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Putsch: Iceland‘s Crowd-Sourced Constitution Killed by Parliament

16 Apr

Following its spectacular plunge from grace in 2008 when its banking system crashed, inflicting huge damage on foreign creditors as well as on local residents, Iceland caught attention for trying to come to grips with what happened by bringing court cases against bankers and others allegedly responsible for the crash as well as for inviting the people of Iceland and its directly elected representatives to draft a new post-crash constitution designed inter alia to reduce the likelihood of another crash.

Up against the wall, with throngs of protesters boisterously banging their pots and pans in parliament square in Reykjavík, the post-crash government formed in 2009, to its credit, set the process in motion. A National Assembly was convened comprising 950 individuals selected at random from the national registry. Every Icelander 18 years or older had an equal chance of being selected to a seat in the assembly. Next, from a roaster of 522 candidates from all walks of life, 25 representatives were elected by the nation to a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution reflecting the popular will as expressed by the National Assembly. Believe it or not, the Supreme Court, with eight of its nine justices at the time having been appointed by the Independence Party, now disgraced as the main culprit of the crash and in opposition, annulled the Constitutional Assembly election on flimsy and probably also illegal grounds, a unique event. The parliament then decided to appoint the 25 candidates who got the most votes to a Constitutional Council which took four months in 2011, as did the framers of the US constitution in Philadelphia in 1787, to draft and unanimously pass a new constitution. The constitutional bill stipulates, among other things: (a) electoral reform securing ‘one person, one vote’; (b) national ownership of natural resources; (c) direct democracy through national referenda; (d) freedom of information; and (e) environmental protection plus a number of new provisions designed to superimpose a layer of checks and balances on the existing system of semi-presidential parliamentary form of government. The preamble sets the tone: “We, the people of Iceland, wish to create a just society where everyone has a seat at the same table.” The people were invited to contribute to the drafting through the Constitutional Council’s interactive website. Foreign experts on constitutions, e.g. Prof. Jon Elster of Columbia University and Prof. Tom Ginsburg of the University of Chicago, have publicly praised the bill and the democratic way in which it was drafted.

Even so, it was clear from the outset that strong political forces would seek to undermine the bill. First, there are many politicians who think it is their prerogative and theirs alone to revise the constitution and view the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council elected by the people and appointed by parliament as intruders on their turf. Second, many politicians rightly worry about their reelection prospects under ‘one person, one vote’. Third, many politicians fear losing their clout with more frequent use of national referenda, and also fear exposure under a new freedom of information act. For example, a crucial telephone conversation between the prime minister and the governor of the Central Bank in the days before the crash in 2008 is still being kept secret even if a parliamentary committee has demanded to hear a recording of it. Last but not least, many vessel owners dislike the prospect of being deprived of their privileged and hugely profitable access to the common-property fishing grounds. As a matter of public record after the crash, politicians and political parties were handsomely rewarded by the banks before the crash. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that vessel owners must have likewise treated politicians and political parties generously in the past, an umbilical cord that many politicians clearly want to preserve.

In sum, it was clear that in a secret ballot the constitutional bill would never have had a chance of being adopted by parliament, not even after the national referendum on the bill on 20 October 2012 where 67% of the electorate expressed their support for the bill as well as for its main individual provisions, including national ownership of natural resources (83% said Yes), direct democracy (73% said Yes), and ‘one person, one vote’ (67% said Yes). But the parliament does not vote in secret. In fact, 32 out of 63 members of parliament were induced by an e-mail campaign organized by ordinary citizens to declare that they supported the bill and wanted to adopt it now. Despite these public declarations, however, the bill was not brought to a vote in the parliament, a heinous betrayal – and probably also an illegal act committed with impunity by the president of the parliament. Rather, the parliament decided to disrespect its own publicly declared will as well as the popular will as expressed in the national referendum by putting the bill on ice and, to add insult to injury, hastily requiring 2/3 of parliament plus 40% of the popular vote to approve any change in the constitution in the next parliament, meaning that at least 80% voter turnout would be required for a constitutional reform to be accepted in the next session of parliament. The politicians apparently paid no heed to the fact that under these rules Iceland’s separation from Denmark would not have been accepted in the referendum of 1918. In practice, this means that we are back to square one as intended by the enemies of the new constitution. There is faint hope that the new parliament will respect the will of the people if the outgoing one failed to do so despite its promises. In her farewell address, the outgoing Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, declared this to be the saddest day of her 35 years in parliament.

via Thorvaldur Gylfason.


Visiting Somali journalist shot dead in Mogadishu

25 Mar

Nairobi, March 25, 2013–Somali authorities must immediately investigate the murder of a radio journalist who was shot dead on Sunday evening in Mogadishu, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Two unidentified gunmen shot Rahmo Abdulkadir five times as she was walking to a relative’s house near Bacaad Market in Yaaqhiid District of Mogadishu, news reports said. Local journalists said the gunmen fled the scene before police arrived. News accounts reported that Rahmo’s unidentified female companion was unharmed.

Rahmo, 25, a reporter for Radio Abudwaq (Worshipper), was visiting Mogadishu from Galgadud district, a region in central Somalia, where the station was based. Abdikarim Ahmed, director of Radio Abudwaq, said the staff was shocked by the news and knew of no motive for the attack, news reports said.

Local journalists told CPJ the station covers news and social affairs for the central region of Somalia. It is unclear if the station had aired any sensitive stories in recent weeks.

Last month, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon set up an Independent Task Force on Human Rights whose mandate includes investigating past cases of journalist murders, according to news reports. The prime minister also announced a $50,000 public reward for information leading to the conviction of a journalist killer.

“Despite promising measures set up by the government last month, the number of killed journalists in Somalia continues to grow,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Authorities must double their efforts and ensure security forces in Mogadishu are prepared to ensure the security of all civilians, including journalists.”

At least one journalist has been killed in direct connection to his work in Somalia in 2013, according to CPJ research. CPJ ranks Somalia as the most dangerous country to practice journalism in Africa. For the third consecutive year, the country has ranked second on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Journalists threatened in sectarian violence in Burma

25 Mar

Bangkok, March 25, 2013–Violent mobs have threatened journalists covering communal riots in central Burma and destroyed their reporting materials, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities to make the security of journalists working in the violence-hit area a top priority.

Clashes between Buddhist and Muslim residents erupted in the central town of Meikhtila on March 20, resulting in at least 32 deaths, dozens of injuries, and an unknown number of arson attacks, according to news reports. On Friday, President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency that gave the military exceptional powers to contain the fighting. The Associated Press reported that the sectarian violence had spread to two other townships in central Burma over the weekend.

Journalists working for local and foreign news agencies were confronted by weapon-wielding mobs, some led by Buddhist monks, that blocked them from reporting on the riots. Radio Free Asia reported on Friday that a group of armed Buddhist monks threatened a group of nine journalists, including one of its reporters, who were photographing monks as they damaged a mosque. The monks put a knife to one journalist’s throat and seized and destroyed the memory cards from two reporters’ digital cameras, the report said. The journalists were eventually allowed to seek refuge in a nearby Buddhist monastery, from where they were later evacuated by police.

The Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent TV broadcaster and online news provider, reported that sword-wielding rioters threatened one of its reporters and deleted footage from his camera. The Associated Press reported that a Buddhist monk who covered his face placed a foot-long dagger at the throat of an AP reporter and demanded he hand over his camera. The AP report said the photographer handed over his camera’s memory card.

There have been no reports yet of any journalists being killed or seriously injured in the violence, according to CPJ research. Some journalists have decided to leave the city due to their concerns that authorities could not guarantee their personal security, according to The Irrawaddy, an independent Burmese-run news magazine. The publication also reported that rioters had threatened one of its reporters and forced him to delete his footage of the violence.

“We condemn the threats and intimidation of journalists covering the recent communal riots in Burma,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities are obliged to ensure the security of journalists working in conflict areas. We are concerned that Thein Sein’s administration has not prioritized its obligation to protect the press.”

News agency photographs of the violence in Meikhtila published over the Internet have included images of smoldering burnt bodies in public streets and victims who appear to have been bound before they were killed.

News coverage of communal riots between Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine State last year showed that Buddhist monks were often involved in the violence that left 180 killed and over 110,000 displaced. Government officials claimed that irresponsible news coverage, including the use of racially charged language and graphic photographs, fanned the flames of that conflict.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Naming the Dead: TBIJ drone tracking project

17 Feb

Pakistani tribesmen offer funeral prayer -GettyImages

A February 15 2009 drone strike killed at least 26. Few have so far been named. (Getty Images)

The Bureau is launching an ambitious new investigation, which will seek to identify as many as possible of those killed in US covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.

The Bureau is raising some of the money for this project through a crowd-funding appeal.


Click here to donate to the Naming the Dead project.

As part of our ongoing monitoring and reporting of CIA and Pentagon drone strikes, the Bureau has already recorded the names of hundreds of people killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

At the end of January 2013, the Bureau was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle- or senior-ranking militants.

A further 331 civilians have also now been named, 87 of them children.

But this is a small proportion of the minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 475 of them were likely to have been civilians.

‘At the moment we know the names of fewer than 20% of those killed in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At least 2,000 deaths still remain publicly anonymous,’ said Chris Woods, who leads the Bureau’s covert drone war team.

‘Our aim will be to identify by name many hundreds more of those killed. A significant number of those identities will be known by local communities, by US and Pakistani officials, and by militant groups. We hope to convince them to share that information.’

Related story – Analysis: Why we must name all drone attack victims

The project has already secured substantial funding from a UK foundation – but it still needs more funds.

Today the US-based Freedom of the Press Foundation, a crowd-funding organisation aimed at raising money for public interest journalism, announced it is backing the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. The Bureau’s new investigation will be one of four recipients of Freedom of the Press Foundation’s latest campaign.

Crowd-funding is an established way of supporting journalism in the US and it is increasingly being used in the UK as a way of funding projects, which established organisations ignore or will not fund.

Using the reach of the web, many people (the crowd) are able to give small amounts of money to back a cause or project in which they believe.

‘In the face of official secrecy, having the full facts about who is killed is essential  for an informed debate about  the effectiveness and ethics of the drone campaign,’  said Christopher Hird, managing editor of the Bureau. ‘And it is exciting to be able to give all of our supporters worldwide the chance to be part of  our first venture in this democratic form of funding.’

A challenging task
Government officials, media organisations and even militant groups are often quick to identify senior militants such as Yahya al-Libi and Ilyas Kashmiri when they are killed.

Yet little is said of the hundreds more alleged militants and civilians among at least 2,629 deaths in Pakistan drone strikes.

Sth Wana letter Jan 2009Both the US and Pakistani governments are likely to keep detailed records. A recent case at the Peshawar High Court heard that officials in the tribal agencies had prepared a confidential report which ‘included details of each and every drone attack and the number, names and ages of the people killed’.

Anonymous US intelligence officials have also revealed details of CIA video surveillance on particular strikes. And the ‘Terror Tuesday’ process – in which hundreds of named alleged militants have been selected by US agencies for targeted killing – has been widely reported.

Photographs and other documents also occasionally surface. When a civilian family was killed in the first drone strike of Barack Obama’s presidency, local officials issued formal paperwork (see right) that was later obtained by the campaign group Center for Civilians in Conflict.

ID cards, family photographs and eyewitness testimony of attacks can all provide useful corroborating evidence. The graves of militants killed in drone strikes can also name them as ‘martyrs’ and give details of the strikes in which they died.

Drawing on information from a wide array of sources, the Bureau’s team will seek to build a detailed understanding of those killed.

Focus on Pakistan
While the Bureau will seek to extend the project to Yemen and Somalia in the near future, the initial focus will be on the nation where most US covert drone strikes have taken place.

Researchers based in Pakistan and the UK will seek to build up biographical information for all of those killed, whether civilian or militant – their name, age, gender, tribe, and village, for example. Where possible, photographs, witness statements and official documentation will also be published.

The team will seek assistance from the Pakistan and US governments in identifying those killed. And researchers will also call on Taliban factions and other militant groups to release information on the many hundreds of fighters killed in more than 360 US drone strikes since 2004.

CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004–2013

Total US strikes: 364
Obama strikes: 312 
Total reported killed: 2,640-3,474
Civilians reported killed: 473-893
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,270-1,433

US Covert Action in Yemen 2002–2013

Total confirmed US operations (all): 54-64
Total confirmed US drone strikes: 42-52
Possible extra US operations: 135-157
Possible extra US drone strikes: 77-93
Total reported killed (all): 374-1,112
Total civilians killed (all): 72-178
Children killed (all): 27-37

US Covert Action in Somalia 2007–2013

Total US strikes: 10-23
Total US drone strikes: 3-9
Total reported killed: 58-170
Civilians reported killed: 11-57
Children reported killed: 1-3

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Human Rights Violations and Ethnic Tensions in Mali

4 Feb
  • 734471_157211627763331_768923227_nAmnesty International: “The Malian army has committed serious human rights breaches plus violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) during the ongoing conflict against armed groups in the country, including extrajudicial executions of civilians.”
  • Human Rights Watch: “Malian government forces summarily executed at least 13 suspected Islamist supporters and forcibly disappeared five others from the garrison town of Sévaré and in Konna during January 2013…Islamist armed groups in Konna executed at least seven Malian soldiers, five of whom were wounded, and used children as soldiers in combat.”
  • AP: “Northerners living in the central and southern parts of Mali say they have faced discrimination and fear of reprisals by those who blame the country’s problems on anyone who looks Tuareg or Arab.”
  • IRIN: “The Dynamics of Inter-Communal Violence in Mali.”
  • IRIN: “Killings, Disappearances in Mali’s Climate of Suspicion.”


via Sahel Blog

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