Tag: Uganda

Political Homophobia in Uganda and a (Very) Belated Apology

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

Share

Defying Gravity: Seeking Political Balance in ICC Prosecutions

Reuters

Reuters

The International Criminal Court is often accused of being “political” or “politicized” in its selection of situations and cases. What has become most problematic for the Court’s credibility and impartiality in this regard are the situations and cases that have not been selected, and the criteria and discourse used to justify such omissions and imbalanced prosecutions. Specifically, the “gravity threshold,” which the OTP uses to justify who is prosecuted and who isn’t, is politically problematic for the ICC. Prosecutorial strategies that target only one side of a conflict are frequently justified in terms of gravity – that the crimes of some individuals are graver than their opposing parties,.

I suggest there are two political problems with the gravity threshold in case selection.

1)     Assessing the gravity of one party’s or individual’s crimes relative to their opponents is ethically and politically problematic. This approach ultimately results in the ICC’s de facto support of one side of the conflict over another and perpetuates impunity gaps at the international and domestic level.

2)     While atrocity crimes can be ranked, scaled, and compared across parties and perpetrators, no victim can be considered less victimized or less deserving of justice than another.  To date, the manner in which the gravity threshold has been operationalized is an affront to victims and is likely to erode the ICC’s legitimacy among this important constituency.
Continue reading

Share

“Truth to Power”: Louise Arbour on Human Rights and International Justice

CBC – CP file photo

The Canadian International Council recently organized an interesting public event with Louise Arbour on her role in speaking “truth to power.” The talk is available on line at Open Canada.org. (starts around 22min mark, after the introductions) and is constructed as a dialogue with Stephen Toope, President of the University of British Columbia and notable international law scholar.

Madam Arbour is known for being outspoken on the ICC’s prosecutorial strategy, shortcomings in the human rights regime, and advocacy on the Responsibility to Protect and especially the case of Sri Lanka. Arbour’s authoritative voice on these issues stems from her professional credentials and experience: former Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and presently the President of International Crisis Group.

It’s worth a listen. But for those interested in just the human rights and international justice stuff here are my selective highlights on the issues mentioned above.
(Note: these are not exact quotes as i’m a sloppy transcriber).

Human Rights
There is a need for adequate institutions, specifically an international human rights court. As long as the protection of human rights is in the hands of the duty bearers – the states – not surprisingly we’re not going to get very far.

Peace vs. Justice
The timing (of the Milosevic trial) was dictated exclusively by prosecutorial considerations. Some were concerned that a peace deal would put him out of reach…What it did to the peace process was not part of my brief.

The indictment of Gaddafi was very precipitous…it’s not an unfair assumption that it might have contributed to closing some doors to a negotiated settlement….The same actors in the Security Council that referred the Libya case to the ICC have not moved on Syria…The tensions between peace and justice are very present and will remain so until and unless we segregate the justice agenda from the political one.

Joseph Kony…probably accurate that the fact that he was indicted, at the end of the day, made it impossible for him to participate in peace talks…Political negotiators cannot deliver on that. The ICC process is a parallel track. It is not negotiable in peace talks.

What we need to do is what we do in domestic systems – we make it very clear that politicians don’t run indictments.

ICC and Africa
It would have been imminently predictable that the docket of the ICC would be heavily African. Apart from the cases of Security Council referral, all the other cases have come from countries that have ratified the Rome Treaty….That is the fundamental premise…The ICC was not engaged when there was, in my opinion and with lots of evidence, massive slaughter of civilians on the beaches of Sri Lanka. Well, Sri Lanka has not ratified the Rome Treaty.

The ICC might have been better advised, rather than try to downplay (the African bias) to really embrace it and engage with African governments – open offices, be there, be very present. As opposed to staying in The Hague and be very defensive that it’s only engaged in African issues.

Cooperation of authorities in the DRC with the International Criminal Court has been problematic from the beginning. It’s very unfortunate that the ICC only has jurisdiction in the Congo since the Court was created in 2002 when in fact the most catastrophic loss of life in the Congo took place in the decade before, from 1993-2003. When I was High Commissioner (for Human Rights) I launched what we called the “mapping exercise” to try to document that decade where between 3-5 million people were killed in the east of the Congo and there’s no legal regime to deal with it. The ICC has no jurisdiction so the idea was to hand this over to the Congolese authorities to try to encourage them to launch some kind of mechanism.

Accountability there (DRC), even with the ICC in place, it’s not almost ten years since the ICC has been in place and what? There are five, six people charged?….The ICC has a long way to go before it can be reflective of its mission in that environment

War on Terror and Sri Lanka
One of the most tangible and perverse effects of the War on Terror is the treatment of the war in Sri Lanka. The last few months, in 2009, of the thirty year old war whereby the government of Sri Lanka finally eradicated the LTTE was achieved at an unconscionable cost to civilian lives, which generated virtually no adverse response because it was under the agenda of the War on Terror. The LTTE had been depicted, quite accurately I might add, as a terrorist organization which had preyed on its own population. There’s not much to be said very positively about its methodology. And a lot of casualties in the last few months of the war are attributable to the LTTE itself – it’s not just government forces. But the way this was achieved would not have been tolerable if it had not been under the umbrella of one of the few so-called success stories of the War on Terror.


Share

KONY 2012: Bandwagon Empowerment

Invisible Children‘s “Kony 2012” campaign provides many of us professors with a unique opportunity to address and learn how students respond to such campaigns and engage with human rights issues. College is an opportunity for students to feel empowered by activism and knowledge that we partly provide, shape and encourage. We do have a responsibility to course correct this empowerment when the knowledge is incomplete or skewed and the call to action may be ineffective or counter-productive.

Invisible Children, founded and directed by youth inspired to help war-weary Northern Uganda, has made their advocacy bread and butter with young college students who donate to and participate in their campaign. “Kony 2012” encourage its supporters to buy an “action kit” of bracelets and posters to pressure primarily the U.S. government to further support efforts to arrest Joseph Kony, war criminal and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, with the assumption that he is the main impediment to peace in Northern Uganda. Putting aside IC’s flawed presentation of the conflict and its solutions, and the self-involved campaign film that profiles their own success at the expense of presenting the voices of Ugandans themselves, there is a fundamentally disturbing bandwagoning effect of empowerment taking hold. Among the stinging comments on this development is from the Wronging Rights bloggers, Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub, writing for The Atlantic:

“Invisible Children has turned the myopic worldview of the adolescent — ‘if I don’t know about it, then it doesn’t exist, but if I care about it, then it is the most important thing int he world’ –into a foreign policy prescription.”

If one were to course correct the bandwagoning empowerment, the following critiques of “Kony 2012” are most instructive.

First, advocacy can be ineffective or counter-productive. In this vein, many reference Rebecca Hamilton’s research in Fighting for Darfur as evidence of how celebrity and youth activism does not necessarily translate into solutions for complex political and humanitarian crises. Moreover, the assumption of “Kony 2012” is that if only the world knew it would not stand for such atrocities and impunity. Well, those that can affect change do know. The Ugandan government, in loose coordination with other central African governments, are militarily seeking to end the LRA, the U.S. has sent Special Forces assistance, and the ICC has issued arrest warrants for top LRA leaders. The policy change that IC advocates is no more precise than that these actors should worker hard at what they’re already doing.

Second, the campaign is rightly criticized for encouraging the “white savior” complex  – arrogantly empowering outsiders at the expense of acknowledging that those affected by violence have agency in peacemaking. Despite their good intentions, IC’s film is about them, not Uganda. Thankfully some media recognize the wave of criticism from Ugandan voices that see “Kony 2012” as poorly reflecting their lived reality and expectations for justice.

Finally, does the prescribed solution of taking out Kony achieve the outcome – wait – what is the expected outcome? Technically, Northern Uganda is relatively stable as the LRA and Kony have not been active there for six years. Is the outcome “justice” or “reconciliation” for Kony’s victims? The extent of the LRA’s perpetration of atrocities runs much deeper in Acholi communities than Kony himself and some even suggest that his further stigmatization or removal will hinder reconciliation. Notable Uganda scholar, Adam Branch, also argues that the “serious problems (Ugandans) face today have little to do with Kony.”

Back to the classroom. I addressed the issue in both of my classes, one of which is The Politics of International Justice so the students in this class already have a good understanding of the justice and peace issues in Northern Uganda. Most expressed the view that awareness raising is fundamentally good and well intentioned, but that they also had a uneasiness with the film’s presentation of the conflict and were skeptical of the advocacy approach and public response. Several students said that it was frustrating for them to see friends distributing it by social media, “liking” and “sharing,” when they doubted that their friends watched the whole film or truly understand the issue. Another said that he found the bandwagon effect to be as irritating as the self-righteousness of those who opposed it. Another said that she hoped it would at least encourage students to learn more about the conflict on their own, using “Kony 2012” as a starting point.

All of this points to the cynical conclusion that “Kony 2012” accomplishes little more than raising awareness, albeit of a narrow view, of the issue and gives a false sense of empowerment to those participating in the activism of social media, emailing politicians and celebrities, and buying action kits can change can affect the future of Northern Uganda. But as posters and bracelets begin to dot campuses it’s worth encouraging, not disempowering, student’s knowledge and activism with some humility.

Share

Invisible Children – Pretty Dang Visible

KONY, WE GON’ FIND YOU – as soon as I buy my bracelet!

Anyone who has been on Facebook and Twitter over the past 24 hours has probably seen impassioned pleas to watch a high-production video by Invisible Children, an American NGO (whose Board of Directors just happens to be entirely white American males). And anyone who is following many of the IR tweeters out there, you have also probably began to see the backlash.

For those of you who do not know what is going on, the video produced by Invisible Children discusses the conflict in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and in particular the crimes of the movement’s leader Joseph Kony – calling upon the world (particularly the United States) to act by signing a petition and, apparently, buying bracelets.

There is no doubt that Kony is – to put it mildly – a gigantic AAA asshole of the highest order, responsible for crimes that would make anyone’s stomach sick. And it is great that this video is spreading awareness of these crimes.

However, the solutions that Invisible Children (and other organisations, such as Human Rights Watch – now getting in on the #KONY2012 action) advocates are problematic. Others (see this article in Foreign Affairs) have pointed out that military humanitarian intervention in Uganda has been tried and tried again – always ultimately failing and managing to make matters a lot worse for civilians on the ground. Worse, in advocating for these policies, organisations such as Invisible Children, are giving a misleading and simplistic impression of what is actually happening on the ground:

In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.

 Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict writes along similar lines:

It is hard to respect any documentary on northern Uganda where a five year-old white boy features more prominently than any northern Ugandan victim or survivor. Incredibly, with the exception of the adolescent northern Ugandan victim, Jacob, the voices of northern Ugandans go almost completely unheard.
It isn’t hard to imagine why the views of northern Ugandans wouldn’t be considered: they don’t fit with the narrative produced and reproduced in the insulated echo chamber that produced the ‘Kony 2012′ film.
‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves. Some reports suggest that the majority of Acholi people continue to support the amnesty process whereby LRA combatants – including senior officials – return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of ‘traditional justice’. Many continue to support the Ugandan Amnesty law because of the reality that it is their own children who constitute the LRA. Once again, this issue is barely touched upon in the film. Yet the LRA poses a stark dilemma to the people of northern Uganda: it is now composed primarily of child soldiers, most of whom were abducted and forced to join the rebel ranks and commit atrocities. Labeling them “victims” or “perpetrators” becomes particularly problematic as they are often both.
Furthermore, the crisis in northern Ugandan is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the LRA. Yes, you read that right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one wherein both the Government of Uganda and the LRA, as well as their regional supporters (primarily South Sudan and Khartoum, respectively) have perpetrated and benefited from nearly twenty-five years of systemic and structural violence and displacement. This pattern is what Chris Dolan has eloquently and persuasively termed ‘social torture‘ wherein both the Ugandan Government and the LRA’s treatment of the population has resulted in symptoms of collective torture and the blurring of the perpetrator-victim binary.

Beyond this, I find the entire nature of the campaign to be problematic. As this excellent post at King’s of War argues:

Will simplistic explanations of long-running wars, delivered in a Facebook-friendly manner become the future of foreign policy? If the opinion of Rihanna and George Clooney is going to dislodge ‘technocrats’ who do things like read the Military Balance, then what’s to stop intervention in Syria? Pretty much everyone with a passing interest in military affairs says “that is a very bad idea and lots of people will die” but I’m pretty sure that a bright person with access to youtube can come up with a better argument for a brighter world in which taking Assad down is an expression of democratic empowerment. The point about war and military affairs is that at some point, it requires restraint. That restraint is entirely arbitrary (and unfair) but it stops people getting killed. If Angelina Jolie in combination with Condoleeza Rice are to dictate American strategy, then restraints to force will disappear into a blur of “Let’s go get the bad guy” activism that is almost entirely ignorant of the second and third order effects of those decisions.

Last year I wrote a post that was critical of those who are concerned about the use of media which re-emphasizes the idea of “Africans as victims”. I argued that in times of famine, pictures of said famine are useful for generating much needed donations for use by reputable organisations who are combating famine in, say, the Horn of Africa. But this is something altogether different. Invisible Children has been accused of manipulating numbers in order to generate money for its cause. Worse, the vast majority of the money is not actually put towards victims of the conflict, but for advocating military intervention in Western countries. This is basically Save Darfur 2.0.

To put it simply, the situation on the ground in Uganda is complex. Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences. Ham-fistedly intervening in a conflict of which few have a nuanced understanding of the conditions on the ground, where local actors are already engaged in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution, is not going to help and may in fact serve to make a difficult situation worse. Buying a bracelet from an American run NGO will not change this.

I am increasingly getting the feeling that if this is the future of international politics and humanitarian intervention, there are high-definition troubled waters ahead.

Other interesting  posts on Invisible Children from around the web:


How Matters


Unmuted 


Visible Children – a no doubt hastily constructed Tumblr, but one that effectively critiques the Invisible Children video.


Washington Post’s slightly less critical take of the issue that highlights the different sides of the debate.


Edit: The very darkly humoured Kony 2012 drinking game! (via Alana Tiemessen)

Share

© 2019 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑