Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

The arms race for human rights

Bernd Debusmann
May 25, 2012 14:26 UTC

Profits from arms deals tend to trump human rights. The United Nations Security Council, whose five veto-wielding permanent members count among the world’s biggest arms dealers, is falling down on its job. Hypocrisy is rampant as governments pay lip service to human rights.

So says Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, in its latest annual report, published this week. It deplores an “endemic failure of leadership” and says 2011 – the year of the Arab Spring – had made clear that “opportunistic alliances and financial interests have trumped human rights as global powers jockey for influence…”

That reference covers Russia, chief armorer of the government of Bashar al-Assad, as well as the United States, which recently resumed arms shipments to the royal rulers of tiny Bahrain, whose crackdown on dissidents has been brutal, though not nearly on the same scale as the campaign to wipe out the opposition in Syria.  The death toll there now stands at around 10,000.

To hear Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty tell it, the leaders who have so far failed to match human rights rhetoric with arms export deed have a chance to redeem themselves at a United Nations conference next July to work out a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), an idea first put forward in 2003 by a group of Nobel laureates who argued that existing arms control regulations are full of loopholes.

Campaigning for an arms treaty has gathered momentum over the past few years and in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama timed to coincide with the Amnesty International report, representatives of 51 non-governmental organizations described the July conference as an historic opportunity to prevent weapons from ending up in the hands of human rights violators. “We urge you and your administration to play a strong leadership role,” the letter said.

America and Syria’s ‘dead man walking’

Bernd Debusmann
May 22, 2012 13:06 UTC

When U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of  Germany, France, Britain, Canada and the European Union first issued public calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, the death toll in Syria stood at 2,000. That was in August 18 last year.

When Obama repeated the call on May 19, as host of a summit meeting of the Group of Eight, the body count had reached 10,000, according to United Nations estimates. The two figures highlight the lack of success of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure on a ruthless leader who learned lessons in unrestrained brutality from his father, Hafez al-Assad, whom he succeeded in office.

A peaceful solution to Syria’s protracted crisis now looks remote enough to wonder whether Bashar al-Assad might outlast Obama in power. The U.S. president is not assured of winning another term in office next November. But the odds of the Assad regime surviving into 2013 look better with every passing day, even though one of the U.S. government’s top experts on Syria has labeled the Syrian president a “dead man walking.”

Florida, standing its ground, will allow guns at the Republican convention

Bernd Debusmann
May 7, 2012 17:11 UTC

File this under the rubric Only in America – sticks, poles and water guns will be banned from the centre of Tampa at the Republican Party’s national convention next August. Guns, however, will be allowed. The logic behind that is drawn from the U.S. constitution. How so?

The constitution’s second amendment protects the right of citizens to “keep and bear arms”  and that is taken to mean firearms. Sticks, poles and water guns do not enjoy constitutional protection. That, in a nutshell, is the argument the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, used to turn down a request by the mayor of Tampa for guns to be kept away, just for four days, from an event forecast by the organizers to draw at least 50,000 people to the city.

They will include thousands bent on demonstrating against the policies of Mitt Romney, who will be formally nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidential elections in November. Political conventions and protests make for a volatile mix, which is why Mayor Bob Buckhorn thought the downtown area near the convention center should be a gun-free zone.

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