Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Amal Clooney welcomes former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, at Heathrow Airport.
Photo Credit: Reuters

With a grin on her face and designer sunglasses nestled in her hair; the impeccably dressed, tall and slender figure, rushes to give a very big hug to the arriving visitor. Amal Clooney, international human rights lawyer and activist was at Heathrow Airport on 21st January 2016, to welcome the former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed into the UK after he was granted brief release from jail to undergo spine surgery.
At first glance, Amal’s appearance does not give away her reputation as a foremost lawyer. Infact it is easy for an unknowing spectator to mistake her for a supermodel, or a fashion magazine editor; but she is not. At 37 years of age, Mrs. Clooney has a reputation that precedes her- in a good way. Fluent in 3 languages and married to one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, she is a star in her own right. A lawyer at the Doughty Street Chambers, her clientele list includes countries and individuals…anyone she feels has had their valuable human rights trampled upon. She has represented Armenia against Turkey, and has also worked on the Cambodia-Thai border dispute that went before the ICC; she has represented Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, in his fight against extradition, and also represented Mohamed Fahmy, one of the 3 Al-Jazeera journalists previously jailed in Egypt. Fierce in her defense of Fahmy, she labeled the trial a “show-trial” and issued various statements calling for his release. Fahmy was eventually pardoned by Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Meeting with UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron on Saturday, along with her client (Mohamed Nasheed), Amal urged the PM to use the Commonwealth Heads of Government’s meeting to call for the permanent release of Mr. Nasheed, the first democratically elected President of the Maldives, who was ousted in a military coup and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on charges which have been termed as being “politically motivated” by much of the international community. On an interview on US television, she also mentioned that she has recently taken up the case of a female journalist in Azerbaijan, who was jailed for exposing regime corruption. Working on some of the toughest international human rights cases, Amal has met with everyone from members of the US Congress, to the UK Prime Minister, United Nations officials, Presidents, PM’s, and other high ranking government officials all around the world. A fierce defender of individual freedoms; such is the professional life of Amal Clooney.

Amal Clooney, right, met with Prime Minister David Cameron, centre, to raise the issue of the former president of the Maldives Mohammed Nasheed, left, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2012 and imprisoned for 13 years on terrorism charges after a dubious trial. Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Friday, January 22, 2016


Click the link to watch my analysis of the ongoing tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran; and how these Middle Eastern powerhouses can work together, to achieve peace in Syria and Yemen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


A money changer holds US banknotes as he waits for customers in Tehrans business district. Photograph: Reuters

The past couple of days have been quite eventful- and interesting- for Iranians. Saturday, 16th January 2016, was a beautiful day in Iran; as crippling sanctions were finally lifted. After the IAEA Chief verified that Iran had complied with the terms of the 2015 Nuclear Deal to curb its nuclear programme, Iran was given the green light to re-enter the international community, economically. Iran can now expect a surge in its oil export, even as investors flock into Tehran. One Iranian economist even predicts a 7 to 8% economic growth increase in 2016/17. Ambitious indeed. A couple of days earlier, 10 US naval officers were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, when their boats veered into Iranian waters “accidentally”. After being held for 15hours, they were released the next day in what has since been hailed as a sign of warmer relations between the United States and Iran- actually, some others see it as more of the product of a personal relationship between US Secretary of State, John Kerry; and Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif. The incident was not without propaganda display on the part of the Iranians though; as the 10 sailors were shown kneeling before their captors with their hands over their heads. Later, one of them was seen tendering an apology to the Iranians. A few days after this, 5 Americans who had previously been held in Iranian jails- unjustly- were also released. Amongst them was Pastor Saeed Abedini, and Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian. Rezaian had been held in Evin Prison for 18months on charges of espionage which have so far been unproven by the Iranians. Well, they were finally released…their families were beyond relieved to be re-united…again; this was hailed as a “triumph of diplomacy”. But taken into context, what does this all mean for the United States; and its position in the Middle East (and indeed the larger International Community)? Many have argued that the US is selling itself short, as Iran gets more out of this entire bargain. 4 of the 5 Americans were released as part of a prisoner-swap that saw the US also release 7 Iranians who had been indicted for transferring electronic components to Iran in violation of trade sanctions. As Donald Trump put it, “the USA got 4, while the Iranians got 7 and 150 billion (referring to the money expected to go into Iranian coffers with the lifting of Sanctions)”- paraphrase, mine.
People walk off a plane carrying three Iranian-Americans, who left Tehran under a prisoner swap, after it landed in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sunday. Denis Balibouse / Reuters
Jason Rezaian with his wife Yeganeh Salehi. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

One of the perceived failures of the Obama administration is the fact that many believe that the US under Obama, has seen its position of prominence in the international community (especially the Mid-East), diminish. Ever since the “Syrian red line” was crossed without any consequence, it seems like the United States has taken a back-seat as occurrences unfold in the region; as Russia (and Iran) now calls the shots.  The Nuclear Deal which has been hailed by President Obama has not been without controversies. And even with its enactment, the question is “how long will Iran abide by the terms of the agreement, without cutting corners, taking advantage of loopholes, and being dubious?” At the moment, Iran is a country divided into 2 factions: the moderates (amongst whom include- supposedly- President Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Zarif) who seem to favor diplomacy; and the hard-liners (including many prominent leaders, the Revolutionary Guard Council; all led by the Ayatollah Khamenei) who favor a more defiant stance towards the United States….and they (the hard-liners) are the ones who essentially rule the country. Supporters of the Iranian Deal are quick to argue that the fact that so far, the Iranians have stuck to the terms of the agreement which led to the lifting of sanctions, this shows that the moderates are gaining more traction within Iran- for now at least. But if precedents are anything to go by, the life-span of this new movement may not be very long. I mean, if the hard-liners within Iran were not still so powerful, when the 10 US sailors were found in Iranian waters, they would (and should) have been given a warning, and then escorted into international waters; instead of being captured, detained, and paraded in such an undignified manner before the whole world! Also, in late December 2015, reports emerged of the Iranian military, firing rockets close to a US warship, in the Strait of Hormuz. If anyone somehow believes that the Ayatollah and the mullah’s- who are expecting the return of the “12th Imam- the Mahdi”; and who believe that “the collapse of the US is imminent” – would give up on their quest for nuclear weaponry for Iran at some point, then I would venture to say that person is living in an alternate reality! And let us not overlook the fact that in spite of the nuclear deal, Iran still carries out ballistic missile testing, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. The Ayatollah- and the IRGC- calls the shots within Iran. It is no secret that they do not favor peaceful relations with the US. Yes, Rouhani and Zarif may be the “heroes of diplomacy” at the moment…and yes, they may have agreed to stick to the terms of the deal- for now- for economic purposes, but how long is this “rosy situation” expected to last? Also, Rouhani will certainly be reminded that just like Ahmadinejad found, he also cannot go against the wishes of the Supreme Leader!
America’s allies in the region (especially Saudi Arabia and Israel) have noticed all these happenings, with great worry. The Saudi’s seem to have lost a lot of faith in the US partnership, and are now looking to forge their own (mostly Sunni) alliances in the region and beyond- look out for my video this week. As the divide between Riyadh and Tehran deepens, America does not seem to be able to use its influence (whatever is left of it) to broker some sort of peace. This does not bode well for the future of Syria and Yemen- again; look out for my video this week. Israel is also watching closely. And as relations deteriorated between Tel-Aviv and Washington, Moscow seemed to be occupying more prominence within Israel, as Israeli’s decided that Vladimir Putin was their “Person of the Year, 2015”. Recently, reports have also emerged of 3 Americans kidnapped in Iraq; allegedly by Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen. Americans now seem to be abducted with impunity, and without fear of consequence!
The prospect of the United States of America losing prominence in the region is very sad, scary, and indeed worrisome. It is not something that anyone would have predicted prior to 2011. For many decades, people all over the world have looked to the United States as a “beacon of light” in a world filled with darkness. The Western values of democracy, freedom and liberty, guided by strong American leadership, have found their way into far corners…the office of the President of the United States of America, has always been the Number One political office in the entire world. Allies have felt safe…enemies have always known that there would be consequences for rash actions, and no hiding place. It doesn’t seem so, anymore. As the released prisoners flew out of Iran, and as Iranians celebrated, a bystander could easily have thought to himself, that maybe the tide was indeed turning for the better. But like an intrigued spectator at a football match, I am holding my breath. And as I watched Barack Obama at his final State of the Union address declare again that “America is still number one. Period”; I couldn’t help but ask myself, if indeed he believed that to still be true!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


So early last week, North Korea announced to the world that it had successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test. As expected, this announcement elicited sharp responses from different parts of the world- USA, Russia, China, Japan, South-Korea, etc…everyone had an opinion on the matter. Now, some experts question the validity of Pyongyang’s claims; noting that the tremors produced by the explosion, were not strong enough to be those of a hydrogen bomb. For sure, it was a nuclear test of some sort (the 4th such test conducted by Pyongyang); but it just did not qualify to be a hydrogen bomb test, as the North had claimed…so the experts said. As Japan scrambled its pilots into the air to try and get some dust particles to test for radioactivity in order to verify what had actually been tested; and the UN Security Council called a meeting to discuss the issue and come out with a decision against Pyongyang, one particular response stood out to me- South Korea’s. A few days after the test, Seoul announced that it would resume its propaganda broadcast, along the border with the North- the DMZ. This got me reflecting…on the issue of “Psychological Warfare”, and its application in modern day conflicts.
This would not be the first time that Seoul has resorted to such measures after being provoked by the North. In 2015, sometime in August/September, Seoul embarked on a campaign of psychological warfare against its Northern neighbor, employing the same tactics. This was in response to allegations that North Korea was responsible for planting landmines on the Southern side of the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), resulting in the maiming of 2 South Korean servicemen. Loud speakers were thus mounted on the border with the North, broadcasting a steady, endless stream of South Korean propaganda messages into the North. The broadcasts consisted of South Korean songs, news (especially about the poor North-Korean economy, in comparison with the financially-robust economy of South-Korea), soap-operas, and even recipes for South-Korean delicacies…all clearly intended to greatly annoy the regime in Pyongyang. Again, as I usually state, if not for the seriousness of certain issues, they would almost seem comical! Well, it did not take long for Pyongyang to respond. As usual, threats were issued, warning Seoul about military repercussions if the broadcasts were not stopped immediately. As usual (again), a deadline was given. And so, the world watched. But true to how these events usually turn out, as we all counted down to the lapsing of the deadline, the media suddenly announced that high level talks would be held between the North and South, in order to diffuse the tension. Another disaster was averted…again. That was 2015. And as the world now watches as Seoul has resumed its propaganda broadcasts in this year 2016, I wonder what the outcome would be. But as I said, I want to focus on the issue of psychological warfare in itself. Let’s discuss.
South and North Korea are technically still at war. After the defeat of Japan in WW2, Korea, which had been under the control of the Japanese Empire, was basically handed over to the USA and the Soviet Union- the leading victors of the war- to decide its fate. To maintain their separate spheres of influence just as they did in Germany, Korea was split into North and South, with a border at the 38th parallel. Needless to say as the cold war went into full swing, both halves became centers of a proxy war between East and West. When North Korea took the first provocative step against its neighbor by having over 70,000 of its soldiers cross the 38th parallel into the Southern half, the allies and backers of the 2 sides threw their weights behind their respective puppet governments. And so, in 1950, the Korean War began. By the time it ended 3years later, nearly 5million lives had been lost. The war did not end with the signing of a peace treaty though, as most wars usually end…instead, on July 27th 1953, an armistice was signed between both adversaries. Now, because of the absence of an actual peace treaty, both nations (North Korea and South Korea), are technically still at war. And as a result of the ever-present tensions between both sides, the DMZ is the most heavily fortified border in the world. South Korea is an ally of the USA; and both sides hold annual joint military exercises, to the chagrin of Pyongyang.
During the Cold War, the forces of capitalism battled against the forces of Communism; and various theatres of war reflected the ideological positions of East and West. Korea was no different. During the Korean War, the North was backed by China and Russia (the Communist faction); while the South was supported by the USA and the larger West (the Capitalist alliance). In consequence, South Korea went on to become a democratic state, while the North became a highly reclusive state, governed by one particular tyrannical family. As I have stated in a previous post, in North Korea, all aspects of life is controlled by the regime. Any act contrary to that permitted by Pyongyang, is punishable…even by death. In fact within North Korea, basic freedoms which are taken for granted by citizens of democratic countries (like South Korea), are largely prohibited. And added to all these, is the burden of extreme economic hardship. To make up for its shortcoming though, Pyongyang has dedicated itself to aggressively pursuing a nuclear programme that would give it possession of nuclear weapons. The rationale is that with the possession of these weapons, the world would have no choice but to listen to it, and take it as a serious player in the field of international affairs. Also, continuous nuclear tests give Pyongyang a bargaining chip to get food relief from its neighbors and the international community (specifically, the US). In response to this often-deployed tactic of Pyongyang’s, the international community has repeatedly passed (and strengthened) sanctions. But so far, they haven’t deterred North Korea from pursuing its quest to build up an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Seoul has threatened, while continuing to conduct military exercises with the USA; and still yet, Pyongyang has continued its nuclear offensive. So lately, South Korea has resorted once again, to Psychological Warfare.
Now, the art of warfare has taken various forms over the years. Overtime, nations have resorted to military warfare, economic warfare, psychological warfare, and even cyber warfare (in recent times). For South and North Korea, the tools of warfare have varied, depending on the provocative action, and the effect expected to be achieved by the ensuing reaction. The terrain of psychological warfare is not the hills, valleys, mountains and flat plains of conventional battles. Instead, it is the minds of people i.e., the enemy population. It invades the hidden recesses of basic human nature; influencing thought patterns, planting seeds with the hope that they would germinate into new ideologies. It has been used in various ways in documented wars of history, mostly to turn a population against its leadership by exploiting their pain and suffering through propaganda materials (sight and sound), in order to create a picture of an alternate reality- a change that should be sought. When Seoul employed this method of warfare against North Korea in 2015, I do not know if they calculated the long term effect(s) of such an action; but I am pretty sure that they did not expect an “overnight change”. It would have taken a sustained effort, to achieve any measure of success (if any). But alas, the world was deprived the opportunity of seeing the product of Seoul’s psychological campaign, in the long term. In the short-term though, Pyongyang was significantly rattled enough, to call for talks with the South. And so, the loud speakers were turned off. Now, they have come on again. We shall see.
Psychological warfare though it does not involve the sounds of guns and bombs, is tantamount to beating the drums of war…it certainly can lead to all-out assault. But against North Korea, I hope that it continues. If there is one thing I have learned since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, it is that citizens are not as weak as they may seem; and they cannot be put down ALL the time. It usually takes just a little spark to ignite the “flame of change”…a little crack in the wall to stir up the masses and tear down tyranny. And so, as the speakers were turned on once again in the DMZ, I hoped that the message would be intently listened to, by even just a few…even just a few, who may one day, be the catalysts for the many.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


A woman borrows about 200dollars from a loan shark in Cambodia; over a space of a year, that loan skyrockets to 10,000dollars. The woman is unable to repay the loan. So one day, the loan shark arrives at her house and says to her, “you have a virgin daughter…we have a wealthy client who would love to have sex with your virgin daughter. He is willing to pay 10,000dollars to cancel your debt.’’ And so, the mother puts her child in a car, and delivers her to be disvirgined (even against her will), in order to save her family. A poor young girl in Mexico is approached by a guy much older than her. He befriends her and overtime, makes her believe that he is in love with her. He buys her gifts on a scale she has never received before- even though in reality, it’s really not much. After a few months, he tells her, “I can give you a better life in the USA. Follow me.” A few months later, she finds herself in an un-familiar territory…her prince charming has turned into a monster…she now realizes he is nothing but a pimp, and that she is now his sex slave. She is forced to “service” over 20men every day, non-stop. In a couple of years, she finds that she has had sex with tens of thousands of men! A young girl in Russia logs into a foreign site promising to bring her to New York and give her a modeling contract. They have seen her “striking features” via the pictures she sent, and they believe she has potential. She is elated. Finally, this is a chance to turn her economic fortune around. She arrives in the USA, is taken to the supposed “agency”, and asked to strip. Her features are noted, and she is boarded up in some house, with a couple of other girls. By night, a “client” is ushered into her room and she is told to sleep with him…according to her “keepers”, this is all part of what goes on in the modeling world to which she now belongs. By a few days’ time, she is fully aware that she now lives in a sex brothel, plying the trade. There is no escape route. She resigns herself to “fate”. Now, these are all real-life scenarios. The first 2 were stories I heard on TV…the last, I made up in my head…but I am 100% sure it occurs that way!
On New Year’s Day, I watched a distinguished panel on CNN, elaborate on the dark world of “human trafficking.” As I listened to the harrowing tales narrated by a few fortunate survivors who were beamed on a large screen in the auditorium via pre-recorded videos, I decided that I was going to make the subject of human trafficking (with an emphasis on illegal sex-trade), my first article of the year. According to Wikipedia, human trafficking is the “trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation for the traffickers or others.” According to the UN, tens of thousands of individuals fall into the hands of traffickers, each year. They are exploited against their will. It is a violation of their fundamental human rights. But trafficking is a billion dollar industry and because of its lucrativeness, the practice keeps on growing each year. The young girls (some even as young as 12…maybe even younger) who are forced into becoming sex slaves, are deprived of a normal childhood, put in a position where they become highly at risk of getting infected with various STD’s (and even dying); without any regard for their humanity and dignity! They are deprived of any hopes of an education and can become so emotionally traumatized and damaged that future chances of a normal adulthood are completely ruled off, even when (and if) they eventually regain their freedom. They are made to believe that they are nothing more than slaves…objects for sexual pleasure answerable to their pimp masters and clients; and that their bodies are simply economic tools to enrich the pimp masters who took “pity” on them and decided to give them some “semblance of a good life.” Somehow, these monsters paint out their horrible and despicable actions as good…a “service to these low-life women who would have otherwise been sleeping out in the streets if it weren’t for them!” This is nothing but sad; and as a woman, I am terribly pained, disturbed and insulted. When you listen to the stories of brave survivors of sex trafficking; as a woman, you realize that it could have been you…or your sister…or your daughter…or your friend. By sheer providence; luck; fate; or whatever; the forces of life decided to spare you this painful ordeal, and deliver it to someone else…but it could have been you.
As I listened to the panelists, I realized that laws are not always sufficient, even when they exist. In most cases, there are difficulties in “enforcing” the law. And in other cases, the laws are simply flawed. A young girl, who has been trafficked for a good portion of her life, reaches 18 while still in captivity and slavery; then all of a sudden she is now deemed by the authorities to be a “consenting adult.” 9 out of 10 times, it is the victims who are arrested by police officers; not the pimps. It is the victims who receive criminal records. Something is wrong. I am glad to see more concerted effort between governments, NGO’s, civil society and civil liberty organizations, and even religious institutions; but more has to be done. So at the level of individuals, we ask, “what can we do?”
Sex trafficking occurs both nationally and internationally. I am sure that on a fairly regular basis, we come across sex slaves but do not realize it. I’m not talking about the prostitutes who of their own free-will make the decision to sell their bodies in exchange for payment. They have made that decision themselves; for reasons best known to them…I do not judge. And in some countries, prostitution is legal. So as long as the pliers of the trade are of age, and can produce a clean bill of health from time-to-time, they have no problem with law enforcement officers. That’s all fine. But I am referring to the ones who are “forced” into this by other people, against their own free will. Using Nigeria as a case study, maybe the “house help” who is forced by the “oga” (master) of the house; into having sex with him on a regular basis while “madam” is asleep or away, and threatened with being thrown out of the house is she dares report the matter to madam or anyone else! You know, that young girl who regularly passes your house or comes into your shop on errands…the one who is always gloomy and never says much. The one with the “distant look” in her eyes. And then, there are those we walk past at airport terminals…the ones who travel as a group and who we think are traveling as part of some “cultural exchange programme.” Or the ones who are camouflaged to appear as though they are traveling with family (who are in reality, “handlers”)…but who upon closer inspection appear emotionally detached from their so-called “family”, and who appear un-necessarily scared! The truth is that we meet them more frequently than we think. Most times, we are just occupied with our personal hectic situations to even notice; but if we would just take a moment to step outside of ourselves, we may just be able to save a life. If your gut tells you something is wrong, you should follow it. Try and get more information…and then if there is something to report, please report it. Sometimes, law enforcement officials may not take you seriously up front; but I suggest that you look up NGO’s and other civil liberty organizations who are involved in these sort of issues, and go to them for help for the subject. At some international airport terminals, there are organizations with agents on stand-by to save victims of trafficking…if you pass through such terminals and notice something that looks like a trafficking situation, please report it. Put the plight on social media if you have to; but please do not stay silent!
And so, as the world addresses various issues this year- whatever they may be; even though we pray for the best- it must also address more fervently, the issue of human trafficking. May 2016 be the year that brings us one step closer to ending human trafficking and sex slavery…may 2016 truly be “the Year of Humanity!’’