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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Let Slip the Drones of Peace

The United Nations proudly announced the deployment of its first peacekeeping drone on Tuesday, an unmanned aerial vehicle that will be used to monitor the forested border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, looking for fighters from the defeated M23 rebel group and other militias.

United Nations video of the first drone flight over the Congolese city of Goma on Tuesday.

Hervé Ladsous, the United Nations under secretary general for peacekeeping, was present as the craft took off for the first time from an airport in Goma, the Congolese city that was recaptured from the rebels with the help of U.N. troops in recent months. As my colleagues Nicholas Kulish and Somini Sengupta reported, that more robust use of force around Goma has earned the international organization rare praise.

In his remarks, Mr. Ladsous was careful to stress that the drone would be used only for surveillance and would not be armed.

As the former New York Times correspondent Howard French explained in an Op-Ed on the mission last month, the U.N. mission’s new-found assertiveness came after years of less effective efforts to keep or enforce peace.

The passive, old approach involved nearly 20,000 peacekeepers who never managed to keep a lid on things, much less really keep any peace. When the M23 sacked Goma, the biggest city in the east, last year, the Congolese Army ran away and peacekeepers passively stood by.

Shock and embarrassment over this performance â€" in effect, a dismal return on the international community’s investment â€" prompted a turnaround. Earlier this year, the United Nations brought in a tough-minded general from Brazil, Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, to lead the peacekeepers. Their mandate changed to encourage engagement: That is, actually going after the bad guys. Meanwhile, motivated and disciplined combat units from South Africa and Tanzania were pushed to the fore.

Activists Fear Egypt’s Reviled Police Force, First Target of Protests, Is Out for Revenge

As they have for nearly three years, activist filmmakers in Egypt continue to document the death of protesters at the hands of the security forces.

The latest offering from the Cairene film collective Mosireen, posted on YouTube on Tuesday, concludes with footage of Mohamed Reda, a 19-year-old student protester who was killed last week as police officers fired shotgun pellets at demonstrators on the campus of Cairo University.

“The Crimes of Mohamed Ibrahim, the Minister of the Interior,” a new video from Mosireen, an activist film collective in Caro, features graphic images of protesters killed by the police this year.

The video, an indictment of what the filmmakers call “The Crimes of Mohamed Ibrahim, the Minister of the Interior,” was posted online hours before the minister flatly denied that his forces had killed the engineering student, despite clear footage of officers firing at the protesters.

Video recorded on the campus of Cairo University last week, as officers fired at protesters.

The new Mosireen video puts the latest death into context, with frequently graphic images of others protesters killed since January, when Mr. Ibrahim was put in charge of the nation’s police force, whose brutality was a central focus for the protest movement that started on Jan. 25, 2011, officially designated as Police Day.

One of Mosireen’s founders, Omar Robert Hamilton, argued in a sobering essay published on Tuesday in Mada Masr, an English-language news site in Cairo: “The police are the cancer at the core of a rotten state.”

The lack of reform in the ministry overseeing the police has been a constant complaint from rights activists since Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on February 11, 2011, but the security forces largely remained intact.

Mr. Hamilton, whose cousin Alaa Abd El Fattah is one of 27 prominent activists arrested in the past week, added that the reason for the crackdown was clear: “Why? To send a message; the message the state has been sending since February 12, 2011. It’s over. Go home. Shut up.”

He went on to cast the current crackdown in stark terms, as an effort by the interior minister who was appointed by President Mohamed Morsi, but then made no effort to prevent his ouster by the military, to turn the clock back all the way to 2010, when the security forces had total control of the streets.

Why am I writing this? Because devastation is upon us. Mohamed Ibrahim and the Ministry of the Interior have been unleashed. First on the Brotherhood and now on the activists who â€" for better or worse â€" launched and sustained this revolution we were once all so in love with. This revolution that gave so many of us the best part of our identities. This revolution that is drowning.

For the police, it’s about pride. The pride that’s taken such a battering since January 28. Men with guns and leather jackets have very little else to hold on to. Their lives revolve around pain and fear. The more afraid you are, the stronger they become. And you can never be afraid enough to satisfy them.

The British-Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr made a similar observation on Twitter last week, as the police snatched prominent activists at the first demonstration after a new law effectively banning protests went into effect.

As rights activists pointed out before President Morsi was forced from office in July, rather than attempt real reform he instead heaped praise on the interior ministry. In a speech to officers in March, the Islamist president even made the strange claim that the police “were at the heart” of the 2011 revolution. “Almighty God willed that Jan. 25 also be Police Day, a day of remembering the sacrifices of the police,” Mr. Morsi said then. He offered those words of praise the same week that a leaked government report blamed the same police force for the deaths of nearly 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising in 2011.

The interior minister’s claim on Tuesday that none of the officers under his command would ever harm a student, as reported by the journalist AbdelHalim AbdAllah, prompted a sarcastic reply from the activist blogger Mostafa Hussein.

The Snowden Files, Press Freedom and Britain

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee in London on Tuesday.-/Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee in London on Tuesday.

As Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, faced questions on Tuesday from members of a Parliamentary committee about publishing classified National Security Agency documents, media organizations from around the world called on officials to uphold Britain’s commitment to freedom of the press.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a dozen United States media organizations, including The New York Times, wrote a letter (PDF) expressing “our grave concern over pointed calls by those in authority for censorship of The Guardian and criminal prosecution of its journalists in the name of national security.”

The former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward covered the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, also sent an open letter to Mr. Rusbridger, saying that his appearance comes at a time when “governments in Washington and London seem intent on erecting the most serious (and self-serving) barriers against legitimate news reporting - especially of excessive government secrecy - we have seen in decades.”

The Guardian provided live coverage of the hearing and Mr. Rusbridger’s appearance, as he fielded questions from the Home Affairs Select Committee about the circumstances surrounding the publication of documents that were leaked by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden.

The letter from the media organizations said “such sanctions, and the chilling impact created by even the threat to impose them, undermine the independence and integrity of the press that are essential for democracy to function.”

The letter also said:

To the rest of the world, it appears that press freedom itself is under attack in Britain today. British politicians are publicly calling for the criminal prosecution of The Guardian for having published true, accurate and newsworthy information. A Scotland Yard investigation has been launched. “D notices” have been threatened. And the prime minister has raised the prospect of seeking an injunction prohibiting The Guardian from publishing any further intelligence revelations. These aggressive actions intimidate journalists and their sources. They chill reporting on issues of national security and on the conduct of government more generally.