Penn Kemble Youth Forum: Call for Applications


pen k forum

The National Endowment for Democracy is now accepting applications for its inaugural 2014-2015 Penn Kemble Youth Forum on Democracy.

Penn Kemble’s death in October 2005 robbed the democracy movement of one of its most committed activists and strategists. His political evolution took him from early involvement in the young socialist and civil rights movements, through engagement with the U.S. labor movement in combatting Communism, especially within Central America, to more recent initiatives, including the Transatlantic Democracy Network and Civitas, an international program to promote civic education. He served as deputy and acting director of the United States Information Agency in the Clinton administration, and Secretary of State Albright appointed him U.S. representative to the Community of Democracies. In 2002, Secretary of State Powell appointed him to lead a group to investigate slavery and human trafficking in Sudan.

Application deadline is September 19. Get more information and apply here.


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Court jails Putin critics: Kremlin ‘revives Soviet-style anti-Semitism’

russiaputinterrorFour Russians detained during a protest against President Vladimir Putin were sentenced to prison terms on Monday after a trial critics say is part of a Kremlin campaign to stifle dissent while all eyes are on the Ukraine crisis, Reuters reports (HT: FPI):

Last week one of Russia’s oldest non-governmental organizations, Memorial, added the four defendants sentenced on Monday to a list of 45 it describes as political prisoners. It said the defendants had been carrying out a non-violent exercise of the right to freedom of assembly, had been deprived of a fair trial and faced disproportionate charges.

But with the crisis in Ukraine preoccupying media at home and abroad, the case against them achieved little of the notoriety of the August 2012 Pussy Riot trial, in which members of the punk band were jailed after performing an anti-Putin song in Moscow’s main cathedral.

Putin’s regime is reviving Soviet-style anti-Semitism, analyst Paul Goble writes for The Interpreter:

An instructor at the Russian foreign ministry’s training academy told participants at a government-sponsored youth camp that “Zionism is a movement for the establishment of the world rule of Jewish bankers,” that it “finances pagans to destroy Orthodoxy,” and that it has so “Judaicized” Catholicism that “almost nothing remains” of that faith.

Olga Chetvertikova of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations made these noxious comments at the Seliger Civic forum (camp) a week ago, when they were picked up by Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Tragically, in the days since, they have been disseminated by other outlets.

“What makes these words so disturbing is that they remind us of the ugly Soviet-style anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” Goble notes. “This may be a result of Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian and imperialist rhetoric and the Russian government’s media outlets ever more virulent attacks on ethnic Ukrainians and others.”

Like any repressive regime, Mr. Putin’s knows how to create autonomous zones of violence, notes Sergey Kuznetsov, the author of the novel “Butterfly Skin”:

The main lawless zone during his reign has been the Caucasus, especially Chechnya, where civilians, journalists and human rights defenders have been kidnapped and killed throughout the last 20 years. Mr. Putin used any manifestation of violence to strengthen his own power. Thus, after the Beslan terrorist attack in 2004, Mr. Putin eliminated direct elections for the office of governor (including governor of Moscow), essentially giving himself control over the appointments.

Chaos at the margins can make a repressive system stronger, he writes for the New York Times:

However, the system has to up the ante in order to maintain itself. This time, the zone of lawlessness is bigger than ever. Instead of risking his own Maidan revolution in Red Square, Mr. Putin has exported Russia’s Chechnya-style chaos to the southeast of Ukraine, turning Donbass into Beirut or Gaza. Everyone who lusts for action and violence now has a place to kill and to die.


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UN calls on Azerbaijan to release activists and ‘reverse trend of repression’

azerb yunusUN human rights experts have condemned Azerbaijan’s increased prosecution of human rights activists and urged Baku to “reverse the trend of repression,” RFE/RL reports:

In a statement issued by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the experts said they are “appalled” by several incidents in which Azerbaijani officials use surveillance and interrogation to arrest and sentence rights activists “on the basis of trumped-up charges.”

They said the “criminalization of rights activists must stop” and that those who have been unjustly detained be “immediately freed,” including Leyla Yunus (above), Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, and Intigam Aliyev.

Independent civil society groups this week released a list of political prisoners that meet the criteria adopted by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. The list, containing as many as 98 names, was compiled under the leadership of Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov.

“As an irony of fate, and as a confirmation that the problem of political prisoners in Azerbaijan is enormous, unsolved and underestimated,” notes one observer, ‘Yunus and Jafarov now find themselves behind bars.”

Yunus, arguably one of the fiercest critics of Azerbaijan’s poor rights record, and her husband Arif Yunus, have been accused of treason, spying for Armenia, and illegal business activities, among other financial charges, the Guardian reports:

The list is based on the definition of political prisoner offered by the Council of Europe, which aims to promote human rights on the continent. The organisation’s secretary general Thorbjorn Jagland said he had spoken to Azeri president Iham Aliyev, and told him of his “deep concerns about the arrests of prominent human rights defenders in recent days”. Despite its rights record, Azerbaijan currently presides over the organisation’s committee of ministers….. Azeri investigative journalist Khadiya Ismayil told The Guardian that Aliyev has now been added as the last entry…..

Laws regulating NGOs have been tightened this year, making it more difficult to register and run them. At the time, then-EU foreign policy chief expressed concern that the move was aimed at “restricting the environment for an independent and critical civil society, especially in the field of human rights and democracy”.

International human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders also called on the authorities to immediately release Azerbaijani journalists and human rights advocates.

“The crackdown on the civil society in Azerbaijan has once again come to demonstrate how Aliyev’s regime continues to use authoritarian methods of governance, despite the fact that the country chairs the Council of Europe,” stated Executive Director of Civil Rights Defenders Robert Hardh.

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Politically, morally right for democracies to support Kurdistan

Kurdistan Iraq ISIS Stansfield 0731On 15 August, the Council of the European Union stated that it welcomed efforts by EU governments to provide arms to Kurdish forces attempting to halt the advance of Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq. Writing on the LSE’s Europblog, the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Brendan O’Leary provides a comprehensive overview of the political situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the development of the conflict between Kurdish and IS forces. He argues that it is not only legally permissible under the Iraqi Constitution for foreign governments to arm Kurdish forces, but that it is also politically and morally right for European democracies to do so.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is the sole surviving success story from the US-led intervention that in 2003 removed from power the genocidal dictator Saddam Hussein, and his Baath regime. Kurdistan’s institutions work – its executive (its presidency, prime minister and cabinet), its parliament, its civil service, courts, police, universities, schools and hospitals. Its officials generally obey the law, except the speeding rules. Corruption is low by regional standards, especially those of Arab Iraq under Saddam and Nouri al-Maliki.

Since 2005 votes determine who governs the region. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Masoud Barzani, is the most electorally successful party in this functioning Muslim-majority democracy. It has shared power in coalitions in which two other parties, Goran (“Change”), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), vigorously compete for second place. In the last decade the KDP has led Kurdistan from Erbil, whereas the PUK has led for Kurdistan in Baghdad. Conflict between the KDP and the PUK, which marred the 1990s, is long over, its legacies resolved peacefully and politically. The administrative unification of the region is almost complete…………..

“Although Washington has long been wary of Kurdish nationalism, it is a powerful mobilizing force. It also converges with America’s strategic interests. The Kurdish groups from Syria and Turkey reject radical Islamism. They are secular nationalists and natural American allies,” Aliza Marcus and Andrew Apostolou write for the New York Times:

Ironically, American support for the Kurds could also help keep Iraq intact as a state. A few weeks ago the central Iraqi government was in a state of political paralysis and the K.R.G. president, Massoud Barzani, had announced plans to hold a referendum on independence. The ISIS offensive has forced re-evaluations all around.

Iraq is starting to understand that it needs a strong Kurdistan to defeat ISIS and survive. Mr. Barzani, who has since dropped talk of a referendum, sees that he needs partners inside Iraq and allies outside to ensure stability and protect Kurdish territory from assault.

The compromise that Iraqi Kurds accepted in 2005 — autonomy within a federal Iraq instead of holding out for independence — may prove more durable than expected. A new American approach to all of Kurdistan would help strengthen that compromise by strengthening the Kurds. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Aliza Marcus is the author of “Blood and Belief: The P.K.K. and the Kurdish Fight for Independence.” Andrew Apostolou is the former head of Iran human rights programs at Freedom House.

What is to be done? O’Leary asks:

Questions of constitutionality and legality matter deeply, but it is separately politically and morally right for European democracies to support the Peshmerga. European Governments recognise this is not 2003. No one is manipulating information to encourage a major western intervention in an authoritarian dictatorship. No western politician is seeking to act unlawfully – indeed, western governments are painfully fearful of doing so. American and European politicians arguably spent the first half of the year trying to look away from Iraq as long as possible, convinced that their public has no appetite for intervention, humanitarian or otherwise.

Not only are the Peshmerga the lawful army of the Kurdistan Region but they also are the sole viably well-organised military in Iraq that is under proper civilian and democratic control. Moreover, aid to the Peshmerga will work. Revivifying the Iraqi federal army – if that ever happens – will take far too much time to accomplish holding back ISIS, whereas injecting sufficient resources to make the Peshmerga fulfil their defensive tasks is an entirely viable mission. Supporting the Peshmerga will also ensure that neither western nor Turkish governments need put armed troops into field combat against the pretenders to the Caliphate. President Barzani has insisted that the Peshmerga require no foreign troops on the ground to help them. What they need is the equipment, and associated training, to counter the American equipment handed over to ISIS by the federal Iraqi army.


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Houthi Shia rebels ‘threaten Yemen’s transition’

Moderate Islamists and western diplomats in Yemen are increasingly concerned that military successes by the Houthis, coupled with the re-emergence of the local al-Qaeda franchise, could ignite the kind of debilitating sectarian violence that is raging elsewhere in the region – pushing Sunnis towards the violent rhetoric of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the FT’s Peter Salisbury reports from Sana’a:

Western and local officials fear a surge in sectarian violence could derail Yemen’s internationally backed political transition to democracy aimed at putting an end to decades of conflict.…..A debate is now raging within Islah, and the wider Sunni community, over how to respond to the rise of the Houthis – seen by some as an existential threat to a political order that has been controlled by privileged conservative Sunnis for much of the past three decades. One party official described sentiment within Islah as “life or death”.

Tens of thousands of Houthis joined an anti-government rally in Sanaa on Monday in response to a call by Shiite rebel commander Abdulmalik al-Houthi, Middle East Eye reports:

The protesters assembled in Change Square and then paraded through the centre of the capital, where supporters of the rebels, who are known as Houthis or Ansarullah, had converged during the morning after travelling from outside the capital.

“Islah was one of the early winners from the overthrow of Mr Saleh – taking up key posts in the country’s transitional government. But the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt led to disquiet in the party, which had seen Egypt as a template for Islamist governments in the region, while the increasingly anti-Islamist stance of Saudi Arabia took away a valuable source of funding,” Salisbury writes:

Islah supporters also believe Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who replaced Mr Saleh as Yemen president, has turned against them since the early days of his leadership. Islah suspects that the Houthis’ offensive is part of their plan to reinstall the Zaydi imamate that ruled in Yemen for a millennium before being unseated in 1962, and that their ultimate goal is control of Sana’a. They also say the Houthis are backed by Iran.

However, Hussein al-Izzi, a Houthi spokesman, insists the group has no interest in seizing the capital and denies being supported by Tehran. “We came to stop corruption in Amran, and the fighting stopped when we defeated the Islah militias and al-Qaeda,” he says.

Mr Al-Izzi says Islah’s leadership is intertwined with that of AQAP – a widely held view in Yemen but one denied by the party.

But, according to April Alley-Longley, an analyst at International Crisis Group, a move into Arhab would provoke a powerful backlash that could change the dynamics of the conflict. “If the Houthis continue their advances, especially around or in Sana’a, they risk reshuffling the political deck and consolidating a new coalition against them,” she says.

“We are concerned by the physical spread of the Houthis – now they are just outside Sana’a,” says a senior western diplomat. “We want the transition to continue, for there has to be a focus on national unity, not divisions. We want the Houthis to be in there, but not with their tanks.”

Yemen has long had a vibrant tradition of community-based dispute resolution, particularly tribal dispute resolution, which has become even more dominant in the transition period that followed the 2011 Arab Spring protests, according to a recent report from the US Institute of Peace:

  • As the Yemeni state has struggled to regain political equilibrium, rule of law has deteriorated and criminality and armed conflict have increased. State institutions have weakened and now struggle to meet citizens’ demands.
  • In response, citizens increasingly turn to traditional or community-based dispute resolution for their justice needs. In addition to long-standing actors or mechanisms, a number of new dispute resolution actors have emerged. Some areas have seen a retribalization, while in thers, armed actors dominate.
  • Although alternative dispute resolution actors have been an important gap-filler during this time, they have also found their authority challenged. The political uncertainty and the rise in lawlessness have simultaneously weakened both formal and informal actors’ ability to resolve disputes sustainably and to prevent conflict.

Over two years after the start of Yemen’s uprising in 2011, participants at a recent Chatham House forum (above) discussed achievements of the transition process to date and its latest developments, including progress of the National Dialogue Conference. Yemen’s transition was also be considered in regional and international context, in light of transitions set in motion by the ‘Arab uprisings’.

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