Sunday, November 13, 2005

Not the Senate Too

The recent vote in the Senate to deny prisoners their basic rights is a comment on the commitment to the rule of law of the American Government. By refusing to grant the prisoners at Gitmo and elsewhere the right of habeas corpus, the Senate is ignoring one of the fundamental rights in a democracy. Habeas corpus is the only protection against arbitrary arrest and detention.
There is no justification anywhere in international law for the setting aside of habeas corpus. To the contrary, the Geneva Conventions require fair and humane treatment of all prisoners. Calling the prisoners illegal combatents does not revoke their rights as defined in the Geneva Conventions. Illegal combatent is not defined anywhere in international law and White House lawyers cannot rewrite international law on the fly. As well, the Geneva Conventions requires that any prisoners whose status is in question must appear before an independent tribunal to evaluate their status.

White House lawyers have claimed that parts of the Geneva Conventions are obsolete and therefore, the U.S. government is free to ignore sections of that law. International laws can not be changed arbitrarily by a state who decides that it would be inconvenient to adhere to it. Only an agreement by the signatories of the Conventions can amend the Geneva Conventions.

The Senate vote is even more outrageous given that Article VI of the American Constitution incorporates all international laws to which the U.S. is a signatory into the American system of laws. Also, the War Crimes Act requires the U.S. to ahhere to the Geneva Conventions.

Therefore, the Senate has not only violated international law but it has also violated American law as well. This vote relegates the Senate, as well as the Executive, to that notoriously criminal body of rogue states and individuals who respect no law other than their own. It's a dangerous state of affairs when the President's criminal behaviour is supported by the Senate which not only represents the people but also is supposed to act as a counterweight to the executive branch of government.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hunger and Greed

Every three seconds a child dies of absolute poverty. Although hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Pakistan, and the American and Iraqi deaths are great tragedies, they shrink in comparison to the various disasters plaguing developing countries.
Despite the availability of anti-viral drugs, millions die of aids every year in Africa because the big multi-national pharmaceutical companies refuse to relax intellectual property rights, elevating profits above human lives. Sexual promiscuity is only a small part of the problem, a secondary issue when men have sex with prostitutes and infect their wives and children are born HIV positive.
Wars abound in many developing countries often the result of Western Industrial Countries' interference either supplying the arms, supporting one side or the other, or fighting over resources. For example, the Congo is a resource-rich country and as such has been exploited for over a century by greedy colonial powers seeking to grab as much for themselves as possible. Over three million people have died since 1998.

The Sudan is another example where the Sudanese Government has been supported by Western powers and China to eliminate anyone occupying oil-rich lands. One million refugees are living in horrific conditions in Darfur so that the rich countries of the world can have access to their oil.
Many people blame the poor countries, and in particular poor African nations, for their plight. The greed of Western powers is the real culprit as the IMF, World Bank and other international banking institutions lent money to dictators propped up by European powers and the United States to ensure access to the resources of these countries. The money was used for projects that benefited only the wealthy elites in these countries and the wealthy elites in the industrialized world. Now that almost all of these countries are democracies, they are saddled with a huge debt which not only drains valuable funds that could otherwise be used for development programs but forces these countries to practise structural adjustment policies which further weaken these countries economically.
To add to the travails of these countries, assistance from the industrialized world is only one third of the amount they pay in interest. Live aid was a sham creating the illusion of a generous reduction in interest payments on their debt when in fact, every dollar of reduced interest means one less dollar of aid.
The monumental tragedy of the developing world is all but invisible to people in North America who continue to extravagantly and blithely consume products that increase our energy needs, deplete natural resources and cause more and more pollution.

How long will this planetary sore fester before the rest of the world begins to understand the terrible suffering and loss of live for which we are directly responsible. What we need are more images on television of children dying from aids, malnutrition and disease while many other children, having been orphaned, are being raised by older siblings. Perhaps if images appeared as an ad during either the superbowl or academy awards, a sufficient number of people would react to shift our priorities.