Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Scream for Darfur"

This afternoon I attended the rally for Darfur today in Queen's Park. I must say that I was of mixed feelings about attending. As important as it is that events such as this be held to draw the media's attention to the attrocities (and for that I applaud the young people who organized the event), the fact is that rallies tend to attract large numbers of the well intentioned but uninformed and hippy dippy types for whom a protest in the park is a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. That is not to suggest, of course, that there were not also people in attendance for whom bringing attention to the genocide is profoundly important.

After having attended the event, I remain of mixed feelings. The band that performed as things were getting started were certainly of the uninformed variety. We started with a song for the environment (which, if I do say so myself, does not compare with the song I later composed: "Hug a Tree for Darfur"). "I hope everyone's feeling great here today!". We're here to draw attention to a genocide, just peachy thanks. But they were young and inexperienced, so at least they had an excuse.

The same cannot be said for Olivia Chow, who seemed to use the event as an opportunity to talk up the NDP. Apparently they have cared about the attrocities in Darfur for a long time. This must be part of their very own hidden agenda, because until very recently I don't remember them talking about it at all.

Luckily things began to improve as people who have actually shown a long time commitment to the cause spoke. Representatives of the Darfur Association of Canada, Canadians Against Torture and Slavery in Sudan (CASTS) and the Sudanese Canadian Human Rights Coalition, along with current and former MPs David Kilgour, Irwin Cotler and Maurice Vellacott gave impassioned pleas for action in Darfur.

Acol Dror, co-founder of CASTS, originally from southern Sudan, told her own story of her father's murder by the Sudanese government . Her speech reminded us that Darfur is not the first time that the government in Khartoum has committed attrocities on Sudanese civilians. If the world does not act, it will likely not be the last. Norman Epstein, also of CASTS, spoke about the need to act outside the United Nations if necessary, citing Kosovo as precendent for action against genocide without the Security Council's approval.

Many of the speakers mentioned the sanctions against four Sudanese individuals, pointing out that these actions were grossly insufficient to end the attrocities. Along with providing increased aid, and support on the ground, demands were made to create a no-fly zone over Darfur to protect the citizens against government-sponsored attacks. It was suggested that China should also be brought to task for their support of the Sudanese government, not only working to protect them in the Security Council, but also supplying them with arms. Although it was somewhat gratifying to hear some tangible proposals that could protect the people of Darfur, the question remains who will bother to act.

And then there was Jack. Jack, of course, couldn't miss an opportunity to act the buffoon, literally screaming into the microphone and insisting it is what he'll be doing in the Commons when they discuss Darfur this week (I suppose it couldn't be any less valuable than what he might actually say). I'll be watching for it.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ken Dryden Hopes to Bring End to Democracy

Ken Dryden has thrown his hat into the Liberal Leadership ring. Why? Because he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.

Apparently Dryden is angry that he spent months working on the Liberal's let-the-government-raise-your-children plan, but then there was an election and the Canadian people decided that they didn't want the Liberals in power any more and so the whole plan was just abandoned. Can you believe it? It's like nobody even cares about how hard poor Kenny worked. Canadians just got to decide at the ballot box who they wanted to represent them, with no thought as to whether it was best for him.

If Dryden becomes head of the Liberal Party, he will work hard to ensure that the Canadian people can never again crush his dreams. He and his team are looking into alternate forms of government that would not be subject to the whims of Canadians.

Friday, April 28, 2006

13 Good Reasons To Switch From Internet Explorer to Firefox...

4. Mozilla doesn't inflate prices and use the money to vaccinate children in Africa.

I'm not sufficiently nerdy to be a browser devotee, but this is funny.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Clock's Ticking

A spokesperson for Carla Del Ponte insists the deadline to turn over Ratko Mladic remains the end of this month despite media reports to the contrary. That gives them until Sunday to capture him and hand him over.

Now, I'm not really one to judge people for waiting until the last minute to get things done. But to be fair, they have already been granted a number of extensions.

Something to Think About

There has been a fair bit more talk lately about the situation in Darfur. There is a big rally planned this weekend in Washington, D.C. (and smaller ones across the continent, including here in Toronto). But as the calls for action increase, it is in no way clear that anyone has a solution. NATO does not seem interested in serious involvement, the Americans have made it clear they don't plan to lead a mission (and Europe never does anything alone), and the U.N..... well, the U.N. is the U.N. Perhaps it is time to start thinking about other solutions to end this thing. Could private security firms providing support to the African Union be the answer?

There would likely be a lot of opposition to this idea (the comments page at the Boston Globe has a lot of reactions about how warfare is already "corporate" enough), but it is easy to come up with arguments against something when it is not your life at risk and you are not the one facing gang rape by militiamen. I think it merits serious discussion. If Western governments and international organizations aren't willing or able to act, we need to start considering alternatives. Now.

(link via Chequer-Board of Nights and Days)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sanctions in Sudan

The United Nations voted today to apply sanctions against four "alleged" Sudanese war criminals. This was possible because the Russians and Chinese abstained from the vote.

It's good to see that they have achieved some acknowledgement of Sudanese crimes within the U.N. However, given the amount of work that was required to achieve this minor step, it doesn't leave much hope for a serious response that could actually have an impact.

Monday, April 24, 2006

His Roommate is In!

Bob Rae has officially joined the Liberal leadership race. On a political level, I encourage Liberals to support Rae, if they want to abandon all chances of winning in Ontario, who am I to stop them? But this whole business of running against your old roommate (a fact finally acknowledged in the press) strikes me as somewhat disloyal. It's not like these people used to just share an apartment, they were good friends. Just last year Rae introduced Ignatieff at a speaking event, when it could just as easily have been someone else. I've never agreed with Rae politically, but I've always thought of him as a decent person. But I think that abandoning old relationships to pursue your own political glory says a lot about a person. He'll probably make a pretty good Liberal leader after all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beaches residents confirm suspicions that they are pretentious gits

The people of the Beaches have spoken, and they want their neighbourhood to be officially known as "the Beach". Everybody who lives outside the Beaches will continue to call it the Beaches, and will give confused looks every time someone refers to it as "the Beach". (My bet is if for some crazy reason the people of Toronto actually listen to Beaches residents and start calling it "the Beach", we've got about a decade before they discover that, in fact, "the Sands" is more historically accurate.)

In other news, I am starting a campaign to have the name of my neighbourhood changed from the "Yonge Street Strip" to the "Yonge Street Strips". There is more than one strip club in my neighbourhood and I think the official name should recognize that fact.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bitter Lemon is Old

I was just chatting with the (seemingly) nice girl over at Second Cup. They had run out of trays and she was kindly helping me carry my order back to the office. I mentioned to her that I had worked at the same coffee shop back when I was an undergrad. She responded: "wow it's been here that long?!!". Sigh.

Never again (will we allow Germans to kill Jews in 1940s Europe)

The Chinese and the Soviets Russians are expected tomorrow to block efforts to apply targeted sanctions against individuals in the Sudanese government who have been singled out as responsible for the attrocities in Darfur.

As of tomorrow two permanent members of the Security Council will essentially be on record as saying that they don't intend to allow the U.N. to do a damn thing (no matter how small) about Darfur. Any pretense from this point on that this genocide is going to be stopped through the international body is a lie and everyone knows it.

The U.N. is over, it has been for a long time. The world needs to accept it and move on.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Trying Taylor in Africa

The New York Times has a piece today by the former Sierra Leonean ambassador to the United States, John Leigh. Leigh argues that Charles Taylor should be tried at the Special Court in Sierra Leone, rather than being shipped off to the Hague.

While acknowledging the problems that keeping the former Liberian president would pose -- security risks chief among them -- he argues that the benefits of trying him in Africa (by a U.N. backed court) outweigh the costs. I tend to agree. The need to have the VIPs of the war criminal community tried outside of the jurisdiction in which they committed their crimes perplexes me. This is particularly the case here, where they have already established a special court to handle it. What is the message? Sierra Leone is fine to try the little people, but the ex-president of a neighbouring state needs to be prosecuted in Europe where they have real courts. As Leigh points out, witnessing the process of justice is important for Sierra Leone as it attempts to transition into a stable democracy where the rule of law applies to everyone.

Trying someone in an international setting may make sense when nation that they victimized really can't, or won't, put them on trial. But barring that, their victims deserve to see justice served at home.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite... et chantage

I refrained from commenting on the French riots because I didn't have anything to add to what was being said by everyone else. But this I can't ignore: Jean Lassalle, a French MP has just ended a 39 day hunger strike that sought to prevent a Japanese company from closing down a paint factory within his constituency. The company has agreed to keep the factory open after meeting with Sarko.

Personally I think they should have let him starve to death. What hope is there for any sort of reform in France? The people who are willing to behave in the most childish manner consistently get their way.

I'm all yours!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have completed my final assignment of the term (in which I cited Michael Ignatieff, proving that in a pinch I will abandon my principles... maybe I should run for the Liberal leadership).

I have decided to take a break from school for the summer, so you can expect to see more frequent posts over the coming months. Don't get too excited, I'm promising quantity, not quality!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

U.N. Tells Ratko Mladic to Make Peace in Darfur Before he is Captured

Okay, I made that up. But it is about as likely as the real story, which is that the U.N. Security Council has told the Sudanese government and the rebels in Darfur to make peace before April 30th. Or else!

Diplomats said Britain would soon distribute a list of individuals it believes are blocking the peace process, who could become the targets of U.N. sanctions, such as a travel ban and having their foreign assets frozen. But China, which has veto power, has said it was not in favor of sanctions.
Empty threats from the U.N. Security Council. I guess it's over for the Sudanese regime. How can they possibly continue their genocidal plans in the face of such a show of power from the world body?

Friday, April 07, 2006

He's in

Michael Ignatieff has officially entered the race for Liberal leadership. I would like everyone to take a moment to imagine the reaction if someone who had been living in the United States until a few months ago announced that they were going to run for the Conservative leadership. The media would be acting like George W. Bush himself were coming to take over the party.

I will admit that I take this quite personally. I am a huge fan of Michael Ignatieff's work on international human rights, and to think that I spent so much time listening to a man who can see something worth saving in today's Liberal Party distresses me to no end. I always knew that we parted ways when it came to Canadian politics, but this is unforgivable.

In other Liberal news... Belinda announced yesterday that she would not be running. Apparently the process is set up in such a way that it would not be easy to buy the votes she needs. Losing the leadership bid for two different parties would just be embarrassing. Don't give in yet Belinda, there's always the NDP (and keep working on your french homework... Gilles has to step down eventually).

Of course, Belinda staying out of the race means that this whole thing just got a lot less entertaining. Which had to happen, following the rule that Canadian politics can't hold our interest for more than a week for fear that Canadians would actually get involved and want to talk about something other than healthcare.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Harper Mentions a Role for Canada in Darfur

Stephen Harper publicly mentioned the possibility of an expanded role for Canada in Darfur yesterday. It seems unlikely that, given our current political situation, the state of our military and our commitment in Afghanistan, Canada is going to be taking the lead in a multinational force in Sudan. Nonetheless, I am encouraged by the fact that we now have a Prime Minister who acknowledges the horrors in Darfur (rather than one who simply uses it when it is politically convenient).

It's nice to have a Prime Minister who understands that Canada can have a role in the world that extends beyond trying to be BFF with Bono. Hopefully this is a sign of more to come.

This time they really mean it. Really.

Serbia has been given one more month to turn over Ratko Mladic or their talks to enter the E.U. will be frozen. I think it's safe to say that you can expect to see a repeat of this statement at the start of May.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Welcome Slate Readers

Welcome to those who found Bitter Lemon through Slate. Have a look around, stay awhile.

Perhaps I should take this as motivation to post more frequently (not that I don't love my long time readers).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pan-Arabism and Islamism in Sudan

An interesting take on the situation in Darfur at TCS Daily.

Saddam Charged With Genocide

Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali have been formally charged with genocide against the Kurdish people. As the article points out, this is the first time that a Middle Eastern leader has been charged with genocide. More importantly perhaps, they are being tried by an Iraqi court. Genocide charges have traditionally come from international courts, whose legitimacy can be questioned by those sympathetic to the criminals on trial (see Milosevic). Furthermore, international trials do not force nations to come to terms with their past. By trying Saddam and his henchmen within the country, the attempt to exterminate the Kurdish people is on record within Iraq. This is important not only for the Kurds to get the justice that they have long been denied, but also to help the Iraqi people more fully come to terms with the horrors of the Baathist regime.

I almost believe them

Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, has been denied entry to Darfur. The Sudanese government has offered a number of reasons, including the fact that the trip would coincide with the Prophet Muhammad's birthday and that Egeland might be at risk after the recent Danish cartoon controversy (Egeland is Norwegian, and Europeans all look the same). Egeland claims that the Sudanese government doesn't want him to see how bad things have become in South Darfur. But why? What does it matter whether U.N. officials see how desperate things have become? The situation in Darfur has already been well documented, I'm not sure what piece of information would finally force the international community to act. The Sudanese government has already demonstrated that, like so many genocidal regimes before them, they have learned to play the intervention avoidance game. Really, I just can't see their motivation for keeping him out.