Random friends or asymmetric ‘Trojan horses’? An analysis of the far right in Central and Southeast Europe.

Open Democracy News Analysis - 4 hours 4 min ago

What has orientated parties such as Jobbik and Golden Dawn towards Moscow, and what are the implications for Russian foreign policy in the EU-peripheries of Central and Southeast Europe?   

Members of Jobbik at a rally in Budapest. Demotix/David Ferenczy. Some rights reserved.

The latest developments in Ukraine indicate Russia’s motive to solidify its status within the post-Soviet space. Meanwhile, Kremlin has gained sympathizers among the far right parties in the ‘old’ (e.g. Golden Dawn in Greece) as well as the ‘new’ (e.g. Jobbik in Hungary, Ataka in Bulgaria) EU member-states in Central and Southeast Europe.

This acquires greater importance if one considers the successful performance of populist and far right parties in the latest European elections. Due to the limitations of this piece, I mostly concentrate on the cases of Jobbik and Golden Dawn with a broader overview of the Greek and Hungarian political landscapes. Of greater importance it is to concentrate on the alignment of these parties with Kremlin: What, in particular, has orientated parties such as Jobbik and Golden Dawn towards Moscow? What are the implications for Russian foreign policy in the EU-peripheries of Central and Southeast Europe?   

Why the appeal to the far right in Central and Southeast Europe? The cases of Jobbik and Golden Dawn

The leaders of Jobbik (Gábor Vona) and Golden Dawn (Nikolaos Michaloliakos) have been insisting that Hungary and Greece must extend their bilateral cooperation with Russia. Márton Gyöngyösi and other Jobbik MPs had participated in the ‘independent’ electoral commission during the recent referendum in Crimea. Even more emphatically, Ilias Kasidiaris (Golden Dawn’s second-in-charge) has stated that ‘a crucial task for the nationalist government must be to render Greece a strategic ally for Russia in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean’. However, why these pro-Kremlin sentiments among parties such as Jobbik and Golden Dawn?

Anti-liberalism makes up an essential component of Golden Dawn’s as well as Jobbik’s engagement into politics. A series of articles in Golden Dawn’s website have been denouncing Liberalism as an ideology that may ultimately turn human societies into herd-like aggregates of individuals without any awareness of collective belonging. On the other hand, Jobbik’s political programme (2010), pledges to reverse the ‘…intentional Liberal destruction of Hungarian national consciousness and protect all symbols of national identity’.

Indeed, the prospective erosion of the collective bonds which, allegedly, constitute human societies (e.g. family, religion and cultural traditions) features as one of the greatest fears among the European far right. Meanwhile, the same political actors tend to regard Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a ‘healthier’ political model in comparison to the mainstream patterns of politics in the West (e.g. a leader-centred and strong government, the promotion of national values, and the safeguarding of the ‘naturally ascribed’ gender-roles).

The second factor is hard Euroscepticism. Jobbik and Golden Dawn reject the EU as a bureaucratic construct that promotes the interests of the powerful states to the detriment of the peripheral ones. The two parties have condemned the EU as a feeble entity within which the Franco-German axis and the post-industrial states of Northwestern Europe maximize their national interests over the EU peripheries.

Nevertheless, whereas Golden Dawn has spoken explicitly of the necessity to align Greek national interests with Russian foreign policy, Jobbik has refrained from calls to turn Hungary into a ‘satellite-state’ of Russia. Despite the intensive networking between Gábor Vona and Kremlin, Jobbik’s party-programme still advocates for ‘an independent and sovereign foreign policy doctrine that will maintain an equal distance from East (e.g. Russia, China) and West (e.g. EU, the US)’.

The third factor is anti-capitalism and Russia’s image as an ‘economic alternative’. Jobbik, as well as Golden Dawn, have frequently condemned the EU as a ‘pseudo-union built upon cultural Marxism and relentless capitalism’. In their political platforms, these parties often blend elements from the traditional political culture of nationalism in their countries with an artificial ‘anti-capitalism’. Within this context, and taking into account that Greece and Hungary are two countries that have been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis, both parties have been considering alternative partnerships for economic cooperation.

Panos Kammenos and other deputies from the populist Independent Greeks had been urging Greece to borrow money from Russia (with, allegedly, more favourable interest-rates) in order to repay the country’s foreign debt. Rumours about Russia’s economic success had flooded the Greek web-sphere and Golden Dawn was quick on its feet to call for ‘Greece’s closer alignment with Moscow and tighter cooperation in military as well as economic affairs’. The threatening spectre of the economy’s collapse in Russia may dispel quite a few of these rumours. However, the political impact of Russia’s image as a self-sufficient power and an economic alternative to the EU still persists among certain segments of Greek society.      

The fourth factor is the interaction between identity-politics and foreign policy. Jobbik, Golden Dawn and other far right parties have been very sceptical of the ways that globalization may allegedly result in ‘worldwide acculturation’. Along these lines, ideological trends such as (neo)Eurasianism coincide with Jobbik’s calls to reconnect Hungary with the Asian part of its cultural ancestry. Although it subscribes to Hungary’s ‘historical’ image as a hegemonic power inside the Carpathian Basin, the Jobbik leadership equally acknowledges the Eurasian origins of the Hungarian ethno-genesis (i.e. the references to the Ancient Magyars and Huns). Gábor Vona and other high-rank members of Jobbik have been quick on their feet to dispel any Eurocentric or Orientalist outlooks and emphasize Hungary’s role as a bridge between East and West.

This aspect of Jobbik’s foreign policy doctrine has come to legitimize Vona’s campaign in emerging regional actors such as Turkey, Kazakhstan or, in this case, Russia. It is the shared belief in cultural exceptionalism and the conviction that neither the Russian nor the Hungarian culture can confine within the narrow limits of ‘Europe’ or ‘Asia’ that provides a common ground between the Russian Eurasianists’ (Alexander Dugin, in particular) and Vona’s understandings of Eurasian identity. This common ground has helped bypass the obstacle of ‘traditional’ Russoscepticism among Hungarian nationalists.

Implications for the future

By contrast to the bipolarity of the ‘80s and the unipolarity of the ‘90s, we are currently witnessing the emergence of a multipolar international system. The European economic crisis revealed not only the feeble foundations of monetary unification but also the conflict among various models of governance and financial management inside the EU. Meanwhile, Russia has reasserted its ambition to evolve into a potent global actor. The two parties that have been discussed operate in EU peripheries marred by economic stagnation and political instability.

As far as Russia’s foreign policy is concerned, one might argue that Kremlin does not endorse concrete ideological prerogatives. Instead, one might detect a pattern of situational adaptation. Russian nationalism, an abstract Eurasian identity and, even, the Soviet heritage have been occasionally invoked in order to legitimize Russia’s foreign policy in the ‘near abroad’. During the recent crisis in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, Kremlin’s spokespersons and pro-Kremlin media outlets, rushed to portray the conflict as a war between neo-Fascists and anti-Fascists.

Through linking the recent developments to the Soviet heritage and Ukraine’s home-grown tradition of Fascism (e.g. Stepan Bandera and the OUN), the coordinated endeavour of the abovementioned actors succeeded in making certain leftist parties rather sympathetic to Russian foreign policy. Germany’s Die Linke, for instance, has interpreted the developments in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine as a justified response to the ‘EU-sponsored, Fascist government in Kyiv’.

Meanwhile, this did not prevent Kremlin from utilizing representatives of far right parties in an ‘independent’ electoral commission during the recent referendum in Crimea. On the one hand, Kremlin has managed to capitalize on grievances that do not confine in the cases of Jobbik and Golden Dawn but resonate with a considerable chunk of the European far right (e.g. Euroscepticism and anti-liberalism). On the other hand, the Great Patriotic War against Fascism and its symbolism form a major component of nationalist imagery in contemporary Russia.

Nevertheless, instead of being national in shape and Socialist in content, the image of the Great Patriotic War has been given a distinctly national (Russian) content. In this light, Russia is being portrayed as an anti-fascist force not on ideological but, mainly, on national grounds through references to the Russian nation’s war-effort against Nazi Germany. It is this reappropriation of the Great Patriotic War’s imagery that has provided an, even by default, common ground between certain parties of the broader left and Kremlin. Furthermore, it is this ‘ideological void’ that has enabled Kremlin to network with a variety of, occasionally conflicting, political actors and juggle with their resentment towards mainstream politics within the EU.                  

With specific regard to the European far right, it might be an exaggeration to argue that Kremlin employs far right parties in such a coordinated manner that the Comintern had utilized Communist parties during the interwar era. Moreover, the map of the far right is too diverse and multifaceted to form a coherent whole. For instance, Jobbik’s increasing popularity is an additional factor that has spurred a more decisive turn towards the right on the part of the ruling FIDESZ. At the same time, Golden Dawn’s extremism has resulted in the conviction of the party’s leading figures and this opens up new prospects (although the results of the European elections demonstrated that Golden Dawn has managed to maintain its electoral base).     

However, depending on the evolution of the balance of power between Russia and the EU, one should not dismiss the possibility for such political actors to function as (asymmetric) ‘Trojan horses’ inside the framework of Russian foreign policy. In all of this, it should be borne in mind that the role envisioned for the sympathetic ‘Trojan horses’ from Central and Southeast Europe within the EU bears a qualitative difference from the role reserved for certain parties from the ‘core’ of Western Europe.

In the former case, the focus is cast on systemic transformation, or a radical shift in the foreign policy agenda, that would bring the states in question within Russia’s sphere of influence. In the case of Greece, the drastic realignment of the party-system and the state of turbulence between 2010 and 2011 revealed the fragile foundations of political institutions. Moreover, the current prospect of new elections and the possibility that the leftist SYRIZA may win them generates further anxieties in regards with the consolidation of the new government. In the case of Hungary, the state of friction between Budapest and Brussels over the management of the economic crisis has been a driving force behind the readjustment of this state’s foreign policy towards Moscow.

By contrast, the polities of Western Europe are characterized by greater stability and their democratic institutions have been established as result of a long process. Therefore, the prospects for systemic transformations with groundbreaking repercussions are rather weak. Within the West European context, then, Kremlin’s focus is cast on a more gradualist strategy. This may consist in an attempt to employ sympathetic parties from Western Europe as a bulwark with the aim to counter the impact of the US and the EU upon the foreign policy agenda(s) in these states. So far, a variety of political parties, as diverse as the National Front in France and the UKIP in the United Kingdom, seem to endorse Russian foreign policy. The growing popularity of these parties signals the shape of things to come.  

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Categories: les flux rss

Talking about the rouble, President Putin makes a few phone calls

Open Democracy News Analysis - 5 hours 52 min ago

Even as the Russian rouble responds to Central Bank intervention, people are taking to the streets in search of imported goods. Meanwhile, President Putin makes a few phone calls.

 

Overnight, on 15-16 December, the Central Bank of Russia re-examined its key interest rate, raising it to 17% trying to stabilise the rouble. However, the next day (already called ‘Black Tuesday’), the exchange rate reached 121 roubles to the pound. The Central Bank hopes that the Russian people’s experience of previous crises will help them, and businesses, weather the storm.

A perfect storm

‘The situation is critical. A year ago, even our worst nightmares didn’t stretch to what’s happening right now,’ says Deputy Chairman of the Russian Central Bank, Sergei Shevtsov. But the signs had been there for a while. The devaluation of the rouble had actually started at the end of August when several negative factors all hit at once — inflation, a falling oil price, sanctions, and the stagnating Russian economy.

While the Central Bank’s measures on 15-16 December (including making non-guaranteed credit more difficult to receive) were designed to stabilise the rouble, economists and representatives of the relevant ministries admit that the rate should have been raised far earlier. At the opening of trade on Tuesday, the rouble strengthened (94 roubles to the pound, down from 102). Yet by 1500 UTC, people were panicking; and Black Tuesday saw the rouble break the psychological barrier of 100 roubles to the euro, and 80 to the dollar.

Representatives of business have reacted negatively to the Central Bank’s base rate hike. Boris Titov, a government business ombudsman, says that ‘It doesn’t make sense to shore up the rouble at the expense of the development of the economy. The Central Bank’s raising of the key interest rate means that when commercial banks come to refinance, it will cost 17% interest. As a result, business plans are changing under the pressure of thinking about production costs and profitability.

‘It doesn’t make sense to shore up the rouble at the expense of the development of the economy.’

‘Each year, you’ll have to give 17% of your investment resources to the banks. Even more, given that the banks need to cover their own margins. That is, the real rate today is more than 20%. Therefore, any project should be 20% more competitive than the proposals of foreign competitors.’

Alexander Elinson, a member of the business association Business Russia, agrees:

‘I have only emotions at the moment. The Central Bank’s measures will lead to only one thing — ruining Russian businesses. I am afraid that you cannot stop people panicking about the currency. When the rouble loses 10% of its value in one day, it’s already too late to stop people panicking.’

Consumer panic

The falling rouble has taken its toll on the traditional consumer boom in the run-up to New Year. People have panicked, lining up in front of ATMs and shops in order to invest their devaluing currency in something tangible: food or household appliances.

One person was carrying out a refrigerator and a washing machine

By Tuesday evening, people were already sharing pictures of supermarket queues on social media. As one eyewitness described the situation in Moscow to the radio station Kommersant-FM, ‘The queue for the M-Video shop on Sadovo-Kudrinskaya street covered the whole store. One person was carrying out a refrigerator and a washing machine. Words cannot describe what was happening in the road that runs past the car park: several lanes were at a standstill with cars waiting to park. The IKEA at Belaya Dacha [one of Europe’s largest shopping malls] was a real sight. People just swept everything off the shelves. There were enormous queues for appliances, kitchens, sofas — up to 30 people for each.

‘It was the same in the warehouse. The queues started at the entrance to the warehouse. There were about 70 people in each queue. And this is all connected to the rouble. This is what people are saying.’

The return of 2008

Experts have begun to talk of a financial crisis, drawing analogies with the events of 1998 and 2008. As Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank Sergei Shevtsov warns, the situation is comparable to the darkest period of 2008. Indeed, the Central Bank’s November forecast calls the potential scenario whereby the oil price hits $60 a barrel ‘stressful.’ In this scenario, Russian GDP falls by 4 percentage points in 2015. Former rector of the New Economics School in Moscow, Sergei Guriev, says that Russia has already entered this scenario. Guriev stated on the independent internet TV channel Dozhd’: ‘We are already beyond the forecasted mild recession. I think we are in serious trouble. The main problem is not the rouble, but the decline in revenues, rising prices and unemployment.’

‘We are already beyond the forecasted mild recession. I think we are in serious trouble.’

During the emergency cabinet meeting on Monday, the government decided to increase the supply of foreign currency in the market, thus reducing demand for it, as well as replacing foreign currency with ‘exchangeable liquid assets in roubles.’ Minister of Economic Development, Alexei Ulyukayev, stated that the regulator and the government had agreed to support reliable and high-quality borrowers. Legislative changes are now on the cards in order to provide banks with greater amounts of capital. However, Ulyukaev ruled out the possibility of introducing foreign exchange controls.

Resolving the difficult economic situation depends on how quickly and efficiently the authorities react to negative signals in the market. While sanctions close off opportunities for refinancing external debt, Russian counter-sanctions continue to feed inflation; and the government cannot rely on a significant increase in the oil price. Given how politicised economic decisions are in Russia, and that Russia’s leading financial institutions depend on the political will of the country, solving the crisis will be no easy task.

Putin’s response

At the annual press conference on 18 November, while President Putin seemed to offer little in the way of concrete actions to be taken in response to the financial situation, he did talk of combatting speculators by telephone.

Grigory Dubovitsky (RIA Novosti): Vladimir Vladimirovich, the situation on the currency market is developing by the day. Many experts, including yourself have said that this is partially the result of actions taken by currency speculators. Who are they, could you give us their names? Are they Russians or foreigners? And why can’t we face up to them? Are we so weak, or are they so strong?

Vladimir Putin: This is what our Ukrainian partners did. That is, force businesses, exporters, to sell. But it’s ineffective. The Central Bank is not planning to limit our exports judging by the current figures. This does not mean that the government cannot influence the situation via its representatives in boards of directors. But we are not planning to make any direct instructions.

As to the speculators, they can be foreigners, different funds, or companies. And on the whole, this is part of the market economy. Speculators always appear when there’s an opportunity to make money — creating a favourable situation for oneself in the market. The Central Bank has stopped its currency interventions. It’s another question of whether that could have been done earlier and more stridently. But that’s a question of taste.

‘Speculators always appear when there’s an opportunity to make money’

As to who exactly these people are, I had a chat with some of them on the telephone yesterday — in a friendly manner. I asked one of them, “could you hold off?” He thinks for a minute, and says: “Well, we’ve got to keep up with our credit payments.” I ask him, “But can you have a go?” He says: “Well, in general, we have three billion stashed away.” Three billion dollars! Do you understand what kind of money this is? This isn’t 30 kopeks. And this is only the reserve fund of one company. So if we take this as an average, you know, we’d be looking at not 30, but 300 billion dollars. We need to regulate that somehow, we have to talk, come to some agreement.’

Sideboxes Related stories:  The rouble crisis in Siberia Putin's new foreign policy rulebook Review: Peter Pomerantsev, ‘Nothing is true and everything is possible’ Country or region:  Russia Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
Categories: les flux rss

Reflections on intervention in the 21st century

Open Democracy News Analysis - 6 hours 2 min ago

Where stands now the ‘responsibility to protect’? Recent egregious intervention failures require simplistic nostra to be replaced by a more complex understanding.

Intervention in perspective: children displaced by the post-war chaos in Iraq, supported by the UN in Iraqi Kurdistan. Flickr / United Nations Photo. Some rights reserved.

Drones, controlled remotely from many miles away, routinely circle the skies above large swathes of Iraq. This is the latest iteration of intervention in the region—now targeting the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Such operations have become the embodiment of US ‘counter-terrorism’ policy but the landscape of this intervention, like all others, is unique.

Over the last seven months IS has waged a war of brutality and repression across Syria and large parts of Iraq. The group also pursues a propaganda campaign unabashedly celebrating and promoting the war crimes it commits. The international response was slow from the start, remains limited and is decidedly tentative about troop deployments. Meanwhile, the atrocities continue.

The debate today about military intervention, humanitarian or otherwise, is at least as acute and urgent as at any time in recent decades. But this debate is highly complex and wrought with competing understandings of core concepts.

Legality

The legality of intervention is a crucial concern. It is typically understood as specified by chapters I (article 2) and VII (article 51) of the Charter of the United Nations, which firmly defend the sovereign equality of member states, while sanctioning war only in the respective cases of self-defence and threats to international peace and security. Additionally, intervention may be initiated by a regional organisation under chapter VIII, and can be considered legal so long as subsequent Security Council authorisation is obtained. Gareth Evans strongly argues that the UN Charter “is the only possible source of authority” for any and all interventions.

Yet broader interpretations of legal intervention, relying on customary law, have sometimes been proffered. Current actions against IS, as with Kosovo in 1999, may well fall into this category—humanitarian need is undeniable and crimes against humanity evident. Given the state of affairs in the Middle East and prevailing intervention strategies under the Obama administration, the customary-law justification appears to be the most common for action outside of the UN Charter framework. While this may avoid the pitfalls of a gridlocked Security Council, it runs the risk of creating more confusion in the realm of legality— particularly when the case for intervention is shrouded in controversy.

In 2001 the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), chaired by Evans, developed the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine, attempting to recast sovereignty as contingent upon a state’s willingness and ability to protect its citizens—to uphold their fundamental human rights. The doctrine posits that when states fail to meet this obligation the responsibility to protect individuals falls on the international community.

R2P has gradually transformed the discourse surrounding intervention and is seen by some as providing clear-cut guidance on when military force may be utilised in pressing humanitarian situations. R2P principles were adopted by the General Assembly in 2005 but the doctrine remains non-binding and does not confer legal rights; nor does it impose binding restrictions pertaining to intervention. Notably, R2P does not amend the criteria for intervention in the UN Charter—it supplements them by filling a hole and providing a further justification for intervention (still under the charter).

Thomas Weiss suggests that we ought to call the UN’s endorsement of the doctrine “R2P lite” because, unlike the original ICISS recommendations, the September 2005 summit made Security Council approval a sine qua non rather than merely highly desirable. Its invocation in Security Council resolutions has brought controversy and mounting criticism.

Charles Kupchan analyses this in relation to the NATO intervention in Libya, arguing that the operation “initially enjoyed legitimacy and legality” but, because of NATO’s over-stretching of the mandate and perceived mission overreach, it “ended up on contested ground”. As long as R2P intersects with the geopolitical interests of powerful states, the question of whether it can ever be applied systematically and impartially remains in doubt.

That R2P has been endorsed in the General Assembly, invoked by the Security Council and become ubiquitous in debates about intervention may signal a significant change in the understanding of legality and the legitimate grounds for mobilising military forces, so long as issues of impartiality can be resolved in the further articulation and entrenchment of the doctrine. This would require a more coherent and substantive account of who can and should take decisions to implement R2P, under what conditions, with what means and with what appropriate assurances of accountability. That remains some way off.

Legitimacy

A second dominant theme in debates about intervention is the issue of legitimacy. Whilst legal authorisation may create legitimacy in some instances, the two are not synonymous. Rather, legitimacy connotes whether an intervention is regarded as acceptable and/or ‘right’—be it morally or otherwise justified. Legitimacy is perhaps the most difficult concept to make sense of, yet it carries significant weight in the way one understands global order. This is a judgment that can be made by both those in positions of power and also by the many people who are affected by an intervention, ranging from the citizens of intervening states who fund intervention (in)directly to the citizens of states where interventions are made, affecting in profound ways their life chances.

Thomas Risse offers a very interesting contribution to the discussion by distinguishing between two forms of legitimacy: normative legitimacy, which addresses the “question of whether or not a particular political action can be considered legitimate according to some moral or ethical standard”; but also empirical legitimacy, which is the “factual belief by those being ruled (or being intervened in this case) that the ruling authorities (or the interveners) are justified to claim followership”. Pointedly, he argues that there is “a clear relationship between the support of external interveners by local rulers and/or populations, on the one hand, and the effectiveness of the intervention in terms of keeping or restoring the peace on the ground, on the other hand”.

This is a crucial contribution to the debate about both legitimacy and feasibility. Simply put, Risse contends that “successful” intervention requires empirical legitimacy. Yet, such arguments by no means command agreement. In this regard, Anne Orford makes an interesting point. She argues that the “turn to legitimacy” is part of an attack on legalism that can be used by powerful states to carve out space needed for interventions, whilst also maintaining a status quo in the international order. Thus, legitimacy can be hijacked by powerful interests to claim the rightful nature of an action, even if it is blatantly illegal under international law.

Legitimacy is a concept we cannot do without, yet it remains contested at its core. If one considers legitimacy in isolation from questions of legality and feasibility, an approach such as Risse’s might draw the debate closer to a common understanding. In particular, the benefit of employing an ‘empirical’ account of legitimacy is that it comes close to introducing some kind of objective measure that interventions can be considered against. However, as Orford points out, the matter is more complex when considered in relation to legality and global power structures. In this instance, legitimacy, and its pursuit, may sometimes serve to undermine the international legal code.

Feasibility

A third dimension is feasibility. While this may seem a straightforward concept it remains deeply problematic, especially in the context of the complex patterns of conflict and intervention in the 21st century.

Feasibility is, at its core, about judging the means required to achieve a particular end: the protection of civilians, the eradication of a despotic regime, providing relief to populations under severe threat. Is the use of force effective? Does it generate ‘collateral damage’ which undermines the core mission? Does it leave a legacy of violence as the norm of managing conflictual relationships? Does it undermine human-rights standards and the capacity for self-determination? Do the means destroy the end?

Michael Doyle and Camille Strauss-Kahn identify one of the many drivers of liberal interventionism as the push for democracy—and argue that the results have not been promising. Apart from the very different circumstances of the aftermath of the second world war, few Western-led interventions have issued in stable democracies.

Indeed, a strong case can be made that many have made things worse—much worse—in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (see Held and Ulrichsen). The reach of the Afghanistan government has been virtually reduced to Kabul plus a few metres on either side of major highways. Iraq is in further turmoil, creating a vacuum in which armed groups can expand. And Libya has become a failed state in practically every sense.

Feasibility is not only about the effectiveness of an action. Will it be implemented at all? And, if so, how, by whom and for how long? Strong UN mandates are increasingly sparse and rarely associated with the capacity to deliver successful intervention. Action can be blocked by permanent members of the Security Council, as when China has vetoed resolutions aimed at putting more pressure on Sudan on Darfur or, more recently, Russia and China have vetoed intervention in the Syrian civil war amid acute human suffering.

Anne-Marie Slaughter argues that while agreement on political and military feasibility may be difficult to reach within government, “it is magnified ten or a hundred fold” when the only way to put together a legal intervention is to involve 14 other governments, “each of which has their own political, military, and humanitarian calculations”. In short, the more state and non-state actors involved in an intervention, the more it is likely to show strains generated by multipolarity and complexity (see Hale, Held and Young, 2013).

Feasibility should not be considered in isolation from the other factors in this debate. Legality and legitimacy may be directly related to it—but in an inverse way. Exploring Yemen, Steven Zyck argues that it is those “projects which operate in a legal grey zone” that are the most feasible, as they face fewer obstacles to implementation and regulation. So feasibility may increase with the weakness of states and the ambiguity of legal context—which is not encouraging, of course, for a rule-based global order.

Conclusion

The diversity of views on these three core aspects of intervention suggests that scholars, politicians and practitioners may be talking past one another—each bringing their own idea of what legality, legitimacy or feasibility may mean. This may be inevitable to some degree but it does make coherent debate difficult to achieve. And how to proceed remains in many cases unresolved: vis-à-vis IS, Boko Haram, despotic and repressive states, as well as a multitude of militias which reign in whatever capacity they can, with civilians frequently caught in the crossfire.

These uncertainties are clearly manifest in the struggles by the US president, Barack Obama, to address IS. There appears a clear legal mandate under chapter VIII for intervention, if the UNSC were to give backing beyond the limited sanctions and condemnations set out this year. IS is clearly committing crimes against humanity: rape, pillage, slaughter, torture and so on.

On legitimacy, the terrain is complex—straightforward, perhaps, for Western advocates of intervention or affected Shia populations but certainly not for certain Sunni communities throughout Syria and Iraq. Feasibility is wrought with even greater complexity. Obama has sought a two-pronged strategy of drone warfare and arming local resistance. This is a long way from the tank columns of the ‘coalition of the willing’ landing in Basra and pushing up towards Baghdad.

So far the results, however, seem unfortunately similar. Finding answers to these questions is as difficult as it is necessary.

Andrew Linklater highlights the underlying tension between the ostensibly benevolent motives driving decisions to intervene and the moral and practical complexities of interventions themselves. On one hand, intervention can be shaped by a quest for realistic understandings of war-torn societies and pragmatic approaches. On the other, discourses of intervention can be found to be interpolated with “colonial imaginaries”, a hierarchy of societies constituted on racist assumptions.

The future of intervention is likely to reflect these complex forces, all too often evoking positions on legality, legitimacy and feasibility to suit the geopolitical interests of the time. Yet these concepts are not infinitely malleable, and they carry clear institutional and philosophical content which needs to be understood.

The weight of failure in many recent cases of intervention, with overwhelming death and destruction, makes this debate of paramount significance. Without clarity on these core issues politicians are likely to continue launching violent interventions which cause more harm than good, while undermining a rule-based global order.

This essay is based on the most recent Global Policy e-book, Lessons from Intervention in the 21st Century: Legality, Legitimacy and Feasibility, edited by the authors, to be released in the coming weeks. Join the debate on Twitter #GPintervention.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The Responsibility to Protect after Libya – dead, dying or thriving? Libya, Syria and the “responsibility to protect”: a moment of inflection? Topics:  Conflict International politics
Categories: les flux rss

Fairytale of New Addington

Open Democracy News Analysis - 7 hours 40 min ago

This Croydon neighbourhood has been maligned by the tabloids as home of work-shy, cultureless Chavs. The sociologist Les Back, who grew up there, reports on an annual celebration of community.

It is the last Sunday in November.  Hundreds of people gather on the corner of Homestead Way and King Henry’s Drive in New Addington, south London. We have come to see the switching on the Hopkinsons’ Christmas lights. This family home is fabled for its electric Technicolor decorations —10,000 lights, luminous reindeer, choirboys and Father Christmas himself. Every December since the eighties this house has been lit up, a giant beacon of festivity. 

By sundown at 4.30pm there must be 500 local residents with their children whose expectation is getting increasingly unruly. “If you step into the road again I am going to take you home,” a mother snaps at her little boy. There are so many people in the street that the buses can barely get past.  As it happens, the person responsible for this incredible show — Alex Hopkinson —  has worked as a bus driver in south London for ten years. As 5 pm approaches the master of ceremonies leads the children in a count down and as the lights are switched on fireworks fly from the Hopkingsons’ back garden, exploding over the heads of the crowd. A snow machine blasts fake festive flakes into the air. Kids toss snowballs at each other. 

All this is done for free and without any official coordination. Alex has spent £300 from his own pocket on the fireworks, last year the electricity along was an extra £150 and the total cost was £1,500, no small sum for a man supporting a family on a bus driver’s salary. 

In the front garden, Santa Claus in his sleigh hands out bags of sweets to the children. This year the proceeds from the sale of teas and coffees and donations will go to the Royal Marsden Hospital and Combat Stress.  When the last fireworks have exploded there is applause and a voice from the back of the crowd shouts: “Well done, Alex!”

Alex Hopkinson, now in his thirties, explains how it all started. His father Derek Hopkinson who grew up in Hoxton, East London and as a boy worked in the east London markets, picking up the markets’ patter and brogue. “My father was a real showman. Everyone that met him loved him. He was like a magnet, he never turned anyone away.” In the middle of the technicolor light display there’s a huge picture of Derek Hopkinson mounted on the front of the house.

When I left home over thirty years ago almost no-one outside Croydon had heard of New Addington. Then in November 2011 Addington resident Emma West shouted racist abuse on a tram bound for Addington. Her rant was filmed on a mobile phone. The video went viral, watched by over 11 million people on YouTube. Championed by the BNP and the English Defense League, West became a political symbol. 

It transpired that she had been suffering with mental health problems and had taken 100mg of the antidepressant Citalopram, more than twice the recommended limit. According to her barrister David Martin-Sperry Emma West was “deeply depressed” by the far right’s support, and under pressure from the trial she attempted to take her own life on three occasions.  In July 2013 West was bound over and sentenced to a 24 month community order. The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight concluded that the Crown Prosecution Service had exacerbated the situation by failing to take West’s mental health into account. 

In the summer of 2012 New Addington was again in the headlines following the murder of 12 year old Tia Sharp by her grandmother’s boyfriend. The Daily Mail described Tia as a “victim of the moral decay that now prevails in parts of Britain. The names may change, they may come from different parts of the country, but all are casualties of the same underclass whose ‘values’ — subsidised in the most part by benefits — are being passed down from generation to generation.” In the media New Addington became a tag for the work-shy underclass, benefit scroungers and cultureless ‘Chavs’.

In November 2013 The Croydon Advertiser published ‘well-being scores' for the borough and the New Addington and Fieldway estates came bottom: the worst places to live in Croydon.

For many working people the estate offered a first real stable home, an escape from slum clearance and post-war austerity.  During the seventies home ownership was very low, confined mainly to the oldest part of the estate built in the thirties and named after Charles Boot who envisioned Addington as a ‘garden village’. Thatcherism changed this and the level of home ownership during the eighties increased rapidly, as residents took up the ‘right to buy’ their homes.  Families like my own and the Hopkinsons bought their council homes.

I asked Alex whether he thought there was something unique about working-class men of his Dad’s generation. “There is, yeah…” Alex replied. “Oh yeah, enjoying themselves.  It’s all lost now, people are too busy now, doing their own stuff now — not caring about no-one else.” Derek Hopkinson died in St Christopher’s Hospice, Sydenham in 2004. In 2013 Alex wanted to rekindle the tradition in his Dad’s memory to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing. This year’s Christmas lights opening marks the continuation of the tradition. 

The Hopkinsons were not the only family to celebrate Christmas in this way.  By the nineties lots of homes on the estate were decorated in lavish colour, with glowing snowmen and Father Christmases shining out of the pitch darkness at night.  Sukhdev Sandhu writes that houses that stick out from timid suburban conformity appear both “heroic and lonely”. Christmas kitsch in ‘Addo‘ has that kind of exceptional boldness. Driving around this year there are fewer illuminated houses than in previous Decembers. Austerity is biting like the cold North Downs’ wind.  In recent years two Pawn shops have opened on the estate’s main shopping area, Central Parade. One resident told me, “I was up there last week and I saw someone take their laptop. They offered her £20 and she took it.”

The estate is much more socially differentiated than outsiders would have it.  Home ownership on the estate is 38 per cent in Fieldway (known locally as the ‘New Estate’), and 55 per cent for the older ‘red brick houses’ in New Addington ward.  This is relatively low when compared with 69 per cent for Croydon as a whole. The homes decorated extravagantly at Christmas are often, although not exclusively, the red-brick ones. The festive illumination of these homes does not simply reflect their economic status or spending power, rather the Christmas lights are a seasonal gift to the estate as a whole. 

“You can do a class analysis of London with Christmas lights,” writes China Miéville. In poorer homes “the season is celebrated with chromatic surplus”, while the rich and middle-class “strive to distinguish themselves with White-lit Christmas trees”. A drive to New Addington supports Miéville thesis. In affluent Beckenham, homes are bathed in subtle white light sometimes with a luminous electric stag grazing on the lawn. “Ah good taste, as Picasso may or may not have said, what a dreadful thing,” writes Miéville. He might enjoy New Addington where entire houses are illuminated with multi-coloured electric excess.

I ask Alex if there is a relationship between social class and Christmas decorations.  He nods: “I think it’s people who have never had nothin’ who like to give back to people.  You always find people who are poor always give and people that are rich don’t… and that’s the reason they stay rich for.” We laugh. “When you think about it a lot of the rich people they sort of don’t give to people and that is the reason why they’ve got money.”  Is that why they’ve got their classy white lights?” I ask?  “Exactly” he says.

At the heart of this story is an ordinary miracle. In contrast to the glitzy consumerism of the supermarkets and shopping centres that profit from Christmas, this is a spectacle of community — a gift given for free in hard times by a family to the estate.  You can see it reflected in the faces of the children, in their laughter and excitement, and come to admire the glowing colours of the Christmas lights.  There is no better tribute to Derek’s memory, one of New Addington’s best-loved characters. 

A young mother took her kids up to see the Hopkinsons’ Christmas lights. Her story is emblematic of the new situation. She was evicted from her council flat earlier in 2013 for not paying her rent, but it was not just that times were hard financially.  Eviction was her way out of the abusive relationship she was in where she had repeatedly been the victim of domestic violence.   The council simply viewed her as a bad debtor and issued an eviction notice.  A local housing office told me: “There’s not a lot of sympathy out there… if you get evicted then the legislation says you are intentionally homeless. People don’t come back.” 

This is how new class divisions work through distinguishing between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. She now lives with her Nan who, like the Hopkinsons, bought her council house in the 1980s. The atmosphere of class cruelty and widening housing inequalities creates new forms of family, where — as in this case — the old are in need of everyday care and at the same time provide a roof for the young in need of a home.

As a child Kirsty MacColl lived close to New Addington. In her famous collaboration with the Pogues, Fairy Tale of New York – the greatest Christmas song of all time – she sings with Shane MacGowan “And the bells are ringing out. For Christmas Day.”  For me, the Hopkinsons’ festive decorations recall that stirring refrain.

 

 

Notes

Data Blog: Where is the best place to live in Croydon, Croydon Advertiser, http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/DATA-BLOG-best-place-live-Croydon/story-20164938-detail/story.html

Sukhdev Sandhu Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night (Verso & Artangel, 2007) p. 22.  

Strategic Partnership Croydon Fieldway Ward Profile (Strategic Partnership, 2009) http://www.croydonobservatory.org/docs/877820/877871 and Strategic Partnership Croydon New Addington Ward Profile (Strategic Partnership, 2009) http://www.croydonobservatory.org/docs/877820/877880

China Miéville London’s Overthrow (The Westbourne Press, 2012) p. 29

Les Back ‘Flame Immune to Wind: The Songs of Kirsty MacColl, City, 7 (1), 2003 pp. 107-111. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  The hidden costs of renting in modern Britain Interview: why tenants are feeling let down, how they are fighting back A boom in estate agents isn't the road to real recovery An Englishman's home is his castle - So long to our dream of ownership? 'Go Home' texts expose anti-migrant British policy to the world 'Go Home' vans defeated, but . . . Welcome to Britain: 'Go Home or Face Arrest' Welcome to Britain. Go Home. And have a pleasant journey
Categories: les flux rss

Justice blindfolded? The case of Jimmy Mubenga

Open Democracy News Analysis - 8 hours 58 min ago

Following the acquittal on 16 December of the G4S guards charged with the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga, barrister Frances Webber, chair of the Institute of Race Relations, focuses on the judge’s decision to rule inadmissible evidence pointing to endemic racism within G4S.

Jimmy Mubenga with his youngest child

After the acquittal of the guards charged with Jimmy Mubenga’s manslaughter, the judge told the jurors not to be concerned if they later read about evidence excluded from the trial. What should we make of this advice?

On 16 December three G4S guards were acquitted of the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga, who died on 12 October 2010 under restraint on a plane during his deportation to Angola. Terrence Hughes, Colin Kaler and Stuart Tribelnig had been on trial at the Old Bailey for manslaughter by gross negligence, on the basis that they disregarded their duty of care by keeping Mubenga in a compressed position in his seat for over half an hour, ignoring his cries that he could not breathe.

Should we be surprised at the verdicts? No. In all the dozens of deaths in custody involving undue force researched by the IRR over the last twenty-five years,[1] no one has ever been convicted of homicide. And where an inquest jury, after seeing and hearing incontrovertible evidence, has brought in a verdict of unlawful killing (which has happened at least nine times), heaven and earth are moved to reverse the verdict and/or to ensure that the CPS does not bring a prosecution of those involved.

On this occasion, following the inquest verdict of unlawful killing, the CPS did decide to prosecute the three men, in a reversal of its previous position that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to prosecute anyone involved – the CPS’ default position when it comes to deaths in custody.

Inconsistent verdicts

Jimmy Mubenga died in an aircraft seat, surrounded by passengers on a British Airways plane. The prosecution case was that, handcuffed behind his back and with his head pushed down for over half an hour, Mubenga was held in a position which impeded his breathing. The guards denied pushing him down, and claimed that he put himself into that position, bent over in his seat. Passengers heard him calling out in distress, crying for help, saying ‘I can’t breathe’. The guards denied hearing any such cries. Three eminent medical specialists agreed at the inquest that the cause of death was cardio-respiratory failure caused by restraint.

The inquest jury were directed by the coroner that they had to be sure ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ before bringing in a verdict of unlawful killing.  Given the very high standard of proof needed to sustain an unlawful killing verdict – the same standard of proof needed to bring in guilty verdicts at trial – the failure of the prosecution, highlighting as it does the disparity between the conclusions of the two juries and leaving no one accountable for Mubenga’s death, cannot but bring the justice system into disrepute. The inquest conclusions, the medical evidence, the sheer length of time he was restrained – all were indications that a prosecution could succeed. To some, it looked like an open and shut case. But the prosecution was pursued without zeal, and was stymied by a decision of the judge to exclude significant evidence which the men’s lawyers deemed prejudicial.

Inadmissible evidence?

Following the acquittal, the judge told the jury that they were not to be concerned if they later read about material that was ruled inadmissible at the trial. At the very beginning of the trial, reporting restrictions had been imposed which prevented any media reporting of the unlawful killing verdict, the coroner’s report or the virulently racist tweets and other evidence of racism on the part of the security guards, pending legal argument as to whether the jury could be allowed to hear this evidence or not.  Later in the trial, the judge ruled that the jury should not hear any of this evidence. Hearing about the huge volume of horrible racist tweets and jokes received and re-sent by Terrence Hughes, and the small number by Tribelnig (none were on Kaler’s phone), would, defence lawyers argued, ‘release an unpredictable cloud of prejudice’ in the jury, preventing a fair trial. The judge acceded to the argument – so the jury reached its verdict in ignorance both of the previous jury’s conclusions and of the evidence of racist attitudes held by one or more of the men tasked with restraining Mubenga on the plane.

The law allows evidence of ‘reprehensible conduct’ to be admitted in a criminal trial if it is important explanatory evidence which helps the jury understand the evidence as a whole. The judge agreed that the racist messages were reprehensible, but rejected the prosecutor’s argument that they were relevant to the facts or would help the jury understand what had happened. The defence argued that since there was also homophobia, misogyny and anti-Liverpudlian prejudice mixed in with the racism, they might offend any gays or women or Liverpudlians on the jury and prevent them from reaching a fair verdict.

In a ‘Rule 43’ report (now known as a Preventing Further Deaths, PFD report) issued after the inquest, the coroner had said of these racist messages, ‘It seems unlikely that endemic racism would not impact at all on service provision’. She referred to:

"[T]he possibility that such racism might find reflection in race-based antipathy towards detainees and deportees and that in turn might manifest itself in inappropriate treatment of them. As it was put by one witness, the potential impact on detainees of a racist culture is that detainees and deportees are not “personalised”.This may, self-evidently, result in a lack of empathy and respect for their dignity and humanity potentially putting their safety at risk, especially if force is used against them."

The judge’s decision to exclude the evidence ignored this insight (and of course the jury were not permitted to see this report). Although he accepted that the racist messages were ‘reprehensible conduct’ which would allow admission of the evidence, his decision was to prevent the jury from contextualising or properly weighing the evidence the guards gave of their respectful, professional treatment of Mubenga. It contrasted sharply with the decision of the judge in the Stephen Lawrence case to admit evidence of Gary Dobson and Steven Norris’ racist attitudes, as evidenced in covert surveillance material.

Of course, in the Lawrence case, given the length of time the family had fought for justice, which had been so manifestly denied for so many years, it was imperative for the prosecution to succeed from the point of view of the prosecutor; the case had attained such a high profile as to have become a litmus test for the capacity of the legal system to deliver justice for a victim of a racist attack.

No such imperative existed in this case, which from the point of view of the authorities concerned an attempted lawful deportation. Not only was this action carried out on behalf of the state, albeit by private contractors, it was also clearly (from the official point of view) in the public interest – despite Mubenga’s seventeen years in the UK and his five children born here. Mubenga was a foreign national offender, convicted of an assault in a club – someone as far down the social pecking order as it is possible to be. For it is not just racist tweets which dehumanise: foreign national offenders are a group perhaps more demonised than any other by politicians and media. This context of official action stacked the odds further against a successful prosecution. For, from the prosecutorial perspective, the fact of a prosecution was enough to ward off accusations of institutional injustice; it was unnecessary for such a prosecution to succeed.

The exclusion of relevant evidence meant that the case actually lacked part of its context, and the defence suggestions that Mubenga was indeed too big, strong and vociferous and helped to bring about his own demise, won the day. And although the guards denied any unlawful or dangerous restraint, the sub-text was that if they did do anything untoward it was because of a lack of training and therefore outside of their individual culpability.

Support for the suggestion of institutional – or rather corporate – culpability came in  early 2011, when G4S whistle-blowers told the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee that concerns had been raised with senior management over the use of dangerous restraints on deportees several times before the death – in particular over the practice of forcing a detainee’s head down, known as ‘carpet karaoke’, implicated in Mubenga’s death.[2] After hearing evidence from G4S and Home Office officials, the committee concluded that it was ‘not at all convinced’ that contractors were providing adequate training or supervision to avoid excessive force or dangerous restraint methods. But no charges were brought against G4S, the guards’ employer, either under corporate manslaughter or health and safety legislation – so Mrs Mubenga and the couple’s five children end up with no justice, and no peace.

 

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told Jimmy Mubenga and the shame of British Airways Lord Ramsbotham attacks 'perverse' decision not to prosecute G4S over Mubenga death The lonely death of Jimmy Mubenga
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Who is accountable for Gaza reconstruction?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 10 hours 34 min ago

The latest war in Gaza brought not only vast human suffering but devastation to its already pummelled built environment. Yet UN-sponsored reconstruction is proving agonisingly slow.

A Palestinian student inspects the damage to a UN school in Jabalia refugee camp hit by an Israeli attack on 30 July, killing at least 16 civilians. Flickr / United Nations Photo. Some rights reserved.

For weeks, the growing din of criticism, media coverage and protest surrounding the United Nations’ failure to get the rebuilding of Gaza off the ground has met a resounding silence.

Palestinians have been left without details or timelines, while the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, tweaks the mechanism for reconstruction he agreed with Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in mid-October. On 11 December Serry promised delivery of materials to repair one-fifth of the estimated 100,000 homes destroyed or damaged in the summer war—yet without addressing the role of Israel in the delays of the preceding two months.

Closer scrutiny reveals that the design and handling of the arrangement itself fall short of fundamental principles of good governance. Key to this failure is dependence on Israel to operate “in good faith”, despite the blockade of Gaza remaining in place.

In an attempt to work around Israel’s barriers to reconstruction, the Serry mechanism effectively subcontracts enforcement of the blockade to the UN. Complicated procedures and technically involved monitoring mechanisms contribute to delays, while Israel retains the right to approve or reject applications case-by-case. It took a month and a half after the agreement was reached for the second shipment of building materials for the private sector to arrive in Gaza.

Standards of good governance, embedded in international agreements such as the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda and the Fragile States Principles, should help remove obstacles to effective aid placed by powerful spoilers. In Gaza, the UN and Israel are the two most powerful actors administering reconstruction. Hamas and the PA, mired in squabbles over the formation of a consensus government, have little capacity to meet Israeli demands.

Four principles failed

The Serry mechanism, intended to overcome these obstacles in order to start rebuilding before winter, has so far failed the following four principles of good governance:—

Transparency: Those affected by the mechanism should have access to information on the specifics of the arrangement, as well as the status of its implementation. But details of the mechanism were only leaked following a closed, high-level briefing on 14 October. Moreover, Palestinians lack information on the UN’s proposed course of action in response to the mechanism’s evident failure—and have been left waiting in suspense as to when they can secure building materials.

Accountability: No means are apparent to ensure Israel fulfils its responsibilities under the UN arrangement; nor did the agreement require it to accelerate the entry of building materials into Gaza. The donor agencies utilising the Serry mechanism have not complained about their resources getting mired in the black box of Israel’s security concerns. This passive stance permits reconstruction activities to be held hostage by one party—overwhelmingly the stronger—to the conflict.

Responsiveness: Aid should be responsive to need, rather than identity or affiliation; priority should be placed on helping the most vulnerable. But heavy surveillance of supplicants and the requirement to provide detailed personal information may deter individuals (and their families) who have been detained by the Israelis at any point in the past or are affiliated with Hamas. Further, Israel is permitted to deny access to building materials on the basis of its own political criteria.

Effectiveness: If the Serry mechanism were effective, it would facilitate rebuilding with a minimum of delays, ideally improving on previous systems. Donors have past experience with the obstacles imposed by Israel’s strategy of reserving the right to make decisions case-by-case and at the last minute. Unfortunately, the new mechanism relies on the flawed assumption that there exists a will to co-operate on Israel’s part. In point of fact, it has manipulated the arrangement to advance its own end of increased control over Gaza.

Dire consequences

Delays and bureaucratic red tape have dire consequences for Palestinians facing winter without adequate shelter, leading to an emergency situation in Gaza. The UN mechanism’s lack of transparency aggravates the situation, contributing to a tense political environment.

From the ground, a return to conflict may appear to be the only alternative. The UN urgently needs to rethink its strategy—from one of co-operation with the blockade to holding Israel accountable for the crisis in Gaza.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Gaza reconstruction package: should taxpayers be concerned? Country or region:  Palestine Topics:  Conflict
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For young refugees from Syria, education equals hope

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 36 min ago

Young Syrian refugees have shown extradordinary resilience, but hope for their short and long-term futures hinges on better educational opportunities.

Syrian refugee children in a makeshift shelter. Demotix/Matthew Aslett. All rights reserved.

A young Syrian woman took centre stage in a recent Refugee Studies Centre workshop in Jordan, eloquently describing her determination to continue to study to become a doctor. Through the help of an innovative refugee training programme in Amman she was on her way.

Yet her case is not the norm; supply of education, vocational training, apprenticeship schemes and psychosocial support for young refugees from Syria is severely lacking. Local and international efforts are failing to meet the needs and educational aspirations of Syria’s young population.

The young woman was speaking during a workshop in Amman involving education practitioners, UN agencies, refugee youth and government actors to discuss the educational status of refugees from Syria aged 12-25 years. This arose from research conducted in Jordan, Lebanon, Northern Iraq / Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Turkey this summer. The research team, some of whom are refugees themselves, came from these respective countries as well as Syria, Palestine and the UK.

The final report, Ensuring Quality Education for Young Refugees from Syria (also Arabic translation and related Policy Note), maps out the educational supply and demand, gaps and good practice for refugee youth from Syria in the region, involving 118 young people and 79 practitioners in the process. It details how education systems are under immense strain and often unable to meet educational demands from refugee youth in the respective contexts. It also highlights the good practice and advocates scaling up quality education services for young refugees in the region.

From listening to the young woman’s aspirations and achievements, the research findings and workshop discussions, it is clear that innovation, leadership and resilience are common characteristics among displaced young people. Yet, at secondary level in particular, demand far outweighs supply, leaving the majority of refugee youth excluded from quality education.

Social factors such as economic deprivation and linguistic difference also prevent access to education. The need to earn money to support the family or inability to afford travel to schools or training centres hinders access for many. Educational exclusion can lead to despondency, social withdrawal and a sense of hopelessness among refugee youth, which can result in young people reverting to violence in Syria in a bid to find solutions, having no prospects in the host community.

Unless educational opportunities are increased, Syria’s future, as well as that of the region and global community, is in jeopardy. It is critical to tap into the strengths and capture the tremendous potential of young people from Syria. The number of refugees from Syria is currently held at over three million, half of whom are children and youth. Given these alarming rates and the complexity of the conflict, long-term solutions are needed.

An integral part of protection in a protracted refugee situation is education and training. Attending school, learning skills or being an apprentice not only gives children and young people life opportunities, but also a sense of stability, purposefulness and hope; components critical to wellbeing.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Education and flags: seminal for winning the hearts and minds of Syria’s new generation? Syrian civil society in Lebanon: challenges and opportunities Social networks in Syria: between mediation and mobilisation Country or region:  Syria Topics:  Conflict
Categories: les flux rss

Religion and human rights - partnership with a dose of pragmatism

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 42 min ago

Religion and human rights need not be completely divorced, or work hand-in-hand all the time. A case-by-case approach, taking into account the realities on the ground, is the more sensible thing to do. Français

The present discussion on the potential collaboration between religion and human rights has attracted some interesting articles on how religion and religious actors can complement, or undermine, human rights causes.

Larry Cox has written how religious ideals of social justice provided an impetus and legitimacy to human rights causes, while Nida Kirmani wrote about how religion provided inspiration and legitimacy to gross violations of human rights. Advocates of collaboration tend to focus on the behavior and actions of some religious leaders or religion-inspired human rights, while skeptics focus on the potential dangers of the collaboration to vulnerable groups, such as women, minority groups and the LGBT community.

While religion and human rights may converge on boarder principles, their application in specific circumstances can and do diverge. These differences call for a selective and limited use of religion in the human rights movement. While religion and human rights may converge on boarder principles, their application in specific circumstances can and do diverge. A good example is the reproductive rights of women or the rights of sexual minorities. These differences call for a selective and limited use of religion in the human rights movement. Where there is a common ground on certain issues, human rights activists must work with religious leaders, and use their acceptance and credibility to advance those causes. On the other hand, when religious leaders promote ideas and practices that contradict essential elements of human rights, activists must confront and challenge the narratives and arguments of such leaders. Activists may even work with moderate religious leaders to undermine the views and actions of regressive religious leaders.

An approach that does not absolutely preclude religion, or blindly endorse religion as a matter of principle, is preferable. The value and utility of the partnership should be assessed on a case-by-case and pragmatic basis. Just like many human rights activists work with traditional communities and their leaders, they must work with religious communities to advance the cause of human rights. To ignore such an influential and resourceful notion as religion is unwise.  

In many countries, especially countries with dominant Muslim populations, one has to recognize the influence of religion and religious law. However, the articles published here do not sufficiently explore how a state can balance the demands for official recognition of religion with the demands of human rights. They do not talk about how in some countries political leaders try to accommodate the demands of religion within the notion of human rights.

Given the social, cultural and religious reality in some states, excluding religion and religious law is not only unwise but also impractical. However, states should be pragmatic in recognizing certain aspects of religious law. They will need to recognize the broad principles and objects of a particular religion, or religions, and at the same time find a way to guarantee fundamental human rights.

For instance, the 2014 Constitution of Tunisia and the 2012 Provisional Constitution of Somalia expressly recognize Islam as a state religion and its potential role in shaping laws and state action. Nevertheless, the constitutions do not allow religious leaders to invalidate laws based on real or perceived incompatibilities with Islam. Moreover, the constitutions recognize a number of rights and establish procedures and institutions to enforce such rights. In both countries, the extent to which religious ideals and principles will influence (both positively and negatively) the recognition of human rights depends on the political realities of the time and the views of the dominant political forces. Nevertheless, the establishment of clear procedures for the enforcement of rights is likely to ensure that human rights have a certain level of protection.


Demotix/Mohamed Krit (All rights reserved)

Members of the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia celebrate the passage of their country's new constitution.

Furthermore, the recognition of the application of religious law may counter-intuitively advance human rights, as it gives the state the opportunity to set up constraints and control mechanisms within the system.

For instance, the constitutions of some states, such as the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, establish or allow Muslims to establish Shari’ah courts that resolve disputes between Muslims, provided all parties to the case have consented to the jurisdiction of the court. This ensures that only those people who agree to the system will be subject to the law. In the absence of such recognition, women and other vulnerable groups are likely to be socially forced to be subject to the system. Ignoring Muslim personal law does not necessarily mean religious law will not regulate behavior anymore. It only means the system will operate outside the framework of the state, which makes it difficult to tell whether women and other vulnerable groups are being treated well and deprives the state the opportunity to correct at least the most egregious consequences of the application of religious law.

While principles are an important consideration in forging a partnership between religion and human rights, the diversity and contradictions on the ground require a more practical approach. In fact, a number of grassroots human rights organizations already actively collaborate and work with religions establishments and leaders. A sensible approach would be to assess the partnership on a case-by-case basis.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

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Related stories:  Human rights must get religion Religion as a human rights liability Whose faith wins? Keeping religion out of the law Don’t merge human rights with religion, even in Africa Starting at the top: why rights groups need to engage religious leaders Islamic and UN Bills of Rights: same difference
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La religion et les droits de l’homme : un partenariat avec une dose de pragmatisme

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 42 min ago

La religion et les droits de l’homme n’ont pas besoin d’être totalement séparés ou de travailler constamment main dans la main. Une approche au cas par cas, prenant en compte la réalité du terrain, est la solution la plus raisonnable. English

La discussion actuelle sur la collaboration potentielle entre la religion et les droits de l’homme a généré des articles intéressants sur la manière dont la religion et les acteurs religieux peuvent nuire à la cause des droits de l’homme ou l’enrichir.

Larry Cox a écrit sur la manière dont les idéaux religieux de justice sociale ont donné un élan et une légitimité aux droits de l’homme, alors que Nida Kirmani écrivait sur la manière dont la religion inspirait et légitimait les violations outrancières des droits de l’homme. Les partisans d’une collaboration ont tendance à mettre l’accent sur le comportement et les actions de certains chefs religieux ou d’inspiration religieuse dans le domaine des droits de l’homme, alors que les sceptiques insistent sur les dangers potentiels de la collaboration pour les groupes vulnérables, tels que les femmes, les minorités et les LGBT.

Alors que la religion et les droits de l’homme peuvent converger sur les grands principes, leur application dans des circonstances spécifiques peut diverger et c’est ce qui se passe. Ces différences appellent à une utilisation sélective et limitée de la religion dans les mouvements de défense des droits de l’homme. Alors que la religion et les droits de l’homme peuvent converger sur les grands principes, leur application dans des circonstances spécifiques peut diverger et c’est ce qui se passe. Les droits des femmes en matière de reproduction ou les droits des minorités sexuelles sont de bons exemples. Ces différences appellent à une utilisation sélective et limitée de la religion dans les mouvements de défense des droits de l’homme. Lorsque des convergences existent sur certaines problématiques, les militants des droits de l’homme doivent travailler avec les chefs religieux, et utiliser leur crédit et leur crédibilité pour faire avancer ces causes. D’un autre côté, quand les chefs religieux font la promotion d’idées et de pratiques qui sont en contradiction avec les éléments essentiels des droits de l’homme, les militants doivent confronter et remettre en question leur discours et leurs arguments. Les militants peuvent même travailler avec les chefs religieux modérés pour contrer les opinions et les actions des chefs religieux rétrogrades.

Une approche qui n’exclut pas totalement la religion, ou qui n’approuve pas aveuglément la religion par principe, est préférable. La valeur et l’utilité du partenariat devraient être évaluées au cas par cas et de manière pragmatique. Tout comme les militants des droits de l’homme travaillent avec les communautés traditionnelles et leurs dirigeants, ils doivent travailler avec les communautés religieuses pour faire progresser la cause des droits de l’homme. Ignorer l’influence et l’utilité de la religion est peu judicieux.

Dans de nombreux pays, et en particulier dans les pays avec une population à dominante musulmane, il faut reconnaître l’influence de la religion et du droit religieux. Cependant, les articles publiés ici n’explorent pas suffisamment la manière dont un État peut trouver un équilibre entre la demande de reconnaissance officielle de la religion et les exigences liées aux droits de l’homme. Ils ne parlent pas de la manière dont certains dirigeants politiques essayent de tenir compte des revendications religieuses dans le cadre des droits de l’homme.

Au vu de la réalité sociale, culturelle et religieuse de certains États, exclure la religion et le droit religieux n’est pas seulement peu judicieux mais également irréalisable. Cependant, les États devraient être pragmatiques dans la reconnaissance de certains aspects du droit religieux. Ils ont besoin de reconnaître les grands principes et les finalités d’une religion spécifique ou des religions dans leur ensemble, tout en trouvant une manière de garantir les droits de l’homme fondamentaux.

Par exemple, la Constitution tunisienne de 2014 et la Constitution provisoire somalienne de 2012 reconnaissent expressément l’islam comme une religion d’État ainsi que son rôle potentiel dans l’élaboration des lois et dans l’action de l’État. Néanmoins, les constitutions ne permettent pas aux chefs religieux d’invalider les lois sur la base d’incompatibilités réelles ou perçues avec l’islam. De plus, les constitutions reconnaissent un certain nombre de droits et établissent des procédures et des institutions pour les faire appliquer. Dans les deux pays, la mesure dans laquelle les idéaux et principes religieux vont influencer (tant positivement que négativement) la reconnaissance des droits de l’homme, dépend des réalités politiques du moment et des opinions des forces politiques dominantes. Néanmoins, l’établissement de procédures claires pour assurer les droits est susceptible de garantir un certain niveau de protection aux droits de l’homme.


Demotix/Mohamed Krit (All rights reserved)

Members of the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia celebrate the passage of their country's new constitution.

De plus, la reconnaissance de l’application du droit religieux peut faire progresser contre toute attente les droits de l’homme en donnant à l’État l’opportunité de définir des contraintes et des mécanismes de contrôle.

Par exemple, les constitutions de certains États, comme la Constitution de la République fédérale démocratique d'Ethiopie, établissent ou permettent aux musulmans d’établir des tribunaux de la charia qui résolvent les litiges entre les musulmans, à condition que toutes les parties concernées aient reconnu la compétence du tribunal. Ceci permet d’assurer que seules les personnes qui acceptent le système seront soumises à la loi. En l’absence de cette approbation, les femmes et les autres groupes vulnérables seraient probablement forcés de se soumettre à ce droit. Ignorer  les lois personnelles musulmanes ne signifie pas nécessairement que le droit religieux ne va plus réglementer les comportements. Cela signifie uniquement que le système va opérer en dehors du cadre étatique, ce qui rend difficile de dire si les femmes et les autres groupes vulnérables sont bien traités et prive l’État de l’opportunité de corriger au moins les conséquences les plus néfastes de l’application du droit religieux.

Alors que la prise en considération des principes est importante pour forger un partenariat entre la religion et les droits de l’homme, la diversité et les contradictions sur le terrain exigent une approche plus pragmatique. En fait, un certain nombre d’organisations communautaires de défense des droits de l’homme collaborent et travaillent déjà activement avec les responsables religieux. Une approche raisonnable consisterait à évaluer les partenariats au cas par cas.

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Existence is resistance

Open Democracy News Analysis - 12 hours 53 min ago

Even with an explicitly discriminatory policy in place, designed to force Palestinians to break the rules or leave the country, nearly all continue to apply for permits, paying the extortionate fees, using the system rather than fighting against it.

My experiences in Palestine offered up a lot of opportunities for writing on resistance to state crime. Every day Palestinians struggle against discriminatory policies and threats to their livelihoods by both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli state. There is no end to the impunity and barbarity with which these are executed and they remain an integral part of the structure and grounds on which the State of Israel is currently built.

The recent passing of the Jewish State Bill by Benjamin Netanyahu defines Israel as ‘the nation state of the Jewish people’, which if successfully enshrined in Israeli law will once and for all determine all non-Jews as second class citizens, and potentially further excuse all actions taken by the state that perpetrate this already popular view. The little protection that Palestinians are currently afforded by the Israeli justice system will be eradicated and there will be infinite scope for a gratuitous interpretation of the idea of a state built exclusively for a single religious group. This highly controversial bill has caused significant rifts within the Israeli parliament and among Israeli academics as it serves to completely deny Palestinians living in Israel even the pretence of equal rights.

From within the complex combination of civil and military rule that exists in Israel and the West Bank, where one people fall under one authority and another fall under a different authority, all within a tiny area of land, emerge impressively advanced and skilled forms of resistance that provide an incredible insight into how a population with 60 years of practice continues to resist crimes committed by a powerful and hostile state.

In the West Bank, where the proximity of settlements to Palestinian towns is unnerving, there is a heavy Israeli military presence. In Hebron particularly there are four military personnel to each settler and consequently considerably more violence, arrests and incursions against the Palestinian population in the city and surrounding area.

Palestinians continue to resist crimes against their humanity, freedom and right to equality before the law, all of which are aimed at pushing them out of the country or alternatively segregating them into impoverished and powerless communities. This is clear simply from looking at historical and current maps of the region that show the strategic building of settlements over the years. Resistance to these crimes must then take the form of perpetuating their existence as a united people whilst also maintaining ‘normal life’ without normalising the occupation. Speaking to Palestinians living in both the West Bank and Israel I discovered how difficult this was in the circumstances; to stay united against so many opposing ideals and to continue resisting without losing the little freedom you have.

Crimes committed by the state of Israel are plenty, but one that arises constantly is the theft of land and housing and the policies surrounding Palestinian permits and demolition. Israel recently brought back the policy of punitive house demolitions that was previously abandoned due to its ineffectiveness at preventing ‘acts of terror’. Punitive acts by the state without trial are crimes in themselves and this is just the icing on the cake for most inhabitants of rural Palestine and Jerusalem, some of whom have had their entire communities destroyed over 70 times without the return of such a policy.

Needless to say, the effort at rebuilding entire villages is striking. Each time a village or house is destroyed, it is rebuilt, again and again and again, peacefully declaring that they  will not be bullied out of their homes or off their land and demonstrating the absolute steadfastness present in so much Palestinian resistance. Israeli forces use chemical sprays to destroy farmland and bulldozers to destroy structures and revoke or deny permits for houses that have been lived in for decades by the same family, making legal residence impossible. The state has also made it almost impossible to attain permits to build and they are incredibly expensive to apply for, often taking years of appeals and tens of thousands of shekels. It is common in many areas to be left with 10 minutes to retrieve your possessions and leave your home to a waiting bulldozer, and it is particularly disturbing to witness the ensuing Israeli settlement or road that is built on the seized land. It is also often used as a tactic that is designed to make life intolerable and encourage emigration away from the area altogether. The permit system itself is legally flawed, however, the acts of violence and destruction aimed at civilians and committed by the military violate both human rights and the Geneva conventions.

Even with this explicitly discriminatory policy in place that is designed to force Palestinians to break the rules or leave the country, nearly all continue to apply for permits, paying the extortionate fees, using the system rather than fighting against it. This has the desired effect of ensuring Israel has no defence for what it does, even within its own discriminatory system, and simultaneously shows the process for what it really is; a tool for mass displacement. If Israel is breaking its own rules, and if following the rules leads to the same outcome as fighting against them, then there is a fault with the system and only Israel is to blame for that.

My time in Palestine taught me a lot, particularly the importance of how Palestinians feel they are seen by the international community. It is unsurprising with Israel’s global propaganda machine at work, that Palestinians feel the need to disseminate their side of the story and eradicate the harmful effects of decades of twisted rhetoric. Therefore, if Israel is recognised as to blame for something they have done, then part of the battle is already won.

The Right of Return is still high on the list of nearly all Palestinian organisations fighting against the occupation. It is a key demand of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which was started in Palestine a few years ago, and the refusal of which continues to be a violation of international law. There are 355,000 internal refugees in Palestine and millions more around the world, yet none have been granted the right of return which is enshrined in international law. Although Palestine has no army and no trade with the outside world that could enable the civilian population to arm themselves on any large scale, Israel insists that it is at war with terrorists in the West Bank, and after 40 years is still implementing a state of emergency-like situation. It is almost impossible for West Bank residents to travel into Israel and the Palestinian Authority complies with Israel’s security forces without question. This makes it impossible to justify the refusal of the right of return on the basis that there is still a conflict, although this would be the only legal reason why it might not be implemented. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of refugees still live in impoverished camps on the edge of the largest cities, suffering intense military presence and high levels of arrest and violence. Young men are often involved in violently resisting the military incursions and arrests of their friends and family, and there is a strong sense that there is nothing to lose in protecting their communities in this way.

I was extremely surprised, when I visited Aida Camp on the edge of Bethlehem, to find that it was a short walk from the idyllic architecture of the city. Not only that but it had a large, impressive entrance adorned with a key that had travelled the world and returned with thousands of signatures of support. It was not a slum as I was expecting, though clearly very poor, but instead more like a gated town. I found the same with the camps on the edge of Ramallah. They appeared to be part of the city, yet always with large entrances advertising the status of those inside.

The denial of a human right by a state that is not your own is a personal and vindictive act, and it is clear that no matter how many generations are born into the camps and how many have never visited their original homes, the residents in them will never integrate into the cities they border and will never stop demanding their right of return. Even though refugees in the West Bank suffer harsher retribution and higher levels of military violence and arrest, there is no desire to give up their status as refugees. Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation for generations. They know how beneficial it is for Israel that they disappear and relieve them of this burden, but they also know that as long as they remain visible, Israel and the international community cannot forget their existence and may one day allow them their right to go home. This steadfastness and determination is partly fed by the fact that the home carries a lot more weight for Palestinians than it does in western culture. Land and home are a family’s roots and belong absolutely to their owners, not only as a possession, but as their connection to the entire land.

Crimes committed by the Israeli state are not only strategic, they are also vindictive and reactionary, especially on ground level. This often means the common arrest of children, administrative detention that can extend to years, brutal violence and murder. This often erratic and unprovoked behaviour leads smaller communities to protest on a weekly basis, which leads in turn to violent repression and violent resistance. Communities are dwindling in size and in some almost all the young men are in prison or dead. However, it is not surprising to see such injustice answered with anger and the throwing of stones by an emasculated and fatherless youth. Palestinians have no desire to fight the third strongest army in the world with stones. It is simply a means of expressing anger at the injustice surrounding them, and should be taken as such. However, there are conscious acts of resistance happening in these same communities: the documentation of military and settler violence.

Although they were not the first, Youth Against Settlements began filming soldiers in Hebron in order to publicise their criminal acts, and the effectiveness of such tactics has caused the trend to spread. Not only does a camera give the international community a window into the truth, it also causes the perpetrator to feel apprehensive and therefore more reserved in his actions. Israeli soldiers are mostly very young and have not had to judge their individual behaviour for a global audience before. It is also the case that Palestinians cannot prevent the IDF from doing what they come to do as they are mostly children and completely unarmed. However, Palestinians have learnt more than anyone that the international community is key in its struggle against occupation, and documentation serves that purpose perfectly.

Many locals have taken up this role during protests and incursions and the amount of documentation of the crimes committed by soldiers and the impunity with which they operate is astounding. Even though it is dangerous to point a camera at hostile armed youths - many have been arrested without charge, beaten and even killed - they continue to resist on a weekly basis, making the IDF’s work as uncomfortable as possible.

Although the residue of impunity has already begun to trickle down, so that soldiers fear less now they see that there are no consequences to their actions, even when they are filmed - the effect of a camera in your face while you commit a violent crime against another person will have a psychological effect on such young soldiers.   

Palestinian resistance is almost exclusively non-violent. There is no benefit to giving a hostile state a reason to commit its crimes and this knowledge governs almost all forms of organised and individual resistance in Palestine. My experiences there taught me that, to a certain extent, it is possible to achieve a kind of normality under occupation. But whether or not this is attained, Palestinians continue to effectively resist crimes committed by Israel, having more of an effect on Israeli policy and strategy and the impunity with which it behaves than any member of the international community or the UN. As long as Palestinians continue to resist complete eradication and maintain support from states around the world, they are successfully resisting the unlawful objectives of the Israeli State.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Rejecting victimhood: the case for Palestinian resistance Palestinian resistance, the necessity of three fronts The heavy presence of Jerusalem Light Rail: why Palestinian protesters attacked the tracks On strategies of spatial resistance in Palestine Country or region:  Israel Palestine Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics
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CEDAW and the quest of Iranian women for gender equality

Open Democracy News Analysis - 13 hours 9 min ago

A basic right for Iranian women could be guaranteed within an Islamic framework of governance provided those in government were inclined to interpret the faith in the spirit of equality, says Shirin Ebadi.

Iran's moderate president Hassan Rouhani has a chance to enact one of his campaign promises to promote women’s right by signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW urges its signatories to address laws, practices and customs that discriminate against women.

Today, 18 December, CEDAW turns 35. Since its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1979 it has been ratified by188 countries. This global majority includes 51 Muslim countries that are party to the Convention.

Today gender equality is considered a universal norm and is easy for governments to accept. Nevertheless CEDAW and its internationally-accepted understanding of equality remain controversial in some parts of the Muslim world. This is especially true in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

 In Iran, conservative politicians and religious figures reject the universal approach for gender equality in CEDAW and instead propose their own “Islamic” alternative. Indeed, according to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, it was the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that elevated women to their rightful place in Iran.  He has said, “Islam introduces Fatima [the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad] the outstanding and distinguished celestial being—as a model and an ideal for Muslim women.” Using Fatima as the role model, Iran’s Leader and other members of the conservative religious establishment promoted the idea that women and men are equal parts of God’s creation but that the two genders have manifestly different social roles and duties.

This view results in a host of blatantly discriminatory practices that affect women in their public and private lives. For example, in courts the monetary damages for causing the death of a women is half that of a man’s. A women’s testimony is also worth half of that of a man’s and women are barred from being judges. Women should cover themselves with hijab. Within the family, husbands have the legal power to control whether their wives can hold a job or obtain a passport and travel out of the country. Iranian woman cannot pass their nationality onto her child if their father is not Iranian. Men are granted automatic guardianship to children.

To some religious leaders and conservative politicians these laws reflect social roles where women, while spiritually equal to men, are not charged with the same level of social, economic, and political responsibility, and thus are not given agency in these fields. So for them, CEDAW’s notion of equality in all areas of life is at odds with Islam.

But these views are not as clear cut in Iran as some want us to believe. Indeed women’s rights have always been seen as a challenge to the ruling ideology. Iran’s governmental institutions are supposed to be grounded in Shi’ite Islam. Doctrinally, however, Shi’ite Islam is supposed to allow for different interpretations. Grand Ayatollahs can and do offer variant interpretations on Islam and women’s rights, including ones that support the framework of ideas found in CEDAW. As the Nobel Peace laureate and women's rights activist, Shirin Ebadi, says, "a basic right for women could be guaranteed within an Islamic framework of governance provided those in government were inclined to interpret the faith in the spirit of equality."  

And it is not insignificant that nearly every Muslim country worldwide has ratified CEDAW.  Perhaps the real reason Iran has not ratified the Convention has less to do with religion, and more to do with the fact that women’s rights are in conflict with the interests of the predominantly male political elite.

Ratification of CEDAW will give advocates of women’s rights a framework that they can invoke when pushing for better policies and laws. Moreover, with ratification the State will submitted itself to review by UN bodies. This process has led to substantial legal reforms in Muslim countries, like Morocco and Egypt, which have improved the status of women.

To be fair, Iranian officials have discussed ratifying CEDAW during two distinct periods in Iran. First, between1995–1997, toward the end of the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, For Rafsanjani however, the economic and social reconstruction of the country after the Iran-Iraq War took priority over women’s rights, and ratification never gained much momentum.

CEDAW remerged between 1999–2003 during the “reform era,” born out of the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Reformists pledged then to advance civil and political rights within an Islamic framework. As part of a series of progressive legislative measures, the reformist-dominated Sixth Parliament actually ratified CEDAW. However, the Guardian Council, which is charged with vetting and approving all legalisation to ensure compatibility with Iran’s Constitution and Islamic precepts, rejected the bill. The Council cited supposed religious objections, but never actually specified what those objections were.

Last year, the victory of Rouhani, a moderate cleric, renewed some hope. Rouhani’s campaign promised to determine why CEDAW was rejected and eventually ratify it. In fact, in his first press conference as president, Rouhani stressed that the goal of women should be to remove all “primitive behaviour” which inhibits greater participation by women in public life and just ensures the appointment of “token” female ministers. While this was in part a defence of the lack of women in his cabinet, Rouhani’s echoing of CEDAW’s broad challenge to legal and customary gender discrimination is grounds for guarded optimism.

For now, however, the large conservative majority in the current Parliament is a clear obstacle to movement on the Convention. However, if moderate and reformist politicians regain the majority in the 2016 Parliamentary elections, then there could be a new push for Iran to ratify CEDAW. The Parliament will, nonetheless, be subject to oversight by the Guardian Council, which will not only vet any bill to ratify CEDAW, it will vet the Parliamentary candidates before they can even be allowed to run for office. In turn the conservative religious establishment will continue to maintain considerable power within the political sphere.

These political challenges are why the President must start to develop the legal and religious ground work for CEDAW ratification now. If he honours his promises and the country joins CEDAW we will be on the road to significant changes in the legal status of women in Iran.

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Shirin Ebadi: who defines Islam? Iran: a 'bloody stain' on the nation The framework of democracy is human rights law Progressive Muslims in a world of ISIS and Islamophobes Due diligence for women's human rights: transgressing conventional lines The rightful place of gender equality within Islam The right to have rights: resisting fundamentalist orders Global mechanism, regional solution: ending forced sterilisation Decoding the “DNA of Patriarchy” in Muslim family laws Musawah: solidarity in diversity A rare victory for women's rights in Iran Making human rights for women a reality A tangled web: the politics of gender in Turkey Young feminists: resisting the tide of fundamentalisms Your fatwa does not apply here 'Soft law' and hard choices: a conversation with Gita Sahgal Country or region:  Iran Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government Equality
Categories: les flux rss

In Israel and the occupied territories, discrimination is enshrined in the law

Open Democracy News Analysis - 13 hours 31 min ago

Under the two legal systems, an Israeli settler and a Palestinian, accused of the same crime, will be treated, and sentenced, very differently.

One of many separation walls dividing Israel and Palestine. Flickr/In November five Israelis were killed and eight wounded when two Palestinians attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem. Israeli police shot the attackers dead at the scene and Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the assailant’s houses be demolished.

The family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the young Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped and burnt to death in July, have also called for the homes of the Israelis who killed Mohammed to be demolished, though it is highly unlikely they will be. Such is the nature of Israel’s unequal application of the law.

News that Israel discriminates between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new. Just last month the Israeli government voted to make all ratified Israeli civilian law passed through the Knesset apply to settlers. Most of the legislation on criminal law, tax law and military conscription already does, despite the international consensus that settlements are illegal. Around 350,000 settlers currently reside in the occupied West Bank yet for what it’s worth article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

Knesset member Orit Struck, who drafted the bill, lives in one of these illegal settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron. Critics of Struck’s bill have said that applying civilian law to the West Bank would be a solid step towards the annexation of the occupied territories adding that it “legalises occupation”. Presumably, this is Struck’s intention.

In order to justify the bill, senior right-wing MKs have argued that the current split system – that Israelis in Israel are governed by different laws than Israelis in the West Bank - is “unacceptable from a democratic point of view” and have said it leads to discrimination against Israelis living in the occupied territories.

But what about Palestinians living in the West Bank? Article 66 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has adopted, states that non-political military courts can be established for residents in the occupied territory. Palestinians in the West Bank are therefore subject to Israeli military law. Under the two legal systems, an Israeli settler and a Palestinian, accused of the same crime, will be treated, and sentenced, very differently.

Palestinian children, shackled and accused of throwing stones, have also been brought before these courts. The Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies says that some 308,000 Palestinians have been detained within Israeli jails since the First Intifada in 1987.

Under military law Palestinians are threatened with arbitrary arrest, detention and are denied freedom of movement. As American-Israeli lawyer Emil Schaeffer points out, whilst an Israeli settler must be brought before a judge in less than 24 hours a Palestinian may be interrogated for up to eight days before he or she sees a judge.

In a military court Palestinians may be denied access to a lawyer for up to 90 days, yet within the Israeli legal system a meeting with a lawyer must be granted immediately. Within the military courts there is little internal supervision and consequently little public scrutiny.

The list continues, as does the system of legalised separation, discrimination and ultimately the guarantee of rights based on nationality. This segregated system goes far beyond the occupied territories of the West Bank.

On the other side of the concrete separation barrier that has sectioned off the West Bank, Palestinians living in Israel face a raft of laws that discriminate against them. According to Adalah, there are 50 laws in place that discriminate against Palestinians citizens of Israel from access to land to state budget resources.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Law of Return, which grants Jewish people across the world the right to live in Israel and gain citizenship. In the drive to bump up the numbers, free flights have been offered, as have financial benefits and tax breaks. On arrival accommodation is sometimes offered in annexed East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the seven million Palestinian refugees across the world are not only denied the right to return to their land, but also Palestinian citizens of Israel are not allowed to bring their husbands and wives from the occupied territories to live with them. So one group is actively encouraged, whilst the other is denied their basic rights.

In recent weeks a proposed law, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, has whipped up much controversy thanks to the controversial nature of the bill, part of which would mean the dropping of Arabic as a second language.

Like the bill that seeks to apply Israeli civilian law wholeheartedly to settlers in the West Bank, the Jewish nation-state bill is part of an ongoing system of discrimination against Palestinians, which has long rendered them second-class citizens. Little by little it is being enshrined in the law, which ultimately means discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians can continue.

Israel’s system of formal and informal discrimination reaches into all aspects of Palestinian’s lives, from separate housing in the West Bank to separate roads, schools and hospitals. It even infiltrates personal lives.

Whilst Israel regularly passes discriminatory laws, they clearly have little regard for international law - or at least, the parts of it that don’t suit them. As a signatory to some of the most important human rights and humanitarian law statutes, they should be held accountable for their discriminatory policies; which undoubtedly constitute grave breeches.

Country or region:  Israel Palestine Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government Equality International politics
Categories: les flux rss

The evolution of Palestinian resistance: a need to reassess

Open Democracy News Analysis - 13 hours 34 min ago

Ending the 1967 occupation is insufficient. Rather, Palestinian resistance should seek the decolonization of all of historic Palestine.

This barrier has been labelled an 'apartheid wall' by Palestinian NGOs, It is deemed by Israeli's to be a security measure and divide between Palestinian and Israeli people. Flickr/Jacob Rask. Some rights reserved.

The debate about the legitimacy, or even legality, of resistance is frequently associated with discussion of racist regimes, colonialism and occupation. For peoples living under cruel domination, resistance becomes necessary when it becomes evident to them that there is no government or law to protect them from oppression.

Palestinian resistance takes many forms: organized weekly protests in villages; armed struggle; youth confronting raiding Israeli armored jeeps in their villages and refugee camps; and the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign. All forms of resistance should be complementary to each other and not be considered mutually exclusive in terms of legitimacy. It is necessary to clarify who and what the resistance should be directed against, along with its ultimate goals.

The most effective resistance should aim for a comprehensive solution towards remedying the wrongs of Zionism, which sought the removal of the indigenous Palestinian population and aimed to replace them with Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The best remedy to restore the rights of all Palestinians is to eradicate the resulting Zionist institutions and to grant citizenship and equal rights for all inhabitants living in historic Palestine.

This means that ending the 1967 occupation is insufficient. Rather, Palestinian resistance should seek the decolonization of all of historic Palestine. There are over 6 million Palestinian in the diaspora waiting to exercise their legal Right of Return. There are roughly 1.4 million Palestinians living in the State of Israel under discriminatory laws. There are 4.5 million Palestinians living under a brutal occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many are stateless and stripped of their nationality and property rights, while others suffer daily violations of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

All Palestinians deserve a remedial solution: legally, morally and ethically. Natural rights of equality, justice and freedom are incontestable and should form the basis of the Palestinian resistance movement.

The demand for equal rights as a remedy for past injustices is inclusive and fair. To focus only on Palestinian resistance from the historical point of the 1967 occupation ignores the demands and rights of over half of the Palestinian people who live outside the borders of what is now being acknowledged as the “State of Palestine.” This obfuscates the root of the oppression because it is a fragmented, disconnected and unviable remnant of historic Palestine.

Indeed, Palestinian resistance predates 1948, when Zionist militias forcibly displaced nearly 80% of the indigenous Palestinian population and established the State of Israel, known to Palestinians as the Nakba. Palestinian resistance began with a series of revolts against the British Mandate, when it became clear to the Palestinians what the British Mandate was implementing—the removal and replacement of the indigenous Palestinian population. Despite assurances that the 1917 Balfour Declaration—Britain’s written promise to the Jews to create a home for them in Palestine—did not intend to displace the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, considerable tensions arose between the Palestinian Arabs and the mass influx of European Jews. After all, these new immigrants were vying to establish a new State in the midst of the Palestinians, and the British plan intended to change the demographics of the population of Palestine. In 1917, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian Arab population was 92% and the Jewish population was 6%. The British established and implemented an unlimited immigration policy for Jews from European countries in order to ensure that the Arab Palestinians became a minority over the next few decades.

Settler colonialism is never a peaceful venture. Naturally, the colonizer uses violence and the colonized responds in kind. During the British Mandate, it was clear that resistance should be directed against both the Zionists who were planning to take their place and the British who were implementing the plan. With the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, and the creation of the State of Israel, the Zionists ensured the transformation of Palestinian lands into a Jewish majority through massacres, forced transfer of entire villages and military rule. In order to guarantee that the Palestinians transferred out of the new State did not return to their homes and villages, it defended the newly acquired territories with military might and enacted numerous new “laws” such as the infiltration law, which criminalized attempts by Palestinians to return to their villages. The new Zionist State set up courts, enacted legislation and continued violently enforcing the settler-colonialist project despite promising the world that it was a peace-loving country. In reality, the Israeli government has continued a series of systematic discriminatory policies against its own citizens based on ethnic origin and religion and continues to annex territory through violence and apartheid-like practices of herding and confining Palestinians into tiny fragmented enclaves.

After the 1967 war and the capture of the remaining parts of Palestine from Jordan and Egypt, this Zionist movement took an advanced leap towards transforming Palestine into Eretz-Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The international community and the United Nations immediately cried foul to the capture of additional territory by force. Colonization of Palestinian lands was acceptable in 1948, but not in 1967. The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 242, demanding a withdrawal from “territories occupied in the recent conflict.” This narrowed the struggle from return to demanding withdrawal of Israeli forces from the additional lands Israel captured in 1967.

The Zionist settler-colonial project upped the ante with the newly captured territories and the Palestinians resisted en masse with two Intifadas in 1987 and 2000. However, the resistance focused on ending the occupation rather than return and liberation.

Today, Israel has involved another actor to assist in its colonization of the remaining Palestinian lands: the Palestinian Authority (PA). With the creation of the Israeli-approved, EU-US and Arab States-funded PA in 1994, the settler colonial project took a new approach, offering limited self-rule on a portion of Palestine while settling as much land as they can. Like the Bantusans of the South African Apartheid government, Israel offered an elite group political power and legitimized its program of remove-and-replace. Only this time, the PA provided security and legitimacy in its own Bantustan. Israel retained ultimate control of the arrangement. Israel and the United States control the Palestinian security forces. This includes approving police officers and intelligence agents, and limiting their weapons. Even the estimated 27% of the PA budget spent on security is funded mostly by the United States, which also trains the security forces in the suppression of Palestinian resistance.

Seen by Palestinians as corrupt and collaborating with Israel in their oppression, the PA is leading the Palestinians down a dangerous path. Claiming to represent Palestinian interests, over 6 million Palestinians are excluded in the struggle against settler-colonialism because they live as displaced refugees outside the borders of the proposed Palestinian State. Meanwhile, those who live under PA rule are subject to violence and intimidation if they try to resist the continuing colonization of what remains of Palestine. Palestinian police are dispatched to protect the illegal Israeli settlements when protests take place. Palestinian prisoners rotate between Palestinian and Israeli prisons.

To be effective, it is important to reflect upon the history of the resistance, to understand the shift that the settler-colonialism project has taken, and to identify the actors it has employed to continue its activities, even if that involves Palestinians themselves. Collaborators are nothing new to resistance movements. Yet when it takes place under what appears to be a legitimate government, it is time to reassess and regroup before the resistance is even further reduced to defending an even smaller remnant of the land and peoples.

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On the verge of failure or success: the complex relationship of Europe and migration

Open Democracy News Analysis - 13 hours 59 min ago

This International Migrants Day, the warm solidarity shown by local populations is at odds with the attempts of European institutions to criminalise people on arrival. And there are signs of progress.

Commemoration of refugee migrants who died in the Mediterranean. Stefano Ronchini /Demotix. All rights reserved.There are those who die trying to reach Europe’s borders, escaping from poverty, violence, famine, dictatorships, wars, persecution, in search of a dignified life. There are those who are detained, who experience human rights abuses while being detained or while waiting for their legal status to be determined. There are those who make it, who are inside the borders and in transit, from their point of arrival, trying to reach their final destination.

Those who have reached their final destination, having overcome the dangerous journey and all it comes with, have only just begun, because a residency permit does not necessarily mean a home, employment, or becoming part of the local community.

The journey of a migrant can be a long, lonely, confusing and dangerous one, and their stories often go untold, their struggles unnoticed because detention centres, reception facilities, even housing, are mostly strategically located on the outskirts of cities. Out of sight, out of mind.

We were involved in coordinating the Transeuropa Caravans project, carried out by the transnational membership organization, European Alternatives, ahead of the European Parliament elections in the first semester of 2014, and this project went directly to these locations, to meet with migrants who came to Europe through various means and for different reasons, and speak to some of the admirable, dedicated individuals fighting for them, working to help them make sense of the system and find a dignified life. Their stories deserve a far better ending.

A new migration policy for Europe and the Mediterranean region

In terms of political framework at a European level, there is much progress to be made. From advocating for the closure of detention centres throughout Europe and exploring alternatives to administrative detention and human rights violations that take place in them, to reviewing the ‘Return Directive’ and trying to find collaborative responses to the growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean - work must be focused on highlighting many areas where concrete policy change is urgently needed.

The Strategic guidelines for the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice included in the draft European Council Conclusions of June 2014 aim to replace the “Stockholm Programme” which expires in December 2014. It is one of the most recent and specific instruments, which sets the political orientation regarding a series of policies including immigration and asylum. These guidelines should offer a pathway for future policy development in the coming years, but they risk representing yet another “missed opportunity”. The next legislative phase seems to be focused on the consolidation and implementation of existing rules, while humanitarian crises are mounting within the European neighborhood and public skepticism towards both the European project and governments’ approaches to immigration is also increasing, as the results of the last European parliamentary elections made evident.

A focal point for migration issues, with a sufficient mandate and clear responsibilities, is now necessary to embody all the voices so far misrepresented from throughout Europe and beyond. Europe can neither postpone nor ignore any longer the adoption of concrete measures and responses to the continuous search for better living conditions that govern migration flows between economically unequal countries and regions which almost every day now  result in the tragic shipwrecks that occur in the Mediterranean sea.

This is especially urgent in a time when we are seeing unprecedented numbers of deaths and tragedies at Europe’s borders, a hardening in migration policy in all European countries as well as in negative attitudes towards the ‘other’ influenced by prejudice and discrimination.

Relevant EU instruments such as legislation, policy measures and operational programmes could be precious resources in this response but they are not yet fit for purpose in effectively tackling current problems and emergencies. The will of Europe is the will of national governments. Accordingly, the scope of action granted to the European Commission and EU agencies is the scope assigned to them by the Member States. For a common policy to release its full potential, part of the EU acquis could be improved to better fit with the changing characteristics of migration flows. Despite the Temporary Protection Directive 2001/55/EC, and Qualification Directive 2004/83/EC (on Refugees and Subsidiary Protection), nowadays at least 60 different non-harmonised forms of protection status exist, making it more difficult to examine the situation in each country or to ensure the respect of minimum protection standards for migrants.

On October 3, 2013, 368 migrants (many of whom have never been identified) died after having crossed the Mediterranean in a perilous boat a few meters from the coast of Lampedusa. This provoked a wave of indignation everywhere and threw a shadow of shame and powerlessness over Europe. Some national legislations do not make a definitive distinction between those providing humanitarian assistance or rescue at sea and those defined as “facilitators of unauthorised entries”. This created an added burden for the local population providing assistance to people in such distress. Such wide solidarity shown by the local populations is at odds with the attempts of the institutions to criminalise people on their arrival without differentiating their status.

In many EU Member States asylum seekers are treated as criminals and subject to long periods of detention usually in inhuman conditions, whatever their status may be. Operations of border patrolling run under FRONTEX coordination do not do enough, it is alleged, to abide by European Fundamental Rights protection measures. Migrants are all too often deprived of their right to apply for international protection in a safe place.

After the EU elections, many experts on migration and integration issues started to point out what was needed to guide the future work of the Commission concerning EU citizenship, freedom of movement and immigration, both as separate and autonomous dossiers, but also  as interlinked, if one thinks of immigration and freedom of movement in terms of the mobility of people to and within the EU. The idea of grouping them into one big portfolio - “Citizenship and Mobility” – has also been called for by Jean-Claude Juncker. Right after his nomination as President of the European Commission on 15 July 2014, he called for a new common policy on migration, referring to the increasing death toll in Mediterranean Sea as evidence that a more humanitarian approach is urgently needed at the European level.

Juncker stated his intention of entrusting this new Commissioner with special responsibilities on migration, which he duly did a few weeks later, to address not only Member States but also the third countries concerned. A proposal for an even more specifically-oriented new Commissioner on Mediterranean issues has also been under discussion over the past six months. This represents an important gathering of expectations around the urgent need for a new migration policy, matched with the political will to effect concrete legal and policy developments at international and European level.

The ‘hidden’ potential of migrant integration beyond a few virtuous cities 

The language of policy often seems detached from the realities on the ground, and migration discourse throughout Europe rarely shows the human face of migration. The aim of the Transeuropa Caravans was precisely this; collecting and representing a wide range of voices who often go unheard by politicians, understanding the needs which aren’t being met by the state as well as exploring solutions which aren’t being supported by institutions.

Creating a bridge between migrants and those working with them and policy and decision makers can be the only solution to ensure that policy change will have an impact in the right places. From our visits to towns such as Riace (southern Italy) which boasts a particular model of outreach replicated in still very few exemplary European cities, or to Katerini (Greece) and Terras da Costa (Portugal), home to communitarian kitchens, it became obvious that citizens themselves can and already are doing much to create sustainable development plans at the local level, in some cases without placing any kind of financial or administrative burden on governments.

Hidden below the surface of the migrant squats of Calais, the handicraft production laboratories of Riace, the greenhouses where migrants work in the hinterland of Eboli, the registration centre of Sofia, and asylum centre in Poland, the journey of the Caravans provided a unique opportunity to be part of a different conversation, distant from the current debates taking place at national and European levels.

This way, during our intensive journey with the Transeuropa Caravans we really had a concrete opportunity to see and report on this ‘hidden’ face and how calls for a comprehensive overhaul of European migration policies are increasingly widespread and vocal as a result. The number of individuals coming to Europe, living through the cycle from arrival and transit to making a home, as well as those working with them to help them create settled, dignified lives, are ever growing. The tragedies can be avoided. These tragedies have increased the speed of convergence of European NGOs and civil society movements around demands for concrete policy change.

It remains extremely important and urgent to strengthen the advocacy capacities of all NGOs and their networks involved in this work, while also inspiring other, often weaker and less visible, movements to take part in common actions on these issues at a transnational level. All the voiceless and courageous people who are now beginning to make themselves heard will not shrink from this commitment. It is our duty to be on their side.

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The gunship archipelago

Open Democracy News Analysis - 16 hours 12 min ago

The growth of secretive floating armouries raises a challenge to maritime security worldwide. 

The MV Sinbad is a vessel of 250 gross tonnage, originally built as a fisheries patrol-boat in Sweden in 1981. With a crew of ten it is usually to be found in international waters, most recently in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Fujairah, one of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There, MV Sinbad is not protecting local fisheries but acting as a floating armoury supporting anti-piracy operations by the Sri-Lankan-based Avant Guard Maritime Services. The latter is a "private maritime security company", and itself an offshoot of Sri Lanka’s largest private military company.

The MV Sinbad is identified on the company’s website as one of three floating armouries, used to support a number of commercial anti-piracy protection schemes operating principally in the Arabian Sea. As such, its purpose is clear. But where it touches the recent trend towards floating armouries outside of territorial waters - a development that is little known outside specialist maritime-security circles - a far more murky aspect emerges.

Even the number of boats involved is far from clear. Some maritime-security companies sub-contract the running of the boats to other companies, making it likelier that boats are registered in countries different to those where the original contracting companies are licenced. Moreover, some of the countries in which the ships are flagged have little capacity for inspecting or controlling the use of the armouries, adding to the risks for everyone involved (see "Floating arsenals: The boats full of guns for hire against pirates", BBC, 18 December 2014).

A war in the shadows

A new report from the Omega Research Foundation sheds much needed light on this situation. Floating Armouries and other technical approaches to maritime security: implications and risks published on 17 December, 2014, was in turn commissioned by the Remote Control Project. 

This group researches and critiques the worldwide trend towards "remote" war involving the increased use of special forces and armed drones, as well as the rapid recent growth of private-military companies. In all these areas, the project is concerned both with the lack of transparency and debate and an even more fundamental question: whether the new developments actually work to improve security.  

The Remote Control Project was established in 2013. It is funded by the Network for Social Change and hosted by Oxford Research Group. In investigating the extent of the move towards remote warfare, it has uncovered a particular tendency towards the sometimes unaccountable use of private companies seeking to keep their profile as low as possible. In the course of the Omega research it has become clear that the issue of floating armouries needs much more attention, not least by the governments that are licencing the companies.

The number of armouries has risen because of the increased problem of piracy, primarily in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea but also in parts of southeast Asia and, more recently, the Gulf of Guinea off west Africa. In some cases naval forces are involved in trying to control piracy, but many shipping companies prefer to hire private companies to guard their ships. This entails a further complication: the security personnel involved naturally require weapons, but states often are dislike having private armouries on their territory. One answer to this dilemma is to deploy the guards on the high seas, outside any national jurisdiction.

The floating armouries themselves are not purpose-built but may be adapted from former tugs, research-vessels or patrol-boats (and in one case even a roll-on/roll-off ferry). There is no binding international agreement for them to have standardised internal storage such as strongrooms; yet they can carry large quantities of semi-automatic and automatic assault-rifles, semi-automatic pistols and shotguns, as well as body-armour and night-vision equipment.

Some of the states wherein the armouries are registered may be "flags of convenience", their capability to inspect ships minimal. That problem is heightened since up to half of the known floating armouries may be so flagged - yet the precise number is unclear, because only some of the armouries are operated by companies keen to follow accepted standards and to be open about what they do.

Omega’s report collates various sources which together suggest that between ten and twenty ships were active in 2012. A United Nations report identifying eighteen ships owned by thirteen states. More recently, a report from Britain's foreign office in 2014 put the figure at thirty-one, while Omega's supplementary research has now identified thirty-two (fifteen of them registered under flags of convenience).

An international effort

In themselves, these findings do not mean that any of the companies are acting illegally. The problem is much more one of the lack of national and international standards covering such issues as effective record-keeping, secure storage, and assurances that weapons cannot be diverted. The fact that so many of the ships are anchored close to unstable and even ungoverned territories increases concerns over these matters. Omega makes the point that if the ships were located onshore the states concerned would almost certainly exert much tighter controls.

Of the many recommendations in Omega’s report, the key one is that an intergovernmental body “should be mandated to review existing control regimes that may be applicable to the regulation of floating armouries and then regulate, monitor and inspect the armouries”. The obvious body is the International Maritime Organisation, a UN special agency which is headquartered in London. This, however, would require both political will and funding from UN member-states.

More generally, the issue of floating armouries is yet another indication of the trend towards the privatisation of security. The process is both incremental and largely unnoticed - evidence of which is the very fact that so very few people are even aware of the existence of these armouries. In this context it is welcome that some governments, not least in New Delhi, are showing concern. Omega’s report should contribute to spreading awareness of the problem and to the need for coordinated effort to address it. 

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Department of peace studies, Bradford University

Omega Research Foundation

Floating Armouries and other technical approaches to maritime security: implications and risks

Remote Control Project

Network for Social Change 

Oxford Research Group

Maritime Security Review

International Maritime Organisation

Paul Rogers, Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto, 3rd edition, 2010)

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Fed up of wind turbines? On Cameron, climate change and the culture war

Open Democracy News Analysis - 20 hours 16 min ago

As Cameron panders to UKIP on climate change, environmentalists are being caught in a culture war.

Klondike wind farm, Wikimedia

A Survation poll late last year showed that 70% of people backed wind farms being built near them. There was a clear majority in favour across people voting for all parties, with 81.1% of Liberal Democrat voters, 74.6% of Labour voters, 60.8% of Conservative voters, and 57.8% of those intending to vote for UKIP saying they would be happy to see wind farms near them. The figure for Greens wasn't recorded, but it seems safe to assume it's a majority.

Another poll, reported in the FT in April this year, said that most people, by a humphing great margin of 3:1, would rather have a wind farm near them than a fracking rig. Another survey in May this year found wind power to be, by a long way, the most popular form of energy in the UK. Again, supporters of all parties tended to be in favour. I could go on. Polling evidence and academic surveys have consistently told the same story. Wind power is the most popular form of energy in the UK.

I say this because, yesterday, David Cameron declared “people are fed up with wind turbines”. Which people? He doesn't say. Evidence for their anger? Who knows. Despite this, he re-announced a moratorium on subsidies for onshore wind-farms if the Tories get a majority in May, and said instead he would offer significant tax cuts for fracking.

In normal circumstances, this policy would amount to nothing less than a direct assault on the future. Announcing it two days after the end of the Lima climate conference makes him look like a clown on the global stage. Fortunately, his international stature is so pathetic I doubt anyone noticed. Doing all this not because he believes that there is some technical problem with wind energy, but because he believes “people” to be fed up, despite those same people reporting that they aren't at all, is remarkable.

There are two potential explanations for his declaration. The first is that he's been leant on by the hydrocarbon industry. The second is that Cameron is throwing some red meat to his activists. Because, whilst there is very little support for them among the population in general, there exists a network of NIMBY campaign groups across the country, protesting against wind energy in their areas.

Among them are cranks who claim to be suffering from the non-existent 'wind turbine syndrome', people who have moved somewhere for the view and are sad to see it changed, home-owners concerned about house prices falling, and, most importantly, culture-war right-wingers who see wind-farms as the mast-head of history, sailing towards a pinko-and-green-politically-correct future and sinking the Britannia they love beneath the waves. Like all activists, they tend to be happy to pick up any argument which supports their cause – some of which are powerful, others of which are nonsense. Perhaps the most prominent of the nonsense arguments is the climate change denial almost invariably found woven into the stories these groups tell.

For politicians, sometimes it makes sense to support a minority position if it is one that is held strongly by the people who might campaign for them – and if those who strongly disagree with it will never vote for them anyway. The “people” to whom Cameron refers when he says “people are fed up” are not “the British people as a whole”. They are clusters of conservative activists in a few rural constituencies, who are currently at risk of defecting to Britain's version of the Tea Party as the climate becomes a key battle line in the emerging culture-war. UKIP, of course, are passionately anti-wind and vocal climate change deniers.

These people have long posed a challenge for Cameron. When he first became leader, it seemed clear what his strategy was: he would give his radical neoliberal ideology both a pink-wash and a green-wash. Back then, everyone was at it. BP rebranded themselves as “Beyond Petrolium”. BAE Systems advertised how the lethal weapons they produced were respectful to the environment, and, the 2006 local elections, David Cameron declared that people should “vote blue to go green”. (Similarly, just as LGBT rights have been used to justify the Iraq War and the actions of the Israeli government, Cameron used his support for things like equal marriage to add a compassionate face to his violent economic policies).

His problem, though, as with so many things, is UKIP. The global economic crisis unleashed a new wave of culture-war, and in a dying empire like Britain, it's no surprise that people are keen to cling to what they see as signifiers of past glory. The social-conservative part of the Conservative coalition has started to break away, given a party to vote for which more accurately reflects their views. Feminist, anti-racist and LGBT activists are more than familiar with this culture-war, and are accustomed to standing and fighting, and, often, to winning. But, interestingly, the environmental movement has often seemed slower to understand what's happening to it and who it's up against.

On this subject, George Marshall is fascinating. As he points out, polling in the States shows that attitudes to climate change are already a more consistent signifier of generally conservative values than opinions about abortion or gun control. To his mind this is a dangerous situation that indicates that believing or not believing in climate change is not just a product of holding left of right wing values, but has become a key marker of their identity. Climate scepticism is now not something conservatives do, it is something they are.

As the same culture-war raises its head in Britain, the Conservatives in the UK face the same challenge as their Republican friends in the US: they can keep the anti-science zealots who make up their base on board, and risk alienating the rest of the population, or they can wave goodbye to the right, and risk battling it out with Labour and the Lib Dems on a crowded centre ground.

For those who would rather the planet didn't fry, there are two (not mutually exclusive) solutions.

The first is to turn weak supporters of renewable energy into strong supporters. In practice, attitudes to what are seen as social issues are often shaped by material and economic circumstances. Where communities have control over wind-farms, they are much more popular. In Denmark, where community ownership of wind-farms is much more common (hundreds of thousands of people in the country are members of wind energy co-ops), there is much less community resistance to the turbines. Afterall, it's the community themselves who are building and profiting from them.

The second is to dig trenches and fight out the culture war. The Roger Scruton fans in the green movement, who argue that small “c” conservatives are natural bedfellows of environmentalists because they want to conserve things, are plain and simple wrong about where their key allies lie.

As Naomi Klein has pointed out in her new book, when conservatives come to the conclusion that action on climate change will require not preservation, but radical change, they are right. The comfortably off, older, right wing middle classes of the Western world are the people who have most vested interest in maintaining the status quo for the short term and least interest in the reforms needed to avert climate disaster.

And this applies as much to broader environmental questions as it does to the climate. The landscapes which anti-wind activists and their ilk seek to conserve are not biodiverse wildlife havens so much as barren-wastelands, cleared of troublesome creatures and peasant-farmers centuries ago. It's the job of environmentalists to re-wild, not conserve Britain's manmade wet-deserts; to bring back commons where now there is enclosure, to let the wild-lands grow where now they are mown.

The conservative vision of countryside is one with neither howling wolf nor peasant-farmer; no undergrowth, no wetlands, no wildlife, no riff-raff. What they want to conserve is a manicured golf-course-island where life is slowly dying off but they are in charge, able to look out and feel proud. Environmentalism is about the opposite - about reviving the land, restoring it to a magnificent chaos capable of supporting life, not controlling and preserving it as, slowly, the life is washed out of it.

The young, the left and liberals are, on the other hand, largely up for the changes that are needed, or at least capable of being persuaded. That bracket includes a significant majority of people in the country – people willing to listen to the case for radical action. The small minority may have the current Prime Minister pandering to it, but that is more a sign of his weakness than their strength.

None of this, of course, is to say that we shouldn't try to win-over conservatives. But let's not pretend that we already agree with them: we don't. And they know that better than we do. Wind power, the climate and the broader environment will become a more and more important part of the culture war in Britain over the next few years. It's a war environmentalists can win. We must.

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Education prepares you for life, not just a career

Open Democracy News Analysis - 21 hours 31 min ago

Corporate culture needs skilled workers trained to do the job. It fears the questioning of values that education encourages.

It still worries me, the accusing look of resentment on the girl’s face as she snatched the book I had bagged for her. I was on the tills at a Cambridge bookshop. A schoolgirl—fourteen, fifteen—came forward to buy what was almost certainly a set book for her exams. She had to read the book to pass the exam to do further study to qualify for the job. It was not a pleasure: it was a duty, and one she deeply resented. Or so I surmise. If I’m right, then the girl regarded her studies as an obstacle to be overcome, an impediment in her progress towards the job that pays and has responsibilities and prospects. The alternative possibility, that her studies would offer her the resources she was going to need in her work and in her life, was not considered. What did her eyes say? ‘Just give me the fucking book.’

There is a remarkable, if rarely noted, agreement among educators that education is not simply about passing exams. From the crustiest, gowned Classics master to the Social Studies experimentalist in blue-jeans there is the common conviction that education is a foundation for a life beyond the examination hall. Or, at least, that has been the case. Today government and media routinely confuse education with vocational training. Education may contain its vocational element, but not exclusively. It was—I daren’t say is—about training the mind.

When I was a student I visited a cousin who was reading a book I was reading for my course. He was simply working his way through the Fontana Modern Masters series, as I was to do. We knew something of each other’s interests. We had interests in common. You didn’t go to study one subject and nothing else. You went to broaden your knowledge base, and to develop a range of personal faculties. That was a given, surely?  There was as much to be learned outside of the seminar room as there was within it. Perhaps there was more to be learned beyond the curricula. The thought of just going in for lectures, and then going home at the weekend, well, just wasn’t done. There was a community of varying interests but with a common purpose.

And what was that purpose? To explore the options available in terms of culture and leisure pursuits, in terms of political and religious commitment, and in terms of working life. What are students searching for? Direction. Even when pursuing a vocational course there are many ways that might be approached. A job, in any case, need not be a career. To expand your capabilities you need to be widely informed, to be variously skilled, and to be both flexible and directed at the same time. The ideal of education is to create that possibility within the individual.

The student brings, or ought to bring, a questioning attitude, but one that balances scepticism with belief. The cynic or the fanatic is an intellectual and moral failure. The ideal is to dream of things that are not and say, ‘Why not?’ Knowledge is what is offered. Imagination is what students must discover for themselves.

The process does not stop at graduation. That piece of paper is only provisional. In my experience the world is not interested in how well qualified you are. The world wants to know how capable you are, and how able you are to continue learning. The habit of mind that constructs a hierarchy of formal achievement is applicable only to a limited set of applications by functionaries who make a virtue of their limitations.

Administrative tasks can be performed by the appropriately trained. But social development requires creative thinking rather than text-book conventions. The manual of instruction is not the last word. It is the starting-point, the foundation of the imaginative leap, the strategic plan, the experimental venture. But the manual does not cover the contingencies. They can be dealt with not according to the rule but according to the circumstance. Understanding the difference and being able to apply that understanding is the mark not of the qualified functionary but of a disciplined and purposive intellect.

Society can function without imagination, but only as a machine. It does not possess the living organisms that can adapt according to circumstance. That, surely, was the quintessential flaw in the Soviet model. Moral failings could be rectified, but the mechanism at a practical level was obsolete. The West, riding so high now, threatens to go the same way.

It was a pertinent criticism of industrial capitalism that it required people to act as robots. The justification was that the material abundance created was available to all. That remains the justification of corporate capitalism. Another kind of robot is required, not the physical labourer but the technician. You see them everywhere, operating the machines that serve the financial and commercial sectors, of course, but the health and welfare and transport and leisure sectors. Everything is done by a click of the mouse. You are not required to think: the machine will do that for you.

Technology, of course, can offer so much. I am not writing this with a quill by candlelight. On the other hand, later I shall be reading a book, a biography of Visconti, to improve my Italian. I shall make a note of the current Maggi Hambling exhibition. The preferred options of corporate capitalism would be something to do with a Hollywood blockbuster and some populist art of the shallow gesture. I shall not be arrested for my preferences, but the distance from the accepted mainstream is clear enough to anyone who is aware of our media, including those areas dedicated to a public service ideal.

One of the purposes of public culture is to consider critically what enters the public realm. Affirmation without consideration leads nowhere. One of the virtues of a liberal culture is the liberty to propose alternatives to the current wisdom. A liberty and a duty. To lose that frame of mind is to lose the saving grace of contemporary Western society. All claim to the legitimacy of convention is lost if conformity becomes the norm of discourse in the public realm.

Where is the source of free exchange in public utterance? It surely is to be found in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and ideas. Sustained concentration, far from dulling the mind, stimulates the appetite for creative thinking. The discipline required, however, conflicts with the culture of sensation, technique and the immediate gratification of ephemeral desire. The ideal course of study in corporate capitalism is technical or managerial training instilled by the acceptance of received ideas. The language is not the language of enquiry. The rewards of obedience are high in terms of status and wealth. Without a credible alternative to materialism, thoughts and values are incapable and may be disregarded. And they are.

The idea of a liberal education has not vanished, but it is diminished by the demands of the market for a unified structure. Tradition and precedent have been sidelined into nostalgia. Social co-operation and common wealth have been eradicated. We are one class now, aren’t we, in an arc of opportunities? The only remaining problems are to do with race and gender. The answers may look progressive. The language used is progressive, but the purpose is to remove all obstacles to monolithic unity. We are all in one great community, thinking alike, talking alike and acting together for a common purpose which is freedom and fun. Who could ask for anything more?

It is the world of the young, probably single, and without responsibilities. Ambition is paramount. The feelgood of being comfortable and free is an evident plus. Freedom means travel and limitless credit. Comfort means designer commodities. It is felt to be so obviously better than anything on offer to previous generations. And what is obvious should not be questioned.

The desire to ask the deeper questions may come later if it comes at all. When the need arises one needs the resources to fulfil the desire. This is something that cannot be bought, that is not subject to fashion, that is not something taught in a module. The sense of absence can be very disillusioning. Cynicism, especially when redundancy looms, is the likely outcome.

The scenario does not suggest a society at ease with itself. The gradual erosion of a liberal education has been marked for so long now that it cannot be attributed to one source. In part it was willed by political leaders who had little more than volition. In part it was created by a simplistic media myth of a free world. But its growth was not inevitable. It came into its own in the vacuum where once there was ideological debate. The corporate sector does not offer intellectual and cultural development. It does not welcome personal initiative nourished by a broad field of vision.

There is, however, sufficient plurality to suggest that alternatives may be found. There is even the possibility of a consensus against philistine management culture and its monotonous soundtrack. Neither RADA nor Sandhurst could operate without valuing initiative and enriched personal resources. From different and opposing traditions the progressive and the traditionalist may be capable of uniting against crass materialism and the narrowing of focus that produces resentful teenagers who wouldn’t be seen dead in a Cambridge bookshop if their course didn’t depend on it.   

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Generosity and solidarity

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 23:29

The hard work of steering a liberal course through refugee policy will require solidarity on a global scale. We must never lose sight of the entire chain of events involved in forced displacements.

Migrant camp, Calais. Demotix/Matthew Aslett. All rights reserved.Let us discuss the central liberal concerns that arise from thinking through refugee policy. The first, and most important, is that the international community should not consider refugee flows as isolated, causeless, phenomena. Out of concern for refugees, governments must work on root causes, promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts, as well as worldwide respect for human rights. In opposition to this broad principle, many of the most dramatic refugee flows of the last decade have been the direct result of misguided policies that sought to promote regime change by force, thereby creating conflicts that spun out of control, causing extensive damage to complex social and political arrangements. Refugees are but the natural result of such endeavours.

In Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, for instance, legitimate humanitarian reasons for intervention have been offered. However, little attention has been paid to collateral damage and unintended consequences. Intervening countries, of course, normally do not have to deal directly with the burden of refugee protection. It is relatively easy for them to act irresponsibly, under the assumption that the United Nations, in coordination with impoverished, affected countries – vulnerable, therefore, to political and financial pressure – will do whatever is needed to help those displaced by war or persecution. This kind of refugee policy may be literally ‘cynical’. There is no polite way to describe countries who have harmed civilian populations, through the myopic use of force, and later try to stand as their protectors, simply through the deployment of donations. A liberal, more honest approach, on the other hand, would be based on the principle that complex issues such as those relating to the construction of stable and democratic nation-states worldwide cannot be worked out by force; those issues, fundamental to the debate about the prevention of refugee flows, demand diplomacy, hard work and a lot of patience.

Secondly, once the Pandora’s box is open, no matter how or by whom, refugees must have the right to flee and find protection absolutely respected. There can be no excuses: non-refoulement must be regarded as a sacred principle, regardless of risks or costs. It is important to emphasize, however, that such an important principle must be upheld by the entire international community. The first receiving country, in that sense, represents an aggregate; that country, no matter how poor or isolated, should feel confident that it will not remain alone in doing what it is right. We are talking here about solidarity on a truly global scale. We are talking about a shared concern for the prevalence of international law.

It is important to remember that non-refoulement is obviously not enough. Refugees must not only be accepted, but also integrated with generosity. Refugee camps, therefore, should be regarded, at best, as a strictly temporary reaction to unexpected flows of people, never as a permanent solution to displacement. Effective liberal solutions include local integration or repatriation to a third country. In both cases, refugees should have the right to work, to have their professional and academic qualifications recognized, to receive equal pay for equal work, to access public services and to move freely within the host country and abroad. At the heart of this is the assumption that refugees should be given the opportunity to thrive. They will often need help at the beginning, but they should not be seen as a permanent burden. They may actually become an asset, if given the chance to contribute to the economic and cultural life of their hosts. 

A final concern I would like to emphasize is related to the end of refugee status. When the conditions that led to flight are over, and if many years have past, refugees should have the option to remain where they are, especially when strong ties with the host country are in place. A liberal perspective, by definition, acknowledges facts and rewards individual efforts. Permanent residence or naturalization should be offered, therefore, to refugees that have integrated or that have lost connection with their former country of residence and feel that ‘home’ is the place where they are living. For children born in exile, this point is especially important.

For refugees who decide to return, there are many other issues. It may happen, for instance, that the place where they used to live has become occupied by others. Mechanisms should be in place to correct those situations, with care not to recreate tensions that lead to conflict and displacement. Rights that were violated, in other words, should be restored. At the same time, it is essential to avoid the logic of revenge. Building trust, after difficult times, is a delicate task that demands tolerance. At the same time, the lack of punishment for war crimes sends a deeply troubling signal, and makes difficult the construction of a professional, law abiding army in post-conflict situations.

The international community should support reconstruction efforts – with care, however, not to dictate terms of complex political settlements under naive assumptions. Politics is not made only with those we agree with. Western powers, moreover, are not always neutral. It is an important part of self-determination that the right to make mistakes and find solutions to those mistakes, without undue interference from outside, is protected.

At the current juncture, these elements are critical for the construction of a truly comprehensive liberal approach to refugee policy. We must have in our sights the entire chain of events related to forced displacement. This is work that requires the promotion of rights at every point where they may be violated, with an appreciation that we are dealing with a complex phenomenon that requires action on multiple fronts. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  The foreign policy of Ron Paul Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government
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Daddy, is it going to flood again?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 18:03

When people have gone through something like flooding, sometimes they can find it hard to talk about what's causing the climate to change...

A few days’ worth of non-stop rain is pretty normal at this time of year, but as I decked my six year-old out head to toe in wet weather gear for the fourth consecutive morning recently, she looked up to me and asked, “is it going to flood again?”

After two winters of extended flooding in a row, when this year’s rains began my daughter wasn’t the only one asking this question in our community. The spectre of more school and road closures, and sandbags and portable toilets set up in flooded streets loomed large in many conversations.

I’ve spent the last year visiting other communities around the UK impacted by flooding and discussing the devastating impacts - both physical and emotional - through a series of workshops. And of course, as someone who cares about and works on climate change, I’ve also discussed where the day-to-day experience of small communities hit by such monumental events fits into the global experience.

Not surprisingly, most people who’ve given up their time to come to these sessions ‘get’ climate change, but far fewer would fit into an ‘eco-warrior’ stereotype, while some are the absolute antithesis of a climate change campaigner. While there was overwhelming consensus that climate change was playing a significant role in UK flooding, there was a real sense of social silence around talking about the issue to anyone outside of their peer group. And this was seen as a serious problem. How can communities truly plan to cope with future events if a key driver for flooding isn’t discussed or included in plans? How can new defences be built high enough if rising sea levels or increasing sudden rainfall isn’t being considered? As these events become more common, should we use the methods we’ve used in the recent past or is it necessary to step back and see the bigger picture?

These questions came up repeatedly and a key element of the workshops was to explore the practical actions participants could take to make their communities more resilient. But another vital area was the training we offered in how to start breaking the climate silence people experienced around them. Not in a preachy or inappropriate way, but one that starts with personal experience and allows all members of a group to see the importance of factoring in climate change to create more robust communities.  

Hopefully we won’t see a repeat of last year’s flooding, and those people I’ve met who are still not in their homes will move back soon, but COIN’s work helping people hit by flooding talk about climate change is still very necessary and I hope that we can continue to offer such vital community support.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Meet Malcolm, the man defending his town from the rising seas Flood water - the silent, indiscriminate burglar
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The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told

Open Democracy News Analysis - 17. December 2014 - 16:40

Jimmy Mubenga died under restraint by three G4S guards. Extreme racist texts found on two of the guards’ phones were withheld from the jury who yesterday cleared all three men of manslaughter. (Warning: this piece contains highly offensive language)

Jimmy Mubenga with his youngest child

Here’s a joke:

“What’s the difference between a cricket bat and a teatowel? Fuck all. They both wrap round a Muslim’s head nicely. Happy St George’s Day.”

That was one of 65 extremely racist texts found on the mobile phone of Terrence Hughes, one of three G4S guards acquitted yesterday of the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga.

Jimmy Mubenga, a healthy 46 year old, the father of five children, died on a British Airways plane at Heathrow Airport on the evening of 12 October, 2010. He was being deported to Angola, escorted by guards from G4S, a security company working under contract to the Home Office. Last year an inquest jury found that Mubenga had been “unlawfully killed”, that one or more of the guards had pushed or held him down “in an unlawful manner” and that the guards “would have known that they would have caused Mr Mubenga harm in their actions, if not serious harm”.

The Crown Prosecution Service charged the three guards — Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52, and Stuart Tribelnig, 39 — with manslaughter. At their trial an Old Bailey jury was told that fellow passengers had heard Jimmy Mubenga cry out “I can’t breathe” as he was pinned to his seat while handcuffed from behind. The defendants insisted they heard no such cries. They said they had not pushed his head down in a position known to risk asphyxia. Yesterday an Old Bailey jury acquitted them of manslaughter.

Hughes’s racist texts, and others found on Stuart Tribelnig’s mobile, were not revealed to the Old Bailey jurors who cleared the three men. That’s because defence lawyers had argued that hearing about the racist material would “release an unpredictable cloud of prejudice” in the jury, preventing a fair trial. The judge ruled that the racist texts were inadmissible. So too was the fact of the unlawful killing verdict and the Coroner’s report which concluded that there was an “unhealthy culture” in the G4S workforce and “endemic racism”.

The Coroner, Karon Monaghan QC, had written: “It seems unlikely that endemic racism would not impact at all on service provision. It was not possible to explore at the Inquest the true extent of racist opinion or tolerance amongst DCOs [Detainee Custody Officers] or more widely. However, there was enough evidence to cause real concern, particularly at the possibility that such racism might find reflection in race-based antipathy towards detainees and deportees and that in turn might manifest itself in inappropriate treatment of them. As it was put by one witness, the potential impact on detainees of a racist culture is that detainees and deportees are not ‘personalized.This may, self-evidently, result in a lack of empathy and respect for their dignity and humanity potentially putting their safety at risk, especially if force is used against them. It is for that reason that the subject properly forms part of this Report.”

The jury in the criminal trial were not to know any of this.

The barrister Frances Webber, in an illuminating post at Institute of Race Relations News, writes:
“The exclusion of relevant evidence meant that the case actually lacked part of its context, and the defence suggestions that Mubenga was indeed too big, strong and vociferous and helped to bring about his own demise, won the day. And although the guards denied any unlawful or dangerous restraint, the sub-text was that if they did do anything untoward it was because of a lack of training and therefore outside of their individual culpability.”

Here’s another text from Terrence Hughes’s phone:

“I went to my local the other day only to find a black barman. So I said give me a drink nig nog. He said that’s a bit racist, come round here and see how like it. So we swapped places and he said give me a drink you mother fucking white honkey cunt. I said sorry mate we don't serve niggers!”

And here’s another:

“Have you noticed that if you re-arrange the letters in illegal immigrants and add just a few more letters it spells out fuck off and go home you free-loading, benefit-grabbing, kid-producing, violent, non-English-speaking, cock suckers and take those hairy-faced, sandal-wearing, bomb-making, goat-fucking, smelly rag head bastards with you. How weird is that?”

And here’s another:

“I went to my local the other day only to find a black barman. So I said give me a drink nig nog. He said that's a bit racist, come round here and see how like it. So we swapped places and he said give me a drink you mother fucking white honkey cunt. I said sorry mate we don't serve niggers!”

And there’s more:

“Can you spare just £2? Ranji is a 9-year old boy living in India. He has just one leg, one arm and one eye. Each day he has to ride seven miles to school along a narrow road on a rusty bike with bent wheels, no brakes and only one pedal. If you send just £2 we will send you the video. It's fucking hilarious.”

And more:

“Ku Klux Klan bloke has just had his Rottweiler upgraded and chipped. It is now up to ten niggerbytes per second.”

And more:

“Had a water fight with the Paki kids in the street. Their high-powered water pistols are no match for my freshly boiled kettle.”

And more:

“I’m voting for the Icelandic volcano party. It’s done more to stop immigration in the last five days than Labour has in the last ten years.”

In all 65 extremely racist texts were found on Terrence Hughes’s phone.

In the months after Mubenga’s death Hughes posted on his Facebook page an image of a dark-skinned man sitting on a plane with his seatbelt positioned above his shoulder and the question: “Come on then what's wrong with this pick???”

Hughes’s Facebook friends chipped in comments. Here’s one:

“He hasn't got two hairy arsed escorts either side of him, no cuffs and not shouting, ‘Kill me now I'm not a hanimal’.”

Here’s another: 

 “Such a dumb fuck this bloke, first time on a plane and no Engrish.”

Hughes was questioned about this in front of the inquest jury. He said: “I have never used any racist language at work,” and “I’ve never told a racist joke to anyone.”

Hughes was also asked at the inquest about a disciplinary tribunal that followed a complaint by a woman being returned to Congo. The woman, Miss Batola, claimed that Hughes had whispered in her ear: “You’re an animal. Go back to the bush where you belong.”

Hughes denied saying those words. He said: “if I called her an animal, I may have used the term in stop behaving and I never actually said that I said it. I said if I did say it, it would have been in that type of context. . . .if I did say it, I might have said it in that way because she was trying to bite me.”

Miss Batola had claimed that Hughes apologised for calling her an animal. At the inquest Hughes said: “I apologised to her, yes, because we used handcuffs on her and I don’t like using handcuffs on ladies.”

No racist texts were found on Colin Kaler’s mobile.

Stuart Tribelnig had lots of them. At the inquest, the Coroner asked him to read out four of them.

Here’s the first:

“We’ve sent the Pakistanis 70 million in aid. The Yanks have sent them 90 million. The Irish have sent them Michael Flatley's DVD to teach the fuckers how to do River Dance.”

Next: 

“I walked past a blind black guy begging in the street. He said, ‘Any change, mate?’ I said, ‘Nope, you're still a nigger’.”

Next: 

“I’ve just lost my job as a life guard at the local swimming pool. Apparently tapping the bombing sign as a family of Muslims walked past is not acceptable.”

And another: 

 “I’ve just been sacked from my new job from the wines and spirits section at Asda. A Muslim came in and asked me to recommend a good port. I said, ‘Dover, now fuck off’.”

Tribelnig admitted forwarding two texts to G4S colleagues. “They’re just jokes that did the rounds,” he explained.

The Coroner asked him: “Did you think they were funny?”

“No,” he said.

Then why forward them?

“I don’t know,” Tribelnig said. “I can only put it down to an unthinking moment.”

The Coroner said: “The contents of those messages  suggest a certain disrespect, to put it mildly, towards black people?”

“Yes,” said Tribelnig.

“Is that . .  something that you generally hold as a view?”

“No,” he replied. “I have close relationships with many people from varying different cultures. My partner’s sister’s husband and her children are black so there are black people within my family circle.”

Frances Webber notes: “Following the acquittal, the judge told the jury that they were not to be concerned if they later read about material that was ruled inadmissible at the trial.” She asks: “What should we make of this advice?”


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  • Notes:
  • You can find a sample of Stuart Tribelnig’s texts here in the transcript of Day 3 of the inquest (15 May 2013: pages 225 to 231).
  • There’s a sample of Terrence Hughes’s 65-strong cache of racist texts here in Day 5’s transcript (17 May 2013: pages 105 to 115).
  • The quotes relating to Hughes’s disciplinary tribunal are here (17 May 2013: page 149).
  • Hughes has been referred to in the press and in legal documents variously as Terence Hughes, Terrence Hughes and Terry Hughes.
Sideboxes Related stories:  Jimmy Mubenga and the shame of British Airways Lord Ramsbotham attacks 'perverse' decision not to prosecute G4S over Mubenga death The lonely death of Jimmy Mubenga Woman stands naked on airport runway, takes overdose
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