Minnesota Welcomes New U.S. Citizens  

The ultimate step in the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen that was discussed in a prior post is taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This is usually done in a collective ceremony.

Such a ceremony was held on May 26, 2015, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota when it welcomed 453 new U.S. citizens from the following regions of the world: Africa, 167; Asia, 160; Latin America, 56; Europe 43; Middle East, 20; and Other, 7. Of the 76 foreign countries represented, the largest numbers came from Somalia, 42; Ethiopia, 34; Liberia, 26; Burma (Myanmar), 24; Thailand, 23; Nigeria, 23; and Mexico, 22.

After everyone sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” an officer of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services collectively presented the new citizens to the court, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey J. Keyes administered the following Oath of Allegiance to the new citizens:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Judge Keyes then congratulated them. He said he saw the U.S. as a fabric or quilt of diverse elements that combined to create a beautiful whole that continuously is regenerated with new citizens. He urged the new citizens never to forget the poetry, the culture, the land and the ancestors of their homelands.

On a personal note, Keyes said his ancestors came from Ireland 150 years ago, and he was confident that they never imagined that someday an Irishman could become President of the United States. Yet in 1960 John F. Kennedy of Irish heritage was elected to that office. So too many people in this country could not have imagined that a black man could also be so elected, and yet Barack Obama was the victor in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.

With citizenship came many rights and responsibilities under our Bill of Rights, Keyes continued. There was freedom of speech and the responsibility to listen and understand the opinions of others. There was no established religion and the freedom to have or not have your own religious beliefs and the responsibility to understand and accept others’ religious beliefs. Another right was the freedom of assembly and the responsibility to engage in the political arena and to vote.

Other words of welcome were made in a videotape presentation by President Obama. One of his messages was in American no dream is impossible.

The ceremony concluded with everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

One of the largest single naturalization ceremonies in Minnesota was on September 6, 2012, when 1,509 individuals from 100 countries became U.S. citizens; the largest numbers of these came from Somalia (344), Ethiopia (141), Laos (101), Liberia (95) and Mexico (84).

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Times Commends Cuba for Fighting Ebola in West Africa and Again Urges U.S.-Cuba Normalization

In an October 19th editorial, titled “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola,” the New York Times applauds Cuba for “having pledged to deploy hundreds of medical professionals to the front lines of the pandemic,” for already having 165 medical professionals on the ground in West Africa and for standing “to play the most robust role among nations seeking to contain the virus.” Cuba, therefore, “should be lauded and emulated.”

In contrast, says the Times, the U.S. and several other wealthy countries only have pledged funds to fight the disease. “It is a shame that Washington, the chief donor in the fight against Ebola, is diplomatically estranged from Havana, the boldest contributor” and that “American and Cuban officials are not equipped to coordinate global efforts at a high level.”

This most unfortunate situation “should serve as an urgent reminder to the Obama administration that the benefits of moving swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba far outweigh the drawbacks” as was argued in a prior Times editorial and emphasized in a recent post to this blog.

Under these circumstances, the U.S. should be ready, willing and able (a) to treat and transport any Cuban health workers in Africa who become infected; (b) to “commit to giving any sick Cuban access to the treatment center the Pentagon built in Monrovia [Liberia] and to assisting with evacuation.” The Obama Administration, however, has “callously declined to say what, if any, support they would give [the Cubans].”[1]

The Times also notes that Fidel Castro in an October 19th essay in the Cuban newspaper, Granma, said that Cuba “will gladly cooperate with U.S. personnel in this task [of combatting Ebola], not in search of peace between these two states which have been adversaries for so many years, but rather, in any event, for World Peace, and objective which can and should be attempted.” According to the Times, “[Fidel’s] absolutely right.” [2] His essay also commented on Cuba’s hosting on October 20th the Extraordinary Summit of the ALBA-TCP on Ebola as discussed in another article in Granma.

[1] The failure of the Obama Administration to embrace Cuba’s heroic contributions to the fight against Ebola unfortunately is consistent with the Administration’s pathetic pseudo-rebuttal of the many arguments for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations as discussed in a prior post.

[2] In an another recent essay Castro impliedly endorsed the New York Times editorial calling for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations while he quoted virtually all of the editorial itself without any disagreement (with one exception), even to the editorial’s criticism of the Cuban economy and its treatment of dissidents. See also Londoño, Still Pondering U.S.-Cuba Relations, Fidel Castro Responds, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2014).

Further Reflections on “The Book of Negroes” Novel

A prior post summarized Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes while another post provided a brief look at the relevant historical background of the novel–the fate of the Black British Loyalists in the American colonies during and after the American Revolutionary War.

Lawrence Hill
Lawrence Hill

Now we examine Hill’s own reflections about his novel and how his biography has influenced this novel and his other books. [1]

He first heard about the historical Book of Negroes in 1980 when he read The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, a scholarly book by Canadian historian James W. St. G. Walker.

Hill immediately knew from reading the Walker book that one day he would write the fictional story of a woman who had to have her name entered into the Book of Negroes.  But it took at least 15 years before he felt he was ready to tackle such a large project. In 2002 when he began to research and write the novel, he examined for the first time reproductions of the actual Book of Negroes. Another topic of his research was the activities of the British abolitionists. The size of this project is indicated by the five years it took to research and write the novel.

His greatest surprise from his research was discovering that among the Black Loyalists who left Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone in 1792 were some who had been born in Africa and thus were returning home. This back-to-Africa exodus took place 30 years before American slaves went to Africa to found Liberia and more than a century before Jamaican Marcus Garvey urged blacks in the Diaspora to return to the motherland.

From the moment of his conception of the novel, Hill said, it was a woman’s story. As a writer, he locates stories in the lives of the people who have the most to lose, and Aminata as a mother had the most to lose.

A constant question for him in all of his writing, he said, was how does someone survive horrible events in life. Every book or story requires an overarching theme, which for him is what does the main protagonist want. For Aminata in The Book of Negroes it is “I want to go home to Africa.”

Lawrence Hill’s parents — a black father and a white mother —were U.S. citizens who emigrated  to Canada the day after they married in 1953 in Washington, D.C.in order to escape racial discrimination and anti-miscegenation laws. Both of them were involved in the human rights movement, an influence Hill readily acknowledges.

Born in Canada in 1957, Hill was raised in a predominantly white Toronto suburb. He has a B.A. in economics from Laval University in Quebec City and an M.S. in writing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Although Hill always wanted to be a creative writer, he immediately recognized that he needed to have some kind of gainful employment to support himself financially as he was starting his writing career. These sidelines, he acknowledges, helped his creative writing.

He spent three years as a journalist with Toronto’s The Globe and Mail and The Winnipeg Free Press and learned how to write quickly on short deadlines and to recognize that his words could be changed by editors. He then spent a year in Spain writing short stories, but realized that his quickly written letters from Spain to friends were more lively and better written. For the next 15 years he was a free-lance speech writer for Canadian politicians and in the process learned how to write for different voices.

Hill’s international travels have also influenced his writing, especially his volunteer trips to West Africa. While in Mali, for example, he met a midwife by the name of “Aminata,” which he used as the name of the main character in The Book of Negroes.

Now Hill is an accomplished and recognized author. In addition to The Book of Negroes, he has published two other novels, a memoir, three other non-fiction books and the script for a film.

He is a member of the Council of Patrons of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society. Hill has received the Diamond Jubilee Medal from Queen Elizabeth II, the Medal of Distinction from Huron University College, the Freedom To Read Award from the Writers Union of Canada, the Award of Excellence from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the Rev. John C. Holland Award of Merit from the Hamilton Black History Committee. Hill also holds honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

This coming fall Hill will be Canada’s Massey Lecturer and has said the lecture’s theme will be “how beliefs, traditions, rituals, phobias, and obsessions about blood influence how we see ourselves individually and societally.”

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[1] This post is based primarily upon materials on Hill’s own website and his recent remarks at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference.

Reactions to Charles Taylor’s Conviction

Special Court for Sierra Leone Logo

As reported in a prior post, on April 26th the Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Charles Taylor, the former President of neighboring Liberia of 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The hearing on his sentencing has been scheduled for May 16th with the sentence to be pronounced on May 30th. The deadline for any appeal is 14 days after the sentencing judgment.

Before we look at the reactions to that conviction, we should be aware of the gruesome details of what happened in Sierra Leone according to witnesses at Taylor’s trial. Here are only two examples. One male witness, “Then I put this other hand. Then he [a Sierra Leone rebel] chopped it, but when he chopped it it was not severed initially. He chopped it twice, and it hit here and some bones were broken in it. Then the third time it was severed.” Another male witness, “Well, they [the rebels] used to treat them [civilians] badly. They used to rape them. They used to kill them. Sometimes they even ate them.” A video with photos of some of the Sierra Leone victims should be watched as well as current photos from the country.

Another aspect of the trial needs highlighting. One of the challenges facing the prosecution was how to link Mr. Taylor in Liberia to the crimes committed in Sierra Leone. There was no paper trail showing orders from Taylor. Nor was there any evidence of his ever going to Sierra Leone. He was not at the scene of the crimes in that country, and the Liberian army was not involved. Instead the link was proven by radio and telephone communications from Taylor to the rebels in Sierra Leone, by shipments of arms and ammunition to the rebels from Taylor’s forces and by bank records showing transfers of funds to Taylor’s accounts from Sierra Leone.

The Special Court’s chief prosecutor, Brenda J. Hollis, who is a U.S. lawyer, said the conviction was a triumph for the idea that political leaders should be held accountable  for their deeds in “the new reality of an international justice system.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the conviction “marked a major milestone in the development of international justice. . . .  A former President, who once wielded immense influence in a neighbouring [sic] country where tens of thousands of people were killed, mutilated, raped, robbed and repeatedly displaced for years on end, has been arrested, tried in a fair and thorough international procedure, and has now been convicted of very serious crimes.” Such a result, she said, was “a stark warning to other Heads of State who are committing similar crimes, or contemplating doing so.”

The U.S. Department of State issued an official statement welcoming the conviction as “an important step toward delivering justice and accountability for victims, restoring peace and stability in the country and the region, and completing the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s mandate to prosecute those persons who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed in Sierra LeoneThe Taylor prosecution at the Special Court delivers a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable.” The U.S. statement also noted that the U.S. “has been a strong supporter and the leading donor of the Special Court  . . . since its inception. The successful completion of the Special Court’s work remains a top U.S. Government priority.”

Amnesty International (AI) asserted that the conviction sends “a clear message to leaders the world over that no-one is immune from justice.”  However, AI lamented that because of the limited jurisdiction and funding of the Special Court, “Thousands of persons suspected of criminal responsibility for incidences of unlawful killings, rape and sexual violence, mutilations and the use of children in Sierra Leone’s armed conflict have never been investigated, much less prosecuted.” In addition, AI emphasized that “only a limited number of Sierra Leone’s thousands of victims who bear the terrible scars of the conflict have received reparations, despite the [provisions for reparations in the Sierra Leone] Peace Accord and the clear recommendations [for reparations] by [Sierra Leone’s] Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” AI also reiterated its call for the repeal of the amnesty provision in the Peace Accord and [for Sierra Leone’s] enactment of legislation defining crimes against humanity and war crimes as crimes under Sierra Leone law.”

Human Rights Watch had a similar reaction. It said the conviction “sends a message to those in power that they can be held to account for grave crimes.”

A New York Times editorial said the conviction “is a historic victory for justice and accountability: the first time a former head of state has been convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Mr. Taylor . . . richly deserves this distinction.” The editorial also reminded us that “other leaders . . .  deserve the same fate” from the International Criminal Court in its prosecutions of the Ivory Coast’s brutal former president, Laurent Gbagbo, and Sudan’s current president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The Guardian newspaper from London commented that the conviction was “an important step in what can only be described as the faltering path of international justice.” It noted that even though there were dysfunctional justice systems in Russia and China, it is “a safe bet that no Russian [or Chinese] leader will ever appear before an international court of justice for war crimes . . . . The same is true of . . . US or British generals for war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Might, or a seat on the UN security council, still appears to be right. If the arm of international law is long, it is also selective. . . .  If impunity is to end, jurisdiction has to be universal.”

Taylor’s conviction was for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Sierra Leone. But the conviction reminded Liberians of the horrible similar crimes committed in their country by Taylor and his forces.

Charles Taylor (Rebel leader)
Charles Taylor, President of Liberia

An expert on Liberia stated that in “Liberia, Mr. Taylor fought a brutal campaign against West African peacekeepers and other armed factions. As many as 250,000 Liberians out of a prewar population of just over [3,000,000] lost their lives, while more than [1,000,000] others became refugees — crimes for which no one has yet been held accountable. An internationally brokered peace deal in 1997 led to the travesty of a frightened population’s electing Mr. Taylor president for fear of what would happen if he did not get his way. He was driven from power only in 2003.” Moreover, “many of his closest former associates remain at large and active in public life . . . . Mr. Taylor’s ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, who filed for divorce after his fall from power in part to protect her assets from international sanctions, is a member of the Liberian Senate. So is Prince Y. Johnson, a onetime Taylor ally who literally butchered President Samuel K. Doe at the start of the civil war and was so certain of his impunity that he had the entire episode videotaped for posterity. Far from becoming a pariah, Mr. Johnson played kingmaker in Liberia’s presidential election last year, delivering the bloc of votes that assured President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf a second term.”

The previously mentioned New York Times editorial said that Taylor now “must also be held accountable for his role in Liberia’s 14-year civil war. Liberia needs to enact the legislation to bring him, and the other murderous warlords from that era, to trial either in Liberian or international courts.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also remembered that Taylor and his forces had committed grave crimes in his native Liberia, but had not been subject to any criminal prosecutions for those crimes. Said AI, “during “the 14-year Liberian civil war that raged while Taylor was first the leader of one of the numerous armed opposition groups and later the President, all parties to the conflict committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murders along ethnic lines, as well as torture, rapes and other crimes of sexual violence, abductions, and recruitment and use child soldiers.” After the end of the civil war, AI said the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation commission had recommended “that a criminal tribunal be established to prosecute people identified as responsible for crimes under international law [but that it] is yet to be implemented, as are most TRC recommendations on legal and other institutional reforms, accountability, and reparations.  The lack of justice for the victims of the Liberian conflict is shocking. The government of Liberia must end the reign of impunity by enacting the necessary legislation and acting on its duty to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators.”

Finally, two African observers commented that justice having “had to come from international courts does not reflect well on . . .  Liberia in particular. The process exposes the failure by Liberians to provide themselves with a legal and judiciary system capable of effectively administering justice.” More generally “the verdict and the process should be a wakeup call to Africans. The successful conviction for such crimes is a glaring example of the failure of Africans to govern themselves effectively. . . . Africans must focus on building strong institutions to deal with human rights violations ourselves . . . .” On the other hand, the conviction “informs future Liberian, and indeed African, dictators and tyrants that they cannot escape justice by hedging their bets on a dysfunctional domestic legal system. Where national systems are incapable of adequately and effectively prosecuting leaders who engage in wanton violations of human rights, citizens can look to the international criminal court for justice.”

Former Liberian President Convicted of Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes

Special Court for Sierra Leone Logo
Charles Taylor

On April 26, 2012, the Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Charles Taylor, the former President of neighboring Liberia, of 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Court’s governing Statute.

The Court’s judgment was based upon detailed findings that the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • Sierra Leone rebels had committed crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone by murder (Count 2), rape (Count 4), sexual slavery (Count 5), other inhumane acts (Count 8) and enslavement (Count 10).
  • Said rebels had committed violations of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions and of their Additional Protocol II in Sierra Leone by acts of terrorism (Count 1), violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder (Count 3); outrages upon personal dignity (Count 6); violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular cruel treatment (Count 7); and pillage (Count 11).
  • Said rebels had committed violations of international humanitarian law in Sierra Leone by conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities (Count 9).
  • Mr. Taylor had provided practical assistance, encouragement and moral support that had a substantial effect on the commission of said crimes by the rebels, and he knew that such crimes were being committed and that his actions would provide said practical assistance, encouragement or moral support to the commission of such crimes. Therefore, Mr. Taylor was guilty of the crime of aiding and abetting the commission of such crimes.

The Court, however, determined that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Taylor had participated in a common plan, design or purpose to commit the rebels’ crimes.

Mr. Taylor will be sentenced in the coming weeks. There is no death penalty in international criminal law, and any prison term would be served in a British prison pursuant to a special agreement with the Court.

The Court was established in 2002 in a partnership between the United Nations and Sierra Leone to prosecute those responsible for atrocities in a conflict that led almost half the population to flee and left an estimated 50,000 dead. With its main seat in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, the Court already has sentenced eight other leading members from different forces and rebel groups for crimes in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor is its last defendant whose trial was moved to The Hague in the Netherlands for fear of causing unrest in the region where he still has followers.

Not since Karl Doenitz, the German admiral who briefly succeeded Hitler upon his death, was tried and sentenced by the International Military Tribunal has a head of state been convicted by an international court.

 

International Criminal Court: Recent Developments in Proposed ICC Investigations

In addition to the seven investigations being conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), its Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) conducts preliminary examinations of other situations to determine if an official investigation should be conducted. Four such possible preliminary examinations deserve comment.

Syria. This June there were reports that Syrian opposition and human rights groups had asked the OTP to seek authorization for an investigation into alleged crimes by the Syrian government and that discussions about a possible U.N. Security Council referral of the Syrian situation to the ICC were occurring.[1] Since then the Syrian regime has continued to attack and kill protesters with at least 3,500 protesters killed since the uprising began in March.[2] So far the OTP has not commented on Syria.

Recently four U.S. Senators (Dick Durbin, Benjamin Cardin, Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer) sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. (Susan Rice) asking for such a Security Council referral. They said, “The people of Syria deserve to know that the people of the United States understand their plight, stand behind them, and will work to bring justice to the country.” The Security Council, the Senators added, should be deeply troubled by the “credible threats to . . . [the] safety” of the U.S. Ambassador to Syria that forced him to leave the country. Security Council referral of Syria to the ICC also has been endorsed by the New York Times.[3]

Palestine. In January 2009, the Palestinian National Authority lodged a declaration with the ICC under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute which allows States not party to the Statute to accept the Court’s jurisdiction. Later (October 2009) representatives of the Authority and the Arab League visited the Court to support the Authority’s ability to delegate its jurisdiction to the ICC.[4]

The OTP will examine issues related to its jurisdiction: first whether the declaration accepting the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court meets statutory requirements; and second whether crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction have been committed. The Office will also consider whether there are national proceedings in relation to alleged crimes. The OTP has not made any determination on the issue, and recently the Prosecutor said that the issue of Palestinian statehood would have to be resolved elsewhere before the OTP issued any kind of statement on this request.[5]

The recent, and so far unsuccessful, efforts of the Authority to obtain U.N. membership for Palestine have heightened interest in the Authority’s seeking an ICC investigation of Israel’s military actions in the Gaza. Being a member of the U.N. would strengthen the Authority’s argument for ICC jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.[6]

Liberia. Before Liberia’s recent re-election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Tubman as its president, the OTP released a public statement that it was monitoring the pre-election activities of all of the candidates and political parties and that “resorting to violence will not be tolerated.”[7]

Roman Catholic Church Officials. In September a U.S. human rights NGO (the Center for Constitutional Rights) and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests filed a complaint with the OTP seeking an investigation of high-level Vatican officials for alleged cover-up of rapes and sexual violence committed by individual priests as a crime against humanity.[8]

This application poses serious questions as to whether the ICC has jurisdiction over such claims, and I anticipate it will take a long time for the OTP to make any public statement about this request. I will be surprised if the OTP decides to seek approval for such an investigation from the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court.


[1] Post: International Criminal Court: Possible U.N. Security Council Referral of Syrian Human Rights Abuses to ICC (June 6, 2011).

[2] Bakhi & Gladstone, Syria Faces New Threats as Opposition Seeks Allies, N.Y. Times (Nov. 15, 2011).

[3] US senators: Charge Assad before ICC, Google News (Oct. 25, 2011); Editorial, The Killing in Syria Goes On, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 2001).

[4]  ICC, Palestine, www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Structure+of+the+Court/Office+of+the+Prosecutor; Dunphy, An Interview with Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Oct. 1, 2011), http://amicc.blogspot.com.

[5]  Id.; Dunphy, An Interview with Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Oct. 1, 2011), http://amicc.blogspot.com.

[6] Reuters, Committee Is Deadlocked Over Palestinian Membership Bid, N.Y. Times (Nov. 11, 2011); Maccarone, The Palestinian Authority’s Application for United Nations Membership and Its Implications for the International Criminal Court (Sept. 27, 2011), http://www.amicc.org/docs/Palestine_and_the_ICC.pdf.

[7]  ICC prosecutor “monitoring” Liberia elections, expatica. com (Oct. 14, 2011).

[8]  Center for Constitutional Rights, In the Case Against Vatican Officials for Rape and Sexual Violence, We’ve come to the End of the Beginning (Sept. 27, 2011).