Focal Points Blog

The Human Rights Project: Determined by the Needs of the Powerful

HumanRightsDay

This paper is an excerpt from a much longer chapter in the forthcoming book on People-Centered Human Rights.

“Ours is the age of rights. Human rights is the idea of our time, the only political-moral idea that has received universal acceptance.”
Louis Henkin

This quote from Louis Henkin, the venerable international legal scholar and passionate advocate for human rights, represents both the promise and the contradictory limitations of the human rights idea. For Professor Henkin and most of the human rights establishment, the universality of human rights is uncontested. The dominant values, assumptions, legal framework, research methodologies, forms of advocacy, institutional expressions and norm-setting processes that developed over the last six decades of the “modern” human rights period are seen as a natural evolution of progressive global relations.
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Yemen: Chaos, Conflict, and Revolution

The Yemeni Revolution, 2011-2012. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Yemeni Revolution, 2011-2012. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Yemen. The very name of this country brings many thoughts to one’s mind. It happens to be one of the oldest centres of civilization in the region, and is currently the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. If that does not impress you, Yemen is also the only state in the Arabian Peninsula to have a purely republican form of government, and was the first country in the region to grant voting rights to women.

A nice resume, indeed! Sadly, of late Yemen has not made it to the papers for the right reasons. As harsh as it may sound, present-day Yemen is far from perfect.
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In What World Does Spending 3/4 of a Billion Dollars on One Bomber Make Sense?

The B-17

The B-17

At Bloomberg, Tony Capaccio reports the new long-range bomber planned by the Air Force may cost 50 percent more than it had projected. The figure thrown around is $810 million for one, up from $737,000,000 for the B-2. Bear in mind that, during World War II, a number quoted for B-17s ― one of its predecessors ― was 12,731 manufactured. Let’s see how many of previous generations of bombers you could buy with the money spent on one of the new bomber (figures from Wikipedia).

• 3,399 B-17s at $238,329 each

• 1,267 B-29s at $639,188 each

• 15 B-52s at $53.4 million each

Is one new bomber worth that many of the old bombers? In terms of pure destructiveness, that’s questionable. Bear in mind that the B-29 was used to transport and drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Really, how much more bang for the buck does a bomber need?

$810 million for one bomber ― is the Pentagon even listening to itself?

Is Iran Granted the Right to Enrich Uranium by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or Isn’t It?

There are any number of obstacles that could trip up the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1”—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany—but the right to “enrich” nuclear fuel should not be one of them. Any close reading of the 1968 “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT) clearly indicates that, even though the word “enrichment” is not used in the text, all signers have the right to the “peaceful applications of nuclear technology.”

Arak heavy water reactor

Arak heavy water reactor

Enriched fuel is produced when refined uranium ore—“yellowcake”—is transformed into uranium hexafluoride gas and spun in a centrifuge. The result is fuel that may contain anywhere from 3.5 to 5 percent Uranium 235 to over 90 percent U-235. The former is used in power plants, the latter in nuclear weapons. Some medical procedures require fuel enriched to 20 percent.
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Dependable Deutschland

The likely next German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

The likely next German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

For all of the outrage and talk of the “severely shaken” relationship between Germany and the United States, the newly finalized coalition agreement between the Christian Democrats (CDU), its sister party (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD) takes a tentative step toward normalizing the transatlantic relationship. The deal, which was finalized last week, is still subject to a vote by the SPD’s 475,000 members before the new government can officially take office. However recent polls indicate that a healthy majority of SPD members are in favor of the coalition agreement, suggesting that a new German government – and its “new” foreign policy plans – will be in place just in time to ring in the New Year.
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Is the Central African Republic on the Verge of Genocide?

Michel Djotodia has been unable to control the Seleka militia which installed him as president of the Central African Republic.

Michel Djotodia has been unable to control the Seleka militia which installed him as president of the Central African Republic.

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The Central African Republic’s Ongoing Agony

Khadidja

Photo credit: Marcus Bleasdale

Khadidja-Aladji-Abdou, pictured left, is only 30 years old, but looks much older, the horrors she has experienced branded not only in her face but in her soul. The picture is graphic, one of many; unfortunately it is accurate.

The caption by her face reads “…[she] saw all of her three children and husband, his second wife and her four children shot dead and herself was shot in the head. She’s the only survivor of that incident. Khadidja-Aladji-Abdou was shot in the back of the neck and left for dead with several other members of her Perhl [ethnic] group.” The Perhl are a small Moslem ethnic group; in all, Moslems, who tend to live in the more northern regions of the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), near the Chad border, make up somewhere between 10-20% of the country’s predominantly Christian population.
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Failure to Factor Nuclear Close-Calls Into National Security Equation Threatens Us All

Nuclear warhead (British). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear warhead (British). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As I posted recently, nuclear-weapons advocates forget to factor human error into their national-security equation. Command and Control, the new book by Eric Schlosser (Penguin Press) about nuclear close-calls (which I have not read) illustrates this clearly. A new example of sloppiness in the command and control of nuclear weapons has recently arisen regarding the Permissive Action Link (PAL), a security device for nuclear weapons intended to prevent unauthorized detonation. At Gizmodo, Karl Smallwood revisits a 2004 article by Bruce Blair, co-founder of Global Zero.
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Can Marvel Comics’s Latest Superhero Strike a Blow Against Islamophobia?

Kamala

Depending on your socio-political views, you may choose to agree or disagree with me when I say: Islamophobia is in the air. Be it the USA, UK or even Myanmar, there are a good number of people out there who view Muslims as a community that is troublesome and refuses to integrate. In the midst of all this, it was a pleasant thing to read when Marvel announced that the leading character in their new comic book series will be a Muslim girl.
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One of the Many Ways Nazis Shot Themselves in the Foot by Persecuting Jews

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

There are many parallels between Hitler and Stalin. On the personal level, they both liked to conduct all-night meetings. On a more critical level, the purge of the Red Army command that Stalin carried out before World War II in order to consolidate his hold on power left the Red Army ill equipped to handle Hitler’s invasion.

While Hitler didn’t order his army command, aside from those who tried to assassinate him, executed, he regularly demoted generals (only later to often promote them again). As a self-styled military strategist prone to overruling his command, he regularly put the Wehrmacht in compromising positions. But while Stalin was able to overcome handicapping Russia at the start of the war, Hitler was not as lucky with another of his purges. In his classic The Second World War (Penguin 1990), which I just finished reading, John Keegan, the eminent ― and eminently readable ― British military historian who died last year, explains.
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Nuclear Weapons: the Siberia of Military Assignments

NuclearWarhead

Robert Burns of the Associated Press has been the lead dog on stories about “rot” in the U.S. nuclear force. Earlier in the year, he reported that the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota “earned the equivalent of a ‘D’ grade when tested on their mastery of [nuclear missile] launch operations using a simulator.” Subsequently, 17 officers and a commander were removed from duty.
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