Archive for March 2013
By Jonathan D. Messinger
International university students in metropolitan Boston, with very few exceptions, are not eligible for the blessing/curse yoke of debt many of you reading this now are enduring known as student loans. Contemporary degree acquisition can be quite an expensive proposition. By way of example, our three largest institutes of higher learning by student population, also happen to be the three most expensive—Boston ($59,100 in yearly tuition and fees), Harvard ($57,950), Northeastern ($53,226)—which each require undergraduate degree seekers, or their families or backers, to spend a quarter of a million United States Dollars over four years to earn a B.A. or B.S. Such education expenses are nothing short of obscene, deeply unsustainable and certainly worthy of further analysis.
Compounding this financial burden, international students are not allowed, due to work visa restrictions, to earn a “legal” living wage to offset these costs. And they are often subject to the whims of mercurial, culturally illiterate professors, advisers and administrators whose decisions, sometimes arbitrarily, but frequently profoundly, change these students’ professional and personal lives.
Consider the case of Makato, a Japanese student at a prominent local university studying psychology. When Makato first sought legal assistance several years ago, he was distraught because he had just been summarily expelled from his university without adequate justification, only one week before the completion of his final internship. In an all too common pattern, this university accepted his tuition money, as well as tuition money from many other foreign students in his particular course of study, then slowly and methodically reduced their group through harassment, bullying and discrimination.
Reasons given for international students not being allowed to complete their degrees included a lack of language skills (the irony that all of these young people speak and write in at least two languages when those who “judge” them for their alleged lack of English fluency mostly spoke only one language is but one very painful double standard here), a purported inability of instructors to understand different cultural learning styles, and/or that these students were working part-time at local community businesses “under the table” without official university or government permission. Such methods of exploitation are cringe worthy, especially because these international students often lack the power or the connections to fight back when they are told they will not be allowed to complete their degrees.
Makoto was verbally abused so many times by the director of his program that he cried. He was then sent to the university-approved therapist to obtain a “report” regarding his mental health. Makato wrote in his journal around that time: “I was very depressed – angry but sad. Suddenly I lost my internship, and couldn’t received the credit from the program. On top of that, I was scored the lowest which is very fatal since international students are not allowed to receive the lowest score or immigration can send me back to Japan for not studying hard enough. I visited university offices, the dean of students, my adviser and professors. No one was able to help me with this situation. The internship director told an untrue story about me to the university. She said that I was ‘always late, unfriendly, unskilled, had bad attitude, and we decided we can’t handle him anymore.’ None of this was accurate, and I felt very hurt and helpless. I needed to get a lawyer, but most of them wanted at least $5,000 to help me.”
Instead of proactively implementing solutions to help Makoto complete his degree, the university dispatched him to a therapist who produced a biased and troubling report, used in concert with the internship director’s prior statements, as “evidence” to warrant the expulsion of Makato. (Need dear readers be reminded of the brutal, sometimes suicide-inducing shame which accompanies academic failure in Japanese culture?) The good news for Makato is that he found an effective and affordable legal professional to fight successfully for his university reinstatement. His lawyer confronted the therapist directly at his office with a readied lawsuit, and simultaneously demanded legitimate administrative procedural due process from the dean of students at the university. Makato has since graduated, qualified for and obtained a work visa. He has even started his own psychology practice which promotes healing for young people in both Japan and the United States.
Other international students are not as fortunate, however. Thus we in the legal community must seek out, support and protect all the Makatos among us. We should, every chance we get, thank them for their valuable contributions to lives, and try to learn from them as much as they want to learn from us.
Jonathan D. Messinger is a Boston and New York-based attorney and a member of the NLG Board.
By Levon Chorbajian
Up until the late 18th century, people were pretty much at the mercy of their rulers, and people’s options were limited. They could lay low and hope for the best, flee, or rebel. Legal protections were few to nil. Since that time, semi-democratic states have arisen in the U.S. and other parts of the world that offer the theoretical possibility and sometimes the substance of justice and redress. We also have positive developments in international law. For example, the U.N. Charter has numerous sections which seek to limit the use of force by nations against other nations and the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide now makes genocide a crime under international law.
Such developments did not come in a linear progression, however, and coincided with European colonial conquest, slavery, 19th and 20th century genocides, and imperialist wars. These have cost incalculable hundreds of millions of lives worldwide. As a result, we confront a situation wherein legal avenues of redress and prevailing human rights standards co-exist with large scale unchecked violations of international law.
I would like to briefly introduce three issues that call for legal redress, but with two caveats. First, this is far from a complete list, and we can easily add the Palestinian Question, indigenous land and resource rights, and global warming, to name a few. Secondly, I do not suggest that legal avenues are the only path to justice. In fact, social movement theory makes it clear that progressive aims are best served when problems are attacked on multiple fronts employing a variety of techniques.
Imperialist wars: In the post-World War II era, the U.S. has fought a long series of imperialist wars from Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars produced politically and militarily ambiguous results, at best, and a great deal of human tragedy. They are legally questionable both in the sense that they have not been declared by Congress (as constitutionally mandated,) nor are they consistent with the U.N. Charter’s prohibitions on the use of force against sovereign states. The U.S. frequently relies on tainted claims of “self-defense”, “pre-emptive war”, and “humanitarian intervention” to provide legal cover for its actions. We need to challenge U.S. imperialist war consistently and with perseverance in whatever forums are available. This is not an easy task since superpower states assume immunity from the rules they selectively impose on others, but it is a fight worth fighting given the scale of abuse and its human consequences.
Comfort women: Tragically, these women were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese armed forces and were used by Japanese servicemen from 1931 to 1945. They are estimated to have numbered around 200,000 women, and they came initially from Korea and China, and then the Southeast Asian states. It is reported that these women had to perform 30 or more sex acts a day until the end of the war or the ruination of their minds and bodies. The Japanese government has stonewalled this issue for years, refusing to issue an official apology or pay reparations. But activists have taken some cases to court, and in 1998 a Japanese district court ruled that the government had acted illegally under international law regarding forced labor. By 2007, over half a dozen cases had resulted in decisions where victimization was confirmed. As yet, the Japanese government has not relented in its denial, and the struggle continues.
Lastly, the Armenian Genocide was carried out by the Ottoman Turkish government against its Armenian minority beginning in 1915. Within a few short years the Armenian population was reduced from around 2 million to 100,000. Up to one and a half million are estimated to have been killed. This is another case of stonewalling. Turkey operates an enormous propaganda effort in Turkey and globally to deny that a genocide was ever committed despite abundant documentation from many different sources including eyewitness and survivor accounts. Anyone in Turkey who seeks to publicize the truth about this event is criminally prosecuted (Nobel Prize novelist Orhan Pamuk, publisher Ragip Zarakolu) for the crime of “insulting Turkishness”, or killed (Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink). Outstanding legal issues include freedom of speech, a state issued acknowledgement and apology, return of Church and deeded private properties, and reparations.
The larger implication of Armenian Genocide denial is that the failure to acknowledge and punish genocide perpetrators sends the message that you can get away with it. At the time it was being carried out the Armenian Genocide was cause célèbre in the West, but it was quickly pushed down the proverbial historical memory hole. One man who noticed would later be responsible for the deaths of 50 million people, Adolf Hitler. I’ll end with a famous quote from a speech to his officer corps on the eve of the German invasion of Poland: “…our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness… with orders…to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language… Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” (K.B. Bardakjian, Hitler and the Armenian Genocide, 1985, p. 43).
Levon Chorbajian is a sociology professor who was recently arrested in a Keystone XL protest.
By Amy Mei Willis
South Korea is in the midst of rapid change. Just recently, the country saw the election of its first female president, Park Geun Hye. Park Geun Hye isn’t just any woman; in fact she is arguably The Woman. She was, after all, First Lady for the last five years of her father’s rule. America is no stranger to strong family political dynasties, but in this case many human rights proponents are hoping that Ms. Park does not take after her authoritarian, de facto dictator, father, Park Chung Hee. Mr. Park ruled from 1961 until he was assassinated in 1979. Under his rule, South Korea was the living embodiment of Orwell’s 1984. Speaking out about the government could get you arrested. There was a sense of foreboding and such talking was done in whispers.
It is said that Korea is the most Confucian country. Confucianism dictates clear social relationships between members of society. At the very top is the relationship between the ruler and the people. The ruler is not just a political head, but the ceremonial father of all peoples in the land. Understanding this complex relationship between the people and their worship of their leaders might lead to some logical assumptions about their attitudes. Why else would people actually fear the loss of a dictator? Parallel to the feeling of anguish about the departure of Mr. Park is the recent expressions of sorrow and/or fright in North Korea after the passing of Kim Jong Il. People felt they lost not just a political leader, but a parent – a father.
Kim used military might to control the populace, while developing a personality cult. Similarly, Ms. Park has made proclamations that she is the mother of the people and claims that she did not marry or have her own children so that she could one day be the mother to all Koreans. Perhaps it is only our own prejudices that want to suggest that she will be a softer leader simply because she is a woman.
Women’s rights have improved steadily over the years in South Korea. There is a growing acceptance of working mothers and there is a standard three month period for maternity leave. It is more common now than before to find women as principals or executives in compa nies. However, the country is still dominated by powerful males and any female in a highly ranked position of power more than likely got there because of family connections. Because of the legacy of Confucianism, people still are aware of their class and it is accepted to use bribes and gifts to gain advancement. Failure to bestow a gift to the supervisor on the first day of a new job would be a disaster. The result would be losing face, which is equivalent to losing honor but more importantly, family honor.
Marriages are unconventional by modern standards. The Korean husband is almost entirely a free agent and the wife must abide. Many husbands work in different cities or even countries from their families, maintaining a separate apartment or mistress. The wife’s duty is to stay at home and care for the children on top of any outside job she might hold. A woman, by no means, would be allowed to leave her family for work. The working woman has brought about some changes in society such as the emergence of Ms. Park. More and more women marry late or not at all. However, there is enormous pressure from society to get married simply because family is a virtue in Confucianism.
The Korean economy has slowed down due to domination by monopolies called chaebols. There has been an influx of immigration to the country, mostly from the Philippines, China or Vietnam. Many of these people are “mail order brides” sought by Korean men, due to the dwindling numbers of Korean women willing to marry.
Thus, Korea now faces the pressing issue of multiculturalism. In April 2012, Jasmine Lee became the first naturalized citizen of Korea. She was also the first non-ethnic Korean — to win a seat in South Korea’s National Assembly. This is important: the pride of “one blood” remains strong in Korea. Students who are biracial are bullied and ostracized. In fact it’s often kept a secret. It wasn’t until 2012 that biracial or multiethnic people were allowed in the army, previously a different color of skin was thought to disrupt unity. Most the distrust and discrimination is against other Asians, though it does happen to White/Caucasians as well. And it certainly happens to Black/African-American/Canadian/British people. To be Korean, you need to be ethnically Korean. As a result, few Koreans here in the U.S. can understand the concept of Chinese-American, African-American, Italian-American etc.
Despite globalization, the desire to keep Korea Korean remains. There is little knowledge of the outside world, even though nearly everyone has internet access and owns a smart phone. Culturally, it appears Ms. Park will be a conservative like Lee Myung Bak. But although the efforts of major Korean chaebol’s to stonewall against foreign media, there has been a slightly higher awareness of social issues. Recently, a popular Korean drama (K-Drama) featured a gay character. Homosexuality is intuitively against Confucian values since outside of unconventional family models procreation is nonexistent. It should be of no surprise that adoption is frowned upon even for heterosexual couples since blood ties are so meaningful.
Many foreigners who visit Korea will tell you it’s like 1950’s America there. Will Ms. Park lead Korea through the liberation of the 1960s and onward is the big question.
Amy Mei Willis is a 1st year student at Suffolk Law School and an NLG Student Representative.
By Albert Leisinger
U.N. and the Law:
How Haiti is Subjugated
The U.N. has opposed the lawsuit for compensation brought in November 2011 by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), a group of lawyers based in Boston. It sought to require the UN to install a national water and sanitation system to control the cholera epidemic, pay compensation to Haitian cholera victims for their losses, and make a public apology for its “wrongful acts”.
Citing a convention laid down in 1946, UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, telephoned President Michel Martelly of Haiti to tell him that the UN was not willing to compensate any of the claimants. The epidemic has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened over 500,000 – about one out of every 16 Haitians. For the UN to claim immunity for a crisis that most experts are convinced it unwittingly caused through its own disaster relief mission is highly contentious. The infection is thought to have been carried into Haiti by UN peacekeepers from Nepal sent to help with disaster relief following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.” (Guardian)
The Nepalese UN troops built themselves a fort in the fertile Artibonite river valley in the north of Haiti. But their toilets were poorly constructed, and human wastes containing cholera of the exact DNA type endemic in Nepal soon infected local residents. Haiti had no Cholera for 100 years before this epidemic.
Cholera is spread by the ingestion of human wastes carrying the Vibrio cholera bacterium. Because Haiti lacks decent water and sewage systems, the epidemic once started has spread fiercely.
US Imperialism and Haiti
The USA has invaded Haiti at least ten times in the last 100 years. The longest occupation was from 1915-1934. The US long supported the torturer Duvallier regimes (1957-1971 and 1971-1986), under which at least 30,000 people were executed and many more tortured or exiled. In 1991 and again in 2004, the USA sponsored coups d’etat that overthrew Bertrand Aristide. In 2011, the USA interfered in the Haitian election to bring the current president, “Sweet Mickey” Martelly to power. Martelly is a self-admitted former drug dealer, and is a close political ally of the former tontons-macoute torturers who had worked for Duvallier and who organized the 2011 coup.
The reason for U.S. control of Haiti is simple: cheap labor. Wages in Haiti are about US $2.00 per day; unemployment is 80%. Conditions are the worst in the western hemisphere. On January 12, 2010, just 4 hours before the earthquake struck, a leader of the 2010 campaign to raise the Haitian minimum wage, Professor JnAnil Louis-Juste of the School of Social Sciences (FASCH), an intellectual and political leader at the university and beloved mentor of many activist students, was assassinated by gunmen near the campus . I met Prof. Juste in 2009 in one of my trips to Haiti.
Consequences of the deprivation in Haiti are deep. For example, SOFA, a women’s clinic in Haiti, with which I worked briefly during one of my trips to Haiti, has estimated that over 75% of Haitian women have been raped.
The UN Occupation Troops Must Be Removed from Haiti!
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established on 1 June 2004 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1542. There were 11,000 U.N. soldiers and stationed in Haiti as of October, 2012. Many are from Brazil, others from Latin America and a few Asian nations.
MINUSTAH has committed atrocities too numerous to detail here, but include gang-rape of an 18-year-old boy in September, 2011, massacres of poor residents of Cite Soleil in 2005, the hanging of a 16-year-old activist in a MINUSTAH barracks in the north of Haiti, numerous attacks on demonstrations and protests with live ammunition, wholesale theft and robbery of Haitians, and so on. One of my Haitian friends says that when she went to Haiti in 2011, she felt that “all the guns of the MINUSTAH soldiers were aimed at” her.
The purpose of MINUSTAH is the same as the purpose of the 20,000 US soldiers sent to Haiti in the days after the Haiti earthquake: to suppress revolt and revolution.
The Role of the NGO’s
Non-governmental organizations in Haiti are no substitute for a decent government. For example, the Red Cross collected well over $1 billion dollars after the Earthquake of 2010. Most of this money has not even been distributed. In August 2010, the Red Cross website finally claimed to have sent some blood to Haiti: 45 pints (sic). That was eight months after the earthquake.
The teachers’ strike in Haiti, November 13-14, 2012
There is an intense Haitian movement against the UN occupation, the cholera epidemic, the economic deprivation, and the repression. This movement is almost unknown in the USA.
For example, in November, 2012, a national teachers’ strike brought 25,000 people nationwide to demonstrate in the streets. Demands of the strike included:
• back pay for teachers (I met one teacher who worked for a whole year, but was paid only for one month!)
• universal free education, guaranteed by the Haitian constitution, but never delivered.
• Vaccination of school children against cholera.
• Justice for Damaël D’Haïti, a student murdered by police three days before the strike.
The strike was fairly effective in the capital but very solid in the provincial towns. Its power was expressed in the militant mass marches. Students joined the teachers.
This article is too short to report in detail on this strike, but see the ECHO website .
How You Can Help
Sign the petition:
Demands include: (1) universal vaccination against cholera, beginning with schoolchildren. (2) cholera treatment centers staffed by Haitian health workers; (3) Haitian-wide construction of a modern fresh-water and sewage removal system.
Albert Leisinger is a Professor at the Department of Mathematics at UMass Boston.
By Susan Scott
In March 5, 2013, Hugo Chavez passed away. The NLG community grieves with the Venezuelan people their loss of a visionary leader. But we hope to continue our relationship with Venezuela — the beacon government in this hemisphere that has done the most to promote and secure its peoples’ well-being, their participation in government, and their economic, social and cultural rights — and country that has served as the inspiration and fulcrum for the anti-imperial integration of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In February 2006, the NLG sent our first delegation to Venezuela, seven years after Chavez’ first inauguration, four years after the attempted coup against him (supported by the US) and one and a half years after the opposition’s unsuccessful attempt to recall him.
After visiting Venezuela in 2005 and learning about the popular process that resulted in the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution, I recruited dozens of NLG members at the 2005 Portland Convention to go to Venezuela and spend a week in Caracas after the World Social Forum. Members of several other African American and Latino bar associations joined the delegation.
The first NLG delegation was lead by me and Lisa Sullivan, who had been living in a barrio in the western city of Barquisimeto for over 30 years. Lisa helped us make contact with Bolivarian activists in the barrios, progressive lawyers and judges, opposition lawyers and leaders and journalists and editors. Emily Kunstler documented the entire delegation.
NLG delegation members followed up by appearing at Congressional briefings and meetings with AFL-CIO leaders in DC, organizing a national tour for Venezuelan Justice Fernando Vegas in the fall of 2006 and inviting Vegas and other progressive lawyers from the Bolivarian Front of Lawyers to NLG Conventions in Austin, TX (2006) and Washington, DC (2007). Since then, we have organized speaking and letter writing campaigns to counteract the disinformation in the US media, and sent several small election delegations.
At the 2011 Philadelphia Convention, NLG President David Gespass invited Tibisay Luceno, President of the independent and well-respected Venezuelan National Electoral Commission (CNE), to speak about the Venezuelan electoral process at the Friday plenary session, and we hosted her for dinner that evening.
In the spring of 2012, the Guild was invited to send a delegation to serve as international election “accompanie-ntes” for the October 5, 2012 presidential elections. We sent eight members, including both outgoing and incoming presidents — David Gespass and Azadeh Shashahani. We spent several days meeting with activists, labor leaders, lawyers, judges, journalists, academics and election specialists before joining a week-long CNE-sponsored election training session with over 200 other internationals. A report from our 2012 election delegation after Chavez’ victory, as well as our condolence letter to the Venezuelan people after Chavez’ untimely death are available at:
In mid-March, the NLG was invited by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council to send a delegation of observers for the April 14 elections there. The NLG observers will be available to report back on the delation.
Susan Scott is a human rights attorney in Berkeley, California, and a member of the NLG International Committee.
Though the NLG is a U.S.-based legal organization, those of you who support our quest for a more egalitarian and peaceful global community recognize how important international issues are to each and every one of us. As this issue of Mass Dissent goes to press, we are reminded of the 10 long years that our bellicose nation has invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. We are bombarded now in the media with instant news from around the World: Syrians fight to overthrow an oppressive regime, indigenous Canadians refuse to allow their lands to be stolen and auctioned off to the highest-bidding petroleum corporations, Kenyans elect a new president, Cypriots rise up as the Spanish, Greeks and others have done before them to reject European Union austerity measures; these are but a few of the zeitgeist moments which impact our collective futures.
In assembling Mass Dissent, we benefitted from a smorgasbord of excellent submissions, and we are honored to share a few of them with you in the pages that follow.
First, we travel south to Venezuela, to take stock of the NLG support for the Bolivarian Revolution at the passing and mourning of Hugo Chavez. Second, we sail north to Haiti, for an in depth report on the political implications of our island neighbor’s cholera epidemic and what we can do to support our comrades there. Third, we cross the Pacific to South Korea, to explore a fascinating moment in time as this proud nation elects its first female ruler. Fourth, we present a powerful and wide-ranging piece which tackles three significant “big picture” human rights problems, including imperialist wars, comfort women, and the Armenian Genocide. Finally, we return to our little “Athens of America” here in Boston, for an article regarding the special legal needs of international students.
All in all, we hope you find these pieces as thought-provoking and are inspired to continue in struggle,
– Jonathan Messinger & Beverly Chorbajian –