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Expert tells St. Vincent audience: U.S. military no answer in Mideast

Joe Napsha
| Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, 10:35 p.m.
St. Vincent College alumnus Joe Stork, deputy director for the Mideast Division of Human Rights Watch, speaks to media members before his “Rights as History: Writing and Witnessing Lecture,” at St. Vincent College on Oct. 29, 2015, in Unity. His work focuses on human rights violations by states and armed groups, particularly in Iraq and Israel-Palestine.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
St. Vincent College alumnus Joe Stork, deputy director for the Mideast Division of Human Rights Watch, speaks to media members before his “Rights as History: Writing and Witnessing Lecture,” at St. Vincent College on Oct. 29, 2015, in Unity. His work focuses on human rights violations by states and armed groups, particularly in Iraq and Israel-Palestine.

The Middle East is awash in human rights violations and there is an urgent need to protect civilians in the wars being waged in Iraq and Syria, but an expert on the region said Thursday at St. Vincent College that increasing U.S. military involvement is not the solution to those problems.

While President Obama's administration considers widening the war against the ISIS by deploying helicopters and adding U.S. military advisers in Iraq, that is not the right path to stopping human rights violations, nor is it “something we would be advocating,” said Joseph Stork, deputy director for the Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.

“I'm not even sure (deploying the) military is a very smart idea,” said Stork, pointing to the long U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking prior to his speech at St. Vincent College on human rights, Stork said the foreign ministers from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and other countries who will meet in Vienna with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday must make as a priority “protecting the civilians.”

Most of the victims in Syria are opponents of embattled President Assad, who has dropped bombs on neighborhoods and whole cities held by his opposition, including ISIS.

“Those kinds of tactics are targeting civilians. There's rampant impunity by all parties, but it's mainly Assad” targeting civilians with poisonous gas attacks and weapons attacks, said Stork, a St. Vincent graduate who has been working on Middle East issues his entire adult life.

When the New York-based Human Rights Watch, for which Stork has worked the past 19 years, discovers human rights violations, the organization publicizes them and works with those countries that may have influence over the perpetrators to halt the crimes, Stork said. The nonprofit organization publishes more than 100 reports and briefings on human rights conditions in some 90 countries.

To “name and shame” ISIS over its persecution of Christians and Shia Muslims has had little impact, Stork admitted, because ISIS publicizes its attacks.

“They are advocating the most horrific crimes,” said Stork, who supervises a field staff and focuses on violations of human rights and humanitarian law by states and armed groups, particularly in Iraq and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Stork said he was hopeful for the Middle East following the uprising in Egypt that overthrew President Mubarak, dubbed the Arab spring.

“But, in a lot of places, things have not hit the bottom yet,” Stork said.

Egypt is again run by an authoritarian government after the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power in 2012, he noted.

“The major players, not just the Muslim Brotherhood, behaved badly,” Stork said.

Libya, once the domain of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, still remains a grim area for human rights four years after his death, Stork said.

Surprisingly, Stork considers Iran a bright spot, with elections that are somewhat free.

“Because everybody else is grim. It's comparative,” he said.

Stork also is hopeful with the activism in Saudi Arabia, that he said is much more present today than 20 years ago.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has human rights violations on both sides, Stork said.

“It's leaders, on both sides, not thinking of their grandchildren,” Stork said.

To help prevent the violations, people in those societies must come together and set up human rights organizations to monitor violations by their government, or the various armed groups in their nation, Stork said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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