President Barack Obama, in a public statement last week, reminded the leaders of Iran that the world was watching the unfolding events in their country. He wrote, "The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost...." Prior to this statement, Congress had taken a non-binding resolution condemning the violence against the peaceful protesters in the streets. Why would oppressive leaders be concerned about the eyes of the world? History has shown that oppressors have always gotten away with their barbaric actions against their own people without any severe consequences for their actions.
I grew up in an era of military dictatorship in Nigeria. Those who disagreed with the government were either killed or imprisoned without opportunity for a fair judicial process. The economic sanctions that were placed on Nigeria by the West did not deter the dictators from continuing their inhumane treatment of citizens. Those who suffered these sanctions were the common people. Top government officials continued to travel around the world for pleasure at the expense of tax payers. Many prominent critics of the government went on self-imposed exile because they were no longer safe in the country. Throughout this time of oppression, Nigerians waited in vain for the intervention of the international. The IMF/ World Bank continued to legitimize these dictators by giving them billions of dollars in loans that future generations of Nigerians would continue to pay. These monies were stolen and deposited in Swiss accounts.
It is not enough for the world to watch but the world must act whenever innocent lives are being taken by oppressive regimes. As President Obama rightly said in his statement, "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected...." The United States must not be a lone voice that seeks to promote freedom, justice and equity in the world. The freedom of people everywhere must be the business of the United Nations. Too often, the United Nations does not enforce the rights that have been agreed upon by member nations. The organization has become a toothless bulldog. Economic sanctions against member countries do not work but only go a long way to impoverish the common people who are themselves victims of these repressive governments.
Let me conclude by offering four modest proposals:
1. Travel restrictions should be imposed on leaders who are oppressive to their own people. This should not only be enforced by members of the G8 but all member countries of the United Nations. This should not only be limited to the President only but also his immediate family, friends and cabinet members.
2. International organizations or member countries should not extend loans or loan guarantees to both military and civilian dictators. They do not represent the will of the people and should not incur debts on behalf of the people.
3. Where there is genocide against any particular group of people, the international community must intervene, militarily when necessary. Rwanda was a shame to the international community and it is unacceptable.
4. The international community must pressure Switzerland and other countries with clandestine banking systems to make transactions more transparent. An international body of monitors should be set up to inspect international cash flows from dictatorial governments.