Friday, December 28, 2007

The Case of Armenian Genocide

A good book on the Armenian genocide is “The Case of Misak Torlakian” by Vartkes Yeghiayan and Ara Arabyan (here). Misak Torlakian, an Armenian Ottoman subject, was tried by the British Military Court on August 11, 1921 on charge of murdering the ex-minister of interior of Azerbaijan. Through the court case, through witness accounts, the dark and unbelievable picture of the Armenian genocide is revealed. Another famous case similar to this was the case of Soghomon Tehlirian.

For those interested to learn more about the Armenian genocide, I would recommend using British and German sources, in addition to the Armenian ones. Since Turkey has been vigilantly trying to rewrite history in its attempts to justify denial, it is important whose sources we are using to get to the truth. While history cannot be rewritten in the abstract, in reality the new generations in Turkey and Azerbaijan have been getting a completely distorted ‘rewritten’ history of the Genocide. They are even trying to sell to the world their ‘version.’

As far as the US-Turkey relationship that has been affecting the issue of recognition of the Armenian genocide in a major way, I would really call it a ‘necessity’, not an alliance. While Turkey is a member of the NATO, the US could never really consider Turkey its ‘ally’ the same way as it would consider Great Britain, for example. But since the US interests in the Middle East are serious, Turkey for a while will be a necessity. But time is soon approaching that the US will not have to ‘need’ or ‘depend’ on Turkey.

Of course, the role of Russia is of major importance here. Russian-Turkish relations have a long history of animosity. Due to the Cold War, the military bases of the US were in Turkey to countermand the perceived expansionism of the Soviet Union. To this day, Russia uses the Caucasus as a buffer against Turkey. Thence the location of Armenia is strategically important to Russia. While the US and Russia have their historic tendency to compete for world hegemony, Turkey will be ‘used’ by the US as a buffer against Russia. But again this is not necessarily settled.

World politics is constantly shifting and in flux. Therefore, today’s friends are tomorrow’s foes. I only wish justice prevailed in this process more often than it does.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


How scary is it that a country with a sizeable arsenal of nuclear weapons is on a 'red alert' because of mounting instability? This is even more scary than the Cuban Missile crisis. Benazir Bhutto is killed. Nobody really knows by whom. It is too easy to point to an amorphous group of 'Islamic fundamentalists.' President Musharaff who has been the center of attention in these last three months condemns the killing... So, Benazir Bhutto's return to homeland just months ago (see on this blog) did not end well for her. But she came back because of talks with Musharaff about power-sharing. Musharaff has culpability for some of this. Of course, there are many versions as to who was most interested in getting rid of Benazir Bhutto-- none of them are fully convincing (see here). (for a story)

Instability, violence and militantism. Now Pakistan is following the footsteps of Iraq and has turned into a hot spot. Definitely Bhutto was a brave woman to have dared to go to Pakistan and try to do something good for her country. Like a butterfly she went to the fire...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pyramids- property?

When the developed world pushed the developing countries to recognize their Intellectual Property rights, there was a come-back. The developing countries began thinking of propertyzing traditional knowledge or indigenous knowledge. Basically, they said, 'Ok, if we cannot produce generic drugs because of the TRIPs agreement, then we will also not allow you to use our traditional knowledge without paying.' So, in that spirit, now Egypt wants to copyright the pyramids. For a full story here.

Egypt has been a member of the WTO (World Trade Organization) since June 30, 1995. The TRIPs agreement that purports to regulate IP rights, specifically Article 12 on Terms of Protection for Copyright says here:

Whenever the term of protection of a work, other than a photographic work or a work of applied art, is calculated on a basis other than the life of a natural person, such term shall be no less than 50 years from the end of the calendar year of authorized publication, or, failing such authorized publication within 50 years from the making of the work, 50 years from the end of the calendar year of making.

I am not sure how this provision would affect Egypt's attempts to copyright the pyramids that really are classified as 'world wonders' and belong to the world, while also being a national treasure for that country. Would Egypt be in violation of the TRIPs? I am not an expert and would not know. But really this is the dilemma in IP. Where do you draw the line? Propertyzing everything would result in shrinking of the public domain. How do you define the borders of IP rights internationally and limit pirating of traditional and other knowledge. But are certain things simply not subject to 'propertization'?

For more on these issues see the work of Professor Madhavi Sunder.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Nationalization of industries can be a way to limit predatory acts of multinational corporations. It also is a way to limit foreign investment in your country and concomitantly foreign influence. Insofar as foreign investment is good for a country’s economy, nationalization has its definite negative effects. But insofar as it protects low to middle income people against the whims of the big business, it is good. Of course, it is a socialistic endeavor. It is also local protectionism glossing over nationalism. Putin did that in Russia with mixed results—it did not raise the standard of living for most Russians. It also did not really curb influence of big business. It basically only gave more control over the country’s economy to the government. Sometimes it is good. But so far it has not brought any tangible results.

Since January 2007 Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also began in that direction. Targeting the telecommunications and energy sectors, he moved towards the oil industry. The US oil companies there were the target. Exxon Mobil was possibly going to lose all its investments. The comments by the U.S. ambassador in Venezuela about ‘fair compensation’ prompted Chavez to accuse him of meddling in Venezuela’s inner affairs. To moderate the situation the U.S. Department of State spokesman said:

Question: Do you have anything on President Chavez of Venezuela’s announcement… that he was moving forward with plans to create collective property, seizing a lot of landowners’ land to further his socialist policies.

Mr. Casey:… It’s going to be up to the Venezuelan Government and the Venezuelan people to determine how they want to manage their economy and how they wish to move their process forward. I think we certainly believe that free markets, fair markets, fair trade and the opportunity presented through those mechanisms in the long run does far better for the people of the region than any statist solutions…

But ultimately, just as with any country, it’s going to be up to the Venezuelans to determine how they wish to proceed… As you know, we’ve spoken in the past in terms of the expropriation or nationalization of private entities. And the one thing that we have held clear is that we would expect Venezuela, just like any other country in the process of nationalization, to provide fair and appropriate compensation to any private owners in accordance with international standards.

With the recent failure of referendum pushed by Chavez, it is clear that not all of his policies have garnered full support of the people. First, because nationalization generally leads to absolute control of the country by the government. It seems, creating institutions that regulate free markets from abuses and whims would be better. But it is really a spectrum. The more regulation of the market, the more control given to the government. Finding the perfect balance seems to be the solution. It is not by a formula, but about a clever government who can really temper its desire for control and do something for the general welfare of a country. Of course, definition of ‘general welfare’ is subject to dispute…

(see the latest publication of American Journal of International Law)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Right-wing monopoly

The question is how the Democrats can win the next election, when the whole media—the source of information for the American people, is taken over and under the monopoly of the right-wing ideology. Big business pays for the media outlets and is definitely right-wing. I have stopped watching the news because of frustration. But for the Internet, I would have no source of information. But most people are attached to TV and minute by minute, day by day are indoctrinated, brainwashed and misinformed by the media. All they hear is criticism and ridicule of other countries and their leaders. Europe is old and irrelevant, China is an economic threat, Russia is a despotism, Arabic nations are our enemies. We get programs like ‘Czar Putin’, when it is time for us to look at our own leaders here in the White House. Why is it that CNN does not make a program on Bush and his policies in these last 7 years? Why is it that in the run-up for the elections Republicans avoid discussing issues and focus again and again on values. They know they will lose on most issues disastrously and they focus on values. That is how they won their way in 2004. That is how they are hoping to win their way in 2008.

All they want you to do is to go to church and pray to God, because the government is really not in the business of helping you. Not that there is anything wrong with praying to God, but that they substitute God for ‘government.’ God must be your only guide. So when you are poor, pray to God. When you have no food to eat and homeless in the street, pray to God. Do not ask the government for support to get you up on your feet. When your rights are violated on a daily basis, all you can do is to pray to God. Meanwhile, the same government who does not want to help you to get out of poverty, will help the rich to get richer. They will cut the taxes for them. Who cares about the environment, about the middle-class squeezed and vanishing rapidly, about health-care, about social crisis. All we care is to make big money, which entails going to war for oil. As far as your fears about the perceived and real enemies of the nation, we will use your fears to our advantage. Our country is in grave danger and we are going to protect you.

This is what the media is telling the American people. Just like the 2000 and 2004 elections were orchestrated, I fear the same way the 2008 elections will be orchestrated. Most people watching TV will subscribe to the right-wing ideology without even knowing it. Information is the source of developing opinions on issues. Whatever information you get, your opinions will be formed accordingly.

Don't get me wrong. I am perfectly well aware that there are ordinary middle class people out there who truly believe in the Republican party and their value system. These are not rich businessmen, but they still do believe in the GOP. I respect them. But I only wish they formed their beliefs after getting a more objective picture of the reality. I also still think that both parties should get together and find solutions to the pressing problems. Division in the house is not a good thing. But coming together entails honest recognition of mistakes and flaws and committing to not repeating them again. It also entails recognition that the interests of the big business usually do not coincide with interests of the middle class and therefore, policies of a good responsible government must reflect its concern for the latter, not the former.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Harmony envisioned by Mother Theresa

It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much
love we put in that action.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.

Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.

If we want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.

Intense love does not measure, it just gives.

Love begins by taking care of the closest ones - the ones at home.

Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.

Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you
without leaving happier.

There should be less talk; a preaching point is not a meeting point. What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone's house. That says enough.

(for more here)

Friday, December 21, 2007

European puzzle

Recently in Lisbon, Portugal, the Reform Treaty of the EU has been signed and approved for ratification. The process is to reform, improve, and possibly make EU more 'democratic', so to speak. The President has already enthusiastically proclaimed that the 'agreement' reached in Lisbon has been a victory for the citizens of EU. Some of the changes are good in that citizens can take initiatives. For example if 1 million citizens of the EU sign a petition, they can ask the European Commission to draft a law. Also, there has been created a Presidential post for the Commission, elected every 2.5 years. The MEPs will elect the President. So, the President would reflect the views of MEPs. Basically, the EU is trying to become more and more transparent and accountable to the citizens of EU. This is a good intention when viewed in light of constant complaints that international organizations are anti-democratic. For more here and here.

But in this process, some of the deep-seated divisions within the EU came forth. Of course, Great Britain is still remaining 'outside' the room, so to speak, and is voicing its dissatisfication with many issues. During the signing ritual, Gordon Brown did not even put his signature on the Treaty along with others, but preferred to do so later separately. 'Exceptionalism' has its presence also in the EU. There are divisions with regard to the status of Kosovo, the general political direction about Russia, the Baltic states, Greece/Turkey. Also, even though the EU purports to become more democratic, essentially it does not reflect the voice of the citizens. One indicator is that in 2005 the referendums on the Constitution of the EU have failed in France and Netherlands.

So, while the EU purports to solidify and become a stronger 'union', there are many historic and geopolitical challenges that would need to be overcome.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Soft law' vs. 'Hard law'

The development of international law responses to the environmental crisis has come in stages. In June of 1972 the UN Conference on the Human Environment meeting in Stockholm declared (here):

Principle 1

Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations...

Principle 21

States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

In the same spirit, it promulgated the Rio Declaration in 1992, where it stated here:

Principle 7

States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries
acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit to sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.

Principle 14

States should effectively cooperate to discourage or prevent the relocation and transfer to other States of any activities and substances that cause severe environmental degradation or are found to be harmful to human health.

As legal scholars sometimes posit, these declarations can be viewed as 'soft law' as opposed to 'hard law'. But of course, even 'soft law' can turn into 'hard law' very quickly once it is expressed and creates a sense of legal obligation in the international community. Customary international law and its enforcement comes as a result of obedience by the world of certain promulgations manifested in their daily practice out of sense of legal obligation. Insofar as the UN declarations contribute to the development of the treaty law and customary international law, they turn into 'hard law.' So, the protection of the environment has definitely become obligatory in the world. The question is only how to define the 'damage' to the environment and how to create a two-tiered system for developing and developed countries. As Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration states, the developed countries bear a heightened responsibility in view of their contributions to the ecological crisis in the world.

This would engender development of some 'double standards'. Well, international law practice has been attacked for that for a long time. Some people think, it is 'one size fits all.' Just because we have 'universal' rules and obligations common to all humankind, some people think their application is 'color-blind'. Not necessarily. Especially, in the area of environmental law, the response should be symmetrical to the degree and severity of the damage. So, the developed countries should really be the target here...

The recent Climate Change conference in Bali has really continued the step-by-step development of international policy on environment. It is by no means the final step necessary in effectuating strong response to the global catastrophe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution

On December 18, 1865 the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was declared to have been ratified by 27 out of then 36 states. This was the famous Amendment prohibiting involuntary servitude in the US:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Why Hillary would be my choice...

I would like to make the best case for Hillary Clinton as the President. While she is not my perfect candidate and Obama definitely is competing strongly, I would still vote for her. Why? Here are some of the reasons:

1. She is the most qualified out of all the candidates to be the President. After all, she knows about the job from first-hand experience. Don't you think being a First Lady to one of the most successful presidents in the US history is an additional point on her resume? She is familiar with the overall stress level and essentials of the job. We know that she had great influence on Clinton. Therefore, she should also get credit for his success. She has done well as a Senator. She is a very sharp politician, knows what to say and when and how. Diplomacy will be her strongest quality. While she may not be the best speech maker, she does not mumble like Bush and does not make English grammar mistakes. She leaves a very solid impression.

2. She is a woman and is sensitive to many social issues that most men are just not. Half the population has been largely ignored in many ways in the still male-dominated world. It is time for us to get someone who will be more or less like us. I fear that the other half of the population won't vote for her just because of still lingering sexism. Why do you think so many hate her? I am already tired of the assumption that women are simply not 'qualified' for a job. We live in one of the most developed countries in the world, but count how many women we have on the Supreme Court, and how many women leaders have we had in our history? It is even ridiculous and pathetic!

3. She has the ability to be bi-partisan. First of all, she is a centrist in many ways just like Clinton. Of course, I wish she was more liberal and I certainly disagree with her on some issues, for example the war on Iraq. She voted for use of force in Iraq. (That is probably the biggest problem I have with her. Of course, she voted so on the basis of the false evidence presented.) But in this divided land, we need someone who can in fact appeal to both sides somehow and bring some sort of a consensus. She knows the secret behind that. While she has been a bit unpredictable in her voting pattern, that is largely the way politics operates. Especially centrists are always attacked for that. When you try to be bi-partisan, you are attacked as unprincipled.

4. In foreign policy she won't be able to undo much of what has been done. But she certainly will be able to moderate the anti-American sentiments by her vastly different approach to diplomacy and negotiation. Her image in of itself is so different from what we are used to getting from Bush. In fact, I predict that she would be able to bring some sort of hope for peace in the Middle East. Just like Clinton, she might even succeed in the Israel-Palestine deadlock. My hope is that she wouldn't take this country into another war. Iran is definitely lined up by the Bush administration. The problem she would have to face as a President is how to do the right thing internationally-- for example, in the area of human rights-- even when the short-term national interests are in conflict. That is the challenge for all political leaders, isn't it?

5. In domestic policy, while she may still be more conservative than I wish, she would certainly be able to do something for the middle-class folks, health care and the environment. Even if she does not succeed, she could stop the catastrophic economic and social crisis that we have due to the war in Iraq.

I hope, she gets the endorsement of the Democratic Party and gets the chance to be the President of the US. As cynical as I have become about politics in general, I still try to hope for better... Frankly, anyone would be better than Bush!

For the voting history of Clinton see here.

Monday, December 17, 2007


People, especially politicians talk about 'use of force' and 'war' as some abstraction, as a normal human endeavor. Well, who pays for the political failures of a country? Who actually goes to the war and puts his/her life on the line? It is the soldier, not the generals, not the political leaders. And with the regular soldier who dies at war, it is the people who pay the costs of that inhuman and abnormal 'adventure.' The Soviet Union in Afghanistan (1979-1989), the US in Vietnam (1959-1975) and today in Iraq... Where can we find some sort of hope when the list is simply not ending?...

Listen to LUBE (ЛЮБЭ)"Behind the fog"...


The ICC Prosecutor Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo has reported to the UN Security Council that Sudan is not complying with the SC resolution 1593 adopted on March 31 2005 and is not cooperating with the investigation of the Court. As he says here:

In Darfur in 2003 - 2004, we witnessed the first phase of the criminal plan coordinated by Ahmad Harun. Millions of people were forced out of their villages and into camps. In the second phase – happening right now in front of our eyes –Ahmad Harun is controlling the victims inside the camps, controlling their access to food, humanitarian aid and security; attacks against the civilians and the displaced in particular take multiple forms; women are raped; emerging local leaders are targeted; the displaced are surrounded by hostile forces; their land and homes are being occupied by new settlers. The rationale is the same as before: target civilians who could be rebel supporters.

These people who are behind these atrocities have not been arrested and are continuing their actions with impunity. Pursuant to the resolution, the case of Darfur was referred to the ICC for investigation and monitoring as early as in 2002. Sudan was expected to comply with all the measures taken by the ICC. This is an example where the UN and international tribunals sit there and wonder what is the next step, when state parties or non-state parties refuse to comply with resolutions or the prerogatives of the international humanitarian law.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gone with the wind...

Similar to "War and Peace" by Sergei Bondarchuk as the best historic movie in Russia, the "Gone with the Wind" is the best historic movie made in America. In fact, it was on this day, on December 15, 1939 in Atlanta that we had its first premier. Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) who won the Pulitzer prize for it, it was the first color movie to win the Oscar. Margaret Mitchell had some biographical inspiration behind the love story of Scarlett and Rhett. She was in love with her college classmate, but was deprived of happiness when he died in WWI.

The making of this movie cost $3.7 million of dollars (which would be $41 million today). The movie theater was decorated as the Mansion of O'Hara with the picture of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. Is there any more romantic and sad love story than that? There is a fine line between hatred and passionate love... Unless taken care of and cherished daily, love dies like a flower and bringing it back is almost impossible... True love can survive time and all obstacles if only it is fired by constant reciprocal passion...

Is there also a better dramatization of the US Civil War than that? Perhaps, it was the strongest anti-war movie ever made. Of course, the cataclysmic moment in the movie is when Scarlett O'Hara shouts in the barren field 'I'll never be hungry again!' Some argue that it is a racist movie because it portrays the slaves as intellectually deprived and silly. I do not like some of the scenes in the movie that assume that. Insofar as the book/movie tends to romanticize the South with its moral depravity and regressiveness inherent in anti-abolition and white supremacism (KKK), it has its shortcomings. But remember, this was still the early 1900s. Abolition aside, white supremacy was pervasive in all of the United States, not only in the South, up through the 60s and the Civil Rights Era. In addition, the anti-war sentiments are always attacked as insensitive to the race issue, since the War ultimately freed the slaves.

It is really one of the best movies on women's emancipation. Scarlett is the epitome of a strong woman, who is capable of surviving-- her utmost instinct-- by overcoming many of the customs of the Deep South. A Southern belle, who is not expected to do anything else but to marry and bear and educate children, transforms into a businesswoman, a powerful woman who can in fact define her own destiny. Then she also sexually awakens and comes to a realization of her body's wishes. There are many interesting transformations that occur with her that show that she is still in the 'process' of changing... Of course, she is far from perfect and not the role model for today's women. But 19th century women began many of the inner transformations that were continued by women through the 20th. Interestingly, Scarlett is hated by most in the society. That is the fate of strong and extraordinary women of all times!

I am never tired of watching this movie...

Get going...

After painful discussions in Bali on climate change, when everyone thought there was irremediable deadlock, there has been an agreement reached on the actions to be taken. The representatives had major problems with words and phrases that prompted the Indonesian President say in anger: we cannot allow "the human race and the planet to crumble because we cannot find the right words." What is the agreement exactly, see soon on this blog.

The problem is that the greenhouse emissions vary in severity from developing to developed nations. The US by far is the largest producer. Understandably, the developing countries think if the US is not responding urgently, why should they? Hopefully, now with this agreement the US will respond urgently, which will prompt others to respond just as urgently. Leadership by example?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

'Positive law' vs. 'natural law'

When we talk about human rights, we think of post-World War II and Nuremberg trials because these were the major impetus behind the current human rights law. But human rights as a concept had been in existence long before. The problem was only that they were not expressed yet in an authoritative and obligatory way until 1948. Judge Tanaka elaborated this excellently in his dissenting opinion in 1966 I.C.J. 6, 250, 297-298 (July 18), in the case of South West Africa:

Human rights have always existed with the human being. They existed independently of, and before, the State. Alien and even stateless persons must not be deprived of them. Belonging to diverse kinds of communities and societies-- ranging from family, club, corporation, to State and international community, the human rights of man [woman] must be protected everywhere in this social hierarchy, just as copyright is protected domestically and internationally. There must be no legal vacuum in the protection of human rights. Who can believe, as a reasonable man, that the existence of human rights depends upon the internal or international legislative measures, etc., of the State and that accordingly they can be validly abolished or modified by the will of the State?
If a law exists independently of the will of the State and, accordingly, cannot be abolished or modified even by its constitution, becasue it is deeply rooted in the conscience of mankind and of any reasonable man, it may be called 'natural law' in contrast to 'positive law.'
Provisions of the constitutions of some countries characterize fundamental human rights and freedoms as 'inalienable', 'sacred', 'eternal', 'inviolate', etc. Therefore, the guarantee of fundamental human rights and freedoms possesses a super-constitutional significance.
If we can introduce in the international field a category of law, namely, jus cogens, recently examined by the International Law Commission, a kind of imperative law which constitutes the contrast to the jus dispositivum, capable of being changed by way of agreement between States, surely the law concerning the protection of human rights may be considered to belong to the jus cogens.

Enough said. The problem is that while human rights law exists independently of the will of a given state, its enforcement still is very much dependent on the will of that state. Of course, with growing international tribunals, the states have many more pressures. Globalization and interdependence have resulted in even more pressures. But international law making/application is highly political, highly toxic, highly dependent on the will of state actors. With growing non-state actors, the panorama has become even more complicated. Even if states may comply with international law, there are numerous non-state actors who commit various atrocities that remain unpunished or half-way punished.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Empires and Nations

Ecole Doctorale Sciences Po in Paris is hosting an international law conference in July 2008 titled 'Empires and Nations.' (here)
The conference will focus not only on theoretical and philosophical approaches, but also on specific case studies.

What is the difference between an empire and a nation? How a nation can metamorphose into an empire? What are the characteristics of each? We had many empires in the world history. The Roman empire, Persian empire, Chinese empire come to mind. Any nation that develops a desire to expand and dominate over the rest of the world can be classified as an empire. Thus, the English monarchy with its numerous colonies was also an empire. Napoleon's France was an empire. Perhaps, today the US can also be classified as an empire, because it is in search for global hegemony. Of course, there are different types of empires, some more benevolent than others. But the major difference between a nation and an empire is that, the latter has a tendency of reaching towards many nations and embracing them into its sphere of influence. Thus, an empire is more heterogeneous and culturally pluralistic, whereas a nation, while still composed of ethnic minorities, is less heterogeneous.

The case study of the Soviet Union is definitely a strong reference-point. Is an empire necessarily anti-democratic because of its tendency to center on a majority group to the detriment of smaller groups? Does heterogeneity necessarily imply tolerance? In the Soviet Union there were many nations with widely diverse religions, cultures, ethnicities. It was centered on the Russian nationality to the diminution of other nations, that were smaller in numbers. It was a vastly heterogeneous empire, and it also tried to be tolerant with regard to nationhood. In fact, due to the Communist ideology nationhood was suppressed at all costs. Communism was an overarching ideology that took priority over everything else, nationality, ethnicity, etc. All the slogans of Communism were international: 'workers of all countries unite!' (Proletarii vsekh stran, soedinyaytes!) Religion was suppressed too and was perceived to be antithetical to education. So, empires tend to be more transnational. But a nation that is not an empire, once crystallized in identity and structure, is very conducive to ultra-sensitive nationalism and intolerance.

One thing should be remembered, however, when a nation tries to project its nationhood over others and dictates its will over others, thereby turning into an empire, it is by its very essence nationalistic, because it assumes that it is superior over others and is therefore destined to rule over others. That is why, Napoleon, Caesar, Alexander the Great were cosmopolitan in that they tried to create a unified empire out of all nations and countries in the world. Yet they also were very nationalistic because they envisioned their nation as dominating over others.

Maybe it is really about the package rather than the contents. Perhaps, an empire is a design, a facade of a building structure that is called a 'nation.' An empire is simply a highly ambitious nation that is capable of materializing its ambitions at many costs to itself and the world.

(Octavius Caesar Augustus above ruled over Rome from 27 BC to 14 AD.)

Protecting the World's Children

Check out the new book by Cambridge UP, Protecting the World's Children: Impact of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Diverse Legal Systems, by Shaheen Sardar Ali, et al here.

Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (see on this blog) is a real challenge depending on the legal system and cultural traditions of a country. In countries with no rule of law and regular violations of civil rights, human rights are really irrelevant, so to speak. Systematic abuse of human rights therefore is pervasive in many of these countries. Moreover, traditions become important in that they are used as crude justifications for lack of implementation of children's rights. If a child is treated as property with no meaningful autonomy, how do you suppose children can even be said to have rights?

'Miracle women'

Dedicated women in rural Nepal have been able to curb death mortality for children under 5. Various infections and diseases have taken lives of thousands of children in absence of adequate or any health care in rural village sites in Nepal. The government with the assistance of UNICEF has created the Female Community Volunteer Health Programme, which sends 'miracle women' out to these villages to help with advice, home care, immunization, etc.

This means that many of these women have to walk for miles due to lack of transportation to get to these villages and alleviate the suffering of children from pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition. In 2004 respiratory infections caused the deaths of 11,000 children in Nepal. The Programme now covers 33 districts in Nepal, a big advance within 10 years. While these women are limited in their medical knowledge or tools-- they use stop watches to detect pneumonia-- they are able to do miracles and have become special guests for these poor families... Full story here.

Talk about dedication!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Au reste, après nous, de deluge...

Madame de Pompadour is perhaps one of the most influential women in history of Europe. Breaking through the bushes of tradition and status, she self-elevated herself to a position of power and influence in 18th century France. Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson was born in 1721 in the rue de Clery. Her father was a steward to the Paris brothers, French financiers. However, some say her biological father was a rich financier Tournehem, who became her legal guardian after her official father flew from Paris after a scandal. When she was 9, her mother took her to a fortune teller and was told that one day she would become the mistress of the king. So, she gave her the best education. She was also given the nickname “Reinette”, ‘little queen.’

After her marriage to the nephew of her guardian, she began entertaining the whole Paris and started patronizing artists and writers. Voltaire and Motesquieu were among her favorites. In February 1745 she was invited to a masked royal ball at Versailles to celebrate the marriage of the King’s son. By chance or design she was dressed as Diana, the goddess of Hunting. At this ball she drew the attention of the King (Louis XV). By September 15, 1745 she was legally separated from her husband and pronounced Marquise de Pompadour, the King’s official mistress. Because of her bourgeois background, she was immediately a target at the court—- many hated her. But soon she proved to have an enormous influence on the King, by having removed her enemies from posts.

She became to be known as the patron of arts and literature. She had given her patronage to Voltaire. She also supported Diderot’s Encyclopedie project. She had a huge influence on a trend in architecture and decorative arts that is better known as ‘Rococo.’ The fashion at that time came to be identified as the ‘Pompadour style.’ In art history this was a major period that affected the rest of European arts not only in the 18th century, but continuously through the 20th.

After 1750 her relationship with the King turned strictly into a friendship, but she continued forging huge influence on the King’s affairs. On October 12, 1752 the King made her a duchess, a big elevation from her status in the past.

When France was on the verge of war with England, she played a major role in bringing forth the ‘Diplomatic Revolution.’ The Treaty of Versailles signed on May 1, 1756 allied France with former enemy Austria, which disastrously led to the Seven Years’ War. After the French defeat at Rosbach in 1757 she supposedly comforted the King by famous now words, ‘After us, the Deluge.’ (au reste, après nous, de deluge).

When she died at the age of 42 on April 15, 1764, the King was in great grief. While they had been only friends since 1750, he remained very devoted to her while the public blamed her for the War and financial bankruptcy of France.

The King reportedly said when bidding farewell to this remarkable woman:

I am very sad at the death of Madame de Pompadour. I was indebted to her and I mourn her out of gratitude. It seems absurd that while an ancient penpusher, hardly able to walk, should still be alive, a beautiful woman, in the midst of a splendid career, should die at the age of forty.

Francois Boucher (1703-1770) painted numerous portraits of Madame de Pompadour.

Friday, December 7, 2007

December 7, 1988

It was perhaps the most terrible day in my life and the lives of many other Armenians. I was 10 years old, growing up in my native town, Leninakan, (a city woefully named after Lenin with -akan translated as -ville, now Gyumri, its historic name) in Armenia. We lived in a nicely-furnished brand new apartment in a new 12-story building structure, on the 4th floor. It was winter. The morning was not very different from others. But on that day my schedule was a bit different because I had a scheduled examination for piano at music school. Usually my classes at school started in the afternoon, but on this day because of my exam at music school I had to leave home in the morning (to my greatest fortune). As I was walking to the car with my father (he was going to take me to school), I noticed the unusually heavy fog-- could not see two feet ahead; and the loud scowl/whining of dogs at a distance. We lived in the outskirts of the city and we had a lot of dogs running loose. On that morning they were not barking, but crying like wolves. I asked my father in alarm, ‘Dad, why are the dogs crying?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, kid.’ I sensed something really bad.

Then at about 11:41am I was standing in front of the examination room with my music teacher waiting for my turn with other students and teachers. As we were standing like that, all of a sudden, it felt like an invisible hand grabbed our building and started shaking it from right to left with unimaginable strength. We were on the 4th floor and we almost fell on one another and had to grab onto one another to keep from falling. My first thought that moment was that this was the nuclear war and it was the beginning of the end of the world. We were still under the fear of the Cold War and nuclear warfare. As some kids started crying, I was frozen from fear and could not even open my mouth. I was simply speechless and could not even move. A few moments later, someone yelled, ‘run out of the building.’ I don’t know, how I was grabbed by my teacher and pushed out, because my feet were not moving. I don’t even know how I went down the stairs, and how I found myself outside in the street. In the street it was a different world-- the buildings were in ruins and people were screaming in panic holding on to each other because the waves of the earthquake were still ongoing. I only know that I was looking at my music school with horror, wondering when it was going to go down like the other buildings. But it did not and I could not believe that I had just escaped narrow death.

I was standing and trembling from fear and the cold of the winter morning without a coat, not able to move as my older cousin came, hugged me and dragged me with her. I still could not walk from fear. She was basically almost dragging me. As we were walking down the streets, looking for my parents and our relatives, we witnessed a real tragedy. There was rare a building left standing or intact. People were wounded, or screaming, doing strange things. Women were crying. Men were crying too, which was unusual. I never saw so many men crying in my life. We could also hear people yelling from inside of the destroyed buildings. They were slowly dying from wounds, heavy stones on top of them, fire or lack of oxygen. We could also hear some loud noise coming from the crust of the earth. It seemed, the world was coming to its end.

The biggest relief came when I saw my parents and my sisters alive. Since everyone was crying, yelling and not able to find their missing family members, when I saw my family all around me, the whole world was mine. We found out that our whole building structure collapsed the very first moment of the earthquake and if anyone of us had been at home, no one would have escaped. Nobody who was at home in our building escaped death. It was some miracle that we all survived.

How many people died in that earthquake is hard to estimate. There were two other major cities struck by it. But all we know, there was rarely a building left standing in my city and there was rarely a family who did not lose a member, at least a close relative. We all survived, but lost some close relatives and many friends.

That night I remember how we all were gathered around the fire to spend the cold winter night outside in the street. We were told not to get into structures for fear that another earthquake may hit. I was clinging to my father and screaming, grabbing his hand, because I was still in great fear.

The next day of course, my parents had us evacuated to another city, so that we would not witness all of the horrors of the earthquake. The aftermath was just as bad, because our city and the others hit were trying to get the people out of destroyed buildings. Some people survived, most did not make it.

From that day on, most of everything else in the world I wanted peace for the well-being of all children. Because in that shaking building clinging to my teacher, I thought it was the beginning of the War.

I also started believing in animals and their ability to predict natural disasters. The dogs whining and crying in the morning—so extraordinary that I and others noticed—were trying to warn. Unfortunately, with all the military and scientific might of the Soviet Union-- a country that conquered the outer space-- it was unable to warn us of an earthquake of such magnitude. That is what I call lack of accountability.

But what amazed me was the degree of aid and assistance that the international community responded with. Perhaps, since Gorbachev 'opened the doors' of the Communist empire with his policies, it became easier to assist. It was more than expected. Of course, much of my city is still recovering from that earthquake-- to this day, kids there do not have building structures for schools. Nonetheless, it would not even have accomplished that what has been done without the help of the world community. At that moment, even kind words could heal hearts. That was a living example of international solidarity and miracles it can do!

Click here for a video

Click here for Charles Aznavour's song dedicated to Armenia.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


What has just happened in Venezuela is very characteristic of the world trends. Nationalistic fervor in support of Hugo Chavez, while not enough to pass his proposed referendum, is the galvanizing force behind all this. The referendum failed only by a couple of percents (49 to 51%), which illustrates how much influence he has got in his country. His proposals were almost revolutionary and Napoleonic. He was basically going to make himself the president of his country until his death. He was also going to get vast powers under the new Constitution. Some say, he lost the battle but won the war (full story here and here>). Others say, there is still hope for democracy in Venezuela. Cult of personality is always antithetical to true democracy. His attempts to become the 'father' of his nation, very reminiscent of Stalin, are alarming.

But there is also a geopolitical problem here. He is capitalizing on the dissatisfaction with the US influence in Venezuela. People who have financially benefitted from his 'localistic' economic policies are his most ardent supporters. Localism means selling oil that Venezuela possesses at a price it chooses, not pushed by the US. Or maybe refusing to sell to the US altogether... Of course, this is not only about localism, but protecting national interests. Thus, Chavez may in fact gather enough support under this design. Saddam Hussein did that for many years. Using the anti-American sentiments to his personal benefit he built his empire and dictatorship. ...

The criminal justice scales...

One day as a public defender, as I was managing the daily pre-trial calendar in a busy courtroom and was listening to the other matters handled by the judge, I witnessed a very memorable scene that I can't forget. The judge was apparently deciding on whether to grant probation (DEJ) to a defendant charged and probably convicted of a felony (or perhaps admitted to the allegations). I was not the attorney of record and so I don't know the specific charges or the specific facts. But after the attorneys' pleas, it was time for the victim's and defendant's statements. First, the defendant spoke. He was basically asking the court to give him another chance and let him prove himself on probation, in freedom, out of prison. Then the victim spoke and I remember it so vividly. This was a very young girl, appearing to be in late teens, or early 20s. She spoke and my heart really sank inside. She told the judge about the defendant's long pattern of cruel abuse to her for years, how he really destroyed her life, how she was unable to continue with her life as a normal being, how afraid she was of him and of the possibility that he would continue such behavior if remained in freedom.

Her statements were so sincere, non-hysterical, calm but also so deeply emotional that at that moment I really wanted to be the District Attorney standing next to her. She was a victim of a crime who often is forgotten. The judge did not grant the probation and I thought it was fair. Where there is crime, there must be punishment. This defendant probably had many chances to stop his abuse against this victim, but he chose not to do so until time came for the society/law to render its justice.

This moment stuck in my memory because it represented the very essence, cataclysm of the criminal justice system. On one side of the scales we have the defendant and his rights that we must vigilantly guard. On the other, we have the society and often the victim of the crime that we need to protect just as vigilantly. As attorneys, representing either side, we need to remember how both sides of the scales are important and how each of us is playing a vital role in ensuring that justice prevails and there is punishment for the crime on one hand, while on the other the defendant's rights are not shed.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The first telescope

On December 3, 1621 Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) offered to the world the telescope. The remarkable life of this scientist can be glimpsed from his own words:

I believe in the humanity. If I did not, I would not have the strength to get out of bed every morning.

His numerous contributions to science and technology, his controversy with the Catholic Church made him quite a figure in history. He supported the Copernicus' heliocentric model of the universe (that the planets are revolving around the Sun, in contrast to the Aristotelian geocentric view), which made him a target of the Inquisitors. He escaped them but only after recanting some of his views...

It is always sad that the contemporaries do not welcome new scientific theories. When Leonardo da Vinci drew an airplane, people laughed at him and thought he was insane. Today very few really support or even are capable of understanding the values of cloning and stem cell research. That is the reason we will be self-limiting our horizons and we will allow ourselves to die from diseases that we could find cure from today! Do you think AIDS and cancer are incurable? Not at all. That is simply what we have settled to believe in.

'Affirmative Action' on global warming...

The UN is taking affirmative steps in attempts to address the global climate crisis. The UN Climate Change Conference 2007 currently rolling (from December 3 thru 14) in Bali, Indonesia is promising because of its extensive program. Representatives of 180 countries are getting together to agree on a plan that would need immediate implementation and full commitment by all parties. The recent devastating cyclone in Bangladesh and all the scary wave of hurricanes, thunderstorms and earthquakes, not counting the speed of ice melting has finally persuaded even the most intransigent countries that action is needed now! But this is not the first realization of the need of world 'Affirmative Action' on global warming!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Human nature, animal life and the subconscious

Has it ever occurred to you that humans are not very different from animals, with the exception of their level of intelligence and emotional complexity. I believe, each of us has own animal prototype, so to speak. Perhaps people attributed human qualities to various animals from time immemorial and now we analogize humans with animals. But some people are just like foxes, very cunning, witty and often treacherous. Some are like bear, kind, clumsy and always slow in motion/reaction. Others are just like cats, mysterious, sliding unnoticeably around and only getting attention when they need affection.

Some of us are very similar to tigers, ready to devour everything live on our way. Others are monkeys, who laugh and make others laugh, never taking anything seriously and never asking anyone to take them seriously. There is also the fish type who is deep in waters, never heard, non-expressive and slippery when trying to take hold of. Finally, there is the majestic and intelligent type, who is also a bit arrogant and looking down at everyone else-- the lion, the perceived king of animals. I can say that there is also an owl type of people, who don't sleep at nights and are just scary and lonely. There is also the lamb, who is always loved by everyone, because she does not have the ego of everyone else.

I can say that my animal type is the seabird (seagull), who is caught in-between the ocean and the coastline, the land and the sky... It is devoted to the ocean, but is also attached to the coastline. Thus, it never flies too high but also never gives in to the deep waters of the ocean. Its scream is loud, expressive, but also pensive and sometimes lonely.

Search inside and you will definitely find your animal prototype. This is about the irrational/subconscious that we, humans are so detached from by virtue of our high intelligence. We have lost our instinctive powers, emanating from Nature itself. Animals never lose them, because that is all they've got and that is what permits them to survive. In fact, due to their high instincts they react to natural disasters better than we do. Unfortunately, there is reverse correlation/inverse relationship between intellect and instinct. The more our intellect is developed, the less our instinctive powers. But what we have is our imagination and we are too lazy to use it. Only the artists among us are capable of lifting that heavy lid of imagination and free their spirit and mind.

Salvador Dali, a great Spanish painter surrealist (1904-1989) wrote:

My goal in art is to materialize, with willful power and accuracy, those objects borne out of concrete irrational...

I am not surprised at all that my friends, foes and public in general assert that they do not understand the objects born out of my imagination, which I translate into paintings. How can they understand them, when I myself-- the person creating or giving birth to such do not understand them? But the fact that I myself don't understand the meaning of my paintings does not mean that they are meaningless. On the contrary, their meaning is so deep, so complex, so multifaceted and not arbitrary, that it escapes simple analysis and definition by logical intuition.

The painting above is the "Premonition of Civil War" painted by Dali in 1936.

Religion, culture, intolerance...

A UK teacher in Sudan was jailed for 15 days for naming a teddy bear Muhammad in her class... Islamic fundamentalists and extremists gathered in fearful protest asking for more punishment and even death for her... Innocent explanations for her 'act' amounted from the moderates... But it is still a remarkable story, displaying the level of intolerance and fanaticism in Sudan... This is not just about religion or culture. This is about freedom of speech and the individual's right to express herself... People who try to freeze this into cultural/religious realm do not grasp the reality... In the name of religion and culture people are intolerant to each others' views... Full story here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Accountability and transition from democracy to dictatorship

What happens when the government ceases to be accountable to the people? How does it happen? What are the signs of this illness and how can they be detected early? How can the people assert their will and not allow that to happen? Are elections sufficient? How can the electoral process be improved?
Even the most democratic government can turn into a dictatorship over time. This does not happen overnight. It is a long process with many ebbs and flows, with many false hopes and failures. But it is very much dependent on the relationship between the government and people. The two are in a diametric opposition to each other in some contexts (such as civil rights) and in concert in others (such as national defense).
But often it is the people who ‘permit’ or allow their government to slip into unaccountability and prospectively into a dictatorship. You may ask, what if the political elites are simply insensitive to the signals emanating from below, the populace. What if they engage in a tactic of saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. What if they turn a deaf ear to the populace or often blame their lack of response to other external factors. In a democratic country we have elections that hopefully can bring forth new elites, who could perhaps not repeat the mistakes of the former. But the new elites build on what they inherit on. They can never start from scratch. If there is damage of great proportions inflicted by the yesterday elites, how do you suppose the new elites can repair all of that? It is simply impossible. Since most people by virtue of their nature cling to the status quo, things get into a settled pattern. Therefore, the new elites can only continue the trodden paths, even when they have the best intentions.
But had the people not allowed the old elites gone so far, they would not have ended up with no choice.

Lack of accountability to its people also translates into lack thereof to the world. If you don’t care about your own people’s will, you will care less about the opinion of the world community. Thus civil rights violations at home, a necessary by-product of unaccountability, will also result in human rights violations abroad. There is no secret about it. It all extends in a linear fashion.
You may ask how people can stop a democracy from turning into a dictatorship? In this highly sophisticated, highly commercial world of material values, people are caught in the whirlwind of a culture that is not civic any longer. However, time goes very fast and one day they may wake up and not be able to control their very lives. Peope may miss the train unwittingly.

No government in the world was born to be a dictatorship. It is the people who ‘permit’ and allow it to turn into such by their complacency and inability to speak up. You can speak up in many different ways, such as voting, getting engaged in your community, or simply getting involved in local politics.

For example, at its inception in 1919 the Soviet Union was by its design and nature, a government for the people essentially… The very purpose of the Great October Revolution of 1917 was to topple the Tsar, who was deeply insensitive to the people and institute a government ruled by people, the working class and peasants. At its birth it was essentially a ‘democratic’ government, despite the fact it was energized by Marxism rather than the Western liberal ideals. (Many may disagree with this, but it all depends how you define ‘democracy’). However, very soon the Communist Party emerged. Crucially, people voluntarily subordinated themselves to the will of the Party and allowed the Party to slowly turn into an absolute dictatorship. There was resistance but unorganized and haphazard. This was all under the name of the ‘proletariat,’ the working class. It soon ceased to be accountable not only to its people, but also to the entire world. But it was the people after all who ‘permitted’ that to happen. Nobody wants violence or revolutions to topple governments. I am talking about civic resistance-- by becoming a member of a civic society.

Think about the Iraq war, the Bush administration’s actions at home and abroad. Think also about the paradox of Bush’s reelection.
Some may say, national security is paramount in times of crisis. But does national security have to come at a price of a democracy? Is it really necessary to turn into a dictatorship to protect our homeland? Can’t a democracy do it better?
Democracy/human rights and national defense are not mutually exclusive. We also have to be very critical in our definition of ‘crisis.’ An act of terror is not an invasion into one’s country, which would warrant invasion into another. If that was so, all countries on Earth would be justified in invading one another, because acts of terror occur in each and every one of them, with varying severity. So, there are different levels of ‘crisis.’ As far as protection against perceived and potential threats, there are many more means of doing so, such as diplomacy and economic incentives, without turning into an absolute dictatorship.

Aren’t we permitting a wonderful democracy that we used to have to slowly turn into a dictatorship? Perhaps we will wake up in half a century and America may have missed the train…

Think about this, when you go to vote next time in the elections! Think about the extinction of the civic society in our culture and the damage flowing from that...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Who are the fittest?

On November 24, this day, in 1859 Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his famous book, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." His theory of evolution was also known as the 'survival of the fittest.' In this book he wrote:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

Thus, a human being is constantly evolving, developing. In this struggle or evolutionary process, only the so-called 'fittest' will survive. This theory, in my opinion, was the precursor of Nietzsche's philosophy on the 'Übermensch' (the Superhero). It was also an outspring of the Renaissance/Enlightenment theory about the human being and the vast human potential.

However, the 'survival of the fittest' is also a dangerous theory. At a given time in a society we have those who are at a disadvantage in this struggle. Racial minorities are the first group. Does that mean that they are rendered to extinction and the white race is destined to survive? Who are the 'favored races' in this evolutionary process-- those who are in power or those who are the most intelligent? All I am saying is that while it is true that this struggle and the inner ability of the human being to survive in this struggle will determine the future of humankind, it is also true that this theory leaves those disadvantaged groups at the mercy of the 'fittest.' Therefore, I think the Darwinian theory, while unfortunately, realistic, is also cruel and unacceptable in a humane society.

I would hope that those who are able to survive would also have the inner morality and compassion to embrace those who were weaker and share their fortunes with them!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Khmer Rouge and justice

Time has come also for Khmer Rouge rulers to face justice and pay the dues for the committed atrocities in Cambodia (1975-1979)... A UN-backed tribunal has held the first public hearing on the charges brought against a former prison chief (full story). Pol Pot, the ruthless leader of Khmer Rouge died on April 15, 1998, never having faced charges for the atrocities committed under his command. It has been estimated that approximately 1.5 million people died under his rule and as a result of his policies, involving forced labor, execution and starvation. Very similar to Stalin's or Mao's insanities. "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss," was the motto... This was after World War II when the international community clearly voiced its intolerance for crimes against humanity. Wasn't Nuremberg a lesson for these people? Amazing how people force the endless repeating of history...

This is exactly what the Russian intelligentsia had foreseen in the beginning of the 20th century... Communism was one of the manifestations of the collapse of humanism... Fascism was yet another... No matter what form they take, crimes against humanity can be committed under any flag, any motto, any design, any ideology... So, please, do not get caught up on labels... Even the best of the ideals can turn into a vehicle for horrors in the hands of people. Under the flag of democracy, the US has committed many serious war crimes recently in its war against terror... Let us not forget Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Convention on the Rights of the Child

UNICEF is celebrating the 18th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some portions of the preamble are:

Recalling that, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance,

Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,

Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity,

Bearing in mind that the need to extend particular care to the child has been stated in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 and in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1959 and recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in particular in articles 23 and 24), in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (in particular in article 10) and in the statutes and relevant instruments of specialized agencies and international organizations concerned with the welfare of children, '

Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth",

Recalling the provisions of the Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally; the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) ; and the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict,

Recognizing that, in all countries in the world, there are children living in exceptionally difficult conditions, and that such children need special consideration,

Taking due account of the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the protection and harmonious development of the child,

Recognizing the importance of international co-operation for improving the living conditions of children in every country, in particular in the developing countries,

I had a chance to handle a juvenile case, a child charged with a crime. Our society has determined that a child at the age of fourteen should be held criminally responsible. Rather an arbitrary age, because really most children at that age still are not fully understanding the nature and consequences of their actions. We all were children and we did many seemingly innocent things that sometimes ended up badly... What should be the concerns of the law enforcement when handling a child in such a situation? Are we more concerned with punishment than rehabilitation? We have many student shootings at schools done by students, teenagers. So, there are valid concerns on the side of the law enforcement. But as a society don't we have a responsibility to cure the causes of these problems, rather than punish these kids and send them to the juvenile hall?

In addition, it is true that generally the family is the best place for a child. However, that is not true in some circumstances. There are parents who basically have no social skills and have no idea how to raise children. They are uneducated and abusive. They suffer from serious problems themselves, ranging from psychiatric to social. More likely than not, they are the very cause of their children's problems. Please, do not become parents when your life is a mess and you are not able to control it... Also do not become parents unless you have the full commitment that you will sacrifice yourself for the well-being of your child... If you are not capable of understanding this, do not burden the society with your failed heritage!

We, as a society have a duty to view the child criminal holistically... First, what kind of behavior can be classified as criminal. Second, what were the causes of that behavior. Third, how can we ensure that the child recovers from this psychological loss and enters into the society as a full member without paying the unacceptable price of departure...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

International Students' Day

In 1939 a series of events occurred that led to celebration of this day as the International Day of Students. In the Nazi-occupied Prague there were mass student demonstrations. During a crackdown a Medical student, Jan Opletal (1915-1939) was fatally wounded and died on November 11. His funeral on November 15 served as an impetus for another strong wave of demonstrations. In response, the Nazis shut down all the Universities. Nine people were executed without trial or investigation. Approximately 2000 students and teachers were sent to concentration camps.

To commemorate this event and the student's death, in 1941 the International Student Union seating in London declared this day as the International Day of Students.

(visit for more)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

World citizen?

Zoya Kosmodemianskaya was a Russian woman partisan during World War II. During a raid she was betrayed by one of her co-partisans and captured by the Nazis. After torture, when she refused to reveal the names of other partisans, she was killed shouting, "There are 200 million of us, you can't hang us all."
I chose the pseudonym of Zoya because from my early childhood years, growing up in Armenia and Russia, I was listening to the story about Zoya Kosmodemianskaya with admiration! She was indeed a legendary figure for us, children, since she was of a very young age, when she was killed by the Nazis. While the Encyclopedia has different versions about her story, I believe in the official Soviet story. While the Soviet official proclamations were generally a propaganda and not entirely true and never to be trusted, they were true with regard to World War II.

In addition, Zoya's legend is still remembered by the people in her village. So the story of her partisanship, her courage when captured by the Nazis is all true especially because it is corroborated by the German sources.

However, I have decided to abandon this pseudonym for one major reason. If I aspire to be a world citizen, a cosmopolitan, choosing a Russian name for my pseudonym would perhaps not work... Since I cannot think of a name that would be truly cosmopolitan, I will simply remain in my true name, that was given to me by a chance and biologically...

I simply refuse to be a nationalist. While I am proud to be a US citizen and have taken the oath to uphold the US Constitution, and my background is Russian-Armenian, I simply want to say that I am first of all a human being, aspiring to be a world citizen! I aspire to identify myself with all cultures, all peoples and all groups, inhabiting this Earth! This is a blog where everyone is welcome, as long as you also believe in international solidarity and peace in the world!

(Listen to John Lennon's Imagine here)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Examining the right to self-determination...

It is very important for those interested in this subject to delve more deeply into it and perhaps conclude that some claims for self-determination may not be valid, at least under current international law. An illuminating article on this was written not long ago by Jonathan Charney, Self-Determination: Chechnya, Kosovo, and East Timor, 34 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 455 (2001). He took up to analyze this very issue: the color spectrum of claims by groups for self-determination and how some may really not be valid.

'Validity' is an interesting concept. Who decides the validity of a claim? Isn't self-determination an inherent right of a group seeking it? How can the international community dictate whether one claim is valid over the other? Which actors in the international community would prevail? Aren't the minority groups in need of protection against the elites that dominate the international arena?

But as discussed on this blog earlier, the right to self-determination is proscribed by certain limitations, one of which is territorial integrity of a UN member. Thus, there is an opposing force, also recognized under international law. So, there are two forces clashing, and depending on the strength of each, one prevails over the other. For example, the Kosovo claim prevailed for various reasons, one of which was the geopolitical and global disillusionment with Communism. Yugoslavia, a former Communist state was no longer capable of containing the centrigufal forces within its territory. These forces had been fomenting even before Communism took hold in Europe. These were long-standing historic frozen volcanoes that erupted only now, at the end of the 20th century.

Chechnya's claim for self-determination did not meet the same success level for various historic reasons. But it is by no means a settled case. Chechnya will continue to be a problem for Russia for a long time... But Chechnya's location was different and thus affected its destiny. Every region in the world has its unique characteristics and historical balance sheet. People often ignore this but much too often geographic location dictates the fate of a group. Don't forget to look at the map of the world functionally...

Thus, the right to self-determination and its status in international law is far from clear and far from settled... Perhaps, the same can be said of all legal concepts (with some exceptions) in international law, because making and application of international law is not by a recipe, but trial and error...

It would be useful to begin from examining the origins of the right to self-determination: concepts of nationhood and decolonization and then follow the application of international politics and law in understanding its exercise.

(For more on this topic visit here for forthcoming publication by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hardline on secession in the name of anti-terror...

In China the public has welcomed the death sentences handed down to five Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang region. The Uighurs are Indo-European people who comprised 90 per cent of Xinjiang when the People's Republic of China was established in 1949. Since then they have been reduced to a 45 per cent minority in a region now dominated by Han Chinese. The control is in the hands of the latter in a region rapidly growing economically. The ethnic links of this group to Turkmenistan and other Central Asian former Soviet republics and the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union prompted the Uighurs to seek self-determination, not welcomed and quenched at every step by Beijing.

China's official story is that these groups set up terrorist camps as of August 2005 in attempts to achieve their goals. There were also official promulgations linking these groups with Al-Qaida. How true are these official proclamations? Is this intolerance towards minority groups? or is it a hardline stance on secession? As far as the global war on terror, China and Russia through their partnership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, reiterate their commitment in that regard at every meeting. This is because both Russia and China have large Muslim populations, either as neighbors or as minority groups within their respective territories. (for more on this see here, and here)

As to the death sentences, China is perhaps taking advantage of its remoteness to Europe... Russia did not have that luxury and abolished the death penalty against the widespread public support for it...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ecological catastrophe

The recent strong waves of storms in Kerch and the Black Sea/Azov sea (border of Russia and Ukraine) have resulted in a major oil/fuel leak into the sea, destroying thousands and thousands of birds and fish. The guard was unable to prevent the massive leaks from destroyed ships and tankers and currently the Azov sea and the Black sea are basically filled with fuel... Estimated 30 thousands of birds have died. How much of the marine life has perished is inestimable... This is indeed an ecological catastrophe! (Full story)

A criminal case has been opened to investigate the reasons behind the inability to stop the leaks and thwart the crisis. While the nature was the impetus behind the catastrophe, the guard was also incompetent in minimizing the danger and the risks. (For more) Also, perhaps these ships and tankers were not properly maintained...

Well, in San Francisco recently a similar event occurred and the U.S. Coastal Guards were too slow in reacting, resulting in another environmental crisis. (Read the story)

This means that somewhere and somehow we are completely incompetent in protecting our environment! Is that news?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Islamic law and gay's rights

The International Lesbian and Gay Association founded in 1978 has been actively fighting globally against discrimination of gays. Now it has more than 600 member organizations. Recently it has celebrated the World Day against the Death Penalty-- October 10. This day was also marked as the first European Day against Death Penalty proclaimed by the Council of Europe on September 27, 2007. 7 countries in the world punish consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex by death: Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Nigeria. What do most of these countries have in common-- the unreformed sharia law. Talk about the need for reforming the Islamic law! (See my upcoming paper on Islamic Law)...

(Listen and watch the video clip of Liberta by Al Bano and Romina Power here)