ISIS Who? Understanding the current crisis in Iraq

To many people, the mere mention of Iraq conjures up an unfavorable war that dominated headlines for years. With the advent of the recent violence in Iraq, it comes as no surprise that people everywhere are fervently expressing their views on the subject. Even though many will inevitably draw comparisons between the Iraq conflict that they remember and the current violence, I believe that the present situation has a variety of important differences, the most notable of which is that the terrorist organization that is responsible, known as ISIS, is unlike anything the world has seen. Organized, wealthy, and well equipped, ISIS, “…is not your father’s terrorist group”. This should be a great cause of concern considering that ISIS already succeeded in capturing military equipment from the Iraqi army (equipment, I should add, given to them during the Iraq war). Thus, ISIS is an extremely organized force and is in possession of assets that far exceed other terrorist organizations. A scary situation.

ISIS forces gathered together (Photo Credit: Mohammed Jalil, EPA)

ISIS forces gathered together (Photo Credit: Mohammed Jalil, EPA)

Clearly, this extremist group poses a threat, but what is it and what exactly does it want? Notably, this terrorist organization can trace its origins from Al-Qaeda groups based in Iraq. The name of “ISIS” refers to the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” but this acronym is a bit misleading; it only covers the territories that are currently under control of the terrorist organization and not the areas they aspire to control. This is why media accounts tend to deviate by calling the group either “ISIS” or “ISIL”. The later name stands for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” and refers to the terrorist organization’s aspirations to control Iraq and all of the Levant.

Whether you call it ISIL or ISIS, both names refer to a terrorist organization that seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the territory it controls. A caliphate is loosely defined as, “an Islamic republic led by one leader, regardless of national boundaries.” This type of government harkens back to the historical Ottoman Empire and its current “reinstitution” serves as a symbol rather than anything. Unlike the Ottoman golden age where math and the sciences flourished, ISIS is likely using nostalgia as a weapon for the hearts and minds of the people and will continue to implement strict Islamic law upon its citizens. Lastly, the organization is predominantly Sunni Muslim and this plays an important factor in the disputes that occur between the current Iraqi government and the terrorist group .

Iraq has had a poor record in dealing with this threat. Even though the Iraqi forces have the numbers, the terrorist organization has quickly seized numerous cities close to Baghdad . The prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, is predominantly being blamed due to ISIS’s ability to take over cities with little resistance. The prime minister reportedly assigned generals who were extremely ineffective, not to mention responsible for severe human rights abuses in secret government prisons over the Iraqi military. This inability to institute a hierarchy of effective leadership led to loss of faith in the Iraqi government and fragmentation of its army. This combined with Maliki’s habit of antagonizing Sunni tribes created a situation ripe for disaster. It should really come as no surprise that ISIS has had good luck in taking towns and cities and extending its deadly influence.

Picture depicting Kurdish Peshmerga forces attacking ISIS militants. The Kurds were recently able to take over the city of Kirkuk from ISIS but the Kurdish government has yet to express interest in further military action against the terrorist organization. (Photo Credit: Hussein Malla, AP)

Picture depicting Kurdish Peshmerga forces attacking ISIS militants. The Kurds were recently able to take over the city of Kirkuk from ISIS but the Kurdish government has yet to express interest in further military action against the terrorist organization. (Photo Credit: Hussein Malla, AP)

The next question on everyone’s minds is a simpler one: “What should be done?” There are several different options that I believe could be effective. The first involves the Kurds, an ethnic minority that has prospered after the recent violence wrought by ISIS. Currently they have laid claim to an area from Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad. From this area, they have set up a functioning government with a means of income from the wealth of oil reserves in the territory. According to one Foreign Affairs article, the Kurdish peshmerga forces (Kurdish troops) serve as, “…the best hope for those who want to stop ISIS in Iraq…”. Thus, the international community would be wise to attempt to try to gain their support in removing the terrorist group. Unfortunately, the Kurds have reason to distrust both the Iraqi forces (due to recent bombardment that resulted in the unintentional deaths of several peshmergatroops), to the history of abrasive dealings with the United States (one of the most famous, the 1975 Algiers Agreement, constructed by Henry Kissinger, resulted in the Iraqi Kurds suffering from the Baathists) .

Despite this potential roadblock, the United States have initiated efforts at mending the situation by recently sending 300 hundred military advisors to Iraq along with Secretary of State John Kerry. However, many believe that there is a lot more that can be done to fix the situation. First, there must be international support for a solution. Although the United States is certainly a powerful entity, having multiple states participate in the peace effort might take away the stress the U.S. would normally have if it were to shoulder the burden of a solution. Additionally, it is important to keep ISIS in perspective. Although some sources are fearful of its growing power, there are others who see it as not quite a fully realized threat. Peter Mansoor, a colonel who served in the Iraq war, stated that one of the reasons for ISIS success is that it took areas that did not put up much in the way of resistance. He further theorized that if ISIS tried to take over the heavily fortified city of Baghdad it would lead to a “Stalingrad moment” with massive casualties in the terrorist organization. Despite this hopeful outlook, he does believe there must be “boots on the ground” with America leading the charge.

It seems the best option for a solution to ISIS would be a combination of international intervention as well as local support. It might be possible to convince the Kurdish people that they have a vested interest in the stability of Iraq and therefore promote military involvement. Additionally, the international community should construct an adequate plan of restoring legitimate Iraqi governance (ideally Maliki would step down from power due to his numerous egregious human rights abuses against those of Sunni Muslim faith) as well as military action in removing ISIS. Although it is clear that ISIS is very opportunistic and is not yet a grave threat, time will inevitably change ISIS from a terrorist group into a terror organization with the resources and manpower to cripple the Middle East. For this reason alone, the United States and its allies should weigh its options carefully.

N.B. “The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.”

For those who want to learn more, check out this  interesting interactive map provided by the New York Times regarding the current situation.

Sources

 

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/06/23/america_cant_fix_the_middle_east_but_it_can_fix_its_middle_east_policy_obama_bush_iraq

 

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/isil-declares-new-islamic-caliphate-201462917326669749.html

 

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/8/isil-al-qaeda-challengeinsyriaandiraq.html

 

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141579/omar-al-nidawi/how-maliki-lost-iraq

 

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141569/dov-friedman-and-cale-salih/kurds-to-the-rescue

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-15467672

 

http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/24/world/meast/iraq-crisis/
http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/13/opinion/bergen-iraq-isis-bush/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

 

The Arab Spring in Egypt: Not Done Yet

Tahir Square Protests, 2011 Source: Altahir

The Arab Spring denotes a series of uprisings throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The various revolutions stem from a Tunisian vendor setting himself aflame to protest the Tunisian government and the dreadful economic conditions of the state. Several other countries followed the Tunisian example and fostered street protests, peaceful and violent. Entire books have been written on the issue, its causes and results. In my experience, one of the most interesting case studies from the Arab uprisings, comes from the Egyptian example. Through research and historical examples, it is in my opinion that we have not seen the end of the Arab Spring in Egypt.

Egypt has a long history, one stemming back to ancient times. From the Pharaohs, through the Roman Empire, and under British Colonial Rule from 1882-1952. The history I would like to share begins with the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which ended the monarchical system of King Farouk, and expelled the British ‘advisers’. Ultimately, the leadership of Naguib and Nasser, using the armed forces created the Republic of Egypt. General Nasser would lead the country of Egypt from 1956-1970. Nasser ruled with an iron fist, eliminating the multi-party system, freedom of speech, and other liberties. Sadat then ruled after Nasser, employed more liberal ideals, but was assassinated by military forces for his interactions with the Israelis and other policies. President Mubarak then led in an autocratic fashion for nearly 30 years, instituting several tyrannical policies, and created a close alliance with the military. Mubarak established anti-democratic and illiberal policies, created mass corruption, and failed the people of Egypt. All of this brings our short history lesson of Egypt near the present.

Protests in 2013 against the violence brought on by the coups Source: Reuters

The Arab Spring resulted in mass protests in Egypt, calling for the resignation of Mubarak. And in February of 2011, Mubarak turned power over to the Armed Forces of Egypt.  This is the time where I must introduce the theory of the “Coup Trap.” Firstly, a coup occurs when the military forces of a state take control from the current civilian government. The coup is a relatively widespread issue, occurring across much of the world and history. A group of scholars, led by Frabrice Lehoucq, developed the “Coup Trap,” which they define as “chronic instability,” which results in the eventual and recurring toppling of “civil institutions by military regimes.” The scholars limited their scope to Latin American cases, where the coup trap runs rampant, but I believe that Egypt before and during the Arab Spring subjects itself to the coup trap as well. Importantly, the coup trap often results from military unrest and recurring coups, as Lehoucq claims that “coups breed coups,” and/or from political instability and the gridlock that results from conflicting political ideologies. Egypt demonstrates both of the key indicators of the coup trap.

Firstly, the monarchical system was overthrown by Naquib and Nasser (1952), followed by the assassination of Sadat, by leftists in the military (1981). Mubarak then handed power back to the military in 2011. After several rounds of elections, President Morsi was sworn in as head-of-state in 2012. After Morsi’s failings as leader of the Egyptian people, the military once again stepped in and removed Morsi from office, establishing the government of the military, and the complete removal of civilian legitimacy. These coups coupled with the surrounding instability in the region pushed Egypt down the slippery slope into the coup trap. The Egyptian politic fails to put forth truly representative governments, thus the people turn to protest, and the military steps into the power vacuum created by the instability.

It is critical to understand that the military has always been a strong influence on the Egyptian political system. The first 4 presidents of the Egyptian Republic were ex-military officials. It is stated that even Morsi was following a public agenda ‘approved’ by the military. The military has often been allowed free reign in the Egyptian system, and when a leader, such as Morsi attempts to fetter it, even slightly, the military steps forward and clamps down on the civilian government and deposes those who stand against its wishes. This is seen as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces completely controls the legislative and executive, and possesses some control over the ‘independent judiciary.’ Egypt remains under the control of the ‘interim government’ and the military after the fall of Morsi. Egypt will follow an illegitimate government until the upcoming civilian elections in July. The new Egyptian Constitution of 2014, which was approved by referendum, calls for a democratically elected government for Egypt.

I think this sounds great in theory, but there are several issues that Egypt has not addressed in order to escape its coup trap. Firstly, political groups, such as the Revolutionary Socialists, argue that the new constitution gives too much power to the military. Another issue is the removal of the Muslim brotherhood from the political system. The Muslim Brotherhood, under Morsi, were the most powerful political party, but the interim militaristic government declared the party illegal and a terrorist organization. In fact, the judiciary sentenced 529 members of the party to death, recently. Commentators claim that the courts have been “politicised and due process has been ignored amid a sweeping crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters since the military removed the president last summer.”

General Al-Sisi Source: The Guardian

As of spring 2014, the government of Egypt is still not run by elected officials, with much of the institutions still being controlled by the “old guard,” and in the upcoming elections in July; General Al Sisi will run as the frontrunner in the elections. Were Sisi to win, it would continue the tradition of rule by the military elite in the country, thus perpetuating the laws instilled by the military coups that plague the Egyptian politic. The autocratic foundations of Egypt make the creation of a truly democratic system difficult, and is the reason why Egypt lives in the coup trap. Lehoucq states that in order to end the coup trap, the political process must be opened and political competitiveness must be allowed to reign free in the system.

Unfortunately, the Egyptian system is still not free and fair, or representative of the entire population. I find that the government that is elected from this new constitution will fail to appease large sectors of the populous. Due to this fatal flaw, I speculate that Egypt could see another civil uprising, perhaps from the Islamic sector, resulting in the military dissolving the legislation or instituting ‘emergency measures.’  Another military coup is also possible if the next leader does not represent the will of the military. The end of Lehoucq’s coup trap and the start of a stable civil government will only come when the whole of the political spectrum of Egypt is represented and the military is brought under true civil control. The Arab Spring may be quiet in the region, but I do not think we have reached a conclusion in Egypt, because of the the perils of the coup trap.

Disclaimer: The opinions of this blog are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those of Christopher Newport University or the Reiff Center.

Sources 

Angrist, Michelle. Politics and Society in the Contemporary Middle East . Colarado: Lynne Riener, 2013. Book.

Lehoucq, F. et al. “Breaking the Coup Trap.” Comparitive Politics (2013): 1-19. Web.

 

Investigating War Crimes: Bringing Demons to Justice

The ICTY in The Hague
Source: icty.org

The international community is a confusing one with political gridlock and national interests stalling imperative decisions. I find that the challenges facing the UN are daunting and will continue to plague the world for years to come. Even so, I am not a pessimist, I believe the UN and other international organizations complete incredible tasks that would have been unthinkable for the League of Nations or the early United Nations. One such accomplishment is the creation and execution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (1993).  The ICTY is first court of its kind since post WWII. It has indicted 161 individuals, and sentenced 74 human rights violators, and is a massive step forward in international criminal proceedings.

UNSC Resolution 827 established the creation of a criminal court to properly deal with the horrid crimes that took place in the Former Yugoslavia, now including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Vojvodina. The breakup of the USSR caused dramatic ramifications across the ex-Communist bloc, and gave way to the atrocities in Yugoslavia. These various territories were home to some of the worst Crimes against Humanity in the 20th century. Crimes perpetrated by many of the groups within Yugoslavia, which include ethnic cleansing, mass detention, systematic rape, and mass murder.  Looking at history, I thought we were done with ethic cleansing and other such crimes, but with Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the world came to see that the road for human rights was still going to be a bumpy ride.

Dr. John Cencich speaking about his experiences in the former Yugoslavia.

Dr. John Cencich speaking about his experiences in the former Yugoslavia.

This past week, The Reiff Center had the honor of hosting John Cencich, a UN Investigator for the ICTY and professor at California University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Cencich presented a firsthand account of many interesting and enthralling events that took place while he worked on the ground. I would like to point out some of the biggest takeaways that come from his talk.

Cencich worked on some pretty gruesome cases, attempting to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice. He said it correctly, “the UN had to get it right this time.” For the ICTY, the UN hired career investigators and prosecutors. Conversely, looking back at The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials of WWII, the UN received a lot of flack for using lawyers as investigators, and not following proper legal procedures in the courts. The ICTY hired persons whose livelihoods are based on criminal investigation, and Cencich got himself on a team.  After receiving his briefing on the political and social landscape, he began his work in Bosnia. The UN investigators needed to prove several points in order to validate the use of an international court system. War crimes, crimes against humanity, an international aspect to the conflict, and that the victims were “protected persons” all had to be proved before the investigators could begin arresting perpetrators.

In order to prove the necessary legal standing of the UN investigation, investigators needed to travel throughout Yugoslavia, collecting anecdotal and forensic evidence. Cencich talked of elaborate exhumations that he was party to, as well as extensive interviews with victims and perpetrators alike. Cencich’s main goal was to connect the proven human rights violations to the “top dogs” of the various organizations responsible for the crimes against humanity. I will outline one of the human rights violations he investigated to give you an idea of the work he was doing. Cencich entitled this event: “Wooden Rifles.” The Bosnian Croats forced 4 Bosnian Muslims to dress as Croats, using them as a diversion.   Interestingly, these 4 men survived as they were able to convey that they were disguised to their brethren. The rest of the Muslims were used as human shields and were shot to death by the enemy. This is just one example of many that Dr. Cencich was tasked to investigate throughout the Former Yugoslavia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srebrenica-Potočari Cemetery to Genocide Victims of Former Yugoslavian Wars.
Source: International Center for Transitional Justice

Muslims, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Christians; it seems like an ethnic or religious based conflict, which ideologically it could be argued as such. Still, in my findings, all conflict is to further power. Individuals at the top of the food chain wanted to expand their own influence, wealth, and power, using ideology as a cover. The quest for a “greater Serbia” may have been the start of a ‘noble’ ideology for the Serbs, but evil leaders warped it to match their own goals.

International cooperation may seem like a grand foreign idea to many of us, but Cencich worked first hand with many different groups in order to complete missions. He describes missions that involved Frenchmen, Italians, Spaniards, and Dutchmen.  2 tanks, 2 helicopters, and 200 men of various nationalities accompanied him on a mission to arrest a large profile target. He claims that in his efforts, the international team presented an impressive level of professionalism and cooperation. I find this to be an exciting example of how different statesmen can come together and do good for the international community. This is the future of how the international system will function (at least in an ideal world).

Being a UN war crimes investigator means relying on lots of different experiences - professional, personal, cultural, and instinct.

Being a UN war crimes investigator means relying on lots of different experiences – professional, personal, cultural, and instinct.

John Cencich allowed me and others a small glimpse into the world of a UN investigator. His experiences embody something that not many of us can imagine. He dealt with some of the world’s most infamous human rights violators, he was tailed by spies, and came back with several symptoms of PTSD. While not an easy job, Cencich demonstrated his capability in a critical position in the fight for international justice. Justice is worth fighting for, and the international field is vital to finding a path to justice for the victims of gross human rights violations.

The ICTY provided an early blueprint for the International Criminal Court (ICC). I, and the International community will not stand for continued human rights violations, and the ICTY and the ICC are the first steps to adding a deterrent to violators, and a punitive system for those who choose to violate human right norms. The Reiff Center is truly thankful to John Cencich for giving us the opportunity to share yet another facet of the quest for Justice. This journey is one the previous generation has started, and one that my generation must continue. The task will be arduous, but worthy of our very best efforts. Demons still pervade this world, and it is up to people like John Cencich and us to make sure they are held accountable for their actions.

To learn more about Dr. John Cencich, and his work in the Former Yugoslavia, check out his book, The Devil’s Garden!

The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.

Thinking about the genocide in Rwanda, 20 years later

President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lit the torch that will burn 100 days (picture by AP)

President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lit the torch that will burn 100 days (picture by AP)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Within 100 days, extremist Hutu killed 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The level of brutality still shocks today – on average 10,000 lives lost, day after day. Dignitaries from around the world commemorated the tragedy in this small African country earlier today. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and current President Paul Kagame lit a torch which will burn for 100 days – the length of the genocide.

The Rwandan genocide lasted from April to July, 1994 (picture: telegraph.co.uk)

The Rwandan genocide lasted from April to July, 1994 (picture: telegraph.co.uk)

The crash of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane on the evening of April 6, 1994 – the starting point of the genocide – sparked what would come to be known as one of the most gruesome incidents of the 20th century. Decades of increased tensions, ethnic profiling, and low-intensity conflict preceded the genocide. The Hutu aversions of the once favored Tutsi led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands civilians. The killings only ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seized control of the country in July 1994. While current tensions are comparatively low, the consequences of the genocide can still be felt across most of Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Yet, we have to remember that the Rwandan genocide didn’t come unexpected. While each situation has its own root causes and dynamics, genocide and ethnic cleansing usually have clear signs. Tensions are rising, in-group – out-group thinking dominate the media and public speech, state institutions become more polarized and collapse, and first acts of violence are committed.

The UN Blue Helmet came to stand for the failure of the international community to respond.

The UN Blue Helmet came to stand for the failure of the international community to respond.

The international community failed to react appropriately in Rwanda and elsewhere (Bosnia and Darfur come to mind). As UN Secretary-General said at the commemoration today “We could have done much more, we should have done much more.”

Nevertheless, the international community of today is not the same as the one of 20 years ago. Big steps forward have been taken. The International Criminal Court (read our blog post) shows the world has united against impunity. A former head of state has been convicted of war crimes, and an arrest warrant has been issued for a sitting head of state. The deterrent effects of these actions has been proven. The international community has further endorsed “The Responsibility to Protect” or R2P, showing that absolute state sovereignty is a thing of the past. UN and regional organizations deploy human rights monitors to troubled areas and international NGOs report human rights violations to a broader public. And while peacekeepers in Rwanda were called back and told not to step in to protect the people once the genocide started, their mandate specifically allows them to protect civilians today.

Civilians crowd to enter the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission base in Bor, South Sudan. (picture CBS News)

Civilians crowd to enter the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission base in Bor, South Sudan. (picture CBS News)

It is this “new” international community that needs to be aware of the signs of genocide and mass violence. There are many cases in which international response is lacking. The situation in the Central African Republic, for example, comes to mind, or the one in Syria, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan. The world needs to move away from waiting and hesitating, putting national interests and the fear of risk and complexity involved with such missions before human life. The results clearly show the consequences of indifference and indecisiveness: Failing to uphold the promise “never again”.

Model United Nations: A Day in the Life of a Delegate

UN Logo

This past weekend I served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria, Nina Shtanski. While this may seem unlikely to my readers, there is some truth to it. At Model United Nations, students at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level embody characters and countries in order to better understand diplomacy. While sitting in committee sessions, I found out just how difficult and important cooperation is with such a diverse group of people.

While Model UN is rather different than the actual UN, the lessons learned are invaluable for the delegates who attend the various conferences held across the world. Dealing with special interests is something that diplomats must contend with constantly. As Minister Shtanski, I attempted to work with the EU and the Russian Federation, playing both sides of the European continent. [For those of you who are unaware, there is some speculation that the territory of Transnistria, a de facto state within Moldova, is the next target for Russian annexation. Google it, seriously.]Unfortunately for Miss Shtanski, other members of the committee were not pleased with my efforts, resulting in the assassination of Transnistria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. This sequence of events may seem silly, but it was the culmination of 6 peoples’ efforts within the committee who did not agree with my policies. I am unaware of assassinations of UN delegates in Geneva, but the constant combatting of personal and national interests plague the UN. An excellent example of this is the Syria issue, where the Western nations and the East were at constant odds over the humanitarian issue and state sovereignty (at least that’s what they claimed). There is some evidence that special national interests kept UN intervention out of Syria, and these interests are indicative of a much greater problem for the international community.

Model UN attempts to create a “real-life” atmosphere at their conferences. Some host schools achieve this through a system called “Crisis.” The Crisis group allows delegates to complete under the table deals with other persons and groups. Crisis is also in charge of keeping the committee room in a state of tension and adds plot points to the committee moving it forward through a timeline. The plot and timeline is determined by actions of committee members, but is then interpreted by Crisis. As you can probably imagine, many delegates develop a love-hate relationship with the Crisis staff. For example, it is thanks to Crisis that I was able to contact both the Moldovan government and the Russian Federation, but it also the reason that an elaborate plot to assassinate me was successful. Once again, Model UN has attempted to create a realistic atmosphere, but it sometimes gets a bit screwy. Crisis is attended to mirror what real delegates are doing at the United Nations, working with their home governments and others. Thankfully, for world stability, there is not quite the movement towards assassination of committee members as found this past weekend.

Transnistrian Flag
Source: wikipedia

Although my time as Nina Shtanski was short lived, she taught me the importance of collaboration and coalition building. By working together on important directives, I built upon my knowledge of how to bring others’ opinions into a resolution. I can imagine that delegates in Geneva attempt to do the same thing. It is near impossible to pass a directive that is wholly your own ideas and interests, so collaboration becomes critical. Also important is the building of coalitions within committee. In order to feel secure about a certain position, a delegate needs to build up a coalition of like-minded people who will support him or her in decision making. As seen in the real UN and in domestic politics, competing coalitions often cause gridlock in the making and passing of legislation. It is up to delegates and politicians to cross these boundaries and create enough support among the factions to pass meaningful and helpful decisions. In theory, Model UN would help bolster this mindset, but in actuality it often fails to create a true “team atmosphere.” In fact, many committees fall into the same trap that can be seen in the P-5 of the UN. Distinct coalitions make it impossible at times to move forward on critical resolutions. The genocide in Rwanda demonstrates how the UN (and other international bodies) often fail to react quickly enough to stop impending disasters. The UN was too late in Rwanda, and must be more observant and willing to work together in order to prevent crises from occurring, OR to become involved after a crisis has begun. I, and others, are worried that the UN will drop the ball again in the Congo, as they did in Rwanda, due to conflicting views and interests.

Finally, the procedural methodology within the Model UN is critical to formatting debate. Committee delegates are forced to follow Robert’s Rules of Order in parliamentary procedure. While Model UN is somewhat relaxed, Model Arab League (a group that is based only of Arab nations) is more stringent on order and structure. I have participated in both types, and can say that is important to find a balance on the procedural rules, so that debate is fostered, but order is maintained. I will be the first to say that it completely sucks to miss your chance to speak on a resolution that is important to you, simply because of the rules. Of course the alternative is a screaming match between various delegations, which sometimes occurs regardless of parliamentary procedures.

Hilariously, many of our delegates come back “stuck” in committee-speak. As we walk around campus calling for “motions” and addressing others as “fellow delegates.” The best though is the way we students speak ‘diplomatically.’ For example, I am very fond of the expression “I agree with the sentiment of your speech my esteemed colleague, but…” Our time in Model UN has a lasting effect not only on our vocabulary, but our team building skills and public speaking abilities.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, once stated “I think it’s fair to say that diplomacy today requires much more of that if you’re the United States of America than it did 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago.” I firmly stand behind in her in that sentiment. A war fatigued America needs better trained and better qualified diplomats around the world to further US and world security. We may still be a ways off from world peace, but by placing emphasis on diplomacy, there is a path to a more peaceful and stable world. Granted, I do not believe that Model United Nations is the proper training to become a diplomat. Even so, in my experience, Model UN can be a great teacher of many lessons critical to being a diplomat. For a young adult, it can become the first step to feeling called to a life of diplomatic work.

Model UN develops public speaking skills and collaboration techniques for students around the world. Here at CNU, we have a small but passionate Model International team, who loves the world of diplomacy. We thank the Reiff Center for their contributions to our club and their support of our vision. I would also like to thank the College of William and Mary for hosting an exciting conference, which will foster the diplomatic spirit for years to come. And as final side note to my character this past weekend, Long live Transnistria!

Christopher Newport University’s Model UN Team
Source: W&M Photography

The views expressed in this post solely reflect the author’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.

The Search for International Justice

ICC Logo
“Peace Through Justice”
Source: ICC

Most people can give you a pretty good guess about what the UN is, or the WTO, or NATO; but from my experience, not as many know about the ICC. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is often considered to be one of the major successes of the international community. It is a vital piece to the international system and to human rights. A permanent international criminal tribunal has been in the works since the end of WWI and the Paris Peace Conference. The need of an ICC came up again with the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. Finally after gross human rights violations within the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the International community decided enough was enough.  The UN set up two temporary tribunals to deal with crimes committed in Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but even this would not be sufficient to deal with the ever-growing number of  gross human rights violations.

 

In 1998, at a conference in Rome, 120 countries voted in favor of establishing the ICC. The charter document, known as the Rome Statute, went into force in 2002, after 60 countries ratified the treaty. A mere four years is all it took for the international community to realize the desperate need for an international crime tribunal. Today, 122 countries are party to the treaty, including all of Latin America, much of Western Europe, and parts of Africa and SE Asia. It is phenomenal that so many countries are party to the treaty, but I find it much more interesting as to who is missing from the treaty. 3/5 of the United Nations Security Council’s P-5 is not party to the treaty; China, Russia, and the USA have all refused to ratify. The legitimacy of the ICC is critical to its overall presentation. While it is an international and widely accepted judicial body, it lacks some very important supporters, which calls its international clout into question.

The technicalities of the ICC constitute a very long list. I will attempt to outline some of the more important structural features of the ICC here, so that you can develop a general understanding of how the court works. (For more information, I strongly recommend Wikipedia, the ICC Homepage, or for the really devout scholars, the Rome Statute). The ICC jurisdiction has 3 critical pieces. The first of them is “temporal jurisdiction,” meaning that it can only try cases with infractions occurring after July 1, 2002 after the Rome Statute entered into force. Secondly, the court has territorial limitations; the ICC can only try perpetrators if they are from state parties to the treaty, if crimes occur in a state party to the treaty or by a recommendation from the UNSC. Lastly, the court must be “complimentary to national judicial systems,” meaning that the ICC can only act if the national judicial system in a state is unable or unwilling to prosecute the perpetrator. Notice the phrase “a perpetrator,” the ICC only tries individuals for crimes, not states or groups; this is an important development for the international justice system.  Also vital is the fact that the ICC is a permanent unbiased and independent court. Although these qualities have been questioned by international critics, they are the pillars by which the ICC operates.

What would land you in the defendant’s box at the ICC? The Rome Statute decrees that genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and acts of aggression will result in the ability for the ICC to issue a warrant for the arrest of an individual. Unfortunately, the court has been slow to respond to its duty of prosecuting these horrendous crimes. In 12 years, the ICC has only completed one case, and all of the ICC’s cases have been filed in Africa. Where is the hold up? Why isn’t anything getting done?  This weakness is found in the procedure outlined by the charter. It is good that the steps are clearly outlined for everything in court proceedings; this has resulted in a snail-like pace for the ICC. The critics are quick to jump on the inadequacies of the court, but the fact of the matter is that the court is doing good for the global community. The ICC acts as a global deterrent, a place where punitive justice is a reality, and for the first time in international law, a place for victims to testify and receive retribution. Most importantly, in my opinion, the ICC has created an international Rule of Law, as even sitting heads of state are not immune to the law, such as the case of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for his acts in the Darfur Genocide.

War Criminal?
Source: TheWeek.com

Now that you have some background on what the ICC is, what it does, and its function, I would like to focus upon the lack of US membership.  It is obvious why China and Russia would not sign on to the treaty but the USA is a pillar of progressive human rights. A land of Justice and Equality. As an American citizen, I find it almost hypocritical that the USA would not sign on to the ICC treaty.  Clinton signed the treaty, Bush removed the signature, Obama has demonstrated support for the treaty, and never has the treaty been put to a vote in the Senate. Politics have prevented the United States form fulfilling on its duty as a world leader. Among other reasons, the US is nervous to give up its judicial sovereignty to the ICC, claiming that the US Constitution is direct conflict with the Rome Statue as there can only be “one supreme court.” The USA also claims that the ICC would cause the US to be unable to fulfill its obligations as a global military force. Even though these legitimate reasons exist, I find a darker reason is that the ICC may have indicted sitting President George W. Bush and other military officials over human rights violations post 9/11.  The USA calls itself a government by the people, yet this is not so true in reference to the ICC. According to the American Global Views Survey (2012), a solid 70% of Americans believe that the USA should be a party to the ICC (Question 140/2). This is more than a 2/3 majority of the country, which is what is necessary in the senate. The Senate is once again failing to listen to the people, due to political factors.

The ICC is one of most important developments in International human rights in the past few decades. With it, human rights violators are no longer allowed to run free. Finally, there is an international system that will hold violators accountable to their actions, and bring some sort of justice to the victims of human rights violations. The ICC needs your support and the support of nations around the world to be effective and bring about an end to unpunished human rights violators. We are in a new era of internationalism and the ICC must become a major facet of that landscape.  The institution of the International Criminal Court may be new, but the concept of Justice is old. I believe, along with 70% of Americans, and 122 countries around the world that the ICC is the next and proper step in the never ending human quest to find justice.

Protesters in Kenya in support of the ICC
Source: Foreign Policy Associates

 

CNU Students are Moving America!

AnnJoyce  By Ann Joyce. During my senior year at Christopher Newport University I helped found Students Moving America (SMA), a nonprofit organization focused on empowering students to take positive action in their communities. My co-founder Donald Hair was also a senior at the time and had worked with me on President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. In order to increase student engagement in the campaign we organized on-campus events such as phone banks, canvass groups, information sessions and voter registration drives. Unfortunately, once the election ended, we immediately noticed a drop in attendance at Young Democrats and an overall disinterest in the issues that were still being debated in the Virginia state Senate.  What Donald and I realized was that there needed to be an organization that focused on the issues important to college students, while also engaging and inspiring students to take action on the issues that affect their daily lives.

That is the story of how Students Moving America was born. Late February, Donald and I grabbed coffee at Einstein’s and within the next hour we were sitting in Dr. Quentin Kidd’s office asking how we could make this idea a reality.

Over the next few weeks we worked on creating a strong and legitimate organization.  Our first project basically fell into our laps when a field organizer from The Dream is Now campaign, a nationwide grassroots organization that focused on the passage of the Dream Act, contacted us and asked whether SMA would be interested in helping organize Virginia. Along with other organizations, we helped establish volunteer groups at 11 different colleges in Virginia, as well as universities in DC, South Carolina and Ohio.

SMAWe finished our work for The Dream is Now campaign in May. After graduation, Donald began working at 2U, an education technology company, and I moved to Boston to work towards a Master’s degree in international relations at Boston University.  Despite the distance, Students Moving America continued to be a priority and we both spent the majority of our free time reaching out to organizations that might be interested in working with us.

What happened next was incredible. Donald gets all the credit for this because without hisobsession with reality TV and twitter, I would not be writing this blog post. At about 1 am on a Wednesday night I got a call from Donald. He wanted to start an equality campaign designed around social media that would help empower the LGBT community. Even better, he had just tweeted at Jonny Drubel, the star of E!’s new hit reality show #RichKids of Beverly hills, who responded back immediately asking how he could get involved.

SMA, in partnership with Jonny Drubel, officially launched the #ComingOutMatters campaign on February 18th. Using social media, we are encouraging users to post their own coming out stories or personal reflections on equality using the hash-tag #ComingOutMatters. This content is then streamed on to our website  for the world to see.

Almost immediately after launching the campaign, we began receiving an outpouring of support. Less than 5 hours after the launch, Huffington Post published an article about Jonny and #ComingOutMatters. In addition, other equality organizations around the country started contacting us asking how to get involved. Currently, we are in the process of solidifying partnerships with companies and organizations all over the country.

Looking back to that moment when we were sitting in Einstein’s, I don’t think either one of us pictured Students Moving America being where it is today. During our time at CNU we were lucky enough to receive support from numerous students and faculty who believed in what we were trying to do. In fact, the first three people who joined the SMA team are current CNU students Erica Abrams, Jasmine Mack, and Tyler Jarrett. For some reason or another, they saw something in SMA from the very beginning and have been working for us ever since.


COMDonald Hair and I created Students Moving America to change the way students and young people interact with the issues around them. We started the organization to make a difference. While #ComingOutMatters is our most current project, we hope to also take on issues such as student debt, and environmental sustainability.

Find out more about Students Moving America.

 

 

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.

 

Gay Rights: The War Rages On

(Photo: Human Rights Campaign)

Love and marriage, love and marriage; go together like a horse and carriage! – Frank Sinatra. This tale of love and happiness has been restricted to men and women for years, and Love and Marriage only went together for heterosexuals. In the past few decades, since Harvey Milk and the gay rights movement, things have been changing.

Across the western world, there have been movements to honor love through equal marriage laws. These have been seen in the UK, France, Scandinavia, and the USA, state by state. In a landmark decision last year, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA made it so that federal benefits could not be given to same-sex married couples; however, under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, this was deemed unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also knocked down Prop 8, allowing gay marriages to resume in the State of California. These two cases allowed for gay rights movements across the United States to run wild, and sense then more and more states are fostering equal marriage rights.

Originally states had to pass ballot initiatives or go through legislation in order to approve gay rights, but the Judiciary system has finally hopped on board! Federal and State courts are declaring State constitution bans on gay marriage unconstitutional. This is a massive step for gay rights activists across the country and approximately 4 dozen cases are pending in the realm of gay rights. This type of ruling has occurred in Oklahoma, Utah, and New Jersey. I have been following these updates closely, and as I was skimming the headlines yesterday, it seems that Virginia has caught the love bug!

A southern state known for social conservatism  has come out to revoke the state constitution ban on gay marriage, and just in time for Valentine’s Day! District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s decision is enthralling  for gay rights and human rights activists alike. Although her verdict will not go into effect until higher courts have heard the cases, it is an exciting step forward.

Wait a second here. Did he just say human rights? Indeed I did. I believe that the movement towards equality is a firm and solid step for human rights. So, why not Marriage Equality? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not represent gay rights implicitly; it was just written too early for that, but Article 16 reads, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” NOTICE: it does not say “Only men and women together…” If the UN were crafting this declaration today, one can speculate (and personally, I am assured) that the word ‘sexuality’ would be included in the article.

An example of Russia’s treatment of the LGBT community(Photo: Business Insider)

For me, it is entirely too cool to see Virginia on board with the human rights movement, and putting itself on the right side of history, as many other states and nations have done. The work is not complete for gay rights though. In fact, there is still  much to deal with: bullying, assaults, discrimination, bias, and so much more. In some States, it is illegal to BE gay, it is illegal to BE who you are. In the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, gay acts are punishable by death. If this is not a gross human rights violation, then I’m not sure what is. Further, in Sochi there has been plenty of uncertainty, due to Russia’s “Anti-Gay” laws, where people are being arrested for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” It’s hurtful to know that Russia will work to keep the LBGT community down in any way possible, such as banning adoptions to same-sex couples abroad, as of yesterday. And some people are afraid that hate speech in Russia will develop into ‘hate action.’ To exemplify this, one famous Russian Actor is quoted as saying “The laws don’t go far enough, and they (LGBT) should be put in ovens.” While I risk making a slippery slope case, it is worth saying that the future is bleak for the LGBT community of Russia.

The best example that I can think of where LGBT rights are being disregarded is in Uganda. Last year, an extremely controversial “Kill the Gays” bill was passed in the Ugandan parliament, where being gay would get you executed, with no questions asked. After international pressure from foreign governments and NGOs, Uganda reduced the penalty to life in prison, yet the President still vetoed the bill due to foreign pressures.  A clear example is found in Uganda that we do have a voice for the LGBT community not only domestically, but abroad too. Even with these successes, the work is not done in Uganda. People are still fighting for their rights and it is up to us, human rights activists, to push for human rights. Before Marriage equality can even be discussed, we must first address and affirm Article 3 of the UN declaration, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

Protests against Ugandan Homophobia
(Photo: The GailyGrind)

The gay rights movement is a young one, but  has made amazing strides in the new millennium. After speaking with my aunt and others, who marched with Harvey Milk, it is stunning to hear of the amazing transformation that this country has undergone in regard to gay rights. But we are not done! The work of a human rights activist is never done.

The thing I love most about human rights activists, is that we are fighters , we are the real warriors of the 21st century, and we will continue to fight down the long and treacherous road of the gay rights movement. The men and women of  human rights have answered the call of the LGBT community, and we will constantly work towards a more just and equal world. The informal process of ending discrimination and assault is just as important as the legal process of granting civil and political rights, and in both categories it is obvious that the whole world still has a long way to go. Marriage equality is gaining momentum in the USA, yet the right to life for gays is forgotten in Iran. Obviously the war is still raging, but in Virginia we have won a major battle, and for that I rejoice. I am proud to put myself and my home state on the right side of history.

Cupid’s Arrows are for the LBGT Community Too!
(Photo: clipartist.net)

Today is Valentine’s Day. Give love to  family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Remember that love is one of the key facets of our humanity, and know that many people are told they are not allowed to love. The choice to love is an invaluable  human right, and I will always fight for it.

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.

Humanitarian and Human Rights Work: Two Sides of the Same Coin

 

Dr. Arancha Garcia del Soto (second from left) with the Reiff Center team

Dr. Arancha Garcia del Soto (second from left) with the Reiff Center team

The art of listening is often lost in our modern world of hustle and bustle, but I find that it is the most critical skill in working towards solving human rights issues worldwide. Dr. Arancha Garcia Del Soto of Fordham University came to Christopher Newport University to discuss the importance of listening and the tensions between human rights workers and humanitarian efforts. I, at first, found this to be a strange topic because one would assume that human rights and humanitarian work would go hand in hand, yet the opposite can sometimes be true.

Dr. Arancha brings up three tensions that plague the efforts to end human rights violations globally. The first is the tension between the academics and hands-on humanitarians. These two groups will often lead to different solutions on solving human rights issues. The battlefield of human rights is full of nuance and difficulties, and human rights theorists often fight for justice, but forget the needs of the victims. Conversely, humanitarians deliver programs, but forget the causes. Obviously, there is a disconnect. The second tension is found in between the various academic disciplines such as law, anthropology, sociology, political science, etc. I find this tension interesting, because it shows us how people with opposing backgrounds will create completely different answers. Lastly, Dr. Arancha presents the omnipresent issue of culture, as western beliefs often contradict the practices in the cultures that we deem as violators. She states that this is where everyone must listen in order to understand the greater good that can be done in each culture that desperately needs help.

After her discussion of the tensions in human rights work, Dr. Arancha (thankfully) outlined the differences between Humanitarian work and Human Rights workers.

Dr. Arancha Garcia del Soto

Dr. Arancha Garcia del Soto

The first piece of humanitarians is the “emergency” responders who are sent after a tragedy and their only goal is to save lives. These people do not invest in the culture and are constantly moving from one disaster to the next. The second group is the developers, who are sent on long term missions to alleviate suffering; they bring programs such as sanitation, nutrition, and shelter. Both of these groups are based on the principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence. The principles allow them to deliver programs to those in need – anyone in need – also described as the “Humanitarian Imperative.” Humanitarians are critical in saving lives and helping societies get back on their feet, without them the world would be a much darker place.

Human Rights workers develop the theories that can eventually be applied to the situations of human rights violations. This is important because behind every humanitarian mission is a human rights violation. I believe that the people who work human rights are also critical to the mission, even though they do not always deliver direct help to those in need. These people develop the laws, treaties, conventions, trials, and tactics that will work to end human rights violations. We must always remember that the purpose of our work is for humanity to be preserved and protected, and the effort that human rights workers put in is invaluable for that goal.

People take part in a "cacerolazo" (a form of civilian protest where pots are used to make noise) against the government in Colombia. (AFP Photo/Luis Robayo)

People take part in a “cacerolazo” (a form of civilian protest where pots are used to make noise) against the government in Colombia. (AFP Photo/Luis Robayo)

In order to demonstrate her points, Dr. Arancha presented two case studies, both of which I found eye opening and important to understanding. The first of these was Colombia, where a group of indigenous peoples were forced from their land by two major corporations. War torn and fractioned Colombia has one of the world’s largest displaced populations, and the indigenous peoples bear a disproportionate percentage of the problem. Due to this, the indigenous populations must fight to keep their homelands, like with the so-called “Indigenous Army.” At first, I was concerned as Dr. Arancha showed a picture of a native armed with only a pointed stick, but this is not your traditional army. These natives network worldwide to bring in foreign assistance to their cause; lawyers, mobilizers, humanitarians, and others all pour in to bring their expertise to the issues at hand. With the foreigners help, the indigenous peoples have made strides in their fight for human rights! Moreover, the peace talks and tentative upcoming elections have brought hope to the displaced natives in Colombia. After years of war and darkness and lawlessness, there is for once hope.

The second story was of the occupied Western Saharah. After the Spanish Monarchy pulled out of the region in 1975, Morocco decided that the Western Saharah would be its newest acquisition. Conversely, the people living in the region called for self-determination, as allotted to them by the UN. The resulting war has lasted decades and the repressive measures of the Moroccan government are harsh. The illegal occupation of the Western Saharah and its warring factions has been at a stalemate for 30 years, but this past year something different has happened. A group of human rights workers discovered a mass grave after interviewing several of the Saharan citizens. This mass grave held the bodies of Saharans from years ago, some of which still had Spanish IDs, proving the human rights violations of the Moroccan government, which before was shaky. After human rights workers broke several laws and exhumed the dead, there is legal standing for the Spanish government to take Morocco to court at the UN over the violations. While the future is still unsure, there is a new hope and a new healing for many of the people who live in the occupied territories. The finding of truth has healed the broken hearts of so many.

Protesting UN inaction to violence in the occupied territories of Western Sahara (photo: Kirby Gookin)

Protesting UN inaction to violence in the occupied territories of Western Sahara (photo: Kirby Gookin)

These case studies demonstrate how humanitarian work is critical to bringing about change in a society, such as those in Colombia who are training the Indigenous Army. Moreover, in Saharah it was the human rights workers who bravely risked their lives to release the truth of the Moroccan politicide. Both parties are so important to helping people around the world, but their skills may be needed for different events at different times.

Human Rights workers focus on justice and truth, creating the paradigm of a court room with victims and perpetrators. These values do not coincide with the humanitarians who wish to give help to all of those in need. I know these opposing forces have much to learn from one another, but for now they are sometimes in each other’s way.

What is most important to remember is human rights workers and humanitarians must always focus on the people who are suffering from human rights violations. Dr. Arancha said it best as the people who are suffering “have so much to teach us” and you will find “real humanity” with them. The path is long and treacherous to solving many of the world’s human rights violations. Human rights workers and humanitarians must come together to solve the many wounds damaging our world, and if they are willing to listen to each other and the people they are trying to help, there is still hope. And hope will see us through.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.

How Can Bubbles Violate Human Rights?

SodaStream factory in West Bank (Picture: Forward)

Can I interest you in some bubbly water? Or perhaps a fancy soda? This past Christmas, I received one of the best inventions to date! A magical device that allows me to have bubbles in my liquids whenever I want: The  “SodaStream.” Recently, you may have seen the new Scarlett Johansson ad saying goodbye to “Coke and Pepsi.”The SodaStream ad aired during the Superbowl halftime slot, and with approximately 111.5 million viewers for Superbowl 45; it makes their ad one of the most viewed advertisements of the year.

It would seem that SodaStream is doing well for itself, so why the sudden outrage at both Ms. Johansson and the SodaStream company? A company that prides itself on being a force for the future has unleashed the wrath of human rights groups worldwide. Sodastream  has put itself in dangerous waters by operating a factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, within an illegal industrial zone called Mishor Adumim, one of the largest Israeli occupations of Palestinian land that disconnects Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jericho. This awakens the humanitarian monster within me for several reasons.

Firstly, an Israeli company may not build and produce goods in Palestinian territories under international law. The United Nations’ Security Council decreed this in 1976 under UNSC Resolution 446 : “Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” So, right off the back, Israel is breaking the law in allowing SodaStream to construct a factory in the Palestinian territories it has taken. Of course, this leads to my favorite issue, state sovereignty, the UN and no one else for that matter, currently has the right to force Israel to stop building in the occupied territories, so the injustices continue. What are some of these injustices? Well for one, the taxes that the SodaStream company pays does not go to benefit the Palestinian territory it inhabits, but rather directly to the Israeli government. This is revealed in a report by WhoProfits, a research center dedicated to exposing the commercial involvement of Israeli and international companies in the continued Israeli control over Palestinian and Syrian land, which also states that the SodaStream factory is benefiting from their business in the occupied territories due to “tax incentives, lax enforcement of regulations, as well as additional governmental support.” Even more critically, SodaStream and Israel are lying about the production, using “Made in Israel” stickers to mislead consumers about the land usage and abuses of the Palestinians.

Another key issue for me is workers’ rights. Many Israelis view the Palestinians as cheap labor, who they do not need to provide a full set of rights to. Due to the rough economic condition of Palestine, many Palestinians must work in the Israeli settlements to make a living. This has led to several problems and SodaStream is taking advantage of them. According to reports, Palestinian workers are threatened with their jobs and many have been fired from Sodastream if they ask for better conditions. The list of human rights violations goes on and on in Palestine, but SodaStream and Israel have completely abandoned attempts to embrace the workers’ rights of the Palestinians as set forth by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To compound the problem, the Palestinians are denied civil rights as well, which makes it so that they are not able to push for their own rights for fear of losing everything. Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper, puts it best when they talk of the Israeli work permits creating a situation of slavery: “If an immigrant worker’s passport has been taken away from them by their employers and made to work 12 hours a day without legal rights and protection, they live in conditions of slavery.”

SodaStream has made many claims since the leaking of this story. The first one is that they provide jobs to the Palestinians, who otherwise would not have had any. These jobs are critical to life, and many Palestinians have agreed with them in interviews. They are right in some respects, but I find that these jobs are poorly protected and the workers fail to see many of the rights that their Israeli co-workers do. The Palestinian employees often have lower positions, are coerced to work 12 hour days, and make well below the minimum wage. The inequality is immense. Unsurprisingly, SodaStream is trying desperately to avoid a PR nightmare, and recently they released a video about their factory in the West Bank. Employees claimed that all was well in the factory; they were “one big family” and received equal treatment across the board. In an interview with Palestinian news source The Electronic Intifada a Palestinian employee of SodaStream spoke out against the video claiming “LIES” and “they treat us [Palestinians] like slaves.” Moreover, the employee states “I actually saw the company preparation work [for the video]; they were preparing all the workers and telling them what to say and how to say it.” This is one of the first responses to the video by SodaStream and it is a dangerous one. As expected, I find it difficult to discern the truth from this mess, but it is important to see both sides, and each individual must make their own choices about the conditions of the factory in the West Bank. Personally, I found the video by SodaStream to be extremely optimistic and geared towards the USA, as they have stated that they would be afraid of “a BDS Boycott.” There is still some searching to do in the West Bank, but reports, such as the ones by WhoProfits  and Global Exchange are coming out about the poor working conditions and the complete abandon for workers’ rights by SodaStream and Israel.

Scarlet Johansson- The Face of Controversy (Picture: DailyMail)

SodaStream believes it can skew the argument in their favor by claiming that they are doing good for the Palestinian people, but in the big picture it would seem they are actually harming the overall lives of many Palestinians. They are supporting the Israeli regime through taxes and are receiving many benefits in return, while doing little to aid the illegal settlement they are stationed in. Moreover, SodaStream is lying about the production and potentially lying about the worker rights of their employees. I call for the fair treatment of employees in the West Bank and the return of rights to the occupied Palestinian territories. Great swaths of the public have already joined me in this call, as they must agree that SoadaStream is violating rights. For starters Oxfam and the public pressured Scarlet Johansson into stepping down from her ambassador position at Oxfam, as they said “Johansson’s support of SodaStream was incompatible with her role as an Oxfam ambassador.” The public has also called for a BDS boycott of SodaStream products from the factory in the West Bank, as they are operating against international norms and laws. Lastly, for anyone good with numbers, it is reported that SodaStream stock has dropped to its lowest point since 2012, and that it fell 3.3% the day after the superbowl ad aired.

Investigations must continue within SodaStream and action must be taken against the violations of human rights. We have a duty to protect the people who are crushed by oppressive regimes and large corporations, and in this case the Palestinian peoples are being harmed by both, so it is time to really think about how important carbonation is.

 

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.