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Amnesty exposes the real life of dictators

Fri, 01 Jun 2012

Amnesty International is one of the few organisations that track dictators and ensure they get the publicity they deserve.

This contrasts with the United Nations, an outfit that Sacha Baron Cohen said refused him permission to make his film The Dictator there because it would reflect badly on many of its members.

Too right it would, though as I said last week, Baron Cohen probably did better satirising democracy than he might want to admit.

Let’s look at some real-life examples of dictatorships just from this week.

Amnesty’s annual report, out this week, produced one major story from the country to which Baron Cohen dedicated his film: 30 North Korean officials involved in talks with South Korea have been executed or died in "staged traffic accidents."

Amnesty says a further 200 were rounded up in January by the State Security Agency as power was transferred from the late Kim Jong-il to his 29-year-old son, Kim Jong-un.

Of those 200, some were apparently executed and the remainder were sent to political prison camps. The gulag system presently contains an estimated 200,000 people in "horrific conditions.”

In early April, a separate report, by the Washington DC-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, described a complex web of prisons and work camps built to punish those seen as resistant to the dictatorship, including those who try to escape to South Korea.

Based on eye witnesses who have managed to escape, the report gives accounts of public executions - mainly of prisoners who try to escape or are caught stealing extra food rations – and of routine torture, beatings and forced abortions, mainly for women who are repatriated from China and are thought to have conceived children by Chinese men.

South Korea has picked up the baton with its own report on human rights violations and is dedicated to keeping it on the global agenda.

In a civilised world, a sustained campaign would be mounted to end such outrages. But North Korea goes unpunished.

Meanwhile,for the voyeuristic, here’s an armchair tour of North Korea’s architectural monstrosities, as presented in a new book, Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang.

Taylor's precedent
Fortunately, punishment finally came to our second example – a dictator, who (by proxy) ordered over a period of five years crimes against humanity that included hacking off the limbs of victims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children.

Yes, we’re talking about Charles Taylor, onetime ruler of Liberia and who was sentenced to 50 years in jail by a UN-backed war crimes court after being found guilty of aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 civil war.

The BBC reported the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges said the sentence reflected his status as head of state at the time and his betrayal of public trust.

Judge Lussick said in return for a constant flow of diamonds, Taylor provided arms and both logistical and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front rebels - prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone.

"While Mr Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there," the judge said. "The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions.”

The court was set up in 2002 to try those who bore the greatest responsibility for the war in which some 50,000 people were killed. The guilty verdict and sentence set a precedent by which world leaders may in future be accountable, starting most would hope with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Commentators such as the Royal United Services Institute’s Shashank Joshi have outlined why no one’s interested in overthrowing the regime, while the Wall Street Journal reports the dire results of diplomatic failure in the face of more atrocities.

Meanwhile, on the just as nettlesome topic of Iran, Bret Stephens explains why diplomatic dealings with the likes of Yasser Arafat, Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father) or Ali Khamenei are futile:

This time, Iran did more than just reject demands to shut down its underground enrichment facility at Fordo and ship its near-bomb-grade uranium abroad. It also announced it would do precisely the opposite: install more centrifuges at Fordo, increase the rate of enrichment, and forbid any UN inspections of suspected military sites.

The West's response? It has agreed to another round of talks next month in Moscow, thereby giving the Iranians the one thing they wanted from the negotiations, which is time.

The English conquest
The news that a leading university in Milan has switched to English  for most of its degree courses – to enable Italians to thrive in global business – has prompted triumphalist comments from the Anglo world.

In fact, more than 4500 university courses are now being taught in English in continental Europe, as well as expanding in Asia, with countries such as South Korea using more English.

But nowhere is this trend more focused than another BBC story about London’s French population.

With estimates of between 300,000 and 400,000, London is now France's sixth biggest city in terms of population – larger than Bordeaux, Nantes or Strasbourg.

The reasons are instructive when you consider the various solutions offered to the eurozone crisis and why some countries continue to reject obvious market-based solutions.

Two young Frenchwomen gave their reasons to the BBC.

Graphic artist Malika Favre said speaking English gave her access to a wider client base and that London was a gateway to globalisation. She also relished freedom from French bureaucracy.

"With a new venture in Paris you always think first of what is going to go wrong. I find the system much easier here - you don't have so many rules and so much paperwork.”

Another, Marine Schepens, who works for a fashionable advertising agency, said UK companies were more prepared to give young people a chance because it was easier to terminate their contracts than in France.

Interestingly, all thought life was easier and more pleasant at home, while London was often grey and rainy with rents twice those in Paris.

Malika says: "In Brick Lane, we had bedbugs and rats, and for the same money I paid for one room, friends back home had their own flats."

But this doesn’t deter these French people, who even have their own representative in the National Assembly.

More’s the pity the politicians refuse to heed the lessons of people voting with their feet rather listening to their emotions.

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Amnesty exposes the real life of dictators