Pope Francis recently visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His trip is historic, not just because it’s the first by the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He will also lead an outdoor mass, the first to be held, according to the new coverage, in the Arabian Peninsula. Additionally, the Pope signed an accord of “human fraternity” with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, the top center of religious learning for Sunni Muslims. This all sounds good, but I have mixed feelings.
The UAE has been putting a lot of effort into promoting interfaith dialogue and a “moderate Islam.” One example is this Foreign Policy article by the UAE’s ambassador to the US, presenting a “vision for a moderate Muslim world.” There is undoubtedly a strategic element to this, but I don’t doubt the UAE’s sincerity. I’m sure they really do want peaceful relations with the Christians nations they interact with, and are very concerned about the spread of extremism among their population.
Over the weekend, the Trump Administration had some interesting discussions with and about the press. First, talking at CIA headquarters on Saturday, President Trump remarked that he is in a “war” with reporters, who are the “most dishonest human beings on Earth.” Later that same day, his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, accused the media of “shameful and wrong” reporting on the unbigly audience sizes at the inauguration. And, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Trump Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway not only spoke of “alternative facts” about the inauguration’s audience size but also included a pretty blatant threat to journalist Check Todd:
“KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, I mean, if we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.”
As an American, I want to give our President the benefit of the doubt. However, this treatment of the press is deplorable and worrisome. And, sadly, it doesn’t appear to be new to Trump and the Trump campaign.
There’s an interesting debate going on over at openGlobalRights. Drawing on their recent Social Problems article, Neve Gordon and Nitza Berkovitch provocatively accuse human rights quantitative scholars of “concealing social wrongs” by using quantitative cross-national data that does not account for the disproportionately high voter disenfranchisement among African Americans. Todd Landman and Chad Clay, two scholars known for their use/production of quantitative human rights data respond to Gordon and Berkovitch, saying that their piece ignores much quantitative human rights scholarship that is not at the cross-national level, fails to understand the coding decisions and methodology behind cross-national human rights data, and misses what we’ve learned from existing studies. It’s a great discussion and one I’m going to make sure my human rights students all read.
I’m going to take a slightly different approach here in responding to Gordon and Berkovitch, two scholars, I should note, that I have learned a lot from. I think this particular piece, however, is completely disingenuous: there is nothing special about qualitative analysis that necessarily implies that a researcher will observe/record/code group differences in the protection of human rights within a country.
Rousseau once remarked that “It is, therefore, very certain that compassion is a natural sentiment, which, by moderating the activity of self-esteem in each individual, contributes to the mutual preservation of the whole species” (Discourses on Inequality). Indeed, it is compassion, and not “reason” that keeps this frail species progressing. Yet, this ability to be compassionate, which is by its very nature an other-regarding ability, is (ironically) the different side to the same coin: comparison. Comparison, or perhaps “reflection on certain relations” (e.g. small/big; hard/soft; fast/slow; scared/bold), also has the different and degenerative features of pride and envy. These twin vices, for Rousseau, are the root of much of the evils in this world. They are tempered by compassion, but they engender the greatest forms of inequality and injustice in this world.
Rousseau’s insights ought to ring true in our ears today, particularly as we attempt to create artificial intelligences to overtake or mediate many of our social relations. Recent attention given to “algorithm bias,” where the algorithm for a given task draws from either biased assumptions or biased training data yielding discriminatory results, I would argue is working the problem of reducing bias from the wrong direction. Many, the White House included, are presently paying much attention about how to eliminate algorithmic bias, or in some instance to solve the “value alignment problem,” thereby indirectly eliminating it. Why does this matter? Allow me a brief technological interlude on machine learning and AI to illustrate why eliminating this bias (a la Rousseau) is impossible.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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%.
To begin with a confession, I have spent far too long contemplating what to write about as my first post, due in no small part to sharing fellow Guest Duck Tom‘s nerves about joining such formidable paddling of regular Ducks. However, Wendy‘s post on human rights having gone mainstream and no longer being revolutionary has given me exactly the push I needed to get started.
Specifically, I want to explore Wendy’s argument in relation to claims for LGBT rights. My aim is not to counter Wendy’s argument, which I find persuasive, but rather to use it as a starting point for thinking through the implications of becoming mainstream and, in particular, consider the potential downsides of becoming “accepted and discussed” – what is lost when one’s claims cease to be revolutionary and/or “subversive”?
Hello there! I’m very excited to be blogging here at Duck of Minerva for the next several months, and I’d like to thank all the full-time Ducks for the opportunity! For my first post, I thought I’d address something I’ve been thinking about ever since a student asked about it in my US Foreign Policy class this past semester. She asked about the BDS movement and whether I thought it had any chance of influencing Israel’s behavior towards the Occupied Territories and the Palestinians. Not having thought much about the issue before, I gave a typically hemming-and-hawing answer, but the more I think about it the more I think that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divest Movement is, perhaps, the most significant threat faced by Israel today. (As an aside, this is not at all an area of expertise of mine, so what follows is more musing than academic treatise. I’ll post more serious stuff in my area of academic expertise soon.)
Seriously, you ask? Yes, seriously. Seriously, you ask again? More significant than the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah? More significant than Iranian nuclear proliferation? More significant than the civil war in Syria and the potential collapse of the Assad regime? Yes. Let me explain.
This past week I was invited to speak as an expert at the United Nations Informal Meeting of Experts under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The CCW’s purpose is to limit or prohibit certain conventional weapons that are excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects. The Convention has five additional protocols banning particular weapons, such as blinding lasers and cluster bombs. Last week’s meetings was focused on whether the member states ought to consider a possible sixth additional protocol on lethal autonomous weapons or “killer robots.”
My role in the meeting was to discuss the military rationale for the development and deployment of autonomous weapons. My remarks here reflect what I said to the state delegates and are my own opinions on the matter. They reflect what I think to be the central tenet of the debate about killer robots: whether states are engaging in an old debate about relative gains in power and capabilities and arms races. In 1964, the political satire Dr. Strangelove finds comedy in that even in the face of certain nuclear annihilation between the US and the former Soviet Union, the US strategic leaders were still concerned with relative disparity of power: the mineshaft gap. The US could not allow the Soviets to gain any advantage in “mineshaft space” – those deep underground spaces where the world’s inhabitants would be forced to relocate to keep the human race alive – because the Soviets would certainly continue an expansionist policy to take out the US’s capability once humanity could emerge safely from nuclear contamination.
Before APSA last week, I had the privilege of attending a small conference put on the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at William and Mary. The conference was a chance for researchers in different research areas to write about the policy-relevance of their issue area and compare research and researchers in their area to the larger IR community. It relates to the discussion going on the last couple of weeks on ISQ’s blog. All of the participants had the opportunity to use the TRIP project data on journal articles in top-IR journals and survey data from IR researchers around the world. I learned lot about how interactions with the policy/practitioner community differ across issue areas.
Mu Sochua a leading member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested on Tuesday along with five others after a demonstration to gain access to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park turned violent in clashes between police and some of the protesters. Sochua was elected to the Cambodian parliament in 2013 and is a leading human rights and non-violence advocate in Cambodia. Despite their calls on the protesters to remain calm and non-violent, Sochua and the five others have been charged with insurrection and incitement and have been detained in Phnem Penh’s maximum security prison. If convicted, they could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The US State Department, and others, including my home institution Mount Holyoke College have already called on the government for their release. Human Rights Watch called the government to investigate and prosecute those opposition supporters who committed violence, but is also called the insurrection charges “absurd” and yet another “pretext for threatening opposition leaders with prison.”
This morning, I woke up with a very nice notice about the 50th Anniversary Issue of Journal of Peace Research in my inbox. The issue is worth checking out – there’s some good stuff in there.
As a human rights scholar, I was really interested in the “A Social Science of Human Rights” piece by Emilie Hafner-Burton. While I’m happy to see human rights get a mention in this important issue, I think there is some significant literature that has been missed by Hafner-Burton’s review. I want to bring attention to this not as a “wait, why wasn’t I cited?” but because the piece raises a few questions and makes some claims to which we already have some increasingly solid answers. Let me bring attention to a few of the statements from the review piece:
It’s been a big and extremely depressing week for the rights of sexual minorities. Despite some minor victories in Texas and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto, anti-gay bills remain on the agenda in many US states. Things continue to get worse in Uganda and Russia. What can be done to help stop the abuse?
In what I suspect is the least auspicious debut ever made by a Duck guest blogger, six months after being welcomed by the Duck team, I’m finally posting. It turns out that starting a new job, prepping a new course, learning how to shovel snow, and attempting to finish a book manuscript all at once is not particularly conducive to being a good guest blogger. I’d like to thank the Duck team for their patience, and for their completely unwarranted confidence in still welcoming me to blog here. And I promise to do better from here on out.
As Charli noted, my area of interest is in questions at the intersection of conflict and development in Africa. I’m particularly fascinated these days by African states, how they (and their international relations) contrast with traditional understandings of what states are and what they do, and how people in conflict situations organize themselves to provide for community needs, with or without outside help. So it’s likely that most of my posts at the Duck will focus on these questions one way or another, as well as on general debates in the study of politics in Africa.
The biggest African story right now is the increasing criminalization of homosexuality and homosexual behavior in places like Uganda and Nigeria. Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law has drawn the greatest amount of attention due to its extremely harsh penalties. Though the worst excesses of the bill’s original language (including the death penalty for those caught committing multiple homosexual acts) were amended out, the bill still provides for jail time for persons who engage in any form of physical content with “intent” to engage in homosexual acts as well as imprisonment for those who help or counsel GLBTQ Ugandans. Continue reading