Category Archives: Human Rights

In defense of bull fighting.

Animal cruelty is wrong. Cruelty against animals, that is. We frown upon, or happily ignore what our parents’ generation did to cats, cat’s tails, frogs, birds nests, its inhabitants, dogs… I won’t get into cattle. Suffice it to say, we probably all have or had an uncle who did go into cattle.

non-formal dress bull fight

non-formal dress bull fight

I recently saw an opportunity to see a bull fight in an actual arena. Whereas Spain has banned the, I want to say, practice, some of its Latin American cousins see or hear no evil. So what’s wrong with giving our hoofed friends a fighting chance? More of a chance than the slaughterhouse, that is. Lined up, upside down in chains, as they are, waiting for the buzzsaw.

Half a bull will choose the arena. And by half, I don’t mean one that’s already hacked in two.

The glory

The glory

The glory… The dust, as the slightly crooked forepaw taps the ground before a charge. The thrill of skewering any of the soft bits of the beast’s tormentor. Pierce or be pierced. The glory, the gore. If you have the stomach. Or four.

But naysayers claim hunting for sport is wrong, as is the ballet of death performed upon the mighty bull. That killing animals is wrong when it has no function. Sort of like nudity in movies, but I’m drifting off.

These days most humans can get all the necessary nutrients from the part of nature that doesn’t scream at some point before landing on your plate. If you’ll accept that as a scientific fact then, arguably, eating meat becomes a mere pleasure. The things we do for the taste of bacon, say. It’s a lesson I haven’t yet fully internalized personally. Did I mention bacon?

I didn’t go to the bull fight. All things being equal, the game does seem heavily rigged in favor of the human. I could muster a lot more respect for a man in spandex fighting a tiger with his bare hands.

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 07.49.33So instead I went to Machu Picchu. Someone asked the guide if the Incas performed human sacrifices. “Yes,” the man responded, and I swear to the Sun God this is true. “But only when it was necessary. For instance when it was dry, or when it rained too much.” You know, functional human sacrifices.

The place is absolutely mind-boggling by the way, but I’m drifting off again.

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Filed under culinary, culture, Human Rights, Religion, Social, Travel

The thin line between irony and auguring.

4297357401_97b14e670fOnly a few years ago, not so long after the death of Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, Chile opened its museum of memory and human rights. It’s an important part of a nation seeking justice for past wrongs, of how the truth is unearthed -often literally, reconciliation achieved between former adversaries.

The Museo de la Memoria is an imposing edifice, its geometric single-mindedness proportionate to the enormous task at hand. You can’t miss it. Due to clumsiness on my part -Google was not at hand- I did miss it. As, to my surprise, did most Chilenos and Chilenas I interrogated, I mean asked. A few shrugs here, a false lead there. So much for ‘memoria’. Visitors were a mix of well-to-do nationals and foreigners. In defense of absent masses, it was a weekday and, you know, workers be workin’.

The years, starting on that other September 11th, 1973, were dark indeed. But how tenacious a plant is justice. How much effort has been expended to find out what happened to whom and where. No matter what the regime did to its opponents; kidnap, torture, kill -buried in mass graves or thrown in the Pacific Ocean tied to steel beams, what goes down must come up again. Bodies were exhumed, (rather quickly miss-)identified and years later exhumed again to be properly investigated with all the modern means at the government’s disposal. That task, over 25 years after the reestablishment of democracy, is ongoing.

allende-chile-coup-1973-stadium-200x148Weirdly a lot of people supported the junta. The well-offs did anyway. Law and order. A bit of discipline for the greater good. 12.000 people corralled in a sports stadium cum improvised concentration camp. Summary executions, you name it. Who are these people, I wonder? Today, I mean. Is it the elderly man with the meticulously maintained half-moustache and fine watch -the kind you never really own but merely pass on the next generation- sitting in the metro opposite me? The Audi driver at the crossroads? The lady in the black skirt and expensive sunglasses?

What fickle beast is democracy. How easily disturbed. Ears pricked up to the snapped twig a couple of bosques away. On the run at the first whiff of a predator. In this case, the United States. The museum doesn’t mention their role in the overthrow of the left-leaning Allende government. But ask any Uruguyan, Argentinian, Chilean citizen -I did- and they will tell you: “The Americans fucked us over.”

Bygones I guess. Recent US administrations have been solely guided by the advance of democracy and the universal application of human rights. Ahem.

Belgium went through a similar phase in the seventies and eighties: Left-wing militants and criminal gangs widely believed tied to right-wing security-sector elements cooking up a stew of fear and instability. Every so many years new investigations are announced to fill in the details but efforts, on a par with the relatively mild Belgian brouhaha, languish. And yet, questions remain, and as long as the dead have living relatives, and relatives of relatives, the search goes on. Thus is the way of the human spirit. 2016-01-08 14.57.06As indeed evidenced by the indigenous-inspired murals found all over Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile (probably some of the most de-indigenized Latin-American nations, but the only ones I’ve visited so far… watch this space). The one pictured above sits right across the street from the Museo de la Memoria. Signifying the thin line between irony and auguring, I guess.

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Filed under extreem-rechts, Human Rights, International Affairs, Mensenrechten, Travel, United States, Verenigde Staten

Vol is vol

11951866_10156009750400525_6003012855215547269_nSorry maat, of meisje, vol is vol.

We kunnen toch niet de ellende van de hele wereld naar hier halen? Dat begrijp je toch ook. Enfin, begreep.

We hebben van onszelf al genoeg problemen. Zoveel dat we er onze lagere middenklasse voor moeten pluimen om ze proberen op te lossen.

Goed, Turkije en de andere buurlanden van Syrië zijn zo lief om een stuk of 4 miljoen van jouw vriendjes, broers, zusjes, moeders en vaders op te vangen. Maar je moet ook niet alles met elkaar vergelijken. Snap je? Enfin, snoop.

De draagkracht bij onze bevolking om meer te doen is beperkt. Antwerpen staat bijvoorbeeld zeker niet op de eerste rij om voor extra opvang te zorgen. Dat stond ergens te lezen. Tegen de mensen zeggen dat we moeten besparen, en het dan langs ramen en deuren naar buiten smijten, het kleinste kind, zoals jij er eentje was, begrijpt dat dat politiek moeilijk ligt.

Zoals jouw broer, die in Damascus studeerde maar die nu ook ergens op dat strand ligt te liggen, misschien wist: Europa heeft tussen nu en 2050 tientallen miljoenen extra zielen nodig, alleen al om de bevolking op pijl te houden. Da’s economie. Harde cijfers. Ok, goed. Maar je begrijpt toch dat jullie niet gewoon holder de bolder naar hier kunnen komen varen? Kan je je de chaos voorstellen?

Per slot van rekening willen we alleen mensen die een netto-toegevoegde eh, alé, mensen die iets kunnen. Liefst geen moslims. We zijn per slot van rekening het Judeo-Christelijke Europa. Wij vragen ons al 2000 jaar constant af, wat zou Jesus doen? Met weinig succes overigens.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Brussels, economie, Europe, extreem-rechts, Globalisering, Human Rights, Mensenrechten, Middle East, Multiculturalism, politiek, Vluchtelingen

The ICC indictment of Sudan’s leadership merits a balanced appraisal.

The ICC indictment of Sudan’s leadership merits a balanced appraisal.

Omar-al-Bashir-220_978259fIn July 2008 the International Criminal Court submitted, upon request of the United Nations Security Council, charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur, Sudan against the president of that country Omar Al-Bashir, having already done so for Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs minister Harun and a local militia leader. None have so far been brought into custody, nor will this likely happen in the near or even remote future.

Politically motivated,” cried the Sudanese government. “Double standards, and neo-colonial bullying,” charged African, Arab and many European commentators. America’s tacit welcoming of the ruling, itself not a signatory and fierce opponent of the Court, surprised few, given Sudan’s oil-laden geology. This in turn explains the eerily quiet wind blowing from China, which meets close to seven percent of its oil imports from the regime in Khartoum. (Credible) conspiracy theories aside, many analysts fear a Sudanese backlash, a hardening of positions, undermining a tenuous peace process, turning out more harmful in the end to the very people the court ruling is supposed to rush to the aid of.

All of the above is true. The ICC, brought to life in 2002, has picked out small fries, a sitting leader of an Arab state at that, the adverse connotations of which have not gone unnoticed in the region. In many ways the ICC merely ups the ante, shielding behind the cloak of internationalism, self-interested policies and the chess of jostling powers that weaker states have historically been victim, at best spectator to.

And yet. We cannot dismiss the notion that the voices raised against the ruling, and hence in defense of a government that at best utterly fails to act in defense of its own citizens, with horrible consequences, are all but devoid of ulterior motives. The court’s ruling is indeed a heavily politicized one, but so would a now hypothetical decision to the contrary.

In the extreme, currying favor with the regime in Sudan inculpates one to the charge of wishing to secure access to the nation’s natural resources, while proponents of the ruling are accused of wishing a regime change for the sake of gaining a toehold to those same resources. Concurrently, some advocates of the court’s decision aspire to draw away attention from their own misdeeds in the human rights arena, while detractors fear the legal dire straits such a precedent might put them in. Worse infringements occur in other places. Why intervene here? Indeed, arguments and ammunition are easily found in support of either position.

To those with no material stake in the imbroglio the question then boils down to one of inclination, optimistic or pessimistic, as to the ability of the mechanisms hitherto employed to alleviate and ultimately solve a question of extreme human suffering. Do the actions of the ICC represent something new, or should such the instrument be seen as merely the sum of its constituent parts, a continuation of old policies, lorded by self-interested nation-states? Can the ICC transcend the balance of powers or the lack and turbulent search thereof? Is the ICC, in plain English, capable of saving lives? The wider question should, but perhaps given the inchoate state of the institution, cannot easily be disentangled from the concrete case of Darfur before it.

International bodies are only as effective as their participating countries allow them to become. A prime example is arguably the United Nations, once paralyzed by the cold-war stalemate, somewhat invigorated since, but of yet hamstrung by its veto-wielders’ reluctance to reform and adapt to changing international relations. Perhaps the ICC, an organization that is legally speaking not part of the UN, can play a reinforcing, complementary role, hand-in-glove with the trend of expanding international laws. Whether the challenge of justice-over-the-weak vs. justice-for-all can be overcome only time will tell.

The shifting of the balance, toward universal success vs. a quick demise of the ICC will take place in the penumbra of smaller nations, between ardent supporters and stern detractors. Those countries seeking an advantage in opposing the court now, might one day find themselves in need of more robust international policing. The inverse, one should add, will arise just as easily.

The clear choice for governments here and now is between short-term self-interest and its long-term variant. The difference is significant. Today, two very passionate foes of expanded international jurisprudence, Israel and the United States, already find themselves applauding the court’s ruling on Darfur. A verdict according to double standards will only serve to accentuate those double standards and increase the pressure to address other, more complex, even more intractable conflicts. Alas, small fry first.

Last month’s ruling so far appears not to have unleashed the feared deterioration on the ground despite one senior Sudanese official reacting furiously, threatening to turn Darfur into a graveyard. On the contrary, the initial response of the Sudanese government has been one of increased responsiveness, at least in tone, to international pressure. With, perhaps a cynical stretch of the imagination, soon, white faces too will pop up in the dock at The Hague. If we include the ad hoc tribunal for Yugoslavia this has already happened. Of course, all gains, especially as modest as these, can be reversed. However, one must also recognize those gains, even as modest as these, for what they are; Timid beginnings, but beginnings nonetheless.

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Filed under Human Rights, International Affairs, Mensenrechten, United Nations, Verenigde Naties