The Hard Truth About Malaysia 370 A War Crime Against Culture
Anxiety over the flight’s mysterious fate must not lead to potentially risky new safety rules The destruction of Timbuktu’s heritage is being reviewed for possible trial in The Hague
Modern aviation has become perhaps the safest complex system ever devised. Each day, 100,000 flights take off and land with prosaic regularity. Accidents are so rare that, almost by definition, they mean something unprecedented has happened.
The unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 two years ago—with all 239 people aboard presumed dead—is by any definition unprecedented. As such, it makes a poor basis for dramatic changes in public policy. Modern planes are so safe that adding yet more rules in response to a yet-unexplained tragedy could make things worse.
Consider proposals to mandate tamper-proof transponders. That sounds prudent: Someone aboard Flight 370 evidently switched off the plane’s communications systems, taking it off the grid. But pilots may have perfectly valid reasons for turning a transponder off, such as recovering from a malfunction or preventing overheating. The risks of tamper-proofing cockpit equipment outweigh the benefits.
Likewise, the United Nations wants to track aircraft more frequently and in greater detail. Again, this sounds like a no-brainer. Yet planes are already thoroughly tracked. And a group studying the idea for the UN found that the additional requirements could in some cases create new risks and impose an “unrealistic operational burden.” Not to mention the expense.
In the age of the drone, some suggest, why not eliminate human pilots altogether? Even overlooking the cost and complexity of that, the alarming rate at which military drones— to say nothing of civilian counterparts— crash in much less demanding environments should give pause. Pilots have solved many more problems in-flight than they’ve caused.
Some new technology may in fact be helpful in preventing disasters. Aerospace companies are working on gear that could wrest control from a pilot in times of distress. The U.S. military is working on robot co-pilots. These are promising endeavors, worthy of more study and investment. Yet they, too, risk The destruction of a mausoleum cannot compare to the rape and murder of innocents. But it’s a war crime nonetheless— and the importance of prosecuting it shouldn’t be underestimated, for the present day or for posterity.
When the terrorist group Ansar Dine invaded Timbuktu, Mali, in 2012, it not only attacked the population, but also destroyed an historic mosque and several graves. Now its leader, Ahmad al-faqi al-mahdi, is before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, charged with the destruction of Unesco World Heritage sites. It will decide whether he will stand trial.
The idea that the intentional destruction of culturally valued property is a war crime isn’t new. This case would mark the first time such an act is the main charge in a war crimes tribunal. The seriousness of the crime is beyond doubt. The purpose of destroying cultural heritage is to eliminate all the attachments of a people under attack—to obliterate not only one’s enemies but also any trace of their existence. As the court’s prosecutor made clear in her opening statement, at stake is more than simply “walls and stones.” The accused was attempting to “destroy the roots of an entire people.”
This case won’t serve as a deterrent to militants such as those in Syria and Iraq, who consider the destruction of cultural heritage to be part of their war against infidels. But the pursuit of justice is valuable for its own sake, and a trial will help create a record of the devastation Ansar Dine wrought. In prosecuting the erasure of Timbuktu’s cultural heritage and identity, the ICC would be going some way toward restoring the dignity of those whose sacred places were destroyed.
The court has been accused, not without reason, of irrelevance, incompetence, and unfairness. It’s possible that this case will show it’s not too late for it to serve the vital purpose for which it was established almost 14 years ago. <BW>
Then the magazine Istoe reported that the government’s former leader in the senate, Delcídio do Amaral, had alleged that Rousseff had pushed judges to release political allies imprisoned on charges of graft. The magazine said the senator, who faces charges of witness tampering, made the allegations as part of a possible plea bargain. Amaral declined to confirm any plea agreement or the details reported in the story.
On March 4, Federal Judge Sergio Moro had former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva detained for questioning about favors he and his family allegedly received. On March 9, a state prosecutor in São Paulo charged Lula with money laundering and hiding assets. He allegedly concealed ownership of an apartment renovated by a builder
involved in the Petrobras scandal. Lula’s Instituto Lula says the former president denies owning the apartment and has done nothing illegal.
Rousseff, Petrobras’s former chairman, isn’t being investigated. She has denied any wrongdoing. Rousseff says her rivals want to seize power before the 2018 election. “There are certain political fights that create systemic problems not only for politics but for the economy,” she said on March 7 while inaugurating a housing project.
The latest events have revived efforts to remove Rousseff by impeachment or by the annulment of her 2014 reelection. The Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, Rousseff’s largest ally in the ruling coalition, will discuss severing ties in a national convention on March 12. Opposition lawmakers plan to add details of Senator Amaral’s allegations to an impeachment request filed on Dec. 2 in the lower house of congress. “Amaral’s plea deal is fatal,” says Congressman Pauderney Avelino, leader of the opposition Democrats.
Brazil’s currency surged 6.3 percent in the first week of March in the hope that Rousseff would be impeached, easing the political gridlock so that reforms to fix the world’s seventhlargest economy could go through. Eurasia Group, a political consulting firm, estimates the odds of Rousseff finishing her term at less than 50 percent.
Lula’s brief detention brought about fistfights between supporters and opponents of the government in front of his home outside São Paulo. Rousseff’s opponents are organizing nationwide protests for March 13 to call for her ouster. Hundreds of thousands have signed up on Facebook event pages promoting the demonstrations. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party will stage two rallies later in March to support the government and party hero Lula.
Public protests could further undermine Rousseff’s support. “There is no impeachment without people on the streets,” opposition Congressman Mendonça Filho told reporters on March 7. In 1992 mass demonstrations pressed congress to open impeachment proceedings against thenPresident Fernando Collor de Mello. Demonstrating students painted their faces and wore black as a sign of grief over corruption. Collor resigned before his impeachment began.
For two years prosecutors and federal police working under Judge Moro have conducted Operation Carwash— named for gas stations allegedly used to launder money—from rented offices in Curitiba, 250 miles south of São Paulo. They’re looking into the possibility that massive bribes from a cartel of Brazil’s biggest builders were paid to politicians and executives in exchange for at least $50 billion in Petrobras contracts. Much of the illicit cash bankrolled three parties, including the Workers’ Party, Moro alleges. The judge has had 482 executives, politicians, bankers, and businessmen arrested.
Last month’s arrest of João Santana, the mastermind of Rousseff’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns, has taken Moro’s team one step closer to Planalto, the presidential palace in Brasília. Prosecutors said in a statement that they suspected people charged in the Petrobras case made multiple payments to Santana and his wife and business partner, Monica Moura, intended for the Workers’ Party. Investigators are trying to determine whether anyone in Rousseff’s campaign arranged the payments of the illicit funds. “We need to discover who gave the order to pay,” says Carlos Lima, a lead prosecutor in the case. “The money came from bribes, and the payment was for some service Santana provided.” Santana and Moura haven’t been charged, and they said in a court filing that the money was for work on campaigns outside Brazil.
The country’s top electoral court also is probing whether Petrobras money made its way into Rousseff’s campaign. If it finds that it did, the court could annul her mandate and call new elections.
Under Lula, 36 million Brazilians escaped extreme poverty. Today the country has double-digit inflation and unemployment, and millions are falling out of the middle class. Opponents of Lula and Rousseff have flooded social media with expressions of rage. “Enough impunity,” says one post on a Facebook page named Vem Pra Rua Brasil, or Come to the Streets of Brazil. “This is not a country of thieves.” �Michael Smith and Sabrina Valle, with Anna Edgerton, Raymond Colitt, and Arnaldo Galvao
The bottom line The odds are increasing that President Rousseff will not finish her term as the investigation called Operation Carwash grinds on.
and the government are appealing the ruling. Desseilles’s plight was recently the subject of a story on national TV. “It’s baroque—we may lose everything for a rule that protects unions who protect no one but themselves,” Berrier says. “At the end of the day, we spend more time struggling with French labor laws than focusing on our business.” Chinese investors expressed interest in the company.
Unions were part of Socialist President François Hollande’s political power base, but now they’ve become opponents. After his latest attempt at labor reform in Parliament prompted a union threat to demonstrate, Hollande has put that effort on hold. The postponed bill would have voided a law that limits the workweek to 35 hours. It would have allowed businesses to increase working hours with minimal extra compensation and without union support. The bill also would have made it easier for companies to cut jobs while limiting severance. The Confédération Francaise du Travail (CFDT), the umbrella union group, called the delay a victory. “We’ve obtained the postponement of the labor law, now we’ll fight to obtain a rebalancing of the text,” CFDT Secretary General Laurent Berger says.
French unions started to weaken in the 1970s, when manufacturing declined in the West, globalization moved production offshore, and managers circumvented organized labor with temporary contract workers who didn’t have the same privileges or job protections. The unions want to refill their ranks, but recruitment is hard when more French
people identify organized labor as just another special interest group. Radu Vranceanu, an economics professor at ESSEC Business School in Paris, says of the unions: “They know the power they have left is to be disruptive.”
Tiny Desseilles’s troubles are magnified in Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, department stores that draw millions of shoppers from around the world. Unions are refusing to obey a law pushed through by Hollande that allows stores to remain open 12 Sundays per year. The unions want extra compensation for employees—even though Galeries Lafayette is offering doublepay for Sunday hours and Printemps said employees are “ready to work on a Sunday.” Galeries Lafayette said in September that it was in talks with unions to open three Paris stores on Sunday, a move expected to add 1,000 jobs at its flagship, boosting sales as much as 7 percent.
The unions’ moves have had little positive effect on France’s unemployment rate, which, at above 10 percent, is twice that of the U.K. and Germany. Hollande’s reforms—which include cutting the labor tax for companies that are hiring, and deregulating businesses that once held monopolies granted by the state—would have lowered the cost of hiring and made businesses more competitive.
“The problem we have today is to find people to sit around the table,” Stéphane Le Foll, a
Algeria Angola Iran Iraq Kuwait Nigeria Qatar Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Venezuela
-20% The bottom line France’s trade unions have weakened, but they have enough power to stall labor reform.
Iran told OPEC it produced 3.4m barrels a day in January; the U.S. said Iran’s output was 17 percent lower The monthly oil production numbers submitted to OPEC by its members are just the start of the process of figuring out actual output. The U.S. government, the International Energy Agency, and independent analysts arrive at numbers that often deviate from the cartel’s official figures. The chart shows how vast the disparities can be.
Deviation of estimate from figure reported to OPEC
U.S. Department of Energy International Energy Agency
What’s going to be more powerful is when a year from now, or two years from now, stories start going around the world about how extraordinarily productive and successful [they are].