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Heard Around the Hillary-Sphere: Holiday Edition

December 27, 2009

Ok, there isn’t a ton of Hillary-related news over the holiday weekend but here are some things that caught my eye:

The State Dept. issued a statement about the sham trial and sentencing of Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo:

Trial Verdict of Chinese Activist Liu Xiaobo

The United States was deeply concerned to learn that well-known Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo was found guilty of “incitement to subvert state power.” We also were concerned that requests by Mr. Liu’s wife, the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions to attend the trial were denied. Punishing people for peacefully expressing their political views violates the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed.

Mr. Liu has already spent a year in detention while Chinese authorities carried out the investigation of his case. As we have expressed repeatedly, we call on the Government of China to release him immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views.

Experts on China have been saying for some time that essentially China is flexing its muscle and actually being more brazen in its refusal to abide by international norms due to its most favored nation status and the fact that for a long time now (years, not just recently) the US has essentially turned a blind eye to China’s abuses because of their role as our banker. In my view, President Obama made this situation worse by caving into almost every one of China’s demands – refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama, allowing himself to be censored while in China, speaking out in a very muted fashion about human rights and of course, the State Department has largely gone along with that script until very recently, much to everyone’s disappointment.

On December 15th I wrote a post thanking Secretary Clinton for having the State Dept. issue a statement regarding Liu Xiaobo because I truly believe the State Dept., and Secretary Clinton in particular, have an important role to play in reigning in China’s repressive, undemocratic tactics. Secretary Clinton also spoke about China in her speech at Georgetown about the administration’s approach to human rights, which was very promising. And despite what some say, including China, it matters a great deal whether U.S. officials speak out on behalf of justice and human rights.

In response to the international outcry over Xiaobo’s harsh sentence, China responded in its usual, predictable manner, accusing everyone who disagrees with it of “gross interference”- because apparently China believes it should operate outside international law and norms without any criticism whatsoever:

…But many experts on Chinese politics said that Liu’s conviction on vague charges of seeking to overthrow the Communist Party through his writing was also an unmistakable signal to the West that China would not yield to international pressure when it came to human rights. During his visit to China last month, President Barack Obama raised Liu’s case with President Hu Jintao. Leaders of the European Union have been pressing for his release.

But a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry described such pressure on Tuesday as “gross interference in China’s judicial internal affairs.” The next day, more than two dozen U.S. and European diplomats who sought to observe the trial were barred from the courthouse.

“If China’s Communist Party wanted to advertise to the world that they will do anything to protect their power and use the judiciary to accomplish that, then the persecution of Liu Xiaobo was a perfect vehicle,” Jerome Cohen, an expert on China’s legal system and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said yesterday.

The State Department issued a statement calling on China to release Liu, saying that the “persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognized norms of human rights.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she was dismayed by the sentence. The United Nations said Liu’s conviction had thrown “an ominous shadow” over China’s commitments to human rights.

Such pointed criticisms are unlikely to have much impact, many China analysts said. Hu assumed power in 2004 after a period of modest legal reforms. But under his leadership, the government has presided over a tightening of Internet restrictions, the repression of rights lawyers and the persecution of intellectuals who called for greater transparency and an end to single-party rule. Those who thought that the leadership might loosen its controls for the Beijing Olympics last year were disheartened by the crackdown that took place to prevent people who wanted to stage demonstrations.

Edward Friedman, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said many people in the West had been clinging to the misguided notion that China’s economic development would quickly lead to political liberalization. “It’s clear that what matters most to the Chinese Communist Party is the survival of the regime and their monopoly on power,” he said.

Many human rights advocates partly blame Western political leaders for putting up with China’s growing intolerance of domestic dissent. They contend that as China’s economic power has expanded, the United States and Europe have been softening calls for human rights.

They were especially critical of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Beijing last February, arguing that human rights took a back seat to an agenda focused on economic concerns and efforts to gain China’s cooperation in dealing with Iran and North Korea.

Many human rights advocates were also critical of Obama’s decision to put off a meeting with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, shortly before the president’s visit to Beijing. The move, they said, was designed to avoid offending China.

The White House insists that it is committed to promoting freedom, but says that it is trying to make its case without the public hectoring favored by the Bush and Clinton administrations. Hillary Clinton has called the approach “principled pragmatism.”

Phelim Kine, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said quiet diplomacy was valuable at times, but that without real pressure from the United States, its largest trading partner, China had no incentive to improve its human rights record. “In the aftermath of the tragic conviction of Liu Xiaobo, we really need to think about how the U.S. is going to engage China and make sure that there are real benchmarks for progress,” he said.

He and others maintain that the United States and its allies must break free from a mentality that fears the economic might of a rising China. The United States can no longer prod China on human rights through the annual battle over “most-favored nation” trading status, because China is now a member of the World Trade Organization. But human rights advocates say that the White House still has substantial leverage when it comes to trade.

And while China may hold hundreds of billions of dollars of the U.S. government’s debt, in the form of Treasury bonds and other Treasury securities, some analysts play down concerns about the possibility of China retaliating against U.S. pressure over human rights by selling off its holdings. Gordon Chang, the author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” said that the Chinese government simply had nowhere else to park its swelling foreign reserves.

China’s huge trade imbalance with the United States, Chang said, is a potential cudgel that Washington should be prepared to use. “President Obama can get on the phone with Hu Jintao and say these are the things you need to do,” he said.

“We are extremely indulgent about irresponsible Chinese conduct when it comes to human rights,” Chang added. [emphasis added]

And then we have the Women of the Decade and of course Secretary Clinton was on the list:

The former First Lady made it clear “‘Madame President’ is a real possibility,” says Lesley Stahl. Hillary Clinton gave her all to her run for the Democratic ticket, and after losing, she came back stronger as ever as Secretary of State. During her first year on the job, Clinton has proven that she’ll be a strong, driven and focused secretary. Not that we doubted her for even a minute …

The situation continues to deteriorate in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):

…There are plenty of bad people and international special interests swarming all over Congo. They include American mercenaries who smuggle weapons on airlines, such as the Congolese airline Wimbi Dira (the CEO is an American) , from Spain, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Libya, China, Belgium, Tanzania, the British Virgin Islands and others. Roman Catholic networks supplying money to a murderous Rwandan rebel group (FDLR), and exploitation of natural resources by just about every country on the planet, including China, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, round out the lists of the biggest of the bad guys.

Not to be left off the year-end worst list is the President of DRC, Joseph Kabila, who is allowing wanted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda to set up his own de-facto administration in eastern Congo. Ntaganda controls the mines and smuggling routes, aids and abets murder and torture of the innocent and, if investigations pan out, is in bed with big oil exploration in Virunga Park. Couple all of this with the United Nations’ documentation of a clear linkage between the exploitation of natural resources and the financing of illegal armed groups, and it makes one wonder if the script for Avatar was taken directly from UN reports.

Surprisingly, to some, the bad guys list also includes scientists, conservationists, non-governmental organizations, doctors, lawyers, public relations professionals and just about anyone who stands to make a buck off of the suffering. As one local Congolese activist told me, “rape is big business in Congo these days.”

[snip]

If you don’t believe that international “aid” and conservation organizations can do wrong, consider this well-circulated 2004 essay by Mac Chapin of World Watch. Chapin asks: “Can we protect natural habitats without abusing the people who live in them?”

Discussion of “natural” alliances between conservationists and indigenous peoples and the need to work closely with local communities, common just a few years ago, has largely disappeared. It has been displaced, in the biggest conservationist NGOs, by talk of changed priorities, with a new focus on large-scale conservation strategies and the importance of science, rather than social realities, in determining their agendas…coupled to all of this has been the partnering of conservationist organizations with multinational corporations–particularly in the businesses of gas and oil, pharmaceuticals, and mining–that are directly involved in pillaging and destroying forest areas owned by indigenous peoples. Complaints against the activities of the Big Three conservation NGOs have now been heard from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Papua New Guinea, and the Congo Basin, among others.

[snip]

Would SOS Hillary sacrifice her role in the cautious Obama administration to actually affect some good? Clinton has more power than anyone at this point in history to do so. Certainly Obama is as ineffectual in world matters as he is at home.

And also relating to the situation in the DRC, the U.S. Embassy is trying to help victims of sexual assault in the Congo:

The United States will finance a programme to help women who have been victims of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the US embassy announced Tuesday.

“This seven-million-dollar (five million euro) project provides support for clinics, hospitals and community centres for women and children,” who have been victims of rape, the embassy said in a statement.

The project, baptised Espoir (Hope), was jointly launched by the Congolese government and the US embassy and is financed by the development agency USAID.

The work will be carried out by the non-governmental organisation, the International Rescue Committee.

In mid-August, during a visit to Goma, the capital of the eastern Nord-Kivu province, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton committed Washington to work with the Kinshasa government and various institutions to fight against sexual violence….

After the coup in Honduras, I wrote frequently about the situation there and made it pretty clear that unlike most people, I felt that the U.S. really dropped the ball with respect to getting Micheletti’s coup government to reinstate President Zelaya. While the U.S. stopped a token amount of funds from flowing to Honduras and symbolically revoked a few visas, the monied business interests in both the U.S. and Honduras won out.

It is true that the Obama administration was under increasing pressure from the political right in this country who saw in the coup an opportunity to get rid of a socialist, protectionist, populist leader (Zelaya) in favor of a more conservative, pro-trade, anti-labor rights, pro-business, pro-U.S. leader. The issue for me was never about whether or not Zelaya was a good or bad leader, nor was it about ideology- it was about the U.S being consistent and sending the message that in a democracy, you don’t run rough-shod over the will of the people and remove a democratically elected president without first bringing charges against him/her and initiating adversarial proceedings. None of which was done.

Also, the United States (with the help of the mainstream media) largely ignored the horrendous human rights abuses against pro-Zelaya supporters, most of whom were poor and many of whom were women. And perhaps most ironically, the feminist movement in Honduras was dealt a huge blow when the U.S. seemed to reverse course and announce (Tom Shannon made the stunning announcement on CNN Espanol) that irrespective of what took place on election day in Honduras, it had the US’ blessing. Women who supported Zelaya have been, and continue to be, the victims of harassment, rape, beatings, kidnapping and imprisonment- all at the hands of the government and military. I wrote about the forgotten women of Honduras here.

And then I saw this story about a pro-Zelaya activist who happened to also be a gay rights activist in Honduras:

Honduran Gay human rights activist Walter Trochez was murdered in a drive-by shooting in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa on December 13.

Trochez was an active member of the National Resistance Front opposing the government of Roberto Micheletti which was installed by a military coup on June 28. Trochez had previously been detained and beaten by government forces after participating in a demonstration against the coup.

Gay blogger Doug Ireland reports that Trochez “had been trailed for weeks before his murder by thugs believed to be members of the state security forces.”

On December 14, Amnesty International called for “an independent investigation” of the murder. “Amnesty International fears that he may have been targeted because of his human rights work,” they said.

“Walter Trochez told Amnesty International on Friday [December 11] that he had escaped a kidnapping attempt on 4 December after suffering several hours of beatings and threats by masked men. They had interrogated Walter Trochez about individuals opposed to the de facto authorities who seized power following the 28 June coup d’état,” the Amnesty International statement continued.

Trochez told Amnesty International that his kidnappers said, “even if you give us the information we’re going to kill you, we have orders to kill you.”

Trochez had been documenting the Micheletti regime’s attacks on the Honduran LGBT community. In an open letter he released on November 16, Trochez listed nine LGBT Hondurans killed since the coup.

“[T]he LGBTT Rainbow Association, TTT Collective of San Pedro Sula and human-rights activists and defenders, publicly express their outrage that since June 29 this year, [and even] in the hours prior to the coup, there has been an increase in hate [crimes] and homophobic crimes promoted by the Honduran religious hierarchy in collusion with oppressive groups such as the Armed Forces, the National Security Secretariat, private enterprise, pro-life groups, and Opus Dei,” Trochez’s letter said.

Ironically, his letter ended with the words, “As a revolutionary I will be today, tomorrow and forever in the first ranks of my people, all the while knowing that I may lose my life.”

Micheletti came to power after the Honduran military arrested democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and sent him out of the country. The coup had the support of Honduran business interests and of local Roman Catholic authorities.

Here’s an interesting, if not a little gossipy, article about how Obama’s foreign policy team has earned high marks from the American public while his economic team has given a lackluster performance over the last year:

Twelve months later, this conventional wisdom has turned upside down. The foreign-policy team, despite a few glitches, wins high marks and is beset by less rivalry and rancor than most any administration in memory. The vaunted economic team is faulted for poor coordination, drawing even the president’s ire, and an inability to convey an overarching policy.

[snip]

Clinton has been a loyal and effective secretary of state and Gates has earned great respect from his commander in chief. There’s almost none of the bitter infighting like that between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the Bush administration, or George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger in the Reagan years, or the incompetence that marked President Bill Clinton’s first term. These tensions have been eased in the Obama administration by the constructive role played by Vice President Joseph Biden on foreign affairs.

If the war in Afghanistan goes south this could change. But the framework for handling tough situations has been set…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    December 27, 2009 9:15 pm

    Thanks for the news round-up.

    That is really terrible about the activist in Honduras. I agree with you that the MSM really did a pathetic job of covering the events in Honduras- I guess it wasn’t as interesting to them as say, Michael Jackson’s death or the tea party whackos.

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