Latest articles of Thor Halvorssen Alex Gladstein“Ladies in White” One Year after the Death of Laura Pollán2012-10-16T09:56:29Z<p style="text-align: justify;">To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the passing of Laura Poll&aacute;n, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) re-releases two documentary shorts highlighting the work of the &ldquo;Ladies in White,&rdquo; a civil society group inside Cuba that organizes peaceful marches for freedom and human rights.</p> <p> <object width="620" height="315"> <embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="315" src=";hl=en_US">&nbsp;</embed> </object> </p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The world-renowned group was formed by the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and supporters of the political prisoners who were arrested during the &ldquo;Black Spring&rdquo; government crackdown on Cuban dissidents in March 2003. During the four-day period of suppression, 75 independent journalists, librarians, and democracy and human rights activists were arrested. Since the release of most of the aforementioned political prisoners, the Ladies in White have continued their peaceful work to promote individual rights and a democratic society in Cuba. On October 14, 2011 the group&rsquo;s leader and co-founder, Laura Poll&aacute;n, died of a heart attack.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">&ldquo;HRF visited Laura Poll&aacute;n several times over the years and we were able to obtain excellent footage to share with the world. We wish to remind people that Cuba continues to be a totalitarian state, and what Laura says in these videos is the current reality of life in Cuba,&rdquo; said HRF spokesperson Sarah Wasserman of HRF.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">&ldquo;This demagogue government says that there's a lot of freedom in Cuba, that it's a paradise,&rdquo; said Poll&aacute;n. &ldquo;I invite those people that believe in Cuba's freedom to come and live here. Come here, and live like a regular citizen, without bringing dollars, buy their food with a ration book, and try to express themselves in Cuba as much as they do in their country against their government or an individual and to say that in Cuba. This way he can see what the result is,&rdquo; she continued.</p> <p> <object width="620" height="315"> <embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620" height="315" src=";hl=en_US"></embed> </object> </p> <p style="text-align: justify;">"The Ladies in White continue their activities and they are subject to a never-ending campaign of harassment, persecution, hostility, and threats. It is disgraceful," said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. "Dressed in white and carrying flowers, their message of hope and resolute devotion to freedom is a powerful threat to a regime that has held power and tormented its opponents for 53 years. The Ladies in White are an inspiring reminder of the courageous and peaceful struggle of dissidents in Cuba. The world should share their determination to pressure Cuba toward a real transition to democracy and respect for human rights.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">HRF protects and promotes human rights. HRF believes that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF&rsquo;s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF&rsquo;s International Council is chaired by pro-democracy activist Garry Kasparov, and includes former prisoners of conscience George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ram&oacute;n J. Vel&aacute;squez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">For more information contact: Sarah Wasserman, Human Rights Foundation,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href=""></a></p>Requiem for a Reprobate: Ethiopian Tyrant Should Not be Lionized2012-08-23T11:14:34Z<p style="text-align: justify;"><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F48%2Ffc%2F48fc1a73ac282bbbb4fef31fa00cc5dd.jpg" alt="Meles Zenawi" width="580" height="443" />With the dust beginning to settle on the death of Meles Zenawi (21 July) &mdash;ruler of Ethiopia since 1991&mdash;Western leaders have been quick to lavish praise on his legacy. A darling of the national security and international development industries, Zenawi was&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">applauded</a>&nbsp;for cooperating with the U.S. government on counter-terrorism and for spurring economic growth in Ethiopia&mdash;an impoverished, land-locked African nation of 85 million people. In truth, democratic leaders who praise Zenawi do a huge injustice to the struggle for human rights and individual dignity in Ethiopia.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Zenawi &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">leaves behind an indelible legacy of major contributions to Ethiopia, Africa, and the world</a>.&rdquo; Gordon Brown called Zenawi&rsquo;s demise &ldquo;a tragedy for the Ethiopian people,&rdquo; while David Cameron remembered him as an &ldquo;inspirational spokesman for Africa.&rdquo; Bill Gates tweeted that he &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">was a visionary leader who brought real benefits to Ethiopia&rsquo;s poor</a>.&rdquo; Abdul Mohammed and Alex de Waal took to the&nbsp;<em>New York Times</em>&nbsp;op-ed pages today in perhaps the most&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">unspeakably sycophantic eulogy</a>&nbsp;of Zenawi, declaring that the dictator&rsquo;s death &ldquo;deprives Ethiopia &mdash; and Africa as a whole &mdash; of an exceptional leader.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">For years, the diminutive Zenawi had been a fixture on the Davos circuit, charming Western leaders with statistics of human development and business expansion. Under his control, Ethiopia&rsquo;s average annual GDP growth rate more than doubled to a gaudy&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">8.8 percent over the past decade</a>, and trade and investment with the West boomed. He worked with the U.S. to capture terrorists&mdash;even invading Somalia to help oust an Islamist government&mdash;in return netting roughly&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">a billion dollars a year</a>&nbsp;in American aid. Ethiopia had been to hell and back in the 1970s and 1980s with famine, war, and genocide. For someone who came to power as a freedom fighter and liberator, who gave one of the poorest countries on earth China-esque economic growth, and who became a key ally of the U.S., what was not to like?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">First off, many of the rosy development statistics given out by the Ethiopian government&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">are simply fraudulent</a>; independent sources still rank Ethiopia at the very bottom of&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">poverty</a>&nbsp;indexes. Second, what genuine economic and public health transformations Zenawi did bring to Ethiopia were achieved with a&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">top-down model</a>&nbsp;that mirrored the statist command he implemented over all other aspects of Ethiopian life.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Zenawi built a totalitarian state, guided by Marxist-Leninism, complete with a&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">cult of personality</a>&nbsp;and zero tolerance for dissent. Like Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad, he filled the country&rsquo;s top political and economic positions with men from his own Tigaray ethnicity. When elections did occur, he won them with Saddam-like numbers, most recently,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">99 percent of the vote</a>. Civil society organizations&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">were harassed into submission or banned</a>. His&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">government only allowed</a>&nbsp;<em>one</em>&nbsp;television station,&nbsp;<em>one</em>&nbsp;radio station,&nbsp;<em>one</em>&nbsp;internet-service provider,&nbsp;<em>one</em>&nbsp;telecom,&nbsp;<em>one</em>&nbsp;national daily, and&nbsp;<em>one</em>&nbsp;English daily&mdash;all churning out government propaganda. Zenawi used this information hegemony to heavily censor news available to Ethiopians, taking special delight in preventing them from hearing news from exile groups outside the country.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Zenawi&rsquo;s critics were jailed, killed or chased out of the country: in fact, more journalists were exiled from Ethiopia in the last decade than&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">any other country on earth</a>. Let&rsquo;s restate that: Zenawi kicked out more journalists than any other tyrant on the planet, thereby monopolizing control over information. His favorite tactic was labeling dissidents as terrorists. Journalists&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">risked up to 20 years in prison</a>&nbsp;if they even reported about opposition groups classified by the government as terrorists. The most emblematic case is that of&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Eskinder Nega</a>, a PEN-award-winning author sentenced to 18 years in prison this July for questioning the government&rsquo;s new anti-terrorism laws.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Many in the West like to credit Zenawi with &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">keeping Ethiopia together</a>&rdquo; despite ethnic differences, war, famine and regional instability. Dissidents, however, maintain that Zenawi was&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">always at war with his own people</a>. When towns and villages rose up against Zenawi&rsquo;s military regime, they were&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">put down brutally</a>. There was, and still is, a climate of fear. With 85 million Ethiopians suffering under his thrall, Meles Zenawi constructed one of history&rsquo;s most depraved states in terms of numerical human suffering.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">So why is this monster being celebrated? Some, like Bill Gates and Ambassador Rice, choose to remain blind to Zenawi&rsquo;s systemic human rights abuses. He was, undoubtedly, charming. Others, perhaps more worryingly, excuse his tyranny for his development and economic acumen.&nbsp;<em>Foreign Policy</em>&rsquo;s managing editor illustrated this point of view while tweeting that &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Meles Zenawi was a dictator but was better for his country than many democratically elected leaders</a>.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">This kind of mentality is a dangerous one.&nbsp;<em>There is no&nbsp;such thing as a benign dictator</em>. Only those with a fascist mindset&mdash;who want to cut corners, who complain how messy and inefficient democracy can be, and who overlook two thousand years of political history&mdash;can believe in this chimera. From Cuba to&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Kazakhstan</a>, the story is the same.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">For instance, Pinochet took Chile from being a run-of-the-mill right-wing statist dictatorship to an economic success story with the same liberalization principles that the Chinese tyranny has employed to transform itself into a world power. Is the Pinochet-Beijing model of a police state with economic freedom, attempted by Zenawi for Ethiopia, an acceptable one in this day and age? The&nbsp;<em>New York Review of Books</em>&nbsp;reminds us that this sort of ideology brought Ethiopia &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">appalling cruelty in the name of social progress</a>.&rdquo; Anyone stating that they &ldquo;like&rdquo; the economic results from the Pinochet-Beijing model must accept thousands of tortured and disappeared in Chile and tens of&nbsp;<em>millions&nbsp;</em>dead in China (and 8 million political prisoners&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">languishing in the Laogai</a>&nbsp;as of today). Perhaps those admiring a strongman can accept such a condition with a John Rawls-type&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">veil of ignorance</a>&nbsp;without knowing what it is like to live under a dictatorship. It is easy to tolerate torture and disappearances if it isn&rsquo;t happening to your daughter, your brother, your mother, or you.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Those in the West heaping praise on Zenawi&mdash;all living in societies that suffered so much to achieve individual liberty&mdash;are engaging in dramatic hypocrisy by praising this thug. Would Bill Gates live in a country that denies people basic political freedoms? Whose government arrests and kills its critics en masse? Would he trade places with an Ethiopian university student who believes in free expression and whose stance will lead to certain prison and possible execution?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Any arguments that Zenawi was mellowing (after 21 years in power!) are false. The past few years saw new sweeping &ldquo;anti-terrorism&rdquo; laws and&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">stronger Internet censorship</a>. In 2005, Ethiopia even saw its own&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Tiananmen Square</a>. That year, Zenawi decided to hold freer elections, but the opposition won a record number of parliamentary seats, including all those in the capital, Addis Ababa. Throngs took to the streets to celebrate. In response, Zenawi&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">lashed out brutally</a>, arresting the opposition&rsquo;s entire leadership and sentencing them to life in prison for treason; shuttering five newspapers and imprisoning their editors; murdering 193 protestors, injuring 800, and arbitrarily jailing 40,000 other men, women, and teenagers in a show of raw tyranny. According to&nbsp;<em>The Telegraph</em>&rsquo;s David Blair, who was&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">reporting from the scene</a>, &ldquo;a crackdown on this scale has not been seen in Africa for 20 years and the repression exceeds anything by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for the past decade at least. Apartheid-era South Africa&rsquo;s onslaught against the black townships in the 1980s provides the only recent comparison.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">It is startling that&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">so many</a>&nbsp;consider Zenawi&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">an &ldquo;intellectual&rdquo; leader</a>, when he needed such bloody policy to enforce his rule. When Western leaders consider this dictator&mdash;who rapaciously treated Africa&rsquo;s second-largest nation as his personal property&mdash;worthy of not just condolences, but pure adulation, something is very wrong with their value systems.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">One politician, the Norwegian foreign minister,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">made a slight nod</a>&nbsp;toward individual rights in his obligatory comments about Zenawi&rsquo;s passing: &ldquo;Norway and Ethiopia have an open and frank dialogue on political and social issues, including areas, such as human rights, where we have diverging views.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Amen!</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em><a rel="nofollow" href="">@ThorHalvorssen</a>&nbsp;is the founder and president of the New York&ndash;based Human Rights Foundation. Alex Gladstein is HRF's Director of Institutional Affairs.</em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em>Read the original article in&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href=""></a></em><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Forbes<em>&nbsp;</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em>(Photo on the Frontpage &copy; World Economic Forum)</em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em>(Photo &copy; AFP)</em></p> Amidst the Carnage, Syria Finds a Loyal Ally in Hugo Chávez2012-04-17T10:25:54Z<p><span><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" title="Chavez and Assad" src="/s3/cache%2F40%2F1b%2F401b761acd90f333156a15128c7116c2.jpg" alt="Chavez and Assad" width="560" height="398" />At a time when most nations are trying to figure out how to stop Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from killing his own people in a year-long struggle to stay in power, the Venezuelan government is helping to prop him up. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span> The facts and figures coming out of Syria are grisly, with more than 9,000 dead since last spring. On an average day, 50 citizens are shot and killed by government security forces. Bridges and roads out of the country are blown up, preventing civilians from fleeing. Doctors are ordered to tranquilize torture victims so that they cannot speak to international observers. Journalists are assassinated. Children and women are slaughtered. Historically, the Assad regime has been a bad one, committing undeniable crimes against humanity. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>Bashar's barbarism cannot be overstated. Together with his father Hafez's bloody regime, Syria has endured 41 years of Assad family rule. This puts the father-son duo in competition with North Korea and Cuba for longest dynastic dictatorship. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>It comes as a shock, therefore, to see&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">this New York Times headline</a>: "As Others Isolate Syria, Ch&aacute;vez Ships Fuel to It." And&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">another stunner</a>&nbsp;from Reuters: "Venezuela to ship more fuel to Syria as crackdown spreads." Grotesquely, even as Assad intensifies his repression, the Venezuelan government provides the supplies he needs to keep his military machine powerful and deadly. While other nations &nbsp;boycott selling fuel to Syria on human rights grounds, Venezuela persists, having sent more than 600,000 barrels of oil in the past few months. A country like Russia, with economic and strategic investments in Syria, is expected to side with Assad, as are other states with no moral compass beyond national interests. Yet, even some of these nations, like Saudi Arabia, are now calling for Assad to stop the slaughter.</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Meanwhile in Venezuela, Hugo Ch&aacute;vez's party has&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">unanimously approved</a>&nbsp;a measure of solidarity with the Syrian regime, hailing its so-called reforms and praising it as a role model. Correo del Orinoco, a state-funded paper, continues to publish&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">pro-Assad commentary</a>. The president and his cabinet have, on numerous occasions, publicly and fiercely defended the fuel shipments and given their "<a rel="nofollow" href="">strongest support</a>" to the Syrian tyrant.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Ch&aacute;vez's loyalty to Assad - now being tested to the extreme - is not a new development, as the leaders have enjoyed close ties for years. Ch&aacute;vez has visited Syria twice in his presidential capacity, and on the latest trip, Assad renamed a street in Damascus in his honor. When addressing the Venezuelan public, Ch&aacute;vez often refers to Assad as "our brother." In 2010, he hosted Assad's first stop on his South American tour, an event&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">praised to the heavens</a>&nbsp;by American-born Eva Golinger, Chavez's chief propagandist, and&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">recapped at length</a>&nbsp;by Syria's official state news agency. Their conclusion - that stronger Syria-Venezuela ties would "guarantee a free and democratic world where peace and respect prevail" - stands today as painfully ironic. Inside Venezuela, more than one million citizens are of Syrian descent. Many of them have recently taken to the streets of Caracas to rally against Ch&aacute;vez's support of Assad. Such public protest is risky business. As Al Jazeera has&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">recently reported</a>, local Syrian diplomats note who gets involved, and when those individuals return to Damascus airport, they can become targets of the police state. But, as families are being gradually destroyed, these protestors are growing louder.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Why is Ch&aacute;vez so willing to support such a global pariah, risking credibility abroad and even instability at home? Some point to a 2010 agreement wherein Venezuela trades diesel for Syrian food. This accord does not accomplish much from a strategic or economic point of view, but has aided Ch&aacute;vez in his quest for photo ops with leaders of the world's worst governments. His antics have been the same with Iran, Zimbabwe, and Qaddafi's Libya. It is all evidence of Ch&aacute;vez's remarkable track record of admiration for serial rights abusers. The Venezuelan leader himself argues that the uprising in Syria is a Western conspiracy, not an organic rebellion. Last spring, he even&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">painted Assad as the victim</a>, claiming that "terrorists are being infiltrated into Syria and producing violence and death," and accusing the international media of jumping to the conclusion "once again" that "the guilty one is the president." His own bizarre reasoning aside, the reality is that Ch&aacute;vez simply doesn't give a damn about human suffering in Syria. In a recent interview with The New York Times, his minister of oil and mining Rafael Ram&iacute;rez&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">explained Venezuela's support</a>&nbsp;of the criminal Syrian regime: "If they need diesel and we can supply it, there is no reason not to do it." This isn't blindness or ignorance, as Ch&aacute;vez's intelligence informs him of what is happening in Syria. Rather, this seems to be intransigence. As one of his critics so incisively observed, Ch&aacute;vez doesn't just go to the cemetery with his friends - he buries himself with them. With his own elections approaching in October, and with the Venezuelan people growing increasingly confused by his support for a murderous despot, this may turn out to be the case.</p> <p><span style="color: #800000;">The article was co-authored by Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation and founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, and Alex Gladstein, OFF's vice president of strategy.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span style="color: #888888;">(Photo &copy; Hassan Ammar/Associated Press)</span></p>