Category Archives: Human Rights

Book Review: ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Our hero: Alpha, an Everyman for Today’s Immigrant.

The plight of the immigrant has never been easy and, currently, their fate could not be more dangerous. Many, fighting to leave threatening circumstances, stand no chance of finding the freedom they seek. This brings me to another unique work in comics that defies our expectations of the more traditional graphic novel format. The artwork here is not exactly in panels and there are no word balloons for the characters to speak from. Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is published by Bellevue Literary Press and written by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux, and translated from the French by Sarah Abizzone. Alpha, our main character, while symbolic of all immigrants struggling against the odds, readily engages the reader with his own set of specifics. In this way, the creative team truly gives a face to a problem demanding our attention.

Page excerpt from ALPHA

It was never an easy dream to fulfill but our hero, Alpha, finds he has no choice. Like so many others before him, Alpha is compelled to flee his homeland in search of a better life. In his particular case, he is leaving his home in Côte d’Ivoire to reunite with his wife and son who fled ahead of him and are supposed to be living in Paris with his sister-in-law. Alpha joins a vast number of Africans from varied regions united in plans to outwit ever-tighter border security, and find the right port of exit along the northern coast.

There are a number of detours that Alpha must take on his journey. Each side trip suggests the end of the road. But Alpha is quite persistent and his hopes never dampen even when he ends up in the role of the much despised human smuggler. At least, he fully appreciates that he is part of an necessary evil. That said, whenever he confronts a dilemma in his work, he can’t help but side with the migrant. He simply lacks that killer instinct to make that maximum or, in some cases, only profit. Many of his clients have been accepted on credit that he is unlikely to ever collect on.

ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Thanks to Barroux’s highly emotive artwork, the reader is quickly hooked in to what reads as a series of diary entries. The frenetic quality of the art is matched by the conversational tone in Bessora’s writing. Adding another layer is Sarah Ardizzone’s translation from the French which further unites the sensibilities of illustrator and writer. All in all, the results, with their raw sense of urgency, are quite captivating. Alpha has gone on to become an international award–winning graphic novel supported by Amnesty International and Le Korsa, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving human lives in Senegal.

A migrant once stood a much better chance of crossing a border to safer ground but not now. Once, a migrant could have a reasonable chance at mercy but not now. The fate of the immigrant is in crisis across the globe, including in the United States of America. Books like Alpha help to educate the public and help to build toward a safer and more merciful world.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is a 128-page, full color, hardcover now available. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Bellevue Literary Press.

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Filed under Africa, Amnesty International, Bellevue Literary Press, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Human Rights, Human trafficking, Immigration

Review: RED NOTICE by Bill Browder

RED NOTICE by Bill Browder

Russiagate and the Magnitsky Act have become inextricably linked in the news. We may even reach the point where the average person readily makes the connection. This is certainly the stuff of mainstream media now and that’s a good thing. One person who is definitely an authority on the subject is investor Bill Browder. If you were to read just one book on what is going on in Russia today, it is Browder’s “Red Notice.” The full title is “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice,” published by Simon & Schuster. Keep in mind, the devil is in the details–and these are some diabolical details.

For this story, the one person you will never forget, once you know his story, is Sergei Magnitsky. What happened to him is hardly a new story but a story that reverberates as more and more people become aware. You can think of it, in some sense, as similar to the story of Emmett Till. Once you know his story, you never forget it. See what I mean? In a nutshell, we are living through the complex aftermath of the murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

Bill Browder’s book is so well-paced that, by the time he reaches the details about Sergei Magnitsky, the reader is prepared with a sense of how high finance works (in this case, by the seat of one’s pants) and how Russia works (it can get very dark). What makes this book so readable is Browder’s keen understanding of human nature. He is often self-deprecating and strikes the right tone. If you are looking for an absorbing read, this is it. Browder tells you everything about how he stumbled upon investing in post-Soviet Russia. That alone, is fascinating. Browder did so well with his hedge fund that he became Russia’s biggest foreign investor. The new oligarch regime took notice. Putin took notice.

The Russian response to Browder was, first, to discredit him. And it would escalate from there, especially since Browder was more than happy to push back on being bullied. The Browder team went after the oligarchs and Russian government corruption like there was no tomorrow. That led to the exposing of an outlandish tax fraud scheme: a $230 million tax rebate reverting back to Putin and friends. It was one of Bill Browder’s attorneys, Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered this fraud. His reward was to be taken prisoner and, for all intents and purposes, handed down a death sentence. Magnitsky’s health steadily declined and, instead of getting medical attention, he was repeatedly beaten and tortured. When he died from this treatment, the government denied any involvement. Instead, Magnitsky and Browder would be blamed for the corruption scandal.

But the level of corruption we are talking about is much bigger than any casual observer might hazard to guess. To that end, Browder and his team created videos that make it a lot easier to digest. There are some key government henchmen involved that, while making meager salaries, managed to live like royalty:

Seeking justice for Sergei Magnitsky led Bill Browder to Washington, D.C. on a mission to enact legislation that would punish the network of people involved with his death. In the process, we get quite an insightful look behind the scenes. In 2010, the Obama administration was determined to improve relations with Russia. The State Department did not look favorably upon anything to strain relations. That was the general tone–but there were detractors to the status quo like U.S. Senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin. It was Sen. Cardin who began work on creating a bill. Now, Browder still needed a heavy hitter in the Senate and he found that support with Sen. John McCain. A number of political twists and turns still lay ahead but it would ultimately lead to a law with some real teeth, a law that could eventually ensnare Putin–unless, of course, this law were somehow made to go away.

The Magnitsky Act is very straightforward. Originally, its intent was to place sanctions on Magnitsky’s killers and then it was broadened to cover all Russian human rights offenders: take away their assets in the U.S. as well as their visas to the U.S. Simple as that. The bill went through various hurdles and ultimately was signed into law by Pres. Obama in 2012. If you are still new to the Magnitsky Act, you will be hearing more and more about it. Keep in mind that Putin has done everything in his power to discredit both Sergei Magnitsky and Bill Browder. After all, put two and two together: if you follow the letter of the law, the Magnitsky Act would surely apply to Putin.

Shortly after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Putin retaliated by banning Americans from adopting Russian children. This becomes complicated as it also involves numerous children with special medical needs. As you may recall, and how could you not, Donald Trump’s son, Don Jr., met with a Russian lawyer who was essentially lobbying for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act. The excuse Don Jr. uses is that they were actually talking about Russian adoption. But, if you understand the context, talking about Russian adoption equates to talking about the Magnitsky Act. Any scheme to repeal the Magnitsky Act is now dead, right? But these are very strange times we live in. That said, Browder’s book could not be more relevant.

RED NOTICE is a 416-page book available in hardcover, paperback, in audio, and e-book. For more details, visit Simon & Schuster right here. And for more information on Bill Browder, visit him right here. And, if you really want to dig deeper, visit the Russian Untouchables website right here.

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Filed under Bill Browder, Book Reviews, Books, Human Rights, Russia, Russiagate, Sergei Magnitsky, Simon & Schuster

Review: ‘La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico’

La-Lucha-Verso-Books

A war zone that may not be on your radar: the border state of Chihuahua and its city of Juarez. It is the site of more murders than war-torn Afghanistan. And ninety-seven percent of these killings remain unsolved. This is thanks to the inextricable link between drug cartels and official corruption. But thanks to human rights activists, these crimes will not fade away. Leaders like Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro won’t allow that to happen. “La Lucha,” published by Verso Books, is their story.

Lucha-Castro-Human-Rights-2015

Edited by Adam Shapiro, head of campaigns at the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, the goal of the book is to put a face to a crisis. Written and drawn by Jon Sack, you have here a series of profiles and reportage that have the urgency of dispatches from the scene. And the art adds to the immediacy of each story.

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

There are all compelling stories to be found here. One example is the story of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz and her daughter, Rubi Marisol. Rubi was murdered by her boyfriend, Sergio Barraza. It was a clear-cut case. However, Sergio Barraza would never be found guilty simply for the fact that he was a member of the Zetas drug ring and that made him instantly untouchable. Rubi’s mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, led a fight to bring Sergio Barraza to justice. She was able to repeatedly track him down when authorities were not. Sergio Barraza was eventually slain in a shoot-out in 2012 with the Mexican Army. But during Marisela’s struggle for justice, the Mexican authorities, from the local level to the federal level, would not get involved. In the end, Marisela was killed for her efforts. This is quite an involved story. An excellent examination of it from Borderland Beat is right here.

Verso-Books-Chihuahua-Mexican-drug-cartels

If Americans are sensitive to Iraq and Afghanistan, then they should surely take notice of Mexico. Yes, if you’re looking for the most bloody war zone, all you have to do is look south of the U.S. border. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s murder was captured on video (starts at 1:05). Trust me, you don’t need to know a word of Spanish to appreciate the above video. “Él le disparó en la cabeza.” translates to “He shot her in the head.” Just in case, you need that clarity. Cultural and language barriers should never be an excuse for not understanding. That is what this book breaks free from in a very compelling read.

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

“La Lucha” is an exemplary example of the comics medium. A book like this one proves how complex issues can be presented in a clear and concise manner that can benefit people in a myriad of ways. It can jump start conversations that require a number of facts that are not always easy to follow. It can make a difference. It can even save lives.

“La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” is published by Verso Books and is available as of March 31, 2015. You can find it here, here, here, and here.

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Filed under Human Rights, Mexico, Verso Books, War