The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the aftermath of the Gaza war

Before I begin writing about the details of the speaker, I have to first relate a quick anecdote. I remember having a discussion with a friend about the recent bombing in Israel and Palestine and he said something that still registers with me today, “Its hard to pick a side to hate because both have some responsibilities contributing to the current day situation”. I think this statement is fairly accurate in highlighting a fundamental error of human thought, the propensity to compartmentalize two sides; a good and a bad. One has to remember that the Israeli Palestinian crisis is a twisted amalgamation of hatred, fear, and death on both sides. With this objectivity in mind, let me relate to you the context of the most recent Reiff Center talk in regards to this ongoing conflict.

Dr. William Quandt

Dr. William Quandt speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On September 11, the Reiff Center had the honor of having Dr. William B. Quandt speak about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the efforts at peace. Winner of numerous awards and author of several books on the subject, Dr. Quandt was more than well equipped to speak about such a controversial topic. He began by talking about how the conflict originated and stated that he believed the current crisis is a result of “two nationalisms” starting a hundred years ago. The core of this issue is the question of who is entitled to what land and what would be a fair deal to ensure lasting peace.
After a very brief history lesson of the declining Palestinian territories due to West Bank settlers, Dr. Quandt talked about the current day peace talks. It should come as no surprise to the reader that they were extremely unsuccessful and resulted in significantly more casualties than other peace talks. Additionally, the destruction lasted longer and involved greater physical damage to Palestinian infrastructure. Sadly, the recent conflict led to greater Hamas support amongst the thoroughly disenchanted Palestinian citizenry. Netanyahu, on the other hand, had a spike in approval at the onset of the conflict (at roughly 80 percent approval) with a drastic downturn, which is currently around 30 percent.


Dr. Quandt discussing the difficulties of a peace process in Israel-Palestine.

Dr. Quandt discussing the difficulties of a peace process in Israel-Palestine.

He also explained how the current situation is hopelessly deadlocked. Although some contend that Israel will be able to envelope Palestine with their constant efforts at settling into the West Bank, Palestinians are rapidly becoming the numerical majority. As a counter to what Palestinians perceive as threats to their livelihood, many are procreating at a rapid rate so that they do not get “erased”. Its oddly fascinating and horrifying that both sides are resorting to such desperate measures so that they might be victorious. Israel is sticking to its military strength and U.S. support while Palestine is mainly reliant on demographics.
After his presentation, Dr. Quandt fielded a Q and A, which the crowd took full advantage of. One such interesting answer came from a question related to Obama’s efforts at establishing peace before the current violence. In 2009 Obama urged Netanyahu to cease new settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu responded to this by taking a trip to America, telling Obama that he was wrong about the situation and then preceded to go to congress delivering a speech that netted twenty-nine standing ovations. Obama gave up soon after.
Modern U.S. support for Israel runs extremely deep. AIPAC, a lobbying organization in America for pro Israeli relations, is considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the nation. Opposing this lobby is often considered to be political suicide due to its overwhelming power. Interestingly, both the Senate and the House of Representatives were unanimous in a decision to support Israel against Hamas. Considering the current day political climate, a unanimous decision on anything is exceedingly rare and borders on the impossible.
Unfortunately, the situation looks exceedingly bleak on both sides. Palestinians are adamant about staying and are willing to produce more children as a way of retaliation against Israel. Many young people in Palestine, disillusioned by the caustic political and social climate, want to leave. Who can really blame them? Lasting peace has been attempted over and over again and has failed on every occasion. Dr. Quandt ended by saying that there were few times he was discourage more of peace than he is now and considering all of the factors leading up to the recent bloodshed, I have to agree.

Lessons From Ferguson, Missouri


This past week, The Reiff Center was honored to co-sponsor an event dealing with the sensitive, but critical issue of Race. An event entitled Lessons from Ferguson: Race, Law Enforcement and the Potential Abuse of Power explored various aspects of the issues of race and law in the Ferguson crisis, inviting perspectives from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Panelists (left to right): Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Reiff Center Director, Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology, Dr. Pete Carlson, Government, Prof. Harry Greenlee, Government, and Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English

Panelists (left to right): Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Reiff Center Director, Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology, Dr. Pete Carlson, Government, Prof. Harry Greenlee, Government, and Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English

The Reiff Center would like to offer special thanks to our panelists: Dr. Pete Carlson, Government Professor Harry Greenlee, Government Dr. Patricia Hopkins, English Dr. Antonia Randolph, Sociology Their interesting perspectives and comments made for an exciting panel, with agreement, disagreement, and critical knowledge in understanding key issues facing the past, present, and future of this nation. I would like to take some time to outline some major ideas and takeaways from the panel in order to shed light on the issues found in Ferguson, MO and the greater issues of law enforcement.

Protesters claiming the injustice of Brown’s shooting Source:

This talk stems out of the larger national discussion regarding Ferguson, MO, and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a law enforcement agent. The death of the alleged unarmed Male of Color resulted in a series of both violent and peaceful protests. The local and state government responded harshly to these protests, invoking a state of emergency and calling in specialized forces to quell the upheaval. The issues in Ferguson present questions on Racism in Law, the potential abuse of power by law enforcement, and ideas for preventing future Fergusons. Firstly, I found the discussion on Ferguson representing a greater trend in the national sphere critical to the discussion. Several professors explained an issue of “distrust” of law enforcement by people of color and distrust of people of color by law enforcement. This cultural issue dates back several centuries, and results in the “community of distrust,” as Dr. Hopkins aptly put it. Due to the suspicion, several deep and frightening implications arise from the field of law enforcement. Speaking rhetorically, Hopkins and Randolph both talked of the “fear of the black body,” where the only manner in which the threat – the fear- can be abolished is to “put it down.” This disheartening view demonstrates a monstrous problem that completely degrades the civil rights movement and the American Dream. When the solution to a problem is violence and lethal force, we see the failure of enlightenment, and the failure of human progress, resorting back to primitive aspects of human nature, as theorized by Freud and Hobbes. Along the same lines, Randolph provides several empirical issues in regards to racism and the law. On one hand, there exists no ‘official’ records on the issues of police and lethal force, thus demonstrating a problem in even drawing  substantive conclusions about race and law, as empirical evidence fails to support it. Thankfully, non-state actors have attempted to rectify this issue with their own research. Randolph presents data that clearly indicates a racial gap in the enforcement of law. Part of the problem, however, is the lack of official statistics by law enforcement on unjustified lethal force by its officers. A study conducted by ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter of lethal force by law enforcement over the scope of the 10 largest cities shows that the proportion of blacks killed by lethal force, are double the percentage of blacks in the population.  Likewise, there is clear evidence on racial gaps in arrests, prison sentencing, and death penalty use, where African Americans and Hispanics receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts. Now, granted, these statistics only tell a part of the greater story, but they do provide a general paradigm in which it becomes clear that race does play some role in the justice system, although more comprehensive research may done to provide empirical evidence. That role is often a negative one, resulting in a system of unfairness, which defeats what many would argue is the whole point of the “Rule of Law.” In the modern world, racism continues to slash at the core of American values, and qualitative evidence and personal experiences continue to drive the cultural divides of whites and blacks.

Heavily armed riot police at Ferguson, MO Source: Time

The second argument comes from the idea of abuse of power and potential abuse of power. All of the panelists agreed that the police response to the protests could in many ways be considered ‘heavy-handed.” One interesting point is that Dr. Carlson, a former Prison Warden, argued that these types of response by the police are actually considered “normal,” as public peace and security must be maintained at all times. He goes on to explain, in his experiences the best way to deal with certain situations is to muster up all the force you can, and quickly stabilize and contain the situation, to the best of your ability. Even so, there are some discrepancies over the legality of the arresting of journalists, the excessive use of force, and the treatment of peaceful protesters. Of course, cases exist outside of Ferguson – that is – unarmed persons being fired upon fatally, and otherwise. Carlson presents an interesting argument regarding this exact issue, the idea that the choice of using lethal force, is one of the most difficult decisions an officer of the law must do. They are placed in high stress situations, where their lives are at risk, and must choose whether or not to fire a weapon. The idea of taking another’s life, even if ‘for the greater good,’ is something that I and many of us cannot even imagine. The officer must risk his/her own life, and must risk others’ as well, all of which comes down to the pulling of a trigger. It’s not easy, I think we can recognize that, but the difficulty level fails to excuse any abuses of power, which become possible due to the system of American law enforcement. In order to mitigate and respond to abuses of power, America must further certain cultural and policy changes, which in the future could prevent another Ferguson, MO.

Source: Photobucket

The panelists offered some broad reform ideas, which could help remedy some of the issues plaguing our system. Dr. Carlson, among others, claimed that the major issue is accountability and transparency in the system. Meaning that, investigations of alleged crimes must be made open and fair. The officer, who gunned down Michael Brown, is currently under investigation, which is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, as Greenlee and Hopkins pointed out, can we be sure that the investigations and conclusions will be fair and justified, due to special interests of the prosecution, which favor protecting the officers. Professor Greenlee argues that we must cut this issue at its roots, meaning that we create a much more stringent system of hiring, in which we keep the uniform away from those who would abuse the power. Several panelists suggested that America dissolves the community of distrust, increases minority percentages on the force, and create positive connections between the police and the communities they protect.  Another promising point, is the fact that generational research identifies that those under 30 are more likely to consider the Michael Brown case as an issue of serious concern (PEW). It is often stated that younger generations are more open and progressive, so perhaps in the next few years, we will see a shift in policy and perception. Unfortunately, even with these ideas, the research is spotty, the facts are often biased and warped, the suggestions are idealistic and speculative, and any progress is stilted and limited. Obviously, there is a great deal of work that scholars, policymakers, and individuals still need to complete in order to address this issue comprehensively – if that’s even possible. Is there still hope? We are 151 years form the Emancipation Proclamation, 50 years from the Civil Rights Act, and still there is evidence of a prejudiced Justice System. Granted, as Dr. Greenlee makes it clear, “we are not talking about all cops,” but we are talking about the law enforcement, and the Judges, and the law codes that often tend to prejudice against various races or classes. Thankfully, we have not given up yet, many Americans are hard at work to rectify some of these issues, which result from systemic, cultural, and foundational facets. America is a nation based on basic human rights and a Rule of Law, and it’s not quite there yet. In order for America to be truly exceptional, we must strive to reach the endpoint, as promised by our forefathers, “Liberty and Justice for All.”

American Flag, Ferguson MO Source:

Disclaimer: “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 True Potential of Social Media

Facebook Logo

I am guilty of being a Facebook junkie, a Twitter fiend, and a Tumblr fanatic. I think many of us in this new century are. Social media has become an outlet for ideas, photos of cats, and a whole slew of other activities. In recent years, social media has evolved into something of a necessity for the technological age. Even more than that, social media exists as an instrument of social activism.

Cosmopolitanism is a Philosophical theory that has been critical in defining a wide variety of societal and moral outlooks. The word stems from the Greek word kosmopolitês, roughly translating to “citizen of the world.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Cosmopolitan generally as the “idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community.” As one community we then take on a duty to deliver those around the world from injustice, poverty, and other innumerous inhumanities.  I personally ground my ideas of Cosmopolitanism in the phrase “global citizen,” and I will often use these words interchangeably.

United Nations Logo

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the ideal of the sovereign State has come under fire. The growth of the UN, EU, and other regional bodies is a clear indication that society has come to find importance in the formation of international lawmaking to institute international norms on human rights . The underlying philosophy is actually much older than that, as found in the writings of the French philosopher Anacharsis Cloots who advocated “ that sovereignty should reside with the people, and that the concept of sovereignty itself, because it involves indivisibility, implies that there can be but one sovereign body in the world, namely, the human race as a whole” (1793).  These movements towards transnational institutions exist as an outcropping of Global citizenship, as they blur national borders. In order to be truly global, one must release nationalism from their psyche. In a purist theory, one must identify themselves as a global citizen before anything else. Still, I believe it is possible to exist as a citizen of a state, but also act in a manner which supports a global unity. Of course, others may disagree.

So why is global citizenship important? Why should you attempt to act as a global citizen? This question has many answers, and ultimately it is up to you to determine the real reason for YOU. One possible suggestion comes from a religious grounding. The Holy Bible reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28 NIV. The Holy Qur’an goes on to state “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair of a) male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other” (Al-Hujurat 49:13). Almost every religion I can think of has some sort of claim to unity in a higher being. Even though these phrases are open to interpretation, I find there is some semblance of a global unity in them. There are more secular calls to Global citizenship as well. The US Declaration of Independence puts forth the ideals of inalienable rights of Man (capital M). The UN conventions have eradicated most forms of discrimination, and the UN charter states that one of the major goals of the UN is “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” Oxfam, a nonprofit designed to fight poverty, claims that global citizenship is critical to the future as it:

  • “Acknowledges that we have power as individuals: each of us can change things, and each of us has choices about how we behave. But this power can be even greater when we work collectively.
  • Demonstrates how the world we live in is unfair and unequal, but promotes challenging and changing this.
  • Encourages us to recognize our responsibilities towards each other, and learn from each other.

    Oxfam Values Source: Oxfam America

Along with these examples exists a whole slew of others from every culture and paradigm, claiming that there is at least some good in the ideas of a global unity, through global citizenship. Lastly, there is your own moral conscience, which is created by a variety of experiences and institutions. I will almost guarantee that you can find something in your life that will force you to look at the world in a global light, and perhaps even foster the belief that you must take up the torch of helping those around world escape injustices.

Tunisian Uprising Source: The Guardian

Alright. Now why in the world did I start this conversation with Facebook and then throw us into a philosophical discussion of Cosmopolitanism? If you haven’t connected the dots yet, it is because social media has become one of the most vital ways to act as a global citizen. One of the first great successes of social media as a venue for global citizenship and fighting injustice comes from the Arab Spring. After a street vendor in Tunisia lit himself on fire in protest of government policy, the story went viral across news outlets and social media alike. The exposure, due to social media, partly led to the Arab uprisings of 2011-present. After that, it was a landslide. Stories, videos, and photos of human injustices were poured across social media, telling the world of the horrors that various groups were facing. Human rights groups, national and international entities responded in various ways, but the fact is they responded. The times of ‘reasonable doubt’ and ‘maybes’ came to an end with the dramatic rise of the camera phone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other 21st century technologies. The technological revolution brought about a social revolution with dramatic consequences around the world. Social media allows for the diffusion of data across a wide area in a short time, and in the case of human rights, knowledge and exposure is THE power to bring about change.

Social media has continued to be a key player in the global citizenship movement, with more and more people being exposed to and finding themselves involved and invigorated by various ‘shares’ and ‘retweets.’ I found myself engaged in a heated debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after someone posted an article on their wall. My colleagues, professors, and friends are constantly saying “did you see the article on BBC last night about ISIS in Iraq.” “OMG, how could you share something so blatantly biased.” “John, do you think the pictures from Yazidi will pull in the UN?” 10 or even 5 years ago, this sort of casual discussion of international affairs, human rights violations, and poverty reduction would have been impossible, but now is almost commonplace. Social media has disseminated information in a manner that allows us to become heavily engaged, if we choose to take advantage of it.


Am I ready to do marketing for Facebook or what? If you think I am overselling it, I’m not. Governments use social media every day to bolster support for various policies. Such as President Barack Obama’s use of social media in the 2012 elections, where he spent $47 million on digital ads, vs. his opponents $4.7 million, and well Obama won. He is often described as the “first social media president.” Conversely many governments are afraid of the power of social media. Turkey, earlier this year put a blanket ban on social media, after it was used to organize mass protests and bring up allegations against the sitting president. The ban was later overturned, but we can see that social media has real power. Countries, like China, proactively limit citizens’ use of social media in order to decrease the influence of dissidents within the political system. It is important to keep in mind that not all countries have the same abilities with social media, and for those of us who do have open access, we should use its full potential.

Through this, we can hold our government and other governments accountable for their actions. A clear indication of this possibility follows from the inspiration for this post, which comes from the town of Ferguson, Missouri, USA. After the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen, protests broke out throughout the city. Police officers responded to the protests in riot gear and began firing tear gas on protesters and journalists alike. The police also arrested several reporters. These clear violations of norms and laws (uh, first amendment?) flew around the world on social media. As an interesting side note, reports of Palestinians tweeting at the citizens of Ferguson on how to protect themselves from tear gas arose, demonstrating the wide reach of social media. Eventually, the national outrage turned against the police of Ferguson and the government. Social media allowed for these turn of events, causing the governor of Missouri was forced to call in the State Troopers to return the city to peace, after days of violent clashes. Social media is more powerful than we give it credit for.

While social media is not protected by any covenant, I find it to be a quasi-human right to have open access to it, as social media possesses a great deal of potential to better our world. Now, I am not stating that social media is the ends of cosmopolitanism; rather it is a means to reach the ends. Social media can help you garner critical knowledge, find an organization to volunteer at, intern at, or donate to. One can start a campaign to petition congressmen over various political matters, human rights violations, or environmental concerns.  The available options are almost limitless. With this in mind, I challenge you. I challenge you that for every cat picture or comic strip you post, post something that makes you a better global citizen. For every trending hashtag on twitter about #NFLScrimmages, foster conversation on #Syria. Do something, become something, find yourself in the paradigm of a global citizen, and we may just have a world worth living in for ourselves and future generations.


Ferguson , MO – 8/13 Source: ABC News

Disclaimer: “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.”


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.



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.


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

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:

The Rwandan genocide lasted from April to July, 1994 (picture:

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?

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.