Monday, 30 November 2009

World Aids Day: Universal Access and Human Rights

December 1 is World Aids Day and the World Aids Campaign has selected "Universal Access and Human Rights" as the theme for the 2009/2010 campaign. The timing of this campaign is vital as it is linked to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

In September 2000, the United Nations signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration which included eight international development goals to be achieved by 2015.

The sixth goal was to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases and the measurable target associated with this goal and relevant to the current World Aids Day campaign was target 6B: “Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it”.

Avert have an excellent page detailing where we stood with this target at the end of 2008 and how we have progressed in the years since the declaration was signed.  At the end of 2003, only 5% of those that required treatment for HIV/AIDS were receiving it and this rose in a steady curve to 42% at the end of 2008. 

While the growth to date has been promising, the trend did start to decline by last year and it is probably safe to say that the goals will not be met by the end of 2010.  In fact, by the time the 2008 figures were released, the WHO, UNIADS and INICEF had conceded that most countries would not reach the 2010 target.

What does this mean for the World Aids Day campaign 2009/2010?

I believe that had the UN not set the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, the huge amount of progress made so far may not have been achieved.

There are a couple of important factors that need to be addressed in the race to meet these goals:

Governmental involvement

It is impossible to reach targets of universal access to treatment without governments subscribing to this goal and taking steps to implement it in their countries.  By way of an example, the AIDS denialist administration of South African president Thabo Mbeki and his Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang set the cause of universal treatment of HIV/AIDS back by years.  It is estimated that two million people might have died prematurely due to Mbeki’s failure to take decisive action and his denial that HIV causes AIDS [source].

The cost of treatment

The overwhelming factor affecting the provision of universal treatment is lack of funding and the global economic downturn has resulted in funding of projects being reduced or stopped altogether.

“It is estimated that to achieve universal treatment targets an investment of $7 billion will be required in 2010 for treatment and care alone. This is of the estimated $25 billion needed to achieve all targets including prevention, care for orphans and vulnerable children, and other programme support costs. Considering less than $14 billion was invested in tackling HIV and AIDS in 2008, a funding shortfall, while not inevitable, is likely unless dramatic increases in financial commitments are made” -

I believe it is necessary to balance the current financial situation with the long-term effects on economies as in many countries, it is the working-age population that is being decimated by AIDS deaths leaving only the very young and the very old behind.  A similar effect on the population pyramids occurs in times of war.

The commencement of treatment

There are differing beliefs as to when treatment should actually begin.  Economically developed countries like the UK are likely to begin treatment earlier i.e. when the CD4 count drops below 350 cells per cubic millimetre of blood. Less economically developed countries like South Africa wait until that level falls below 200. While this fell in line with the WHO recommendations of 2006, the WHO is now recommending treatment begins at the threshold of 350 as studies have clearly shown that starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) earlier reduces rates of death and disease.

Commitment to treatment

We have not discovered a cure for HIV/AIDS yet.  Once patients start to take antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), they need to take them for life.  It is imperative then that governments or international donors realise that this is a lifelong commitment and that they guarantee this treatment for all patients on ARVs.  The difficulty with this idea is that this means that treatment numbers will only ever continue to grow and there will never be reduction in treatment numbers until prevention plans really start to have an effect.  Therefore, governments and organisations need to continue to budget ever increasing amounts for treatment.

Mother to child transmission

In 2006, the WHO recommended that ARVs be given to pregnant women in their third trimester to prevent mother to child transmission and they had not yet proven the efficacy of ARVs during breastfeeding.  Since then, ARVs have been shown to be effective during breastfeeding in several trials and the 2009 WHO recommendations are that ART be started in the second trimester and that this treatment continue right to the end of the breastfeeding period.

Side effects of antiretroviral drugs

In the past, ARVs have been known to have terrible side effects and this has been a major factor in the lack of retention of ART patients.  Specifically, Stavudine has long-term, irreversible side-effects and the WHO has now recommended that countries phase out use of this drug and use the equally effective and less toxic Zidovudine (AZT) or Tenofovir (TDF).


New HIV recommendations to improve health, reduce infections and save lives [UNAIDS]

Universal access to AIDS treatment: targets and challenges []

This post was part of a Bloggers Unite action day.  Click to read more Bloggers Unite World Aids Day posts.


Saturday, 28 November 2009

What Is Genocide?

Srebrenica Srebrenica Mass Grave [photo source]

The primary purpose of this post will be to explore the legal definition of the term “genocide”.  In a later post, I shall discuss problems, limitations and criticisms of the current definition of genocide and try to find out why it is so rarely applied to conflicts around the world.

The term “genocide” did not exist prior to 1944.  The term was coined by a Polish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin as he sought to describe the systematic nature of the Nazi policies and their intention to destroy the European Jews.  He formed the word by combining the Greek word geno- meaning race or tribe and the Latin word –cide meaning killing. 

The term was codified legally by the United Nations in 1948 as they approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  The act of genocide was thus criminalised in times of both war and peace.
The convention defines genocide as follows:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

- UN General Assembly Resolution 260

Breaches of the Genocide Convention

Did you know that since the creation of the Genocide Convention in 1948, international tribunals have determined only two cases to constitute genocide?

  • Rwandan Genocide: This refers to the genocide that took place in Rwanda in April 1994.  The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is currently prosecuting cases in connection with crimes committed during the genocide.
  • Bosnian Genocide: This refers to the genocide committed in Srebrenica in 1995 by the Serb forces.  There have been attempts to broaden this definition to include crimes of ethnic cleansing committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War but this was rejected by the International Court of Justice in February 2007.  The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is currently prosecuting cases in connection with the Srebrenica genocide.
Contentious Cases

This list may in fact be longer but my research has shown that there are two cases currently being discussed which might constitute genocide:

  • Darfur / Sudan: United States Secretary of State Colin Powell  declared the conflict in Darfur to constitute a genocide in September 2004.  However, the United Nations Security Council-sponsored International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur stated that "the Government of the Sudan has not pursued a policy of genocide.” This was met with dismay but it is important to note that the report further went on to state that despite not meeting the definition of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity were nevertheless taking place and were just as serious.  Despite this, the International Criminal Court has filed charges against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and three others. I’ll try to find out more about this in the near future.
  • Croatian Genocide Case: The Croatian government waited until the close of the Bosnian Genocide Case before bringing an application to the International Court of Justice to apply the Genocide Convention against the Serbian government.  The Serbian government announced their intention for a counter-suit and in January 2009, the ICJ gave them a deadline of 22 March 2010 to file their Counter-Memorial.

At a later stage I will discuss the problems, limitations and criticisms of the current definition of genocide and an analysis of the reasoning to not classing certain events as genocide (for example, Cambodia).


Monday, 23 November 2009

Rwanda: Acquittals Cause Outrage

ICTR, Aruba, Tanzania
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Aruba, Tanzania [photo source]

Link: Rwanda genocide survivors may boycott U.N. court [Reuters]

I can't even begin to fathom the pain and frustration that one must feel in witnessing the acquittal of someone you know to be guilty. The charges here are genocide and many of the witnesses saw these crimes being committed with their own eyes.  Indeed, many were the intended victims of the crimes. To see a murderer walk free when you know them to be guilty, when they murdered your family or friends or even tried to murder you... as I say, I can't begin to understand how painful that must be.

However, I absolutely respect the decision of the ICTR to give an acquittal if they felt that there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction. In order for the court to be perceived as fair, just and competent, they must give acquittals if the legal process cannot prove that the crime was indeed committed. I really hope that the witnesses don't boycott the Tribunal as the trials cannot go ahead without them. Two people have been acquitted recently but so many convictions have been secured with some of the worst perpetrators being sent away for life. 

I think the biggest lesson in all of this is that to the people who were there, it wasn’t that 800,000 were killed.  It is just them and their loved ones and their communities that matter to them.  The convictions of people from other areas of the country mean little to them as they experience a very individual and person grief.


Monday, 16 November 2009

Falun Gong Persecution Recognised As Genocide

Banners On Tiananmen
Banners On Tiananmen Square [Photo Source]

Link: Spanish Judge Calls Top Chinese Officials to Account for Genocide [Epoch Times]

This is an interesting story.  A Spanish judge has accepted charges of genocide and torture against five high ranking officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for their part in the persecution of Falun Gong.  It is the first time that a court has deemed the campaign of persecution against the Falun Gong to be legally fitting the definition of genocide. 

Falun Gong is a relatively new religion founded in China in 1992.  It has been labelled as a cult by the CCP regime that has also clamped down on the religious freedom of Roman Catholics, Protestants and Tibetan Buddhists too (drat, there goes my chances of ever getting a visa to China).  The repression is such that Falun Gong cannot even meditate in the privacy of their own homes for fear of raids and apart from imprisonment, re-education in labour camps and thought reform classes, Falun Gong have been subjected to “dismissal from work, expulsion from universities, deprivation of health care and pensions, divorce, homelessness, and a range of other forms of discrimination” [source].

Jiang Zemin, former leader of the CCP, is among the accused.  Zemin initiated and embarked on a campaign in 1999 to eradicate Falun Gong.

“In order to implement Jiang’s decision to wipe out the group, the country’s state-run media, security apparatus, and network of “re-education through labor camps” were mobilized in full force. Since then, experts estimate that hundred of thousands, possibly millions, of practitioners have been sent to labor camps, prisons, and thought reform classes”Epoch Times

According to the Falun Dafa Information Centre, there are over 3,000 documented deaths (although estimates put that figure in the tens of thousands) and over 63,000 accounts of torture.  Reports speak of the systematic use of torture to force people to renounce their faith. 

The Falun Dafa Information Center has several photo essays depicting the torture and persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.  To be honest, they are too disturbing to link to from here but if you click on the link above, you’ll be able to find the photo essays on the site.  Just click with care as they are extremely graphic and horribly disturbing.

Link: Activists say China still using Falun Gong prisoners as organ sources [The Canadian Press]

Perhaps more disturbing are the allegations that organs are being harvested from Falun Gong prisoners for medical transplants. 

I just don’t understand it.  Is this the country that the South African government is bending over backwards to accommodate?  China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.  How is that possible?  I lived through a torture state, I witnessed my friends “disappearing” in university, only to return as shadows of their former selves months later (and this was after the ANC was unbanned and Mandela was released).  No matter how the Chinese government tries to hide it, despite their diplomatic ties and their propaganda machinations, the truth is that gross human rights violations are taking place and a deliberate attempt to destroy a religious group in part or whole is genocide.


Saturday, 7 November 2009


Rwandan genocide
Rwandan Genocide, originally uploaded by daveblume

I’ve started reading A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak.  I’m just reading the opening pages where the killers speak about how they were rounded up and organised to kill.  I am overwhelmed by a sense of denial.  Not in the political sense but the psychological sense; the sense where a dying person reasons that they feel fine or a mother refuses to believe her child is dead after exiting air from the lungs causes the vocal chords to sound.  I am thinking that these seem like such reasonable, normal, nice people and even though I have studied the Rwandan genocide for years now, I find myself hoping that they are not the killers, that the story is going to work out differently.

But it won’t.  I have already read Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak which I reviewed earlier on this blog and which had an incredible impact on me: On Rwanda: my passion and the need to know.  I know what is going to happen and yet it is so horrific that the normal human reaction of denial in the face of death or dying is occurring, my mind’s attempt to protect me from the unimaginable horrors ahead. 

I’ll be sure to review the book once I am done.  I am currently months behind in my book reviews but will try to catch up soon.


Monday, 2 November 2009

Khmer Rouge Trial Update

Killing Fields
[Image Source]

Link:  More Khmer Rouge leaders could face trial [CBC]

As inconceivable as it may seem, there are only five former Khmer Rouge leaders currently under investigation for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In early September Lars Olsen, legal spokesman for the UN-backed tribunal, said that more former Khmer Rouge leaders could be brought to trial as judges had given prosecutors the power to launch further investigations.

This was met with bitter opposition from Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen as he has been clear in his desire to limit the trials to the five original suspects.  Hun Sen has threatened to end UN participation in the trials if prosecutors dig deeper and critics have said that this is because the suspects are now his political allies.

Hun Sen even sunk so low as to claim that pursuing more suspects could spark civil war in the already fragile country.  Estimates now place the death toll from executions, disease, malnutrition and overwork during the Khmer Rouge regime at 1.7 million people or 20% of the total population at the time.  To limit the prosecutions to just five people is insulting as it is and Hun Sen’s attitude reeks of a cover up to me.

Do I believe it is relevant to go over these leader’s 30 years after the fact?  Well, we still go after SS members 65 years after the fact, so yes, I do believe it is relevant.  The pain and legacy of the Khmer Rouge may be less immediate to us in the West but reparations are equally as important.


Kaing Guek Eav

Better known as “Duch”, Kaing Guek Eav has been detained in a Cambodian military prison since 1999. He was in charge of the notorious S-21 prison and was instrumental in the torture and murder of 12,000 Cambodians.  He formally accepted responsibility for his crimes in March 2009 and apologized for his actions.  Duch’s trial is currently underway and reached headlines recently when his defence objected to a request from the prosecution to apply charges of joint criminal enterprise: Defence weighs in on controversial doctrine [Phnom Penh Post].  Final arguments are expected later this month.

Thirith Ieng

As Minister of Social Affairs and Head of Democratic Kampuchea's Red Cross Society, Thirith Ieng was instrumental in organising the massive purges of the Khmer Rouge movement and various policies that caused great suffering.  She was arrested in November 2007 and charged with crimes against humanity.  Her first court appearance was in May 2008 at the pre-trial hearing of her appeal.  She has not been in court since and investigations are still underway.

Ieng Sary

Known as "Brother number 3", Ieng Sary was the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Khmer Rouge government.  He carried out some of Pol Pot’s most atrocious campaigns and implemented the massive purges.  Ieng Sary was charged with genocide and sentenced to death in absentia in 1979 but this conviction was not recognised by the international community.  He was pardoned by the king in 1996.  He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2007 and arrested along with his wife.  Many people have questioned why someone pardoned by the king was re-arrested but he was arrested on different charges.

Khieu Samphan

Khieu Samphan was commander-in-chief of the Khmer Rouge and first became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence when they took over in 1975, moving on to become President.  He put Pol Pot’s theories into practice and cleared the cities of their inhabitants, thus provoking the human tragedy in which up to 1.7 million people perished.  He was arrested in November 2007 and was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nuon Chea

Designated “Brother number 2”, he headed the Permanent Committee of the Central Committee, which was in charge of labour, social welfare, culture, propaganda and formal education (or Conscience work). In 1976 he was acting Prime Minister and then from 1976 to 1979 was President of Assembly of Democratic Kampuchea.  After Pol Pot, he was the most powerful member of the regime and was the key ideologist.  He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity and arrested in September 2007.  An order was passed in September 2009 authorising his continued detainment.

Up to date information on the trials can be found at Cambodia Tribunal Monitor.

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