Middle East/North Africa

sotu2014Despite the best efforts of pundits and D.C. PR, the State of the Union address this year seemed, well, small.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t watch the speech this year – 1st time in a long time. Just wasn’t up for TV anchors’ “this is Washington’s Oscars” spin as the government’s still-mostly-men file in. (credit for video screengrab) Nor for the up-close-and-personal vignettes that pepper SOTU no less than they soon will Sochi.

As for the text of the speech itself – except for the well-deserved celebration of an end to certain health care injustices – it paled in the gloss of my high-def tablet screen.

President Barack Obama put impressive force into his demand for higher wages for Americans at the bottom of the income rung, to a reverse in the trend of growing economic inequality, to a guarantee of a good job. Impressive, that is, absent the deflating reality revealed on one’s calculator. Obama’s centerpiece solution was a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. That would bring the annual income of a person who works full-time and gets paid vacation (both unlikely, at this wage scale) to a grand total of $21,008.00. (Note that this is higher than the current income floor.) Given the high cost of living in the United States, one could almost hear the low-wage earner mutter,

‘That and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card will get me a cup of coffee.’

As the President noted, the mutterer well may be a woman. He said:

‘Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.’

Well, yes, it is, and the focus on this issue was inspiring. Or would have been, if Obama’s stated solutions – “equal sbapay for equal work,” “a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent” – weren’t as old as the women’s movement itself. (image credit) Consider this web account:

Susan B. Anthony‘s paper The Revolution, first published in 1868, advocated an eight-hour day and equal pay for equal work.’

In his speech Obama sounded an alarm about “the lives that gun violence steals from us each day,” as he has many times before. (Prior posts here, here, and here) His promise “to keep trying, with or without Congress,” served as a reminder of the difficulty of change.

“Diplomacy” was the SOTU foreign policy buzzword. That is welcome, but did not fully settle the mind given the tense nature of most of the situations mentioned – Iran, the Middle East, Afghanistan. One was struck, too, by the geographic lumping-together of our globe. Joining Africa as an apparently single-country? “The Americas.”

Let’s hope the President’s assertions of optimism prove better founded than this take on yesterday’s address.

photo CHAUTAUQUA, New York – People in many countries have glimpsed the Arab Spring – and endured the Arab Autumn, and the Arab Winter, California-Davis Law Professor Karima Bennoune told an after-dinner audience here on Monday, the same day that W.W. Norton & Co. published her book Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight against Muslim Fundamentalism. Karima, a longtime colleague and a contributor to IntLawGrrls blog (among many online and print media), delivered the Katherine B. Fite Lecture, which honors the U.S. State Department lawyer who helped establish the post-World War II International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The lecture was a highlight of the just-concluded 7th Annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs.

Karima began by relating what she called “a genealogy of impunity” – the story of her father and other relatives who, like many others in Algeria, had suffered harms that never have been addressed by truth commission or any other accountability mechanism. Then she surveyed developments across swaths of the Middle East and Africa, recounting stories of rights activists, dissident journalists, and artists whom she met and KarimaBennoune_wrinterviewed over the course of years of field research. Not to mention ordinary persons, like the man she called The Chickpea Vendor of Tahrir Square. Such people, Karima said, are caught between two unacceptable poles: at one end, autocratic despots; at the other, repressive fundamentalists. She insisted:

‘The only solution is to build an alternative, a democracy that respects all voices.’

Bennoune’s impassioned prescription bore echo with the dispassionate comments Dialogs participants had heard earlier in the day from Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. As I already have posted, in his Monday morning keynote lecture, Zeid indicated that stability in the region depended on the emergence of an “authentic,” indigenous “liberal philosophy.” And later in the day, the noted Egyptian-American who is Emeritus Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Chicago’s DePaul University, M. Cherif Bassiouni, likewise cited the need for a democratic ideology based on traditions of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The repetitions of this exposure of a troubling void, delivered as they were against the backdrop of reports of repression and human rights violations in many Arab Spring countries, no doubt stirred bleakness among the audience. Yet Karima, whose book sits on my desk awaiting a close read, offered glimmers of a brighter future:

‘I do believe there is still hope, because of the courage of the people on the ground … the extraordinary resistance of the people.’

“The Long Hot Summer after the Arab Spring: Accountability and the Rule of Law” is the theme of this year’s International Humanitarian Law Dialogs, to be held August 25-27, 2013, at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. This will be the 7th year that international prosecutors and other experts gather at Chautauqua’s lovely lakeside Athenaeum Hotel to take stock of developments in international criminal law. It’s also the 3d year in a row that IntLawGrrls blog will host a Karima-Bennounelecture in honor of Katherine B. Fite, the State Department lawyer who helped Chief U.S. Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson with the drafting of the London Charter and other duties in preparation for the 1st postwar trial at Nuremberg. (My own 2011 Fite Lecture, which describes Fite’s career, is here.)

Delighted to announce that this year’s Fite Lecturer will be California-Davis Law Professor Karima Bennoune (above). I’ll have the honor of introducing Karima, an IntLawGrrls contributor whose new book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism, will be released on Monday, August 26, the same day as her IHL Dialogs lecture. (It’s available for Amazon preorder now. IntLawGrrls posts by fatwaand about Karima are here; the op-ed she published last week in The New York Times is here.)

Karima’s lecture is just one of many special events planned for this year’s Dialogs. Other highlights:

► Reflections by current prosecutors, featuring Fatou Bensouda (below; photo credit) of the International Criminal Court, Serge Brammertz of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Andrew T. Cayley of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Brenda J. Hollis of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Hassan Jallow of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and Ekkehard Withopf of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Former prosecutors set to attend the Dialogs include 2 from the Special Court for Sierra Leone: David Crane, organizer of the Dialogs, and ICC-Prosecutor-Fatou-Bensouda-file-photo-UN-Photo-Rick-BajornasStephen Rapp, since 2009 the Ambassador-at-Large and head of the Office of Global Justice, U.S. Department of State.

► Keynote address by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former President of the ICC Assembly of States Parties.

► Year in review by Washington and Lee Law Professor Mark Drumbl.

► Panel on legal and policy issues related to the Arab Spring, moderated by Washington University Law Professor Leila Nadya Sadat, as well  as porch sessions on multiple aspects of the topic.

More information is at the website of the Robert H. Jackson Center, a primary sponsor, here. Other cosponsors include the American Society of International Law and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.