The Right to Access Your Consulate

Let’s say you are on vacation somewhere outside of the United States–let’s say it is Europe–and you run into some serious legal problems. Perhaps you find yourself being charged with a serious crime, such as murder or being an American spy. An unlikely scenario for most of us, but it might still make you feel a little better to know that you have a right to contact the American consulate and request advice or assistance from your home country. Indeed, this is a real concern for American military and aid personnel serving overseas. And it is a right that even so-called rogue nations respect, as Liz Goodwin notes in a recent article. North Korea granted such access to American journalists it jailed and Iran did the same for the American hikers it thought were spies.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, adopted in 1963, both created new international law and codified pre-existing international customs. Much of its 79 articles focus on the definitions of consular activities and the rights and immunities of consular staff. Article 36, however, has been broadly interpreted as providing foreigners who are arrested a right to access their home country consulates.

Al of this seems straightforward, so why is there a problem in the United States? On one level, there is a question of federalism. The typical VCCR case that makes its way into law school case books, cases such as Medellin, Avena, and LaGrand, have often involved American Presidents trying to tell Governors to stay executions of foreign nationals because their consular rights were never invoked. Indeed, this is exactly what is happening right now. President Obama, and his solicitor-general are asking Texas to grant a stay of execution. This is to give Congress time to finally pass legislation that will finally incorporate American obligations under the treaty it signed and ratified into the domestic legal system, as the Supreme Court has said is required. So this goes to the second reason for the problem today. There is disagreement as to whether our original ratification of the treaty was sufficient and self-executing (as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Circuit has apparently said), or whether Congress was required to enact legislation first (what the Supreme Court has said).

So here we are. Tomorrow, July 7, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Mexican national Humberto Leal. Whether or not he is guilty (likely he is, in this case) and whether or not an intervention from the consulate would have altered the penalty, we should still be aware that how we treat the nationals of other countries may impact how those other countries treat our own nationals.

One of the key principles underpinning international law is reciprocity. We often make agreements and uphold those agreements in the hope that others will do the same. As so many observers have been pointing out, this is one issue where the United States is not upholding its end of the bargain and if that continues we should be worried that others will no longer do the same for us. Let’s hope that Congress finally passes this legislation so that we can put this issue to rest.

China and Africa: Recent Links

Deborah Brautigam has posted a couple of nice quick reviews of two great sources relevant to understanding the role of China in Africa:

Kennedy Opalo notes that NPR had an interesting graphic on “China’s Global Reach”.

Over at Global Voices, John Kennedy notes that in China, “Sudanese President Bashir’s Visit Raises Eyebrows”.

Over at the, Damien Ma has an interesting piece on Chinese workers in Africa who marry Africans: “Chinese Workers in Africa Who Marry Locals Face Puzzled Reception at Home.”

At African Arguments they have an interesting excerpt of a discussion on the Horn of Africa at the UK House of Lords. It is noted: “There is no room for complacency there at all because it is still a very ugly situation, as the noble Lord indicates, but a number of measures are being taken on land in building the prisons to deal with convicted pirates and on the high seas through unprecedented co-ordination between all the navies of countries such as the United States, Russia, all the NATO countries, Japan and China-a degree of co-ordination never before seen among navies.” Is it possible that Somali piracy could bring the world together? Doubt it, but it is an interesting thought!

Ghana: Waste, lagoons, and deserts

Besides some concerns about oil’s impact on the environment in Ghana, there have been a number of other recent stories that remind us that Ghana’s environmental problems are far more widespread and diversified.

Waste Disposal

One of the biggest issues is the problem of waste disposal (or the lack thereof).As Fiona Leonard mentions in her blog, “A Fork in the Road”,Ghana’s beaches occasionally look pretty bad because of this. The Korle Lagoon in Ghana is particularly bad (a number of observers have called it one of the most polluted waters on the planet but I’m not sure whether there is an official measure of this). It is even called “Sodom and Gomorrah”. Nevertheless, there have been efforts to change the situation. Ghana’s Ministry of Housing and Works has contracted with International Marine and Dredging Consultants to do work to reduce pollution in the lagoon. However, some efforts (I’m not sure exactly who is behind these) have also created important social problems, including the eviction of squatters.

Fiona also mentions a great advertising campaign designed to bring attention to the issue (“The Picture the Ghana Tourist Board Doesn’t Want You to See”).

However, don’t take all of this as a sign that there aren’t good beaches in Ghana. Esi’s “What Yo’ Mama Never Told You About Ghana” blog has a nice rundown of great Ghanaian beaches that are worth visiting.


More pleasant, perhaps, is the news about a new grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and World Bank to combat desertification and drought in Ghana.

In case you missed it, last friday, June 17th, was World Desertification Day. Sponsored by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) the focus this year was on supporting the UN’s International Year of the Forests. In Ghana, the MTN Group sponsored at least a couple events.

The WTO’s Doha Round

The Doha Round still limps along.

You know the WTO is in trouble when…
… The Financial Times says negotiations are dead. In 2008 they argued that leaders should admit the talks are over. They haven’t really been optimistic since.
… We start to argue that an assassination will save it. Jagdish Bhagwati, one of the great spokesmen for concluding the Doha negotiations, starts grasping at straws. For instance,his letter to the Financial Times on May 6th, argues that Osama bin Laden’s assassination provides just the opportunity that is needed to restart the round.
… We say we should kill the talks in order to save them. That is the logic that Bhagwati claims they are using when his (and Sutherland’s) High-level Expert Group on Trade advises that the Doha Round be abandoned if there is no agreement this year. “Our idea,” he states, “was that just as the prospect of an imminent hanging concentrates the mind, the deadline and prospective death of the Doha Round would galvanize the world’s statesmen behind completing the last mile of the marathon.”

Should we narrow the agenda and what are the obstacles to doing this?
The Financial Times has editorialized on the progress of the talks a number of times.This past April, they suggested the WTO should move away from its current all-or-nothing approach to negotiations. It is important, they argued, that the WTO show it is a “rule making system [that] can adapt and renew itself.”

That concern and approach has driven WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy’s move to conclude a limited version of a Doha deal this year. However, “Doha Lite” seems to be hitting roadblocks as well. (“Doha lite runs into rough weather”, June 10). The US is at the center of this. Alan Beattie reports (“WTO scrambles to savage Doha talks” FT, June 12.) that the US is a major stumbling block to progress on the Doha Round. As I write in my book manuscript, African countries have been able to wield significant influence in the round by reasonably demanding that the US change its support for one commodity: cotton. Indeed, cotton–and other agricultural issues–remains a major issue.

Why should we save the Doha Round?
While I was on vacation, Sutherland and Bhagwati’s Trade Experts Group published their important report, “World Trade and the Doha Round.” You can download it here. In it they argue that the Doha Round should definitely be saved. Some of the highlights:

  • There is a moral argument, as well as an economic argument, that needs to be considered: “Indeed before the twentieth century the conventional case for trade was a moral one: that it promoted economic integration and therefore peace, and that the efficient allocation of resources that it encourages pushes down prices for clothes, food and consumer goods. The argument that open trade damages the interest of workers in developed countries too often misses completely the fact that it has rendered the goods they buy cheaper, more diverse and in many cases more sophisticated than at any previous point in human history.”
  • And then there are the familiar economic reasons for open trade: competition promotes efficient specialization, open trade is linked to economic growth, etc.
  • The WTO is under threat: PTAs and other regional agreements, the lack of political will on the part of country leaders today, and the continuing struggle to accommodate the wishes of emerging powers are all part of this.

Other ad hoc solutions for governing global commerce are not better. I agree with Bhagwati, for the most part, when he says that Preferential Trade Agreements are starting to take over the rule-making agenda (also one of the conclusions made in the report above).

We also don’t want to have 1930s-style destructive economic competition. As Pascal Lamy and others have warned, the recent financial crisis already has increased protectionism around the world but that sort of policy can lead to mistrust and threaten not just the global economy but also global security. As a recent report from Roubini Global Economics (gated) suggests, the WTO has played an important role in stemming such problems.

Finally, if the “we” in my question above is the United States, then there might be an even more poignant reason to act and try to conclude the Doha Round now. We may not get the agreement we most desire (we definitely will not, nor will anyone else) but it is even less likely that we will get a deal we like in the future. The American economy may recover from its recent crisis and begin to grow again, but all signs point to our gradual relative economic decline. This could be our last great shot at putting our mark on global economic governance and ensuring that an institution we created survives the inevitable change in the distribution of power.

On that note, I keep thinking I should write a post (or something) on this theme: The United States should act like a great power, but think like a middle power. That is, we should use our power resources which still allow us to dominate on most global issues, but we should be interpreting our interests more and more in terms of how we will like the international system to look when we are no longer so dominant.

The WTO is more than Doha
However, I believe it is too easy for the casual observer to interpret the faltering Doha talks as signs of a weak institution. The WTO still clearly matters a great deal in global economic relations. Countries still expend considerable resources to participate in the daily meetings in Geneva and the dispute resolution system is still one of the most relevant (if not the most relevant) quasi-judicial process the international system has (although there is the occasional concern about its future, such as in this post by Hufbauer and concerns expressed in Elsig and Pollack’s recent piece).

Apparently, Lamy thinks we may know by the end of this month whether a deal this year will be possible (“WTO’s Lamy Says Working on ‘Early Harvest’ Trade Deal”, June 13, Washington Post). I will definitely be watching.

Ghana: Debates about homosexuality

I try to follow news and blogs about my former host country (Ghana) on a weekly basis (at least). One of the latest themes concerns homosexuality.

Homosexuality on the continent has been a major international news item this past year. Most notably, Uganda considered introducing legislation that would make homosexual sex a crime worthy of the death penalty. Fortunately, the legislation didn’t go that far though it is my understanding that it is still a crime. In the U.S., this received attention because of linkages to some American evangelical Christians.

In neighboring Kenya, homosexuality has also been attacked. However, as Sean Jacobs reports, some recent judicial nominations there suggest that the legal system may be able to at least halt if not reverse some of the damaging laws that have been enacted.

In Ghana, homosexuality is also interpreted to be a crime (rarely prosecuted as an “unnatural carnal act”), and they too are a former colony of Britain, and they too have a strong link to evangelical Christians in the US. Not that all of those connections matter, but some argue they do. Here are some recent posts on the subject:

It will indeed be interesting to see whether gay rights emerge as an important issue in the next national elections.

African Cinema

I remember hearing about the “Ougadougou Film Festival”when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Northern Ghana. I thought I might go. But I never did. Hopefully, I someday will. A recent film I saw and a couple recent news items reminded me of this festival.

The film I recently saw was “Rêves de poussière” (“Dreams of Dust”). It is about a Nigerien farmer who comes to work at a gold mine in Essakane, Burkina Faso. Greed and love are dominant themes. It is a French film and has the sort of slow pacing that French films frequently have (in my experience). But it was very engaging and received some attention at festivals when it came out in 2006 (for instance, it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance). It is currently available on Netflix!

At the MTV Movie Awards, a Congolese film, “Viva Riva” won “Best African Movie”. Thanks to Sean Jacobs’ for this news. He mentions the other finalists: “A Screaming Man” (Chad), “Life, Above All” (South Africa) and “Restless City” (Nigeria).

Sean Jacobs must be watching a lot of movies lately since he also mentions some great documentaries coming up at The Encounters Documentary Film Festival in South Africa.

China and Africa: Some of the Latest

As many friends and colleagues know, one of my two core research agendas considers Africa’s changing relationships with rising powers in the world, and in particular China.

Here are some of the latest (well, I was on vacation a couple weeks so some of this may not seem very recent to all of you!) items I’ve found:

Secretary Clinton’s trip to the continent has included a number of important statements about US policy towards Africa and its interpretation of China’s role on the continent.

Meanwhile, Antoaneta Becker’s IPS story (June 7, “North Africa: China Begins to Look Away from Africa”,via suggests that recent political uprisings in North Africa could change China’s perceptions of doing business in the continent. If that is the case, then I must wonder: does China have the same “Africa is a country” problem that so many people seem to have here in the US?

Sean Jacobs at “Africa is a Country” mentions a new documentary,“When China Met Africa”. The trailer seems interesting, though this is a subject that is a bit easy to sensationalize.

I like the anecdote in Giles Mohan’s piece (in the African Arguments blog) of an Angolan official who is asked about China’s role there: “[he] looked at us incredulously asking why we were so obsessed with the Chinese. He said they were only one amongst a range of new investors, and his country was open for business to all of them.” Indeed, while China has emerged as Angola’s key trading partner, any account of Angola’s external trade and investment would have to include consideration of other rising economies, including Brazil.

Deborah Brautigam does her usual service to our understanding of China-Africa relations by providing some correctives to an April story in The Economist.

China’s Aid Statistics

My colleague here at Wesleyan, Masami Imai, recently pointed me to a new China White Paper (news video, full text). This is an important document for a number of reasons. First, the actual amount of Chinese foreign aid has been difficult to discern for researchers. This is due to a number of reasons, including: variations in definitions for what should count as foreign aid (in the West, we use a standard definition that was developed by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee), lack of centralized aid provision and reporting in China (they have no equivalent to USAID, for instance), and uncertainty about whether some aid is provided without any report. The World Bank once reported that China aid to Africa between 1960 and 2006 was $44 billion (see Brautigam’s response). Given new data this was clearly an overestimate. However, one of the more amusing misrepresentations of China’s aid to Africa is a Congressional Resource Service report. As Deborah Brautigam notes, that report was WAY off the mark. It suggested that China’s aid to Africa in 2007 was $25 billion. Brautigam estimated that it really was 5% of that. According to their new White Paper it must be low indeed. The White Paper states that TOTAL foreign aid to the whole world since 1950 is just under $40 billion.

What is clear from the new White Paper, however, is that Africa is the major recipient of Chinese foreign aid:

Geographical Discribution of China's Foreign Aid, 2009

I definitely recommend looking for Brautigam’s analysis of the White Paper. I’m sure it will come soon.