Oct 262012
 

On Thursday, the New York Times published an investigative article chronicling the dramatic increase of wealth Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s relatives have experienced during Jiabao’s tenure. Journalist David Barboza’s wrote:

 Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

Unsurprisingly, Chinese officials did not welcome the news.  Within hours, the Chinese government blocked access to the Times.  According to the Times:

By 7 a.m. Friday in China, access to both the English- and Chinese-language Websites of The Times was blocked from all 31 cities in mainland China tested. The Times had posted the article in English at 4:34 p.m. on Thursday in New York (4:34 a.m. Friday in Beijing), and finished posting the article in Chinese three hours later after the translation of final edits to the English-language version.

This is not the first time the Chinese government has tangled with the Times, and in recent months, Chinese regulators have also targeted companies including Google and Bloomberg.  China’s censorship and government control have prompted many Western companies, including Google, to move their business assets (i.e. web servers) outside of mainland China.  Perhaps even scarier for most Americans, Human Rights Watch notes that Chinese government still ensures that their nation remains Facebook and Twitter-less.

Obviously, maintaining these Human Rights and Free Expression restrictions does not bode well for the nation’s long-term success.  (In fairness, China has made some progress by recently passing their first mental health law.)

However, this issue also directly affects international business relations.  In addition to trade regulations, investment policies, etc., the Chinese government’s restrictive policies on expression pose challenges for foreign companies and investors.  As Western businesses, such as the New York Times, continue to explore the Chinese market, they risk damaging the integrity of their brand in exchange for access to a very large/emerging population.

For the most part, western media outlets have not succumbed to Chinese pressure and have, in my opinion, adopted a long-term strategy that hinges, at least in part, on expanding Chinese freedoms.

This struggle has not only been seen with the Times, Google, and Bloomberg, but also with corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Time Warner, and the Walt Disney Company.  For instance, media companies such as Disney finds themselves working to end piracy while attempting to introduce their characters/products to the Chinese market.

I believe, or at least hope, that Western business advancements in China will ultimately help provide Chinese citizens with greater freedoms and more transparency.  As always, the greatest champion of expanding free expression and personal liberty is access to information.

Oct 012012
 

I have previously blogged about a US Supreme Court case that seeks to determine whether foreign torture victims may sue their perpetrators in US Courts.  The Supreme Court revisited the issue today, which also happens to be the opening day of the Court’s term.  Based on the mood of several Justices (Kennedy, especially) and the US Administration’s position,  I suspect that foreign claimants will not have access to US Courts.  The Los Angeles Times has more info on the hearing.

 

Sep 112012
 

I am in the process of upgrading my blog and debuting a new website.  Ongoing software issues have made maintaining and upgrading the blog difficult; however, after the transition, everything should work much easier.

In the meantime…

The Sunday New York Times featured an article about US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assurance that US imposed trade sanctions against Russia will soon be repealed.

The US has had sanctions in place for decades, although they are not enforced.  Despite their non-enforcement, the sanctions violate World Trade Organization rules, which could allow Russia to enact harsh anti US trade policies.

The US Administration supports their repeal; however, Congress seems poised to condition the repeal on the passage of a bill, which, according to the New York Times, “would punish Russian officials accused of abusing human rights, denying them visas and freezing their assets.”

The Administration favors lifting sanctions without the human rights condition; however, the issue has gained political traction as former Governor and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has publicly supported the human rights legislation as a precondition to lifting sanctions.

Public international law often requires balancing factors, including pitting human rights and business/trade.  Should trade regulations with foreign nations be conditional on their human rights record, and if so, how extensive should the two be intertwined?

Aug 272012
 

As you may be aware, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid deportation/trial/etc.  In the Christian Science Monitor, Kantathi Suphamongkhon makes a case for how Assange could be arrested without breaking international law.  “How to arrest Julian Assange without violating international law” is an interesting read.

In other news, Russia warns the United States against “violating” international law in the Syria conflict.  While this is not solely a human rights issue and the United States does not have a stellar human rights record, it is always ironic to to be lectured by Russia, China, Syria, and the like.  Free Pussy Riot, anyone?

Mar 282012
 

Risa E. Kaufman, Executive director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, provides an interesting perspective on  the Affordable Care Act.   In  “A Human-Rights Lens on the Affordable Care Act,”  Kaufman concludes:

The enactment of the ACA was an important and deliberate advance toward decreasing race discrimination in access to health care. Significantly, the ACA also furthers the nation’s international human rights treaty obligations, a point that should inform both the public discussions of the law and the Court’s consideration of its constitutionality.

Read the entire article here.

Mar 162012
 

A Ugandan gay and lesbian rights organization has filed suit against Massachusetts evangelist Scott Lively for “participat[ing] in a decade-long campaign in Uganda to persecute persons on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”  The American Bar Association Journal has the story as well as a link to the plaintiff’s complaint.

The suit is being filed under the Alien Tort Act, which you may remember has been a source of controversy of late and is currently being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court in a case involving Nigerian plaintiffs and a Shell Oil subsidiary.  More details here.

Uganda has been the center of a recent human rights outcry regarding the nation’s anti-homosexuality bill, frequently referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill.  The proposal would punish homosexuality by life imprisonment or death.

Mar 132012
 

The international community continues to grapple with new realities following last year’s “Arab Spring.”   Nowhere is this more evident than in Egypt.

Months after Hosni Mubarak was removed from power, Egypt’s transitional government continues to fight western influence.  You may have seen news reports chronicling 43 western citizens (including 13 Americans) fleeing Egypt to avoid criminal prosecution.  Most of the accused are members of pro-democracy Non Governmental Organizations that the Egyptian government claims are using foreign capital to cite unrest amongst Egyptians.

The dispute balances political interests including Egypt’s receipt of foreign aide and the nation’s foreign policy towards Israel; however, human rights advocates and western leaders fear that Egypt’s transitional government may be no more committed to democracy than the regime it replaced.

In Monday’s Washington Post, Kareem Elbayar, an attorney for the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, pointed out that “[u]nder Egyptian law, individuals must obtain permission from the government to associate or they risk imprisonment.  The application process… can take months, if not years…”  Elbayar notes that this requirement violates principles of International Law.

I have long been skeptical that regime change throughout the Middle East would produce long-lasting human rights advances.  There has been a long history of western-supported regime change that results in tyrannical regimes.  As I watch transformations across Egypt, Lybia, and now Syria, I can only hope that continuing international pressure can help ensure progress in human rights.