Friday, June 13, 2014

Syria as I See It: A Brief Summary and Critique by Joe Jessee

Hey everyone! It's your co-editor Safra here! It has been way too long since I last published something. I am so sorry for this, but hopefully now that it is summer I will be able to update the page on a more regular basis.
For starters, this was an email a colleague of mine wrote to another in order to explain the war occurring Syria. Currently, we are in a club that is trying to raise awareness about the people that are being displaced from their homes as well as the casualties of war and the workings of the government. Surprisingly, many people we have tried to reach out to -even among some of the most educated- have little to no understanding of the events taking place. This was written by his point of view and contains tidbits of his personal opinion, but taken from months of consistent self-updating through various news sources. And despite having personal opinion his descriptions are accurate and hold much truth.

Syrian refugees carry water containers as they walk through the Northern Jordanian Zaatari refugee camp

From this point on what is being published is directly from the forwarded email he sent our colleague weeks before. It starts with:

“My friend asked me to give him my input on the Syrian conflict. This is an amalgamation of the messages I sent him edited into an abstract of sorts.”
A few things you should know about the status quo of Syria before the revolution started:
1. Military police strolled the streets and were feared greatly by all civilians. They had basically complete free range to do whatever they wanted. They frequently beat people, mostly men and occasionally women, up simply for uttering anything anti-government, or simply to establish dominance and set an example. If our police in America did what they did on a proportional scale, the people of the US would already be on the verge of riots. Even when one black man got assaulted on video tape, L.A. went up in flames.
2. Bashar Al-Assad, the then and now "president" of Syria was "democratically elected". This election took place exactly fifteen minutes after his father ceased to be the president, and the voting booths were closely monitored by the aforementioned military police. The votes were not anonymous, and the ballots simply said "do you want Assad to be the president? Yes or no?". There were no other options. It seemed pretty obvious to the "voters" that they would be signing away their livelihoods and their families’ safety were they to refuse him. And thus, Bashar Al-Assad was hailed as a democratic leader in the Middle East.
3. The taxes in the country were more than crushing to the local economy. A doctor in Syria after taxes would make less than a hallmark employee in America.
4. Bashar Al-Assad's father, Hafez Al-Assad quelled a rebellion from Hama, a city in Syria simply by killing 42,000 protesters outright with brute military force. Think Bush Sr., Bush Jr. Personally, it seems to me that Bashar is refusing to give up because he doesn't want to disappoint his father's name.

Now fast-forwarding to the current conflict:
March 15, 2011: A group of disgruntled Syrian students who were from Daraa (a small hick town in Syria), many of them college-age and on their way to inheriting an oppressed nation with zero financial opportunity, grafitti'd the symbol of the Arab spring (the consecutive uprisings of Tunisia, Libya, and then Egypt). The elite police responded to the behavior violently by torturing those found guilty of the vandalism, which many say was what the catalyst that started the country wide movement.
It gained massive momentum through the use of social media and other methods and spiraled into a series of massive protests in the streets - I'm talking hundreds of thousands. Government forces were ordered to control the riotous protest and did so with less than a gentle hand. Six to eight months later, the attempts to control and eventually stop the protests spun out of control into incredibly violent encounters. There were reports of groups of Shabeehah, elite military police, literally taking machetes and attempting to cut through the unarmed protesters like shrubbery. Many protesters and strong believers in the need for change begin to form a faction called the "Free Syria Army" or the FSA. Now with the two parties ultimately and staunchly dedicated to absolute victory, the protests spun out into a full on civil war: Bashar's Regime VS the FSA rebels.
The FSA unfortunately was hilariously outgunned. The government was dropping cluster bombs onto crowds of people protesting, and the FSA was basically in survival mode. Start with a pistol, kill an officer, use his ammo until you run out, ideally you kill another before that. Meanwhile, civilian casualties are piling and piling up; tens of thousands and escalating. The military had set up checkpoints and would routinely assault/kill anyone who had potential ties to the rebels, or did not have a convincing enough tie to the government. In a few reported cases the military had set up rape checkpoints in which the only way a family would be able to pass through and out of the country was to give up a daughter or mother. The other option was that they could all be killed. (That's one specific story I read, I'm not sure if that is an extreme, but I’m convinced it is more of a median.
Here's where things get really sticky. The FSA has close to nothing as far as firepower to defend themselves. Along came the boogieman, the Al-Nusra front (whom the UN has delineated as a terrorist organization) comes along and says "Hey, we want Bashar dead as well." They presumably want one of their own in office. The Syrian people don't want an extremist in office, but they are between a rock and a much harder place adorned with spikes. So a limited amount of military cooperation begins with the Al-Nusra front, mostly because they have no other option.
Meanwhile, the global community starts taking notice and begins to lobby against Assad. He is a dictator committing genocide, so the lobbying is a good thing. Assad, very cleverly might I add, decides to buy his news network and force them to constantly run exaggerated and skewed stories to paint the entire FSA as terrorists. He turns the entire narrative publicly into "the government is fighting terrorists" because he knows the American public will be extremely apprehensive not only because of its twelve year "war on terror" but because the American people are going be hard to sell as it is. So he successfully runs a smear campaign against the FSA and conservatives and democrats alike eat it right up. Nobody wants to "give money to terrorists." So effectively, one desperate decision has temporarily undermined the clarity of the situation and unfortunately the public credibility of the movement.

Now, let’s take a step back and look at the global scene. Obama wants intervention and is begging for a strong enough reason to garner American support to aim at Bashar. He sets his (apparently fake) red line at chemical weapons. Meanwhile, Russia has been allies with the Syrian regime for decades. They have a variety of natural gas, arms, and other diplomatic arrangements. Russia has also thusly provided a massive financial crutch to the Syrian regime throughout the conflict, as well as hardy military contributions. Everything from guns and bombs to tanks and air planes. Saudi Arabia, a reliable companion of the US, had attempted diplomatic resolution with Russia and offered them massively cheaper oil to dial back their support of Bashar. Russia politely declined. Saudi Arabia then stretched a surprising and unprecedented offer to the US. They offered to pay entirely for any military intervention we would commit so as to appease the American people's minds. Brilliant right? Hang money in front of our faces. It has worked every other time. Plus, it assists us in gradually making money back from our massive military investments paid for by China, assists us in de-proliferation of our weapons stockpile, and allows us to look humanitarian without paying for it. However, this offer didn't make so much as a ripple in the pool of nonsense and rhetoric flying around congress because they were so caught up on the whole terrorism thing as well as fear of tensions with Russia.
       Here is a slight disambiguation of the Russia debacle. Russia and China both vetoed intervention at the UN repeatedly since the very beginning of the conflict. If we were to violate the UN's international laws on military intervention which require a one hundred percent consensus, we would be labeled war criminals (officially) and would be indirectly committing acts of war against Russia. Putin referenced this specifically in his op-ed piece that the NEW YORK TIMES published for him. However, his point is extremely and laughably hypocritical since he has been militarily assisting a dictatorship and completely complicit in the act of slaughtering over 200,000 people. Also  one million people are missing or internally displaced, two million people have taken refuge in surrounding nations and they are burdening those countries as well. The refugee camps are in awful conditions and have a critical scarcity of food. To then call us on what comparably seems like a technicality is sort of moot. The UN however is still having pointless banter, the American people lost an info war through FB and news outlets to an insane dictator, and even after France proved Bashar was the one who ordered the use of the chemical weapons, the US backed down like a scared white boy who talked too big of game.

 I am pro-intervention for the following reasons:
1. The U.S. has bought the largest military in the world by 2,500 percent. It would be exemplary of American incompetence and a horrible waste if it could not be used to stop people like Bashar Al-Assad.
2. The Syrian people protested for democracy. We must protect American values around the world if we are to call this country great by any means.
3. Women, children, babies, men, many of whom were the brightest hopes for the future of the Middle East are being shredded to pieces by a government they didn't want, and nobody is helping them. Meanwhile, those who are fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in are growing up and living in a world where the country that could end their suffering could not come to a decision to help them. Their situation is quite simple to them. They are being killed ruthlessly by their government and the world could help them if they wanted. Meanwhile, we get viral videos, we get stoned, we get fat, we b**** about Miley Cyrus, and we don't help them. We look inconsiderate to the point of absolute evil. We need to help them so as to have influence in post-Assad Syria, and to ideally create some stability in the region, if not to just stop the genocide.

4. Syria borders Israel. There needs to be consistency in our policy. As much as I am anti-Zionism, it does not make sense for the US to allow the revolution there to go however it wants to. To be more specific, we have a diplomatic responsibility to Israel to ensure that extremists don't take hold in countries neighboring them. We have a responsibility to our allies to provide international protective measures.
5. Most importantly, the US people have the power to do something, and they have made themselves look weak, stupid, and easy to sway. I for one will not be represented by that. I want to be represented by a country that puts its money where its mouth is and intelligently kicks ass and takes names. I want the US to stand up for human life and be the best country in the world. But right now, it is acting like the worst.

So there's basically everything I got.
I wrote that a few months ago^.

UPDATE- Decemeber 2013
The rebel forces seemed to gain ground a few months ago. Our continuous inaction has managed to allow the tides to turn back against the rebels and now the situation has gotten more toxic. Sketchy organizations have been trying to capitalize on the instability of the situation in order to put their guy on top. There are a few extremist groups gaining speed in Syria. Basically, if the secular rebels aren't supported or don't win within a year, the entire idea of post-Assad influence is out the door, Israel will now be neighbors with an extremist government that has a history already of back and forth conflicts with them, and we will have forsaken foreign policy goals for the Middle East entirely. We will quickly lose all influence and as 9/11 is evidence of, that is the only thing that protects us in those situations. Even worse, Saudi Arabia, our biggest supplier of oil, is already extremely mad about how we've handled the situation so far, and God forbid we lose them as an ally. Our entire economy will crumble under crippling gas prices, and the only working arm of the United States will be the military and we will be back at war for "some reason".

UPDATE-January 2014
Hunger is becoming an increasingly fatal problem amongst the besieged Syrian population. People have had to resort to eating cats and they could in some ways be considered lucky. People are dying of starvation now at a rate of one every ten hours. The deaths from hunger are less than the number of general regime-caused fatalities (1 every twelve minutes roughly), but when you take into account how slow of a killer hunger is, and how many are on the edge of death from hunger still trying to fight this war, it is a more staggering issue.
In conclusion, that pretty much sums up the Syrian rebellion as far as history is concerned. It is perhaps most important of all to note that this is an ongoing conflict, and that the numbers of internally/externally displaced, casualties of all ages, and shockingly incidences of unchecked chemical warfare are steadily on the rise. It unfortunately has fallen out of the national lexicon and must be brought back to the forefront of discussion as it is still being described as “the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our times.”

-Joe Jessee

That is it of Joe's account of the war. I found myself completely mystified at how I didn't know all of this even though newspapers, online organizations, and news stations were blasting the occurrences taking place for weeks at a time (although most of them do have a bias). The sad part is that much of what is going on is being ignored. It's time to make the effort of being aware. I thank Joe for giving me this short rendition. Hopefully, you took something out of this too even if you did not agree. 

Syrian children who were killed by chemical weapons are laid down on the floor with blocks of ice.

Your Co-Editor, 


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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Prostitution and FIFA

A few weeks ago, Francis Chivuta discussed how Zambia battles human trafficking through sport. Sports assist in building and maintaining the local community through social networking and shared experiences and achievements. Sports also contribute to national economic growth and pride. These positive outcomes of sports and recreational activities unfortunately facilitates a market for human trafficking - funneling demand to a particular location and the locals providing the commodity. 
"Brazil is a large source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor."

Anyone else excited for 2014 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup in Brazil? Not necessarily a big American soccer (European football) fan, I enjoyed playing it as a child and love watching the games with friends. In the coming weeks, many will watch the international world cup, FIFA. In 2007, Brazil won the bid to host the 2014 world cup and the last year (2013 summer) was filled with national protests against the expensive event. 

2013 Protests
The reason for the protests include the under-investment in public services and the over-expenditure into the world cup.  Brazil built grand stadiums and the infrastructure necessary for the event, while skimping on social services and increasing prices and other issues like corruption, few hospitals, depreciated transportation system, and mismanagement of the construction for FIFA. 

With this unrest framing the festivities of FIFA, prostitution and child sex trafficking is on the rise. 
"The most significant human rights abuses included poor and at times life-threatening conditions in some prisons, sex trafficking of children and adolescents, forced labor, and exploitative working conditions."

End Child Prostitution in Brazil
As a sex tourism destination, the nation combats with sex trafficking and tourism and child exploitation. In Brazil, the age of consent is 14, with statutory rape penalized with sentences ranging from eight to fifteen years. Major coastal cities serve as tourist destinations for the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents without laws specifically addressing child sex tourism. Thousands of Brazilian highways have been identified by the police as hotspots for commercial sexual exploitation of children
"More than 100,000 children were victims of sexual exploitation each year."
Many women and children are forced into prostitution abroad, with destinations including  neighboring countries such as Suriname, French Guiana, Venezuela, and Paraguay, and even further to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Switzerland, Mexico, Argentina, and the United States. With FIFA and a massive influx of tourists and fans arriving to Brazil for the games, the rampant child sex tourism issue remains unresolved and lacking global intervention and advocacy. 
"Child sex tourists typically arrive from Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States."
With sixteen anti-trafficking offices, the government has implemented a national anti-trafficking plan and committed to approximately $2.9 million on it by 2014 this year. However, this plan faces defeat by Brazil's fickle trafficking definition that limits it to a movement-based crime. Increased efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and sentence trafficking offenders, including those involved in internal sex trafficking can make a huge difference in the lives of women and children. With FIFA and the not-so-distant Rio 2016 Olympic Games draining the government of funds, dedication to increased funding for specialized assistance, shelters, and protection for victims of sex trafficking and forced labor appear to be a far-off dream. 

The government took public measures to reduce demand for commercial sexual exploitation of children by continuing to raise awareness during the Carnival season, but how will this pan out during FIFA?

Street artist Paulo Ito created the mural in Sao Paulo.
Qatar was awarded the 2022 bid for the FIFA World Cup! FIFA's social responsibility is already being questioned and it is up to more bloggers and advocates to raise awareness and fight for human rights for Brazil's sport events and future sporting festivities!

For More Information Regarding Brazilian 2013 Protests:

"Eric Cantona's new documentary Looking for Rio will have it's UK premiere at Amnesty's football film festival Sidelines in London ahead of the World Cup in June. He spoke exclusively to Amnesty about football in Brazil, the passion and the protests, about how a new generation of fans and young players are being priced out of the game and the controversial decision to take the 2022 World Cup to Qatar."

For More Information Regarding Prostitution and Human Trafficking:

(in regards to 2006 FIFA World Cup)