Category: Human Rights (page 2 of 3)

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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Habebamus papam!

This is a guest post from Nathan Paxton, Professorial Lecturer in the School of International Service at American University and a 2015-2016 APSA Congressional Fellow.

Now that Pope Francis has jetted back to the Vatican on “Shepherd One”, we have the chance to talk about the theoretical underpinnings of the pope’s international politics. I hope you’re as excited to have a political theory discussion as I am. Primarily, I want to discuss what I think the papal view of politics is, how it fits in with liberation theology, and what that means to those of us who care about international and comparative politics.

Philosophical foundations

Pope Francis’s message to Congress was shot through with the idea that politics can at its best be a means for the flourishing of each individual human person. That flourishing is the end of human community, and the goal of all human society should be to maximize the common good. Importantly, however, politics is a mean, not an end per se.

Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. (Address to Congress)

The emphasis on community and personalism is one of the best indicators that we have that the pope is not a liberal, either in the classic political theory sense nor in the impoverished contemporary American political discourse sense. He’s a pre-Burkean conservative, in that his emphasis is on the traditional, the communal, and what historian Brian Porter-Szücs calls “harmonious social relations.” Because “classic liberalism” promotes both individual liberty and free-market capitalism, it is an atomizing force, prizing and exalting the individual above the ensconcing community and so providing the basis for eventually breaking down that community as every individual pursues what seems to them their own good. Continue reading

Migration as Protest

This is a guest post by Leila Kawar, Assistant Professor of Legal Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Contesting Immigration Policy in Court: Legal Activism and Its Radiating Effects in the United States and France (Cambridge University Press 2015) and a cofounder of the Migration and Citizenship Section of the American Political Science Association. In 2000-2001, she spent a year in residence at the Institut français du Proche-Orient in Damascus, Syria.

 
migrantsThis summer, the ramparts of “Fortress Europe” were breached by a mass exodus undertaken by young Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans. News coverage has described them as “migrants.” But I would argue that this term is a misnomer; rather than “migration,” what we are witnessing is a collective act of “protest” against the current governance regime that quarantines conflict outside of Europe’s borders. Continue reading

Market Values: Why Local Human Rights Work Needs Global Funding?

As IR scholars thinking about the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in shaping international norms, we rarely think to ask those doing the work on the ground what they think (this author is guilty as charged).  Plenty of work has gone into researching how others NGOs think of one another (Murdie and Davis, Hadden) and try to shape one another’s’ behavior (Deloffre), how international NGOs shape international norms through their work with other political actors (Carpenter, among others), and how NGOs might censor themselves (Bush).  Others have also looked at how external, in particular, Western donors, can shape the NGO-scape in a certain country (Luong and Weinthal, Sundstrom), but very few of us have then thought about where else the money would come from if not from outsiders meddling in the internal politics of state-society relations (see however, Brass, Dupuy et al. for a view of Ethiopia, work by Gugerty and Suarez).   Continue reading

Bottom’s Up: Exploring the Resource Mobilization of Local Human Rights Organizations

James Ron, Archana Pandya, and David Crow’s article investigates the resource mobilization of local human rights organizations (LHROs) in India, Mexico, Morocco and Nigeria. Having theorized the transnational networks, strategies, politics and influence of NGOs, Ron, Pandya and Crow now turn the attention of international relations scholars to the local contexts in which NGOs work. Drawing on original data including 263 semi-structured interviews with key informants and LHRO staff in 60 countries as well as public perceptions surveys in each of the four cases (n= 6,180), they find that although there is widespread public support of human rights and trust in LHROs, domestic publics do not donate to LHROs. They call this the “resource-rights” puzzle.

One nagging implicit normative assumption in the article is that somehow the resource-rights puzzle has negative or adverse effects on the work and impacts of LHROs. One obvious reason why LHROs might want to raise funds locally is the sense that Northern donors push Northern agendas and raising funds from local communities would empower LHROs to better represent local interests (Bradshaw 2006). Ron, Pandya and Crow’s public perceptions data however, show that the surveyed publics in the four cases generally support the broader human rights agenda. So while the funding might come from the global North, substantial local support for human rights principles and groups exists. Continue reading

Want to Help the Refugees? Teach Migration as Part of IR

The following is a guest post by Margaret Peters, who teaches political economy and migration at Yale University.    She is currently finishing her book project When Business Abandoned Immigration: Firms and the Remaking of Globalization.”

Recent pictures of Syrian refugee crisis from 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a beach in Turkey to migrants sitting in camps in Hungary have increased the calls for the West to “do something.” Instead of doing the easiest, most effective, and least expensive thing to protect Syrians (and other refugees) – allowing them to enter and stay in wealthy countries as refugees – there has been much buck passing about whose responsibility it is to protect these refugees.

Increasing anti-immigrant sentiment has been blamed for most of the unwillingness on the part of both the OECD countries and wealthy autocracy to resettle the refugees.  Yet, the problem is not an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment – as Judith Goldstein and I show, anti-immigrant sentiment, even towards low-skill immigrants, has fallen since the Great Recession in the US and probably in Europe as well – instead, the problem is the lack of a powerful, pro-immigration lobby.

While refugee and asylum policy have, at least since World War II, been used to reward allies and humiliate adversaries, these policies are not solely determined by foreign policy concerns. Instead, they are part and parcel of the larger immigration policy debate, determined by competing domestic demands.  On the side of greater openness have stood business, immigrants themselves, and humanitarians and cosmopolitans.  On the side of more restrictions have been native labor (although not all unions), fiscal conservatives worried about the impact of immigration.

What has changed the balance of power between these two sides? Why do the nativists seem to be winning? Continue reading

Image Voyeurism, Trauma Porn, and ‘Doing Something’…for Yourself

* Please note: I absolutely oppose publishing the image of Aylan Kardi on this website*

Since my name is mentioned- and our short twitter exchange highlighted in Annick’s previous post as potentially the inspiration point for her piece- I feel I need say something.

First, I’ll acknowledge that the image we are debating hit me somewhere deep because the boy is the same size and age as my son. Those points of connection made me look at the image differently and that difference in how I saw the image made me feel embarrassed, upset, and unsure what it meant about how I saw the whole ‘package’ of asylum seeker images. So I’ve thought a lot about the image, the ethics around the image, and why some of us care about this image more than the hundreds of- arguably- equally harrowing images of asylum seekers (not just the people trying to get out of Syria or into Europe, but also the people in boats trying to get into Australia or held indefinitely in detention centers by the Australian government).

My point about ‘doing’ something was not merely some liberal notion of ‘activism’ or just giving some money to an organization. It includes deep reflection on our own role in the asylum seeker crises today. Of course, that might include sharing a narrative- but, for me, sharing the narrative is only helpful if it is driven by a desire to make ourselves uncomfortable, to reflect on our complicity and role in global politics, and a commitment to move forward with different steps than led us to the story.

As I just said in a FB post- there is a FINE line between 1) Witnessing and sharing stories 2) Making ourselves feel good: ie looking and listening so that we ‘feel aware’/politically active and- overall- better about ourselves (this bleeds into comments people seem to be making about ‘thanking god’ and ‘hugging kids more tonight’). Such statements are well meaning but really don’t help asylum seekers AT ALL. They are practices/sayings that make us feel good about where we are in the world, what side of history we are on, and how privileged we are. Such comments make me wonder ‘do we need such shocking images in order to care about asylum seekers or do we need them to make ourselves feel better?’ 3) Simple voyeurism and trauma porn.  An image is trauma porn when we  look at ‘terrible’ images so that we can shock ourselves, and then enjoy the feeling that washes over us as we look away and get back to our lives.

I would rather people- quite frankly- do nothing, than circulate an image or share a story of Alyan or any asylum seeker for their own personal gratification. To ‘do’ something political requires 1) engaging/reflecting on the politics of the image, the family and community it represents, and where we are positioned in relation to that family and community 2) asking ourselves how we benefit from borders, immigration quotas, policies that strip asylum seekers and relabel them ‘unskilled’ migrants or refugees + seeking ways that we can change our behaviors (not just our taxable donations). Continue reading

On doing ‘something’ … as academics

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 11.31.35 AM

Yesterday the picture of little Alan (previously identified as Aylan), lying dead in the sand on the shores of the Mediterranean, circled the world. It provoked strong reactions from those who ‘witnessed’ his death in this manner and, not unlike the debates following some of the images shared after 9/11 (I wrote about that then), people questioned the ethics of sharing the images particularly without warning (see replies by some who shared here, here & here and note that his father wants the image to be shared if it can provoke action).

Indeed, it was  this tweet Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 11.35.40 AMfrom fellow Duck Megan MacKenzie that prompted today’s post (you can read our full exchange here). Her concerns are echoed, and expanded, in this piece (which also links to issues I discuss in a previous post on the #BBOG campaign). Of course there are things that we can do, even from the comfort of our own homes: We can sign petitions, such as this one from Avaaz or this one to force a debate in the UK parliament. We can share lists of things to do such as this one – and maybe get involved locally in Greece, Germany, or Italy (no matter where you are you can get involved locally – there are needs in San Francisco, where I am, and Sydney, where Megan is. If you have information for your local area, feel free to share them in the comments).

But …

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The Politics of Resettlement: Migrants vs. Refugees

We are witnessing the horror of war. We see it every day, with fresh pictures of refugees risking their lives on the sea, rather than risking death by shrapnel, bombs, assassination or enslavement. For the past four years, over 11 million Syrians have left their homes; 4 million of them have left Syria altogether. Each day thousands attempt to get to a safer place, a better life for themselves and their children. Each day, the politics of resettlement and the fear of terrorism play their part.

The last major resettlement campaign in the US came after the Vietnam War. Over a 20-year period 2 million people from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were resettled into the US.   The overall number of resettled refugees from this period is roughly about 3 million. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey alone has taken 2 million Syrian refugees within its borders. In short, Turkey has absorbed the same amount of war refugees in a four-year period that the US absorbed in five times the amount of time.

Turning to the Syrian case, which has produced the most refugees in any war in the past 70 years, we find a very dismal record of other than near neighbor resettlement. The Syrian conflict began in early 2011, and while the violence quickly escalated, I am taking the numbers of admitted Syrian refugees to the US starting in 2012. In 2012, the US admitted 35 Syrian refugees. In 2013, it admitted 48; in 2014, it admitted 1307. For 2015, the US is estimating admitting somewhere between 1000-2000 refugees. Even Canada, who tends to be more open with regard to resettlement and aid, has only admitted about 1300 refugees, pledging to admit 10,000 more by 2017.  In short, since the beginning of this war, one of the most powerful countries in the world, with ample space and the economic capacity to admit more people, has admitted an estimated total of 2400 people, and its neighbor, a defender of human rights, has admitted about half that. Thinking the other way around, the US has agreed to take in .0006 % of the current population of Syrian refugees, and this number does not does not take into consideration the 7 million internally displaced people of Syria, or the simple fact that one country (Turkey) has absorbed 45%.

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#BringBackOurGirls, Feminist Solidarity & Intervention – Part Two

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.52.27 PMMy first post on the Duck focused on the emergence of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and campaign, pointing also to the ease with which hashtags can get appropriated and campaigns derailed. Yesterday, #BringBackOurGirls Nigeria (@BBOG_Nigeria on twitter) started a one week campaign to mark 500 days since the abduction.

Given the continuation of the campaign, in today’s post I want to dig a bit deeper in examining the urge to do “something”: Why do some events capture our attention while others fail to produce any kind of reaction? What kind of reactions are helpful? And – for whom?

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Opting for Trials Post-Conflict? Why the Structure of Losers Matters

This post was written with Lindsay Heger, who is Associate Director, One Earth Future Foundation.

We’ve seen the rise of judicial means to bring human rights violators to trial in recent decades, both regionally and globally. Most famously, the International Criminal Court, was established after the Rome Treaty was ratified in 2002 in order to bring the most egregious state violators of human rights to to account for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes (though this court has not been without its controversies, most acute of which is that the court deliberately over-targets African leaders). There are also many arguments about the effect of the ICC, including the effects that having such an institution has on individual lawyers, judges, and other officials in the practice of law. The complementarity clause of the ICC, furthermore, might be spurring domestic legal institutions to change in anticipation of possible prosecution by the Court, creating a race to the top in terms of complying with the prosecution of war crimes in order to avoid facing the ICC.

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