Taliban assassination target Malala and Indian child rights activist share Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai for their struggles against the suppression of children and for young people’s rights, including the right to education, CNN reports:

Yousafzai came to global attention after she was shot in the head by the Taliban — two years ago Thursday — for her efforts to promote education for girls in Pakistan. Since then, after recovering from surgery, she has taken her campaign to the world stage, notably with a speech last year at the United Nations….The Malala Fund, set up to promote girls’ education, said via Twitter that Yousafzai would give her first statement after classes end Friday. She attends a school in Birmingham, England.

Meanwhile, Satyarthi, age 60, has shown great personal courage in heading peaceful demonstrations focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain, the committee said.

Ms. Yousafzai, 17, is the youngest recipient of the prize since it was created in 1901. Mr. Satyarthi is 60, The New York Times reports:

The $1.1 million prize is to be divided equally between them.The award was announced in Oslo by Thorbjorn Jagland, the committee’s chairman, who said: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”

malal1Prior to the assassination attempt, Malala was awarded a Civic Courage Prize (above) by the Centre for Civic Education in Islamabad on International Democracy Day. 

“Malala is a very confident young woman and gave a forceful speech,” said Wilson Lee (above, far right), the National Endowment for Democracy’s senior program officer for Asia. “We hope she recovers fully from this heinous attack. She is a great inspiration and the targeted attack on her by the Taliban has unleashed outrage and condemnation across Pakistan.”

“As adherents to Islamism [the Taliban] see the individual as merely an instrument to be recruited or eliminated in pursuit of their goal,” says Maajid Nawaz, the founder of Khudi, a Pakistan-based counter-extremism movement. “The cause is what matters, not the killing. They believe that secularism and Westernisation have disturbed God’s natural order and only victory will set things right.”

“Pakistan should grasp this moment in the psyche of the nation to turn the ideological tide against the Taliban and their supporters for good,” he argues, but despite the upsurge in Islamist violence, Pakistan has no national strategy to combat extremism.

“NACTA [the National Counter-Terrorism Authority], the body set up with EU grants to perform this task, sits like a toothless tiger in Islamabad writing nothing but reports,” says Nawaz, the author of Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening. “In that strategic vacuum any formal national response to Malala’s shooting here in Pakistan is bound to be opportunistic and short-term.”

Radical extremism can only be defeated through a long-term, sustained war of ideas conducted by Muslim democrats and modernizers within their own communities, said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s  former envoy to the US and a professor of international relations at Boston University.

“Eventually, the United States will have to find Muslim allies who help limit the influence of ideas or organizations that turn some young Muslims into terrorists,” he argued. ‘Washington has made few efforts toward that end, depending on friendly autocrats or whoever manages to get elected instead of working to strengthen modernizing democrats who share Western values.”

The Centre for Civic Education is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO.

Past as prologue? Call to fix US ‘human rights misstep’ with Vietnam

Vietnam_cu huyThe United States government made a mistake this month in relaxing a ban on lethal arms sales and transfers to Vietnam — a non-democratic, one-party state with an abysmal human rights record, says a leading rights activist.

The U.S. move, announced on October 2 as Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh was visiting Washington, undermines courageous activists in Vietnam and squanders important leverage that might have been used to encourage more reform, according to John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. 

An American diplomat says that Vietnam has made some progress in terms of its human-rights record, including the release this year of 11 prisoners of conscience. But a full lifting of the lethal-arms embargo, the diplomat says, would depend on “additional progress”, The Economist notes:

That may be some way off. Yet Tuong Vu, a Vietnam expert at the University of Oregon, says the American shift is a “clear case” of strategic interests trumping human rights. Many dissidents remain behind bars, and the one-party state continues to arrest its critics under worryingly vague national-security laws.

Cu Huy Ha Vu* (above), one of the political prisoners who was recently freed, is a Sorbonne-educated lawyer who was jailed in 2011 for, among other crimes, calling for multiparty government. After his release, Mr Ha Vu, the son of a revolutionary poet, flew directly to Washington, DC. He says he would one day like to see both a democratic Vietnam and a military alliance with America against Chinese expansionism. But, he adds, selling spy planes today, amid continuing domestic repression, only prolongs the regime’s survival.

Torture is still endemic in Vietnam, and the government has taken no steps towards scrapping laws that criminalize free speech or political organization,  Sifton writes for Foreign Policy:

Most recently released prisoners were terminally ill or otherwise incapacitated by poor health. In the case of the higher profile dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu — a lawyer and former Communist Party member who has criticized government leaders for corruption and mismanagement — the government did not release him but rather forced him into exile in the United States, where Hanoi believes he will be less able to organize opposition to Vietnam’s one-party rule.

*Cu Huy Ha Vu is a Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Russia’s international media ‘weaponized’ to poison minds


russia todayAt a time when Russia’s image in Europe and the U.S. has sunk to extreme lows, the Kremlin has announced dramatic new plans to increase spending on foreign propaganda, according to George Washington University’s Robert Orttung and the National Endowment for Democracy’s Christopher Walker. The Russian state budget includes a 41 percent increase for RT, the state-backed television network that broadcasts around the world in a number of languages. Rossiya Segodnya, the successor to the now defunct global news agency RIA Novosti, is set to see a tripling of its budget, they write for the Moscow Times:

The Kremlin is focused on poisoning minds through an insidious mix of information designed to muddy the media waters and disorient international audiences. ….It is telling that the growth in resources devoted to media beyond Russia’s borders is now outstripping those within them. At home, the Kremlin’s censorship and mass media control prevent alternative ideas from entering mainstream discussion and enable the government to dominate crucial narratives.

The Kremlin’s international propaganda applies a similarly cynical and manipulative approach, where it insinuates, for instance, that all societies are thoroughly corrupt and craven, suggesting moral equivalence between autocracies and democracies. RT unloads an endless stream of material seeking to portray the West, especially the U.S., in the most decadent of ways…..

As media analyst Peter Pomerantsev observed, debunking false information is time-consuming and expensive; the Kremlin’s fabrication of information is easy and relatively cheap. While the Kremlin tightens restrictions on the Internet at home, state media takes advantage of opportunities to make deeper inroads online beyond Russia’s borders. RT’s YouTube channel has garnered more than 1.3 billion views. Even accounting for clicks from phony accounts, this is a staggering number. 

Russia and authoritarian regimes claim that their media outlets are just like Deutsche Welle, BBC or Agence France-Presse, Orttung and Walker observe:

But RT operates under the direction of unchecked authoritarian political power and is therefore an entirely different enterprise. Accordingly, it should not be understood as a news outlet, but instead seen for what it is: a weaponized media instrument.

While it denies any meaningful space at home for independent voices, beyond its borders the Kremlin is flooding the media space with half-truths and outright lies with the aim of polluting audiences’ understanding of the world.

Given the serious stakes involved, the democracies must devise a far more thoughtful response  to meet the dual challenge of Russia’s intensifying censorship and modern propaganda, they conclude.  

Robert Orttung is assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs. Christopher Walker is executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.



China’s Hong Kong conspiracy theories a familiar ruse

china hk march july 2014Rather than address the underlying grievances motivating Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, China’s ruling Communist Party is promoting predictable conspiracy theories about the demonstrations.

Accusing opponents of foreign meddling has become an increasingly popular tool for the Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping, David Pierson writes for the Los Angeles Times:

Xi has ordered his censorship apparatus to bar discourse on Western democracy, one of several forbidden topics deemed threatening to China’s heightened nationalistic temperament. That narrative emphasizes a Western world intent on containing China’s rise. ….

Beijing has long been wary of American influence in the color revolutions that swept Eastern Europe and the Arab world. Beijing supporters accuse nongovernmental organizations such as the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy of channeling money to advocacy groups to destabilize China. (The NED denies this.)

“After 110 years of foreign predation, the communists took power [in 1949] arguing that China has stood up,” said Clayton Dube, executive director of the USC U.S.-China Institute. “Blaming the foreigners plays into all of that.”

With the 25th anniversary of the 1989 June 4th crackdown still fresh in memory (at least outside mainland China), much coverage of Hong Kong’s Umbrella protests has been shadowed by fear of a similarly harsh response, notes China Digital Times:

Voices of some of those involved in the events surrounding Tiananmen have been prominently featured, while others have offered counsel on avoiding the same fate. While the outcome of the protests remains uncertain, any threat of a military response seems to have receded. At Foreign Affairs, in any case, Jeffrey Wasserstrom urges the use of wider, more varied historical lenses for viewing the Umbrella Movement:

Although there has been some excellent on-the-ground reporting by journalists who know China and its past well, this time around, much media commentary of the protests in Hong Kong has locked onto the Tiananmen-reborn analogy. …. That analogy works fine when there is a direct repeat of something that happened in 1989, such as when Beijing tries again to portray peaceful students as following in the footsteps of the Red Guards. But when something new happens, observers are at a loss and look, once more, beyond China’s border for explanation, which helps explain why journalists have made so many references to the Color Revolution, despite the fact that the protesters themselves insist that the analogy is misleading, since they are just asking for Beijing to live up to the One Country, Two Systems promise it made in 1997. [Source]

The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda argues that the 2011 uprising against local officials in Wukan offers a better guide:

Structurally, the “Umbrella Revolution” in Hong Kong bears several similarities to Wukan–merely on a different scale. Both communities rose up after sensing that the Party had reneged on a prior understanding. In Wukan, there was no community input before the land sale and Hongkongers were stripped of their democratic right to freely stand for election without Beijing’s prior approval. Both communities protested peacefully (with a few exceptions, to be sure). Indeed, the two instances are so similar that Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly has tapped Wang Yang, the governor of Guangdong during the Wukan protests and currently a vice premier on the politburo, to “remain on standby” to handle the situation in Hong Kong…….. [Source]