Cameroonian Soldiers Again Kill Unarmed People, Says Amnesty International

On August 10 Amnesty International released a video that purportedly shows Cameroonian soldiers executing unarmed people in the country’s Far North region sometime before May 2016.[1]

According  to the organization’s Ilaria Allegrozzi, “This shocking video shows armed men lining people up face down or sitting against a wall and shooting them with automatic weapons. A second round of shooting ensures no survivors. Here is yet more credible evidence to support the allegations that Cameroon’s armed forces have committed grave crimes against civilians, and we are calling for an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation. Those suspected to be responsible for these abhorrent acts must be brought to justice.”

Cameroon’s ambassador to the U.S., Henri Etoundi Essomba, told The Washington Post that he was unaware of the latest video, so he could not comment directly on it, but he said, “No one can condemn Cameroon on video without making sure that what [they are seeing] is supporting reality. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone in the sense that people are willing to portray the country in the darkest way possible.”

In Cameroon Tchiroma Bakary, a government spokesman, told Reuters that the latest video could be investigated, but that there is an ongoing “denigration” campaign attempting to tarnish President Paul Biya ahead of October elections. Biya, who has led the country since 1982, is running for reelection. “We are in an electoral period and it’s conducive to this kind of thing,” he told Reuters. “People want to discredit the army and president.”

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[1] Amnesty Int’l, CAMEROON: New Video Shows More Brutal Killings by Armed Forces (Aug. 10, 2018); O’Grady,  Video footage appears to show Cameroonian security forces executing unarmed people, Amnesty says, Wash. Post (Aug. 10, 2018); Kouaheu, Cameroon investigates video that shows security forces apparently executing civilians, Reuters (Aug. 10, 2018). Earlier reports of violence in Cameroon are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CAMEROON.

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).

U.N. Official’s Report About  U.S. Poverty Is Criticized by U.S. 

On June 22, Philip G. Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights,[1] presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland his final report criticizing certain U.S. poverty policies. It immediately was condemned by U.S.  Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley with a  prompt retort by Mr. Alston. We will examine these developments and then analyze this controversy.

Special Rapporteur’s Report on U.S.[2]

In his oral summary of the report, the Special Rapporteur made the following overall findings:

  • “[T]he combination of extreme inequality and extreme poverty generally create ideal conditions for small elites to trample on the human rights of minorities, and sometimes even of majorities. The [U.S.] has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 millions of those live in extreme poverty.  In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense.”
  • “In response, the Trump administration has pursued a welfare policy that consists primarily of (i) steadily diminishing the number of Americans with health insurance (‘Obamacare’); (ii) stigmatizing those receiving government benefits by arguing that most of them could and should work, despite evidence to the contrary; and (iii) adding ever more restrictive conditions to social safety net protections such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and cash transfers, each of which will push millions off existing benefits.”
  • “My report demonstrates that growing inequality, and widespread poverty which afflicts almost one child out of every five, has deeply negative implications for the enjoyment of civil and political rights by many millions of Americans. I document the ways in which democracy is being undermined, the poor and homeless are being criminalized for being poor, and the criminal justice system is being privatized in ways that work well for the rich but that seriously disadvantage the poor.  Underlying all of these developments is persistent and chronic racial bias.  That bias also helps to explain the abysmal situation in which the people of Puerto Rico find themselves.  It is the poorest non-state in the Union, without a vote in Congress, at the mercy of an unelected and omnipotent oversight board, and suffering from record poverty levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.”
  • In many cities and counties, “state and county taxes are capped; public budgets are slashed; governments are left without essential resources; they instruct their police departments to impose and collect more fines to fund the general budget; these fines fall overwhelmingly upon the poor; the victims cannot pay the fines and so additional penalties and fees accumulate; most scrimp and pay but some default and are imprisoned; when they are in prison their economic and family situations collapse; and when they emerge from prison they are even less unemployable because they have a conviction.”

Based upon these finding, the Special Rapporteur made these recommendations for the U.S.: (1) “acknowledge that America’s proudest achievement –a vibrant democracy – is in peril unless steps are taken to restore the fabric from which it was crafted, including the adage that ‘all are created equal.’” (2) “Stop irrationally demonizing taxation and begin exploring how reasonable taxes can dramatically increase the social well-being of Americans and the country’s economic competitiveness.” (3) Provide “universal healthcare [that] . . . would rescue millions from misery, save money on emergency care, increase employment, and generate a healthier and more productive workforce.”

Ambassador Haley’s Criticism of the Report[3]

 On June 21 (the day before the official release of the report), Ambassador Haley in a letter to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind., VT), said. “ I am deeply disappointed that the Special Rapporteur used his platform to make misleading and politically motivated statements about American domestic policy issues. Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities and poor use of funds proven to be rampant throughout the UN system. The report categorically misstated the progress the [U.S.] has made in addressing poverty and purposely used misleading facts and figures in its biased reporting.”

“It is patently ridiculous for the [U.N.] to examine poverty in America. In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”

“Rather than using his voice to shine a light on those vulnerable populations [in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo], and so many others, the Special Rapporteur wasted the UN’s time and resources, deflecting attention from the world’ s worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world.”

U.S. Mission to Geneva’s Criticism[4]

“The right to property, the right to pursue one’s own livelihood, and the right of free association are core economic and social rights by any reasonable definition, and have been core rights of the United States since its founding. The world knows that the U.S. economy is the largest, the most influential, and the most innovative on the planet.”

“Indeed, the U.S. is entering a new era of economic growth and prosperity.  Strong gross domestic product growth and increasing investment have already created 3.4 million new jobs, brought 900,000 workers off the sidelines since the President took office, and lowered unemployment to its lowest point in nearly 50 years.  The administration is fighting for American jobs and American workers, and standing strong with those that are standing strong for a more prosperous American economy. Sadly, Mr. Alston’s report does not give due credit to current policies enacted by this administration to spur economic growth and the prosperity it brings for all Americans.”

“We note that U.S. federal, state, and local governments guarantee emergency health care, a right to equal access to education, pursue policies that promote access to food, and support the need to promote, protect, and respect human rights in carrying out housing policies.  For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies support communities that establish centralized or coordinated assessment systems, emphasizing that coordinated entry processes to ensure all people experiencing a housing crisis in a community have fair and equal access and are connected to available housing and related assistance based on their strengths and needs.  Across the nation, local homelessness provider organizations under a consortium called “Continuums of Care” support persons in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs as well as those living unsheltered on the streets through grants providing critically needed support to local programs on the front lines of serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness.  In January of this year, the ‘Continuums of Care’ provided a record $2 billion to support more than 7,300 local homeless assistance programs across the nation.  There is also robust funding for programs such as Emergency Shelter Grants and other programs like Community Development Block Grants that can be used to assist homeless.  This U.S. administration stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners to support real housing solutions for those who may otherwise be living in our shelters or on our streets.”

“Furthermore, the [U.S.] has robust legal protections to prohibit discrimination in the enjoyment of rights that are provided by domestic law.  For example, in the area of housing, HUD actively monitors and enforces laws prohibiting discrimination.  In 2016, HUD, along with its state and local partners, investigated more than 8,300 housing discrimination complaints and obtained over $25.2 million in compensation; through its Fair Housing Assistance Program, HUD paid state and local government partners more than $24.6 million to support local enforcement activities and outreach activities.  That same year, HUD also awarded through its Fair Housing Initiatives Program $38 million in grants to 155 organizations for private enforcement to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices and for educational initiatives to inform individuals of their rights and responsibilities.”

“It is regrettable that the Special Rapporteur, while acknowledging that the political status of Puerto Rico is beyond his mandate, nevertheless chose to opine on the matte. Puerto Rico is a self-governing territory of the United States that achieved self-determination in 1952. In successive referenda, the residents of Puerto Rico have made the democratic choice to maintain the island’s current status or to pursue statehood, with a very small fraction opting for independence. Like the states of our federal system, the vast majority of Puerto Rico’s affairs are governed by a popularly elected governor and legislature, and disputes are settled by Puerto Rico’s independent judiciary.  It is baseless to argue, as the Special Rapporteur does, that Puerto Rico “is no longer a self-governing territory” when in fact its residents enjoy and exercise extensive democratic rights.  Furthermore, the U.S. administration is awarding over $18 billion in disaster recovery and mitigation funds to Puerto Rico, through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program.”

“Accusations that the [U.S.] shows ‘contempt and hatred’ for the poor, including accusations of a criminal justice system designed to keep low income persons in poverty while generating public revenue, are inaccurate, inflammatory, and irresponsible.  The U.S. funds large public assistance programs designed to help low-income Americans, including $565.5 billion for Medicaid, $63 billion for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and $42.5 billion for housing assistance programs.  In fact, more than $1 trillion dollars in means-tested benefits are provided to the poor annually by federal and state governments.  Based on some measures of consumption, poverty is down by 77 percent since 1980.  Recent studies using the Consumer Expenditure Survey suggest that only 175 of 222,170 surveyed American households reported spending less than an extreme poverty threshold figure of $4.00 a day, which implies that there are only approximately 250,000 persons in “extreme poverty” circumstances, rather than the exaggerated figure cited by the Special Rapporteur.  Regardless, any number of Americans with this severe level of economic difficulties should not be ignored, and a stronger focus of the Special Rapporteur on the problems and remedies for this population would have been welcome.”

Special Rapporteur’s Response[5]

“The suggestion that this Council should only consist of rights-respecting States was made long ago by the US and others, but abandoned because there are no workable criteria to determine who should qualify under such a test, and because a body composed only of self-appointed good guys would not only be tiny but would be talking unproductively among themselves.  Human rights promotion requires robust engagement, not behaving like the kid who takes his football and goes home.”

“Ambassador Haley complained that the Council has done nothing about countries like Venezuela.  In fact I and several other special rapporteurs reported earlier this year that ‘vast numbers of Venezuelans are starving, deprived of essential medicines, and trying to survive in a situation that is spiraling downwards with no end in sight.’  We warned of ‘an unfolding tragedy of immense proportions.’”

Moreover, “this Council has published many report detailing the situations in [Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo].” And “when [the U.S.,] one of the world’s wealthiest countries, does very little about the fact that 40 millions of its citizens live in poverty, it is entirely appropriate for the reasons to be scrutinized.”

“If this Council stands for anything, it is the principle of accountability – the preparedness of States to respond in constructive and meaningful ways to allegations that they have not honored their human rights commitments. The United States position, expressed by Ambassador Haley, [erroneously] seems to be that this Council should do far more to hold certain states to account, but that it should exempt the [U.S.] and its key allies from such accountability.”

“Ambassador Haley called my report ‘misleading and politically motivated.’ She didn’t spell out what was misleading but other stories from the same media outlet emphasized two issues.”

“The first is that my report uses official data from 2016, before President Trump came to office.  That is true, for the simple reason that there will be no Census Bureau data on the Trump era until September this year.  But these data provide the best available official baseline, and my report then factors in the effects of the combination of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and systematic slashing of benefits for the less well-off.”

“The second criticism . . . is that the US ‘economy continues to roar to life under President Trump.’ Indeed, the US economy is currently booming, but the question is who is benefiting. Last week’s official statistics show that hourly wages for workers in “production and nonsupervisory” positions, who make up 80% of the private workforce, actually fell in 2017.  Expanding employment has created many jobs with no security, no health care, and often with below-subsistence wages.  The benefits of economic growth are going overwhelmingly to the wealthy. Average pre-tax national income per adult in the US has stagnated at $16,000 since 1980 for the bottom 50% of the income distribution, while it has really boomed for the top 1%, a trajectory that has been quite different from that in most European countries. Even the IMF has warned that in the US “prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy”. In other words, the American dream of mobility, is turning into the American illusion, in which the rich get ever richer, and the middle classes don’t move.”

U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council[6]

 As reported in a prior post, on June 19, the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, and on June 22, a spokesman for Ambassador Haley said that the Alston report had nothing to do with that decision. However, when Alston arrived in the U.S. last year, as noted above, he recently said, “A senior official said . . .my report could be a factor in whether the U.S. decided or not to stay in the council. I think I was being sent a message.”

Conclusion

There are many reasons why Ambassador Haley’s criticism of this report is unwarranted. Here are some.

First, the U.S. in June 2017 apparently joined other Council members in approving the resolution extending the mandate for the Special Rapporteur to, among other things, “(a) Further examine the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights and extreme poverty; [and] (b) Identify alternative approaches to the removal of all obstacles, including institutional ones, at the regional, national and international, public, corporate and societal levels, to the full enjoyment of human rights for all people living in extreme poverty.” That resolution also called “upon all Governments to cooperate with and assist the independent expert in his or her task, to supply all necessary information requested by him or her and to give serious consideration to responding favorably to the requests of the independent expert to visit their countries, to enable him or her to fulfil his or her mandate effectively.”[7]

Second, the U.S. invited the Special Rapporteur to visit the U.S., initially by the Obama Administration and then by the Trump Administration on June 8, 2017, at a Human Rights Council meeting.

Third, on November 29, 2017, a Human Rights Council Press Release announced that the Special Rapporteur would be visiting the U.S. in December 2017 with a detailed itinerary “to examine government efforts to eradicate poverty in the country, and how they relate to US obligations under international human rights law.” Mr. Alston said, “Some might ask why a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States. But despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality.”[8]

Fourth, on December 15, 2017, at the conclusion of his visit to the U.S., the Special Rapporteur released a statement on his visit with the following comments that later turned out to be a preview of the final report the following June:[9]

  • The U.S. is harnessing “neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology . . . to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.
  • He provided some details on both the negative and positive things he had witnessed as well as statistical comparisons of the U.S. with other countries. “American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations.  But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.  As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”
  • The then “proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world, and will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 50% of Americans.  The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by the President and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes.”
  • The “indispensable ingredients for a set of policies designed to eliminate poverty. . . include: democratic decision-making, full employment policies, social protection for the vulnerable, a fair and effective justice system, gender and racial equality and respect for human dignity, responsible fiscal policies, and environmental justice. Currently, the United States falls far short on each of these issues” while providing further details.

Fifth, the Special Rapporteur, as of June 2018, has visited or plans to visit or has made comments about other wealthy countries (United Kingdom, and Japan), developing countries (China and Brazil)  and poorer countries (Ghana and Venezuela). [10]

Sixth, the Special Rapporteur correctly observes that human rights obligations are imposed on every country, regardless of its wealth.

Finally, recall that Ambassador Haley first criticized human rights groups for their failure to support U.S. efforts to reform the Human Rights Council as a contributing cause for the U.S. withdrawal from the Council.

The short response to the Ambassador is Shakespeare’s line in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

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[1] Alston is an Australian citizen and John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University and Director of NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Here is the website for the Special Rapporteur.

[2] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Oral Statement by Mr. Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (June 22, 2018); Assoc. Press, UN Expert Slams US on Poverty, Quitting Global Rights Body, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2018).

[3]  Haley, Letter to Sen. Sanders (June 21, 2018); Stein, Nikki Haley: ‘It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in the United States, Wash. Post (June 22, 2018).

[4] U.S. Mission to Geneva, Country Concerned Statement in Response to SR Alston’s report on the United States (June 22, 2018).

[5] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Oral Statement by Mr. Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (June 22, 2018).

[6] Stein, ‘I think I was being sent a message’: U.S. warned U.N. official about report on poverty in America, Wash. Post (June 22, 2018).

[7]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, HRC/RES/35/19 Human rights and extreme poverty (June 22, 2017); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, HRC/RES/8/11, Human rights and extreme poverty (June 18, 2008).

[8] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press release, UN expert on extreme poverty and human rights  to visit USA, one of the wealthiest countries in the world (Nov. 29, 2017).

[9] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Statement on Visit to the USA, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights* (Dec. 15, 2017); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Special Rapporteur, Press Conference, Washington, D.C. (Dec. 15, 2017).

[10] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Venezuela: Dire living conditions worsening by the day, UN human rights experts warn (Feb. 9, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, China: UN experts concerned about health of jailed rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (Mar. 23, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Brazil: UN experts alarmed by killing of Rio human rights defender who decried military intervention (Mar. 26, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Japan: Benefit cuts threaten social protection of the poor, UN rights experts warn (May 24, 2018); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Press Release, Ghana’s main economic initiatives will do little to reduce poverty, warns UN expert (June 20, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Asks Cuba To Release Two “Prisoners of Conscience” 

On June 26, the U.S. asked Cuba to release two men whom Amnesty International has called “prisoners of conscience.”[1]

According to the U.S. State Department, Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción “is serving a three-year sentence for allegedly criticizing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In May, Cuban authorities told his family they would not be allowed to visit him in jail for six months as punishment for his family’s efforts to raise awareness of his case internationally.”

The other man, Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, last month was “sentenced to a year in prison for allegedly disrespecting government authority. Cuban government officials have harassed Dr. Ruiz Urquiola for years for speaking out on environmental issues. We are deeply troubled by reports that he is currently on a hunger strike and in a critical medical condition.”

These two men “are just two examples of how the Cuban government continues to silence the peaceful opposition of its own citizens.” Therefore, the U.S. calls “on the Government of Cuba to release all political prisoners immediately and to stop its arbitrary detention of Cuban activists and independent thinkers who criticize their government through peaceful means. We also call on the Cuban government to cease reprisals against the family members of these activists.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: Release of Political Prisoners (June 26, 2018); Reuters, United States Urges Cuba to Release Two ‘Prisoners of Conscience,’ N.Y. Times (June 26, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Environmental Activist Imprisoned: Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola (June 12, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Demand Release of Human Rights Defender: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Jan. 31, 2017); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba:Further Information: Defender sentenced after criticizing Castro: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Mar. 27, 2017); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Further Information: Human Rights Defender’s Sentence Upheld: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (May 25, 2017); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Further Information: Prisoner of Conscience Attacked in Prison: Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Jan. 22, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cuba: Family of Prisoner of Conscience Denied Visits (June 7, 2018).

Controversy Over U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council 

As discussed in prior posts, on June 19 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from its membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1] That decision has prompted controversy.

Ambassador Haley’s Letter to NGOs

The first controversy was created by a June 20 letter from U.S. Ambassador Haley to 18 human rights organizations accusing them of contributing to the U.S. decision to leave the Council. Her reason for this startling assertion was their opposing her failed effort last month for a General Assembly vote on U.S.-proposed changes to the Council and thereby putting themselves “on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue.”[2]

One of the letter’s recipients, Human Rights Watch (HRW), by its director for the UN, Louis Charbonneau, agreed that HRW had opposed the Ambassador’s efforts on this issue, but did so because it feared her proposed changes could have led to amendments from Russia, China and other nations to weaken the Council. “The risk was that it would have opened a Pandora’s box of even worse problems. The idea that human rights groups were trying to undermine genuine attempts to reform the council, or that we were working with countries like Russia, is outrageous and ridiculous.”

Another recipient of the letter, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, through its head Andrew Copson, stated that earlier this June it and 14 other advocacy groups had sent a letter expressing concern over efforts by the U.S. “to reduce the role for civil society organizations through a process of ‘efficiency savings.” This organization, therefore, was ‘appalled to receive “this bizarre rant” from the Ambassador that “betrays a deep and profound ignorance of the work of the IHEU, and humanists around the world, to suggest that we would support the autocratic regimes of China and Russia. Much of our work at the UN is in exposing and opposing those states’ human rights abuses.”

Reactions from Other Governments

The second controversy came from the U.N. Secretary General and from diplomats in Geneva.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the United States to rethink its decision to pull out of the world’s top human rights body and said that he “would much prefer for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council.” He added: “I do believe that the human rights architecture is a key tool at the present moment in order to promote and to protect human rights around the world.”

Meanwhile at the Council in Geneva, “critics and friends alike read the latest Trump move to snub yet another international institution as a sign that U.S. was jettisoning its reputation as a key defender of human rights and self-inflicting a blow to its international image.”[3]

Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador in Geneva, told the Council. “We have lost a member who has been at the forefront of liberty for generations. While we agree with the U.S. on the need for reform, our support for this Human Rights Council remains steadfast.”

Even Russia  and China criticized the U.S. exit. In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized what was described as Washington’s “boorish cynicism in stubbornly refusing to recognize its own human rights problems while trying to tailor the council to its political interests.” In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the Council is “an important platform” for countries to discuss human rights and that Beijing has been committed to supporting the group’s work.

About the only country to support the U.S. resignation was Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. decision “courageous “and an “unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

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[1] U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 20, 2018); Washington Post Opposes U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2018).

[2] Harris, Haley Blames Watchdog Groups for U.S. Withdrawal From U.N. Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Washington accuses several NGOs of contributing to its departure from the Human Rights Council, Diario de Cuba (June 21, 2018); McLeiland, Humanists shocked to receive ‘bizarre rant’ from United States, IHEWU (June 21, 2018).

[3]  Assoc. Press, Allies Disappointed by ‘Big Bang’ of US Walkout from UN Body, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Assoc. Press, UN, Russia Call on US to Rethink Human Rights Council Move, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018); Human Rts. Watch, UN: US Retreat  from Rights Body Self-defeating (June 19, 2018).

U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council 

On June 19 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. had “withdrawn” from its membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1] The Council’s current President, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia) immediately responded to this news.

Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks

“The Trump administration is committed to protecting and promoting the God-given dignity and freedom of every human being. Every individual has rights that are inherent and inviolable. They are given by God, and not by government. Because of that, no government must take them away.”

“For decades, the United States has led global efforts to promote human rights, often through multilateral institutions. While we have seen improvements in certain human rights situations, for far too long we have waited while that progress comes too slowly or in some cases never comes. Too many commitments have gone unfulfilled.”

“President Trump .. . has called out institutions or countries who say one thing and do another. And that’s precisely the problem at the . . . Council. As President Trump said at the UN General Assembly: “It is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the . . . Council.” In short, the Council now “is a poor defender of human rights.”

It “has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy – with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.” Those members include “authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba, and Venezuela.” In addition, the Council’s “bias against Israel is unconscionable. Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined.”

Moreover, the U.S. “will not take lectures form hypocritical bodies and institution as Americans selflessly give their blood and treasure to help the defenseless.”

 Ambassador Haley’s Remarks

The Ambassador recalled her speech to the Council in June 2017 that “declared our intent to remain a part of the . . . Council if essential reforms were achieved.. . . to make the council a serious advocate for human rights.”[2]

She then provided details on how the U.S. since then unsuccessfully has endeavored to obtain such reforms. Therefore, the U.S. “is officially withdrawing from the . . . Council.”

The details of the failure of reform included: (a) the U.N. General Assembly last Fall electing as a Council member the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which “is widely known to have one of the worst human rights records in the world;” (b) the Council would not hold “a meeting on the human rights conditions in Venezuela” because it is a Council member; (c) early this year the Council passed five resolutions against Israel; (d) the U.S. effort to reform the Council was blocked by “unfree countries,” including “Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt;” and (e) “many members that share U.S. values “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”

In contrast, she said, under U.S. leadership the U.N. Security Council this past 12 months held its “first ever . . . session dedicated to the connection between human rights and peace and security” and another session on “Iranian human rights.” In addition, last year the U.S. organized “an event on Venezuela outside the Human Rights Council chambers in Geneva.” And the Ambassador herself has traveled “to UN refugee and internally displaced persons camps in Ethiopia, Congo, Turkey, and Jordan, and met with the victims of atrocities in those troubled regions.”

Council President Šuc’s Statement[3]

“While I recognize it is the prerogative of any member State to take such a decision [to withdraw], I wish to acknowledge that the United States has been a very active participant at the Council having engaged constructively on numerous issues aimed at improving the lives of rights holders around the globe, including the many issues which we are addressing in our current session. The Human Rights Council always stands to benefit from constructive engagement of its member States.”

“In times when the value and strength of multilateralism and human rights are being challenged on a daily basis, it is essential that we uphold a strong and vibrant Council recognizing it as a central part of the United Nations for the 21st century.”

“Over the past 12 years, the . . . Council has tackled numerous human rights situations and issues keeping them in sharp focus.  In many senses, the Council serves as an early warning system by sounding the alarm bells ahead of impending or worsening crises.  Its actions lead to meaningful results for the countless human rights victims worldwide, those the Council serves.”

“The . . . Council is the only intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide, with the active participation of civil society.  It provides a unique setting to hear a wide range of views, including those which other organizations are unable or unwilling to discuss.”

Conclusion

I disagree with the U.S. decision to withdraw from its membership on the Council for several reasons.

First, the Human Rights Council does not have the power to order any Council member or any other U.N. member to do anything. Instead it is “responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and [making] recommendations on them. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention.” In short, it is a forum for discussion or debate on these issues, and the U.S. has an important voice to raise on these issues.

Second, there are 47 Council members, and although the U.S. correctly points out that some members have horrible human rights records, there is no claim that such countries constitute a majority of the Council. Moreover, no country in the world has a perfect record on these issues, including the U.S.

Third, all Council members, including the bad actors, are subject to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every five years. A mere summary of the latest UPRs for the countries mentioned by Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Haley shows that each of them received many recommendations for improving their human rights records, thereby negating or diminishing the notion advanced by these two U.S. officials that those with poor records escape censure by the Council.[4]

Fourth, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has the authority and responsibility to provide the Council with his or her assessment of human rights concerns in the world. The current High Commission did just that on June 18 (the day before the previously mentioned U.S. decision to withdraw from the Council).[5] In so doing he had critical comments about  seven of the nine countries identified by Pompeo and Haley as having bad human rights records (China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela).

Fifth, the High Commissioner had these critical fact-based criticisms of    Israel and the U.S., which both countries should be willing and able to evaluate on their merits:

  • “Israel continues to deny access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. This has been the case for three successive holders of the mandate. Access has also been denied to all of the Council’s previous Commissions of Inquiry, including on Gaza in 2014. I believe the Council’s advocacy of impartial monitoring and expert recommendations is entirely justified by the gravity of the situation, and I urge Israel to provide access to all human rights mechanisms – including the investigative body mandated last month – to enable impartial monitoring and advance accountability and justice.” (Emphasis in original.)
  • “In the United States, I am deeply concerned by recently adopted policies which punish children for their parents’ actions. In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly separated from their parents. The American Association of Pediatrics has called this cruel practice ‘government-sanctioned child abuse’ which may cause ‘irreparable harm,’ with ‘lifelong consequences’. The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable. I call on the [U.S.] to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children, and I encourage the Government to at last ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in order to ensure that the fundamental rights of all children, whatever their administrative status, will be at the center of all domestic laws and policies.” (Emphasis in original.) [6]

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[1]  U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council (June 19, 2018). The Council is made up of 47 U.N. Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The Council’s Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The U.S. is in its second consecutive term ending  January 1, 2019.

[2] Haley, Remarks at the United Nations Human Rights Council (June 6, 2017); Haley, Remarks at the Graduate Institute of Geneva on “A Place for Conscience: the Future of the United States in the Human Rights Council” (June 6, 2017).

[3] Human Rts. Council, Press Statement by the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia) (June 19, 2018)

[4] Human Rights Council: Report of the Working Group on the UPR-China (252 paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 4, 2013);Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Cuba (292 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 8, 2013); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Democratic Republic of Congo (229 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 7, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Ethiopia (252 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 7, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Iran (291 paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 22, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Jordan (173 paragraphs of recommendations) (Jan. 6, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Russian Federation (231 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 8, 2013);Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Turkey (278  paragraphs of recommendations) (April 13, 2015); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Venezuela (274  paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 27, 2016).

[5]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Opening statement and global update of human rights concerns by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Hussein at 38th session of the Human Rights Council (June 18, 2018).

[6] After a firestorm of criticism by the public and politicians from both major political parties, President Trump on June 20 signed an executive order ending the policy of separating immigrant children from their immigrant parents. (Haberman & Shear, Trump Signs Executive Order to Keep Families Together, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018).)

 

 

Amnesty International’s Report About Cameroon’s Conflict 

Cameroon’s current struggle between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones is the subject of a June 12 Amnesty International (AI) report.[1]

Recent History of Conflict

This report says the “unrest began in October 2016 when “lawyers and teachers in English-speaking cities went on strike in protest at having to use French in schools and courtrooms. In the ensuing clashes, six protesters were killed and hundreds arrested, some of whom were put on trial for charges carrying long sentences or the death penalty.”

English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the northwest and southwest then began calling for reforms and greater autonomy, criticizing what they called “the marginalization of the Anglophone population by French speakers.” In response, the government started a “crackdown, including arrests and an internet shutdown. . . . English-language separatists then picked up the momentum, calling for an independent state.”

The separatists then “burned down schools and killed at least 44 members of security forces in the past year. . . . They have vowed to paralyze the country until their leader Ayuk Tabe, who declared himself the president of the English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia, is released. He was arrested in December [2017] with 48 others in neighboring Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon.”

The government forces then “responded with arbitrary arrests and unlawful killings.” According to AI’s investigation, people “were blindfolded, gagged and beaten with shovels, hammers, planks and cables.” Samira Daoud, AI’s deputy director for West and Central Africa, said, “Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians.”

On October 1, 2017—the anniversary of Anglophone region’s independence from Britain–thousands took to the streets to demand a breakaway state. The military stepped in. Witnesses said troops opened fire from attack helicopters; the military denied this. [As a result,] “thousands of Anglophones fled the ensuing crackdown, which Cameroon authorities said was necessary to restore peace and curb banditry. They described it as an anti-terrorist operation.”

A month later, separatists launched the first guerrilla attacks on security forces, killing four over a few days.

This February witnesses say the government forces used “scorched earth tactics such as burning down villages then opening fire on fleeing residents. Then late last month the conflict’s bloodiest incident happened  when government security forces “surrounded and killed more than two dozen suspected separatists in the town of Menka, in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.”

France and Britain, which governed the country under League of Nations mandates after World War I until 1960 have tried to stay out of this conflict. France has condemned separatist violence and urged dialogue while Britain has “encouraged the parties to reject violence.”

Based upon this investigation and report, AI made the following recommendations to the Cameroonian authorities:

Ensuring accountability

  • Conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations detailed in this report;
  • Ensure that those identified as responsible for any human rights violations are promptly and fairly prosecuted in accordance with international fair-trial standards;
  • Take all legal measures to ensure accountability for crimes committed by the armed separatists.

Preventing arbitrary arrest and detention

  • Ensure that arrests and detentions are conducted in compliance with international human rights standards and domestic law, and that all security forces are trained on and understand these norms;
  • Ensure that there are sufficient, recognizable and precise grounds for arrest and that evidence is appropriately gathered. A suspect must only be arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that he or she may have committed a crime. If there are insufficient grounds for arrest, the person must be immediately released;
  • Ensure that detainees are promptly brought before an independent civilian court that upholds international fair-trial standards, are informed of the charges against them, and have knowledge of and access to legal procedures allowing them to challenge the legality of their detention.

Preventing incommunicado detention, torture and death in custody

  • Ensure that all detained suspects are treated in accordance with international human rights standards, which includes access to a lawyer of their choice, family, medical assistance, to be held in a legal detention facility, in humane conditions free from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and torture;
  • Publicly order the security forces to end the practice of detaining and interrogating people in unofficial detention sites;
  • Ensure that confessions or other evidence obtained through torture will never be invoked in legal proceedings;
  • Grant independent international monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), unhindered access to all persons deprived of their liberty and allow them to carry out unannounced inspections of all detention facilities to investigate and monitor conditions;
  • Improve conditions in detention facilities and preserve prisoners’ physical and psychological integrity by providing all detainees with professional medical care, adequate food, water, lighting, and ventilation, in accordance with international standards.

Avoiding excessive and unnecessary use of force

  • Ensure that security forces abide by international policing standards, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, when responding to protests, and in particular restricting the use of firearms to situations of imminent threat of death or serious injury, or the equivalent;
  • Issue clear orders to the military, the gendarmes and the police commanders to immediately cease the use of excessive force in the context of cordon, search-and-arrest operations, as well as during public demonstrations;
  • Respect and protect the right of all persons to peacefully assemble and to associate with others.

Providing effective remedies to victims

  • Ensure that all victims of human rights violations and abuses are granted reparation including measures of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

Promoting dialogue

  • Restore the confidence between state representatives and the Anglophone communities by initiating an inclusive dialogue and consult with Anglophone population to address their concerns;
  • Address deeply-entrenched human rights violations, such as marginalization and exclusion, to prevent the escalation of the crisis and the resurgence of other social conflicts that often generate violence.

Conclusion

For members of the Cameroonian diaspora and for U.S. citizens, please let your elected representatives know of your concern for the welfare of the Cameroonian Anglophones. Support our brothers and sisters in that great country! I also invite comments with other ideas for engaging in this struggle from the U.S.

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[1] Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: Anglophone Regions Gripped by Deadly Violence (June 11, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: A Turn for the Worse (June 11, 2018); Assoc. Press, Civilians Caught in Cameroon’s  Deadly Unrest Over Language, N.Y. Times (June 12, 2018); Reuters, Explainer: Anglophone Cameroon’s Separatist Conflict Gets Bloodier, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2018).