Germany, Rwanda, Kosovo, Syria – what do these places have in common? They were and are the sites of some of the worst atrocities in our history.

On April 7, 2017 the Orange-Gasbag President of the US authorized military strikes against Syria. The attack was allegedly precipitated by the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Though the Syrian government, led by president Bashar al-Assad, has denied responsibility for the chemical attacks, the insurgents he is fighting not only lacked the means to commit them, but the targets consisted of the rebel-held town of Khan-Sheikhan, and one of the medical clinics treating victims of the ongoing civil war.

This article is not about the US President’s hypocrisy, as he blames Obama for the situation in Syria and yet in 2013 tweeted:

It is not about the fact that the US military strike hit an almost empty airbase that had little impact on Assad’s reign of terror, or the fact that the Orange Blowhard’s administration has clearly seen the film Wag the Dog.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it features a President on the brink of scandal whose advisors fabricate a war to win back support from the American people. With the evidence of treason against the Cheeto Administration mounting, it should be no surprise that they’ve thrown themselves into a war against a hugely unpopular world leader, especially given that said world leader is backed by Russia, the very state accused of hacking the American election. With evidence mounting that Russia was warned about the US airstrike, this move by Orange Administration is clearly just for PR purposes.

This article is about Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes.

With refugees being turned away by xenophobic politicians in primarily white countries and military leaders breaking every rule in International Law, it’s high time we looked at how the world defines these crimes.

For this article, I’m going to use the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court and has been in force since 2002.

The International Criminal Court, based in The Netherlands, is a permanent court that investigates and tries individuals charged with crimes against humanity. Their goal is to put an end to impunity for atrocities and acts complementary to existing criminal justice systems.

The Rome Statute, in describing the role of the International Criminal Court, provides detailed definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Genocide is defined as any of the following acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”:

  • Killing members of that group
  • Causing serious physical or mental harm to members of said group
  • “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”
  • Imposing measures to prevent births within that group
  • Forcibly transmitting the children of said group into that of another group

Crimes against humanity are defined by the Rome Statute as acts committed as part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population with knowledge of the attack.” That means that for an act to be considered a crime against humanity, it has to be part of a widespread deliberate attack against civilians that includes one or all of the following acts:

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Enslavement
  • Deportation or forcible transfer of the population
  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, or forced sterilization or any other serious sexual violence
  • “Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender” or other grounds
  • Enforced disappearances
  • Apartheid
  • “Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”

Unfortunately, the Rome Statute’s definition gender is binary, recognizing only male and female despite evidence that gender goes beyond the two.

War Crimes are defined as breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which establish a set of rules for humanitarian treatment in war. Article 8 of the Rome Statute has a sort of abridged version of the definition of war crimes, which include:

  1. Willful killing
  2. Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments
  3. Willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health
  4. Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly
  5. Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power
  6. Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of a fair and regular trial
  7. Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement
  8. Taking of hostages

The Statute lists other offenses as war crimes, including intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects even when they’re not military objectives.

Though it goes without saying that war crimes and crimes against humanity are indeed taking place in Syria, prosecuting war crimes is always a problem. As Larry May, Professor of Philosophy and author of the book Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Study once wrote:

“We cannot prosecute on the basis of moral outrage alone.”

It is for this reason that rules on how to prosecute atrocities were established. However, in order to successfully do so, you need a certain degree of consent from the country the crimes took place in, as state sovereignty and the right to self-determination is the rule in our international system. There are no overarching laws to force countries to hand over their war criminals if they don’t want to subject them to international justice.

The International Criminal Court can only prosecute cases committed in a state that is party to the Rome Statute since 2002. The ICC has no jurisdiction in countries like the USA, China, and Russia who chose not to ratify the treaty, undoubtedly due to concerns about their own statesmen being prosecuted.

In this international crisis we have to remember that we are citizens of the world with a responsibility to shelter and protect the victims of atrocities and punish the perpetrators. At the same time, we must do our best to respect that the people of a country have the right to determine what is best for them. Let’s hope an influential someone in the White House remembers this too.

“A few days ago in Hong Kong, students went down the streets and they’re protesting against the Chinese government’s recent decision to undermine Hong Kong’s democracy by stating that the candidates that [the Hong Kongese] would vote on in 2017 must be approved by Beijing, prior to election,” said Michael Law to me at the solidarity event that took place at McGill University last Wednesday on October 1.

Law was one of the people who arranged the said solidarity event, which was the first one to be held in Montreal. All around the globe, other Hongkongers who are living abroad are organizing similar events to show their solidarity with what is happening back home.

“We’re staging rallies to show that we are in solidarity with the students and protesters in Hong Kong. We’re allies of democracy and human rights,” Law added.

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From the solidarity event on October 1, at McGill University

Alex Liu, the North American representative of the Black Island Nation Youth Front — one of the leading student protest groups and advocates for democracy, human rights and political transparency — was also present in the crowd.

“The fact that the government is above the law is unacceptable; this is best demonstrated by the excessive violence the Beijing-appointed government has used against its own people. Peaceful protestors have been subjected to tear gas, water guns and the government now even threatens to use military forces against the protesters,” Liu said. (Alex Liu’s full speech can be found here.)

The fear of having to face the Chinese military is real. Hui Peng, who is from mainland China, expressed that what is happening in Hong Kong is similar to what happened in China 25 years ago, at Tiananmen Square. Yet he still expresses hope.

“There are some things that are familiar, and some that are different. This time, the people there, they are more disciplined. They know that they are not going to fight and they peacefully argue for their rights. I think there is hope. And what we can do is to urge the government to talk with the people, with the students, to work out a solution to what’s now happening in Hong Kong,” he said.

The Chinese government has declared the peaceful protests illegal, and Chinese media has claimed that these events have been organized by foreign powers to upset the political stability of the country. Yesterday, however, things escalated. Anti-Occupy mobs started attacking the demonstrators, while the police stood by and watched.

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From the solidarity event on October 1, at McGill University

Yet what we say here does not matter too much. What we need to hear is the voices of those who are fighting for democracy, those who are fighting for their rights. Below you will be able to read the raw words of students who are currently in Hong Kong.

Joei Chan

“I’ve always identified myself as a Hongkonger, and whenever asked the question why we consider Hong Kong different from China, I proudly explained how we enjoy a high degree of autonomy, have different governments, different legal systems and most of all, we enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to use the Internet and freedom of demonstration and assembly. None of those claims, unfortunately, seems to hold true anymore. Hong Kong is my home. It is, however, ceasing to be the home I’ve loved, known and recognized.

Many question the effectiveness of OccupyCentral and laugh off people who expect to change China’s mind as ‘naïve’. But I cannot be more impressed by how posts after posts regarding the protests have flooded my newsfeed and Whatsapp since yesterday, and that even the most politically apathetic of us are provoked to speak up in face of appalling, heartbreaking injustice.

The certainty of death doesn’t prevent us from living. The unlikelihood of victory shouldn’t prevent us from fighting.”

Joei Chan
Demonstrators in Hong Kong, photography by Joei Chan.

Edwin Cheung

“The biggest challenge of participating in the Umbrella Revolution is never the tear gases or the police, but your parents who don’t support it. When you think you are doing the right thing for the future of Hong Kong, they don’t appreciate and even do or say anything to make you stay home. I hope all Hongkongese should understand what is happening in Hong Kong and why Umbrella Revolution is necessary.”

Ken Lee

“Hong Kong had changed a lot since 1997, the return of sovereignty to China. The mainlanders (China residents) keep flooding in, affecting our daily life. I think this time, Hongkongers had enough. Everything we had — justice, freedom of speech — became nothing but just a word. This time, the government has pushed too far by using excessive force against unarmed students/protesters.

I feel really sad and disappointed seeing Hong Kong’s government become like this: ignoring citizens’ voice.”

Bridget Clancey

“I am a supporter of universal suffrage and for real democracy in Hong Kong. Students came out last week beginning with the boycott of classes to make a point to the government that we care very much about what is happening, and also it is a very good opportunity for us students to learn about what really is happening in Hong Kong. This is due to the fact that actually HK students and citizens weren’t really politically aware before.

As the Occupy Central movement started Sunday night, a lot of people criticized that the organizers took advantage of students’ innocence, but actually we cannot disagree more. We have our independent minds to analyze what is happening at the moment, we know that illegally occupying roads is risky as we might be caught, yet we continued because we know that if something wasn’t done now, we would regret it in the future when it’s too late to change.

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Photo taken in Hong Kong by an anonymous source.

As for violence used by the police, I just had a change of opinions. Before yesterday, although I’ve also witnessed how heartless policemen could be by exercising violence, but I would say that they also have their orders, that even when some of them were inhumane by purposely removing their goggles and spraying pepper spray right into people’s eyes; even when I didn’t agree with what they did, I sort of understood what was going through their minds. But after two incidents, I couldn’t help but feel hopeless about the atmosphere in Hong Kong.

The first incident was on Sunday, right before the series of tear gas was used. As I was leaving (I’d heard it would be dangerous), I saw a group of policemen, all geared up with weapons, protection and half of them had long guns loaded with rubber bullets.

At that moment, I could imagine what could have brought the police to have decided in using such violent measures. What were they planning to do? Did they really think they could chase away the 40,000 people a kilometer ahead of them?

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Photo taken in Hong Kong by an anonymous source.

And then this girl came up to the group of policemen. She was a student. She walked right up the them and asked several times why they planned to use violent measures. She begged them not to go on ahead ’cause there were many students, as a lot of participants were students. She cried and begged and tried to stop the policemen with words. However, after a couple of minutes, they simply ignored her and after the command was given by the head police, they ran forward.

At that moment, the only thing that came to my mind was what happened in June, when that one single man stood in front of a whole train of tanks. That girl was so brave, yet it must be so terrifying to be in her shoes, she was so powerful yet so weak. The moment the police ran forward into the the direction where the crowd was running down from where they were, it seems very much like a battle field to me. I didn’t understand how the police could continue hitting people or using tear gas when we have nothing to use really to defend ourselves. And we weren’t violent, we didn’t even have weapons, as we had all along stressed that we are peacefully occupying the roads and wouldn’t do it by force.

The second incident was what happened yesterday (it’s Saturday morning here now). In short, the opposing group came to make trouble, hitting people and sexually harassing girls of our side. The police condemned us, not them. We did nothing wrong. We were the victims yet the police had ‘ joined forces’ with the other side, which was pro-China, and didn’t act like a policeman should. There are many examples from yesterday of police catching the persons making trouble and then secretly letting them go at the corner of the street. How is this justice? Who can we depend on now?

Though all this is heartbreaking, I try to pull myself together, because these are the times when they want to break us, but we would stand strong in demanding what we want. If we don’t start now, if we give up now, I really don’t see when we could have the opportunity to demand for universal suffrage again.”

Photos by Cem Ertekin, unless stated otherwise.

The world’s most ambitious social engineering policy may be coming to end. A state-own Chinese think-tank, China Development Research Foundation, concluded that China’s One-Child policy needs to stop. In its report last November, the think-tanked recommended a national two-child policy for 2015 with the elimination of limits to birth by 2020. China’s leader, Xi Jingping, has also indicated undertaking a revision of the policy.

If it does get scrapped, it would conclude a controversial chapter in China’s history. Since the policy was adopted in 1979 it has faced protests from the outside world and human rights observers over practices of forced abortions and inspired infanticide.

China also faces growing gender disparity issues largely because of the one-child policy. In most countries, women make up the base of the pyramid and men the tip at the top. Because of Mao Zedong’s social engineering, the pyramid has turned upside down.

There are fewer women who are at the tip of the pyramid, rising up the social stratus and a massive male population at the base of the lower economic strata. This has considerably strained Confucianist traditional family values in the nation.

Career women are suddenly more selective with life partners, preferring a partner that is their equal in a respectable profession. Beijing has responded by demonizing single women. Women, especially in their 20s (and close to their 30s) are targeted in Chinese propaganda campaigns.

Zhongdian, one child posterA television show called “30” was produced to project the stressful lives of single 29 year-old career women known as “leftover women” who suffer from the miseries of the dating world. Women have an expiry date of 30 years and afterwards men no longer find them “desirable.”

The show drives home the idea that women should leave stressful careers to have husbands pamper them. Intelligent women see through the façade but during the holidays their traditional parents expect them to bring home male breadwinners. So much so that agencies have started up “rental boyfriends” services.

Essentially, it is what it sounds like: fake boyfriends for a day to meet the client’s family. The industry has been so widely successful that popular films and television shows have spawned romantic and comical storylines of clients and rental boyfriends falling in love. It also raised awareness among parents who try to catch their children in a lie by asking elaborate details of their relationship backstories.

Likewise, for men the demand has fueled the emergence of bridal headhunter agencies. These agencies scout prospective women, in malls and shops, soliciting young attractive women into dates with wealthy clients.

But for the poor and populous men, they will have tougher times finding girlfriends since wealthy businessmen snatch them all up. Chinese men, generally, seek less-threatening paragons of femininity. Consequently, men are increasingly marrying socially “lower” ethnic Chinese women, minorities like Koreans or finding brides abroad. In other words, women are marrying up, while men are marrying below their social status.

Another criticism of the one-child policy has been the legacy of the “little emperor” complex and “4-2-1 problem.” The policy has left parents putting only one egg in one basket, in a manner of speaking. The only child across China is often spoiled and has poor relationships with their parents in the future. In addition, “4-2-1 problem” places pressure on the only child in adulthood to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents.

China is further renouncing its welfare efforts to care for retired seniors. The onus ultimately falls on retiree’s savings, charity and their only child for financial assistance. Consequently, China recently enacted a mandatory parental visitation policy as a result of rising neglect by adult only children.

Coupled by a cutthroat economic reality deteriorating Chinese family bonds, the problem has exacerbated to such alarming rates that there has been escalation of parental abuse and inheritance theft. While it was enforced to curb social maladies related to overpopulation the economy and environment, the one-child policy has produced a nest of other social maladies.

It is almost certain that Xi Jianping will remove the one-child policy. However, it is equally wise to install a two-child policy this year rather than two years from now. Given the already manifested aftermaths of one-child it would be prudent to nip it in the bud.

* Images by Andrew Turner (top) and Adrian Zwegers via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Everyone is getting upset about the China-Canada Foreign Investment Protection Agreement. Activists and critics say it will undermine Canadian democracy, it will subvert our economy, it will destroy our environment and it will sell away all of our energy resources. Leadnow.ca even put together a petition, got over 60 000 signatures and brought it parliament. Everyone is talking about how bad the free trade agreement is for Canadians, as if we are some abstract nationalist entity.

Canada has signed dozens of FIPAs with dozens of countries. From an economic view, they are good. The rich get richer. There is no doubt the elite in Canada and in China will benefit from this. Their capital investments will be protected.

It is the workers we need to be concerned about. And no one is talking about it.

This isn’t just a Canadian problem as many lead us to believe. This won’t sell the reigns of our economy to China.

There are no drooling, top hat wearing, Chinese capitalists looking east across the Pacific waiting to control our country. If anything, the top hats are on Bay Street. This is to protect global capital against the concerns of worker rights and environmental protection in both countries, not just Canada.

For those that wish to wrap themselves in the flag and use this as a wedge issue, please stop. We must contextualize this as global and we must fight.

Chinese workers deserve the same rights as Canadian workers. The environment in China should be protected with the same rigour as the environment in Canada. By allowing FIPA participants to sue the other country if investments are compromised, we are compromising our rights and values and we are compromising the dignity of people around the world.

FIPAs are an attack on workers and the environment around the world. It puts investments, profits, before everything else. It treats workers, the environment and democracy as an unconsidered externality, an annoyance.

We can fight this and we can win, but not at the expense of breeding irrational contempt for our brothers and sisters in China.

* photo by PMO