Category: Human Rights (page 1 of 4)

We Shall Overspread

While there is a big debate in the US about the old monuments, Russia is erecting new ones. Starting with the eye sore of a Kalashnikov statue in Moscow that had a bit of a glitch of sporting a German rifle instead of the famous Russian export and finishing with a “monument to manspreading” aka Russian Emperor Alexander the Third in Crimea’s Yalta. While manspreading is a great metaphor for the “Crimea reunification”, let’s put aside the Ukrainian side of the issue and take a closer look at the schmock du jour.

Alexander the Third statue is seated somewhat uncomfortably on what looks like a pile of manure, with his hands on a sword and the words “Russia’s only allies are its army and fleet” engraved on the base of the monument. During the unveiling ceremony that was attended by President Putin, the emperor was lauded as the “Peacemaker” who

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Democratic Weakness and the Secessionist Impulse

This is a guest post from Katy Collin, who is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Brookings Institution and an adjunct instructor at American University’s School of International Service. Her research is on the use of referendums in peace processes.

In the last few weeks, international borders have been challenged around the world. Secessionists and great powers are undermining the norm of territorial integrity, or border fixity. In the Middle East, East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and in Europe, international boundaries are being pushed from within and between states.

Respect for international boundaries has been one of the primary sources of stability in the post-World War II world. It has not been legitimate to conquer neighboring states and seize territory as a mechanism for dispute resolution or payment of international debt since the end of that war. Border fixity has contributed to the sharp decline in wars between states.

On the other hand, defending arbitrary international borders, particularly following de-colonization, may be one of the primary drivers of wars within states. Strong borders may protect weak states and promote fragility. Since World War II, about half of the wars and most of the violence globally have been associated in some way with struggles to alter borders. As much as the post-War international order has been built on border fixity, it has also established a normative case for the self-determination of peoples. Continue reading

The Book Nook: The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs

Our second Bridging the Gap Book Nook entry comes from Sarah Stroup of Middlebury College and Wendy Wong of the University of Toronto, who discuss their new book The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs (Cornell, 2017).

You Are Fake News!

Yes, you have heard a lot about it. A German version of the ISA just featured a roundtable entitled: ‘Reclaiming the facts: analysis of international politics in the age of fake news and post-facts’. There has been a lot of panic over the new era of alternative facts.  Let me assure you: fake news and post facts are not new. Social networks are not new. We all have seen and read about them before. And they are not only as American as George Washington’s cherry tree. They are old and they are universal.

Here’s an example.

Once upon a time, there was a bankrupt opportunist from a notable family who urgently needed cash to pay his financier. No, he didn’t run to the Russian oligarchs (they were hard to reach at that point in time); instead, he decided to avoid the debt by killing his banker in the middle of 5th  avenue. When he was brought to court, his lawyer thought of a brilliant defense: instead of claiming that the accused was innocent, he went all the way to acknowledge the guilt of the criminal. The reason he killed the banker was allegedly his way to take revenge on the banker’s own nefarious deed of a child’s murder. The court was so baffled by this defense that the opportunist turned murderer walked free and the fake news about the boy’s murder assumed a life of its own. The year was 1150 and I am talking about the murder of William of Norwich, one of the first recorded accusations of ritual murder that still serves as an inspiration to Neo-Nazis and Anti-Semites around the world.

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Darkness Falls in Cambodia

This Bridging the Gap post is by BTG co-director Naazneen H. Barma, who also serves as Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Hun Sen, the longtime leader of Cambodia, has used almost every tool in the authoritarian playbook to consolidate his grip on power over the past three decades. Things came to a head early this month when one of Cambodia’s two premier English-language newspapers, The Cambodia Daily, was forced closed after being blindsided by the government with a $6 billion tax bill that it couldn’t possibly pay. Rendering an extraordinary confluence of dictatorial strategies, the newspaper’s final issue on September 4, 2017, headlined with the news of the midnight arrest of the leader of the country’s only real opposition party.

The Cambodia Daily, although a relatively young newspaper—started in 1993 under the civil society opening facilitated by the United Nations—turns out to have been the training ground for a number of prominent commentators on the political scene in Southeast Asia and beyond. Moving tributes to the paper and its tenacious role in Cambodia’s nascent and now troubled democracy have poured in. Julia Wallace captured beautifully how the newspaper’s aspirations and fate have mirrored those of the country’s politics.

The Cambodia Daily’s final issue fronted, as pictured above, with Kem Sokha, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, being led away from his home in handcuffs on charges of treason. This was only the latest move in the inexorable escalation of Hun Sen’s actions against his political foes. One major opponent after another has been swatted away with bribery, violent intimidation, and threats of exile. A once vibrant civil society scene, if still in its infancy, has been dulled to wary unease with similar tactics. Civilian protests about issues ranging from unfair working conditions in the country’s sweatshops to corrupt land grabs lining elite pockets and displacing the poor have been clamped down upon as Hun Sen inveighs against “color revolutions.” The Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have been silenced in the country; and the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute has been kicked out.

How did this happen in a nation that seemed one of the most promising harbingers of peace and liberal progress in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War? Sadly, the international community’s attempt at post-conflict peacebuilding in Cambodia is at least partly to blame. Continue reading

On Catalonia’s referendum: Groupthink and strategic essentialism as the enemies of democracy

Last Sunday, I was having a walk around the city centre of Cambridge when I saw a demonstration of around 50 people rallying for their right to vote in a referendum for independence from Spain. They were joining other demonstrations of Catalan separatists that took place all around Europe and in Spain on that same day. The Catalan government and a separatist majority in the regional parliament seek to organise a referendum on October 1st in order to decide whether Catalonia will become a republic independent from the rest of Spain. Non-separatists political parties oppose or criticize the referendum because they consider that it has been imposed unilaterally to half of the Catalan population that wishes to remain in Spain. Continue reading

Myanmar: The Responsibility to Protect is Working Exactly As It Was Supposed To

This is a guest post from Aidan Hehir, a Reader in International Relations at the University of Westminster. He has published widely in a number of academic journals including International Security, The Journal of Peace Research, Ethics and International Affairs, and Cooperation and Conflict. He is author/editor of a number of books including, Protecting Human Rights in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2017); Libya, The Responsibility to Protect, and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); The Responsibility to Protect: Rhetoric, Reality and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

In recent weeks, the desperate plight of the Rohingya fleeing from the Rakhine province into Bangladesh, has received sustained international media coverage. Many reports from inside Myanmar have attested to the brutality of the national military and their commission of egregious atrocities; indeed the UN Secretary General recently declared that “ethnic cleansing” was underway.

These scenes have, naturally, led to expressions of outrage and revulsion. In particular, some have claimed that the situation, and particularly the paltry international response, constitutes a violation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) as agreed by states at the 2005 World Summit. In fact, the situation is a textbook case of R2P working exactly as it was supposed to; it is not that states or the UN Security Council have failed to apply R2P, it is simply that once again R2P has proved to be a failure. Continue reading

Law and the Post-Conflict Protection of Women from Violence

The following is a guest post by Dr. Jillienne Haglund, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Haglund is a contributor to a forthcoming special issue in Conflict Management and Peace Science on gender and political violence. All of the articles in the special issue are now available on Online First and several are currently available to download for free.

 

In her 2015 statement, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bungura noted that conflict-related sexual violence is “not about sex; it is about violence and power,” further noting that the effect of such crimes is to silence victims. If one effect of sexual violence during conflict is to silence women victims, what efforts can states make to break the silence and address this devastating crime? After her 2015 mission to Colombia, Bungura released a statement detailing progress made in Colombia’s response to nearly 50 years of civil conflict plagued by widespread sexual violence. Particularly notable is Colombia’s adoption of groundbreaking legislation, including Law 1719, aimed at enhancing the status of sexual violence survivors so they can receive reparations, psychosocial support, and free medical care, as well as explicitly recognizing that sexual violence constitutes a crime against humanity. While challenges still remain, including the consistent implementation of laws and policies on the ground, legal reforms represent an important step in addressing conflict-related sexual violence against women.

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Fall of Giants

Footage of toppled Confederate statues all over cities in the US reminded me of the events my homeland went through a couple of decades ago and might go through again in some years. Some experts already compared the toppling of Confederate statues with “Leninopad” – razing of Lenin statues in Ukraine, but renaming streets and bringing down monuments was a la mode in newly independent Russia as well. Most Westerners might be familiar with the iconic footage of Felix Dzerzhinsky’s downfall in 1991 among the jubilant crowds gathered in front of the KGB building. The infamous founder of NKVD lost his base and never came back to the square in front of the now FSB. For the record though, my music school still has the Dzerzhinsky street address and his monument nearby sports fresh flowers every now and then. But I am from the Deep South that consistently voted for the Communist Party after the collapse of the Soviet Union until Putin managed to sway the electorate his way. That Dzerzhinsky is not going anywhere.

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Two legs or One. It has nothing to do with planets- just pants.

Sometimes when we look for a rallying call to join us as humans around a common cause or to show us our equal vulnerability, we say  these trite sayings like “ Common-sense says that all men put their pants on one leg at a time.” This is supposed to reassure us that we are all equal in the most “animalistic” of ways (because you know, animals wear pants).

Here is the problem and the reality though: I cannot buy jeans that are not skinny jeans… shocking. What does that mean for the one-leg mantra? Well… as a woman- and a woman living in a world that tells most women that they have to be attractive… I can’t actually help but buy skinny jeans. SO! How do I—as feminist, as subject, as object—put my pants on? Truth be told… I put them on TWO LEGS at a time.

Where does this pseudo rant come from? From watching the decline of subtle thinking about gender, sex, and equality.  After witnessing the tweet storm from President Trump about the ban on transgender military service, I think it is equally high time that we encourage reflection on all of the ways in which we as a society privilege a particular way of thinking about what is “normal.”  For as Foucault teaches us, what is “normal” is merely the norm of behavior that coerces us into acting according to someone else’s standards.  We self-censure because we want to be acceptable to the rest of society.  We coerce ourselves into being something that we are not, merely for the approval or the acceptance by the rest.

It is not merely women that face this same fate, but men as well.   Sex and gender become ropes in which we bind ourselves.   Thus when we start to insist that all men ought to X, and all women ought to Y, we force a particular world view on those whose lives sit at intersections.  Intersectionality, heterogeneity, and diversity are actually what produces progress.   Beyond the brute fact that this sort of diversity allows for physical evolution of a species, we should also acknowledge that it produces beauty.  As Plato reminds us that democracy is the “most beautiful” of all constitutions, like a “many colored cloak” because it has the most diverse population of people, so too does diversity of roles, tastes, pursuits, and genders in our society.  Gender is not binary, though we see it most clearly when we put them in opposition.  Gender is a practice, a performance, and a social construct.  To prohibit or to “ban” a gender from a job is not only a violation of one’s basic rights to freedom of expression and speech, but to undercut the basic values upon which this country was founded.

So the next time someone wants to say “men are from mars, women are from venus,” or that “we all put our pants on one leg at a time,” I hope that you reflect on the fact that these seemingly innocuous tropes shackle us.  For it is not true that sex determines how one thinks or acts.  It is not true that all humans put their pants on one leg at a time.  Nope, I, as a woman who identifies with femininity, try to buy jeans that fit me in a feminine way.  But due to some interesting choices by society, that is by men and women in the majority, some pants force us to sit down, and put our pants on two legs at a time.

 

#MH17

Three years ago, on this day, the Malaysian Airliner MH17 flight from Amsterdam to Kuala-Lumpur was shot down over Ukraine. 298 people died. In October 2015, the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) concluded that the airliner was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine. These findings were also confirmed in September 2016 by a Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT). The Russian government disputes these findings.

Let’s go back 3 years to the Russian mass media  and examine what passed as “truth” about the crash.

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Trump and the Russian Money Trail

This is a guest post from Seva Gunitsky, an associate professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His book Aftershocks: Great Powers and Domestic Reforms in the Twentieth Century was recently published by Princeton University Press.

To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.

In the endless pursuit of the Russia-Trump collusion story, we sometimes forget a key element: this whole mess began with money, not with election interference. The connections between Trump and Russia were forged years ago, well before he developed any serious political inspirations, and were focused on the shady schemes of Russian oligarchs and their dealings with Trump. Understanding the roots of the collusion means setting aside the usual narrative – Putin wants to destroy American democracy – and following the money first.

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Uniting for Peace in Syria: Radical Move or Modest Proposal?

This is a guest post by Betcy Jose, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Colorado-Denver and Lucy McGuffey, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Colorado-Denver.

In season 3 of House of Cards, the US Ambassador to the UN introduces a “Uniting for Peace” resolution in the General Assembly to deploy peacekeepers to the Jordan Valley, bypassing a Russian Security Council veto on a similar measure.  The Russian Ambassador’s response? “Going around the Security Council is a radical move.”

Could the UN consider such a “radical” move to overcome Security Council paralysis when it comes to the Syrian conflict?  After all, the Security Council has failed to pass resolutions condemning the use of banned chemical weapons there, let alone authorizing a peacekeeping mission.  Its inability to respond to the numerous atrocities has resurrected doubts about its effectiveness and reignited debates about Council reform.  Furthermore, growing frustration with it may have contributed to the US unilaterally launching missile strikes, potentially undermining norms ensuring global stability and peace.  Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, told the Council before the strikes, “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.” Yet unilateral action has its own drawbacks. A Uniting for Peace process could provide a third way. Continue reading

It’s Not Easy Being Green

A dilute alcoholic solution of Brilliant Green (Viridis nitentis spirituosa) is a topical antiseptic, effective against gram-positive bacteria, also known under a Russian colloquial name zelyonka. If you grew up in the Soviet Union and ever had chicken pox, zelyonka turned you into a green-spotted leopard for at least a week: it’s hard to get it out of your skin. Brilliant green has, however, some serious safety issues: when ingested it can induce vomiting and contact with eyes can lead  to grave injuries, even blindness. This is what a prominent Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny learned the hard way this week: after unknown men splashed zelyonka into his face he had to be hospitalized.

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Morality matters: What the United debacle, the Pepsi ad, and Bill O’Reilly have in common

Social media was abuzz last week with three big missteps by major corporations. Pepsi unveiled a failed television advertisement intended to render homage to the social protest movement in the U.S. but that instead trivialized the protests and appropriated their imagery for financial gain; the New York Times revealed allegations of sexual harassment against Fox host Bill O’Reilly and that the host and Fox paid out nearly $13 million to five women in exchange for their silence; and United airlines dragged a boarded passenger, David Dao, off a plane in order to allow its staff to catch a flight to Louisville. It is tempting to think that the moral outrage expressed on social media was a fleeting fit of slacktivism with little purpose. But, it is more than that. Continue reading

Legal Context and Government Defendants: Some Thoughts from Travel Bans, Patents, and Aircraft Subsidy Cases

This guest post is by Todd Tucker, PhD, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a research think tank connected to the FDR Presidential Library. He was previously a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge. His research focuses on judicial politics, international political economy, and qualitative methods, and has been featured in Journal of International Dispute Settlement, International Studies Perspectives, and elsewhere. Follow him @toddntucker.

How much does the broader socioeconomic context matter in legal determinations involving sovereign defendants? Recent decisions from the Ninth Circuit of U.S. federal courts, World Bank arbitration arm, and World Trade Organization (WTO) illustrate a variety of approaches, with differing implications for policymaking.

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Ethical Robots on the Battlefield?

Every day it seems we hear more about the advancements of artificial intelligence (AI), the amazing progress in robotics, and the need for greater technological improvements in defense to “offset” potential adversaries.   When all three of these arguments get put together, there appears to be some sort of magic alchemy that results in widely fallacious, and I would say pernicious, claims about the future of war.  Much of this has to do, ultimately, with a misunderstanding about the limitations of technology as well as an underestimation of human capacities.   The prompt for this round of techno-optimism debunking is yet another specious claim about how robotic soldiers will be “more ethical” and thus “not commit rape […] on the battlefield.”

There are actually three lines of thought here that need unpacking.   The first involves the capabilities of AI with relation to “judgment.”  As our above philosopher contends, “I don’t think it would take that much for robot soldiers to be more ethical.  They can make judgements more quickly, they’re not fearful like human beings and fear often leads people making less than optional decisions, morally speaking [sic].”  This sentiment about speed and human emotion (or lack thereof) has underpinned much of the debate about autonomous weapons for the last decade (if not more).  Dr. Hemmingsen’s views are not original.  However, such views are not grounded in reality.

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Trump Reminded Me Why I Am An Academic

This is a guest post by Idean Salehyan. Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Texas at Dallas

“Why did you become an academic?” is a question that I’m frequently asked.  For me, my path into this profession is pretty clear.  I was about fourteen and a freshman in high school in the early 1990s.  A few of my friends joined the school chapter of Amnesty International, and I figured I’d go along.  My world was changed.   I learned of people being slaughtered because their ethnicity; political activists imprisoned for their beliefs; widespread torture and sexual assault; and refugees flooding across borders in search of safety.  This was the era of massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda.  CNN broadcast murder while the world just watched.  The comfortable space of my childhood ended, and I began on a journey of human rights activism.

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Black History Month

Do you think this person is white?

If you are from Europe or North America, you might have said yes. If you are from Russia, you might have described this person as black. Most IR peeps are familiar with the fluid perceptions of whiteness and blackness that exist in the word: Sandor Gilman wrote, for instance, how Irish immigrants in the US in the beginning of the century were often considered black. The irony of blackness could not be more poignant in Russia: the famous Russian Armenian actor Frunzik Mkrtchan whose picture I put above is literally Caucasian, because he comes from the South Caucasus region in the European South of Russia. The ones who would describe him as black would also very likely to adhere to “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” slogan and in worst case scenarios would have tried to kill him because he “doesn’t look Slavic enough”.

Derogatory terms like ‘kavkazcy’ (Caucasians), and ‘chyornye’ (blacks) have become ubiquitous in everyday speech in Russia, while Russian mass media employs euphemisms such as ‘litsa neslavyanskoy vneshnoti’ (non-Slavic looking people) when it comes to the identification of crime suspects. A xenophobic discursive representation applies to non-Slavic looking individuals irrespective of their citizenship, even though former USSR citizens can seek Russian nationality under a simplified naturalisation procedure, according to the Federal Law on Citizenship. Apart from “Caucasians” who are often discursively connected to terrorism and ethnic criminality, there isn’t much love for former Soviet citizens from Central Asia. If you are not Ivan Drago or Natasha, you might have a lot of trouble even renting an apartment.

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WPTPN: Outlier or Laggard? Canada’s missing Neo-Nationalists

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Stewart Prest is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. His research focuses on civil conflict and non-violent resistance, and the role of local institutions in shaping patterns of contentious politics. He can be reached on Twitter @StewartPrest.

I. The Global Rise of Neo-Nationalism

Though its expression varies markedly from country to country, two aspects recur with remarkable regularity in the new populist nationalisms now sweeping much of the developed world: 1) a newfound, or perhaps rediscovered, suspicion of outsiders that often veers well into the territory of xenophobia and outright racism, and 2) a powerful new distrust of certain aspects of globalization and those who seem to benefit from it. Two different themes, but they co-occur to a remarkable degree. When they do, the result is often coloured by xenophobia and explicit racism. For ease of use, for the purposes of this essay I’ll refer to the occurrence of the two of them together as “neo-nationalism,” as some others have done.

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