Category: Human Rights (page 2 of 4)

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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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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