With one year remaining before Myanmar’s general election there is growing concern, both internationally and domestically, that the reform process is at best beginning to stagnate and at worst rolling back in some critical areas.
The recent high profile and rare roundtable talks by President Thein Sein involving the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the military (Tatmadaw) and ethnic groups seem to have been little more than a public relations move to massage international concern over the pace and direction of reforms ahead of the East Asian Summit in Naypyidaw.
When it comes to natural disasters, Chile has a troubled past. As the plume of ash from volcanoes at Puehue and Cordón Caulle continues to blanket the skies and force people from their homes, rebuilding efforts following last year’s earthquake have only just begun. Fifty years ago Chile was also the site of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded – the gran terremoto,at Valdivia – and initial indications following this latest event suggest that the geological situation may get worse in the future.
But if its history of geological instability were not enough, Chile is also struggling with its political past. On 23 May, in compliance with a court order, the body of former President Salvador Allende was exhumed in order to begin a formal investigation into the disputed circumstances of his violent 1973 demise.
There are many versions of the events. The official story – and the one accepted by Allende’s family – is that the President shot himself (with an AK-47 given to him by none other than Fidel Castro) shortly before rebel forces stormed his office. Another version has it, instead, that he was gunned down in a defiant last stand; yet another, that he was executed by a subordinate after a botched suicide attempt. But the man ultimately responsible (if probably not personally) for Allende’s death is General Augusto Pinochet himself, whose successful coup d’etat then saw him installed first as the head of the governing junta and then as president.
Perversely, it took a state of emergency to have Syria’s 48-year-old emergency rule removed. But although this had been a key demand of the protesters, the move is now seen as too little too late. In many ways, the situation is reminiscent of the events early February, when Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak’s vague promises of reform were only salt in the wounds of the crowds on Tahrir Square.
A state of emergency derives from a governmental declaration in response to an extraordinary situation posing a fundamental threat to the country. Too often, however, dictatorial regimes misuse such rules for self-serving purposes: they introduce unwarranted restrictions on human rights and civil liberties, neutralize political opponents or postpone elections. There has also been a tendency to maintain states of emergency long after the original reason for its proclamation has disappeared. The result is a constitutional dictatorship.
With the turmoil in the Arab world, it’s easy to lose track of where emergency laws still apply. Here’s a brief overview of some of the recent changes:
By mandate, UNESCO is supposed to be the ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,’ an organization whose mission is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue.” But when it comes to money, ideals and integrity seem to be less important. How else could UNESCO explain its intentions to set up a scientific award sponsored by and named after Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, a head of state best known for corruption and his lack of respect for human rights?
In May 2010, Amnesty International Portugal (AIP) surprised the internet crowd with a website that, at first, seemed just like another guerrilla marketing clue. Tyrannybook.com intends to become a social network that deliberately resembles Facebook, yet with a special twist.
According to AIP, Tyrannybook is more than just a marketing campaign to raise people’s awareness about the organization in particular and human rights’ violations in general. The website will provide its users with live information updates on the world’s dictators and tyrants, and allow the public to keep track of a broad variety of human rights issues.
Once signed up, people may watch the dictators of their choice, such as Radovan Karadzic or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and network with peers to exchange news and ideas. As it is common for social networks, the more users there are, the more interaction will take place and the more information will be provided (not the last by the users themselves). But herein lays the problem.
The topic of human rights is a delicate issue that deserves a certain level of respect. It is questionable whether a social network based on Facebook can guarantee the necessary degree of seriousness. After all, Facebook has been struggling time and time again with users engaging in disrespectful behavior, personal insults or threats and the like (not to mention privacy concerns). Thus, how can AIP guarantee that users of Tyrannybook will not give in to similar misdemeanours?
Moreover, if the users provide parts of the information too, who can promise that the information is accurate and qualitatively reliable? Are mechanisms of self-control sufficient or is it just a question of time until we may find unpopular professors or entertainers alongside mass murderers and tyrants?
Besides, AIP has not done itself a favor listing China’s President Hu Jintao in the same category as Kim Jong-il and Robert Mugabe. Be it true or not, calling President Hu a dictator will most likely discredit Amnesty International in China and take away any potential leverage they might have had when bargaining with the People’s Republic, and the same holds true for other politicians too.
Then again, does Amnesty International need political correctness to fight for their cause?