions–what needs to die and in that dying and rising, what are your fears and hopes? What is the course of action that best serves this dying and new life? What new creation might God work through that death? How can you make room for the power of the Kingdom of God, the power of resurrection life”

Closing Prayer

“This is the Good News we know–you are God with us and you are here. By the power of your Spirit, help us to name what needs to die, help us to grieve the losses, but push us to move forward in the hard work ahead, to change ourselves and the communities you have created, that we might be repairers for the world. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen”

Reflections

This sermon had a surprising and different slant than that of Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen’s sermon (What Endures?) at the morning service.

Rev. Gage-Finn focused on societal beliefs and actions that need to die: racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity and the fracturing of our political bedrock. These beliefs and actions, she says, should prompt us to ask these questions:

  • “What is my understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?
  • What are my fears and what are my hopes?
  • What are the trade-offs I am willing to make and not willing to make?
  • What is the course of action that best serves that understanding?

This concentration on societal and political problems, while understandable, can lead to reading and studying about the problems and to a sense of hopelessness. What can I do as one individual to combat such large problems? Instead, I suggest, we should focus on what can I do in my everyday life to combat these problems? And is there at least one of these problems where I can get more deeply involved by studying and getting active in a group that attacks the problem?

For me, blogging about law, politics, religion and history is one way to study and advocate for change on these and other issues. I also am active in various Westminster programs that address some of these issues.

And I make financial contributions to groups that concentrate on these issues, including the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law organization that has challenged mass incarceration, excessive punishment, imposition of death penalty, abuse of children, and discrimination against the poor and disabled; Advocates for Human Rights; Center for Victims of Torture; American Refugee Committee; immigrant Law Center; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Center for Constitutional Rights; American Civil Liberties Union; and Center for Justice and Accountability. I urge others to add these groups to their charitable contributions.

In my everyday life, I seek to smile and greet people, regardless of race, I encounter while walking downtown.

The Isaiah passage also poses even more challenging personal questions: What am I trapped by in my life and what happens when I am released from these burdens?

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[1] Wines, Commentary on Ruth 1: 1-18, Preach this Week (Nov. 1, 2015).

[2] Henri J. Nouwen & Michael Ford. The Dance of Life: Weaving Sorrows and Blessings into One Joyful Step. (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press) 2005, p. 56.

[3] Atul Gawande, Being Mortal (New York: Picador) 2014, p. 55. [See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Another Perspective on Dying (Oct. 6, 2014); Comment: Review of Dr. Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” (Oct. 7, 2014); Comment: Another Review of “Being Mortal” (Oct. 17, 2014); Comment: Yet Another Review of “Being Mortal” (Oct. 21, 2014); Comment: Interview of Dr. Gawande (Oct. 26, 2014); Comment: Dr. Gawande’s Conversation with Charlie Rose (Oct. 30, 2014).]

[4] Lewis, For All The Saints, Dear Working Preacher (Oct. 29, 2018).

[5] Gawande, p. 259.

 

 

 

Accusations About Perpetrators of ‘Grave Abuses’ in Cameroon    

Prior posts have discussed Cameroon’s deadly confrontations with Boko Haram terrorists in the northern part of the country and the violent conflicts between its Anglophone and Francophone populations. [1] Here is a report on developments in these matters plus the country’s upcoming presidential election.

The Anglophone-Francophone Conflict[2]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on July 19 blamed both sides for “grave abuses” against civilians and the forced evacuations of more than 180,000 people from their homes.  HRW said, “Anglophone separatists have extorted, kidnapped and killed civilians, and prevented children from going to school. In response to protests and violence by armed separatists, government forces have killed civilians, used excessive force against demonstrators, tortured and mistreated suspected separatists and detainees, and burned hundreds of homes in several villages.”

The Cameroonian government, rejecting the HRW report, said the level of force it used remained “proportional to the extent of the threat.” It also condemned separatist attacks and defended its security forces, saying all alleged atrocities are investigated. Just because such investigations “are not always widely disseminated to the public does not in any way mean that they are not taken.”

The Boko Haram Conflict

As discussed in a prior post, on July 12 Amnesty International (AI) reported the existence of a grainy video on social media showing two women — one with a baby on her back and another holding hands with a young child — walking across a dirt patch. Behind them were armed men one of whom yells in French “You are B.H.[Boko Haram], you are going to die.” The men blindfolded them and forced them to kneel. The armed men then raised their rifles and shot them.

Four days later the U.S. Government issued a statement expressing it was  “gravely concerned” over this incident and called on “the Government of Cameroon to investigate thoroughly and transparently the events depicted in the video and to take appropriate steps to bring the men to justice.

On July 19 the Cameroonian Government announced that it had arrested four soldiers suspected of killing the women and children, and an army officer in that region said the arrestees “are suspected of being the authors of the executions in the video.” Four other Cameroonian military sources told Reuters that the video did show Cameroonian soldiers and that the video was filmed in 2014 or 2015 in the early operations against Boko Haram.[3]

Cameroon’s Upcoming Presidential Election

 Meanwhile, more than 20 candidates have registered to run against longtime President Paul Biya in October’s presidential election. Attempts to have opposition forces back one candidate failed, making Biya’s reelection most likely.[4]

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[1] See List of Posts in dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] Human Rights Watch, Cameroon: Killings, Destruction in Anglophone Regions (July 19, 2018); Human Rights Watch, “These Killings Can Be Stopped,” (July 19, 2018); Human Rights Watch, Interview: Stoking Fires in Cameroon (July 19, 2018); Maclean, Cameroon’s military accused of burning alive unarmed civilians, Guardian (July 20, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cameroon Military, Separatists Blamed for ‘Grave Abuses,’ N.Y. Times (July 19, 2018).

[3]  Reuters, Cameroon Arrests Four Soldiers Suspected of Executing Women and Children, N.Y. Times (July 19, 2018).

[4] Assoc. Press, Cameroon: 20-Plus Candidates Seek Presidency in October Vote, N.Y, Times (July 20, 2018).

Developments Regarding Morocco’s Human Rights

Morocco’s human rights and other issues have been explored in previous posts. Here then is an update on recent updates on the country’s human rights.

An article in the Washington Post reports, “Last month , the Moroccan Parliament once again debated legislation long sought by women’s rights activists here that would make it a crime to harass a woman in public, whether physically or verbally. Under the latest proposal, a conviction could draw a month to two years in prison. But the bill remains mired in political wrangling between reformers and members of the conservative parties.”[1]

The reason for the troubled status of this bill, according to this article, is “Morocco is a deeply conservative, patriarchal society with a ruling Islamic party that won handily in a parliamentary election last year.” Khadija Ryadi, former president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, said, “Everything that concerns women’s rights is connected to religion.” Another Moroccan, Amal Idrissi, a law professor at Moulay Ismail University in the city of Meknes, disagrees. He says the reason for the country’s failure to adopt laws protecting women’s rights is not religion. It’s patriarchy.”

More broadly, this September, according to the article, “Morocco rejected 44 of 244 recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council following its latest UPR [Universal Periodic Review] . . .  of the country’s rights record. All 44 pertained to either women’s rights or individual rights, including laws that prevent women and men from inheriting equally and that deny rights to children born out of wedlock.” In so doing, “Morocco said its constitution must adhere to Islamic law — a striking illustration of the traditional and religious thinking hampering the country’s efforts to appear as a beacon of moderation in the region.”

Actually the 244 recommendations were made by various states or Morocco and “should not be construed as endorsed by the [Council’s] Working Group as a whole.”

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Latest UPR of Morocco

In September 2017, the Human Rights Council adopted a report by the Working Group on Morocco, but research to date has not located the Council’s official record of that action.[2]

However, Alkarama, a Geneva [Switzerland]-based non-governmental human rights organization established . . .to assist all those in the Arab world” who are at risk of human rights violations, published a press release about the outcome of this UPR. It stated that Morocco had accepted the majority of the recommendations (191 out of 244) while 44 were fully or partially rejected.

Human Rights Organization’s Reactions to Morocco’s UPR[3]

  1. Alkarama

Alkarama applauded Morocco’s acceptance of the majority of the recommendations, but expressed the following concerns:

  • Morocco’s rejection of recommendations by Sweden and the U.S. “for an end to “the prosecution of journalists” and “the detention of some individuals for solely exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” Therefore, Alkarma called for calls for “the implementation of [these] recommendations and the immediate release of any person detained for exercising his or her right to freedom of expression.”
  • The need for Morocco to honor the promise by its Minister of State for Human Rights “to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms, . . . to implement the accepted recommendations starting . . . next year . . . . [and] to implement the Opinions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention . . . calling for the immediate release of victims of arbitrary detention.”
  • The need for Morocco “to ensure the independence of [the National Human Rights Council with promised expansion of powers, including the National Prevention Mechanism under [the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture] as well as transparency in the selection process of its members in accordance with the Paris Principles.”
  • Morocco’s promised judicial reform “to strengthen the rule of law and the respect for fundamental rights” needs to “result in effective changes on the ground, guaranteeing everyone’s right to an effective remedy before an impartial and independent judicial body.”
  • “Moroccan authorities [need] to investigate all allegations of torture and to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished appropriately.”
  • “Moroccan authorities should re-examine and provide acceptable compensation to all victims of unfair trials following the Casablanca attacks, during which convictions were made on the basis of confessions under torture.”
  1. Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s report of that action by the Human Rights Council welcomed “Morocco’s acceptance of recommendations to criminalize marital rape, and ensure protection against domestic violence. However, Morocco’s “Draft Law 103.13 on combating violence against women does not comply with international standards in its definition of rape, and other barriers remain, such as the ban on abortion and sexual relations outside marriage.”

In addition and more broadly, Amnesty welcomed “Morocco’s commitment to remove obstacles in the registration of civil society organizations; to review the Penal Code in line with Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and to develop measures to ensure full respect of freedom of expression, association and assembly in Western Sahara.” However, Amnesty “regrets Morocco’s rejection of recommendations to end the persecution of journalists and to release those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression.” Amnesty then went on to urge Morocco “to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure, in order to ensure the right to a fair trial, such as access to a lawyer during interrogation for all suspects.”

On another issue, Amnesty was “pleased to note Morocco’s commitment to speed up the review of the legal framework on migration and asylum to align it with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” However, “Morocco has yet to adopt legislation to protect asylum-seekers and refugees.”

Finally Amnesty noted that Morocco has not carried out any executions since 1993, but was concerned that “death sentences continue to be handed down and proposed changes to the Penal Code would expand the scope of the death penalty” and regretted “Morocco’s rejection of a number of recommendations to establish a formal moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its abolition.”

  1. Human Rights Watch

HRW first noted positive human rights developments in the country and “acknowledged Morocco’s efforts to accede to international treaties, in particular its ratification of the International Convention for Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture . . . . [and positive] developments in advancing rights of domestic workers, victims of human trafficking, and persons with disabilities.”

On the other hand, HRW expressed concern and regret over the following:

  • The “government rejected key recommendations on important human rights concerns, [including]  “withdrawing all reservations to the Convention on Discrimination against Women; decriminalizing same-sex consensual relations; amending Penal Code provisions used to imprison journalists and others for nonviolent speech; and eliminating Family Code provisions that discriminate against children born outside of wedlock.”
  • The failure of the government to “comply with [previous UPR] recommendations it has accepted.”
  • “Morocco’s human rights record remains tainted by allegations of unjustified use of force by police against ‘Hirak’ protesters in the Rif, the systematic suppression of pro-independence demonstrations by Sahrawis in Western Sahara, and the failure of courts trying politically charged cases to scrutinize the veracity of contested ‘confessions’ to the police, contributing to trials that are unfair.”

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[1] Spinner, Morocco debates a law to protect women in public spaces. Passing it is another matter, Wash. Post (Nov. 5, 2017). See also Lahsini, Morocco Rejects Multiple UN Recommendations on Women Rights as ‘Unconstitutional,’ Morocco World News (Sept. 21, 2017).

[2] U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Morocco (July 13, 2017); U.N. Human Rights Council, The Kingdom of Morocco’s position on the Recommendations issues after review of its National Report under the third cycle of the universal Periodic Review (UPR), (Aug. 2017); U.N. Human Rights Council, 27th UPR adoptions to take place in September (Aug. 15, 2017); Alkarama, Morocco: UPR outcome adopted at UN Human Rights Council (Sept. 27, 2017).

[3] Alkarama, ibid.; Amnesty Int’l, Morocco: Human Rights Council Adopts Universal Periodic Review Outcome on Morocco (Sept. 21, 2017); Human Rights Watch, Morocco should implement past UPR recommendations (Sept. 21, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey Presses U.S. to Extradite Muslim Cleric in U.S.

In the wake of the July 15 failed coup in Turkey, its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others in his government have been pressing the United States as soon as possible to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric now living in Pennsylvania. This request is based upon Turkey’s allegations that Gülen was the mastermind of the attempted coup.[1] The U.S., however, has not done so, stressing instead that the established U.S. legal procedures for extradition need to be followed. Turkey publicly has not accepted this response and repeatedly has criticized the U.S. for not extraditing Gülen.[2]

As explained in an earlier post, extradition is the legal process “by which one country (the requesting country) may seek from another country (the requested country) the surrender of a person who is wanted for prosecution, or to serve a sentence following conviction, for a criminal offense.  In the U.S., international extradition is treaty based, meaning that the U.S. must have an extradition treaty with the requesting country in order to consider the request for extradition.”[3]

Here then is a preliminary analysis of the U.S. legal issues governing any such extradition request by Turkey.

The U.S.-Turkey Extradition Treaty[4]

 The U.S. and Turkey do have such an extradition treaty that was signed in Ankara, Turkey on June 7, 1979, and entered into force on January 1, 1981.

Under Article 1 of the treaty each party has an obligation “to surrender to each other, in accordance with the provisions and conditions laid down in this Treaty, all persons who are found within the territory of the Requested Party [here, the U.S.] and who are being prosecuted for or have been charged with an offense, or convicted of an offense, or are sought by the other Party [here, Turkey] for the enforcement of a judicially pronounced penalty for an offense . . . .”

Here, Mr. Gülen apparently is found in the U.S. (the territory of the Requested Party) and is being prosecuted by Turkey (the Requesting Party). Thus, the preliminary condition of the treaty is satisfied.

Thus, the next issue is where did Mr. Gülen allegedly commit the offense. Since he apparently has not been in Turkey for many years, it would appear that whatever alleged offense he allegedly has committed was done “outside the territory of the Requesting Party” (Turkey).

That presents the next issue. Is Mr. Gülen still a citizen and thus a “national” of Turkey (the Requesting Party)? If he is, it would appear that Turkey “has jurisdiction, according to its laws, to try” him. Thus, the issue becomes whether the U.S. has an obligation to extradite him under other provisions of the treaty.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Gülen no longer is a national of Turkey, then the issue is whether “the laws of the Requested Party [the U.S.] provide for the punishment of such an offense committed in similar circumstances” and if so, whether the U.S. has an obligation to extradite him under other provisions of the treaty. Analysis of this issue would have to start with the particulars of the criminal charges under Turkish law, which so far are not readily available in public sources.

A potential treaty-based ground for the U.S. refusing to extradite Gülen is found in Article 3 (a), which states that extradition is not required, “If the offense for which extradition is requested is regarded by the Requested Party [here, the U.S.] to be of a political character or an offense connected with such an offense; or if the Requested Party concludes that the request for extradition has, in fact, been made to prosecute or punish the person sought for an offense of a political character or on account of his political opinions.” However, Article 3 (a) goes on to provide that “any offense committed or attempted against a Head of State or a Head of Government or against a member of their families shall not be deemed to be an offense of a political character.” Here, the public statements by the Turkish government certainly indicate that this exception might apply.

Another potential ground for a U.S. refusal to extradite is found in Article 3 (e): “If the offense for which extradition is requested has, according to the laws of the Requested Party [here, the U.S.], been committed in its territory and has been or will be submitted to its appropriate judicial authorities for prosecution.” (Emphasis added.) This obviously would require a U.S. prosecution, which has not yet happened and probably will not happen, in my opinion.

Yet another potential ground for a U.S. refusal to extradite Gülen is in Article 4(1): “Neither of the Contracting Parties shall be bound to extradite its own nationals.” This would require him to be a naturalized U.S. citizen, and the public information does not indicate if Gülen is such a citizen. There was a source that said he obtained a U.S. “green card” or permanent residency status in 2001, and the U.S. ambassador to Turkey in January 2015 said he believed that Gülen was not a U.S. citizen.[5]

Article 7 of the treaty has great details about the evidence that needs to be submitted, here by Turkey, to initiate a formal request for extradition. The public information to date indicates that Turkey has provided the U.S. with certain information and evidence, but whether it satisfies the requirements of Article 7 is not clear.

U.S. Obligations Under the Torture Treaty

As discussed in prior posts, the U.S. is a party to the multilateral Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and under Article 2(1) of that treaty the U.S. is obligated not “to extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture [as defined in Article 1 of that treaty].”

As indicated in a prior post, the final step in the U.S. process of determining whether an individual should be extradited includes the Secretary of State examining whether extradition would violate the U.S. obligations under the torture treaty.

With respect to Turkey this is a serious concern.

A. Concerns Raised by the U.S. State Department

The most recent U.S. State Department report on human rights around the world said this about Turkey and torture in 2015.[6] “The [Turkish] constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but there were reports that some government officials employed them. Human rights organizations continued to report allegations of torture and abuse, especially of persons who were in police custody but not in a place of detention, and during demonstrations and transfers to prison, where such practices were more difficult to document.”

“[Turkish] Prosecutors investigated allegations of abuse and torture by security forces during the year but rarely indicted accused offenders. The National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) is administratively responsible for investigating human rights violations, including allegations of torture, excessive use of force, or extrajudicial killings. Domestic human rights organizations claimed the NHRI’s failure to follow through in investigating potential human rights violations deterred victims of abuse from filing complaints. Authorities regularly allowed officers accused of abuse to remain on duty during their trial.”

“Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged in a report published in September [2015] that [Turkish] police abused detainees in August and September while responding to perceived security threats in the Southeast. It documented three cases in which police severely beat detainees, forced men to remain in kneeling positions for hours, and threatened them with torture and execution. In another case police detained a boy who had a severe gunshot wound and for several hours denied him medical treatment.”

“[Turkish] Police in several parts of the country sometimes used disproportionate force to disrupt protests, often leading to injury.”

“Human rights groups alleged that although torture and mistreatment in police custody decreased following installation of closed-circuit cameras in 2012, police continued to abuse detainees outside police stations. On July 13, [2015] a media report included footage from security cameras showing police beating 24-year-old university student Tevfik Caner Ertay multiple times in 2013 during the Gezi Park protests before transporting him to a police station in the trunk of a police car. Ertay suffered multiple injuries, including a broken nose. Police perpetrators included some of the same officers later accused of killing fellow university student Ali Ismail Korkmaz.”

“Some human rights observers reported detainees often refrained from reporting torture and abuse because they feared retaliation or believed complaining to authorities would be futile. Human rights organizations documented cases of prison guards beating inmates and maintained those arrested for ordinary crimes were as likely to suffer torture and mistreatment as those arrested for political offenses, such as speaking out against the government.”

“Through the first nine months of the year [2015], the [Turkish] Ministry of Justice reported 98 investigations regarding allegations of torture, 26 of which resulted in indictments.”

“The HRA reported receiving hundreds of allegations of torture and excessive use of force, including 213 cases through September 21 [2015] that involved the alleged abuse of detainees. For example, on January 29, in Sirnak, police reportedly beat four citizens whom they had detained during raids of their homes.”

B. Concerns Raised by the U.N. Committee Against Torture

As explained in an earlier post, the multilateral treaty against torture created a Committee Against Torture, one of whose responsibilities is to review the records of the parties to the treaty. That Committee on June 4, 2016, did just that for Turkey by issuing 20 numbered paragraphs of “principal subjects of concern.”[7] Here are the key concerns for purposes of the pending extradition request.

“The Committee is concerned that, despite the fact that the State party has amended its law to the effect that torture is no longer subject to a statute of limitations, it has not received sufficient information on prosecutions for torture, including in the context of cases involving allegations of torture that have been the subject of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee is also concerned that there is a significant disparity between the high number of allegations of torture reported by non-governmental organizations and the data provided by the State party in its periodic report . . ., suggesting that not all allegations of torture have been investigated during the reporting period. Further, while the State party has undertaken many investigations into allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by its officials, these have resulted in relatively few cases of disciplinary sanctions, and in fines and imprisonment in only a small number of cases. The Committee regrets that the State party did not provide information requested by the Committee on the six cases in which officials received sentences of imprisonment for ill-treatment between 2011 and 2013, nor on any cases in which officials received sentences of imprisonment for ill-treatment in 2014 or 2015. The Committee further regrets that State party did not respond to the concern raised by Committee members that law enforcement authorities have on many cases brought ‘countercharges,’ such as ‘resisting’ or ‘insulting’ police officers, against those individuals lodging complains of torture, ill-treatment and other police brutality. The Committee further regrets, with reference to its previous recommendations . . . that the State party has not yet created an independent State body to investigate complaints of torture and ill-treatment against law enforcement officers.”

“The Committee is seriously concerned about numerous credible reports of law enforcement officials engaging in torture and ill-treatment of detainees while responding to perceived and alleged security threats in the south-eastern part of the country . . . in the context of the resurgence of violence between the Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) following the breakdown of the peace process in 2015 and terrorist attacks perpetrated by individuals linked to the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Committee is further concerned at the reported impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of such acts.”

“In addition to the allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees noted above, the Committee is concerned at reports it has received concerning the commission of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the State party’s authorities in the course of carrying out counter-terrorism operations in the south-eastern part of the country. The Committee regrets that the State party did not respond to requests for information as to whether investigations are under way into widely reported cases, such as the alleged killing by police snipers of two unarmed women, . . . on 8 September 2015. The Committee also regrets the failure by the State party to ensure accountability for the perpetrators of killings in cases previously raised by the Committee, such as the killing by security forces of . . . in November 2004, which was the subject of a decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee is further concerned at reports that family members of those killed in clashes between security forces and members of armed groups have been denied the ability to retrieve their bodies, which has the effect of impeding investigations into the circumstances surrounding those deaths.”

“The Committee is concerned that allegations of excessive use of force against demonstrators have increased dramatically during the period under review. The Committee notes with regret that the State party’s investigations into the conduct of officials in the context of the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and Ankara have not resulted in any prosecutions, despite the allegations of excessive use of force noted by observers, including the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee also regrets that the State party did not provide any data on the specific sentences, if any, that police officers tried on charges of excessive use of force during the reporting period had received. It further expresses concern over the recent legislative amendments in the Domestic Security Package granting additional powers to the police, in particular the expanded power to use firearms against demonstrators.”

“Although the Criminal Code defines torture as a specific offence, the Committee notes that the definition set out in article 94 [of the Code] is incomplete inasmuch as it fails to mention the purpose of the act in question. There is also no specific mention of the act of torture carried out in order to intimidate, to coerce or to obtain information or a confession from a person other than the person who was tortured.”

“While taking note of the legal safeguards enshrined in Turkish legislation, the Committee is concerned at recent amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which give the police greater powers to detain individuals without judicial oversight during police custody. Placing suspects under constant video surveillance in their cells is another matter of concern.”

“The Committee is concerned at the ‘almost complete lack of accountability for cases of enforced disappearance’ in the State party and its ‘palpable lack of interest [in] seriously investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating these cases’, as reported by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in its preliminary observations publicly . . . announced at the end of its visit to Turkey from 14 to 18 March 2016. . . .”

“The Committee regrets the lack of complete information on suicides and other sudden deaths in detention facilities during the period under review.”

“The Committee is concerned by the restrictive conditions of detention for persons sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment, a sentence that was established after the abolition of the death penalty in 2004.”

C. Human Rights NGOs and Others

 Especially after the failed coup, human rights NGOs have raised increasing concerns about human rights in Turkey. These concerns were heightened by the Turkish government’s July 20 declaration of a state of emergency for the next three months. This gives the government the power to impose rule by decrees that are published and rushed through parliament for approval the same day. The possibility of review by the Constitutional Court is curbed. Human Rights Watch expressed its alarm over this development: “A state of emergency imposed where there are clear signs that the government is ready to crack down more broadly – combined with far more scope for unchecked executive action – is an alarming prospect. It risks further undermining democracy by providing a legal – if not justifiable – basis for a crackdown on rights.”[8]

Amnesty International (AI) on July 18 (only three days after the attempted coup) said that several Turkish “government officials have suggested reinstating the death penalty as punishment for those found responsible for the failed coup, and . . . [AI] is now investigating reports that detainees in Ankara and Istanbul have been subjected to a series of abuses, including ill-treatment in custody and being denied access to lawyers.” Two days later AI stated, “We are witnessing a crackdown of exceptional proportions in Turkey,” including freedom of expression.[9]

On July 24 AI reported that it had “gathered credible evidence that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centers in the country.” According to these accounts, “police held detainees in stress positions, denied them food, water and medical treatment, verbally abused and threatened them and subjected them to beatings and torture, including rape and sexual assault.”[10]

On August 2 President Erdogan in a public speech challenged AI’s research underlying its assertion that some detainees had been tortured. In response AI’s Secretary General stated, ““The serious human rights violations documented by an . . . [AI] team on the ground in Turkey are alarming. These findings are based on detailed interviews with lawyers, doctors, family members and an eyewitness to torture in a detention facility.”[11]

A Turkish bar group in the capital of Ankara has stated that some of its members have reported alleged abuses of their clients in detention while other lawyers and human rights organizations have made similar allegations.[12]

The Turkey-U.S. Dispute Over the Requested Extradition of Gülen

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has to be aware of the terms of its extradition treaty with the U.S. and the latter’s procedures for handling extradition requests. Thus, Erdogran and his government’s strident complaints about the U.S. not immediately granting the request for Gülen has to be intended to show Turkish citizens the strength and resolve of the regime. There even have been rumors that the U.S. was behind the attempted coup.

In any event, “Usually deeply polarized, the two sides [of Turkey’s population] are largely united in their opposition to military coups and the . . . [extradition] of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania and has been accused by Turkey of orchestrating the failed uprising.” There even is widespread support for the “sweeping purge of suspected followers of Mr. Gülen from the state bureaucracy and other professions” and Mr. Erdogan’s asking “Turks to inform on those they believe are connected to Mr. Gülen.”

Istanbul

The unity was on vivid display at a recent Istanbul rally of at least two million Turks who put aside their political differences to express solidarity.”[13] (To the right is a photograph of that rally.)

 

The U.S., however, needs to continue to resist acquiescence in these strong-arm tactics and to insist on following U.S. law and procedures for such requests. Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama have done just that.[14] So too have State Department spokespeople at daily press briefings.[15] This is not easy since the U.S. has a strong national security interest in maintaining Turkey as an ally in the fight against ISIS/ISIL.

Tomorrow U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting Turkey to see President Erdogan. The Associated Press opines that Biden will have difficulties in persuading Turkey that the U.S. values Turkey as a key NATO ally amid worrying signs that Turkey is flirting with having closer ties with Russia and that the U.S. and Turkish approaches to the Syrian conflict may be diverging.[16]

Today, says the Associated Press, a U.S. Justice Department team is meeting with Turkish officials in Ankara to discuss U.S. technical requirements of Turkey’s extradition request. This includes firm evidence of Gülen’s involvement in the coup whereas senior officials in the Obama administration say Turkey’s extradition requests to date have been based on allegations of other crimes against Gülen, not evidence of involvement in the coup attempt. A Turkish professor of international relations said that Turkish “people have an expectation that Gülen should be returned to Turkey immediately. If the extradition request is refused or delayed I’m afraid that’s going to have serious repercussions.”

The Washington Post editorial board urges the Vice President “to reassure Mr. Erdogan once again that the two nations share vital interests, not the least of which are fighting the Islamic State and ending the conflagration that has consumed Syria.” The Vice President also “should make clear he understands how much Turkish civilians are suffering from terrorist attacks” and “convince Mr. Erdogan that the United States does not desire to destabilize Turkey.”[17]

The Washington Post editorial further urges Biden “to candidly tell his host that the United States did not instigate the coup and that it will not relinquish Mr. Gülen to a witchhunt. Mr. Erdogan may not want to hear it, but he also should be reminded that crushing the rule of law will dim Turkey’s prospects.”

In the midst of this high-stakes squabble between the two countries, Gülen wrote an article for the New York Times in which he stated, “During the attempted military coup in Turkey this month, I condemned it in the strongest terms. ‘Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force.’ I said, ‘I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.’” President Erdogan’s suggestion that I was the mastermind of the coup “run[s] afoul of everything I believe in, it is also irresponsible and wrong. My philosophy — inclusive and pluralist Islam, dedicated to service to human beings from every faith — is antithetical to armed rebellion.”[18]

Moreover, Gülen said, “Throughout my life, I have publicly and privately denounced military interventions in domestic politics. In fact, I have been advocating for democracy for decades. Having suffered through four military coups in four decades in Turkey — and having been subjected by those military regimes to harassment and wrongful imprisonment — I would never want my fellow citizens to endure such an ordeal again. If somebody who appears to be [my] . . . sympathizer has been involved in an attempted coup, he betrays my ideals.”

Gülen concluded his article with this plea to the U.S. government. The U.S. “must not accommodate an autocrat [Erdogan] who is turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government.”

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[1] Reuters, Turkey to Ready Dossier for Gulen Extradition in 10 Days: Foreign Minister, N.Y. Times (July 23, 2016); Dugan, Turkey’s Failed Coup Puts Spotlight on a Rural Pennsylvania Town,W.S.J. (July 24, 2016); Fethullah Gullen Website, https://www.fgulen.com/en/Fethullah Güllen; Wikipedia. Fethullah Güllen; LaPorte, Watson & Tuysusz, Who is Fethullah Gulen, the man blamed for coup attempt in Turkey? CNN (July 16, 2016).

[2] E.g., Reuters, Turkey Says U.S. Could Extradite Cleric Gulen Quickly if Wants to, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2016); Assoc. Press, Turkey Criticizes U.S. Over Cleric Accused of Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2016); Kalin, The Coup Leader Must Be Held Accountable, N.Y. Times (July 24, 2016); Coker, Turkish Premier Demands U.S. Help with Gulen, W.S.J. (July 26, 2016).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Report on International Extradition Submitted to the Congress Pursuant to Section 211 of the Admiral James W. Nance and Meg Donovan Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001 (Public Law 106-113) (2001); U.S. Justice Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Extradition.

[4] U.S.-Turkey Extradition Treaty, 32 U.S.T. 3111.

[5] Fathullah Gullen, Wikipedia; U.S. Embassy to Turkey, Transcript of Ambassador Bass’s Interview with Sabah Ankara Bureau Chief Okan Muderrisoglu and Daily Sabah Correspondent Alli Unal (Jan. 12, 2015).

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 (updated 4/18/16 & 6/14/16).

[7] Comm Agst Torture, Concluding observations on Turkey (June 2, 2016).

[8] Human Rights Watch, Dispatches: Turkey’s State of Emergency (July 22, 2016); Yeginsu & Arango, Turkey Cracks Down on Journalists, Its Next Target After Crushing the Coup, N.Y. Times (July 25, 2016).

[9] Amnesty Int’l, Human rights in grave danger following coup attempt and subsequent crackdown in Turkey (July 18, 2016); Amnesty Int’l, Media purge threatens freedom of expression in Turkey (July 20, 2016); Amnesty Int’l, Turkey: Intensified crackdown on media increases atmosphere of fear (July 28, 2016).

[10] Amnesty Int’l, Turkey: Independent monitors must be allowed to access detainees amid torture allegations (July 24, 2016).

[11] Amnesty Int’l, Turkey: Response to President Erdogan’s speech challenging Amnesty International’s findings (Aug. 2, 2016).

[12] Morris, ‘Law is suspended’: Turkish lawyers report abuse of coup detainees, Wash. Post (July 24, 2016).

[13] Yeginsu, After Failed Coup, Turkey Settles Into a Rare Period of Unity, N.Y. Times (Aug. 23, 2016).

[14] Assoc. Press, Kerry to Turkey: Send Us Evidence, Not Allegations on Gulen, N.Y. Times (July 20, 2016); White House, Remarks by President Obama and President Peno Nieto of Mexico in Joint Press Conference (July 22, 2016).

[15] E.g., State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (July 21, 2016); State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (July 22, 2016).

[16] Assoc. Press, U.S., Biden Face Tough Task to Mend Relations with Turkey, N.Y. Times (Aug. 23, 2016).

[17] Editorial, Biden needs to give Turkey’s Erdogan tough advice, Wash. Post (Aug. 22, 2016).

[18] Gulen, Fethullah Gulen: I Condemn All Threats to Turkey’s Democracy, N.Y. Times (July 25, 2016).

 

 

 

 

Seventh Summit of the Americas Is Underway in Panama

Summit logoThe Seventh Summit of the Americas will take place in Panama City, Panama on April 10 and 11. Such Summits are institutionalized gatherings of heads of state and government of the member states of the Western Hemisphere where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced by countries in the Americas. [1]

In the meantime, preliminary Summit events are underway while planning for the meetings of heads of state and government are nearly complete.

This post will review the plans for this Summit by the organizers and then discuss Summit developments involving the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela. [2]

 The Summit Organizers’ Plan

The Summit’s central theme is “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas” with several sub-themes, including education, health, energy, environment, migration, security, citizen participation and democratic governance. These issues will be discussed by 35 heads of state and government. In addition to these officials, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will attend.

The priority of the organizers in Panama is to work on a comprehensive document titled “Mandates for Action”, which will contain agreements from all countries involved on topics related to health, education, security, migration, environment, energy, democratic governance and citizen participation.

The Summit’s main events will take place in the ATLAPA Convention Center in central Panama City as shown in the photograph below.

PanamaCtr

The Summit also will host the four following forums:

  • Civil Society Forum will seek to promote governments’ consultation and coordination, dialogue and exchange with civil society. It also will offer input and recommendations for the consideration of the participating States.
  • The Youth Forum will provide young entrepreneurs an opportunity to offer their recommendations to the participating States.
  • The Business Forum will explore the trade and investment opportunities and public-private sector cooperation.
  • The University Presidents’ Forum will focus on academic mobility, the role of innovation and technology in enhancing research skills and college education for the region; and the importance of scholarly research on entrepreneurship and sustainable economic development.

 U.S. Plans for the Summit

 A prior post reviewed some of the U.S preparations for the Summit. In addition, the U.S. Department of State asserts that this Summit “is an historic opportunity to deepen partnerships, collaborate on shared challenges, and make tangible commitments to securing a brighter future for all of the people of the Americas. . . . The [U.S.] is working closely with partners throughout the Americas to ensure the 2015 Summit upholds our common commitment to inclusive economic development, democracy, and human rights, while providing robust engagement among government leaders, civil society groups, and regional business communities.”

The U.S. especially has been calling for the participation of Cuban civil society in the Summit. Indeed, in his December 17th announcement of the rapprochement with Cuba, President Obama said, “we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit. . . . But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.”

Interestingly I have not seen any news or information about the U.S. inviting U.S. civil society, youth, business or university presidents to participate in the Summit.

The U.S. was hoping that by the time of the Summit, the U.S. and Cuba would have re-established normal diplomatic relations and that this would be an occasion for the two countries to enjoy receiving congratulations from the other countries in the Americas.

The resumption of normal relations, however, has not yet happened, and now there are many countries demonstrably upset over President Obama’s executive order of March 9th imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. This week at Venezuela’s invitation, a senior Department of State official went to Venezuela to meet with the country’s foreign minister.

The Washington Post this week published an editorial criticizing the U.S. opening to Cuba. It said there have been no benefits to the U.S. to date while Cuba has gained. President Castro will attend the Summit. Soon the U.S. probably will rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” in disregard of Cuba’s alleged “continued support for Colombia’s terrorist groups, its illegal arms trading with North Korea and the sanctuary it provides American criminal JoAnne Chesimard.” In addition, says the editorial, Cuba is joining Venezuela in unjustifiably attacking the U.S. over President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans.

Cuba’s Plans for the Summit

According to the Cuban press, the country has been preparing for full participation in the Summit. The Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, emphasized that over 100 representatives of Cuban civil society, including youth, academics, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and coop leaders would be going to the Summit. They will show the possibilities that Cuba provides for the development of international economic relations from the adoption of Law 118 Foreign Investment and Development Special Zone Mariel (ZEDM).

On Tuesday pro-government representatives of Cuban civil society in Panama issued a statement denouncing the presence at the Summit of other Cubans who allegedly were “mercenaries paid by the historic enemies of our nation,” i.e., the U.S. Such Cubans, the pro-government representatives said, “make up a tiny ‘opposition’ manufactured from abroad, lacking any legitimacy or decorum. Several of its members are publicly linked to recognized terrorists who have caused infinite pain to the Cuban people.”

The statement asserted, “It is offensive that such people, who have made betraying the homeland a well-paid profession and shamefully usurp the name of the country that they slander and offend day after day, are participating in these forums. For the dignified and sovereign Cuba that has withstood more than five decades of blockade and harassment, for the overwhelming majority of Cubans, for us, we who have come to Panama with modesty and a spirit of cooperation to share experiences of our social development, it is unacceptable that there are people of such low moral character here.”

The next day, Wednesday, during one of the forums, about 100 supporters of Cuba’s government heckled Cuban dissidents by calling them “imperialist” and “mercenaries” Organizers appealed for calm during the hour-long frenzied scene. The pro-government groups joined by pro-government groups from Venezuela angrily marched out, saying they wouldn’t attend the proceedings in the presence of individuals they accuse of trying to destabilize Cuba’s government.

From Havana, Cuban Vice-President (and reputed future president) Miguel Diaz-Canel, stated, “Nobody could think that in a process of re-establishing relations, which we’re trying to move forward on with the [U.S.], Cuban support for Venezuela could be made conditional. If they attack Venezuela, they’re attacking Cuba. And Cuba will always be on Venezuela’s side above all things.”

A Cuban online newspaper, CubaDebate, has a journalist in Panama to provide minute-by-minute tweets about the Summit.

Venezuela’s Plans for the Summit

Venezuela plans to make a major effort to obtain the Summit’s condemnation of President Obama’s executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans. For example, President Maduro will bring a petition against the executive order that has been signed by over nine million of his people. A Caracas pollster said, “Maduro is taking advantage of Obama’s order. It’s an extreme campaign that distracts from the internal problems of the country. You just want your people in the street, proselytizing and campaigning.”

In addition, Maduro’s political allies are sending 825 activists to the Summit to protest Obama and support Maduro.”There will be marches, caravans and anti-imperialist stands,” said Rafael Uzcategui, secretary general of the ruling Fatherland for All, who said that Nicaragua, a close ally of Chavez, will send a delegation with a similar purpose.

Others plan to focus on Venezuela’s alleged human rights violations. In recent weeks many countries and human rights organizations have criticized Venezuela’s imprisonment of political dissidents. This includes the U.N., the European Parliament, the governments of the U.S., Spain, Canada and Colombia and the Socialist International, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others.

Now 21 Latin American presidents have issued a statement to denounce the “democratic alteration” of Venezuela and to advocate for the release of prisoners and the restoration of political autonomy. Their proposed Declaration of Panama asks the Summit of the Americas to seek a solution to the Venezuelan crisis “that respects the constitutional principles and international standards.” The signers of this statement include Colombians Andres Pastrana, Alvaro Uribe and Belisario Betancur; Costa Ricans Laura Chinchilla, Rafael Calderon, Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Luis Alberto Monge; Chilean Sebastián Piñera ; and Spain’s José María Aznar.

In addition, this week 28 human rights organizations across the continent (including: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Transparency International and the International Commission of Jurists) issued a statement requiring cessation of “harassment against human rights defenders of human rights ” and called on the governments participating in the Summit of the Americas” to demand the government of Nicolas Maduro to ensure that the defenders and human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of reprisal.”

A group of Venezuelan human rights organizations will be going to Panama to present their complaints about human rights in their country. President Maduro’s response is to call them “CIA stooges.”

Conclusion

New York Times editorial has urged U.S. and Cuban government officials at the Summit to “not ignore” the Cuban civil society representatives, “but rather work to amplify their voices. They have struggled for years to be heard in their own country, where those critical of the Communist system have faced repression.” The Times also notes that some Cubans “who cannot afford a trip to Panama or are restricted from traveling have pledged to hold a parallel meeting in Cuba. . . . Increasingly, the [Cuban] government will have to reckon with the fact that many of the dissidents’ aspirations are shared by most Cubans.”

Now we will have to see what actually happens at the rest of the Summit.

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[1] Prior Summits were held in Miami, Florida, USA (I, 1994); Santiago, Chile (II, 1998); Quebec City, Canada (III, 2001); Mar del Plata, Argentina (IV, 2005); Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (V, 2009); and Cartagena, Colombia (VI 2012). This process also held a Summit on Sustainable Development in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in 1996 and a Special Summit in Monterey, Mexico in 2004.

[2] In addition to information from the Summit’s website, this post is based upon the following: Vyas, Venezuela’s Maduro Takes Petition Against U.S. Sanctions to Summit of the Americas, W.S.J. (April 8, 2015); Sanchez, Senior U.S. official in Venezuela for meetings with Maduro, Wash. Post (April 8, 2015); Goodman & Rodriguez, Cuban dissidents heckled at Americas Summit, Wash. Post (April 8, 2015); Statement by the Cuban delegation to the parallel forums of the Summit of the Americas, Granma (April 7, 2015); Gómez, Given the presence of mercenaries, Cuban delegation abandons Civil Society Forum, Granma (April 8, 2015); Editorial, Mr. Obama’s opportunity in Panama, Wash. Post (April 7, 2015); Neuman, In a Surprise, a Top Kerry Adviser Visits Venezuela, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2015); Reuters, Defying U.S., Cuba Stands by Venezuela on Eve of Regional Summit, N.Y. Times (April 8, 2015); Meza, US seeks to open a channel for dialogue with the government of Maduro, El Pais (April 9, 2015).

 

 

 

 

Criticism of Venezuela’s Response to President Obama’s Executive Order

An op-ed in El Pais, Spain’s leading newspaper, by Peace Zárate, an expert in public international law, criticizes Venezuela’s response to President Obama’s March 9th executive order. [1]

According to the author, the Venezuelan and UNASUR reactions to the executive order prompt four questions and answers.

First, are the reactions proportional to the executive order? “No” is his answer. He reasons, “No doubt that Caracas has the sovereign right to feel offended by the actions taken by the U.S. government. However, these [U.S.] actions are not “the most aggressive, . . . nefarious, unfair, and . . . [unprecedented measures] against Venezuela” as described by [Venezuelan President] Maduro. The measures have not been taken against the country as a whole, nor against all its citizens, nor against its economy, trade and bilateral investments, but only [against] seven officials individually responsible for severe and massive human rights violations. . . . These seven individuals are prohibited from entering U.S. territory and prevented from making transactions relating to assets located in the [U.S.].”

Second, are these sanctions illegal? “No,” again is his answer. He says, “The justification given by the Obama administration was respect for human rights and safeguarding democratic institutions within the framework of international law. These rules are contained in both treaties to which Venezuela and the [U.S.] are signatories, and in customary international law. Serious violations of human rights are not ‘internal affairs.’ They are the exception to the principle of non-intervention. And in the case of Venezuela, these violations have been established by the U.N. and [the] most respected international non-governmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.” Moreover, the “U.S. sanctions [against] seven Venezuelan officials are: a minor gesture and [permissible].”

Third, was the U.S. entitled to impose these sanctions? “Yes,” is his answer even though the U.S. does not have a perfect record on human rights and even though “countries generally tend to avoid taking [their] own actions when human rights are violated in another state. . . .But this reluctance does not mean [a] State cannot adopt sanctions. . . .  And to do that, international law does not [require a state to have an unblemished record] (no state has that).”

Fourth, “what effect will [the sanctions] have for the individual rights of the citizens of Venezuela, where repression leads [to] a growing account of death and torture [as it] is governed by decree?” That question is unanswered even as “the practical effects for the seven Venezuelan officials affected by the sanctions are minimal” and “the impasse between Washington and Caracas eventually [will] be solved.”

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[1] The reactions of Venezuela, UNASUR and ALBA were described in prior posts: U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans (Mar. 16, 2015); Venezuela’s Open Letter to the People of the United States (Mar. 18, 2015); and ALBA Emergency Meeting’s Action Regarding President Obama’s Executive Order Imposing Sanctions on Seven Venezuelans (Mar. 19, 2015).

U.N. Human Rights Committee’s Review of U.S. Human Rights

In March 2014, the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee (the Committee) made a very negative evaluation of how the United States of America (U.S.) was implementing and complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR or Covenant), which is regarded as an important part of the International Bill of Rights.

Before we examine the Committee’s hearings that resulted in that very negative evaluation in subsequent posts, we will look at the background of the ICCPR and the events leading up to the Committee’s hearings and evaluation.

Background of the ICCPR

As discussed in a prior post, the ICCPR was approved and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16, 1966. The drafting of the treaty was the work of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, in which the U.S. participated.

The ICCPR (in terms reminiscent of the U.S. Bill of Rights) establishes an international minimum standard of governmental conduct for rights of self-determination; legal redress; equality; life; liberty; freedom of movement; fair, public and speedy trial of criminal charges; privacy; freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion; peaceful assembly; freedom of association; family; and participation in public life. The ICCPR forbids “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;” slavery; arbitrary arrest; double jeopardy; and imprisonment for debt.

The ICCPR’s Part IV established the Human Rights Committee, and its Article 41 provides that periodically the States Parties to the treaty shall “submit reports on the measures they have adopted which give effect to the rights recognized . . . [in the treaty] and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights” and that the Committee “shall study [such] . . . reports . . . . [and make] such general comments as it may consider appropriate.”[1]

Under Articles 28 and 29 of the treaty, its states parties elect the 18 Committee members to four-year terms from “nationals of the States Parties . . . who shall be persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights, consideration being given to the usefulness of the participation of some persons having legal experience, . . . [and] who shall be elected and shall serve in their personal capacity.”

The Committee, under Article 31, “may not include more than one national of the same State” and “consideration shall be given to equitable geographical distribution of membership and to the representation of the different forms of civilization and of the principal legal systems.”

As discussed in a prior post, the Covenant went into force on March 23, 1976, in accordance with its Article 49(1), after 35 states had ratified or acceded to the treaty. On October 5, 1977, the U.S. signed the treaty, but it was not until nearly 15 years later (June 8, 1992), that the U.S. ratified this treaty (with reservations) and became a state party thereto. Now there are 168 states parties to the treaty.

Events Leading Up to the Committee’s Evaluation 

1. U.S. Report. On December 30, 2011, the U.S. submitted to the Committee its 188-page Fourth periodic report.[2]

The report opened with these words of President Obama,“By no means is America perfect. But it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections, to improve constantly, and to grow stronger over time. . . .”

The report then marched through the U.S. implementation of each of the 27 Articles of the ICCPR.

In conclusion, the U.S. report discussed the Committee’s Concluding Observations on the prior U.S. report that the U.S. “acknowledge the applicability of the Covenant with respect to individuals under its jurisdiction, but outside its territory, as well as its applicability in time of war.” The U.S., however, reiterated its position that the Covenant does not so apply.

With respect to the Committee’s prior request that the U.S. “consider in good faith the interpretation of the Covenant provided by the Committee,” the U.S. continued to reject the Committee’s interpretation on applicability, but said it “appreciates its ongoing dialogue with the Committee with respect to the interpretation and application of the Covenant, considers the Committee’s views in good faith, and looks forward to further discussions of these issues when it presents this report to the Committee.”

2. Committee’s List of Issues. On April 29, 2013, after reviewing the U.S. report and Common Core Document, the Committee issued its six-page, 27-paragraph List of Issues, which asked the U.S. to respond to the following:

  • U.S. constitutional and legal framework: clarify U.S. position on applicability of Covenant for individuals under its jurisdiction, but outside its territory; measures to ensure state and local authorities comply with the Covenant; whether a national human rights institution will be established; and whether the U.S. will withdraw its reservations to the Covenant.
  • Non-discrimination and equal rights of men and women: describe efforts to address racial disparities in criminal justice system and to eliminate all kinds of racial profiling against Arabs, Muslims and South Asians; provide information on imposition of criminal penalties on street people and on obstacles to undocumented migrants’ accessing health services and higher education institutions.
  • Right to life: provide information on various issues regarding the death penalty and victims of gun violence; and clarify how drone attacks allegedly comply with the Covenant and whether senior officers and lower-ranking soldiers have been investigated and punished for unlawful killings in armed conflict.
  • Prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and treatment of detainees: provide information on independent investigations of treatment of detainees, whether U.S. regards so-called “enhanced interrogation” to violate the Covenant, why the U.S. has not adopted a statute prohibiting torture within its territory, whether the U.S. systematically evaluates “diplomatic assurances” before transfers of detainees, addressing claims of police brutality and excessive use of force, regulation of electro-muscular-disruption devices, prohibition and prevention of corporal punishment of children and application of criminal law to minors, non-consensual use of medication in psychiatric and research institutions, solitary confinement, separation of juvenile from adults detainees, rights of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, rights of immigrant detainees and prevention of domestic violence.
  • Elimination of slavery and servitude: provide information on combatting human trafficking and protection of children from sexual exploitation.
  • Right to privacy: provide information on NSA surveillance.
  • Freedom of assembly and association: clarify why certain workers are excluded from right to organize in trade unions.
  • Freedom of movement, marriage, family and protection of minors: clarify whether all cases of individuals serving life sentences without parole for offenses committed as a minor have been reviewed and if U.S. will abolish such sentences; and provide information on children held at Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Right to take part in conduct of public affairs: provide information on voting rights of citizens who have completed their sentences for felony convictions, states’ measures to impose legal or de facto disenfranchisement of voters and efforts to provide residents of District of Columbia right to vote and elect representatives to U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
  • Rights of minorities: provide information on protection of indigenous sacred sites and their rights to be consulted and consent to matters affecting their interests.

3. U.S. Replies. On July 5, 2013, the U.S. submitted its 28-page Replies to the List of Issues. It said the U.S. responded “with great pleasure” and was “pleased to participate in this process.” The U.S., it said, “in the spirit of cooperation, provided as much information as possible in response to the questions posed by the Committee.”

The U.S., however, maintained its position that the treaty did not have extraterritoriality, i.e., it did not apply to U.S. conduct outside the U.S. It did provide some additional information, but did not retract any of its previous positions that prompted the Committee’s List of Issues.

4. Civil Society Organizations’ Submissions. Sometime prior to October 2013, 138 reports about the status of U.S. human rights were submitted to the Committee by civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, Physicians for Human Rights and Minnesota-based Advocates for Human Rights.

5. Postponement. The Committee’s review of the U.S was scheduled for October 2013, but was postponed until March 2014, pursuant to a U.S. request due to the then ongoing U.S. government shutdown.[3]

6. U.S. Delegation. On March 7, 2014, the U.S. submitted to the Committee the list of members of the U.S. delegation for the upcoming session. The U.S. Representative was Mary McLeod, Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, Office of the Legal Advisor, Department of State. She was to be aided by 27 Advisers from the Departments of State, Justice, Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Interior; the U.S. Mission to the U.N.; the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi; the Mayor’s Office of Salt Lake City, Utah; and a Private Sector Adviser (a private attorney from Los Angeles, California).

Conclusion

On March 13 and 14, 2014, the Committee held hearings in Geneva, Switzerland on the U.S. report and other information, and on March 26, 2014, the Committee adopted its 11-page report (Concluding observations on the fourth report of the United States of America) that was very critical of the U.S. compliance with the ICCPR.[4]

These subjects will be discussed in subsequent posts.

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[1] The nation states creating and joining this treaty chose to not grant the Committee the power to order the states to do anything. Instead, the Committee only may make recommendations as observations.

[2] The report was supplemented the same date by the 85-page U.S. Common Core Document that contained general information (U.S. demographic, economic, social and cultural characteristics) and legal information (U.S. constitutional, political and legal structure; general framework for the protection and promotion of human rights; and information on non-discrimination and equality and effective remedies).

The U.S.’ fourth periodic report and Common Core Document were preceded by the first U.S. report to the Committee on July 29, 1994 (with the Committee’s concluding observations on October 3, 1995) and the U.S.’ combined second and third reports on November 28, 2005 (with the Committee’s concluding observations on September 15 and December 18, 2006).

[3] The civil society organizations submitted to the Committee an additional 41 reports before the March 2014 Committee session.

[4] The Committee’s procedure and report are similar to, but separate from, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of U.S. human rights that is conducted by a separate U.N. organization, the Human Rights Council, as discussed in a prior post.