Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category



This week, Brazil’s stock index dipped sharply and the national currency, the real, slumped after polls showed incumbent Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff securing a lead in the run-up to Sunday’s first round of voting. This reaction by capital markets reflects misgivings about the continuation of statist policies that have dried up jobs, driven up debt and led the world’s seventh-largest economy into a recession.

Although Rousseff has recovered her lead over the 10 other candidates, she will likely fall short of obtaining an outright majority and will be forced into a run-off Oct. 26 against free-market maverick Marina Silva. And while most observers expect Rousseff to win re-election by challenging Silva’s lack of executive experience, the campaign has exposed profound popular doubts about the president’s own management of Brazil’s economy.

Silva’s steady rise in the polls buoyed private-sector hopes, but markets tumbled this week after a series of polls showed Silva losing her lead over the incumbent in the projected second round of voting. On Monday, Petrobras shares fell more than 11 percent – the largest one-day loss in nearly six years. Shares in the state-run Banco do Brasil fell nearly 8.5 percent, while the real lost as much as 2.5 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar.

Published on Oct. 2nd,

Roger Noriega was U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States and assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005 and is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His firm, Vision Americas LLC, represents U.S. and foreign clients.


A Turning Point in the Fight for Hong Kong

Written on September 29, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights

HONG KONG — Future generations may well commemorate Sept. 28, 2014 in the history of Hong Kong as the day when the famously apolitical city turned unmistakably political. Tens of thousands of protesters, calling for “true democracy” — that is, no Beijing-led nomination process in the planned 2017 election for the city’s chief executive, its top government official — confronted the police in the heart of Hong Kong. The smell of tear gas hung in the air near Prada and Gucci shops in glitzy Central area. Police in full riot gear marched on thoroughfares normally congested with traffic in the Admiralty district, where the government is headquartered. By midnight, hundreds of protesters blocked the main roads in Causeway Bay and Mongkok, two bustling shopping areas favored by locals and tourists alike.

Even a day earlier, it had not seemed that Beijing’s relationship with Hong Kong, a former British colony and now a special administrative region of China, would deteriorate this quickly. On Sept. 27, university students, joined by some high school students, had called for a school strike and stormed a small plaza in front of the Hong Kong government headquarters, which resulted in forcible removal by police and arrest of dozens. But most protesters were unharmed and were released within hours.

Matters escalated with shocking speed when protesters began to block roads in the Admiralty district on the afternoon of Sept. 28. Riot police arrived en masse and deployed tear gas against the gathering crowd in the early evening. The police even held up signs warning the protesters that they would be fired upon if they did not disperse. Protesters held up umbrellas against pepper spray, and made gas masks using lab goggles and saran wrap.

The protesters were brought together by the student organizers and the Occupy Central campaign, a civil disobedience movement that had threatened to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in order to pressure Beijing into giving Hong Kong open nomination rights in the 2017 chief executive election. Occupy Central was highly controversial, with many worried that such a movement would taint Hong Kong’s business-friendly reputation and negatively affect its freewheeling markets. Multiple surveys conducted prior to September 2014 all showed that more than half of Hong Kongers did not support Occupy Central, with a significant minority in favor. Two separate surveys released in August 2014 showed that more than half of Hong Kongers were willing to accept the flawed nomination process.

That narrative has now changed for good after Hong Kong police’s rash response on Sept. 28. The images of Hong Kong as a war zone — where police used tear gas, batons, pepper spray, and rubber bullets against unarmed protesters — were deeply unsettling to residents here. Local online discussion boards are now full of discussions of police brutality. Many Hong Kongers on Facebook, a popular social network here, have changed their profile photos into a yellow ribbon in support of the protesters and talked about supporting students with funding and supplies.

 The real action (or inaction), however, is taking place in Beijing, some 1,200 miles north. The current chief executive Leung Chun-ying, commonly known as C.Y.,admitted in a press conference today that he and the Hong Kong government have no authority to request the People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, to withdraw its decision on the electoral plans for Hong Kong as the protesters have demanded.

 And Beijing has shown no sign of budging since handing down the decision on Aug. 31. On Sept. 28, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency called the protests “unlawful,” Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong “strongly condemned” the Occupy Central movement and claimed that the People’s Congress’ decision “cannot be challenged.” The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s State Council also issued a statement avowing that the electoral framework has an “unshakeable legal basis and effectiveness.”

Given Beijing’s intransigent stance, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters are unlikely to get what they want — but many probably also knew that when they organized boycotts or took to the streets. The real battle, still very much ongoing, is for Hong Kong’s people’s hearts and minds. After watching protesters facing down the riot police, C.Y. apparently doing Beijing’s bidding, and students being arrested, even moderate Hong Kongers are likely to become even more distrustful of the Hong Kong government’s willingness to look out for their interests. A sign making the rounds on social media — “I cannot keep calm because Hong Kong is dying” — shows an increasing unease and anger among the population. Governing the special administrative region is about to become even more difficult for Beijing.

By Rachel Lu

Published on Sept. 28 in


Winston Churchill once famously said that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all of the alternatives.” He could have been speaking of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.

For six years I have criticized the administration’s policies toward Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East (mostly excepting its Iran policy). But since the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June, at least where Iraq and Syria are concerned, I can find little to criticize and much to praise. The administration has reversed course in both countries, shifting from stubborn disengagement to smart leadership. Since the stunning ISIS offensive in Iraq in June, Washington’s moves have been uncharacteristically deft: promising greater military support to Iraq as leverage to effect political change there; providing air support and weapons to the Kurds to halt the ISIS offensive; launching a sustained air campaign against ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria; and deploying advisors and weapons to Iraq, to name a few.

The administration’s new approach has resulted in several important developments. Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down as prime minister of Iraq. That country has a new, more inclusive government that’s committed both to fighting ISIS and accommodating the demands of its alienated Sunni community. Humanitarian tragedies have been averted at Mount Sinjar and Amerli. ISIS has been driven back from Mosul Dam and the approaches to Erbil. And many of the states of the region have signed on to the U.S.-led effort.

These are merely first steps in the right direction, but that in itself is an important achievement. When Mosul fell, the Middle East was plummeting into chaos. Today, at least in some key areas, it has started to pull out of that nosediveeven if it has not yet started to gain altitude. But there is one piece of the strategy that the Obama administration has not articulated and does not yet seem to be preparing for.

We must also start gearing up for nation-building, particularly in Syria.

 Both Iraq and Syria are classic intercommunal civil wars. ISIS is the symptom of that underlying problem, not the problem itself. And unless we stabilize both countries and end the civil wars there, we will never be rid of ISIS or the other threats to our interests in Syria and Iraq. As we have learned from both our successes and failures, healing civil wars requires a long-term process of nation-building. There is no way around that.

In Iraq, the framework of such a process is already in place, left over from the successful period of 2008-2010. Moreover, much of Washington’s heavy lifting already has been about how to get Iraq’s political leadership back on the path toward the stability and political functionality that were created back then. There are still many hurdles, and doing so will take a great deal of effort and luck, but it is of a different category entirely than what needs to be done in Syria.

Indeed, Obama himself recognized this unavoidable reality in his interview with Tom Friedman of The New York Times in August. The president said he learned from the Libyan strikes in 2011 that military intervention that was not backed by a major effort to build a functional state afterward would lead to chaos and new threats to American interests. In the interview, Obama seemed to be imply that this was one reason he didn’t want to intervene in Syria: because he was not ready to commit to such a program for Syria.

Well, the president has now committed to just such an intervention in Syria. Having done so, ensuring that the intervention turns out welland does not create more problems than it solvesmeans that he is also going to have to commit to nation-building there. Read more…

Kenneth M. Pollack is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Published on Sept. 24 in


The Union now has an epochal chance

Written on September 19, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, News

A Union Jack and Saltire flags blow in the wind near to Glen Coe on March 24, 2014 in Glen Coe, Scotland.

Like the battle of Waterloo, the battle for Scotland was a damn close-run thing. The effects of Thursday’s no vote are enormous – though not as massive as the consequences of a yes would have been.

The vote against independence means, above all, that the 307-year Union survives. It therefore means that the UK remains a G7 economic power and a member of the UN security council. It means Scotland will get more devolution. It means David Cameron will not be forced out. It means any Ed Miliband-led government elected next May has the chance to serve a full term, not find itself without a majority in 2016, when the Scots would have left. It means the pollsters got it right, Madrid will sleep a little more easily, and it means the banks will open on Friday morning as usual.

But the battlefield is still full of resonant lessons. The win, though close, was decisive. It looks like a 54%-46% or thereabouts. That’s not as good as it looked like being a couple of months ago. But it’s a lot more decisive than the recent polls had hinted. Second, it was women who saved the union. In the polls, men were decisively in favour of yes. The yes campaign was in some sense a guy thing. Men wanted to make a break with the Scotland they inhabit. Women didn’t. Third, this was to a significant degree a class vote too. Richer Scotland stuck with the union — so no did very well in a lot of traditonal SNP areas. Poorer Scotland, Labour Scotland, slipped towards yes, handing Glasgow, Dundee and North Lanarkshire to the independence camp. Gordon Brown stopped the slippage from becoming a rout, perhaps, but the questions for Labour — and for left politics more broadly — are profound.

For Scots, the no vote means relief for some, despair for others, both on the grand scale. For those who dreamed that a yes vote would take Scots on a journey to a land of milk, oil and honey, the mood this morning will be grim. Something that thousands of Scots wanted to be wonderful or merely just to witness has disappeared. The anticlimax will be cruel and crushing. For others, the majority, there will be thankfulness above all but uneasiness too. Thursday’s vote exposed a Scotland divided down the middle and against itself. Healing that hurt will not be easy or quick. It’s time to put away all flags.

The immediate political question now suddenly moves to London. Gordon Brown promised last week that work will start on Friday on drawing up the terms of a new devolution settlement. That may be a promise too far after the red-eyed adrenalin-pumping exhaustion of the past few days. But the deal needs to be on the table by the end of next month. It will not be easy to reconcile all the interests – Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish and local. But it is an epochal opportunity. The plan, like the banks, is too big to fail.

Alex Salmond and the SNP are not going anywhere. They will still govern Scotland until 2016. There will be speculation about Salmond’s position, and the SNP will need to decide whether to run in 2016 on a second referendum pledge. More immediately, the SNP will have to decide whether to go all-out win to more Westminster seats in the 2015 general election, in order to hold the next government’s feet to the fire over thepromised devo-max settlement. Independence campaigners will feel gutted this morning. But they came within a whisker of ending the United Kingdom on Thursday. One day, perhaps soon, they will surely be back.

By Martin Kettle; Published on 19 Sept. in


Europe’s Messy Political Divorces

Written on September 17, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Security

Divorce among couples rarely ends without scandal, and all the more  so with divorce between states. Those splits inevitably involve political and economic hardships, mutual recriminations and a complex and painful division of property. And even once this nightmare is over, the very presence of the other party causes interminable irritation and anger.

The only example that I can recall of a civilized “state divorce” in Europe was the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into two parts — accomplished thanks to the efforts of former Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel. To this day, the two “former spouses” maintain normal inter-state relations.

Divorce and separation remains a very real problem for Europe. Scotland’s agitation to leave the U.K., Catalonia’s attempts to escape the custody of Madrid and Novorossia’s bloody fight to break away from Ukraine are all ongoing issues.

And although each case is very different, they share one aspect in common: London, Madrid and Kiev are exerting great efforts to prevent those disunions. However, a strict interpretation of international law indicates that, in all three cases, those advocating separatism have every right to at least advocate their cause. In 1945, the right to self-determination was included in the United Nations Charter. Then, in 1966, this right was enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Still later, this right was confirmed in documents of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

What’s more, the concept of self-determination covers a wide range of possibilities and is defined as “The establishment of a sovereign and independent state, the free association with an independent state or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people.” In theory, the people living in the area affected should resolve these disputes, without any outside interference. The UN Charter states that “all states shall, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter, encourage the right to self-determination, and shall respect that right.” The only problem is that nobody “respects” that right, much less “encourages” it.

There are several reasons for political leaders’ inability to honor their obligations, to greater or lesser degrees. First, the UN Charter also contains the contradictory principle of “the inviolability of borders” because after World War II the leading powers wanted to ensure stability by any means. Consequently, for every argument for self-determination, a persuasive counter-argument is available. The second reason is that the clause on self-determination was introduced during the collapse of the colonial system when the authors had the African states in mind. At that time, few colonial powers wanted to keep their states, and so their passage into freedom was relatively uncomplicated.

Nobody could have guessed that Scotland and Catalonia would one day invoke the same principle. There are many more examples besides those: the Ukrainian Donbass, Spain’s Basque region, Russia’s Chechnya and so on. The underlying problem with the current world order is that it has long outworn its original set of clothing and just plods on wearing the same old, uncomfortable and increasingly tattered rags. A prime example of this is the fact that the victors in World War II continue to control the UN Security Council, a completely inappropriate situation given the wealth and power of the world’s developing nations. But unfortunately, the fear of making desperately needed repairs to the structure of the UN has already led to numerous squabbles, and threatens to undermine the very foundation of the organization. Perhaps humanity will simply have to wait for another world war, after which the winners will spell out the new rules of the game for the few remaining survivors. No matter the international body, though, the world’s issues are not just about rules written on paper. The problem is the egoism that drives the world today. If not for this egoism, the Catalonians and Basques would create their own states and live in peace alongside Madrid and as a part of the European Union. Scotland would settle down. And if Kiev and Moscow had enough sense, it would avoid all this bloodshed by letting Novorossia go in whichever direction it wanted. Thus freed from that heavy burden, Kiev could finally pursue meaningful integration with Europe. However, Madrid will continue desperately clinging to Barcelona, London to Scotland and both Kiev and Moscow to the Donbass. Despite considering itself the leader of civilization, Europe has yet to learn how to formulate reasonable and sound policies. If only someone would follow the example set by Vaclav Havel.

Published on Sept. 14 by Pyotr Romanov in

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