Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Look Back At The Trial That Made Rape A War Crime...

The task was almost unimaginable in its magnitude.
After the Rwandan genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered over a hundred days in 1994, the U.N. created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with the goal of bringing the organizers of the bloodshed to justice.
The tribunal's inaugural case, led by two young U.S. prosecutors, would set a number of precedents -- but perhaps none more significant than classifying rape as a war crime.
Journalists Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel have directed a new documentary, "The Uncondemned," that takes a powerful look back at the tribunal and the unique challenges faced by Pierre-Richard Prosper and Sara Darehshori, the lawyers who prosecuted the first genocide trial. They won their case in 1998 and made history as sexual violence was judged part of genocide for the first time.
"When people think about war crimes tribunals today, they have a vision because it's been going on for 20 years. But back then, the last time someone had attempted to do anything like that was Nuremberg," Prosper told HuffPost. "Failure literally was not an option -- too much depended on it. If we lost, what would that mean to the victims and the survivors? Their deaths were not being recognized or valued."
pierre sara
Sara Darehshori and Pierre-Richard Prosper photographed in 1997.
Darehshori, his co-counsel, was only two years out of law school when she got the assignment of a lifetime.
"It was all very crazy," she said. "We were sort of isolated. We didn't have the Internet. We didn't have email, still sending faxes; it wasn't that reliable. We kind of felt like we were on our own. There wasn't a huge body of law to look to. We were winging it."
Among the unsettled matters of law was the connection between rape and genocide, despite their long historical association.
According to a 1996 U.N. report on the Rwandan genocide, perpetrators of the killings used rape systematically as a weapon. "Rape was the rule and its absence the exception," the report noted, estimating that between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls were raped during the course of the three-month genocide.
The rape crisis that accompanied the mass killings was so widespread that Prosper and Darehshori saw the need to argue that rape should be classified as a war crime and was itself a major component of the genocide.
"Before [the tribunal], rape and sexual violence was just seen as spoil of war," Prosper said. "For the first time in history, rape was put on equal footing with all other crimes committed during the time of war."
The New York Times reported at the time that the decision advanced the "world's legal treatment of rape and sexual violence," and provided the first international definition of rape as "a physical invasion of a sexual nature, committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive."
While participating in the documentary, Prosper and Darehshori returned to Rwanda, where they were reunited with the three Rwandan women who testified about their rapes. While the women were anonymous during the tribunal and had code names to protect their identities, they have come forward publicly for the first time in the documentary.
"It was interesting, over this much time, to get their perspective on the trial and to see they really appreciated playing a role in this," said Darehshori. "It was important to them to tell their story. They felt empowered by their experience at the tribunal."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Islamic State Isn't Circumcising Women and Didn't Steal $400 Million Either...

Since the Islamic State captured Mosul last month, it hasburned shops selling alcohol, ordered veils placed over the faces of mannequins in store windows, andimplemented discriminatory policies that forced the majority of the city's Christians to flee. You'd think that was dramatic enough -- but a number of apparently false stories about the jihadist group's behavior in Iraq's second-largest city are spreading like wildfire through the Western media.
The latest culprit appears to be U.N. official Jacqueline Badcock, who told reporters on Thursday that the Islamic State had issued a fatwa ordering women to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). The procedure is quite rare in Iraq -- it is far more common in sub-Saharan Africa -- and is not typically something that jihadists demand. As Agence France-Presse reported, instituting FGM in areas under the control of the Islamic State, which was previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, could place 4 million women and girls at risk of undergoing the procedure.
Thankfully, Badcock's claim has been widely debunked by reporters and analysts. NPR's Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel, reported that residents of Mosul, including a doctor and a tribal leader, had not heard of the fatwa. Meanwhile, an alleged Islamic State decree announcing the implementation of FGM was revealed to be a hoax. (The U.N. office in Iraq did not respond to requests for comment on the source of Badcock's claim.)
But the furor over FGM is far from the only questionable claim that has been made about the Islamic State's reign in Mosul. Last week -- as the jihadist group's very realcampaign to force Christians to pay a tax levied on non-Muslims, convert to Islam, or face death reached fever pitch -- multiple news outlets reported that the Islamic State had burned down the St. Ephrem's Cathedral.
There was just one problem: The pictures published by news outlets and shared on social media of the supposed burning of the Syriac Catholic cathedral were from church burnings in Egypt or Syria. To this day, there has been no confirmation from anyone in Mosul that a cathedral was burned.
But the most spectacular story about the Islamic State relates to what would have been one of history's most spectacular bank heists. Shortly after the group stormed Mosul, the provincial governor in the region told reporters that it had raided the city's central bank, making off with more than $400 million, in addition to a "large quantity of gold bullion." The alleged raid -- which was widely reported in papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post -- would likely have made the Islamic State the world's richest jihadist organization, as well as giving it more resources than many small states.
There's only one problem: The heist doesn't appear to have happened. The regional governor who initially described the raid changed his tune in an interview with the Financial Times last week, saying that "nobody until now has confirmed that story." Meanwhile, the chief executive of the association of Iraq's private banks said that no raid occurred, and that "nothing has been removed from the premises of any banks [in Mosul], not even a piece of paper."
Given the extreme difficulty of reporting in areas under the control of the Islamic State, it is perhaps not surprising that the news coming out of Mosul is so frequently incorrect. And the jihadist group's well-deserved reputation for implementing its brand of medieval justice does admittedly make it hard to separate fact from fiction. But the next time you read a story and think that it's too spectacular to be true -- you just may be right.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Running Orders...

They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think "Do I know any Davids in Gaza?"
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Why Do We Need To Be Pardoned?

“Why do we need to be pardoned? What are we to be pardoned for? For not dying of hunger? For not accepting humbly the historic burden of disdain and abandonment? For having risen up in arms after we found all other paths closed? For not heeding the Chiapas penal code, one of the most absurd and repressive in history? For showing the rest of the country and the whole world that human dignity still exists even among the world’s poorest peoples? For having made careful preparations before we began our uprising? For bringing guns to battle instead of bows and arrows? For being Mexicans? For being mainly indigenous? For calling on the Mexican people to fight by whatever means possible for what belongs to them? For fighting for liberty, democracy and justice? For not following the example of previous guerrilla armies? For refusing to surrender? For refusing to sell ourselves out? Who should we ask for pardon, and who can grant it? Those who for many years glutted themselves at a table of plenty while we sat with death so often, we finally stopped fearing it? Those who filled our pockets and our souls with empty promises and words? Or should we ask pardon from the dead, our dead, who died “natural” deaths of “natural causes” like measles, whooping cough, break-bone fever, cholera, typhus, mononucleosis, tetanus, pneumonia, malaria and other lovely gastrointestinal and pulmonary diseases? Our dead, so very dead, so democratically dead from sorrow because no one did anything, because the dead, our dead, went just like that, with no one keeping count with no one saying, “Enough!” which would at least have granted some meaning to their deaths, a meaning no one ever sought for them, the dead of all times, who are now dying once again, but now in order to live? Should we ask pardon from those who deny us the right and capacity to govern ourselves? From those who don’t respect our customs and our culture and who ask us for identification papers and obedience to a law whose existence and moral basis we don’t accept? From those who oppress us, torture us, assassinate us, disappear us from the grave “crime” of wanting a piece of land, not too big and not too small, but just a simple piece of land on which we can grow something to fill our stomachs? Who should ask for pardon, and who can grant it?” 
― Subcomandante Marcos

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Noorah Kareem Does Quirky ...

The art scene in the Kingdom has seen its ups and downs in recent years, always seemingly concentrated on old and traditional themes, beautifully portraying different aspects of life throughout different methods and periods in our history, but somehow reserved. With the turn of the 21st Century, things are starting to stir up in the art world, a younger generation of fresh faced artists are born. The traditional ways of art are being transformed into a new way of displaying things, more emotions and feelings are expressed with the use of their brush strokes or pencil sketches in the most creative way it has ever been. With events such as Jeddah Art Week, Edge of Arabia and a collective art exhibition by young Saudi artists at Riyadh’s prestigious L’Art Pur Gallery, young artists are more enthusiastic than ever. One of these enthusiastic young ones is Noorah Kareem, her art is a mix of feelings, moods and intentions, all put into her art work.

This young 25-year-old is very new to the art scene yet has caught the eye of both the young and older generations through her work. Her work can be called eccentric, from quirky cartoon comic-like characters, superheroes to simple doodles and sketches that speak out to her audience loud and clear. Her work wasn’t taken seriously until she was offered a scholarship to Art and Skills Institute in Riyadh, mid way through her studies at King Saud University specializing in Special Education, where she learned everything that had to do with painting and sketching. But her passion was still not found there. Only after she graduated that she combined her learning at the institute and her admiration for the weird, different and interestingly strange. 

“I love everything different, it tells of who I am, a young curious girl, who loves cartoons and old school work that is all about drawing, fun and purely innocent in the sense that it tells a story of feeling.” The artist uses a lot of sarcasm and comic illustrations in her pieces, all with clear messages behind them that people from both older and young generations can relate to, even if the message means something to one and the opposite to the other. Noorah says it loud and clear. One of her latest projects was a collection of five paintings of various people all taking the ever so common “selfie” displayed at the L’art Pur Gallery in Riyadh last month. When being critiqued she found that the older generation took it very seriously claiming that “selfie” takers are too much into themselves whereas others saw the irony in them. “I enjoyed hearing their views of my paintings, some were very funny. Selfies are a form of expression to some and I just wanted to show how a painting of a selfie can be funny with the different facial expressions and the amount of concentration it takes to perfect it. It was a funny concept and the result was great,” said Noorah.

The self taught artist likes to challenge herself, mix things up, messing with concepts and flipping them over and find the humor in it. She learned her trait from YouTube videos as well as art and sketching classes that she attended in Chicago during the summer vacations. She experimented with her doodles, sketches of items and people around her and transformed it into a collection. “I like old school, Disney type of sketching, it’s an art form that is long gone due to technology, but to me it’s something I can pour myself into,” says Noorah.

Another collection of work that she had done were of magazine cover shots flipped around. “Sayidaty” became “Rajoli” keeping the essence of the magazine intact but changes introduced for the benefit of male readers, giving it a sarcastic twist in the opposite gender’s perspective. Art is no longer confined to specific concepts nor elaborate methods in order for it to be considered “art.” The concept of what is an art piece has drastically changed over the years, especially in the Kingdom where many are exploring the unknown and uncommon and creating something beautiful. 

Art is expression. Noorah’s moods can be seen here and there. Her “Boogie Humans” may seem funny to some, weird and ugly to a few or simply cartoony to others. But looking closely at each painted character, they’re each different with distinct features of distorted expressions all meshed up to portray a large canvas of feelings. Just imagine the faces of monsters hiding under the bed, scary, with lively chaotic mesh of vibrant colors to show the chaotic vibe of her “Boogie Humans” series. The young artist had this to say, “It’s in that chaos that I am able to express the feelings I had at the time. Finding unorganized concepts and organizing them using my hands or brushes bring out the imaginary characters that live in my head. I like them weird, quirky, different and out of the ordinary, that’s what I strive to achieve.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ramadan Kareem...

An Indian Muslim father holds the hands of his daughter in his palms and prays before breaking fast on the first day of holy month Ramadan at the Jama Mosque in New Delhi, India, Monday, June 30, 2014. During this month the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims will abstain from food, drink and other pleasures from sunrise to sunset. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)


Friday, June 27, 2014

Comparing International Beauty Standards...

U.S.-based journalist and photographer Esther Honig came up with an interesting photo project that answers a difficult question in an ingenious way – how can we compare standards of women’s beauty world-wide?
Honig’s solution was brilliantly simple: she sent a portrait photo of herself to freelance Photoshoppers in countries around the world with one request – to make her “beautiful.” Each Photoshopper, be they a professional or an amateur, took their own spin on the assignment, giving Honig (and us) a glimpse at what at least one person in each of these countries considers to be beautiful. Honig’s face subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) shifts, changing form and color as it travels around the world.!before--after-/cvkn