China: Obama Should Publicly Call for Dissidents Releases

china tohti2In a letter released today, nine leading human rights groups urged President Obama to take up the Chinese government’s crackdown on civil society as an obstacle to bilateral relations on his upcoming visit to China. Obama will meet with President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 12, 2014.

The letter urges Obama to publicly call for the releases of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia; Uighur economist and advocate of interethnic dialogue Ilham Tohti (left); human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who is not free despite having been released from prison; and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist leader whose health is reportedly deteriorating after a decade in prison.

“President Obama has recently called for the release of Ilham Tohti and Liu Xiaobo, and has spoken about the importance of civil society globally – but he has yet to do so in Beijing,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “As conditions for rights defenders in China continue to deteriorate, we urge him to deliver those messages forcefully and publicly in Beijing.”

The nine organizations include Amnesty International, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Human Rights First, Human Rights in China, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Tibet, Project 2049, and the Uyghur American Association.

Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Cold War and Cold Shoulder for Russia?

Ghia_NodiaThe Ukraine crisis has shattered key Western assumptions about Russia, and many analysts and policymakers have fallen back on the belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be acting irrationally, says a prominent analyst. But it is Western assumptions that need to be questioned. In particular, what has made Russia so keen to undermine the current international order, first in Georgia in 2008 and now in Ukraine? Ghia Nodia asks in the Moscow Times.

The spread of Western values and institutions is precisely what Putin fears most, he notes:

Supporting democracy on Russia’s borders can have a dangerous “demonstration” effect, by encouraging ordinary Russians to demand the same for themselves. Indeed, Putin believes that the past decade’s democratic uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine were Western conspiracies against Russia. That may sound paranoid, but his anxiety is rational: European-style democracy on Russia’s borders would make it much harder to maintain authoritarian rule at home….

Russia’s Cold War defeat and the loss of its empire transformed the country from a global superpower into a second-rate regional actor within just a couple of years, with a decade of economic upheaval and decline to follow. This geopolitical collapse occurred in part because Russians — not to mention their “captive nations” in Central and Eastern Europe — were seduced into believing that Western-style democracy and free markets worked better. This implied that the West was morally superior, too — a difficult notion for the country of Pushkin and Dostoevsky to swallow.

“Given this mindset, Putin and his supporters at home and abroad view democracy and free markets not as the path to peace and prosperity, but as part of a wicked conspiracy to destroy Russia,” says Nodia, president of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development in Tbilisi, Georgia. “Western leaders are deceiving themselves if they think that cajoling and reasoning with Putin, or offering token signs of respect, can break that mindset.”


Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Breaking North Korea’s Information Blockade


South Korea Ship SinksForty days. That’s the timespan between September 3 and October 14 that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un vanished from public sight. This incident exemplified the murkiness that surrounds information in North Korea, according to Christopher Walsh, the Program Coordinator for Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute, and Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies,

The North Korean regime maintains the world’s worst media environment, they write for Foreign Independent press is nonexistent. Televisions and radios must be modified to receive government approved channels only. Foreign media of any kind is illegal. Defiant citizens risk imprisonment or worse; in fact, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on North Korea details public executions for those in possession of DVDs of South Korean dramas.

The situation is not hopeless though. North Korean society is undergoing a transformation that, coupled with external forces, is changing the media environment. As a result, North Korea’s formidable information barriers are fracturing (see infographic below).

Foreign radio broadcasts produced by international governments and South Korea-based defector organizations also penetrate North Korea. Outside radio is the only nationwide source of credible, real-time news. Listeners go to great lengths to bypass government barriers, illegally modifying radios to receive foreign signals and even building their own from wood and spare electronics.

Cell phones are another factor in North Korea’s modest information revolution. Recent estimates suggest there are now two million mobile subscribers. Illegal phones, those purchased in the markets or smuggled from China, show incredible potential.


Christopher Walsh is the Program Coordinator for Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute. Victor Cha formerly served as Director on the National Security Council staff in the George W. Bush Administration. He is the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University, and a Fellow in Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute.


Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Burkina Faso’s ‘revolution 2.0′ Protests oppose plan to extend leader’s rule


Protesters angry at plans to allow Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore to extend his 27-year-rule have set fire to parliament, the BBC reports:

Correspondents say the city hall and ruling party headquarters are also in flames. A huge crowd is surging towards the presidential palace and the main airport has been shut. MPs have suspended a vote on changing the constitution to allow Mr Compaore to stand for re-election next year.

Five people have been killed in the protests, among the most serious against Mr Compaore’s rule, reports BBC Afrique’s Yacouba Ouedraogo from the capital.

“This seems to have moved us to a situation where Compaore will have to leave power before the end of his term next year,” said Gilles Yabi, an independent West Africa analyst. “It will depend on how the security forces react, but I can’t imagine that Blaise will be able to finish his term if there is serious violence today.”

The American Embassy in Ouagadougou said in a statement that the United States was “deeply concerned” by the violence and urged “all parties including the security forces” to seek a peaceful outcome, the New York Times reports:

In the early years after Burkina Faso’s independence in 1960, power changed hands in a series of coups, but more recently the country has achieved a measure of stability. Its citizens, however, have grown increasingly restive over the past few months as the president’s allies have tried to persuade Parliament to scrap a constitutional limit on presidential terms.

The government’s “ability to restore control is in doubt,” said Bjorn Dahlin van Wees, a London-based analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit. The “protesters have momentum now and it will be hard to pacify them without making major concessions. The promise to abandon the vote on constitutional revisions may not be enough,”he told Bloomberg.

“We call on all parties, including the security forces, to end the violence and return to a peaceful process to create a future for Burkina Faso that will build on Burkina Faso’s hard-won democratic gains,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

“President Compaore’s efforts to change Burkina Faso’s constitution is a misguided move that betrays his fellow citizens.  A constitution is the bedrock of a functioning democracy and amending it to benefit one individual would directly sabotage good governance,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

“It was inspiring to see images of thousands peacefully marching through Ouagadougou to oppose an indefinite presidency,” he added.

In August, Royce penned an oped on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and the need to press for good governance, where he wrote: “Two leaders most recently accused of seeking such constitutional changes — Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso — are in town for the Summit. Allowing them to return home without pressing for free, fair and regular elections would be an affront to the citizens of these two countries.”

Search for Common Ground, with financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and in partnership with the National Youth Council of Burkina Faso (CNJ-BF), has undertaken a study on conflicts and conflict resolution in Burkina Faso.

In terms of conflict resolution, the Burkinabe favor mechanisms such as mediation, amicable resolution and dialogue, involving people they trust like friends, family members or neighbors, the study suggests:

Community leaders, such as chiefs, may also act as mediators, even though their credibility tends to diminish. Only as a last resort, and with suspicions, are authorities called upon, whereas they are identified as the main agent responsible for conflict management by a majority of people. Civil society could play an important role in conflict prevention and resolution but lacks cohesion, means and skills. Finally, the perception of the media is quite contrasted among the population: some find them professional while others deem them very one-sided.

Based upon our study, we came up with a series of recommendations for projects and activities that should be set up before Burkina experiences a full-scale crisis, a very real danger considering the tensions and frustrations that exist in the Burkinabe society today. Those recommendations aim at three objectives:

1) Strengthening the capacities of conflict resolution agents

2) Strengthening civil society, particularly youth and women’s organizations, in order to promote good governance, development and social cohesion, and

3) Supporting the media and turn them into a tool for promoting peace.  


Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Indonesia’s Jokowi ‘finds himself in viper’s nest’

A supporter holds a campaign poster of Indonesian presidential candidate Jokowi and his running mate Kalla during a rally at Gelora Bung Karno stadium in JakartaThe story of how Joko Widodo, came to be president of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, is as remarkable as that of Barack Obama. Universally known as “Jokowi”, he started out as a member of a self-described “poor family on the riverbank” in central Java, writes the FT’s David Pilling:

Whether or not Mr Widodo lives up to the hype will be critical for one of Asia’s most important emerging powers. Mr Widodo is the first directly elected president to take the keys of power from a democratically chosen predecessor since the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998. If he gets it right Indonesia will have gone a long way towards establishing itself as a stable democracy, no mean achievement for the world’s largest Muslim-majority country whose 250m people are strung out over an archipelago of nearly 1,000 inhabited islands.

Get it wrong and Indonesia could slip back into its old authoritarian ways, or, if it cannot create opportunity for millions of aspirational youth, suffer increasing social instability.

Some analysts and civil society groups are concerned that elements of Indonesia’s old guard are already mobilizing to undermine Jokowi’s presidency.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy, Marcus Mietzner explains How Jokowi Won and Democracy Survived, while cautioning that “Indonesian democracy is still vulnerable, and will be for years to come.”

Success will depend on overcoming two main factors, Pilling adds:

First, the economy, which has coasted on a now-defunct commodity boom, needs a new lease of life. Second, the small-town mayor now finds himself in the viper’s nest of national politics, with his adopted party controlling only a fifth of parliamentary seats.

Because of its large population, Indonesia is an important economy, bigger than Turkey and only a pinch smaller than South Korea in dollar terms. Its per capita income of $3,500, however, puts it alongside countries such as Guatemala and Swaziland.


Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest