Friday, May 18, 2007

Human rights in Belarus…

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise!...Surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our three weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our Amongst our weapons.... Hmf... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surpr.... I'll come in again
-Monty Python on the subject of European Morality
In the new BEING HAD Times, we have a story about Belarus being refused a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. This morning, I got a letter my good friend Bob Dowlut showing me yet another clip about this event by EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer:

    UNITED NATIONS — Belarus was defeated for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday after a campaign by the United States, key European countries and human rights groups against the former Soviet republic's repressive rights record.
    Egypt, Angola and Qatar easily won seats on the council despite opposition from human rights groups that accused them of rights violations.
    The 192-member General Assembly also elected Bolivia, Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Madagascar, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, Slovenia and South Africa to three-year terms on the 47-member council.
    The Human Rights Council was created in March 2006 to replace the widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission, and one aim was to keep some of the worst human rights offenders out of its membership. But it has been widely criticized for failing to change many of the commission's practices, including putting much more emphasis on Israel than on any other country.
    The United States was virtually alone in voting against the establishment of the council, arguing the new body was only marginally better and wouldn't prevent rights-abusing countries from gaining membership.
    Nonetheless, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called Bosnia's victory over Belarus "heartening,"

In thinking about the real human rights situation in Belarus, and this is to say from my own, personal, Pinskaya perspective, my thoughts always seem to go towards culture and self determination more than to whether or not Belarus lives up to any "European standards" of their treatment of their citizens. For myself, I am not so quick to lionize the EU but even if I did, before condemning Belarus I would think that we would first have to acknowledge that Europe even has a right, moral or otherwise, to dictate policy. Of course it is easy to say that they can dictate policy because of economic factors, but when speaking of human rights, I would think that we are speaking more of morality than economic ability. To me, the phrase "European morality" is an oxymoron so I at least ask to hear more information before I pull the trigger. This is probably a moral decision as well.

In any case, my little semantic game is meaningless because obviously the issue is all money. In reading this article, one could just as easily say that Europe is angered at the treatment its own candidates receive inside the country more than they give a damn about any individual citizen. I mean, if they did care about Belarusians, there would be an open market for Belarusian goods and no pressuring or economic sanctions. But we do have these things and therefore what we have is a game of economic fascism, a situation that neither the people of Belarus nor its elected leaders approve of. Apparently, this popular and democratic act of disagreement is also a moral shortcoming.

To this though the Europeans argue that there is a need to weaken and harass the Belarusian economy and political structures so that the people of Belarus can come to understand its own moral shortcomings. I guess these tactics were lessons learned during earlier European political actions such as the Crusades or perhaps the Spanish Inquisition. They also say that Belarus is undemocratic and that there is no freedom of expression. And while it is true that it is difficult to have dissenting voices through opposition press, there is a counter argument that says if all you do is disagree, if you never discuss the true ramifications of any issue and never allow for constructive criticism, you are in the end simply making problems and advocating anarchy. And of course the Belarusian argument is they do not wish for there to be anarchism and social havoc and please, don't make your scandals here.

And maybe this is the point: European interests much prefer a destabilized and hysterical situation because it allows for more freedom of movement and potential property acquisition. Ukraine is a perfect example of this use of divide and conquer tactic and the latest "real" democratic votes and the massive pro-Russia and anti-NATO demonstrations show us that the people don't like this one bit.

But again, all of this I just words because as of today, the UN has made Belarus the poster boy for global Human Rights abuses. Chalk up another win for German underwear distributors.

So! You think you are strong because you can survive the soft cushions. Well, we shall see. Biggles! Put her... in the Comfy Chair! Confess! Confess! Confess! Confess!
Another really good current example of European spin is the kidnap story down in Nigeria. In the BHTimes story about this I ran together two vastly contradicting articles of Belarusian national Irina Umo Ekpo's being freed by her kidnappers. In the story from it was reported that she had gunshot wounds, broken bones and other physical abuses and in the other from the Times of South Africa it was said that the main health issue was her inability to get drugs for low blood sugar. From the South African story we also read that though there have been a few other incidences of kidnapping lately, this particular issue was simply from bandits and had no political issue at all. The other points out that Nigeria is one of the most politically corrupt countries in the world and that there have been more than 100 politically motivated kidnappings. The South Africans tell us that the kidnappers released the woman, most probably out of a sense of benevolence- the Russians said that the ransom was paid.

Who's telling the truth?

Well, having a media spot of your own has it privileges and this week I also got several letters from writer Mr. Fred Anita of Nigeria who needed for me and the whole world to know that all of this political maneuvering was killing his country:
    I woke with shake to read on one of the Nigeria news papers that a Belarusian woman working in the rich oil city of Port Harcourt has been kidnapped by militant. The paper gave her names as Irina Umo Ekpo, working for a British company named ESS. I was so angry to my bones as I happened to have been in touch with this woman on telephone a day before she was captured.

    I am using this means to call on the federal government of Nigeria to assist in what ever way they can to see to her release. I strongly condemned this vice that is fast eating up in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The media also have a part to play in this matter, they should not relent in trying to find out and alerting the public what is going on.

    I do not know anything about her kidnapping...and the papers here are not saying anything after the first information they wrote about, that she was kidnapped. After this, they followed one gory story that she might be used for a ritual by the militants. They also reported in the daily. I am just too concern. I am getting in touch with media house to talk about the latest finding... I don't want them to keep quiet. I want them to help do something. I think the governor of that state should assist also. Its reaaaally a bad time because it happened when Nigeria is changing government for new administration. So things could be really slow in resolving this issues. So we are not going to stop talking until I see that there is a great clamor on this...which I dearly think will aid her release.

So really, what is the story? For me, a lot of the real analysis can be derived from simple questions like "Where is the money going?" and "Who benefits from result a, and who loses in result b?" And as concerns Belarus, well, when added to the results from the latest Ukrainian polls, I don't see the number of people agreeing to stay with its government as being an unrealistic depiction. You can say this and you can say that, but in the end, the numbers are too strong to indicate so much of a difference and for sure, most pundits have come to this conclusion as well.

If anything, what is really wrong with the situation is that there is simply a negative spin of pretty much everything from here. I am not saying that where I live is any sort of golden panacea, but I am saying that it doesn’t need to be seen as any sort of living hell either. Certainly life is hard and for sure there are much fewer and far more limited chanced here, but on the other hand, if it truly was a jungle, people would say so. Belarusians are not stupid. They have seen how the Europeans live and I believe thy have made their own choices. But most importantly there really is no seething political cauldron ready to boil over. Rather, there are just a bunch of underpaid folks trying to peacefully go about their business. It's a country like any other except that the streets are not littered with homeless, and despite low pay, people do show up at their work and do their jobs; the society does function and there are a hell of a lot of satellite dishes stuck to the sides of the houses.

In the end all I am trying to say is that there really are two sides of the story to be told. And of course this applies just as much to me. If you do read down to the bottom of the BHTimes, just past Fred Anita's poem, you will find Viasna's report of human rights abuses for the months of April. All things considered, I thought it was worth printing as well. And after I published, I added a letter to me friend Uladzimir who has been working with Viasna since long before I knew him:

    Hey Uladzimir,
    To go along with Belarus being denied a seat in the UN's Human rights Council, I printed your Human rights watch for April with a direct link reference to the Viasna site. Maybe you can stop hating me now.
    Hope all is well with you and the family,

More soon…