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Kyrgyzstan: The Ramifications of Ethnic Violence

by Joanna Maltbaek

According to the UN, the violent uprising that occurred in Kyrgyzstan in June of 2010 left over 400 people dead and over 400,000 Uzbeks displaced in an attempt to flee across the border to Uzbekistan. Even today, over six months later, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the truth behind the June violence has yet to be exposed and that justice has yet to be served for those suspected to be responsible for the attacks.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, many minority populations in central Asia have found themselves displaced and disoriented amidst the growing internal strife of certain independent nations. In Kyrgyzstan, President Bakiyev was ousted on June 7, 2010 and a provisional government was set up under the leadership of Roza Otunbayeva. Yet the interim President has not succeeded in maintaining order, particularly in the southern border cities in the Fergana Valley (BBC).

The Fergana Valley region of Kyrgyzstan, though a largely successful center for international trade, has become overwhelmed with drug problems and well-established criminals in recent years (BBC). The situation in Osh, a city in Kyrgyzstan that closely borders Uzbekistan, became very dire with the replacement of the President in early June. In Osh, the minority Uzbek population quietly supported the new government. Pro-Bakiyev supporters among the Kyrgyz, however, showed their aversion to the new government by seizing public offices and kidnapping officials (BBC).

The situation only got worse. In the week that followed, tensions flared and ethnic gangs composed of young men began attacking Uzbek buildings and houses. Various news sources reported different death tolls and injury counts, but one thing remained clear: tens of thousands of Uzbeks were fleeing, displaced by the violence. Uzbekistan opened its borders but struggled to accommodate so many refugees.

Regaining control in Osh was far from successful. According to the BBC:

“…the government declared emergency rule in the south but failed to establish law and order. Ms. Otunbayeva’s appeal to Russia to send troops was widely seen as evidence of the government’s inability to deal with the situation. The interim government has sent a volunteer force to the south and granted shoot-to-kill powers to its security forces” (BBC).

In fact, due to the nature of the attacks, there seems to be some evidence that other motives were behind the violence. Said Rupert Colville, the UN high commissioner of human right’s spokesman: “We have strong indications that this event was not a spontaneous inter-ethnic clash – that it was to some degree orchestrated, targeted and well planned,” (Guardian).

In the months that have followed, little has been done to find and punish those directly responsible. In fact, many of the remaining Uzbeks were detained and tortured for their alleged involvement (BBC). Furthermore, the country’s democratic elections in early October showed that cross-ethnic unity has still yet to be constructed: the Kyrgyz ethno-nationalist party won the most seats in parliament (BBC).

With the start of the New Year, there must be a re-examination of the actions committed by the perpetrators during the violent period in June. Amnesty International released a detailed report in December of its findings in numerous case studies of victims. Various accounts of genocidal acts, including the killing of young children and the raping of women, have been reported. It is clear that human rights violations were extremely widespread throughout the conflict and that justice has not been served for those who suffered.

“BBC News – Q&A: Kyrgyzstan’s Ethnic Violence.” BBC News. 24 June 2010. Web. 3 Jan. 2011. <>.

Demytrie, Rayhan. “BBC News – Kyrgyz Election Exposes Ethnic Divide.” BBC News. 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Jan. 2011. <>.

“Partial Truth and Selective Justice.” The Aftermath of the June 2010 Violence in Kyrgyzstan (16 Dec. 2010). Amnesty International. 16 Dec. 2010. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <>.

Tran, Mark, and Luke Harding. “Kyrgyzstan Violence: UN Official Accuses outside Groups of Planning Attacks.” Guardian. 16 June 2011. Web. 3 Jan. 2011. <>.

Tunisia: The Jasmine Revolution

By Ryan and Daniel Khalessi

TUNIS, TUNISIA- On January 14th, 2011, the following principle gained a greater sense of veracity: popular support is an unconditional prerequisite for an authoritarian regime to maintain the merest trace of legitimacy. Occurring only a few days ago, the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution perfectly embodied this principle. Without the use of an organized military coup, mass-scale acts of terror, or intervention from foreign powers, wide-ranging popular protests paved the way for the Tunisian people to oust an authoritarian leader who had been in power for the past twenty-four years. Though it is too soon to ascertain the prospects of a sustainable Tunisian democracy, the opportunity, at the very least, is well and alive.

Since his rise to power via a relatively non-violent coup d’etat in 1987, (now former) Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has continually consolidated power into his own hands. His administration has controlled elections stringently, intimidated independent journalists incessantly, and tortured dissidents brutally; his administration has prevented non-govermental organizations (NGO’s) from acting as third party monitors during Tunisia’s elections. And finally, his administration has failed to give up power, essentially maintaining its stranglehold over the Tunisian people for five consecutive presidential terms. Consequently, Freedom house has designated his administration as a clear example of an authoritarian government.

To be fair, however, Ben Ali declared that he would deviate from his tradition of holding onto power by not seeking the presidency for yet another term in the 2014 election. In spite of his promise to eventually forsake power, Tunisian protesters congregated in the capital city of Tunis and demanded Ben Ali’s immediate resignation from the presidency. As a result, Ben Ali fled Tunisia and sought haven elsewhere; he is currently residing in Saudi Arabia while the nation he once possessed absolute control over is gradually choosing its own path toward the future. Hopefully it’s a path toward rule of law, democracy, and self-determination.

“Corrective Rape” in South Africa

by Judith Sijstermans

During 2010 much was said about the success of the World Cup in South Africa. But much was concealed by the celebrating and by the joy surrounding South Africa’s successful hosting and their tournament opening goal. In particular, the practice of “corrective rape” has become particularly strong within South Africa. Corrective rape is the idea that a man can rape a lesbian woman in order to “correct” their sexual orientation to make them heterosexual again. The threats made during these rapes usually allude at the idea that women will again become womanly after the rape. One more famous case of corrective rape occurred in April 2008 when the body of South African national soccer player Eudy Simelane was found with twenty five stab wounds and brutally beaten. She was one of the first openly lesbian women in her neighborhood of Johannesburg and an equality rights campaigner. Her attackers were tried, but most are not. There is an atmosphere of celebrity surrounding those who rape and one in four South African men admit being involved in a rape. Even within Simelane’s trial the judge maintained that her attack was not based on her sexual orientation, denying human rights activists efforts to draw attention to the issue of corrective rape in South Africa.

According to it is estimated that in Cape Town alone more than ten lesbian women a week are raped and that in all of South Africa, 150 women are raped daily. Even though thirty one of these corrective rapes have ended in murders of South African lesbians, Simelane’s case was the first to see a conviction. This is not an indication that the culture of corrective rape and the culture of impunity is lessening, but rather a reflection of Simelane’s popularity as a famous soccer player and community figure. In fact, lesbians in South Africa mostly report that they feel fearful, restricted and that the perpetrators regularly go free. South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority stated in 2009 that, “Whilst we are mindful of the fact that hate crimes – especially of a sexual nature– are rife, it is not something that the South African government has prioritized as a specific project.” The Equality Act, passed in 2000, technically outlaws discrimination and violence focused on certain groups, including those of different sexual orientations, in practice it has not been used to prosecute perpetrators of corrective rape at all.

Corrective rape in South Africa also touches on race inequalities and on an underlying disdain for women’s rights. Rape (not necessarily “corrective”) occurs all over South Africa without much punishment and there are still popular ideas that a woman “deserves” rape. Black women also have more problems with rape than white women do, tying in issues of racism, which the World Cup chose to take a stand on by holding banners that said “No to Racism.” However, this racism manifests itself in relation particularly to sexual orientation. Black lesbian women report feeling fear of these corrective rapes at twice the rate of white lesbian women.

It can come as a surprise to people that South Africa has such a high rate of corrective rape considering its liberal constitution and the fact that same-sex marriage is legalized. However, corrective rape is not just a quick “epidemic” or a deviation from the norm but rather a long lasting issue that has seen many women killed or murdered in the last decades. It is the cause of not only death and destruction of women’s bodies but it also restricts their other freedoms. Women are less free to move around, less free to show affection towards partners in public and less free to do things that may make them be perceived as lesbian. These oppressions are lasting because they are not punished. Of 25 men tried for rape, 24 walk free. Until that number  better represents the number of rapists who are guilty, the culture of corrective rape will thrive in South Africa.

Kelly, Annie. “Raped and Killed for Being a Lesbian: South Africa Ignores ‘corrective’ Attacks | World News |” Raped and Killed for Being Lesbian. 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 02 Jan. 2011. <>.

Martin, Andrew, Annie Kelly, Laura Turquet, and Stephanie Ross. “Hate Crimes in South Africa.”Failures in the Criminal Justice System (2009). Print.

John Prendergast on the Amir Khalessi Foundation

John Prendergast is a world-renowned human rights activist and author. As Co-Founder of the Enough Project, Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council, and Special Advisor to Susan Rice at the State Department, John has dedicated his life to raising awareness about crimes against humanity and facilitating peace processes. The Amir Khalessi Foundation met one-on-one with John at Stanford University to discuss human rights activism and to receive his counsel on the vision of the foundation.

DRC: Rape as a Tool of War

by Judith Sijstermans

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been torn apart by war and rebellion since the Belgian King Leopold’s brutal colonialism. The country’s death rate is fifty seven percent higher than other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which can be blamed particularly on a devastated infrastructure that cannot treat the diseased or protect its citizens. UNICEF has said that half of the Congolese population lives on less than 1 US dollar a day. One in four Congolese children don’t make it past the age of five. In short, these statistics elucidate the dire situation of the DRC, but there is one very pressing issue in the Congo that does not receive attention. Specifically, rape has become a widespread and vicious tool of war used by armed rebels and soldiers across the country. Rape has become such an epidemic issue that the DRC is said to have the highest rate of sexual violence in the world.

Although the country, according to many UN officials and aid workers, is said to have the highest percentage of rape anywhere in the world, statistics are difficult to come by. One figure states that in one town, seventy percent of women reported violent rape. From 2004 to 2005, the UN estimates that as many as 100,000 women were sexually assaulted in only the eastern DRC. Statistics are difficult to come by because of the negative effects that women face after rape. Women fear coming out with stories of rape because they are often disowned and divorced by their husband because they’re thought of as diseased or tainted. Another scenario is that women are raped in front of their husbands, who are then shot, leaving women without any financial or moral support. There is also threat of retaliation from the men who raped them, because these men control particular regions with an iron fist. Rape is used as a tool of war because it dishonors and dehumanizes the opponent, particularly women who are left feeling helpless with no support.

Beyond social ostracizing and psychological harm, the rape occurring in the DRC is particularly brutal. Women are raped with sticks or knives, creating wounds that break holes internally. These holes are called fistulas and leave the women incontinent and dependent on caretakers. Fistulas can be surgically repaired by a skilled surgeon. The cost of comprehensive fistula surgery is $450. This cost is heavy on organizations trying to serve a growing number of women affected by fistulas. In addition, there is a lack of skilled doctors in the area. There are only two doctors in the Eastern DRC equipped to fix fistulas. Those who live isolated from hospitals must not only pay the $450 for the fistula surgery but they must also pay to get themselves to hospitals that can treat fistulas or must walk all the way, in pain and shunned because their condition causes a bad smell. Even if costs are paid by NGOs in the area, follow up treatments are too expensive for patients to afford.

Another cost leveled by rape is that of AIDS and HIV. Women who are raped can halt or try to stop infection by taking a drug within 72 hours of rape, but this drug isn’t widely available to them. Once they are infected, anti-retroviral drugs are an important measure that can help save women’s lives. However a program of anti-retroviral drugs run by Amnesty International costs $29 per month, a cost that NGO’s cannot cover for every woman and a cost that the women certainly cannot afford for themselves. On top of the cost for the drugs, the women must eat healthy food to help the effectiveness of the drugs, but this is a practically impossible goal. They can barely find food for themselves or their children. Because of the difficulties of treatment, women who are raped often suffer AIDS or HIV.

One significant offense to the women in the region is that there is widespread impunity. There simply isn’t a structure set up to prosecute the rapists effectively and there is no stereotypical perpetrator to target with punishment. If perpetrators are pinpointed they’re often let free because of their connections to the police or army. The rapists are on all sides of the conflict. The New York Times describes them as, “poorly paid and often mutinous government soldiers; homegrown militias called the Mai-Mai who slick themselves with oil before marching into battle; members of paramilitary groups originally from Uganda and Rwanda who have destabilized this area over the past 10 years in a quest for gold and all the other riches that can be extracted from Congo’s exploited soil.” Because of this, the rapes are strongly connected to a lack of infrastructure. Not only are rapes unpunished because of government corruption and disorder but the environment for these rapes to take place is created by this weak government. Young men are poor, angry, starving and have grown up within a culture of war. They are a product of the broken system in the DRC.

“Democratic Republic of Congo.” Genocide Intervention/Save Darfur. Accessed October 2010. <>.

“Fistula Fast Facts and Frequently Asked Questions.” The Fistula Foundation. Accessed October 2010. <>.

Gettleman, Jeffery. “Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War.” The New York Times. 7 October 2007. Accessed October 2010. <>.

Kimani, Mary. “Congolese Women Confront Legacy of Rape.” Africa Renewal, Vol.20 #4 (January 2007).

Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.


The Lord’s Resistance Army’s Continual Human Rights Violations

by Joanna Maltbaek

Back in November 2006, United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland described the 20-year political conflict in Northern Uganda as “the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world” (CNN). And now, nearly four years later, there still seems to be no end in sight.

The Ugandan government continues to battle the insurgencies of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. The LRA was originally founded by Joseph Kony to overthrow the Ugandan government and replace it with one based off the Ten Commandments. While previously the LRA recruited rebel male adults to build their resistance, the group is now distinguished by its conspicuous brutality, namely the abduction of young boys for training as child soldiers and of young girls for the use of sex slaves.

One such young victim includes 15 year-old Moses Clement, a resident of a Sudanese farming community. Moses is the subject of a Times Magazine video documentary that describes his firsthand experiences with LRA cruelty. Kidnapped from his home in the middle of the night, he was taken away from his family for months to train with guerilla fighters. He suffered countless beatings and also witnessed the murder of his young cousin. Moses recounts with difficulty the details of the LRA’s nonstop plundering, including a story of how he was forced to kill an 8 year-old girl. Miraculously Moses escaped and was reunited with his family, but will arguably never be without pain from the instances of physical violence and harsh injustices through which he suffered (Times).

According to a recent article from CNN World, the LRA has seemingly abandoned anygroup ideology or political agenda. Their baseless violence and crimes against humanity continue despite the fact that a truce was signed back in August 2006. According to CNN, “hopes of a lasting peace are complicated by the fact that LRA leaders, including Kony, are wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.”

There is great difficulty in pinpointing the LRA’s target regions, as they have sporadically spread their operations to the neighboring nations of Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Members of the LRA have adapted exceptionally to surviving the African bush and are thus able to commit abominable brutalities:

“Although forced to adjust to life on the run, little else about [the LRA’s] tactics have changed. Known for hacking off the lips or ears of victims, the LRA kills without remorse, leaving behind a scattered trail of missing children, looted villages, and burned huts” (CNN).

The number of victims of the group’s violence is rising, and those fortunate to survive attacks are in dire need of humanitarian support. According to CNN:

“Those who cross the area’s porous international borders are fortunate enough to receive some help from the United Nations as refugees, but a loophole in international humanitarian law means that the 25,000 southern Sudanese internally displaced by the LRA this year are left mostly to fend for themselves” (CNN).

The situation has gained increasing attention from the international community. The main challenge in developing a solution to the problem, however, seems to lie in the issue of protecting the sovereignty of the involved African nations. To what extent should the United States, the UN, and the International Criminal Court be involved?

In May of this year, President Obama signed a law that gives his administration 180 days to develop a new strategy on how to combat the LRA and properly provide civilian protection (CNN). Advisors in Southern Sudan’s Western Equatoria disagree on whether money or a military response is what they need most from the international community at this time. What does it take to stop Joseph Kony and restore peace to the region? Consider, for the example, the plight of Albert Abuda, whose village was recently destroyed by the LRA:

[Abuda’s] son is now likely training as a ruthless guerrilla warrior, and his 13-year-old daughter might be forced into commanders’ harems. Meanwhile, Abuda wastes away in a makeshift camp with others telling similar tales and living on the generosity of nearby villagers… ‘Since I arrived here, life has become miserable to me. As you can see, my body keeps shrinking because there is no proper food’” (CNN).

While the appropriate course of action is being debated, one thing remains clear: the innocent civilians of these African nations are in desperate need of a solution, and quickly.


Boswell, Alan. “Lord’s Resistance Army Terrorizing People of Southern Sudan – CNN.”Featured Articles From The CNN. 27 Aug. 2010. Accessed on 25 Oct. 2010.

Hooper, Simon. “Africa’s Forgotten Conflicts.” CNN International – Breaking, World, Business, Sports, Entertainment and Video News. 13 Nov. 2006. Accessed on 24 Oct. 2010.

The Lord’s Resistance Army Hunts Children in Sudan. YouTube. Time Magazine, 4 Nov. 2009. Accessed on 24 Oct. 2010.

Africa in Pictures. BBC News. 1 Aug. 2010. Accessed on 25 Oct. 2010.

Exclusive Interview with Greenpeace: Is Pollution a Human Rights Violation?

By The Amir Khalessi Foundation Editorial Board*

“Protecting human rights” is not exactly a narrow topic. Though documents such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) make a valiant attempt at concretely defining and categorizing them, human rights are, nonetheless, hazy philosophical concepts. Thinkers from Plato to Hobbes, Rumi to Locke, and Laozi to MLK have grappled with them for centuries, and yet, there’s no firm, universally accepted definition of what human rights constitute.

But maybe, a “firm” definition isn’t exactly the correct goal here; the term’s vagueness might be a positive element for this philosophical discussion. Indeed, vagueness provides plenty of room for refining and re-evaluating our standards of human rights as new issues take center stage in public policy discussions.

One issue that has recently received enormous political and media attention in the post-BP Oil Spill world is the fight to minimize environmental pollution. As you’re reading this article, a six-day global conference in China is taking place. And in December, a United Nations summit will take place in Cancun to discuss globalizing cap-and-trade legislation and the economic effects of environmental regulations. Though diplomats, politicians, scientists, environmental lobbyists, and university students have taken remarkable efforts to establish a multitude of “green” advocacy groups, increasing awareness about the adverse consequences of environmental pollution requires greater discussion about the philosophical underpinnings of the issue. In this article and our exclusive interview with Greenpeace, arguably one of the largest international non-governmental organizations dedicated to protecting the environment, we grapple with the question: “Is environmental pollution a human rights violation? Why or why not?

Though we already established that there’s no set metric for determining what is and isn’t a human rights violation, we postulate that the following three characteristics are intrinsic to all human rights violations. First and foremost, we will use the basic definition or unalienable rights set forth by John Locke in his Second Treatise on Government: “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions (Second Treatise, Sec 6).” Second, an agent (e.g. a person, state, or corporation) that carries out the violation must exist. Third, the agent either a) directly commits the violation through its own policies and actions or b) indirectly commits the violation by not protecting the individuals it has agreed to protect.

In the case of environmental pollution, applying the first property is pretty clear. Pollution harms individuals’ health and contaminates the Earth, thereby threatening the health of future generations. Applying the second property is also simple: agents might range from people who neglect to recycle plastics or corporate titans that reap profits while spewing greenhouse gases into the air.

The third property, however, is the center of much controversy in environmental pollution debates. During the BP Oil Spill, the media was attacking BP for not adhering to its highest safety standards. Though BP did not “intentionally” pollute the environment, the company neglected to follow the stringent safety precautions it had agreed to take. Thus, the Obama Administration held BP culpable for the oil spill and ordered it to “compensate” victims. “The BP Crisis…is a human rights violation in that it takes away the livelihood of many people,” said a leader from Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS). “It takes away their means of income. If you do not compensate them somehow, there’s a human rights abuse.” The leader of SSS carefully noted that monetary reparations, however, don’t sufficiently compensate for human rights abuses caused by environmental pollution. “Whenever you engage in some sort of environmental destruction (direct or indirect), you are denying someone else’s access to clean air or clean water. In China, a third of the Yangtze is unusable as a result of pollution,” he said.

The issue of water contamination in China raises an interesting point: corporations that fail to regulate their own pollution are not the only agents that are indirectly committing human rights abuses. Indeed, governments have a contractual obligation to protect the lives and well being of their citizens. By acting as a bystander in the face of water contamination and oil spills, governments fail to fulfill their fundamental duties. And though many may argue that protecting the environment for the sake of doing so is a basic duty, casting environmental preservation in terms of human rights is a strong way lobby for more concrete government solutions to pollution.

Grappling with enormous issues such as global warming, however, is too much for one government to handle. Undeniably, pollutants produced by one nation create negative externalities for other countries (e.g. greenhouse gases produced by factories in San Francisco spread westward via wind currents to China). A truly pragmatic solution to pollution requires a sustained international effort. The Amir Khalessi Foundation interviewed Kyle Ash, a Senior Legislative Analyst from Greenpeace, to discuss the status of current international efforts as well as the philosophical questions raised in this article.  The full text of the interview is attached below:

The Amir Khalessi Foundation: “What is Greenpeace’s perception of climate summits in general? Do these summits ever result in any large-scale, concrete progress?”

Greenpeace USA: “Climate summits bring the global community together to discuss a problem for which we must have a global solution, so in the case of climate there is no alternative. Summits are also an opportunity for decisionmakers to share and promote national and international policy options, to be considered by experts and civil society for their effectiveness and fairness. Even if the result is not a single multilateral agreement, climate summits certainly help promote beneficial national policies. Leading up to Copenhagen, which saw no treaty, countries like China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, and even the US announced new national policies on greenhouse gas emissions that many are already implementing.”

The Amir Khalessi Foundation: “A recent article by CNN noted that “Climate change skeptics say that extreme weather and temperature fluctuations are part of normal weather patterns and are not caused by human activity. They also accuse climate-change activists of using bad science to pursue a liberal agenda.” How would Greenpeace respond to these climate change skeptics?”

Greenpeace USA: “The media often incorrectly refer to climate deniers as ‘skeptics’ – a word that better describes 99% of the experts from every discipline who through scientific observation have concluded that anthropogenic global warming is happening and that it will be catastrophic if we don’t stop polluting the atmosphere. This is taken for granted by every peer-reviewed scientific publication in English.

Climate denialism persists in large part because polluting industries, which profited from the status quo, are using their vast resources to wield influence in the media and in politics. Journalists and politicians should expose industry-funded efforts to fashion public opinion and undermine good policy, and policy should be built on the knowledge of experts from relevant fields and focused on public health. Media and policymakers also need to call out, or at least stop using, industry-suggested terms like ‘bad science,’ which especially in the case of long overdue environmental policies is a euphemism for ‘information I do not want to hear.’”

The Amir Khalessi Foundation: “The Amir Khalessi Foundation is dedicated to reporting and analyzing global human rights abuses. Would Greenpeace define environmental pollution as a human rights abuse? Why or why not?”

Greenpeace USA: “Greenpeace has long worked with the environmental justice movement and development organizations. We consider environmental pollution to be human rights abuses in many cases, particularly since pollution tends to be placed by industry and policymakers in communities who are disenfranchised. We are working with other organizations at every stage of the fight against fossil fuels to expose human rights abuses, from toxics caused by oil refining to asthma caused by burning coal. Comprehensive and effective policies to reduce climate change are going to be defined in large part by their relation to equity and public health.”

*Opinion editorials represent the views of The Amir Khalessi Foundation Editorial Board and do not necessarily reflect opinions of The Amir Khalessi Foundation or its staff. The Editorial Board consists of the Opinion Editor, the Founders, and outside advisers to the foundation.

Scientific Practice Gone Wrong: United States Apologizes for 1940’s Syphilis Study in Guatemala

guatemalaresizedBy The Amir Khalessi Foundation News Staff

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Obama Administration apologized to Alvaro Colom, the President of Guatemala for a recently declassified human rights violation that American health officials committed in the 1940’s.

In a human experiment that took place between 1946 and 1949, American officials knowingly infected Guatemalan men and women with syphilis. Though the end goal of the experiment was to test the hypothesis regarding penicillin’s effect on syphilis, the process by which the experiment was executed stirs up enormous controversy:

“In an effort to see if penicillin could or treat syphilis, government scientists went to the impoverished Central American country to deliberately infect nearly 700 men and women” (ABC News).

The victims of this experiment included “prisoners, inmates in insane asylums, and even soldiers,” individuals who were manipulated into complying with an abusive experiment:

“The evidence is clear that [the subjects] didn’t know,” says Susan Reverby, the professor at Wellesley College who uncovered the experiment, on ABC News. “The authorities were told something, but the people didn’t know,” she said.

The Amir Khalessi Foundation interviewed Professor Reverby and discussed her thoughts on lessons we can learn from this controversial experiment.

The Amir Khalessi Foundation: “Do you believe that the syphilis study was simply an exception in the history of American scientific practice?”

Professor Reverby: “I think this particular study was outside the usual norms, even for that time.   For more on the context of the times you might want to look at my book Examining Tuskegee.”

The Amir Khalessi Foundation: What are your thoughts on the current standards of ethical scientific practice in the United States?

Professor Reverby: “I think we are in a much better place now that rules and regulations are in place. But this always needs reconsidering, especially with international research.”

The method by which researchers infected these victims raises further questions about historical standards for ethical scientific practice. “The researchers used prostitutes to infect the men and hypodermic needles to infect the women,” says Ron Claiborne from ABC News.

Learning from this newfound human rights violation, however, requires scientists and lawmakers alike to scrutinize the United States’ current scientific practices. Though the ability to cover up mass human experimentation would seem rather difficult in our information age, a thorough examination of our society’s scientific practices is key for making sure that we don’t repeat past injustices.


Susan M. Reverby is the Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College.

Claiborne, Ron. “US Apologizes for 1940s STD Study that Infected Guatemalans with Syphillis.” ABC News. 1 October 2010. Accessed on 1 October 2010.

United Nations Establishes Investigator of Freedom of Assembly Position

By The Amir Khalessi Foundation News StaffThe "Tank Man"

Yesterday, the United Nations established an office dedicated to inspecting government violations of the freedom to peacefully assemble. Though the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) doesn’t contain literature that specifically outlines this freedom, Article 18 might implicitly declare such a right:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (UDHR).

Regardless, the evidence in support of establishing the investigator did not simply stem from the General Assembly’s interpretation of the UDHR. Indeed, diplomats from the United States were the chief advocates of the proposal, a proposal that essentially “universalizes” a First Amendment freedom.

Though this democratic proposal passed with minimal opposition, it received moderate criticism from two governments. According to The Associated Press:

“The U.S.-backed resolution passed without a vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council, though some countries including China and Cuba distanced themselves from the decision” (AP).

Through the second half of the twentieth century, the Cuban and Chinese governments have shared a historical legacy of cracking down on opposition protests. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and Fidel Castro’s frequent crackdowns on political dissenters throughout his thirty-two year presidency are only two chapters of a much larger story of government restrictions on freedom of assembly.

The new U.N. freedom of assembly investigator might be able to shed light on the modern day chapters of this story: What is the status of global freedom of assembly? In what ways are civilians using Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to document government crackdowns on peaceful protests? What methods are oppressive regimes using to restrict these protests? Hopefully, the new investigator, once selected, will share her insights on these important questions.


“UN Creates Investigator of Freedom of Assembly.” The Associated Press. 30 September 2010. Accessed on 1 October 2010.

The United Nations and Human Rights 1945-1995, Department of Public Information, United Nations, New York (ISBN 92-110560-4)

United Nations Lifts Sanctions from Sierra Leone

By The Amir Khalessi Foundation News Staff

Map of Sierra Leone (

According to a recent article by the AFP, the United Nations Security Council voted to lift decade-long sanctions from Sierra Leone. Since 1997, UN arms embargoes and travel restrictions have curtailed the power of the country’s rebel groups.

Between 1997 and 2002, rebel militias and the government engaged in a conflict that has consumed the lives of over 50,000 people (AFP). Discernibly, rebel militias killed their own countrymen to secure control over the West African nation’s plentiful diamond mines. By selling these diamonds to Western corporate diamond moguls on the black market, rebel militias accumulated hefty sums of money in exchange. Rebel leaders, in turn, used their monetary returns on the diamonds to finance their insurgencies against Sierra Leone’s governmental infrastructure. Due to the years of civil warfare caused by the pursuit of these conflict diamonds, they have been popularly coined as “blood diamonds.”

Though the international black market “blood diamond” trading and seemingly incessant domestic warfare have plagued the history of Sierra Leone during the past decades, UN forces have teamed up with the government of Sierra Leone to foster breakthrough peacebuilding projects in the country. According to the AFP:

“The UN force has helped disarm more than 75,000 ex-fighters, according to diplomats. One of the mission’s main tasks now will be to help the government move toward national elections in 2012 [...] The government [of Sierra Leone] has stepped up efforts to control diamond trafficking. Illegal trading in conflict-funding “blood diamonds” was rife in the civil war” (AFP).

For the UN, the logical consequence of Sierra Leone’s progress toward internal peace was a termination to the decade-long UN sanctions. In this sense, lifting the sanctions symbolizes turning the page on the history of “blood diamonds” and civil war in modern Sierra Leone.  According to Ambassador Susan Rice:

“Because of the much-improved situation in Sierra Leone, including the work of its special courts and the demobilization of armed groups, the remaining sanctions can now be lifted” (CNN).

Though the seeds of a democratic government, enforceable rule of law, and longstanding peace are gradually growing in Sierra Leone, UN authorities argue that the rest of the world shouldn’t be quick to turn a blind eye to the country:

“Sierra Leone may today no longer be one of your most critical concerns,” said Michael von der Schulenburg, head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone. “But we urge you not to abandon Sierra Leone completely. It is a potential success story, not only for Sierra Leone but for the Security Council” (CNN).

Potential success stories always raise a myriad of questions about how to realistically achieve them. Now that sanctions are over, what role should UN security forces play in maintaining the stability of the country? In order to prevent a repeat of the violent election fallout in Kenya, how should the current government of Sierra Leone preserve peace and stability during the country’s elections in 2012? How can the government work with international NGO’s and the UN to minimize black market exchanges of blood diamonds for money and weapons now that sanctions have been lifted? A deep analysis of such questions will serve as a key factor in forecasting the fate of Sierra Leone over the next decade. Hopefully, the forecast will be a world away from the past one.


1. AFP. “UN Ends Sierra Leone Sanctions.” 29 September 2010.

2. Abdelaziz, Salma. “U.N.: Sanctions Against Sierra Leone Lifted.” CNN. 29 September 2010.