Picks of the Quarter

The conflicts that gain the most attention and media coverage tend to be those that are most sensational and violent. But there are many other conflicts we do not hear about, and those living through them must struggle to make their voices heard. This column seeks to bring attention to serious events, issues, and conflicts that receive little coverage but deserve our attention, our acknowledgement, and our best efforts in resolving them.


Uzbekistan has gained attention in the media in recent years as the state’s relationship with the United States and the European Union has improved. The country’s location is key for the strategic interests of the United States and its allies in NATO, as it is near Afghanistan. In October, Hilary Clinton visited Uzbekistan to thank the country for allowing the presence of NATO troops on its soil. However, it is clear that the U.S. and its allies are ignoring a glaring fact about Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch recently released a report detailing various rights violations occurring within the country. The government continues to allow the use of torture in its criminal justice system, including electric shock and simulated asphyxiation. Uzbekistan has received limited criticism from certain countries and international organizations for its human rights record. Unfortunately, issues like human rights are sometimes conveniently “overlooked” in international relations when a country becomes strategic to the interests of another. This appears to be the case for Uzbekistan, which is currently enjoying the benefits it receives from the United States’ silence on its human rights record. The United States, as a powerful country that supposedly advocates the protection of human rights (as it does in its conflict with Afghanistan) is complicit now in the human rights abuses towards the citizens of Uzbekistan. If a country champions human rights, it must defend the rights of all humans, not only those that are convenient to protect or that are useful in the pursuit of its own agenda.

Venezuela, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe

The Kimberly Process, instituted in 2003, was led by Global Witness and other watchdog groups to prevent the trade of blood diamonds, or diamonds that fund conflict. The process certifies rough diamonds as conflict free, which means that purchasers can be sure their money is not used to finance war or human rights abuses. The issue of blood diamonds has gained international attention through a series of documentaries and films released around the same theme. However, the international community’s concern with blood diamonds seems to have waned in recent years, although it is clear that more work needs to be done on the regulations and protections surrounding the sourcing of diamonds. Even more concerning is the recent withdrawal of Global Witness from the Kimberly Process in protest against violations of the certification process in Venezuela, the Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe. In a particular incident gaining international attention, the Kimberly Process allowed Zimbabwe to trade $2 billion worth of diamonds that came from fields where miners were tortured, abused, and killed. It appears that this process designed to protect the rights of those involved in the diamond industry is failing. The departure of Global Witness has other advocacy groups reconsidering their support for the Kimberly Process. Despite its failures is it not important that these groups remain a part of the process, calling attention to its failures, so that they can affect change and work towards greater protection of the rights of those in the diamond industry?

United States

The National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently being reviewed by Congress, has not provoked as much discussion and debate domestically or internationally as it should. The bill authorizes increased funding for the Defense Department, which in itself is cause for concern. However, what is even more troublesome is a provision within the bill that would allow the president to detain American citizens indefinitely if they are suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations that have committed offenses against the United States. Power to do so would lie with the president. The bill would deny citizens the right to a trial, with the possibility of citizens being detained for life without charges. The shocking authority this bill would grant to the president should be covered more in the media and greeted with greater concern by American citizens. For a country that forcefully advocates for human rights in many forums, how is it acceptable for such a dangerous provision to be enacted into law? Many believe this bill is related to the case of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a prominent member of al-Qaida who was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in late September. While al-Awlaki’s targeted killing sparked some furor, Americans should be very concerned by their government’s decision to kill one of its own citizens without trial, denying the basic right of due process. This bill would give the government power to take away the protections and rights of its own citizens if they are believed to be connected to terrorism. Any work done by the U.S. to defend human rights in the future would be dangerously discredited, as the country proposes to pass this bill into law.

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