Saturday, April 04, 2009

Is there a moral obligation to assist refugees fleeing persecution en route?


On Monday, a boat carrying African migrants from Libya to Italy capsized, resulting in the deaths of at least 200 people. Libya is a popular stopping point for migrants whose ultimate destination is Europe, with most continuing on to Italy as a base-point for other destinations in Europe. While many travel to Europe “first and foremost to help their families back home with a paycheck,” many of these people can also qualify as refugees.” Of the 36,000 people that arrived in Italy by sea from North Africa last year, 75% applied for asylum and 50% were granted from form of international protecting.

This is not just an isolated incident. Whether it be by being thrown off board by human smugglers trying not to get caught by navies in the Gulf of Yemen, by dehydration in the hot desert between the US and Mexico, or ships capsizing in dangerous water, thousands died each year on their journeys to seek asylum. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is quoted as saying; “We are seeing it all over the world.” He believes that Monday’s tragedy shows the desperate steps that people are willing to take “to escape conflict, persecution and poverty in search of a better life.” Human smuggling is a very lucrative business that pries on the desperation of people, particularly those who lack the resources to obtain safe travel. Since it is underground, it lacks any regulation that ensures the safety of migrants. Even if they survive, many migrants are re-traumatized en route to safety. While interning at a human rights organization, I heard numerous horrific stories about what coyotes would do to migrants, particularly women.

Does the international community have a moral obligation to provide refugees with safe transportation between the countries they are fleeing from and where they wish to seek asylum? I believe that what happened on Monday is tragic, but it is even more tragic is that this is a story that happens more often than we realize. I believe the international community should come together and discuss some sort of system that could assist asylum seekers in arriving to safety instead of only providing assistance once they are able to flee themselves from the situation of persecution.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Justice for All?: Prosecution of Kaing Guek Eav

The Khmer Rouge ruled brutally in 1975 through 1979 in Cambodia. Kaing Guek Eav, known as "Duch," was one of the regime's brutal leaders. Eav served as the commander of the secret prison S-21 in the Cambodian capitial Phnom Penh, which is estimated to have killed over 14,000 people in that prision alone. It is estimated that the regime killed 1.7 million people.

Today thirty years later, Kaing Guek Eav is being tried in front of a U.N.-backed tribunal just outside the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Without hestitation we think "Justice! Finally!" However, I want us to rethink this system. We punish the guilty for crimes that we have come to comprehend as inhumane and thus we almost unconsciously dehumanize these people. I am in not way or form excusing the horrific, brutal and uncomprehendable actions of the Khmer Rouge. Instead I am questioning if justice comes in the form of punishment? Punishing the guilty has somewhat been transformed into mission of separating and locking up the "guilty" and ultimately pretending that they do not exist. Because the expensive bars of the system, we are "safe."

In the deep trenches that has become the complicated and incomprehensible area of violence, is there ever simply a "good guy" and a "bad guy"? Much to our diappointment our world does not allow us to simply "fight for" the ultimate "good". Some even may argue that violence of mind is more brutal than any degrating violent torture.

People make choices that are horrifying. They may rob others of their innocence, their courage, their faith, and their hope. However, in putting these people on trial and sentencing them to life in prison or death, is justice being achieved?

As Eav stands trial and the verdict become known, are the 1.7 million people's lives brought to justice?

What is justice?

Every person has the power to do horrendous and horrible things whether we admit it or not.

Perhaps still, the trail of Eav is unquestionibly necessary, but is it justice?