Category: Human Rights (page 2 of 4)

WPTPN: Civil Society Resistance in Liberal Democracies in a Time of Rising Non-Accountability

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Dr Cynthia Banham, a University of Queensland Post-Doctoral Fellow at the School of Political Science and International Studies. She is also a Visitor at the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) at the Australian National University. Her forthcoming book, Liberal Democracies and the Torture of Their Citizens, will be published by Hart Publishing in 2017. She can be reached via e-mail and Twitter. Cynthia would like to thank Professor Susan Sell for her comments on an earlier version of this blog post. 

Political accountability, we are taught to believe, is a defining feature of liberal democracies. A basic relationship of accountability lies at the heart of democratic government: citizens elect their political representatives, and these representatives become accountable to voters. Yet political accountability, as we have traditionally understood it to exist in liberal democracy, is under stress.

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WPTPN: How Vladimir Putin Became the Oracle of the East

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Emily Holland and Hadas Aron, PhD Candidates in Political Science at Columbia University. Holland’s research focuses on energy politics, political development, Russian politics and East/Central Europe. Aron studies right wing populism and nationalism with a regional focus on Eastern Europe, the United States, and Israel. They blog at Commenting Together.

Immediately following the annexation of Crimea and the tragedy of flight MH17, the West largely regarded Vladimir Putin as a dangerous international pariah. But two years later, following the sweeping success of demagogues world-wide, Putin has emerged as a new oracle of the East, leading the charge for the new wave of illiberalism. Widely praised by US President Elect Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey’s Erdogan, India’s Modi, and Hungary’s Orban, amongst others, Putin’s brand of strongman leadership and exclusionary nationalism is succeeding like never before.

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Ice Thin Memory

Usually when news about Russia makes it to American late night shows, Russia either gets hit by a meteorite, or it annexes part of a neighboring country. Either way, it is illustrated by Putin’s bare-chested photograph on a horse. This time, however, neither celestial bodies, nor Putin’s nipples were at stake. Several high-profile newspapers and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah reported on…  an ice-skating dance routine.

‘Wife of Putin’s ally’ [putting aside the whole sexist tradition of defining a woman through her male companion] was widely criticized for her Holocaust-themed ice-dancing routine. Even though the press secretary of the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities said in a commentary that the story didn’t have anything to it and there was no reason to get upset over the dance, as the Holocaust has been used as a theme in many art projects. The champion ice-skater Tatyana Navka was also surprised at the negative reactions and insisted that the routine was done ‘to remind our children about that horrible time’.

No offence, American media, but you kind of live in a bubble that does not include Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitic crime. Oh, sorry, now you no longer do. Russia is a different story. Holocaust was never really a part of Russia’s collective memory. Most monuments erected during the Soviet era on the sites of Jewish massacres were dedicated to civilians while their Jewish identity was brushed over. Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz in 1945 and Soviet citizens knew about concentration camps, but the Jewish identity of the victims was downplayed. Through the works of Ilya Ehrenburg, Evgeny Yevtushenko or Vassily Grossmann some people were familiar with mass executions of Jews. But these works were far from mainstream and were a protest against Soviet governmental policy of hushing up the ‘final solution’. This is yet another example of ‘warped mourning’ over the victims of wars, famines, repressions and purges in Russia.

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WPTPN: Lessons from Turkey: Populist Nationalism and the Threat to Democracy

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Gizem Zencirci, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College. Her research interests include political Islam, neoliberalism and social policy, and Middle East politics. 

The rise of the AK Party in Turkey and its consolidation of power is a case with generalizable lessons about the rise of populist nationalism elsewhere.

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Ideas, Norms and Nonmaterial Factors in International Relations: A response to Krasner

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of International Organization, the editorial team asked former editors of the journal to reflect on their time overseeing the journal as well as on the most significant articles published during their tenure. I recently read Stephen Krasner’s reflection and was surprised by a number of conclusions he draws regarding scholarship on ideas, norms and nonmaterial factors in international relations.

Starting with Peter Haas’ “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” one of the two most cited articles published during Krasner’s tenure as editor, Krasner argues that articles on nonmaterial factors

These papers, however, and others by scholars such as Martha Finnemore, Kathryn Sikkink, and Michael Barnett (who did not publish in International Organization during my tenure as editor but have under other editors), have not generated a research program, at least not in the United States, that is as robust as those associated with analyses of material well-being and power.

He continues

Given that ideology or beliefs that are not directly generated by concerns about physical power and material well-being play such a prominent role in many of the challenges faced by the United States and other industrialized countries, the relative absence of scholarly concern with such questions is striking.

These are provocative statements given that the authors he lists have generated scholarship that has spawned productive research agendas in numerous areas of international politics from the study of international organizations, to NGOs, to human rights and security. Let’s explore Krasner’s claims that research on nonmaterial factors is “not robust” and “absent” in international relations. Continue reading

Could the Olympics Help Human Rights?

Grab your popcorn – opening ceremonies for Rio 2016 are tonight! It’s my favorite part of the Olympics; I really could do without the whole “sport” thing that comes after.  And, one of my favorite parts of tonight’s opening ceremonies are when the various country teams get to be announced: the parade of nations. I love the outfits, the flags, the background stories, the family members crying, and the look on the faces of all the athletes who are in the midst of a dream realized. It’s too much and, much to my family’s chagrin, I probably will be crying by the end of it.

Until quite recently, I hadn’t really thought about all the interesting international relations topics that are connected to the Olympics.  As someone who isn’t athletic and has never really paid attention to any competitive sporting event, the Olympics were just something that took over my regularly scheduled programming.  However, I’m now coming to realize that there are a myriad of IR puzzles and possible research questions connected to these sporting mega-events and to the international sporting organizations (ISOs) that run them.

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The Chilcot Inquiry on Civilian Casualties

The publication of the long-awaited Chilcot Report on Britain’s role in the Iraq War last week produced a flurry of activity, with journalists desperately skimming through the 2.6m words within the three hours they were allocated prior to full publication. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of their attention was focused on whether or not Tony Blair could be held legally and morally culpable for the chaos that has ensued since the invasion back in 2003. And despite fears that it would be a whitewash, the report was pretty damning in its assessment of both the justifications for war and its execution. Amongst its key findings, the report found that Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the case for war was presented with ‘a certainty which was not justified’, the intelligence was flawed and often went unchallenged, advice about the possibility of sectarian violence was ignored and post-war planning was described as being ‘wholly inadequate’. Crucially, the report also concludes that the ‘peaceful options for disarmament had not been exhausted’ and the war was ‘not a last resort’.

Reactions to the report have been pretty incredible, with The Guardian describing it as ‘an unprecedented, devastating indictment of how a prime minister was allowed to make decisions by discarding all pretence at cabinet government, subverting the intelligence agencies, and making exaggerated claims about threats to Britain’s national security’ and The New York Times arguing that the ‘inquiry’s verdict on the planning and conduct of British military involvement in Iraq was withering, rejecting Mr. Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen’. But what has been largely ignored in all the furore is the inquiry’s scathing critique of the government’s attitude towards civilian casualties. Given that the discussion on collateral damage is the last section of a twelve volume report, nestled between a chapter on the welfare of service personnel and an annex on the history of Iraq from 1583 to 1960, it is perhaps not surprisingly that there has been little discussion of its findings. But it is well-worth looking at its conclusion because they reveal a lot of about how civilian casualties were framed, why the government was so reluctant to count the dead and how it perceived the data collected by other organisations, such as the Iraq Body Count.

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Improvised Explosive Robots

A common argument made in favor of the use of robotics to deliver (lethal) force is that the violence used is mediated in such a way that it naturally de-escalates a situation.  In some versions, this is due to the fact that the “robot doesn’t feel emotions,” and so is not subject to fear or anger.  In other strands, the argument is that due to distance in time and space, human operators are able to take in more information and make better judgments, including to use less than lethal or nonlethal force.  These debates have, up until now, mostly occurred with regards to armed conflict.  However, with the Dallas police chief’s decision to use a bomb disposal robot to deliver lethal force to the Dallas gunman, we are now at a new dimension of this discussion: domestic policing.

Now, I am not privy to all of the details of the Dallas police force, nor am I going to argue that the decision to use lethal force against Micah Johnson was not justified.  The ethics of self- and other-defense would argue that the Mr. Johnson’s actions and continued posturing of a lethal and imminent threat meant that officers were justified in using lethal force to protect themselves and the wider community.   Moreover, state and federal law allows officers to use “reasonable” amounts of force, and not merely the minimal amount of force to carry out their duties.   Thus I am not going to argue the ethics or the legality of the use of a robot to deliver a lethal blast to an imminent threat.

What is of concern, however, is how the arguments used in favor of increased use of robotics in situations of policing (or war) fail to take into consideration psychological and empirical facts.  If we take these into account, what we might glean is that the trend actually goes in the other direction: that the availability and use of robotics may actually escalate the level of force used by officers.

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Distance and Death: Lethal Autonomous Weapons and Force Protection

In 1941 Heinrich Himmler, one of the most notorious war criminals and mass murders, was faced with an unexpected problem: he could not keep using SS soldiers to murder the Jewish population because the SS soldiers were  breaking psychologically.   As August Becker, a member of the Nazi gas-vans, recalls,

“Himmler wanted to deploy people who had become available as a result of the suspension of the euthanasia programme, and who, like me, were specialists in extermination by gassing, for the large-scale gassing operations in the East which were just beginning. The reason for this was that the men in charge of the Einsatzgruppen [SS] in the East were increasingly complaining that the firing squads could not cope with the psychological and moral stress of the mass shootings indefinitely. I know that a number of members of these squads were themselves committed to mental asylums and for this reason a new and better method of killing had to be found.”

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Hostile Intent: Civilian Casualties and the Politics of Killing

Tackling Tough CallsThe expectation that civilians should be protected from the worst excesses of war is traditionally viewed as a moral or legal restraint, moderating the kind of violence that can be inflicted on the battlefield. But the shift towards counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq and its emphasis on population-centric warfare called for a radical rethink in how civilian casualties are framed. Rather than simply viewing them as the tragic but inevitable side-effect of military operations, civilian casualties were now seen as a ‘strategic setback’ that could jeopardise the overall success of campaign. In his 2011 tactical directive, Gen. John R. Allen stated that he was ‘absolutely committed to eliminating the tragic waste of human life amongst the law-abiding citizens of Afghanistan’, reminding soldiers that ‘every civilian casualty is a detriment to our interests’. Gen. Stanley McChrystal was equally adamant about the need to reduce civilian harm, insisting that coalition forces try to ‘avoid the trap of winning tactical victories – but suffering strategic defeats – by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage’.

Concerned about alienating the local population, the military introduced a number of measures to reduce the number of civilians killed, limiting its reliance on deadly airstrikes and controversial night raids whilst encouraging troops to exercise greater ‘tactical patience’ when dealing with locals. Data collected by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan suggests that these changes did have a positive impact on civilian harm, with deaths caused by pro-government forces falling from 828 in 2008 to 341 in 2013. As Neta Crawford argues in her recent book, ‘when the United States perceived the harm to civilians as posing a political-military problem, it attempted and succeeded in decreasing collateral damage deaths’ (see also). But a new report from the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) raises some important questions about the protection of civilians during this period, criticising the vague, unclear and imprecise language used to justify certain deaths (see also). In particular, it warns that conceptual flaws in the standing rules of engagement (SROE), combined with poor application in the field, resulted in ‘erroneous determinations of hostile intent’. To put it simply, civilians were killed and injured because soldiers mistook perfectly innocent behaviour as a threat to their safety.

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Autonomous Weapons and Incentives for Oppression

Much of the present debate over autonomous weapons systems (AWS) focuses on their use in war. On one side, scholars argue that AWS will make war more inhumane (Asaro, 2012), that the decision to kill must be a human being’s choice (Sharkey, 2010), or that they will make war more likely because conflict will be less costly to wage with them (Sparrow, 2009). On the other side, scholars argue that AWS will make war more humane, as the weapons will be greater at upholding the principles of distinction and proportionality (Müller and Simpson, 2014), as well as providing greater force protection (Arkin, 2009). I would, however, like to look at different dimension: authoritarian regimes’ use of AWS for internal oppression and political survival.

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How stories matter: Thoughts on contextuality, temporality, reflexivity & certainty

In early September, the circulation of the now iconic picture of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian Kurdish boy who drowned along with his mother and brother in the attempt to cross the Aegean Sea, prompted me to write a post reflecting on what ‘we’ as academics might do. I argued that we could, possibly, use “our knowledge of global affairs to connect the dots and lay bare how Alan’s story” is emblematic of so many themes we touch upon in our research – and indeed, the moment created by the (ethically difficult) circulation of the picture became an opening to provide depth and nuance for those willing to listen.

Screenshot 2015-12-29 16.25.39I suggested that, if academics wanted to do ‘something’ in response, this something might include telling “the stories of all the children who died crossing the Mediterranean – and their parents and grandparents, and aunts, and uncles.” Now, it would be presumptuous to think that Anne Barnard of the New York Times read my post (and she is not an academic either), but imagine my delight to see her piece on the Kurdi family’s journeys published yesterday.

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Playing Politics with Compassion after the Paris Attacks (and why humanitarianism is in trouble)

Photo Credit: ruimc77 on Flickr

In response to the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people President Obama stated:

Once again, we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.  This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

President Obama’s statement was a resounding call for universal compassion; the emphasis on “all of humanity” and “universal values” recalls the language of humanitarianism, enshrined in the foundational documents of the United Nations (UN) including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its related covenants. In the aftermath of the attacks, humanitarian values have been threatened by political posturing by the extreme right Front National party in France and by Republican (and one Democrat) governors and presidential hopefuls in the United States who are calling for either a suspension of Syrian refugee resettlement programs in the United States or limiting resettlement to only Christian refugees. Yesterday, France’s president François Hollande defied extreme right opposition and announced a commitment to accepting 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.

The xenophobic and racist policies being advocated by US Republican governors and presidential candidates are an alarming affront to humanitarianism, threaten core humanitarian principles of humanity and impartiality and presage a backsliding of humanitarian policy to an unenlightened era. Continue reading

Get a Grip America: Stop the Anti-Refugee Hysteria

So, I started yesterday with news that Republican governors, including my own here in Texas, were seeking to deny Syrian refugees in to the state. By the end of the day, more than 25 governors, including one Democrat, had joined in the hysteria. I think a lot of us see this as a betrayal of American values and completely idiotic from the perspective of grand strategy.

We are basically telling millions of refugees, most of them Muslim, that we don’t care about them. ISIS thanks us for that recruitment message. If only we were Scotland and showed the Syrian refugees that we could be magnanimous. I hope some more Republicans and Christians of conscious like Michael Gerson emerge to repudiate the shameful farce that transpired yesterday. Here is my Storify day of tweets and retweets on this topic in reverse, from the most recent to the first ones of the day.

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The Importance of Evidence-Based Human Rights Advocacy

The following is a guest post by Michele Leiby & Matthew Krain of The College of Wooster.

We are at a moment where there’s more media attention, research and advocacy on behalf of global human rights than ever before. Given our common interests and goals as members of an international human rights community, it’s surprising how infrequently and ineffectually we communicate and contribute directly to one another’s work. Our recent research on the efficacy of human rights messaging is both informed by this gap and an effort to bridge it.

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Compensation for Kunduz and the Commodification of Civilian Casualties

The controversy surrounding the coalition airstrike in Kunduz continues to rumble on this week after military investigators drove an armoured personnel carrier into a hospital’s front gate. A spokesperson for the Pentagon was quick to apologise for any damage caused, telling reporters (without a hint of irony) that the team were simply trying to gain access to the facility so that they could assess the structural integrity of the buildings hit earlier in the month. This latest incident will do little to ease tensions between the United States and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operates the hospital. Three separate investigations into the original attack are now underway but there is still a great deal of uncertainty about why the hospital was targeted. What we do know is that at least 22 people were killed when the AC-130 gunship opened fire on the building, including 12 medical staff and 10 patients.

The debate so far has largely focused on whether or not the attack was lawful, but what caught my attention was the response of the military officials and, in particular, their offer of compensation. After initially blaming ground troops for the mistake and then the Afghan Army, the Pentagon eventually admitted the decision was made further up the chain of command and President Obama has now offered a full-blown apology. What is more, it has since been confirmed that the United States will compensate the victims and help rebuild the hospital. As the Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook made clear, ‘the Department of Defense believes it is important to address the consequences of the tragic incident’. But the use of financial compensation to rectify these wrongs raises a number of important ethical questions: Do these payments actually make the perpetrator any more accountable for the harm they have caused? Is there a risk that they may end up normalising the horrors of war? And do they reflect a genuine concern for the pain and suffering experienced by those living on the frontline of today’s conflicts?

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Food is a Human Right

This is a guest post from Michelle Jurkovich, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

As the lunch hour approaches in Washington, a woman sits at the edge of Farragut Square holding a cardboard sign with three simple words: “I am hungry.” Some passersby are noticeably uncomfortable as they walk by her, averting their eyes and quickening their pace. A few people hand her the spare coins in their pockets. Most people ignore her completely.

Had this woman expressed a violation of a different human right (for ultimately, that is what her sign is expressing), perhaps people would react differently. Had she said she had been forcibly disappeared, or her access to any primary education had been violated, or she had been tortured, people might take notice.   But on this World Food Day it is worthwhile to pause and examine the puzzling way in which any human right to food is understood both in the United States and in many other countries around the world.

Many readers might be surprised to know there is such a thing as a human right to food in the first place. The right to food was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 with surprisingly little controversy and reiterated in international law in 1976 with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), in 2004 with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food (which the United States signed), as well as included in numerous other international conventions and agreements. And yet, while responsibility is ascribed in international law to national governments for the protection and fulfillment of this basic human right, many continue to see food or hunger as an issue for charity, but certainly not a basic human entitlement. Continue reading

What Does it Mean to Promote Human Rights?

Migrants on the Hungarian border

A few months ago, I began my Duck postings with an introspective on what it’s like to have grown up in the USA and moved to Canada to start my professional career. The current context in Canada is both daunting and exciting – yes people, “We the North” have an election. In two weeks. We have three (possibly four or five) parties to choose from, only one has amazing hair, and unlike US elections with the circus of personality assassinations and general chaos that surrounds the process, the Canadian one has gone on quite civilly and remained mostly focused on real issues. There are real issues at stake here in the Canadian election – and I had a chaotic but very thought-provoking week to reflect on some human rights concerns, both in Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. I had two sets of thoughts that popped into my mind as a result of being part of two human rights-related events this past week: global leadership on human rights is exceedingly difficult; and maybe we need some leadership on human rights domestically.

First, I had the honor of moderating the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Victoria University, at the University of Toronto. This year, I got to lead a discussion between The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs led the way to ban landmines, is a celebrated name among human rights junkies in particular (like me … if you don’t know who he is, see this), and Professor Charli Carpenter, who is a colleague whose work I’ve referenced extensively in my own research. They were responding to the topic of “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights Around the World?” which was the topic that U of T’s political science students came up with for the evening. Continue reading

US, Canada, and Humanitarian Flights for Syria’s Refugees

The video above is the YouTube presentation of my remarks this week at University of Toronto’s Davey Forum, whose theme this year was “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights?” I attended at the kind invitation of Duck blogger Wendy Wong and her colleagues Lou Pauly and Rod Haddow, and my remarks followed those of former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

When it was time for the audience to ask questions, the very first question was:

“What can Canada contribute to the Syrian refugee crisis?”

It’s exactly the right kind of question. My answer, in one word: AIRPLANES.

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