L’affaire Strauss-Kahn

IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, speaks during a news briefing at the 2010 WB/IMF Spring Meetings in Washington. Photo: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Surveying the front pages of New York City’s more colorful tabloids Monday, one could be forgiven for thinking that the arrest of Dominque Strauss-Kahn involved little more than an older Frenchman behaving very badly at an expensive midtown hotel. (Of course, the charges facing Strauss-Kahn are quite serious, and include various counts of sexual assault and rape, which carry up to 25 years in prison if he is convicted.) As editors churned through countless Gallic-inflected puns (e.g., “No Merci,” “French Whine,”“Le Perv,” etc.), much of the initial press coverage was long on the lurid details of the sexual allegations (quelle surprise), and noticeably short on why Strauss-Kahn garnered worldwide headlines, and the economic and political fallout from his arrest.
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After conflict in Ivory Coast, native Liberians return to help refugees overcome the crisis

Children at the Toe Town Refugee Transit Camp. Photo: Dr. Patrick Lee

The weeks-long military conflict between two rival presidential candidates in Ivory Coast may have reached a political resolution in April, but the refugee crisis created by the fighting continues to drag on. And in the neighboring country of Liberia, itself emerging from the ruins of a bloody civil war just over a decade ago, local communities have been deluged with tens of thousands of Ivorians pouring across the border, trying to escape the brutal tactics of militias on both sides.

The former president of Ivory Coast, political strongman Laurent Gbagbo, finally relinquished power a month ago when he was arrested by forces loyal to his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, recognized by most international observers as the legitimate winner of a presidential election last year. His militiamen had been terrorizing the capital, Abidjan, as well as rural parts of the country loyal to Ouattara in a desperate bid to cling to power. But human rights activists say Ouattara’s rebels, too, have brutalized Ivorians loyal to Gbagbo, burning down villages and using rape as a weapon of war, as a means of retribution or intimidation.

Raj Panjabi, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital who has been traveling to Liberia to provide health services to the growing refugee population there, has seen the physical and psychological toll of those tactics firsthand, through his patients at the rural clinics along Liberia’s border with Ivory Coast.

“They tell stories of militia men coming into their villages, deliberately targeting them, even at times calling out the name ‘Gbagbo, You are ‘Gbagbos,’” Panjabi said in an interview from Massachusetts. “They tell these horrific stories where the rebels leave the parents in one room, in the other room rape the children while the parents are alive, so they can hear it, then kill the parents, burn the village down.”

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Study paints even bleaker portrait of Congo rapes

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been described as “the rape capital of the world.” According to a new study, one woman is raped nearly every minute in Congo. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health and co-authored by public health researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Stony Brook University and the World Bank. It concludes that “sexual violence is more generalized than previously thought.” The study, based on the responses of 3,746 women and girls for a 2007 health survey, estimates that more than 400,000 women were raped in the DRC between 2006 and 2007; this figure greatly exceeds previous estimates.

Members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda openly man a roadblock in North Kivu, Congo in 2007. Photo: AP/Themba Hadebe

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Mukhtar Mai, Pakistan’s iconic survivor, sees bleak future for women there

Mukhtar Mai at the United Nations in New York City on May 2, 2006. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

“I am fine by the grace of Allah,” said Mukhtar Mai in response to my question about her feelings regarding the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s recent decision to acquit five of the six men convicted of raping her in 2002 — an incident that would eventually propel her onto the global stage as powerful advocate of women’s rights.

Mai, who was raped at the behest of her tribal elders (in retaliation for her younger brother’s alleged relationship with a woman of another clan), became a cause célèbre in the West when she pressed charges against her rapists, thereby setting an important precedent for victims of sexual assault in her country. Rape victims in Pakistan are stigmatized by their communities and are often expected to commit suicide to spare their families the lingering shame of association. As a result, cases of sexual violence often go underreported.

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Three weeks after capture, American journalists remain in Libyan prison

This undated file still image from video released April 7, 2011, by GlobalPost, shows James Foley of Rochester, N.H., a freelance contributor for GlobalPost, in Benghazi, Libya. Photo: AP/GlobalPost

Updated | May 1 The death of noted war photographer and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Tim Hetherington in Libya last week served as a grim reminder of the risks reporters face in covering the world’s bloodiest and most neglected conflicts. As the Committee for the Protection of Journalists noted, there have been more than 80 attacks on the press in Libya since the start of the fighting there, including four fatalities.

What makes Libya especially dangerous, perhaps, is the absence of any formal military presence on the ground. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been deadly for journalists, too, but at least in those conflicts, reporters have been able to embed with American or coalition forces. In Libya, the rebels are ragtag and disorganized, and are largely incapable of guaranteeing the safety of foreign reporters.

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Seeing ‘conspiracy’ in protests, Syrian regime intensifies its brutal crackdown

Syrian army soldiers stand guard at Sheikh Daher Square after the violence between security forces and armed groups in Latakia, Syria. Photo: AP/Hussein Malla

The government of Syria is a regime driven by paranoia, its worldview tinged by offbeat conspiracy theories and fantasies of foreign subversion. A fractious history of tribal politics and successive military coups has produced a tight grip on public life, with talk of “spies” and “files” on every citizen. Even in the popular protests that have unfolded in recent weeks, Syria sees only the work of its enemies.

Nowhere is that view more apparent than in the case of Mohamed Radwan.

Radwan, a 32-year-old Egyptian-American dual citizen, was taking pictures of an anti-government protest outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus — one of the holiest shrines in Islam — when he was swept up by security officials and whisked to an undisclosed location. He was held in solitary confinement, unsure of his whereabouts or the charges against him, for more than a week.

“He was interrogated by a lot of people,” Radwan’s cousin, Tarek Shalaby, said in an interview from Cairo. “He was always being interrogated.”

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Libya updates: Key Gadhafi aide defects; rebels dismiss concerns of extremism

Update | March 31 One of Moammar Gadhafi’s closest aides, described as the Libyan autocrat’s “political strong man,” has defected to Britain, reportedly on his own volition and without a deal for immunity, officials said Thursday.

Moussa Koussa, Libya’s foreign minister and the West’s key partner in its dealings with Libya over the years, was said to be cooperating with British officials. The defection dealt a serious blow to the faltering Gadhafi regime and suggested that more defections may be imminent. Another top Libyan official, Ali Abdussalam el-Treki, fled to Egypt on Thursday.

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Who are the Libyan rebels? And should we give them weapons?

Libyan rebels gesture on a checkpoint in Al-Egila, east of Ras Lanuf in eastern Libya on Sunday. Photo: AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

Updated | March 31 Libyan opposition fighters retreated once again Wednesday from clashes with government forces in Sirte, Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown and a loyalist stronghold. It’s the second time in Libya’s uprising that the rebels have pushed westward, only to be turned back by Gadhafi’s regime.

The developments have international officials debating their next steps in the military campaign against Gadhafi’s forces. President Obama and others have called repeatedly for the autocrat’s ouster, but have also ruled out the possibility of expanding the mission to include regime change. “We went down that road in Iraq,” Obama said in a national address this week.

Military leaders say they are conducting “due diligence” on rebel leaders to determine how they might be able to help the opposition without putting troops on the ground. They maintain, though, that they aren’t communicating with the rebels, out of fear of expanding the military campaign beyond the “civilian protection” mission sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council.

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Egyptian-American blogger arrested in Syria, accused of spying during protests

Mohamed Radwan was arrested during protests in Damascus on Friday.

The Syrian government detained a dual Egyptian-American citizen during protests in Damascus Friday and accused him of fomenting unrest as part of a foreign plot to undermine the country’s stability.

Mohamed Radwan, 32, was at an anti-government protest outside the Umayyad Mosque in the capital city last week when he was detained and taken to an undisclosed location, according to family members. He later appeared on Syrian state television in what seemed to be a forced confession, admitting that he had “visited Israel in secret” and that he had “received money from abroad in exchange for sending photos and videos about Syria,” according to the official Syrian news agency.

Family members interviewed by Need to Know Monday said they had heard few details  about his detention, including where he was being held and why. “The Syrians are being extremely tight-lipped about this,” Tarek Radwan, Mohamed’s brother, said in an interview from Washington, D.C. “No one has had access to him. We don’t know where he’s being held, or who’s holding him. So it’s very worrisome.”

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