Tag: civil society

NGO Power Shift 2.0

In her seminal 1997 article, Power Shift, Jessica Mathews argued that a power shift was underway in international politics marked by a redistribution of power from states to non-state actors—mostly businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Almost two decades later, NGOs are trying to foster a new sort of power shift, this time transferring power from the global north to the global south. This power shift was one of the substantive topics of discussion at the BISA NGO Working Group workshop I wrote about last week. The BOND report and subsequent presentations by academics, Amnesty International and Family for Every Child elaborated various perspectives on the nature and perceived extent of the power shift.

From the practitioner’s point of view, the perceived power shift is occurring as humanitarian, development and advocacy NGOs, often founded and headquartered in the global North, commit to four primary activities: (1) relocating their headquarters and operations to the global South; (2) supporting capacity development in the global South by transferring skills, knowledge and resources; (3) gradually withdrawing from service delivery to permit local actors to take over these roles; and (4) where Northern NGOs (NNGOs) remain primary actors, enhancing participation in all stages of program planning, implementation and evaluation. Continue reading

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A program here, a program there, pretty soon you’re talking a whole government

My GOP gone by, I miss it so.

Conservatives are fond of the saying widely, but probably falsely, attributed to Everett Dirksen: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Of course, the saying hasn’t kept up to date with inflation or with the growing size of the federal budget–in 1962, a billion dollars was just under 1 percent of the entire budget; these days, it would be well under 1/1000th of a percent of the federal government’s outlays.

Nevertheless, one party continues to apply the same kind of logic to justify cutting trivially small programs that benefit U.S. policy, academics, or good policymaking. Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.) invoked a particularly trifling version of the Dirksen proverb yesterday:

It’s not every day that Congress debates whether to spend $1 million — given that current federal spending is just over $4 trillion. But the House voted Friday 204-203 to approve an amendment by Rep Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, which strikes $1 million from a 2013 congressional funding bill intended to cover closing costs for the Open World Leadership Center. …Scalise explained why he’s going after such a relatively small allocation. “It’s $1 million less than we’ll be borrowing from China and at some point they say $1 million here, $1 million there, pretty soon you are talking about real money,” Scalise said.

It is literally impossible to argue with that kind of logic. 


To be clear, the Open World Leadership Center is already being closed. This was money that would have enabled buying out staff contracts and the like–normal shutdown costs. Special bonus right-wing lunacy: Scalise added, “How many small businesses across the country that have been facing these tough economic times are given a $1 million check by the federal government to close down?” 


It is bad enough when people argue the government ought to be run like a business; it is beyond belief when congressmen argue that the government ought to be run like a small business. (Notably, political-science bete noire Tom Coburn has taken the penny-ante politics a step further by calling on Congress to stop funding subsidies for public transportation for staff members–a routine employee benefit in all large cities.)

After a while, it becomes hard to attribute recent GOP efforts to terminate the American Community Survey, NSF funding for political science, federal funding for the US Institute of Peace, and so on to ignorance. Instead, it becomes more likely that the representatives in question know exactly what they’re doing and are hardly willing to listen to any arguments to the contrary. 

One more datum in this series comes from the fact that in the same session where Scalise’s amendment went through, the House cut an equivalent amount from the Congressional Research Service, presumably on the grounds that expert research is the antithesis of leadership. Fortunately for America, the committee did find $200,000 to print new pocket Constitutions for members and staff.

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Mind the Impunity Gaps


This is the first of a series of posts on “impunity gaps” in justice for atrocities that constitute genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. There has been a resurgence of optimism for international and transitional justice because the ICC’s judicial intervention in Libya and recent high-profile arrests and trial completions at the ICTR and ICTY. But I would like to shed some light on impunity gaps that persist for and within high-profile cases and for low-profile cases beyond the International Criminal Court.

An impunity gap can manifest itself in several ways:

  • There are no genuine international or national justice measures and/or there is a blanket amnesty.
  • There are non-judicial and/or non-punitive accountability mechanisms, such as truth commissions or local traditional justice, but these are perceived by victim communities and/or the international community as disguised impunity.
  • There is an imbalance in justice. Either not all parties to the conflict and/or only elite or low-level perpetrators are held accountable. (I would refer to this as a gap in the breadth and depth or criminal responsibility respectively.)

Arguably, this doe not really narrow the universe of cases. Most countries that require justice for atrocities can, at best, achieve partial accountability because of a lack of capacity or political will. I will focus on impunity gaps that pose the greatest risk for a resurgence or entrenchment of violence and where political hypocrisy explains the gap.

Various factors can explain the irony that those “most responsible” for the “most serious crimes” are not held accountable. For example, is it pressure, or lack of it, from specific actors, such as the UN Security Council or transnational civil society, that determines whether massive crimes against civilians will be exposed and punished? Kenya, Sri Lanka, Colombia are excellent studies here. Does the sequencing of peace and justice matter, as some contend is a factor for Libya, Sudan, and Uganda? What of the nature of the conflict, whether civil war or genocide, and how the violence ends, whether through negotiation or the decisive defeat? Cambodia, Rwanda, and Burundi reveal interesting dynamics in these respects.

The purpose of these posts is not to throw a cynical wet blanket over what is undoubtedly institutional and moral progress in international justice, but rather to call critical attention to individual cases of impunity gaps and identify patterns across them.

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Some Good News from Pakistan


Last week, Asma Jahangir was elected to head Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the leading professional organization for the country’s lawyers. She is a very skilled broker and a committed human rights lawyer (she is United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief) and will add a much needed counter force to the increasingly politicized judiciary that is destabilizing the current political system.

We don’t often hear good news from Pakistan these days and it’s easy to forget that there are still some powerful and influential liberal forces in the country. Asma is the real deal and her election is good news. She has a tough (and dangerous) road ahead — the future and strength of Pakistan’s democratic institutions rest on the legitimacy and integrity of its institutional checks and balances and a professional and independent judiciary — but the lawyers movement that she now leads has shown that it can play a significant role in constraining political excesses. I wish her well….

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I’m sorry, but your computer has to come with us

Can you imagine if the FBI were confiscating computers in local Democratic party offices, merely three months before the Congressional elections?

Selective enforcement of the rules has long been a way of controlling political opponents in post-Soviet space. Everyone breaks the rules, but only those who represent a threat to the authorities get a visit from the tax authorities, or the building inspector, or the like. Leonid Kuchma, former president of Ukraine, had this kompromat down to a science–and it was ultimately a major factor in his downfall.

The Moscow Times reports a new twist on this old practice: software piracy. Software piracy is widespread in Russia. Unlicensed copies are easily available and considerably cheaper than legit software, which can take a big bite out of the budget of a small NGO or business. In Nizhny Novgorod, police raided the offices of two different opposition-oriented NGOs and the local office of Novaya Gazeta, the paper that published the work of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Similar raids have taken place in other cities, including Samara and Tula. The NGOs accuse the authorities of selective enforcement, while the authorities, naturally, deny any political motives. The law permits the police to confiscate computers suspected of containing pirated software and to keep them for as long as two months. Even if everything on the computer is fully licensed, the loss of a computer for two months is a major blow for politically oriented groups, opposition parties, and gadfly reporters, particularly as we are now less than three months away from the Duma elections.

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