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PS Say More: Aryeh Neier

February 26, 2020

In last week’s edition of Say More, Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics and a professor emeritus at Princeton University, discussed how to tackle America’s “deaths of despair,” suggested which philosophers every economist should read, and addressed what US voters need to know before November’s presidential election.

Project Syndicate: The revival of authoritarianism in China under President Xi Jinping, to which you recently called attention, has been widely reported internationally, but also widely ignored, owing largely to China’s massive economic clout. Now, however, the consequences of China’s internal repression are going global in the form of a deadly outbreak of a new coronavirus, COVID-19, that Xi’s regime

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China’s Great Leap into Epidemic

February 20, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak in China is not the first public-health emergency enabled by the absence of freedom of speech in China, and it is far from the worst. Between 1958 and 1962, the inability to criticize bad policy led to a famine that killed an estimated 36 million Chinese.

NEW YORK – Before the world had any knowledge of the new coronavirus that has sparked a global panic a Wuhan-based ophthalmologist, Li Wenliang, noticed something strange in a few patients. They seemed to have contracted an unfamiliar virus that resembled severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which hobbled China nearly a generation ago. A few days later, after Li had sent a warning message to several doctors in a group chat, the 34-year-old doctor was

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China’s Global Human-Rights Whitewash

February 5, 2020

Under President Xi Jinping, China has forcibly detained hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and stepped up its violations of human rights at home. And now Xi is using China’s international clout to prevent censure of other governments’ abuses, effectively building a coalition of the willing against the international human-rights regime.

NEW YORK – To those who follow international affairs, it is clear that China has become increasingly repressive under President Xi Jinping. Over the past eight years, electronic surveillance in China has become more pervasive, intolerance for freedom of expression has grown, and many lawyers have been disbarred or imprisoned simply for defending their clients’ rights. Moreover, Xi has eliminated the

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Power to the People?

November 11, 2019

From Beirut to Hong Kong to Santiago, governments are eager to bring an end to mass demonstrations. But, in the absence of greater institutional responsiveness to popular grievances and demands, people are unlikely to stay home.

NEW YORK – People all over the world are resorting to mass demonstrations to express grievances and press unmet demands. While, in some ways, popular protests are a triumph of democratic principles and civic activism, they also carry serious risks, including violence by and against protesters. Their pervasiveness today points to a failure of governments, democratic and authoritarian alike, to hear, let alone meet, the needs of their people.
The Rise of Nationalism After

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Indicting the International Criminal Court

May 8, 2019

At a time when many governments regard the rule of law as a suggestion rather than an obligation, an effective International Criminal Court capable of securing justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity is more important than ever. Yet the ICC’s performance has left much to be desired.

NEW YORK – The International Criminal Court has come under withering criticism from the first four presidents of its oversight body, the 123-member Assembly of States Parties, following its decision not to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. The reproach, which came in the form of an essay published by the Atlantic Council, is unprecedented but not unwarranted.
The Economy We Need

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What Will Decide Nicaragua’s Fate?

April 2, 2019

Venezuela is no longer providing large amounts of funding to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, but it is still providing a distraction. If Nicolás Maduro’s government falls, international attention will likely shift to Nicaragua, and the pressure on Ortega to step down will probably intensify.

NEW YORK – The catastrophic collapse of Venezuela has grabbed global headlines, and for good reason. But the coverage has obscured the similarly intense – and closely linked – struggle in nearby Nicaragua.

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images


The Nicaraguan crisis erupted last April, when

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Turkey’s New Low on Human Rights

March 13, 2019

Condemning other governments’ human-rights violations does not absolve Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of the gross abuses his own government continues to commit. On the contrary, the current effort to put 16 civil society activists in prison for life places Erdoğan firmly within the ranks of the leaders he decries.

NEW YORK – On March 4, a Turkish court accepted indictments against 16 leading civil-society figures for their alleged role in the Gezi Park protests in 2013. In pursuing these charges, the Turkish government is taking its already abysmal human-rights record to a new low.

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images

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The Human-Rights Movement Needs America

January 16, 2019

The recent inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president is just the latest setback for human rights around the world. America can once again play a pivotal role in advancing human rights – but only if it gets its own house in order first.

NEW YORK – These are disheartening times for international human-rights advocates. Even those of us who have promoted the human-rights cause for decades, and experienced many setbacks along the way, are deeply alarmed by recent developments around the world.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images



The latest was the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s

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A Life Lived for Human Rights

December 19, 2018

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who died this month, spent her life fighting for human rights in the Soviet Union and, later, in Russia. As Russian President Vladimir Putin cracks down on rights organizations and activists, her legacy is more important than ever.

NEW YORK – In her 1993 memoir, The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era, Lyudmila Alexeyeva points out that there is no good Russian word for “dissident.” A term that was sometimes used in its place translates as “otherwise thinkers.” Over time, the Soviet press adopted the English term, referring to disidenty. Alexeyeva, who died this month at the age of 91, certainly fell into that category.

Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images


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Bachelet vs. Bolton

September 13, 2018

The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, arrives on the job at a time when the office she leads is coming under attack – and not only from the usual suspects. In fact, it is US National Security Adviser John Bolton, a longtime adversary of the UN, who poses the biggest threat.

NEW YORK – On September 1, Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, took office as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her long record of success in Chilean politics has prepared her well for this assignment, which could easily become one of the toughest of her career.

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

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The Long Human-Rights March

July 17, 2018

Amid many disheartening developments for democracy and the rule of law worldwide, a glimmer of joy recently shone through the gloom. The Chinese poet Liu Xia – the 57-year old widow of the renowned human-rights activist and political dissident Liu Xiaobo – has made it to Europe.

NEW YORK – There has been a lot of bad news lately on the human-rights front. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has resumed air strikes on his people, killing opposition fighters and civilians alike. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party continues to make headway in its quest to destroy judicial independence. The United States Supreme Court upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which prevents immigrants, refugees, and visa holders from

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Where Free Speech Ends

May 17, 2018

The recent conviction of Vojislav Šešelj for inciting war crimes with a speech he delivered in the former Yugoslavia in 1992 will have little impact on Šešelj himself. But the decision underscores an important principle: when it comes to criminalizing speech and prosecuting speakers, it is context, not content, that matters.
NEW YORK – I have long defended freedom of speech for all, even those expressing the most appalling views. Yet I applauded when a United Nations court sentenced Vojislav Šešelj, a Serbian politician, to ten years in prison for inciting war crimes with a nationalist speech in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s.

Xinhua/Xie Huanchi via Getty Images

Jack Taylor/Getty Images


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Duterte’s Dubious Defense

March 27, 2018

The veneer of invincibility surrounding Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is beginning to fade. His formal response to the International Criminal Court’s preliminary investigation into his "war on drugs" was a combination of fiction and calumny, suggesting that he is more vulnerable than many assume.
NEW YORK – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte likes to talk tough and act tougher. He has joked about wanting to commit sexual assault against a murdered missionary, applied his favorite epithet – “son of a whore” – to Pope Francis and Barack Obama, and boasted about personally killing criminals when he was the mayor of Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao.

The Year Ahead 2018

The world’s leading

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Supporting Turkey’s Refugee Response

January 4, 2018

New evidence shows that a majority of Syrian refugees in Turkey are satisfied with how their host country has treated them, and would choose to stay if given the opportunity. For the European Union, this suggests a better approach to managing the region’s refugee crisis.
NEW YORK – Turkey’s crackdown on press freedom and political dissent is of great concern to many, for good reason. But as regrettable as the government’s repressive policies are, Turkey’s role in protecting people who have fled armed conflict and persecution is worthy of support. Unfortunately, opposition to Turkey’s record on civil liberties is preventing many countries from working with Turkey on refugee protection.

The Year Ahead 2018


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The Trump-Duterte Drug War Tango

November 10, 2017

Since Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration last year, police and affiliated death squads have summarily executed more than 8,000 suspected drug users. When US President Donald Trump visits Manila this weekend, he will almost certainly remain silent, sending a global signal that state violence in the service of policy is acceptable.
NEW YORK – When US President Donald Trump visits the Philippines this weekend, on the last stop of his marathon trip to Asia, he will pay respects to President Rodrigo Duterte. Since Duterte’s inauguration last year, police and affiliated death squads have summarily executed more than 8,000 suspected drug users. Duterte himself has bragged of his role in launching and overseeing these extrajudicial killings.


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Trump’s Strongman Weakness

May 17, 2017

NEW YORK – US President Donald Trump has made his affinity for authoritarian leaders abundantly clear.When Trump entertained Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House in April, he praised the Egyptian military ruler for doing “a fantastic job.” And after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a narrow victory in a referendum to approve a significant expansion of the presidency’s powers, Trump called to offer his congratulations.Trump has also extended an invitation to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is presiding over a “war on drugs” that has so far resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings by the police. And he has continued to speak of Chinese President Xi Jinping in glowing terms, ever since the two met in April at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.Trump

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Africa Versus the International Criminal Court

November 7, 2016

NEW YORK – On October 19, South African President Jacob Zuma’s government delivered documents to the United Nations (UN) signaling its intent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Many ICC observers were taken by surprise.

A week earlier, Burundi charted a course to become the first member state to leave the ICC. The ICC had indicated that it would investigate, and possibly indict, government officials after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza threw his country into turmoil by pursuing a third term, in violation of the constitution.
Many people have died in the unrest Nkurunziza caused, giving him and other officials an incentive to withdraw from the ICC. But no indictments are pending in South Africa, leading many people to wonder what precipitated the government’s decision.

Withdrawing from the ICC is no simple matter. Under the 2002 Rome Statute, which established the court, a country remains an ICC member for at least one year after it notifies the UN of its intent to withdraw. Moreover, that country is required to continue cooperating with the ICC on any proceedings that began prior to the effective withdrawal date.

Thus, the ICC will be allowed to complete any prosecutions that it begins within the next year.

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Duterte’s Reign of Terror

September 1, 2016

NEW YORK – Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in late June and declared a “war on drugs,” more than 1,900 people have been killed – 756 by police officers and another 1,160 by “vigilantes,” according to police reports as of August 24. Duterte is celebrating the killings and has vowed to continue his anti-drug program so long as he remains president.

The Philippine law-enforcement agencies prosecuting the drug war have thrown out the rulebook and ignored fundamental requirements such as collecting evidence, adhering to due process, or even holding trials. Philippine Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa has even blamed the victims for their own deaths, claiming that, “If they did not fight it out with the police, they would be alive.”
This explanation for the

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Hiroshima With or Without Remorse?

May 20, 2016

NEW YORK – The announcement that US President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan later this month will include a stop in Hiroshima is welcome news. Of course, Obama will not apologize for America’s 1945 nuclear attack, which annihilated the city and instantly killed about 90,000 people (with many more dying later from the effects of radiation). Nonetheless, the visit will inevitably spur reflection and debate about what happened there and why.
The main argument in favor of dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and a second bomb on Nagasaki three days later, has always been that it would hasten an end to World War II. The attacks actually saved many more Japanese and American lives, the argument goes, than they claimed. Implicitly, this argument recognizes that Hiroshima was not a military target. The main tactical purpose of the attack was to kill large numbers of civilians, thereby demonstrating to the Japanese the high cost of continuing the war.
One might ask why the awesome power of the atomic bomb was not demonstrated to the Japanese with an attack on, say, a military site away from a city. That option was considered at the time, but American officials decided that the effect on Japanese policymakers would not be as great.

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Closing the Karadžić File

April 5, 2016

NEW YORK – The conviction by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of Radovan Karadžić, the former Bosnian Serb leader, for crimes against humanity and genocide filled many, including me, with a sense of deep satisfaction. The verdict has not only brought some semblance of closure to the most brutal European conflict since World War II; it has also demonstrated the international community’s commitment to ensuring justice and accountability in such matters. Not even the not-guilty verdict of the Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Šešelj, reached just a few days after Karadžić’s, can undermine that impact.
Nearly 25 years ago, in July 1992, I issued, on behalf of Human Rights Watch (which I then directed), a call for the ICTY’s establishment. At about the same time, the existence of the concentration camps that Karadžić’s forces had created – in which Muslim men and women were starved, tortured, raped, and murdered – came to light, catalyzing support for that call.
In early 1993, when the creation of the ICTY was still being debated, I made three trips to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital besieged by Karadžić’s troops. It was a grim time. Almost nothing worked. There was no electricity or heat on those cold winter days; no water flowed from the faucets; and there was very little food.

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Naming Names in Syria

March 16, 2016

NEW YORK – Human rights reports make for depressing reading. Filled with accounts of cruelty, they can inspire despair for the human condition. But while I have read many such reports over the years, I cannot recall one as packed with horror as the one recently published by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.
The commission, established in 2011 by the United Nations Human Rights Council, was denied access to Syria; it based its findings on 415 interviews, supplemented by photographs, video recordings, satellite images, and medical records. The crimes it documents include severe harm to civilians by Russian airstrikes in support of the Syrian government, the “targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, and transport,” and “continued, deliberate, and indiscriminate attacks on schools.”

The authors also found that the Islamic State had destroyed Syrian cultural heritage sites and sexually enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and girls, and that the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, had carried out systematic attacks on Sunnis, the country’s largest religious community, and used sieges to starve civilians.
This is the commission’s 11th report, and, as is customary, it concludes with a long list of recommendations, which, unfortunately, are unlikely to be implemented any time soon.

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The Power of the Human-Rights Movement

January 27, 2016

NEW YORK – Most of those who devote themselves to safeguarding human rights worldwide would agree that this is a very bad time for our movement. The evidence is all around us.
Today, the number of people who have been forcibly displaced by war and severe repression is higher than at any time since World War II. Yet resistance to the resettlement of refugees is rising sharply, owing largely to fears stirred by terrorist attacks in many countries. Indeed, now, in the name of enhancing security, many governments are violating fundamental human rights.

Governments in China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Israel, and Russia are taking – or seriously considering – steps that will hobble civil society by restricting the funding available to nongovernmental organizations. China has been cracking down on human-rights lawyers. In Eastern Europe, from Hungary to Poland, illiberal nationalism is on the rise. Even the mature democracies of Western Europe and the United States have seen a surge in public support for political figures espousing nationalist and xenophobic doctrines.
Has the trend toward greater international protection of human rights, which began four decades ago, come to an end?
Answering that question requires considering how the trend got underway in the first place.

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The Rise of the Anti-Havels

November 18, 2015

NEW YORK – November 17 is an important date in the Czech Republic. It is a national holiday marking the start of the 1989 “Velvet Revolution,” which ended – smoothly and nonviolently – more than four decades of hardline communist rule and soon propelled the country’s best-known proponent of human rights, the playwright Václav Havel, to the presidency. This year’s commemoration was an insult to the revolution’s legacy.
To mark the anniversary, it is customary for the Czech president to speak at public gatherings. Last year’s commemoration did not go well for President Miloš Zeman, who took office in 2013 after having earlier served as Prime Minister. Zeman was pelted with eggs during his address, apparently in protest of his shifting statements on Russian activities in Ukraine. Since then, he has also become notorious for episodes of public inebriation, for his opposition to gay rights, and for denying the role of human activities in causing climate change.

This year, Zeman seems to have found a way to elicit a more positive reaction. Known for his opposition to the Czech Republic’s acceptance of refugees from the conflicts in the Middle East, he spoke at a rally organized – and held on the site where the Velvet Revolution began – by an anti-Muslim group called the “Bloc Against Islam.

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The World’s Oldest Public Policy Puzzle

August 14, 2015

NEW YORK – In 1893, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, an ardent proponent of women’s suffrage and equality, wrote Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a play whose title character is the proprietor of several brothels. The play justifies her profitable exploitation of the business of prostitution from a feminist standpoint.
The play is not salacious, and it contains no coarse language, but it was nonetheless eight years before it could be staged. Its opening in London in 1902 was staged in a small theater “club,” ostensibly limited to members. Its performance in New York in 1905 was raided by the police.

This week, Amnesty International announced that it had decided to begin advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution – a position espoused by Shaw. But the ensuing controversy surrounding the decision suggests that public opinion on the issue has not shifted greatly over the past century. It is time we reconsider.
To be sure, there are many evils connected to prostitution today, just as there were in Shaw’s time. HIV/AIDS was not a threat, but syphilis was incurable and often led to disfigurement, madness, and death. Then, as now, many who took part in prostitution became victims of violence, were coerced into the trade, or were prevented from escaping it.
It is not enough, however, simply to note the evils associated with prostitution.

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