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Human Rights Watch Should Stick to the Facts on Venezuela

By Mark Weisbrot | CEPR Americas Blog | April 10, 2014

Despite the fact that the New York Times had to run a correction on February 26 for claiming that Globovisión in Venezuela was “[t]he only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government,” Daniel Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) repeats the same error in the New York Review of Books yesterday, writing that:

Two of the four private stations voluntarily dropped their critical coverage; a third was forced off the air; and the fourth was hounded by administrative sanctions and criminal charges until the owner sold it last year to investors reportedly linked to the governments, who have dramatically curtailed its critical content.

In fact, the stations he claims have “dropped their critical coverage,” Venevisión and Televen, regularly run coverage that is critical of the government, as documented here.

Since the claim that these stations have “dropped their critical coverage” is demonstrably false, the NYRB, like the New York Times, should run a correction.

The fourth station he refers to is Globovisión. During the run-up to last April’s presidential elections, according to a Carter Center study, Globovisión gave nine times as much coverage to opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles as to governing party candidate Nicolás Maduro. Readers who are familiar with right-wing TV in the United States will note that this would not be possible for Fox News, for example, to get away with. So, if Globovisión “dramatically curtailed” its anti-government bias – Wilkinson offers no data — because it was bought by someone who wanted to practice mainstream journalism, the station could still have a lot of room to trash the government.

In fact, on February 17, in the heat of the recent protests, Globovisión ran an interview with opposition leader María Corina Machado in which she denounced the government for a series of alleged crimes and argued that people had the right to overthrow it. This casts a bit of a shadow over Wilkinson’s further claim that “while some news programs have interviewed opposition leaders and government critics, they do so under the legal and political constraints imposed by the government.”

It’s too bad that Wilkinson ignored or perhaps didn’t read the Carter Center’s report on the Venezuelan media during the vigorously contested 2013 presidential election campaign. The data from the report, taking into account audience share, indicate that TV media coverage was pretty evenly split between the two candidates. This contradicts the exaggerated picture that he paints in this article of an “authoritarian” government seeking to “control how the news gets reported on Venezuelan TV.”

The 2,800-word article – which provides few links or sources to back up dozens of allegations – contains a number of exaggerations and inaccuracies. For example, in describing the protests he writes that “Most of these have been peaceful, though in many places protesters have barricaded streets, and some have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails.” This contradicts daily news reports in the major international media. Some of the large daytime marches have been peaceful, but every night for nearly two months there have been violent protests where the participants throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces and sometimes neighbors who try to clear or pass through barricades. Not to mention the occasional shootings by protesters. He doesn’t mention it, but half of the 39 fatalities he refers to have apparently been caused by protesters.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It is the job of human rights groups to denounce and expose all human rights abuses committed by governments (and non-state actors too), and I would not criticize a human rights organization for being too harsh on any government. And if Wilkinson wants to ignore or pretend he can’t see that this is another attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government taking place, that’s his prerogative too. But why the gross exaggerations and false statements? Aren’t there enough things to complain about without making things up?

HRW can get away with outrageous double standards if they want. They barely lifted a finger when a U.S.-backed coup overthrew the democratically-elected government of Haiti in 2004. The perpetrators of the coup killed thousands of people, and officials of the constitutional government were put in jail. This did not raise a tiny fraction of the concern at HRW as compared to the “independence of the judiciary” in Venezuela, which of course was not more independent before their enemy Chávez was elected.

In 2008, more than 100 scholars and experts signed a letter documenting and “highlighting exaggerations and inaccuracies” in a “politically motivated” report by HRW on Venezuela. It is clear that HRW did not take any steps to correct their bias or carelessness with the facts. That is a shame. Of course, there is no political price to pay in the U.S. for exaggerating or making false statements about a government that Washington wants to destabilize. But it does not serve the cause of human rights; and it undermines the good work that HRW does in other countries when they are seen as a partisan ally of a U.S.-backed attempt at “regime change.”

Really they should stick to the facts.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | Leave a comment

Israeli police brutality caught on video

Press TV – April 10, 2014

An online video has emerged, showing Israeli police forces battering a Palestinian before attacking a protesting bystander.

Ali Talhami suffered a broken arm and ribs after police officers repeatedly slammed a police car door on him, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Thursday.

The video shows a police officer forcing Talhami into the police van with blows and then walking over to Majdi Dabah, who was standing nearby, before throwing him at the vehicle.

Talhami was subjected to the acts of violence for refusing to pay up a heavy fine imposed on him by an inspector for leaving a refrigerator outside his store in East al-Quds (Jerusalem).

“I explained the refrigerator was outside because we were returning it to the company, but the inspector started swearing at me,” Talhami said, adding that he was then attacked by a police officer accompanying the inspector before other police officers arrived and joined in on the beating.

“After we reached the police station, they continued beating me,” said Talhami.

“The policeman started beating Ali, and I told him not to,” Dabah said. “So he pushed me with my head into the window and then knocked me to the ground and beat me.”

“My shoulder was dislocated and my head hurts,” Dabah said.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , | Leave a comment

Arrests and stolen land in Osarin village

International Solidarity Movement | April 10, 2014

Osarin, Occupied Palestine – In the last month, the Israeli army has arrested 10 boys under the age of 16 from Osarin village. As of today, they all remain in the prison.

This is the latest in a long line of tactics employed by the Israeli military to intimidate the people of Osarin and the surrounding villages. According to a member of the village’s local council, the Israeli army approached the village around six months ago demanding that Osarin and three other neighboring villages sell three dunams (3,000 square meters) of land to the Israeli government. The threat was that if they did not comply the army would simply take the land. Despite this pressure, the people of the village collectively chose to refuse and have had to live with the consequences of this choice ever since.

The land the army asked for originally was intended to build three watchtowers, one of which would be just outside Osarin. The other two would be near the villages of Yatma and Qabalan, who also had demands from the Israeli army to sell their land. In total the army was trying to obtain 320 dunams of important farmland, containing olive trees, other crops and grazing areas from the three villages.

The village’s decision to refuse was met with a new plan by the army to build a wall on either side of the main road (route 505), running adjacent to the village, all the way to Za’tara checkpoint. This would be roughly 10km in length and would unsurprisingly require the confiscation of land on either side of the road, which belongs to the village of Osarin. The reasoning for this intrusion into Palestinian land was allegations that boys from the village had been throwing stones onto the main road, where settlers from the illegal settlements pass by in their cars and sometimes on foot. In fact, the Israeli army used these allegations to call a meeting with four villages, one of which was Osarin, the others being Beita, Beit Furik and Madama. In this meeting the army told the representatives from the villages that unless the alleged stone throwing ceased they would make all four of the villages into closed military zones. In other words, force out the inhabitants of all four villages and make it impossible for them to return.

While the Israeli army demands that children stop throwing stones, they are also at the same time increasing attacks on the civilian population of Osarin. During these periods physical force has been used, including punching individuals with no just cause and firing live ammunition into the air to intimidate the local population. Also during these incursions, the roads are closed around the village even when ambulances need to either enter or leave the village, endangering lives in the process.

The village has attempted to go through the court system to block the Israeli authorities’ plans for the area, but has lost each court battle numerous times. This is despite the fact that the village is located in Area B (Palestine Authority and Israeli control) and therefore any seizure of land, including for the purposes of military building construction, is illegal. The area has long been an area of high activity for the Israeli military, where in November 2013 witnesses report that military training took place involving up to 1,000 Israeli soldiers. During the week-long action villagers were told to stay in at night, creating a curfew, and at times local groups of boys were used to provide training with how to deal with stone throwing.

When a local representative was asked if he felt matters had gotten worse in terms of Israeli military interference and intimidation, his answer was an unequivocal yes. The construction of the wall along either side of Route 505 has yet to begin but will most probably commence in the near future. In the meantime, arrests of children and physical violence towards the villagers continue.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | , , | Leave a comment

Iran must be ready to walk from P5+1

By Finian Cunningham | Press TV | April 9, 2014

Iran should not sweat it over the P5+1 nuclear talks. Any final agreement is simple.

It must recognize Iran’s inalienable right to peaceful nuclear technology, including the operation of uranium enrichment and all existing related facilities in the country. In return for Iranian guarantees over its legitimate nuclear activities, the US and its European allies must cancel the onerous burden of economic sanctions. That is the essence of any deal. And any other add-on issues are irrelevant.

Indeed, Western attempts to alter the framework of a final nuclear deal must be slapped down; or if insisted upon, Iran should reserve the right to walk away from the talks.

Negotiations this week in the Austrian capital Vienna were said to be “constructive”. Next month, discussions move on to a final accord that could pave the way for lifting of sanctions.

The stakes are high for Iran. Of course, Iran wants to see a prompt end to the Western-imposed sanctions regime that has caused economic and social hardship for its people. The morality and legality of such indiscriminate punishment is highly dubious, to say the least, and their continued imposition is a cause of much indignation.

But a final agreement must be based on the essential details: Iran’s inalienable right to civilian nuclear technology; an agreed system of verification; and immediate cancellation of economic sanctions.

If the Western states, in particular the US, Britain and France, begin to add on conditions to those essential details, Iran must not be browbeaten or seduced into making concessions for the sake of concluding a final accord.

Ominously, we saw this duplicitous Western tendency to move the goalposts this week when US Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate hearing in Washington that sanctions relief for Iran was contingent not just on Iranian guarantees over nuclear weapons, but also on allegations of Iranian involvement in international terrorism and violation of human rights.

Kerry’s comments follow on the move last week by the European Parliament to censure Iran over alleged human rights abuses. It seemed more than mere coincidence that both the US and EU expressions pre-empted the latest round of P5+1 negotiations in Vienna this week.

It is, to be sure, patently ridiculous for the Americans and Europeans to raise issues of human rights and terrorism given their own outrageous transgressions. Just this week we hear of more reports that Washington is to step up supplies of heavy weapons to terrorists running amok in Syria – the same Western-backed terrorists who are implicated in the use of chemical weapons to kill hundreds of civilians in a callous propaganda stunt.

This also follows increasing evidence last week of a decade of American torture – assisted by European collusion – of hundreds of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp and countless other US black sites around the globe.

And as far as the Europeans are concerned, this week sees the plight of 12 million Roma people being highlighted for gross mistreatment by governments across the entire 28-nation bloc.

Regardless of the integrity of purported American and European concerns – terrorism and human rights – what needs to be recognized is that the ostensible issues are completely irrelevant to the nuclear dispute and a final accord. These issues are being added on in an ad hoc fashion, which suggests that the P5+1 nuclear impasse is being set up for procrastination on Western terms.

As Iranian Professor Mohammad Marandi told Press TV this week in a debate forum, the issue of alleged human rights violations is being used as a ploy to pressure Iran into making concessions over its nuclear rights. The Western logic would seem to be: if you want a P5+1 deal and an end to trade sanctions, then we want in return closure of this or that nuclear facility (in contravention of Iran’s legal rights), otherwise we are going to keep raising obstacles such as allegations of human rights abuses and international terrorism.

This is a completely unacceptable Western formula for moving the goalposts on its duplicitous terms. It will mean a never-ending impasse aimed at harassing Iran with more and more threats, including threats of war.

The essence of a long overdue nuclear accord with Iran is for the arrogant Western powers to start treating Iran as an equal, in which Iran is able to avail of its inalienable rights as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty – without condition or exception.

If Western states insist on adding on irrelevant – as well as hypocritical and spurious – issues it is a damning sign of their incorrigible bad faith. In that event, Iran must be prepared to walk away from the P5+1 process.

However, that is not necessarily a reckless option. Given the growing importance of international trade involving Russia, China and other emerging economies – that is, trade without the bankrupt Western states – Iran might find itself better off anyway not having to waste time and energy on these malignant has-been powers.

Iran needs to stay cool, not sweat it, and to turn the tables on the arrogant players by asserting its own rightful demands.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Leave a comment

The Deterioration of Egypt

By RAMSEY CLARK and ABDEEN JABARA | CounterPunch | April 10, 2014

We recently visited Egypt leading a delegation of lawyers to observe the situation of human rights in that country. We were troubled by what we saw and heard. We are also troubled by the United States’ support for a government installed by a military coup.

The United States and more than 160 States have agreed to respect and ensure the right to participate in one’s government, for example, by agreeing to article 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Nevertheless, as this right came under serious attack in Egypt, the United States continues to support the Egyptian military as it imposes its will on the Egyptian people. This support should stop until and unless the freely and fairly elected government is restored.

The military coup that took place in Egypt on 3 July 2013 is a serious violation of the right to participate in one’s democracy. It is a violation of the rights of the majority voters in Egypt’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012.

The serious deterioration of human rights in Egypt in the aftermath of the military coup is largely due to the military coup leaders’ unwillingness to allow any significant expressions of dissent and the military coup leaders’ failure to respect the will of the Egyptian people.

During our visit to Cairo we heard reliably allegations of massive, widespread and serious violations of the right to fair trial, to an independent judiciary, to security of person, to the prohibition of torture, and about a policy of violent assaults on women. The level of these abuses is unprecedented in Egypt, a country with which we are familiar for almost half a century.

Grave concerns were expressed by lawyers about the integrity of the courts. The trial of Egypt’s first elected President Mohamed Morsi by the military is a case in point. The procedures that exist in the Egyptian Constitution for trying their President have been ignored. This has resulted in President Morsi being tried by an illegal court that appears to have been created merely to justify removing him from office.

The military coup leaders have been unrelenting in their attack on the peaceful supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In December 2013 the military coup leaders declared the Muslim Brotherhood an illegal entity. They did this despite the fact that the Freedom and Justice Party with which it is associated, won more support than any other party in Egypt’s free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections. This action violates the right to free speech, assembly and association.

Recently, an Egyptian court, functioning under the military coup, sentenced more than 400 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for the killing of a single policeman. At the same time, thousands of Egyptians remain arbitrarily detained and without fair trial.

The dismal state of human rights in Egypt, which we witnessed first hand, should be a concern for us all. The United States should stand with the Egyptian people and not with the leaders of a military coup.

Ramsey Clark was the 66th Attorney-General of the United States.

Abdeen Jabara, Frm. President of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and Board Member of the Center for Constitutional Rights. 

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , | Leave a comment

NATO/ISAF’s ‘parting gift’ to Afghan children

Interventions Watch | April 10, 2014

A new report from The Washington Post highlights the increasing number of Afghan children who are being killed by unexploded ordinance on abandoned NATO/ISAF firing ranges.

The report says that ‘of the casualties recorded by the United Nations, 88 percent were children’, with ‘most of the victims . . . taking their animals to graze, collecting firewood or searching for scrap metal’.

A bare minimum of 77 people have been killed in this fashion since 2012, but the number is likely higher.

This was the experience of a couple of Afghan families:

‘Last month, Jawad’s father, Sayed Sadeq, heard a boom and ran onto the range. He spotted his son’s bloodied torso.

“The left side of his body was torn up. I could see his heart. His legs were missing,” the father said.

One of the boys, it appeared, had stepped on a 40mm grenade, designed to kill anyone within five yards. Both teens died.

“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” Sadeq said’.

‘Two months after his family moved to Bagram, Abdul Wakhil, 12, walked around the area looking for firewood and unknowingly entered the range. Thirty feet from the main road, he stepped on an explosive.

One of his legs was blown off. The other was amputated at a Kabul hospital.

He doesn’t have prosthetics or a wheelchair, so he has to be carried everywhere.

“What can he do without legs?” said his brother, Abdul Mateen, 25. “His future is hopeless.”

The Occupiers have promised to clean up the ranges, although some military officials have expressed doubt as to the feasibility of this, given a lack of manpower.

The article also states that ‘because Afghanistan is not a signatory to the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, U.S. officials say they are not legally obligated to clear any of the unexploded ordnance’.

The Occupying powers have also ‘refused to construct fencing’ around the ranges, saying that this ‘would be prohibitively expensive and probably ineffective’.

Let us not forget that the life of an Afghan civilian can be worth as little as $210  to the Occupying forces, so paying the ‘compensation’ for any deaths could well turn out to be more cost effective than constructing thousands of square miles of  barriers (that grim calculus aside, Afghans losing access to tens of thousands of square miles of their own land, simply because the Occupiers wanted to use it to test the weapons which had previously been used to kill them with, would be a Kafkaesque injustice indeed).

But at this moment in time, it appears that even if – and that’s a big and very doubtful ‘if’ – the Occupying forces do completely withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, they will continue to kill and maim Afghan children long into the future.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , | Leave a comment

George Monbiot in the Guardian lobster pot

By Jonathon Cook | April 8, 2014

Back in February the Guardian quietly announced a deal with the global consumer goods corporation Unilever. Here is the beginning of the Guardian’s press release:

Guardian News and Media today officially launches Guardian Labs – its branded content and innovation agency – which offers brands bold and compelling new ways to tell their stories and engage with influential Guardian audiences. The official launch of the new commercial proposition is marked by the announcement of a pioneering seven-figure partnership with Unilever, centred on the shared values of sustainable living and open storytelling. … The new Unilever partnership will create a bespoke engagement platform to increase awareness of, and foster debate about, sustainability issues, and ultimately encourage people to live more sustainable lives.

I wonder how many of those who proudly declare themselves “Guardian readers” recognised their beloved newspaper in that statement.

In fact, it makes perfect sense for Unilever – a corporation whose brand “positioning” depends on its customers identifying it as a responsible and caring business, despite the evidence to the contrary – to team up with the Guardian, another corporation whose brand positioning has already persuaded most of its customers that it is a responsible and caring business.

Today the Guardian columnist George Monbiot does something pretty brave for a Guardian columnist: he alerts his readers to the existence of this arrangement and gently questions what it represents, in an article bewailing the fact that “corporations have colonised our public life”.
Here is what he says:

I recognise and regret the fact that all newspapers depend for their survival on corporate money (advertising and sponsorship probably account, in most cases, for about 70% of their income). But this, to me, looks like another step down the primrose path. As the environmental campaigner Peter Gerhardt puts it, companies like Unilever “try to stakeholderise every conflict”. By this, I think, he means that they embrace their critics, involving them in a dialogue that is open in the sense that a lobster pot is open, breaking down critical distance and identity until no one knows who they are any more.

It’s worth noting how rarely journalists criticise the nature of the media they work in. Maybe that is not so surprising: few businesses, the media included, are happy having their flaws paraded in public. But what Monbiot has done here is to appear brave while really shrinking from the truth. He criticises the Guardian while really not criticising it.

Monbiot’s implication in the nice metaphor above is that Unilever is the the lobster pot, while the poor Guardian is the lobster in danger of being “stakeholderised”. Or, in another metaphor he uses, the Guardian is the one being led up the primrose path.

What he encourages his readers to infer is that the Guardian is the victim in this deal, being seduced and violated by Unilever. The reality is that Unilever and the Guardian are both wolves in sheep’s clothing. The arrangement works to the benefit of them both. In Monbiot’s reckoning, the Guardian is “public life” being colonised by Unilever. In fact, the Guardian is no more public life than Unilever. Both have colonised the public space, in the interests of maximising profits whatever the consequences to the public good and the planet. (And please, no one try to claim that my argument is refuted by the fact that the Guardian loses money. It is not a charity. Its goal is not to lose money; its goal is to find a strategy, like the one with Unilever, to revive its fortunes in a dying industry.)

In fact, the lobster pot metaphor would be much more apt to describe Monbiot’s relationship with the Guardian. The newspaper has “embraced” him, “breaking down his critical distance and identity until he no longer knows who he is”. Now if he told us that, I really would be cheering him for his honesty.

April 10, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | Leave a comment