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Updated: 1 hour 47 min ago

Why Britain won’t talk about crucial elements of Jihadi John’s story

4 hours 46 min ago

The role of our security services in the actions of 'Jihadi John' needs grown up discussion - we must not forget the lessons of Northern Ireland.

In “Suspect Community: People’s Experience of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain”, professor Paddy Hillyard produced what remains the world’s most detailed ethnographic study of the impact of repressive laws and state policies on what we now call “radicalisation”. That was 1993. Hillyard, a former chair of the National Council of Civil Liberties (now Liberty), had interviewed more than 100 people of Irish catholic descent and provided unequivocal evidence that their everyday treatment at the hands of the British state had boosted support for Irish republicanism, acted as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA and fuelled “the Troubles”. Of course it wasn’t the only “radicalising” factor: Bloody Sunday, a shoot-to-kill policy and state collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries also played their part. As of course did the violence, propaganda and popularity of organisations like the IRA.

We could learn a lot from people like Paddy Hillyard and the incremental moves toward truth and reconciliation in the north of Ireland. Instead, this valuable insight is being steadily exorcised from public debate – as are the similar experiences of Muslim communities at the hands of the British state.

Yesterday the identity of “Jihadi John”, the ISIS executioner-in-chief, was revealed to belong to British citizen Mohammed Emwazi. The human rights group CAGE – the only organisation in Britain who offers legal support to Muslims who have been interrogated or harassed by the security services (support which is readily available to most others questioned by the UK authorities) – produced a 3,000 word dossier detailing his treatment between 2009 and 2013. This included, inter alia, the surveillance of his movements, the interception of his telecommunications, the orchestration of his arrest in Tanzania and transfer to the Netherlands where he was interrogated by MI5, attempts to coerce him into becoming an MI5 informer, harassment of his family and fiancé, and the prevention of his resettlement in Kuwait – all in the absence of any formal allegation, charge or prospect of official recourse.

Since this occurred well before Mohammed Emwazi’s departure from the UK and appearance in Syria as “Jihadi John”, one might have thought our media duty bound to ask whether this and other encounters played any part in his decision to go there. Indeed the most revealing exchange, which should surely have been on the lips of any journalist worth their salt, is the following, spoken by MI5 agent “Nick”: “Listen Mohammed: You’ve got the whole world in front of you; you’re 21 years old; you just finished Uni – why don’t you work for us?” When Mohammed declines, he is told: “You’re going to have a lot of trouble... You’re going to be known... you’re going to be followed... life will be harder for you.”

Let us be clear that whatever else may have transpired since this exchange, here is a credible allegation of state-sanctioned blackmail of one of our citizens upon pain of having his life ruined by unaccountable security forces. When things like this happen to Muslims in Arab dictatorships, we talk about “secret police” and “fearsome security apparatuses”. When they happen here, we put our fingers in our ears and demand that Muslims “get over themselves” and condemn acts of terrorism.

And so it was that Kay Burley of Sky News duly began her interview with a CAGE spokesman by asking “What level of harassment by the security services here in the United Kingdom justifies beheadings?” – a plainly preposterous straw man argument that literally no-one was making. Liberal pin-up Jon Snow also glossed over the evidence produced by CAGE, before getting down to the most important business of the day: demanding that their spokespeople condemn terrorism, and seeking to belittle them when they question why this demand is only ever made of Muslims, or worse still, refuse to participate in the ridiculous spectacle.

It was already a nailed-on certainty that the government and the media would turn the “extremist” spotlight onto CAGE and its supporters in a witch hunt that would make McCarthy blush. But having anointed Peter Oborne the Supreme Ruler of Media Integrity for taking on the Telegraph, perhaps they should ask him what he thinks about CAGE’s treatment at the hands of the establishment. Or reflect on CAGE’s founder and director’s own experience at the hands of MI5, or his three-and-a-half years of illegal detention in Guantanamo Bay and Belmarsh prisons. Nope: they’re just “apologists for terrorism”, guilty until proven innocent.

Human rights and social justice groups should be supporting CAGE in its endeavours to uncover the extra-judicial prosecution of the “war on terror” in this country. They won’t because they’re scared of the “public perception”. Much easier to support free expression from behind the comfort of a “Je Suis Charlie” banner. The country should be having a serious conversation about the way “intelligence-led policing” has undermined our national security and human rights by linking the treatment of Mohammed Emwazi to the discredited use of informants and double agents in Northern Ireland, to the links between MI5 and extremist groups, and to an undercover culture that has perverted the pursuit of social and legal justice in this country. It won’t, because we’ll turn a blind eye to anything at the drop of the T-word.  

Something fundamental has to change if we’re to have the grown-up conversations that can inform these policies, and that can temper the appeal of extremism and violence in all quarters.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Dangerous game: a reply to Gita Sahgal and her supporters Amnesty: working against oblivion? Dangerous liaisons No, we’re not all Charlie Hebdo, nor should we be
Categories: les flux rss

Libya, containing the danger

9 hours 9 min ago

The chaos in Libya will not be stopped by lazy rhetoric or easy options. The country's neighbours, Tunisia and Algeria, can teach the west a lesson. 

Many influential voices sound as if they are spoiling for a fight against Libya's violent militias and their friends in the region. Italy's interior minister Angelino Alfano predicts that the Vatican, as “the centre of Christianity”, is likely to be the next target of Islamic State. The Egyptian president, General Abdelfattah al-Sisi, is keen to intervene in Libya following the ritualised murder of twenty-one Coptic Christian migrant workers there. This incident followed a string of bloody attacks on security forces in the ungoverned Sinai peninsula by the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group, and rising acts of terrorism in Cairo and northern Egypt (where al-Sisi's forces have targeted members of the Muslim Brotherhood, condemning hundreds to hang in kangaroo courts). 

The Islamic state is doing everything it can to provoke Egypt, Jordan and the west. The killing of the Copts was also preceded by the burning alive of the downed Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh. Such acts may be bestial but they are not mindless: they are calculated to bring the "crusaders" - that is, European troops - into Arab lands. This jihadi dialectic is no different from al-Qaida’s flying civilian planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in September 2011.

Egypt's head of state may try and convince Rome, Paris and Washington to play hardball in Libya. But his enthusiasm is not shared in Tunis or Algiers. In those capitals, cool heads argue that Libya is in a state of metastasis - the spreading of cancer from one organ to another not directly concerned with it. Both countries’ leaders believe their duty is to prevent the violence which racks Libya from spreading west.

Tunisia's caution

Tunisia is on the frontline, and has much to lose from any Nato-backed intervention in Libya. It hosts at least half a million Libyan refugees. Many of them currently have the means to live on, but at some point will run out of cash as Libya's hard-currency reserves decline in the absence of oil-and-gas revenues. Tunisians showed immense solidarity with Libyan refugees in 2011-12 and received very little help from the European Union or international organisations for their pains. Today, though, patience is running out in Tunisia. Many Tunisians fear these Libyan “guests” will become a burden on a country which is trying to put down democratic roots and get its economy moving after four years of turbulent politics.

Tunisia's experience, after all, was very different to Libya's. The downfall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 was engineered by a revolt of the Tunisian people, with no outside interference. Tunisia's new head of state, Beji Caid Essebsi, is mindful of this inheritance and of the results of the elections which brought him to power in December 2014. The southern Tunisian provinces of Medenine, Ben Guerdane and Tozeur voted massively in favour of his predecessor, Moncef Marzouki. In the parliamentary elections a few weeks earlier they had voted for the Islamist An-Nahda party, which may have lost out to "Si Beji’s" Nidaa Tunes party but has the second largest block of deputies in the new assembly.

Southern Tunisia has traditionally looked more towards Egypt and Saudi Arabia than the richer coastal towns and the capital Tunis. After independence in 1956, people in the south had dreams of pan-Arabism, which set them on the collision course with the founder of modern Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba. This pan-Arabism has mutated into pan-Islamism. The new Tunisian president is the heir of Bourguiba’s conviction that women be granted equal rights to men. Tunisia recognises the internationally recognised Libyan government in Tobruk but many in southern Tunisia incline towards the Islamist dissident government in Tripoli, a city which lies close to the frontier. The south has long depended on jobs in Libya rather than Tunisia. Any western intervention could set southern Tunisia ablaze.

Algeria's experience

Algeria for its part was humiliated when terrorists from Libya briefly overran the gas field of In Amenas, close to the border, in January 2013. Forty workers were killed and production was interrupted for over a year. The border between Algeria and Libya has since being reinforced and new weaponry deployed. This fits in with the Algerian army’s massive shopping spree since 2000 which aims to replace ageing Soviet weaponry with more modern hardware - largely Russian but also German, Italian and American. A new drone will be built with South Africa as Algeria absorbs the lessons of Kosovo, Iraq and Syria; in other words, of asymmetrical warfare. In the process Algeria has become one of the ten largest importers of weapons in the world and the largest in Africa.

The army has also been redeployed geographically. Since the late 1990s, Algeria's security priorities have changed and attention turned away from Morocco, where a dispute over the international status of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara has opposed the two countries since 1975. Instead, the fight against Islamist terrorism has moved to the top of the agenda - in Algeria itself, and along the borders of Mali, Niger, Libya, Tunisia and beyond. This has meant a refocusing of concern, and the deployment of troops, on the country’s long desert frontiers to the south and east.

It was Algeria’s failed attempt to usher in bold political and economic reforms in 1989-92  that forced its security forces and army to learn the hard way how to confront radical Islamism. Once the object of suspicion in western capitals, the country which trained the commandoes of the South African ANC and the Palestinian PLO, Algeria has become a country keen on maintaining the status quo in north-west Africa. Its leaders warned western states of the likely consequences of  their intervention in Libya in spring 2011, but their advice was ignored. In Paris, London and Washington, the art of geostrategic thinking appeared, in the words of an American ambassador who knows the region, seemed to have been “all but forgotten".

Since the country became independent in 1962, Algeria’s military doctrine has been very reluctant to condone armed intervention beyond the borders of Africa’s largest country. Today its foreign minister is Ramtane Lamamra, a former ambassador to Washington, the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity, who thus has deep knowledge of the area and is mindful of the intractable nature of the Libyan crisis. He knows there is no immediate answer to the huge mess the western intervention in Libya has spawned.

It is a caution is shared by his president as well as by Tunisia's. Algeria and Tunisia cooperate closely today as they try to secure their common border. Loose talk of military intervention in Paris and Rome is easy, but Europe is unwilling to put boots on the ground. The European Union and the United States understand that neither Tunisia nor Algeria share Egypt’s agenda. They could do worse than listen carefully to and cooperate fully with the two Maghreb countries, which have most to lose by growing chaos in Libya.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (Cidob)

Peter Cole & Brian McQuinn eds., The Libyan Revolution and its Aftermath (C Hurst, 2015)

James McDougall, History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Alison Pargeter, Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (Yale University Press, 2012)

Maghreb Review

Martin Evans, Algeria: France's Undeclared War (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Kay Adamson, Algeria: A Study in Competing Ideologies (Bloomsbury, 1998)




Francis Ghilès is senior research fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (Cidob). He was the Financial Times's north Africa Correspondent from 1981-95, and now contributes to newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, El Pais and La Vanguardia. He is a specialist in emerging energy markets and their relationship to political trends, and has advised western governments and corporations working in north Africa

Related stories:  Tunisia: the Arab exception's test France's identity crisis: seeds of change North African diversities: a Tunisian odyssey North African diversities: a Moroccan odyssey Tunisia, from hope to delivery North African diversities: a personal odyssey Algeria, football, and France's "black box" Country or region:  Libya Algeria Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
Categories: les flux rss

Detaining the president’s daughter

27. February 2015 - 15:46

A year on from her disappearance from public life, what does the treatment of Gulnara Karimova reveal about Uzbekistan’s rights crisis?

A year ago, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian president disappeared from public life. Arrested under corruption allegations in February 2014 and apparently detained at her Tashkent home ever since, Gulnara Karimova – former ambassador, singer, fashion guru, social media star, and business tycoon – remains in a kind of sealed limbo, apparently unable to communicate directly with the outside world.

Before her arrest, Gulnara Karimova was a noted socialite and businesswoman. (c) RIA Novosti/Vitaly Levitin

Karimova’s treatment over the last 12 months is far superior to that of thousands of other people in Uzbekistan suffering severe human rights abuses. Yet her high-profile case provides a telling insight into the dire state of human rights in Uzbekistan today.

The black sheep

Islam Karimov’s daughter became the ruling family’s black sheep at some point in 2013, railing publicly, mostly on Twitter, against those in Uzbekistan’s political elite Karimova felt had crossed her. At first, her concerns were primarily with corruption allegations thrown at her in several European countries. Criminal cases have been opened against her and her associates in various jurisdictions, including for money laundering in Switzerland. In response, she accused others in the political elite of dirty dealing.

She started mentioning human rights for the first time in her long career.

Later, in 2013, she started mentioning human rights for the first time in her long career, accusing the country’s feared security services, commonly known by its acronym, the SNB, of torture. Even though Karimova’s statements almost exclusively concerned the supposed ill-treatment of her close associates, the public acknowledgment by a member of Uzbekistan’s ruling elite that such abuses are regularly committed by law enforcement bodies was unprecedented. This may have been the final straw for a father known for defiantly refusing to acknowledge any criticism, whether domestic or international, of his government’s appalling human rights record.

A political earthquake

In mid-February last year, Karimova’s home was raided – a political earthquake for Uzbekistan given her position in the ruling family and her previous formal roles with the government. By her account, security forces threatened her daughter, badly beat her long-term partner before arresting him and another close associate; and took several others into custody on charges of corruption. A military court in Tashkent sentenced her long-term partner Rustam Madumarov and business associate Gayane Avakyan to 7 and 6 years imprisonment, respectively, although it is unclear whether they are serving these sentences behind bars.

A few days later, she was apparently under house arrest and has supposedly been there ever since, only able to leak out a few messages to the outside world through her son, Islam Karimov, Jr., and through a PR firm – both in the UK. Many years of speculation that her father might tap her to run as his handpicked successor for president in 2015 ended in January, when Karimov himself announced he would run for a fourth consecutive term as president, even though the constitution only allows him two.  

Karimova was an integral part of this government for many years and denied its systematic torture.

No sympathy

Many people, familiar with her history, are unconcerned about her situation. She had, after all, been infamously tagged in a WikiLeaks cable as the ‘single most-hated person’ in Uzbekistan.

Karimova was an integral part of this government for many years and denied its systematic torture, its use of the forced labour of children and adults, and its mass killing of largely peaceful protesters in Andijan in 2005. As Uzbekistan’s representative to the UN in Geneva, where the UN Human Rights Council is located, she never uttered a word in defence of human rights, despite our calls on the government to end its human rights abuses and our numerous exchanges on Twitter directly with her imploring her to speak up. She was contemptuous of universal human rights at every step of her career – until her own rights were threatened.

Uzbekistan is holding dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures on politically motivated charges; and thousands of peaceful religious believers have been locked up in horrific prisons and tortured, some for decades. Karimova’s conditions under house arrest remain murky, but they are certainly far better than those of long-term political prisoners in the country’s vile gulags.

Uzbekistan is holding dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures on politically motivated charges.

One example is the rights activist Isroiljon Kholdorov, in prison since 2006 for speaking to the media about the mass graves in Andijan. Uzbek security services kidnapped Kholdorov from neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where he had fled for safety, and held him incommunicado in a room with boarded windows for six months before bringing him to trial on trumped-up charges.  

Rights for all

Still, Karimova’s rights, like everyone else’s, should be protected. She has a right to a lawyer, and it’s unclear whether she has one. She has a right not be held in this sort of pre-trial limbo detention for such a long period. She has a right to a fair trial, too. But that is virtually impossible in Uzbekistan, where the judiciary is heavily dependent on the executive branch and where the independent legal profession has been dismantled through what have been described as legal ‘reforms. 

Karimova’s rights, like everyone else’s, should be protected.

Karimova also has a right to free expression – at the very least through a lawyer – to address, among other things, her current conditions and whereabouts. By all indications she is prohibited from doing so. Even those of us who didn’t agree with the things she was saying publicly in 2013 can still agree she had, and has, a right to say them, just like everyone else in Uzbekistan has, despite the government’s persistent refusal to acknowledge that right. 

Also, Karimova’s story does not only concern her personal rise and fall. It is reasonably clear there has been a purge of those associated with her, not only those in her closest circle, but even employees of her businesses and foundations. Some young people have told Human Rights Watch they are being punished for having even a very tenuous connection to her once vast empire. It appears that their rights are also being trampled, and their individual cases ought to be impartially investigated. 

Ultimately, Karimova’s case is about much more than her. It is indicative of Uzbekistan’s desperate human rights crisis, and underlines the need for robust international attention to its myriad abuses such as the absence of civil and political freedoms, torture, and endemic corruption. If the Uzbek government can trample the rights of even the president’s own daughter, then what hope is there for the rights of ordinary people? 

Standfirst image via via Davidson Ryan Dore.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The split widens in the ruling family of Uzbekistan Dictators without borders Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
Categories: les flux rss

Iraq: the assault on minorities

27. February 2015 - 14:13

Islamic State is certainly a threat—but not mainly to the West, as the horrific experiences of members of minorities in Iraq testifiy.

At least they got away: women and girls crowded into a converted barracks in south-eastern Turkey, accommodating some 1,200 Yazidis who had fled IS attacks in northern Iraq. Flickr / European Commission DG ECHO. Some rights reserved.

The threat posed by Islamic State (IS) to security in the West has captured headlines and provoked fierce debate in recent weeks. But in its original zone of operation in Iraq, the devastating effect of IS on many communities in the north of the country may prove permanent. IS has pursued a systematic strategy of removing minority populations forever from large areas of Iraq—and it may well have succeeded.

Within days of IS taking control of Mosul in June 2014, members of minority communities had to alter their behaviour drastically, to conceal their identities and renounce their traditions lest their lives be put at risk. For too many, survival became the paramount concern. And within weeks, nearly all minority communities in IS-held areas were forced to flee or be killed. Families were compelled to alter their life entirely or watch it crumble to pieces.

Minorities lack the tribal-protection structures majority groups possess, leaving their members particularly vulnerable to human-rights violations. This became increasingly clear as IS advanced into the Anbar and Nineveh governorates, where ethnic and religious minority inhabitants were left vulnerable to a series of attacks, with catastrophic consequences.

But the problems of Iraq’s minority communities did not start with the IS campaign. Religious and ethnic minorities have long been marginalised in its political and social life.


IS has advanced in a society in which negative stereotypes have historically fuelled the discrimination and harassment faced by members of ethnic and religious minorities. The state has failed to meet international standards on the treatment of minorities, with prejudicial policies contributing to the disenfranchisement of minority communities and territorial disputes often dominating public policy towards minority populations.

A report launched today (in English and Arabic) by Minority Rights Group International, the Institute for International Law and Human Rights, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation and No Peace Without Justice documents the plight of minorities since June 2014. The spotlight falls particularly on the abuses suffered by Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Kaka’i and Shabak at the hands of IS.

The report documents summary executions, torture, abductions, forced conversions and mass forced displacement, and reveals IS as a group motivated by extermination. Indeed, the destruction of cultural and religious sites points to the group’s intent to eradicate the roots and identities of minority peoples.

Women and girls

There are particular consequences for minority women and children. Numerous reports of abuses committed against women and girls as young as 12 or 13 include abduction, imprisonment, rape, coercion into marriage, sexual enslavement and other forms of sexual violence.

Sadly, these acts have occurred in a pre-existing environment of gender-based violence and discrimination, with high levels of impunity. Women and girls who have managed to escape their abusers often fear stigmatisation, and lack the necessary physical and psychological care to overcome their ordeal. 

The report highlights an incident in which a 17-year-old Yezidi was captured and sold by IS, only to escape from the man who ‘purchased’ her. The girl said: “I got in a taxi and asked to be brought back to the place where they were selling girls, as I had no other place to go back to.” That she felt her only option was to surrender herself once more to her captors is an alarming indication of the lack of services and redress available to female survivors of such human-rights abuses. According to IS ideology, like many others she would be deemed a mere spoil of war.

Internally displaced

The number of internally displaced persons in Iraq has soared alarmingly, to over 3m. It is the state’s responsibility to meet the needs of IDPs, yet, faced with a humanitarian crisis and the security situation, the government appears overwhelmed.

The extent of the displacement has compelled people to reside in camps, informal settlements and abandoned buildings. With the largest population of IDPs in the Kurdish autonomous region, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is coping with an enormous burden. But the increasingly high rents and discriminatory property ownership laws over which it presides seriously impede their access to housing.

“I got in a taxi and asked to be brought back to the place where they were selling girls, as I had no other place to go back to.” 

More generally, IDPs are suffering deteriorating humanitarian conditions and the resources available are not adequate to address their basic needs. There is a clear shortage of food, water, healthcare and medical supplies, while lack of income and restricted access to employment present further challenges. Financial contributions from the international community meet just 30% of what is required.

For many IDPs, complications with registration have even barred them from obtaining food rations and basic non-food items or securing access to bank accounts. Without civil-status documents, some remain trapped in camps or roadside shelters or at checkpoints.


And pre-IS discriminatory attitudes remain prevalent. Even where humanitarian aid or shelter is available, some minorities have trouble availing themselves of it, due to prejudicial rules or official policies which seek to tip the ethnic balance in the governorate or simply exercise control over beneficiaries.

Much more must be done by the international community, as well as the Iraqi government and the KRG. Yet, each of these parties, on one occasion or another, has demonstrated obdurate reluctance to take steps towards a resolution.

The international community ought to make a better attempt to bridge the humanitarian funding gap. Governance challenges and lack of co-ordination between the Iraqi government and the KRG also stand in the way of effective implementation of a crisis-response plan.


The vast religious and cultural diversity of Iraq is sacred. Members of minority communities should not have to feel that they have no future in their own country and international actors must ensure that their efforts protect, rather than undermine, Iraq’s diversity. Any response should aim to ensure security and equal rights for minorities first and foremost within their historic homelands, rather than outside them.

The joint report considers IS responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It paves the way for discussions of accountability and justice. But these discussions must quickly turn into action. Iraq should accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and accept the court’s jurisdiction from the beginning of the current conflict.

Armed groups such as IS and other militias cannot however be attributed sole responsibility for violations against minority communities in Iraq. Comprehensive legal and social reform is required to tackle the longstanding marginalisation of minorities.

It is critical that, with the support of the international community, Iraq begin its preparations for the post-IS era. Without this, the state and its vulnerable minorities will stagger from one crisis to another. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Fear and loathing in Kirkuk The flight from Mosul: “We left everything behind to save our lives” Country or region:  Iraq Topics:  Conflict
Categories: les flux rss

Rifkind: good riddance

27. February 2015 - 11:45

Malcolm Rifkind has faced public rage this week. He deserves every decibel of it.

Malcolm Rifkind/Wikipedia

Let me declare an interest. I don’t like Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the pompous and sneering politician who has thankfully fallen sword after the excellent sting operation by Channel Four Dispatches, exposing his avaricious and arrogant attitude to being an elected Member of Parliament.

Last year Sir Malcolm co-chaired a press launch at the House of Commons of the Trident Commission. I asked from the floor how he and his fellow co-chair on the Commission, Lib Dem grandee Sir Menzies Campbell, as international lawyers, could support renewing Trident? Its procurement from the United States was in breach of the UK’s legal obligations under both Article 1 (prohibiting the transfer of nuclear explosive devices to any recipient whatsoever, directly or indirectly) and Article 6 (requiring all member states, including nuclear weapons states, and to enter into negotiations to halt the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament in good faith and at an early date, ie from 1968) of the 189-member state Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Sir Malcolm looked at me as if he had stepped in something nasty and smelly on the pavement, ignored my question, and let Ming Campbell attempt an answer.

That is the measure of Sir Malcolm: pompously arrogant and loquacious, until struck dumb by somebody knowledgeable prepared to challenge him on his own area of supposed expertise!

In December 2008, he became a leading spokesman of the Global Zero movement, which includes over 300 eminent leaders and over 400,000 citizens from around the world working toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons by multilateral negotiation. In backing Trident’s renewal, he seemed to be directly contradicting this organisation.

Amongst the jaw dropping comments he made to the Channel Four undercover reporters, was the claim that he did not receive a salary – even though he is paid over £67,000 a year to be an MP. Trying to extricate himself from the hole he had dug for himself, he actually made this worse by letting slip he considered a salary of £67,000 was insufficient for a man of his background; he was entitled to much more, he opined.

On his own constituency web site he states: “Members of Parliament are elected to the House of Commons to represent the interests and concerns of all the people who live in their constituency, whether they voted for them at the General Election or not. They are only able to deal with issues raised by people who live in their constituency, called constituents.”

Apparently this "only dealing with issues raised by constituents" rule did not apply to meeting with lobbyists offering money to him to ask questions of ministers, officials or serving ambassadors, for a fat fee of £5,000-to £8,000 a day, as he told the undercover reporters. That would be about a third of the annual income for a day’s work for many of the constituents in the north of his constituency. Many erroneously think his entire Kensington seat in west London is super affluent; maybe Sir Malcolm did too, and never ventured too far north to see the real poverty there.

That restraint, however, has not stopped him from as an MP venturing into very valuable, well-remunerated consultancies and directorships, earning £69,610 last year according to his latest entry in the Register of Members financial interests, published by Parliament on 2 February. As he told the undercover reporters, he had plenty of free time to undertake extra-parliamentary fee earning, as well as walking and reading.

Also, if you look at his record as an MP, it's hard to find evidence of him paying much attention to its role, which includes keeping the government of the day to account. He boasted to the undercover reporters, "there is an awful lot of which is not secret which if you ask the right questions you'll get an answer." But either he was insufficiently curious or all knowing, as since the formation of the coalition government nearly five years ago he asked just one written question to government on behalf of his constituents.

But Sir Malcolm knows how to be active when he wants to be. Here is an extract from the Independent nine years ago:

“Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, undertook to lobby the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, in an attempt to land a lucrative oil contract in Iraq for BHP Billiton, according to evidence given to a public inquiry in Australia.


“In the most blatant evidence to so far emerge about Western businesses jockeying for a slice of Iraq's oil wealth, the Anglo-Australian group BHP Billiton drew up a plan for getting access to the huge Iraqi Halfayah oilfield just weeks after outbreak of war in 2003.


"BHP Billiton held a secret meeting in May 2003 in London with Sir Malcolm - who has worked as a consultant to the company since 1997 - and Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, to discuss how best to convince the Americans that BHP Billiton should be handed the Halfayah field in southern Iraq.


“The evidence came to light as part of a Royal Commission inquiry started late last year in Australia to examine any involvement of the country's businesses in breaching the sanctions that were in place against Iraq before the war. According to the minutes of the meeting, Shell, the oil giant, and Tigris Petroleum, a joint venture set up by BHP Billiton and some of its former executives, were also interested in "securing the Halfayah field investment".


“The minutes, which were taken by Australian government officials and labelled "Confidential", note: "Sir Malcolm emphasised that it was critical to register the BHP Billiton/British Dutch [Shell]/Tigris interest early with the US administration... It was a good claim and required lobbying - including from the Australian government - in Washington."


The document said that BHP Billiton had briefed the office of Australia's Prime Minister adding, "it has only just started lobbying in the UK but intended to approach Downing Street and the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry]".


"The minutes said "Sir Malcolm would be seeking an appointment with Vice-President Cheney when the opportunity arose". And Mr Downer, who is still Foreign Minister, "agreed he would raise the matter both in Washington and in Baghdad with Paul Bremer [the US administrator of Iraq]".

Last year Sir Malcolm was appointed Chairman of the World Economic Forum's Nuclear Security Council. Just last month, he was appointed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as a member of their Eminent Persons Panel on European Security. Let’s hope he has been un-appointed from both.

Laughably, five years ago he was considered an eminent enough MP to chair the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons until the dissolution of the House of Commons in April 2010. To think he was considered fit to chair Parliament’s “Intelligence” Committee too.

There is an excellent book, published 24 years ago, written by Mark Hollingsworth, called MPs for Hire. He dubs the type of behaviour exhibited by Sir Malcolm as “pork-barrel politics”. Veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn told the BBC this week that some MPs have got their body so far into the trough, all you can see is the soles of their Gucci shoes. Bye, bye Sir Malcolm.

Now he is gone for good, unless the Tories dare nominate him for a peerage. Surely they wouldn’t, would they?

Sideboxes Related stories:  It's no surprise Rifkind and Straw don't get it. Westminster's swimming in corporate influence
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The uncertain future of the Crimean Tatars

27. February 2015 - 11:14

As reports of kidnapping, intimidation and criminal investigations into Crimean Tatars continue to emerge from the peninsula, the future of this Turkic minority looks uncertain.


‘In short, the situation in Crimea is like this: there are proper people, and then there are the ‘blacks’ – that’s us – and they need to be weeded out,’ says Zair Smedlya, a leading figure in the Qurultai, the elected council and highest political authority of the Crimean Tatars. The Qurultai meets only once every two years, and meanwhile delegates its powers to an elected 33 member executive, the Mejlis. But Moscow, unlike Kyiv, doesn’t recognise this body.

Smedlya is currently involved in defending Tatars who have been charged with participating in mass rioting in 2014 during and after the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian military. The annexation of Crimea by Russia is widely seen as a huge step back for the Crimean Tatars, who won the right to return to their homeland only in 1989, long after Stalin ordered the NKVD to deport them to Central Asia en masse in 1944. Despite winning moderate self-autonomy and property rights after Ukraine became independent in 1991, the achievements of the past two decades are now precarious at best. Reports of kidnapping, intimidation, and criminal investigations continue to emerge from the recently-occupied peninsula.

Life in the balance

As Smedlya reports, the situation for the Crimean Tatars hangs in the balance.

‘My neighbours recently asked me: “Why are you building a house for yourself? They’ll only throw you out again.” It was just the same when we came back from Uzbekistan. But our children have never encountered this attitude before. And now people are saying that there’s no bread in the shops because the Tatars boycotted the unification referendum.’

Life on the sun-scorched peninsula has become distinctly more difficult since March 2014. No more so than for Smedlya, who, with a traditional fez atop his head, clutches a copy of the Russian Federation Constitution and a briefcase filled to the brim with documents. Defending the Tatars detained in connection with mass rioting requires an intimacy with Russian court procedure and the criminal code. 

On 8 February 2015, for example, one person was arrested for his part in the Euromaidan clashes of a year ago – he is accused of attacking members of the Crimean Berkut riot police. On the same day, another man was arrested for attending a rally on 26 February 2014 in Simferopol, the administrative capital of Crimea – the third person to be arrested in connection with this case. February-March last year was the height of the ‘Russian Spring’, when Crimean Tatars clashed with demonstrators outside the local parliament building, trying to impress their views on the deputies inside. While Crimean Tatars broadly align themselves with Kyiv in deference to the emancipatory power of post-Soviet independence, their opponents – also Crimean residents – believe Russia has their best interests at heart.

Two people died in the crush, and a year later, ethnic Russian residents of Crimea’s capital still shudder at the memory. ‘I asked a Tatar friend to escort me home, and asked him, quite seriously, “How far will this go?”’,’ says Svetlana, who doesn’t want to give her last name. ‘His answer was: “Don’t worry, we won’t butcher you, we’ll just rape you.”’ Svetlana had known this man for many years, but has not spoken to him since. The majority of Crimea’s ethnic Russian and Armenian residents told a recent survey of their horror at the Tatar demonstration, and call Vladimir Putin a ‘peacemaker’ in response.

Fear of Russia

The Tatars’ explanation for this mass mobilisation is their own fear of Russia, which deported the majority of them in 1944. According to official Soviet history, after the Red Army’s retreat from Crimea in 1941, local Tatars deserted from their divisions in droves, and the civilian population welcomed the German invaders with flowers.

When Soviet forces retook the peninsula in 1944, 190,000 Crimean Tatars, alongside 40,000 Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians living in Crimea, were accused of collaboration with the enemy and transported in freight wagons to Central Asia. A similar fate befell several Caucasian ethnic groups – Ingush, Karachai, Chechens and Balkars – as well as Russian troops who had been taken prisoners of war. Hardly reported in the press, the deportation was followed by the erasure of Crimean Tatar toponymy – the names of Tatar villages were changed to standard Soviet clichés, and Tatars were rarely mentioned in the press for over 40 years.

For Smedlya, Crimean Tatar history has always been written by dilettantes, quoting a legal formula in justification: ‘When lawyers write “the peoples of Crimea”, they include all sorts of ethnic minorities in their list of indigenous groups. But Armenians have their own national state, Armenia. Bulgarians have Bulgaria. And Russians’ roots are in Russia. There are only three peoples indigenous to the peninsula – Karaites, Krymchaks and Crimean Tatars. They call us a minority, but this is the result of Russian imperialism. Catherine the Great won Crimea from the Ottomans in the 18th century, settling it with Russians and other nationalities sympathetic to Russia. Eventually they outnumbered the Tatars, and Stalin completed the process by deporting us.’ Smedlya recently trampled a portrait of Stalin underfoot during a Communist picket – not even the police could save the ‘Great Leader’ from this public retribution.

Karaites and Krymchaks are Turkish-speaking peoples whose religion is Judaism, although the Karaites profess a non-Talmudic form of their faith. Together, there are roughly 1,000 Karaites and Krymchaks amidst Crimea’s population of two million. Under the Ottomans, the Crimean Khanate had seven million inhabitants. The imperial authorities in St Petersburg also actively colonised the peninsula. Now, following the return of  the Crimean Tatars after 1989, they make up 300,000 of its inhabitants. ‘We are on the brink of extinction!’ cries Zair.  ‘How can we protect ourselves? The only solution is to have our own state! There was no ethnic conflict when the Ottomans ruled us. The Khan even built a monastery. And the creation of some kind of federation of peoples would just fudge the issue!’.

‘How can we protect ourselves? The only solution is to have our own state!’

 After our meeting, Smedlya is off to yet another session in court on the question of the Mejlis office – the building has been seized by the authorities, and its deputy chairman is currently in pre-trial detention. Smedlya has also recently been questioned by the FSB, the Russian security service, in connection with an investigation into Mustafa Dzhemilev, head of the Mejlis for the last 22 years.

On 3 March 2014, Dzhemilev tried to enter Crimea, despite being banned by the Russian authorities. Two thousand Tatars turned out to greet Dzhemiliev at the newly-established border with Ukraine but were blocked by riot police, and a scuffle ensued. Several people were later detained and released only after a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Reycip Erdogan – evidently at the latter’s request. The day we met, however, there was no FSB interrogation: with a new law recognising Crimean Tatar as one of the peninsula’s three official languages, Smedlya demanded to be questioned in his mother tongue and the FSB couldn’t find an interpreter in their ranks. Crimea’s legal system still functions solely in Russian.      

An abduction – and a top level meeting

The village of Sary Su came back to life only recently, as Tatars returning from their exile began to re-occupy its one-storey houses. The village’s single street, without lighting, is on the edge of the town of Belogorsk (in Tatar, Karasubazar), which, before the deportation, was almost entirely Tatar.

A Tatar village. Image by Dimitry Okrest. All rights reserved.

Now Crimean Tatars make up a third of its population. Abdureshit Dzhepparov, a 54-year-old man in a shabby sweater, meets me near the mosque as the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. ‘When my son and nephew disappeared on 27 September, I was sitting drinking tea with a guest, just like I am with you today’, he tells me.

‘They had gone to visit a relative when a car with false number plates suddenly braked beside them and they were forced into it and driven away. We immediately ran to the police, who had never seen such a thing here before. People had been known to disappear, but not abducted.’ Since Crimea’s unification with Russia, 18 apparently random people have vanished – all of various ages and social backgrounds; some pious Muslims, others – not.

Dzhepparov is convinced that Islyam, his younger son, is still alive. But he has no idea whether his elder son Abdullah is. Abdullah left to study in Turkey and then disappeared. Ill-wishers claim that he went off to Syria to fight for Islamic State and stepped on a mine, but Abdureshit dismisses this story.

The news of Islyam’s abduction spread fast on social media, and the police started working more seriously on the case. Tension grew in Sary Su and, within a few hours, thousands of people from all over Crimea were crowding its alleyways. The army was also out in force, with snipers on roofs and machine gunners in jeeps. Abdureshit proposed a meeting with the peninsula’s leadership: ‘If they won’t meet us, we will go on asking them to do so. But our attitude will be different’.

Dzhepparov met privately with the Crimean head of government Sergei Aksyonov in October: ‘I told him straight out, these people came together not just out of solidarity with me – there are lots of issues that need ironing out.’ They agreed to set up a civil rights contact group made up of lawyers and relatives of people who have disappeared, and this now meets monthly to discuss these questions.

So far, the group’s achievements are modest, but significant. It has organised the issue of proper documents to returnees – which failed to happen when Crimea was under Ukrainian rule. A fine handed out to a teacher for possession of extremist literature has also been rescinded thanks to the group.After unification with Russia the police started actively hunting out and confiscating radical Islamist works which the Ukrainian authorities had considered harmless. And Dzhepparov and his colleagues have succeeded in releasing four people detained for their part in the ‘3 March case’. ‘My argument was simple’, Dzhepparov tells me. ‘I said to Aksyonov: “Russia and Ukraine are at war on all fronts, both military and propaganda. Why is Russia giving its enemies extra ammunition to use against it?” He thought about it for a while but wouldn’t budge, so I said, “Disarm your enemies on the Dnipro river – let the lads go”’.

‘We could start an insurrection today’

Sat beside a stove in his small, one-storey house, Dzhepparov believes that the abduction of his son and nephew is officialdom’s revenge for his social activism. When the Crimean Tatars started returning en masse from their exile in 1989, house prices went through the roof. Dzhepparov proposed a radical solution – a mass squat on collective farm fields all over the peninsula. And since then Dzhepparov has remained a tireless advocate for his community.

‘These arrests and abductions have been designed to provoke us – they want to trigger a reaction, to inflame everyone’s emotions’, he says. ‘The Crimean Tatar community is well aware of this and is determined not to rise to the bait – it’s a question of our basic physical safety. But they won’t stop: I spend all my time going round putting out sparks of discontent, trying to avoid a conflagration.’  I ask him whether this official provocation could set off an armed conflict, as happened in the Caucasus. But Dzhepparov doesn’t see any parallels here: ‘We are not Caucasians, we have a completely different mentality.’ He insists that when a relative disappears, a Crimean Tatar can’t imagine immediately selling his house, buying an AK-47 and joining an insurgent group in the mountains. 

‘The arrests and abductions have been designed to provoke us, but we are not Caucasians’

‘If we wanted,’ Dzhepparov warns, ‘we could organise an insurrectionary movement or mobilisation this very minute. But it’s not the right thing to do.  We could also set off a mass wave of discontent, like in the old days, but the Mejlis has taken a back seat now.’ Dzhepparov’s  words are echoed by Renat, a student at the local university: ‘When things got hot last spring, the kids started to spend all their time training and honing their fighting skills, and immediately began carrying knives whenever they went out.’ Renat himself has lived for years in the town and finds the subject of inter-ethnic relations out-dated.

Dzhepparov has no time for the Tatar establishment either: ‘As for the Mejlis returning from its self-imposed isolation ... It’s been a spent force for years; it’s just become more obvious now’, he says in his calm voice. ‘It worked well when everything was quiet. But it couldn’t react quickly enough to the new situation. It could govern from anywhere – the internet is everywhere – but there isn’t anything to govern, nor anyone to take charge.'

'Dzhemilev, our supposed national leader, has now been banned from entering Crimea. But he wasn’t around munch before, either. He preferred to spend his time swanning around government offices in Kyiv, completely isolated from ordinary Tatars. And the Mejlis’ current head, Refat Chubarov, made a deal with the Russians: ‘I’ll leave Crimea, but you won’t let me!’

‘I’ll leave Crimea, but you won’t let me!’

A different strategy

‘Although the Mejlis can’t speak for all Tatars, it does want peace. But Russia hasn’t given us any sign of wanting it either’, says Smedlya. Smedlya believes that Tatar discontent is being exploited by the FSB for its own purposes, to provoke the community into open revolt. 

‘Neither the Mejlis, nor our Muslim religious authorities have called for the desecration of Christian graves when the graves of our ancestors were vandalised. At our Qurultai assemblies we have always said that this was the work of atheists: the Christian dead were not to blame. But given the inaction of the Mejlis, will our hot-tempered young people respond to other, more extreme calls to action?’

‘In the Caucasus, all you have to do to rouse a young man to insurrection is stick a cap on his head and shout “Allahu Akbar! Kill the Russians!”’, Smedlya tells me, waving his own fez in the air. ‘But here, tempers aren’t running high enough yet for that to happen.’

He doesn’t exclude the possibility that any sign of revolt might be used to justify a purge of the Tatar population, or indeed of a North Caucasus scenario where people with blood on their hands walk away with impunity. ‘You can see the same pattern in France, in Russia – everywhere’, he says. ‘The killers and the brains behind them are the same. When they murdered the journalists in Paris, anyone with a brain wouldn’t go on drawing the cartoons and provoking an escalation of the violence. There has to be a response to everything; people are fired up everywhere. Look at Donetsk: Ukrainians and Russians who used to go to the same church are now killing one another, and who knows what will happen next.’

Dzhapparov takes a more pragmatic view of the future. ‘It was naive to imagine that Russia would make special concessions to us Tatars, to be nice to us. Who have they ever made concessions to?’ asks Dzhapparov. ‘Who are we to expect anything from them? But if Russia sees itself as the successor to the USSR, it would be good to make some reparation for our deportation. If they were to compensate us for all our losses and return what belonged to us, then people would put up with a lot.’

Dzhapparov quotes the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which gives these peoples, among other things, the right to self-determination. He mentions as an example the national republics within Russia, where senior government posts are normally occupied by members of the titular ethnic group, no matter what proportion of the population they represent. ‘And it was the same under the Soviet Union: the head of each republic was always from the titular nation – Georgian, Uzbek, Latvian and so on – and his deputy would be a Russian. But there isn’t a single ethnic Ukrainian in the present Kyiv government. We now have three official languages in Crimea – Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar, but why is Ukrainian one of them? What have the Ukrainians done for us? We’re fighting for our rights here, and where are they?’

At the end of our conversation, Dzhepparov takes it in an unexpected direction: ‘If we could implement even a tenth of the UN declaration, that would be enough for us. It doesn’t matter that we are only 12% of the Crimean population. In 1967, when we started drifting back from exile, we were all young men in our twenties and there were just a few thousand of us. But many of us had four or five children. In 1987, there were already 11,000 of us, and two years later there were 30,000. And we go on multiplying. Islam is becoming stronger in our community, and families are growing – my brother’s wife has just had her fifth and my neighbours their fourth. And we hope to Allah it won’t be the last. I believe that we will be in the majority in our own lifetimes. Russians will be fine here; they’ll have everything they need.'

‘And if we leave, the Russians will leave with us. That’s what happened when we returned from deportation. There won’t be any form of discrimination –where Muslims live, life is comfortable.’


Standfirst image: The painting 'Tatar's Dance' Juliusz Kossak. Image by Adelchi via Wikipedia. 

Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
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Home, for Algeria’s Jews, is elsewhere

27. February 2015 - 10:00

Intolerance towards Algerian Jews has been driven by geopolitics and history, not religion. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, Religion and Human Rights. العربية

In Algeria, like other countries of North Africa and the Middle East, there are red lines when discussing politics and religion. Some Algerian writers have bravely debated Jewish minority rights, but raising too many questions about Algeria’s Jewish minority is still taboo. This is because most people confuse Israel, Judaism and Zionism.

Algeria’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Mohamed Aissa, recently spoke of plans to reopen 25 synagogues closed down in the late 1990s, during Algeria's civil war. The news provoked some Algerian Muslims to protest. The minister, however, says Algerian Jews have a right to exist. Although welcome, the statement is ironic, because few in Algeria would openly acknowledge Jewish identity. Indeed, many observers claim that the Algerian Jewish community no longer exists.

Radical Islamists have reportedly led opposition to the minister’s plan, but their anger does not stem from Islam itself. Muslims in the Maghreb have a history of coexistence with other religions, as is true in other Middle Eastern countries. Instead, their intolerance is driven by recent history and politics.

Muslims and Jews coexisted for centuries in Algeria until European clerics introduced “anti-Semitism.” French colonists offered Jews special treatment, allowing them to capitalize on new economic opportunities. In 1870, the famous Crémieux Decree granted French citizenship to Algerian Jews, elevating their status from “colonial subjects” to “French citizens.”Some Muslims felt betrayed, leading to the first significant rupture between the two communities. Later, Algerian Muslims accused Jews of failing to support the country’s war of liberation.

In Algeria, religious intolerance against Jews emerged from these processes of colonization and de-colonization, and from a war of independence that generated popular resentment of perceived injustice.

Today, Jews are like ghosts in Algeria; we hear about them living among us, but we never see them. Some say Jews still live in Algeria under strict surveillance, but most Algerians are confused: is there still a Jewish-Algerian community? And if so, is it safe to speak about it? Many suspect that the community exists, but fear that this is a matter of state security about which they should not comment.

Jews are not the only victims of Algerian intolerance; there is also discrimination against Christians. An Algerian Muslim who converts to Christianity is despised because s/he has given up her faith to embrace the ex-enemy’s religion. As a result, even people who are not religiously devout are likely to threaten a convert with rape or death.

In neighboring Tunisia and Morocco, the last few thousand remaining Jews can practice their faith and send their children to Jewish schools. Most Tunisians and Moroccans – ordinary citizens as well as scholars and academics – speak openly of Jewish contributions to their countries. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Algeria, where people vandalized both Christian and Jewish religious symbols, including cemeteries and places of worship, after independence, and during the 1990s’ civil war.

The Arab-Israeli conflict has of course deepened the gap between Algeria’s Jews and Muslims, and has undermined hopes of re-establishing a Jewish presence in the country. Unfortunately, many residents of Arab countries confound anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Flickr/[john] (Some rights reserved)

Can the Islamic population of Algeria normalize its relationship with a domestic Jewish population?

Algerians often say, “We have nothing against Jews; it is Zionism that is the problem.” But then, many also say, “a Jew will always defend Israel’s interests, even if s/he is not a Zionist. All Jews believe in Israel, and it is therefore better to prevent them from returning to their (Arab) home countries.”

Consider Jewish-Algerian singer Enrico Macias. The Algerian-born French citizen made two attempts, in 2000 and 2007, to visit his “homeland.” Algerian authorities denied him entry, following pressure by members of the public and Algerian political figures, including former Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem. Macias’ critics justified their position by saying that the singer supported Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Most Algerian Jews seeking to enter Algeria are interested only in visiting, not in relocating to the country. Most likely, few believe there is a place for them in their former country.

When the last Jewish emigrant from Algeria has died, the notion of visiting the “Algerian homeland” will likely die with them. For descendants of Jewish Algerians, “home” is now somewhere else.

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Arrest of a nonviolent leader in the Maldives challenges the international community

27. February 2015 - 7:57

‘Terrorism’ charges might give the government leverage against a bid made by Nasheed to participate in any official political action at any point in the future. What happens now?

Mohamed Nasheed. Some rights reserved.The former President of the Maldives and global climate activist Mohamed ‘Anni’ Nasheed was arrested on February 22 on “terror” charges just days before he was to lead a mass demonstration against the current government. Both the UN and the EU have issued statements of concern over what now appears to be an escalation by entrenched power holders in the Maldives to stifle effective political opposition.  

Known to outsiders for its pristine beaches, clear turquoise waters, and five-star luxury resorts, the Maldives is a nation of about 340,000 people spread across an archipelago of 26 atolls located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, roughly 500 miles southwest of Sri Lanka. Its natural beauty is its biggest asset, given that nearly one-third of the country’s GDP is generated via tourism. But that beauty also has a way of obscuring the intense political struggles that have come to characterize everyday life for most Maldivians over the past 30 years.

In 2008 after almost a decade of nonviolent struggle for free and fair elections, Nasheed succeeded in becoming the nation’s first democratically elected president after defeating at the polls South Asia’s longest-standing dictator, Mamoon Abdul Gayoom. He served as president for three years, attempting to rebuild the nation’s crumbling institutions and infrastructure, and campaigning internationally for action against climate change by showcasing the effects of rising seas on the low-lying and densely populated island nation.

In February of 2012, Nasheed was forced out of office in a swift and bloodless coup, staged by security forces working in concert with elements of the former regime and a notoriously corrupt, hostile and inept judiciary. He again campaigned for re-election in 2013, only to be stopped this time by judicial proceedings that cancelled one election in which Nasheed was placed first, and stalled another polling date for long enough for the current president, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the brother of the former dictator, to obtain a win.

Nasheed and other Maldivian democrats responded by working within the system, through organizing popular pressure on behalf of reform, and drawing international attention to democratic backsliding, shrinking press freedom, and rising corruption. With decades of experience waging these struggles, credibility with diplomats in the region and international institutions, and increasing popular support, Nasheed’s efforts began to gain traction--until he was arrested on February 22.

So what were these “terrorism” charges?

The context of events began after the 2008 elections when, as president, Nasheed sought to bring cases against figures in the corrupt resort-owning elite that had amassed fortunes thanks to the cronyism that characterized the Gayoom years. Nasheed had been campaigning on a commitment to focus on needs in transportation, education, and public health, as well as infrastructure to combat rising seas--all of which were neglected and crumbling during 30 years of authoritarian rule. Just one problem: the nation’s judiciary remained largely in the hands of figures from those earlier decades.

The country’s Chief Justice, Abdulla Mohamed, quashed countless corruption cases involving members of the former regime until finally a constitutionally appointed committee charged with judicial oversight and reform tried to indict him. Justice Mohamed failed to show up at his initial hearing, and then later moved to quash his own charges and arrest warrant, prompting President Nasheed to arrest him. Nasheed’s decision to arrest Justice Mohamed was portrayed by his political opponents as a gross violation of his power and that was used to justify the putsch in February 2012.

Retrospective terrorism

Pres. Mohamed Nasheed summoned to police HQ in 2012. MinivanNews/Flickr. Some rights reserved..This same episode is now being re-invoked by the judiciary to justify Nasheed’s current arrest, somehow labeling his action three years ago as “terrorism”, despite the fact that force had been used against him to compel him to resign. Moreover, Nasheed has been refused access to his attorneys because they were unable to register themselves with the court, since a trial was called within 24 hours. To get him to the court, the authorities dragged him on the ground into the chamber, injuring him.

All this is deeply ironic in light of Nasheed’s long personal history as someone dedicated to nonviolent struggle during his years of democratic activism. That dedication was honored by his receiving in 2012 the James Lawson Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Practice of Nonviolent Action. The Lawson Award is named after the famous nonviolent strategist and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the leader of the American civil rights movement. Nasheed is probably the Maldivian political figure who is least likely to have committed or condoned “terrorism”.

It is now clear that if these charges go through, Nasheed could face three years in prison, just long enough to prevent him from running in the 2018 presidential elections. Even the possibility of pending terrorism charges might give the government leverage against a bid made by Nasheed to participate in any official political action at any point in the future.

What happens now?

In previous episodes when force or extra-legal action by Maldivian authorities were used to suppress Nasheed’s political activity, international actors were initially slow to take the initiative of bringing their influence to bear – although they must have recognized that the Maldives have been through a long and difficult process in achieving democracy.

In 2008, success in bringing about the nation’s first free and fair elections was in no small part due to the pirate radio stations created by Maldivian democrats which ensured that the movement could reach both foreign and domestic audiences with its own voice. Through these ‘minivan’ broadcasts (‘minivan’ means freedom in Dhivehi), they were able to provide evidence of repression, corruption, and human rights violations to organizations like Amnesty International. Once these reports were confirmed, the way was open for other state and non-state actors to put pressure on the old regime.

In the run up to the 2008 elections, the movement’s effectiveness in alerting the international community to support free and fair elections meant that the world was closely watching, ensuring that the state could no longer tamper with the electoral process and that all the opposition parties, not just Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, could participate on a level playing field.

However during the 2012 coup it was the former regime that seized the initiative in laying down the  narrative of events and shaping international perceptions, which helped ensure the success of the putsch. They forced Nasheed to ‘admit’ overreaches in his power as president and affirm the constitutional validity of the change in leadership. Meanwhile members of the former regime had their own supporters take to the densely populated streets of the capital, effectively creating the perception that Nasheed resigned amidst popular pressure. 

Caged in corruption

Of all the methods used by the political forces that support the former dictator and his family--in the effort to manipulate democracy, maintain a solid hold on the hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenue generated annually, and deal profitably with new business partners such as the Chinese government--their control over the nation’s judiciary is perhaps the most reliable.    

When repression is wrapped in a judicial garment, it is easier to keep international actors at arm’s length. It not only applies a superficial veneer of legitimacy to political irregularities, it forces anyone who is suspicious enough to want the full story to try to disentangle a complicated web of history and judicial action before getting to the truth. This is one way that countries are kept in the cage of corruption.

The present leadership of the Maldives doubtless hopes that influential international actors – who could otherwise deploy sanctions on behalf of rights and democratic standards – will continue to find the Maldives too small, too unserious, and too corrupt to justify such time and effort. But until they do, a kangaroo court may remain in control.

Nevertheless Maldivian democrats understand that this process can work both ways and will devise their own tactics for framing the struggle internationally, as well as apply careful domestic leverage against the regime. At the very least, ‘political instability,’ i.e. popular protests, have been able to discourage tourists from coming to the islands and thus inflict measurable economic costs on the resort-owning elite. After the 2012 coup, Nasheed called upon the international community to ‘boycott’ the Maldivian tourism industry. He told the UK’s Financial Times “I’d say to anyone who has booked a holiday to the Maldives: cancel it. And to anyone who is thinking of booking one: please don’t bankroll an illegitimate government.”

According to the Maldivian ministry of tourism, Nasheed’s actions along with the popular outrage that followed in the wake of the 2012 coup scared away an estimated 40,000 tourists for the remainder of that year. Such actions also forced the coup-government to spend the equivalent of 4.5 million US dollars on an international public relations campaign designed to offset the losses generated by negative headlines. In the present crisis, the UK government has already issued warnings stating political unrest brought about by Nasheed’s arrest might make for an unpleasant holiday. 

The bottom line is that ‘unrest’ is costly, however much the tourism industry has sought to protect itself by hiring legions of illegal foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh, to supplant local employees. According to the Minister of Economic Development, as of mid-February 2015 there are 116,000 foreign workers in all sectors of the Maldivian economy totaling now roughly half the work force. Meanwhile youth unemployment for Maldivians has continued to hover around 43 percent. 

The present regime has already run afoul of world concern with its maneuvering to curb press freedoms. As of 2015 the Maldives is now ranked 112 out of 179 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, which marks a return to pre-2008 levels. The country’s ranking had improved from 144th in 2006 to 127th in 2007, and then to 51st and 52nd in the years following the election of Nasheed in 2008. The recent loss of ranking was likely due to the enactment of laws forbidding public protest as well as the act of documenting such protests, pushed through parliament by the coup government in December 2012. What is believed to be the most glaring case of jeopardizing media freedom is the disappearance of Minivan News investigative journalist Ahmed Rilwan last year. The grassroots campaign calling for a more vigorous investigation has seemed considerably more animated than anything the government has done to find this reporter

Support local nonviolent resistance

Reacting to this new arrest of Mohamed Nasheed, the early statements made by the UN, EU, and Indian Ambassador to the Maldives, all calling for transparency and the rule of law to operate in his trial, might be taken as a sign that the campaign to draw attention to the country’s unaccountable judiciary has had traction internationally. Yet the current situation in the Maldives still presents international actors such as the United States, the British Commonwealth, and the European Union with an urgent opportunity to call for enforcing democratic norms, without military intervention or involvement in regional disputes.

Because this is a struggle being waged by Maldivians using local nonviolent resistance, international actors can support it simply by emphasizing the need to enforce the rights of citizens and protesters in the Maldives. Doing this will help boost confidence by ordinary people to make their voices heard against injustice while reducing the government’s room to avoid accountability.

The attempt to blunt the successful and largely nonviolent Maidan revolution in Ukraine through armed rebellion and military intervention generated global news coverage, serious international sanctions, and international summit meetings. But can the international community only notice annexations, rebellions and other military crises?

Or will it bother to take action when the people in a far less conspicuous nation, where general violence has not yet occurred, face a crisis equally alarming for them: the arrest under bizarre circumstances of their country’s first democratically elected president, by a rogue branch of a government that may be backsliding into its authoritarian past?

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More on the Maldives in the Minivan News.

Related stories:  Democratic decline in the Maldives: will the world wake up? The Maldives: a serial coup in progress? Country or region:  Maldives Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics
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Forget venture capitalists: how a scrappy composting co-op found another way to get support

27. February 2015 - 1:00

How can a just and sustainable society be financed in a capitalist economy? 

CERO worker-owner Josefina Luna (second from right) after a training session with employees at a local supermarket. Credit: CERO Cooperative Inc. All rights reserved.

At age 60, when many of her friends are considering retirement, Josefina Luna is chair of the board of CERO Cooperative Inc. CERO is a five-member worker-owned cooperative on a mission to encourage composting and create jobs in the hard-up Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston. It's a small but unusually diverse team: of the five worker-owners, two are African-American, two are Latinas, and one is white. They communicate in English and Spanish. To kick-start their business, they’ve also had to learn the language of stocks and shares, but they just may have hit on a new way of raising capital for businesses owned by poor people.

“How do we finance a sustainable society in a capitalist economy?”

“I didn’t know anything about investments, stocks, or shares when we started,” says Dominican-born Luna, who is a former teacher, but she knew nothing good was happening in Roxbury, the Boston neighborhood where she lives. “In the 22 years I’ve been here, nothing’s changed. We see the same few stores; the same few jobs that don’t pay workers well.”

When Luna got involved in setting up CERO Cooperative Inc. in 2011, the unemployment crisis in her area was dire. Luna had experience working with people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. She has been involved in community organizing campaigns that aimed to get better services. But what her neighborhood really needed wasn’t more services; it was more good jobs.

The city of Boston doesn’t collect commercial waste, only residential, but at the time it was considering a plan that would require businesses to reprocess their food scraps. In those scraps, Luna and her colleagues saw an opportunity. What if CERO could offer local businesses a service they were about to need, gathering their organic waste and keeping it out of the local landfill, while also taking it away to a composting site, where all those potato peelings, eggshells, and apple cores could decompose back into nutritious soil or green energy?

Good for jobs, the planet, and the local economy, CERO had an attractive triple bottom line and excellent timing. The challenge for Luna and her colleagues was finding the funding to buy the specialized collecting and compacting trucks they needed to start safely and efficiently operating and signing up clients. Heavy and wet, organic waste can’t easily be hauled in the same sort of vehicles that gather regular trash or recyclables. The CERO worker-owners calculated they’d need about $100,000 for a single custom-made compactor.

“We can’t go to a bank; we’re working-class people, not people who have credit history,” explains Luna. “We don’t have lots of business with the bank.”

“What we had was our sweat,” says her fellow worker-owner Steven Evans, a Roxbury native with an entrepreneurial spirit (he’s co-owner of a bike shop and a landscaping company) but no capital and no formal credentials. “Just waiting around for a job to come to us is never going to work.”

Thanks to a relatively unknown financial instrument called a “Direct Public Offering” or DPO, that sweat may finally be paying off. After three years of filing applications to state securities regulators and working for free, CERO launched a DPO in October—a means by which a business offers stock directly to the public. Setting the minimum investment at just $2,500 and open to any resident of Massachusetts, CERO had raised the $100,000 they needed to go into a bank for a loan by the end of the year, and in January they did just that, receiving a $100,000 line of credit from the Cooperative Fund of New England.

 “People who are sincere about wanting to work with us and have a little cash can now put their money where their mouth is,” says Evans,

Boston’s composting law went into effect on October 1. CERO is currently picking up four tons of trash a week. For now, Evans and his fellow drivers are still using box trucks rented for the day from Ryder, but they hope to buy their own trucks soon. Evans, who still works part time as a taxi driver, says it’s the “best thing that ever happened to me.” He’s cleaning up and collecting trash in the streets where he once hung out and looked for work.

“Investment apartheid”

Many people would like to make their neighborhoods healthier and less subject to the whims of global capitalists. But starting businesses requires capital and, as the old saying goes, the more you have the more you can make. For everyone else, it can be almost impossible to get investments or loans or credit.

At the core of the problem is the way that financial systems operate in the United States. Although tools exist to fund nonprofit organizations on the one hand and profit-maximizing corporations on the other, small local businesses slip through the cracks.

First there’s the question of expertise. Aaron Tanaka is a 2014 fellow with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and managing director at Boston Impact, an “impact investment” fund that uses loan financing, grants, and equity investments to incubate new worker-owned community businesses, including CERO. The idea of CERO grew out of a couple of failed vegetable oil collection efforts of which Tanaka, Luna, and Evans had been a part a few years back, at a time when Tanaka headed up the Boston Workers Alliance. Those projects were undercapitalized, but they were also ill-prepared, Tanaka says.

“We were great at grassroots organizing, movement building, and getting grants, but that’s about where our expertise stopped.” Until recently, writing business plans had not been part of the typical activist’s experience.

Far more familiar to most activists is grant writing. Philanthropy is big business in the U.S., a multitrillion dollar industry on which nonprofits tend to depend. Federal tax law requires foundations to give to charities, not to for-profit businesses.

Of course, foundations don’t just provide grants; they also make choices about where to invest their endowments, and those investments are way bigger. Under federal law, foundations are only required to give away 5 percent of their net investment assets. The rest of their money is usually invested in high-yield stocks and not in projects like CERO. The money-making and money-giving arms of a foundation are often in conflict.

“If a foundation invests 5 percent of its assets in its mission to support local food business and better nutrition and the other 95 in Monsanto, what’s it really accomplishing?” asks Deborah Frieze, co-founder of Boston Impact, where Tanaka works.

There is a way in which foundations can invest in businesses. They can make “Program Related Investments,” or PRIs, related to their charitable giving. But most do not. It’s risky, and traditional trustees and asset managers don’t feel comfortable, says Jeff Rosen, chief financial officer of the Solidago Foundation, based in Northampton, Massachusetts. Asset managers are used to maximizing returns on investments, and grant makers are used to making grants.

“It’s the question we’re always struggling with: How do we finance a sustainable society in a capitalist economy?” Rosen says.

Exclusion from the foundation system is just the beginning of the problem for companies like CERO. The Americans who are most likely to want to invest in local businesses are essentially banned from doing so.

“If a foundation invests 5 percent of its assets in its mission to support local food business and better nutrition and the other 95 in Monsanto, what’s it really accomplishing?"

Under securities laws passed in the 1930s to protect people from fraudulent stock offers, Americans are divided into accredited and “unaccredited” investors. Accredited investors are required to have more than $1 million in assets, not including their homes, or more than $200,000 in annual income.

“If you’re in the top 1 percent of income or wealth earners, you are allowed to invest in anything, no questions asked,” explains Michael Shuman, author of Local Dollars, Local Sense, who calls the system “investment apartheid.”

“If you’re in the other 99 percent, you can’t put a penny in a local small business without that business doing massive legal work,” he says.

Most mom and pop businesses can’t afford the legal fees involved in drawing up a thick stock-offering document. Because of that, even if they have means to invest, the majority of Americans invest in professionally managed mutual funds, which results in roughly 95 percent of the population investing in only half the economy—the large multinationals listed on Wall Street, says Shuman.

Threading the needle

CERO found a way to thread this tricky financial needle, but it took a lot of assistance. If raising a child requires a village, raising startup capital for a locally owned poor people’s business currently seems to take a planet. In CERO’s case, even with a lot of good will, getting off the ground required grants, loans, legal expertise, specialized training, investment dollars, and, of course, contracts.

Add to that list some timely changes in federal and state law—and all that sweat. And they’re not out of the woods yet.

In 2011, Luna, Evans, and the other members of CERO raised grant funds to hire a business manager named Lor Holmes, who came to the job with a master’s degree in community business development and years of experience setting up micro-businesses for women survivors of domestic violence. She got into it, she says, when the women turned to her and said, “Surviving’s not enough.”

Holmes applied that same logic to CERO and aimed to make the project thrive. With Holmes’ help, CERO drew up a business plan, conducted a crowd-funding drive, and raised $17,000 in donations from more than 300 donors. The group used that money to hire Jenny Kassan of Cutting Edge Capital, an expert in the field of community capital development, who helped CERO submit their application to the state securities regulators in Massachusetts and prepare their public offering.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ securities forms had space for only one owner’s signature, Holmes recalls, but all five co-owners signed anyway. “Here, we said, put your corporate seal on that.”

“If you’re in the other 99 percent, you can’t put a penny in a local small business without that business doing massive legal work.”

Direct public offerings have been around for years, but most investors and entrepreneurs don’t know about them. Professional fund managers don’t tend to inform their clients about this option, Kassan explains, because not doing so leaves them with so much power.

“I don’t think there’s a conspiracy, but there are some very wealthy investors who benefit from small businesses having the belief that there are no other places to go,” she says.

Efforts to make change at the federal level have been slow. In 2012, a coalition of odd bedfellows that Shuman describes as “Tea Party Republicans, locavore progressives, and high-tech young people who wanted to sell apps on their iPhones” pushed Congress to pass the Jumpstart Our Business Start Ups or JOBS Act, which made it cheaper for small businesses to “crowdfund” their operations and loosened the restrictions on which Americans could invest in securities or stocks.

“The Securities and Exchange Commission was supposed to implement regulations for this, but for two years they’ve sat on it,” says Shuman.

Funders found ways to get money to CERO anyway. Protecting them against loss through a deal drawn up between the Cooperative Fund of New England and the Solidago Foundation, Frieze at Boston Impact was able to persuade her board to give CERO a $10,000 no-interest loan. (If the business fails, the Solidago deal will enable the donor-advised fund of Boston Impact to write their loan off as a grant.)

The loans and the crowdfunder enabled CERO to pay their bills long enough to release their DPO and begin operating. Almost at once, they started signing up clients. Among those so far are five America’s Food Basket grocery stores, Northeastern University, and Crop Circle Kitchen, a food service incubator that helps local truck vendors.

The first contract from Northeastern is small, valued at $6,760 for the year, but a renewal could be worth 10 times that, says Holmes. Other local institutions, like the public school system, the public hospital, and the county jail, could all provide CERO steady business.

As of mid-January, CERO's DPO had raised $143,000 of a $350,000 goal. Holmes says the money came from 40 investors, including the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) and Equal Exchange Coffee, which each kicked in $5,000. “Investments range from $2,500 to $25,000 each,” she said, “with $2,500 being the average investment size coming in from individuals.”

With another $20,000 donated in an end-of-year fund drive and a line of credit from The Cooperative Fund of New England, which specializes in working with co-ops, CERO will soon be buying their own truck, Holmes says. It’ll bear the names of all those who contributed to their crowdfunder.

At last, Evans is getting paid for the day he spends collecting waste. He's still driving a cab part time, but it's a start. (All CERO worker-owners are paid the same: $20/hour.) The company’s hiring a sales person to work alongside Holmes to build up clients.

“It’s amazing to go from austerity to finally having money to spend,” says Holmes.

“Still, to spend a couple of years working without getting paid is not a model I support replicating,” she adds.

The rise of “community foundations”

The larger challenge may be to shift consciousness.

“My retirement money’s in mutual funds,” Kassan admits. “Even though I know damn well the stock market is based on a big lie that we can grow forever burning fossil fuels—but we’re brainwashed that this is the only safe way to invest our money.”

We need new analysis of what’s “safe,” what’s an acceptable risk, a moderate return, and collateral. Is “capital” only buildings and property, asks Shuman, or also community support and social impact? Do mom and pop stores have social impact?

Many of CERO’s investors believe they do. Among the first was Glynn Lloyd, founder of City Fresh Foods, based in Roxbury, which provides economical meals to local schools, child care centers, and homebound elders. “I share their philosophy. It’s good for my business. If I’m not going to reach into my pocket, who will?” says Lloyd.

Shuman and Rosen are part of an initiative to create a revolving fund of community-controlled investment dollars for food businesses in western Massachusetts. The number of investors and fund managers willing to invest in “good” enterprises with high risk and low returns will always be small, Shuman points out, especially in a media culture that celebrates the high-rolling gambler who scores the big stock market win.

Another source of local capital may be community foundations. A report last fall from the Democracy Collaborative profiled 30 “community funds” that are experimenting with “whole portfolio integration”—putting more of their investments, like their grant making, into their mission.

Currently there are about 760 place-based community funds in the United States, with combined endowments totaling $65 billion and annual grant making roughly $5 billion. Accountable to boards that are usually comprised of local residents, leaders, and activists, their grant making is local. As the idea catches on that local universities and hospitals (“eds and meds”) can act as “anchor institutions” for jobs and healthy development, some of those community funds are asking whether local foundations could be “anchor institutions” too, not just through their grant giving but through contracting with and investing in local businesses.

If raising a child requires a village, raising startup capital for a locally owned poor people’s business currently seems to take a planet.

Thirty out of some 760 funds doesn’t make a trend, says report author Marjorie Kelly, but more and more community funds are taking up the mission of building up community wealth.

Given the options, Scot Sklar, adjunct professor at George Washington University and president of The Stella Group, an investment group targeting green energy projects, believes DPOs are going to take off.

“There’s no non-pain-in-the-butt way to get money,” Sklar says. “DPOs are a way for the local community to play ball in the economy.”

Main Street businesses using Wall Street tools is no simple matter, as the worker-owners of CERO discovered. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. State regulators vary in their attitudes to DPOs, says Kassan. Offering in more than one state requires complying with each state’s requirements. Once they receive approval from the state to offer stock, companies generally have one year to raise funds before they have to resubmit their financial information and reapply.

Like any share offering, a DPO can be vulnerable to outside investors gaining undue influence. To keep control local, an offering needs to be structured in a way that explicitly favors local investors and offers them a return that keeps decision making in local hands. In CERO’s case, investor shares are nonvoting shares. Control over the business rests with the cooperative’s worker-owners. The offer's open only to Massachusetts residents.

“What we need is a robust community banking system that works for all.”

We can’t crowd-source our way to a new democratic economy, says Stacy Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The state level approach means a closer, more democratic relationship between the investor, the producer, and the consumer—and that’s good in that it’s capital that’s rooted in relationship,” she says. But we should not imagine that we’re going to create a robust financing system for local businesses through DPOs alone, she warns. “What we need is a robust community banking system that works for all.”

In the meantime, investment dollars are still coming into CERO, and its worker-owners are out there collecting waste. “We’re just getting started,” says Evans. “What have I got to lose?”

This article was first published in YES! Magazine.

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The left needs to confront its illusions about the EU

27. February 2015 - 0:11

How can we voice opposition to the EU without sounding like Nigel Farage?

Flickr/Aesthetics of crisis. Some rights reserved.

“We don’t change our policy according to elections” – Jyrki Katainen, Vice President of the European Commission, 29 January 2015.

Katainen was responding to the election of the radical left coalition Syriza in Greece last month. But his words could form the motto not just for the unelected European Commission but for the European Union itself.

Any discussion of the EU has been difficult for those of us on the left. For a long time any debate was centred on keeping pounds and ounces, our beloved pound and other symbols of fading greatness. Today, of course, it’s dominated by UKIP and toxic hatred of migrants.

The EU’s track record

Yet we should not respond by keeping quiet about the appalling lack of democracy within the EU and its equally appalling neo-liberal track record. This is summed up by the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiated in secret between the European Commission and the USA. The European Parliament will have no say in this. If the TTIP is signed EU member states will not be able to amend it – they can only accept or reject it.

It’s a deal being negotiated by the elites and which will be rubber stamped by the elites. But that is very much what the EU has become, a club where business is conducted by and in the interests of the European elite.

The often complex institutional structure of the EU is largely unaccountable to the views of the public. The European Council is made up of leading government ministers of member states, and has the power of final decision, while the European Commission enforces EU directives and regulations, with the European Parliament permitted to amend but not initiate those directives.

The European Parliament is itself highly undemocratic being virtually unaccountable to those who elect it and free from any meaningful media reportage. It is dominated by a cartel of the main centre-right and centre-left blocs, which support the neo-liberal programme and whose leaders get together to decide parliamentary business and to carve out positions on the various committees which carry out the real work. They operate closely with the European Commission, in truth under its direction, because the cartel needs to win acceptance of any amendments it proposes or risk being ignored.

The Euro Parliament is extremely good at co-opting those elected from the far right or radical left. One key instrument is the lavish funding made available to them if they join the set-up, being encouraged to create cross-EU groups of the-like minded to gain extra funds.

So far this process of co-option has worked well. A case in point is UKIP, which, despite its fundamental opposition to the EU, plays the Brussels game and causes little or no trouble.

Pushing the neo-liberal agenda

Yet of all these bodies it is another unelected institution which has become the most powerful: the European Central Bank. Based as it is in Frankfurt it currently works in close alliance with the German government of Angela Merkel.

Germany is now exerting itself as the key player in Europe, based on the single fact that it is the biggest European economy. That is a break with Germany’s traditional preference to work in tandem with France.

And the simple fact is that since the 2008 financial crisis a German-led EU working in alliance with the International Monetary Fund where necessary, has seized the chance to push the neo-liberal agenda further down the road.

The European Semester system introduced in 2010 obliges each member state to have their national budgets approved by the European Commission before they are voted on in their national parliament. May 2010 also saw the creation of the European Financial Stability Facility, which made the bail out loans available to Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal conditional on the implementation of savage austerity measures dictated by the European Commission, ECB and IMF.

A year later the Euro Plus Pact committed each member state to raise productivity and to reduce labour costs. Twelve months on the Fiscal Compact was aimed at enforcing budgetary discipline on member states by limiting the size of budget deficits and debts. Finally, further EU legislation – the 2011 Six Pack and the 2013 Two Pack – gave further surveillance and control powers over national budgets to the European Commission and Council of Ministers.

Notwithstanding the current stand-off between the new Syriza government in Athens and the European Commission, European Central Bank and the Merkel administration, it’s not difficult to see how these measures would be used to prohibit increases in the Greek minimum wage or welfare spending.

Added to all this we saw in 2011 the imposition in both Italy and Greece of unelected “technocratic” governments, committed to enforcing austerity measures and free market “reforms.” This was the extreme end of a process which has seen a drift towards coalition governments of the centre-right and centre-left across Europe.

In total the various measures put in place since the 2008 crash act as an effective break on any national government which wanders away from the neo-liberal path. The contempt expressed by Jyrki Katainen for electoral democracy sums it up.

Further, there is no obvious way of reforming the EU from within, given the limits on the European Parliament’s role, and its lack of democratic legitimacy in the eyes of many European voters.

The illusions of the left

In my native Scotland there is, within the broad alliance which backed a Yes vote in last September’s referendum, general support for the European Union. It’s based, firstly, on a shallow belief that anything UKIP and the Tory “Eurosceptics” hate must be ok, and, secondly the hope that in any future UK referendum on EU membership, if England votes to quit and Scotland votes to stay it will trigger independence.

Such illusions remind me of an episode in the late 1980s when the EU briefly seemed to offer an alternative to full blooded free market policies, only to flatter and deceive.

In 1988 the then President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, addressed the British Trades Union Congress, putting the case for a social Europe. His speech enraged Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Delors told the TUC that the new European Single Market would not “diminish the level of social protection already achieved in the member states”, adding that the new single market would “improve workers’ living and working conditions, and... provide better protection for their health and safety at work.”

Finally, realising a high proportion of his audience were trade union full-timers he promised “measures to be taken will concern the area of collective bargaining and legislation.”

In an instant traditional hostility towards the European Union within the British trade union movement, and within the Labour Party vanished. Thatcher’s livid reaction to the promise of a “social Europe” seemed to promise the imminent arrival of the 7th Cavalry to rescue the British working class.

The trouble was that Delors’ promises were not worth the paper they were written on. Instead the Single Market and the subsequent Maastricht Treaty opened up a major fast forwarding of the neo-liberal project across Europe. Susan Watkins argues:

“In democratic terms, Maastricht brought a decisive widening of the gap between rulers and ruled. The architecture of the euro system was deliberately designed to be immune from electoral pressures. With the general shift to neo-liberalism, the Maastricht era also saw the obliteration of any real policies for a ‘social Europe’; levelling down replaced the levelling up... just as structural unemployment began to rise. Privatisations and shrinking social entitlements widened the gulf between ‘above’ and ‘below’. Free­ market competition was inscribed as a foundational principle in the 2004 Constitutional Treaty, one of the main reasons for its rejection in the 2005 referendums. The emergence of popular majorities against the post-Maastricht direction of the EU in founder countries like France and the Netherlands signalled a new stage in this deterioration. They were brushed aside by Europe’s rulers... The Treaty, minus its preamble, was reaffirmed at Lisbon.”

Support for the European Union today means backing an even more aggressive neo-liberal programme.

If the left is quiet, the right will prosper

But how can we voice opposition to the EU without sounding like Nigel Farage? Well the obvious answer is not to stay silent about the EU’s lack of democracy because to do so is to hand the whole issue over to the right who, as we see across Europe, will profit from that.

Secondly the left should have a lot to say about what sort of Europe we want – one based on equality, a pro-welfare agenda and peace. That inevitably means confronting the rulers of the existing EU. A start can be made by mobilising in support of Syriza.

Lastly, we should be proud to be Europeans but not proud of a Europe where the bodies of refugees lap up on its southern shores and where the people of Greece are treated as guinea pigs in some nightmare free market adventure.

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The PR campaign behind the Saatchi Bill needs exposing

27. February 2015 - 0:11

How Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill team undermined the government consultation into their own bill, and how the government let them get away with it.

To you and me, the purpose of a consultation is to consult – to seek advice and guidance from interested parties, and to use that advice to shape your plans.

This is not how the people behind the Medical Innovation Bill (the Saatchi Bill) see consultation. To them, consultation is a means by which you get people to answer your questions the way you want them answered. As Lord Saatchi himself put it in one of the many articles the Telegraph – the bill’s media partner – obligingly published for him:

In democratic politics, perception is reality. If the people perceive a problem, there is one.

The campaign for the Saatchi Bill has been, at its heart, an advertising campaign, a campaign run with the aim of making sure that people “perceive a problem.”

Some of the statements made by supporters of the Bill (although not by the Department of Health) during the consultation period were misleading but received much publicity.

(Report on the consultation on the Medical Innovation Bill - Department of Health)

While Lord Saatchi and his bill team have come in for much criticism for making claims that are variously misleading, incorrect or contradictory, in this article we will look at one particular area, the public consultation. What we will see is that the actions of the Saatchi Bill team had the effect of undermining the official Department of Health consultation on their own bill in a number of ways. Firstly, by adding a feedback web page and petition of their own and promoting this ahead of the official consultation routes. Secondly, by not waiting for the results of the official consultation before driving the bill through the House of Lords. And thirdly by misrepresenting the results they had gained by their own routes in a way that over-inflated the apparent strength of public response, while ignoring the results from major organisations that had serious concerns about the bill.

Along the way, we will see just how much influence PR spin can have on how people answer questions, and how it is possible to manage a consultation to make the results appear to say what you want them to say.


When the Department of Health launched its consultation into the Saatchi Bill, they published a web page with documents to explain what they were doing. The draft bill was clearly signposted in a document on its own, with notes available in a separate file. These notes were relatively neutral in character, albeit focussing more on rising costs of medical negligence litigation (arguably a different issue) than on whether the Bill would result in a cure for cancer. It should be noted as an aside that not a single case of a doctor being sued for innovating has yet been uncovered.

People could respond via the DoH website or by completing a questionnaire. This asked a series of questions about aspects of the bill before finishing with the question “Overall, should the draft bill become law?” In this way, the respondent was prompted to think about the bill, its implications and implementation before being asked to give an answer. The completed questionnaire could be returned by e-mail or post.

Enter Saatchi

Unfortunately, the Saatchi Bill team then took it further, launching an extensive media campaign, not just to publicise the bill but to get the message across to the public about what they claimed the bill would achieve.

Many – possibly most – people would have found out about the bill through advance campaigning via patient and charity groups, via articles in such places as the Daily Telegraph, and via the bill’s busy promotion on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The bill had its own Twitter feed, its own Facebook page, a website (later expanded to two sites), and a nominated “media partner” in the form of the Telegraph.

Promotion of the bill was misleading from the outset. It was not mentioned that Dominic Nutt, when writing in glowing terms about the bill in the Telegraph, was the Bill’s Communications Director, nor that the Telegraph was the Bill’s media partner. If you write an “advertorial” about a product in a newspaper or magazine, you are required to label it as an “advertising feature”. Not so, it seems, if you are advertising a parliamentary Bill, where behaviour bordering on astroturfing appears to be considered acceptable practice.

Campaigning by the Saatchi Bill team in the run up to the consultation was very much characterised by a clear message that this bill would, if passed, probably give us a cure for cancer. In an interview in the Telegraph, Lord Saatchi was very clear about his intent:

I intend to cure cancer, you see. I mean to do it. I expect to do it.

The front cover of the guide the Bill team produced in advance of the consultation, said, “HOW CAN AN ACT OF PARLIAMENT CURE CANCER?”

The document continued, for 104 pages, with alarming scenarios:

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This was really quite astonishingly nasty stuff. Nevertheless, it made confident assertions regarding the problem and its solution:

These descriptions are not correct, as the organisations opposed to the bill have pointed out.


The web

Many people would have become aware of the bill by reading the Telegraph article or the social media campaign, and followed the links provided to “respond to the consultation” which, rather than taking them to the DoH site, took them to the Saatchi Bill campaign’s own web page on tumblr. This carried the same sorts of themes – this bill solves cancer, it allows doctors to carry out more than failed standard care.

A respondent coming via this route would have had the opportunity to answer the yes/no question “Do you want this bill to become law?” and add a comment as to why it was important to them. The same question was also embedded on a number of other websites.

Anybody wanting to read a copy of the Bill itself would not have found it an easy task. It was included in their briefing document, so if the reader was prepared to take 102 pages of hard sell along with the two pages of the bill, they could access it that way. There was no easy way to see it without the accompanying spin.

The Petition

The other possible “Saatchi” approach was to sign a petition the campaign was simultaneously running. Again, this used highly emotive language to get its point across and didn’t have a copy of the Bill, or any link to the Bill at all.

So here’s the problem. It’s entirely possible, indeed probable, that a reader could get to the point of signing the petition or completing the Saatchi web form without ever once having read the Bill itself. There’s no encouragement to read the text of the Bill, the emphasis is far more on reading the stories of people who have been affected by serious illnesses and pleas that you sign up. A reader would almost certainly have ended up relying entirely on what the Saatchi campaign told them.

On the petition page – like all petitions – there was no possibility for the reader to say no. It’s worth emphasising: a petition can’t be a valid consultation because all a petition does is ask the reader to say yes, it’s not interested in anybody who says no. How many people didn’t respond because they couldn’t say no? We have no idea. For a process intended to “reveal the diversity of views, both support and opposition”, it’s a bit of a shame if your chief method of response only attempts to capture the support, not the opposition. Anyway, as Earl Howe, representing the DoH, said himself, petition responses can’t be “treated in the same way as a detailed consultation response from an organisation speaking for thousands of members.”

The Switch

Once the Saatchi bill team had their own site and petition, they started promoting it as the primary way to respond to the consultation. On occasions when the official consultation page was mentioned by the Saatchi Bill campaign at all it was generally in a subordinate role, for example in this Telegraph article. As a result, it was entirely possible that people could get the mistaken impression that by responding on the Bill’s website or to their petition, they were responding direct to the Department of Health's official consultation.

Worse, it is likely that there would have been very many duplicates – people who signed both the petition and the Saatchi web form. There was no indication that these were two different aspects of the same process, so no apparent reason why the reader shouldn’t have signed both.

The consultation closes

The consultation closed on 25th April 2014 and the Department of Health set about examining the responses they had received.

There is no good reason why one would go to all the effort of having a consultation and then not wait for the results. But Lord Saatchi didn’t want to wait. He issued a new draft of the Bill and moved right ahead with introducing it in the House of Lords. This was accompanied by a 52 page briefing note that described the results of the consultation. I’ll pause to let that sink in: the Department of Health hadn’t finished analysing the consultation responses (and wouldn’t for another two months) yet here was Saatchi publishing a document purporting to be an analysis of what it contained.

According to Saatchi, the consultation generated 18,502 responses in favour of the bill and only 33 against. What the briefing note did not mention was that these responses were from the Saatchi team’s own separate channels, and the vast majority (around 16000) from the petition they had run. Despite not being on the Department of Health’s list of ways to respond, the Bill team’s additional website and petition were described here by the Saatchi team almost as if they were the chief part of the consultation, while the official DoH responses were dismissed in a single sentence and never mentioned again.

Any potential confusion that may have arisen here was compounded by the fact that the Saatchi team did not respond to questions about how they arrived at the figures they quoted, how they ran their data collection, who had access to the data, or any other response that would have lent transparency to the consultation process and the conclusions they drew from it.

The Saatchi team have, ever since the close of the consultation, repeatedly claimed 18,000+ (sometimes more than 20000) respondents to the consultation, unfairly promoting their petition to a presumed level of evidence that is not supportable. While Earl Howe, on behalf of the government, has said “The purpose of the consultation was not to discover the numbers of those supportive or opposed, it sought instead to reveal the diversity of views on the topic” the Saatchi team have been busily quoting their numbers here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here… These numbers have been heaved around by the Bill team as if they are very important, in Parliament, to the Welsh Assembly, in the press and on social media, and they are still doing it. In this respect alone it matters what those numbers are. It matters how those numbers were arrived at and it matters what they mean. For example, when Lord Saatchi claims more than 18,000 patients responded, how can he possibly know this? His petition did not gather the data to be able to tell him what sort of people responded.

The Saatchi campaign claim that the response to the consultation was overwhelming because the Department of Health had told them 600 responses would be a good result, again citing the 18000 figure. But the DoH can’t have had the petition and website responses in mind when they gave Saatchi the 600 figure; those methods didn’t exist when the consultation was launched. Also, Saatchi describes the consultation in the Telegraph as one of the largest ever undertaken. Yet even the Bill’s own website cites a consultation that had 665,989 petition responses, more than forty times bigger than Saatchi’s.

The Department of Health publishes...

The DoH published a summary report on its consultation on 30th July 2014, by which stage the Bill had already passed the first two stages of its progress in the House of Lords. It can clearly be seen (paragraphs 4 and 5 of the report) that the Saatchi Bill team’s response methods were separate and distinct from the consultation the DoH had run.

It is also clear from reading through the text, though no outright numbers are given, that there was a great deal of considered opposition to the bill. A subsequent FoI request has revealed both the numbers and the broad composition of the responses. There were 170 respondents, and their responses were assigned to one of five categories:

Immediately we can see that more than half the respondents actually opposed the bill. Less than a quarter gave unqualified support. Contrast this with Lord Saatchi’s briefing, which claimed 99% support and less than 1% opposition.

We can also look at the types of respondent, to see whether responses differed between groups. (Patient/relative/carer has here been abbreviated to “patient” for space reasons.)

Despite claims by the Saatchi Bill team that there was widespread support from doctors, patients and organisations, what we see from the official consultation is that no doctors gave the bill their absolute support, only 7% of organisations, and only about a fifth of legal or other respondents. Support came predominately from individual patients, carers and relatives. While it’s important to take these into account, absolute supporters from this group represented only 10% of the responses, and weighed against these individual responses are organisations representing tens of thousands of members.

While the Saatchi briefing note did not name any organisation opposing the bill, and labelled opposition as a minority “comprising in part, but not exclusively, of medical negligence lawyers, individuals opposed to quackery and some institutions”, the opposition in fact included the BMA, the GMC, The Patients Association, NICE, NHS England, The Academy of Medical Sciences, The Medical Research Council, The Wellcome Trust, the Royal Colleges, The Medical Defence Union, the Medical Protection Society, Healthwatch, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and many more.

This is PR in action.


No wonder the bill’s promoters didn’t wait for the DoH analysis to be published, or to make any more than scant mention of it – it would have been poison to the Bill. Opposition was much stronger than their briefing notes would seem to imply, and on the negative side were some very large, heavyweight organisations. Respondents were four times less likely to give unqualified support if they had actually read the bill rather than the spin.


The Department of Health, as represented by Earl Howe, and the Saatchi team have clearly worked in concert for much of the Bill’s progress so far, particularly in the later stages in the House of Lords, where Howe and Saatchi were very much a team. But this closeness muddies the waters when one tries to understand the Bill, to understand who represents what aspect of it and, most importantly, who has the responsibility to represent it accurately and impartially in discussion.

When Lord Saatchi’s team wrote their report for the House of Lords about the consultation process, they clearly didn’t feel a duty to be even-handed or to represent all views. For a stakeholder, a particular interest group, this may not matter. You don’t expect Bernard Matthews to give an unbiased report on turkeys. But Lord Saatchi’s campaign is effectively keeping a foot in both camps, as both an interest group pushing for the Bill and, through its “one team” philosophy with the Department of Health, as a part of the body meant to give a fair hearing to all the views, a duty to represent them in the Lords and publicly. What is without doubt is that the consultation process was seriously undermined, and that the Department of Health has been insufficiently rigorous in preventing this damage.

It is arguable whether a consultation has in any meaningful sense happened at all.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Saatchi's 'Medical Innovation Bill' will benefit lawyers and charlatans, not patients The Saatchi Bill is internally inconsistent and must be scrutinised in the Commons The Saatchi Bill is not about 'innovation' but 'improvisation'
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Why does Germany insist on a failed programme for Greece?

27. February 2015 - 0:00

The elephant in the recent Eurogroup meeting room was Greece's 2010 failed structural readjustment programme, admonished by Yanis Varoufakis as 'fiscal waterboarding'. Why does Germany persist in defending it?

Eurogroup meeting 2015. Flickr/EU Council Eurozone. Some rights reserved.

As the Eurogroup meeting of 16 February focused again on the Greek crisis, further wrangling over deadlines, bridging programmes and the notorious ‘Eurozone rules’ were to be expected. The elephant in the room, however, is the failed structural readjustment programme which was implemented in Greece since its first bailout in 2010. Five years on, the country’s economy has contracted by 25 percent, unemployment has risen to 27 percent and national debt, seen by many as the root cause of the Greek crisis, instead of contracting has soared from 124 to 180 percent of GDP.  Thanks to the migration of 2 percent of the population and the increase in suicides and deaths linked to cuts in electricity and healthcare, unemployment did not rise further. 

Many will be wondering why Germany and its allies continue to support Greece’s return to such a disastrous programme

Despite these dreadful statistics, Europe’s leaders continue to mutter that, on balance, the Greek adjustment programme has shown promising results. During last week’s joint press conference with Yanis Varoufakis, the German finance minister spoke about ‘acknowledging the progress achieved in Greece in recent years’, citing unemployment as an example to show that this ‘has been dropping’. The not so good news, however, is that the rate of joblessness in Greece fell last year from 27.5 to 26.6 percent. Dr Shaeuble also referred to ‘IMF data showing that Greece has come much further than anybody expected’. IMF projections, however, are notoriously unreliable. When the austerity programme began in 2010, the IMF forecast that in three years Greek growth would be restored to 2 percent and unemployment to 14 percent. In its latest report, however, which Shaeuble mentioned, the real figures for 2013 were -3.9 and 27.3 percent respectively. Clearly, the German minister was not sincere when he claimed that progress in Greece had exceeded expectations.  

As the Euro is hanging over a cliff in these ongoing negotiations, many will be wondering why Germany and its allies continue to support Greece’s return to such a disastrous programme. Despite Angela Merkel’s evasive attitude whenever asked, equally telling is the fact that no serious economist has come out to defend it. Indeed, Nobel laureates like Joseph Stieglitz, Paul Krugman, Sir Christoper Pissarides and other leading economists have sided with Syriza and share its opposition to the bailout programme which Varoufakis has admonished as ‘fiscal waterboarding’.  So, why does Germany persist in defending it?

A known, but unspoken truth is that the dominant way of thinking within the EU is driven less by sensible economic argument and more by political zeal and cultural stereotypes.  As post-development economist Arturo Escobar has pointed out,

‘there is an orientalism in economics that has to be unveiled – that is a hegemonic effect achieved through representations that enshrine one view of the economy while suppressing others’. 

Long before Syriza’s victory on 25 January, Angela Merkel approached the Eurozone crisis through a policy based on suppressing alternative solutions. When president Obama asked her last Monday to ‘work with the new Greek government to find a way that returns Greece to sustainable growth’, she responded by defending austerity in Ireland and Portugal and said nothing about Greece. Hegemony, especially when exercised by inexperienced powers, often resorts to ‘one size fits all’ policies which discount the distinctive problems facing different subaltern states.    

Equally important is the cultural subtext of orientalism... or ‘Balkanism’,

Hegemonic power and ideological rigidity, however, are not the only causes of Germany’s fixation on the failed Greek programme.  Equally important is the cultural subtext of orientalism or, more precisely, what Maria Todorova has called ‘Balkanism’, a discourse founded on the discriminatory belief that people in southern Europe uphold, and by implication expect, lower standards of humanity than other Europeans. On this basis, since her 2011 Meschede speech, Merkel has embraced the view that the unity of the Eurozone is undermined by the ‘lazy southerners’ in Greece, Spain and Portugal. ‘We can’t have a common currency where some get lots of vacation time and others very little’, she said. Similarly, Dr Shaeuble had little difficulty speaking last week about a 27 percent rate of unemployment in Greece as ‘progress’, although he would have found it much harder to use similar words if the jobless rate in Germany or France were half of this. 

Despite the cautious optimism which has emerged from the Eurogroup and EU Council meetings on 11 and 12 February, there is still a worrying possibility that Greece might be denied a growth-oriented new programme, thus fuelling new scenarios of ‘Grexit’ and a resultant meltdown of the entire Eurozone. If such an outcome were to prevail, it would not be because of any economic thinking or necessity. It would be chiefly because hegemonic politics and Balkanist bigotry have gotten seriously out of hand.

Sideboxes Related stories:  False dilemmas: a critical guide to the Greek debt crisis Yanis Varoufakis: cometh the man? Syriza: the Greek spring Country or region:  Greece EU Germany Topics:  Democracy and government Economics International politics
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Greece and the eurogroup: capitulation or breaching austerity's dam?

26. February 2015 - 21:32

George Papandreou cancelling his referendum was a capitulation. Tsipras and Varoufakis achieving new space and flexibility and four months to achieve a genuinely new approach was quite an achievement.

Greeks rally in support of their new government's negotiating stance. Giannis Papanikos/Demotix. All rights reserved.As eurozone parliaments vote on the Greek reform deal agreed by finance ministers earlier this week, there is much debate as to whether, and what, Greece won or lost.

Did the new Greek government really destroy the trust of their eurozone counterparts, only to then capitulate on a deal, showing austerity still rules? Rather, is there now some hope for those impoverished or unemployed or otherwise hurt by the enforced austerity of the euro-crisis years? Is there more hope too for democracy across Europe? Or has Greek democracy once more been trampled under foot by eurozone finance ministers, the IMF and the ECB?

Who blinked first?

What came out of the eurozone finance ministers deliberations was, quite simply, a compromise deal between Greece and the other 18 eurozone member states. While media pundits brushed up on their understanding of game theory, the days leading up to this deal looked in fact like a classic bargaining approach from the Greek side which would be familiar to any trade union leader: you put your maximum case (with relevant threats – of strikes or work-to-rule etc.), the other side puts theirs, and unless one side is totally weak you compromise somewhere in between – where exactly in between depending both on your bargaining strength and your bargaining skill.

That Yanis Varoufakis, as Greece's finance minister, with the intervention and backing of Alexis Tsipras, Greece's Prime  Minister got some significant compromises for Greece, while not achieving everything Syriza first asked for, is a considerable achievement – since Greece's strength compared to 18 other eurozone member countries is hardly considerable. Indeed, since the global economic crisis broke in 2007, followed by the intense eurozone crisis from 2010, the power in the eurozone group has been held by creditor member states and institutions – notably Germany but also Finland, Austria and others –  together with the European Central Bank (ECB), and the IMF. Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus have been dictated to throughout these years by the troika of the EU/European Commission, ECB and IMF.

Some of this one-way quasi-colonial rule has been only too public – not least the humiliation of former Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, forced by Angela Merkel followed swiftly by then French President Nikolas Sarkozy to withdraw a promised referendum at the end of 2011.

Real change or papering over a climbdown?

Some analysts rushed to argue that Greece had lost, any changes agreed being purely cosmetic – such as now referring to the troika as 'the institutions' (see for example Reuters' analysis). Others, some in great detail, showed just how hard a battle had been fought and the space and concessions that had been opened up as a result (see Norbert Haering's excellent overview).

Greece did indeed compromise. The bailout has been extended for four months with a continuation of many, indeed most, of the reforms in the bailout programme.

But Greece also secured a number of things. Greece now has space to negotiate and argue for a lower primary budget surplus – the eurozone ministers allow this to be discussed, no longer just imposed at 3-4.5% (increasing, as was the plan, from this year to next). Varoufakis and Tsipras have a fresh chance to argue for the 1.5% they have said makes more sense.

Greece got a recognition of the fact that it is agreeing this four month deal as a 'bridge' to a new deal – one where the Greek government has been clear it will negotiate for a major debt-restructuring to allow debt payments linked to growth, and policies that will promote growth. How successful Tsipras and Varoufakis will be in that negotiation over the next four months is the key question - but that will be the moment to judge whether the Syriza government  has delivered on its promises.

Greece achieved a compromise on privatisation – agreeing to continue with ones currently under way but allowing it space to reflect on future privatisations. This is not small beer, it is a significant crack in the eurozone's (and the wider neoliberal) ideological attachment to privatisation which has been at notably high levels across southern Europe in recent years as a direct result of troika imposed policies.

Greece also got agreement that it will spend more on its internal humanitarian crisis – on medical care, on the poor and unemployed – though with money saved from elsewhere. There is, of course, no acknowledgement in the finance ministers' statement that the troika measures caused this humanitarian crisis; but that the eurozone is belatedly, even at the margins, admitting that the humanitarian crisis, the tearing apart of Greece's social fabric, needs to be tackled, and with funds, is another important crack in the austerity dam.

There are many other examples and details. Greece, again significantly, got to put its own new list of reforms forward – accepted by the European Commission, the ECB and IMF (with some grumbling from the latter's boss, Christine Lagarde), a list then accepted by eurozone finance ministers.

In essence, in a few short weeks, the new Syriza government has taken Greece from being a passive recipient and implementer of, in many cases deeply destructive, austerity policies to being a country that has regained some – albeit not a full – say in its reforms, in its approach to its country's social, economic, political and humanitarian crisis, and in its future management of its debt.

It is very hard to see how this can be summarised as failure, capitulation or a rapid U-turn. George Papandreou cancelling his referendum was a capitulation. Tsipras and Varoufakis achieving new space and flexibility and four months to achieve a genuinely new approach was quite an achievement.

It was never likely that the new Greek government could overthrow the entire neoliberal economic ideology that has driven the eurozone's approach to its crisis in the last five years and more in the space of a few weeks – but that it has made some first dents in it is clear. In one striking comment, in an interview with the Irish Times this week, Varoufakis explained that the eurogroup finance ministers were not even used to discussing macro-economics in their meetings: "One of the great ironies of the eurogroup is that there is no macroeconomic discussion. It’s all rules-based, as if the rules are God-given and as if the rules can go against the rules of macroeconomics.. I insisted on talking macroeconomics.”

Trust – broken by whom?

Amidst the intense bargaining of the last weeks, tough words have been spoken on all sides. Accusations of an imminent breach of trust came in particular from the chair of the eurogroup finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who talked of the final agreement produced being the start of "rebuilding trust", while German finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble's unconcealed anger at Yanis Varoufakis' ‘Trojan horse’ approach added further sparks and heat to the discussion. These accusations seem to be in part to do with Greece's statements on its debt obligations but also to do with the way finance minister Varoufakis has often taken the debates onto the public stage – including through his first whirlwind tour of EU capitals.

Yet without such a shaking up of the terms of the debate, it is indeed hard to see how the new Greek government could have achieved the compromises it did. If there had only been behind-the-scene negotiations in the eurozone finance ministers' group, discussions would have followed the well-worn tracks of the last several years.

The part-public nature of the debate made it more political, more geopolitical (with the US putting pressure on both sides to come to a compromise – the US surely not needing to see any more political and economic instability in the eastern Mediterranean), and more transformatory.

But the trust question surely goes much wider than that. Where is political trust in the EU, if democratic elections do not produce policy change? And what has happened to trust in European ideals and goals of peace, prosperity and solidarity in an EU, where youth unemployment is over 50% across large swathes of southern Europe? It is surely one of the most shocking elements of the euro crisis, that the EU's leaders have looked with such equanimity on the destruction of hope for so many of the EU's younger generations.

The fact that any accusations of the Greek government breach of trust came from the other eurozone finance ministers rather suggests how little challenge this powerful group has faced in recent years – either from fellow politicians or from the international and European media – in terms of their handling of the crisis, and their betrayal of central European ideals through their equanimity in face of such socially, politically and economically destructive levels of youth (and adult) unemployment.

Where next?

The extended four-month bailout for Greece, and the accompanying reforms' deal that must now be implemented, is just the first stage in what will be a long and tough set of arguments and negotiations.

What Tsipras and Varoufakis have achieved is not only a short if vital breathing space but crucially the start of a challenge to austerity in Greece and across the EU. The challenges for the next stage are much bigger: producing an agreement that allows genuinely growth-oriented policies, including allowing, pace Keynes, demand to grow, and policies that tackle not worsen inequality and poverty, will require more than just the levels of bargaining skill shown by Greece so far.

But in exacting some compromise out of the EU eurogroup, the new Greek government in the shortest of time, has created some hope and some revitalisation of democracy in and beyond Greece's borders, at a moment when it has never been needed more.

Country or region:  Greece EU Germany Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics
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Syriza's limited options

26. February 2015 - 21:19

Unless Syriza changes its rhetoric now and unless it explains the facts about the EU and the economy, it will be incapable of justifying any of these decisions to its voters several months down the line.

Alexis Tsipras with Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos. Flickr/sher xla. Some rights reserved.Syriza, the Greek radical Left party, won power in January promising an end to austerity. Many commentators in Europe believe that on this basis it must be an anti-austerity party.

They are wrong. Austerity is only a small part of its platform. Syriza originates in a coalition of anti-capitalist, Marxist and leftist groups. Its main emphasis is hostility to markets and to globalisation.

Syriza has some mainstream commitments: it defends rights of immigrants and minorities, criticises social and political inequality and seeks to curb the power of the oligarchs. But its overall message is overwhelmingly one of nationalist and anti-market populism, where the Greek people are always the victim and the enemies are either foreign or rich, or both.

Syriza rejected the bailouts of 2010 and 2012 as ‘neo-liberal’ assaults, as ‘imperial’ impositions on Greece and its people for the benefit of banks and ‘speculators’. This is why Syriza’s leaders constantly speak of Greece as a ‘debt colony’ of the EU (which is the title of the new Foreign Minister’s most recent book).

Syriza accused all the parties that voted for the two bailouts, which kept Greece in the Eurozone and rescued the economy from disorderly default with far worse consequences, as complicit to the ‘barbarism’ of the ‘memorandum’ and as direct perpetrators of a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

This is why Syriza chose to go into coalition with the far Right party ‘Independent Greeks’, whose main campaign theme has been opposition to the bailout as well as anti-reform and anti-immigrant populism. Syriza chose them over the new centre-Left party ‘To Potami’ (of which I am a member) even though To Potami campaigns for social justice on a pro-EU, and anti-corruption programme of reform. 

Having chosen this route, Mr Tsipras spent the first few weeks of his term antagonising Greece’s EU partners. When he addressed Parliament during his government’s vote of confidence he stated very forcefully that his government would not ask for the extension of the bailout deal, which was due to expire at the end of February.

But this attitude quickly backfired. Greece’s economy needs financial support if it is to stay in the Eurozone. Without a funding deal the Greek banking system would have sooner or later collapsed. Confrontation could not change this fact. Tsipras had no choice, just like the previous governments had no choice. It was either the bailout deal, or bust.

On 20 February, Greece reached quite an extraordinary agreement with its Eurozone’s partners. Syriza requested an extension of the bailout deal after all. There is no debt cancellation. The review by the troika will continue - as long as everyone calls it ‘the institutions’.

Most importantly, no money is forthcoming without completion of the review of the programme as it stands. So Syriza has in effect embraced the programme of austerity agreed by its predecessors, in exchange for promises for reducing the fiscal targets for 2015, which were unreachable anyway.

But now Syriza is faced with two mortal dangers.

The first danger is that it may be too little, too late. Now that it has opted to stay in the Eurozone, it will have to comply with all the requirements of the deal. Syriza will need to proceed with fiscal discipline and structural reforms of the Greek economy, as required - in return for more funding so as to improve competitiveness within the currency union.

But Syriza does not seem to have the desire or even the know-how for respecting fiscal discipline or promoting structural reforms. Its early policy steps have been either decisively anti-reform or entirely shambolic. But if the government fails to deliver on the bailout terms, a disorderly exit beckons, with disastrous consequences.

The second danger is that the party may split. Many of its most prominent members will not follow the leadership down its new path. Some inside the party have already started denouncing the leadership for its ‘neoliberal’ turn. For example, one of the Party’s most prominent politicians, the celebrated resistance fighter Manolis Glezos who is currently a Member of the European Parliament, has ‘apologised’ to the Greek people for ‘participating in the cultivation of ‘illusions’ by his party.

What can Syriza do? As far as I can see, it has three options.

The first option is to pretend that nothing has changed. In his public statements so far, Tsipras seems to have chosen to do just that. He has publically spoken of ‘success’ and claims that some kind of honourable compromise has been achieved. The party says that some elements of its original programme will go ahead. It also keeps up the poisonous rhetoric.

After the agreement was struck Tsipras stated that the agreement was a ‘victory’ for Greece and that it marks an ‘end to austerity’. He claimed that his party’s success in these negotiations proves that ‘Europe is a domain of negotiation and mutually beneficial sustainable compromise not a terrain of annihilation, submission and blind punishment’.

And he added: ‘For this reason, yesterday may be a more important day for Europe than it is for Greece’. The clear implication is that until Syriza came to power, Greece was being dominated, punished and ‘annihilated’ by its partners. Those who listened to those words within Greece, would have found them entirely familiar. Tsipras’ speeches for the past five years have been full of denunciations of the ‘barbaric' pro-'memorandum’ governments.  

To the surprise of many, the majority of the larger Greek media - most controlled by powerful businesses - have not dwelled on this major transformation. I suspect they did so out of fear that if they criticised the new government too much, bad things might happen to their owners’ business interests (the new government is working to appoint new management to all major banks).

But this attitude will infuriate further Tsipras’ critics inside the party, who will persist pointing out the similarities between Mr Varoufakis’ policies and his predecessor’s. It certainly does not help Mr Tsipras that all outside observers think otherwise.

For example, Reuters immediately reported the deal as a ‘major cimbdown’, whereas the Guardian spoke of Tsipras’ having to ‘bow to German-led pressure’. These reports are widely reproduced in Greek websites, both in English and in Greek. So whatever the government’s spin and however much the Greek media help out, the fact that Mr Tsipras has accepted austerity under the existing ‘memorandum’ cannot be hidden for long.

A second option would be to break free from the bailout deal by seeking further confrontation and truly risking a disorderly exit. Tsipras may conclude that staying inside the Euro under these terms is not worth it after all. So he could test the resolve of Greece’s partners further, hoping he may extract further concessions. This way he could protect his party’s unity and his own authority, since his retreat on 20 February will appear only a tactical move.

This was more or less what he said to one of the major critics of the deal, the composer and fiery nationalist Mikis Theodorakis. Tsipras said: ‘when one is fighting a war … one has to evade an opponent’s trap, one has to be flexible …’ Yet, this would be an incredibly risky option. Greece is truly isolated. It is very hard to imagine any change to the funding conditions. And a disorderly default would destroy the banking system, cause irreparable damage to the economy, cancel all the gains of the fiscal consolidation of 2010-2014 and end Tsipras’ career. So this route risks bringing about a nightmare both for Syriza and for the Greek people.

The third option is the least plausible one, but the clearly preferable, at least for reform-minded Greeks. It is to complete the transformation in the fullest possible way. Syriza could just abandon the anti-capitalist rhetoric, embrace the idea of a free market and of a modern welfare state and proceed with making Greece a fairer society and a more competitive economy inside the Eurozone. It could then argue for an overall reform of the Eurozone’s architecture as a broader European question, not as an issue of narrow Greek vindication.  

If Syriza loses some of its Marxist or anti-EU members of parliament along this way, it could seek the help of To Potami or PASOK or New Democracy to move its most important reforms through parliament. Given its present majority alongside the Independent Greeks, Syriza will not need to form a new coalition to achieve this.

Syriza could achieve so much that the previous governments did not have the courage to do. It could immediately launch a competition for the television licenses and strengthen the regulation of electronic media so as to reduce the power of the oligarchs over the news, amend the electoral system to reduce the size of constituencies, take steps to create an independent and meritocratic civil service as well as extend the social welfare state to protect the very poor (e.g. even today 90% of the unemployed receive no help from the state whatsoever). There is so much that needs to be done to break the old clientelistic networks and turn Greece into a modern European country.

Alas, the most likely scenario is that Syriza will stick to the first option. In the short run it will seem safer. And for a while it may work, as the party remains united by power and its privileges. Yet, sooner or later time will run out. The government will have to raise some taxes, adjust pensions or privatise public assets as well as liberalise product markets and closed professions, under the terms of the deal it has signed or the new long term deal it is almost certain to have to sign by the end of June.

Unless Syriza changes its rhetoric now and unless it explains the facts about the EU and the economy, it will be incapable of justifying any of these decisions to its voters several months down the line. Rhetoric and reality will then collide with some force.

If and when something like this happens - and I hope it does not - it will not be a pretty sight.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Who is afraid of Syriza? Not so strange bedfellows: making sense of the coalition between Syriza and the Independent Greeks Country or region:  Greece
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Poland: trust no one but the law

26. February 2015 - 21:01

Last week the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rejected a Polish appeal on CIA-prison cases involving the violation of numerous human rights' guarantees on behalf of two Guantanamo detainees. This was an important lesson. 

US Office of Military Commissions arraigns Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 2011. US Navy/wikicommons. Some rights reserved.The Strasbourg court has found that Poland violated the European Convention on Human Rights due to its collaboration in the rendition, imprisonment and torture of two terrorism-suspects (Al-Nashiri and Abu-Zubaydah) by CIA officers.

This judgment may be interpreted as an accusation against the US. But neither the ECtHR nor any international human rights' court has any jurisdiction over the assessment of individual complaints against the US. Therefore, individual cases can only be taken up against supportive countries such as Macedonia, Poland, Lithuania or Romania, but cannot be lodged against the major perpetrator. This is like punishing the fence, but not the real robber - because the latter is untouchable de iure and de facto.

Looking more closely at these judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (Al-Nashiri v. Poland, application No. 28761/11, Abu-Zubaydah v. Poland, application No. 7511/13, judgments of 24 July 2014), Polish politicians may feel rather betrayed. Those who allowed for the secret CIA site on their territories could well have expected high levels of confidentiality and secrecy. That is why, when the first disclosures of the Polish CIA site appeared in 2005, the initial reaction was one of total denial. However, interest taken in these matters by international organizations, NGOs, media and detainees' lawyers, sooner or later resulted in further leaks and revelations.

In the course of time, the feeling of betrayal by one’s US partners changed in character. Poland was simply left alone with the problem - due to the lack of any admission of guilt, apology or even slight cooperation on the part of US authorities - when domestic actors and European partners asked further questions. An atmosphere of shame, the obligation to continue to lie and the potential criminal responsibility of some politicians in this process, made things harder to explain or investigate.

The Strasbourg court judgments, 240-pages long each, spelt out in detail, was a painful lesson. No reasonable person after reading them could deny the existence of the CIA prison in Poland. Too many details and specific facts created a complex picture of cooperation with the CIA. Polish authorities tried to undermine these judgments on the basis of procedural shortcomings. But this was more a sign of international despair than a method aiming at success.

The second painful lesson was the US Senate report on CIA abuses disclosed in December 2014. Here, not only were facts revealed, but a lot of the dirty linen of diplomatic business was washed in public - money for the secret site, pressure from the US Ambassador to extend the capacity of the prison and to host the most important candidates for inmates, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. For some people this might bring back old times, when Soviets made similar not-to-be-refused demands.

But the February 2015 final judgment of the ECtHR is in fact not the end of the story. The judgment has to be enforced. Poland has to pay 230.000 EUR to two detainees and their lawyers. Although, some populist politicians claim that paying this money is indirect sponsorship of terrorism, Poland will surely pay. Even Russia is paying for its Chechnya crimes.

But judgments require more than money. Poland can only be said to have ceased the existing human rights violation, according to Strasbourg reasoning, once it has launched a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the whole episode of the secret CIA prison. Secondly, Poland has to call upon the US authorities not to execute the death penalty against Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri.

Here, once again, the Polish authorities have to interact with the US. A full explanation and investigation of the case requires positive action on part of the US. But as of now, most of the legal assistance requests made by the Polish prosecutor to the US Department of State have simply been ignored. It is doubtful whether the Strasbourg judgment will change anything in this respect.

To put it bluntly the US authorities do not have any interest whatsoever in cooperating with their Polish partners. They have indicated numerous times that CIA agents would be protected, including the perpetrators of torture. Moreover, the US may think that the galling job of political accountability has just been done - by preparation and disclosure of the US Senate report. Why on earth should anybody on earth require anything additional from the US? It is the US that sets the rules of the game. And this policy is named exceptionalism.

But there is another side of this case. Poland simply may not want to put too much pressure on Americans. Human rights (including the full enforcement of the Strasbourg judgment) could be sacrificed at the altar of different diplomatic deals, e.g. the presence of US troops in Central Europe. In this context, awaiting diplomatic endeavours on the part of the Polish foreign minister in seeking to prevent the execution of Al-Nashiri seems like a fairy-tale.

In consequence, Poland for the next couple of years will continue to take the bitter pills prescribed by European institutions, such as the European Parliament (which just renewed its investigation concerning CIA rendition) or the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (supervising enforcement of the Strasbourg judgments). This painful treatment will continue just because Polish politicians have decided to violate the Polish Constitution and international treaties 13 years ago. They showed much more trust in the US-Polish alliance, than in any European legal and political obligations as members of the EU and the Council of Europe, where torture is absolutely prohibited.

The CIA-prison story is the most important lesson served up so far for the twenty-fifth anniversary of democratic transformation in Poland. Polish politicians have learned by heart that they may as well give up on seeking raison d'Etat justifications of political decisions going against the black letter of the Constitution. At the end of the day, the consequences of such decisions have placed a burden on future governments and generations, undermining the citizens' trust in the state, its sovereignty and allegiance to human rights' values.

This also shows that there is no superpower that is ready and willing to help one out if problems should arise. Extensive Polish international legal obligations will not cease to exist thanks to one call by Barack Obama coming to the rescue of Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. The final lesson therefore is all too simple and straightforward - trust no one but the law.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Torture: Who are Britain's guilty? Time for accountability: Europe’s role in extraordinary rendition CIA prison will haunt Poland The mutilated world: 9/11 in Poland Country or region:  Poland United States EU Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics
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Mexico: active civil society key to ending culture of impunity

26. February 2015 - 18:00

A renewal of democracy should be the means to cleanse Latin America of its history of corruption and abuses of power. But as the Mexican case shows, unless democracy is extended by enhancing civil society, its promise will not be realised.

Turning point: a protest in Mexico City after the student disappearances. Demotix / Enrique Perez Huerta. All rights reserved.

In July 2000, the National Action Party (PAN, in Spanish Partido Accion Nacional) finally won the presidential election which ended the 71-year rule over Mexico by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, Partido Revolucionario Institucional). There was hope, especially with the promises of the new president, Vicente Fox—of institutions to hold politicians and the ruling elite to account, reforms to curb corruption, a transparent democracy and socio-economic reforms to reduce massive inequality.

Democracy has the capacity to enhance public accountability and deter abuse of power. And so as democracy became consolidated in Mexico, politicians and others in charge of ruling the country would come to realise the risk that abuses would be discovered and penalised, and therefore hold back. In theory.

It is not however easy for a renovated democracy to break the vicious circle linking the political culture and the institutions already in place. In an authoritarian regime these generate political alienation, submission and disinformation among the public—ideal conditions for such authoritarianism to be sustained.

But while the people used to look at senior functionaries making millions illicitly, and shrug, the tide is changing.

And so Mexico has been going through ‘democratic disappointment’, with its citizens, or at least most of them, feeling let down by the new order. Expectations of what democracy can accomplish, politically, economically and socially, are often very high and those who campaign for it raise these to almost idyllic levels. But such aspirations are hard to realise in the short term.

The Mexican ruling class has had little need historically to feel concern that it will face regulation and has exercised power arbitrarily, serving its own interests. What probably had the hardest impact on public trust in the new, ‘democratic’ governing authorities was the continuing abuses: corruption, illicit enrichment, use of force against opposition and a plethora of human-rights violations.

Felipe Calderon’s election as president in 2006 was marred by allegations of voter fraud and the legacy of his ‘war on drugs’ is still felt: with soldiers carrying out policing duties at local as well as state level, human-rights complaints against military personnel have increased exponentially while security has decreased. The military has failed to hold its officers accountable for well-documented acts of torture and the murder of civilians—but then the military has jurisdiction over all crimes committed by soldiers on active duty.


Those in power still act with impunity for their own benefit and the socio-economic situation has not changed. For many Mexicans 2000 appears to have merely changed one corrupt politician for another. Which might explain why, after two consecutive terms of the PAN holding the presidency, the PRI is back.

For many, the return of the PRI is a return to old practices. The corruption scandals surrounding the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, seem straight out of the history books. But while the people used to look at senior functionaries making millions illicitly, and shrug, the tide is changing. Popular reaction to very public cases of corruption and the disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa have marked a turning point.

The rise of human-rights and other civil-society organisations, rallying to demand justice in Mexico, is almost unprecedented. To sustain the momentum and public attention, they must continue to hold the government responsible for its actions—rather than asking it to hold itself accountable and hoping for the best. Never before have citizens had so much power in their hands: to share information, to organise social movements, to develop platforms from which to make public the actions of a governing elite which had for centuries controlled what was said about it. It is up to civil society to create the mechanisms that will curb corruption and bring the change citizens deserve.

Mexico is waking up from a dream of a state-led democracy, into a reality in which the government no longer monitors and holds itself accountable but has to answer to the public directly. If the citizens of Mexico, and all the world for that matter, want to enforce change, then, as Edward Snowden wrote, they must

remind the government that there must always be a balance of power between the governing and the governed, and that as the progress of science increasingly empowers communities and individuals, there will be more and more areas of our lives where—if government insists on behaving poorly and with a callous disregard for the citizen—we can find ways to reduce or remove their powers on a new—and permanent—basis.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Mexico: student disappearances focus anger at abuse and impunity Murder and Mexico’s security dilemma Country or region:  Mexico Topics:  Democracy and government
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Defending human rights in a digital age

26. February 2015 - 17:40

Public Debate: Defending human rights in a digital age is being livestreamed from Goldsmiths media and communications department, University of London at GMT this evening. Read more.

The internet-dependent world, is still reeling from the first wave of revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 that the US, UK and allied governments have been collecting the details of our everyday lives online, using tailor-made applications for this purpose, such as PRISM.

The human rights implications of state and private actors' tracking of our everyday life online, our digital imagination, and our relationships with other people through social media have been thrust into the headlines as a result. 

In the last two years since news of mass online surveillance broke, the Snowden dossier has revealed a list of applications designed to gather as many ‘haystacks’ of big data that security agencies consider to be sufficient to find a would-be terrorist, cybercriminal, or other sort of suspect. And in the last month we have learnt that now mobile phone conversations can be plucked out of the ether at will, as the Snowden files reveal the hacking of a Dutch-French sim card manufacturer’s system that has provided the US security establishment with ability to unlock encrypted data.

It appears that we are living now in an era of mutually assured surveillance. This is one in which all our personal data (the details we provide when registering for goods and services online), along with our mobile phone conversations, web search preferences, emails, social media accounts, credit card transactions, and other sensitive information about our health and finances are all being scooped by governmental and commercial agencies. The reason? National security, crime prevention, anti-terrorism measures. Fiercely contested legislation such as successive versions of the UK ‘Snooper’s Charter’ may not have passed into law yet but other measures such as the recent UK ‘DRIP’ bill (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill) are well underway to reaching the law-books despite fierce opposition. 

But it is not only governments who are using the Internet against their own citizens. The world’s largest internet corporations also collect and store mountains of our personal data on their systems, mining and manipulating data for market research or product testing purposes, also using terms of use that are considered insufficiently transparent forms of informed consent from the user. For instance, Facebook was recently caught out by users for manipulating user data as part of ‘experimental research’. There has also been a longstanding concern about the way Google collects and stores user data since they renewed their privacy settings in 2012.

As Amnesty International and other NGOs consider the digital implications of human rights abuses; so should technical and legal experts consider the design and legislative implications of recognising that we also have rights and freedoms online: ensuring governments are charged by law with the duty to protect our rights both online and offline.

Official recognition of this point of law, e.g. at the UN (UNHRC resolution from 2012, 2014) is not sufficient. However, the Internet’s inroads into every facet of our computer-saturated societies has been a game-changer. How people use the internet and how these technologies can be used against us have brought huge challenges to existing human rights legislation, at national and international level.

Technical and legal know-how appear to be moving in different directions as political and commercial power-holders (from GCHQ through to Westminster to DC, to Silicon Valley or Seattle) are under pressure to be more accountable for their role in decision-making that has an impact on the Internet today, already seemingly compromised. They also have a major say in decisions about the future design, access, and use of the Internet going on behind the scenes, and behind our screen.

How these specialist and political decisions support an Internet that enables and protects rather than obstructs and abuses the exercise of all our human rights when we are online, are under closer scrutiny than ever before.

As global campaigns, and grassroots awareness-raising about our human rights online gather steam, added pressure is placed on those who introduce policies in the name of cyber- or state security that undermine online rights including freedom of expression and education.

It is the ongoing efforts of policymakers, judges, and NGOs looking to ‘connect the dots’ between technology and how people use the Internet, that is helping to shape international attention for rights online. The recognition from networks including UN Resolutions and The Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition are integral to adequately addressing the issue of human rights online and influencing future policies.

Nevertheless, the revelations keep coming. Ordinary people, employees and managements, educators and students, health professionals and their patients are required to go online more and more to get anything done. But as we do, those who write the terms of use, design the software codes, and set the hardware specifications of the “thinking machines” that permeate our lives can exercise enormous influence on what we do online, where and on whose terms.


Public Debate: Defending Human Rights in a Digital Age, Goldsmiths - Professor Stuart Hall Building, Room LG01: 5.30pm – 8.00pm 

Watch live or join in the debate on Twitter #netrightsGold

The panel is made up of representatives from international human rights HGOS, computer engineers and privacy (h)activists, legal experts, journalists, and critical internet governance scholars. The aim is to take stock from our respective points of view, and to consider together not only the practical and political challenges of defending human rights in a digital age but also what to do about it.

Panelists include:

  • Caspar Bowden, Independent Privacy Researcher
  • Champa Patel, Amnesty International
  • Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty International
  • Becky Kazansky, Tactical Technology Collective
  • Hanane Boujemi, Hivos International: MENA region
  • Catherine Easton, University of Lancaster, Internet Rights and Principles Coalition
  • Gavin McFadyen, Centre for Investigative Journalism Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Marianne Franklin, Goldsmiths, University of London (Moderator)

Co-organized by the Global Media and Transnational Communications MA Program, School of Journalism's Media Forum, and Radical Media Forum, Department of Media and Communication. 


Council of Europe, 2014, Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)6 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on a Guide to human rights for Internet users, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 16 April 2014 at the 1197th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies;

MI Franklin, “Slacktivism, clicktivism, and “real” social change”, OUP Blog: Oxford University Press's Academic Insights for the Thinking World, November 19th 2014        :

MI Franklin, “DRIP is an abuse of our rights not a matter of national security”, The Conversation, 25 July 2014;

MI Franklin,  “Human rights on the Internet: online, you have rights too”, The Guardian: Media Network, July 17, 2013;

MI Franklin,  “Like it or not, we are all complicit in online snooping”, The Conversation, 20 June 2013;

Franklin, M. I., 2013, Digital Dilemmas: Power, Resistance, and the Internet, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press

Internet Rights and Principles Coalition (IRP Coalition), 2011, The Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet:

La Rue, Frank, 2011, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Human Rights Council: UN General Assembly, A/HRC/17/27, May 16, 2011,

Necessary and Proportionate.Org, 2013, International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, July 2013;

NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, 2014, NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement of Sao Paulo, 24th April 2014;

United Nations Human Rights Council, 2012, Resolution A/HRC/RES/20/8: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, UN General Assembly: OHCHR,  


Country or region:  UK EU Topics:  International politics Internet Science
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Tough to swallow: TTIP’s threat to our food and farming

26. February 2015 - 17:03

For the sake of our food and its impact on our environment, TTIP needs to be stopped.

Anti-TTIP protest in Brussels. Flickr/Friends of the Earth Europe. Some rights reserved.For a decade, dozens of trade deals have been negotiated, signed and implemented without garnering much public attention in Europe. So what is it about the EU-US trade deal, currently being hammered out, that has caused such an outcry?

The opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, has surprised many. 50,000 marched in protest on a cold winter’s morning in Berlin. Municipalities across France have declared themselves “TTIP-free”. The Slovak Food Chamber demanded that food and farming be excluded from any deal. Nearly 1.5 million people have signed a petition to have the negotiations stopped.

Environmental, social and labour groups across Europe – Friends of the Earth Europe included – are outraged and actively campaigning.

Traditionally, trade deals have attempted to boost trade by liberalising markets, lowering or removing taxes and tariffs. TTIP’s route to increased trade has a different focus, with the intention to harmonise regulations between the EU and US. The idea is that products allowed for sale under the rules of one bloc would now have market access to the other bloc.

When you see that the regulations TTIP seeks to harmonise impact food safety, chemical use, labour law and public service rules, the rising public opposition ceases to surprise. Given the size of the economies involved, and the breadth of issues in this trade deal, it would be the biggest in history if agreed. This deal’s impact on our food and farming – issues extremely personal and immediate to many people – would be immense.

The intentions of the EU Commission and US trade negotiators are clear from documents leaked and publicly available. Regulations are branded as barriers to trade, and must therefore be circumvented or removed. It is our firm belief that good regulation, democratically made, is necessary to ensure high standards of food safety and the environmental sustainability of our farming practices. It is not red tape, as some would like to paint it.

Farmers and environment lose out

If TTIP is finalised, more products of industrial farming would be traded in both directions across the Atlantic, according to a study conducted by the European Parliament. Agri-businesses and their lobbying organisations have been pushing hard for this market access. But who else wins with an influx of factory-farmed chickens and dairy products?

Not the environment, as intensive farming and food production practices emit more greenhouse gases and carry greater risks of local pollution. European farmers stand to lose out, too. The European Parliament’s study concludes that if the EU lowers standards and increases trade of industrial dairy products and cheap poultry meat, the income for the European farming sector would decrease by 0.5%.

And the price for citizens? The EU and US have fundamentally different approaches to the issue of food safety. For meat production, the US lacks federal standards for food production at farm level. US federal legislation only begins to apply once the animal enters the slaughter house, meaning no overarching rules for veterinary drug use, no specific rules for use of antibiotics and no animal welfare rules. This completely contradicts the EU's regulatory approach of minimising the risks to environment and human health at every step of the food production process, from field to fork

The Danish government is currently running campaigns to reduce the use of antibiotics for livestock, and is achieving high success rates. Antibiotic use for poultry production has dropped by 90% since Denmark began this programme 13 years ago.

The World Health Organization has cited widespread antibiotic use in livestock as a contributing factor to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria – one of the most significant global threats to public health. If TTIP goes ahead, these advances are in danger of being undone by imports of US meat from animals treated with antibiotics.

In another example, the EU takes a more cautious approach for genetically modified (GM) food, while the head of the US department of agriculture has identified better market access for US-grown GM crops as a key objective of the negotiations. EU rules and safety checks for GM crops, as well as the labelling rules for GM food, have been declared ‘trade barriers’ by US trade diplomats.

The EU Commission has no power to change any laws on GM crops directly through a trade agreement, but this deal can change how the laws are applied. Key to enforcing our laws is whether small amounts of GM crops that are not permitted in the EU are allowed to contaminate either our foods or seeds.

This low level of contamination is key to maintaining our right to decide, and a key “trade barrier” target of the biotech industry and US trade negotiators. If these thresholds are changed – as an outcome of TTIP – Europeans may end up eating GM crops that have not been tested or authorised in the EU. So while our GM laws themselves will not be re-written, they could be completely undermined.

Power grabs and falsehoods

TTIP seems to be already having an impact on how food laws are discussed and changed before it’s even finalised. EU Agriculture Commissioner Hogan stated that, in parallel with the TTIP talks, barriers between the EU and US on food safety could be already removed. In contradiction of this, and the published positions on the negotiations, EU Trade Commissioner Malmström said last week that controversial foods or those with large differences in standards in the EU and US wouldn’t be touched. Both cannot be true.

But it’s not just current protections for people and the environment that are at risk if EU and US regulations are harmonised. Desperately needed future improvements to regulation protecting our environment and public health could be prevented from going forward if this trade deal is agreed.

Documents now available on the regulatory cooperation and food safety chapters of TTIP show the intention to allow trade experts to assess the potential trade impacts of any new food safety legislation. Before any new food law would be discussed with food safety experts, either in the EU or US, the newly created body of trade experts should “review the annexes of the agreement” as well as “discuss at an early stage, changes to measures being considered”.

So this body will filter all new food safety rules, transferring power from national authorities to the new committee. This transfer of power will mean that the initial decision will be in the hand of trade officials and not with food safety officials at national level. Our worry is that these trade experts will see the introduction of new food safety rules as barriers to trade, rather than the reflection of the needs and demands of society.

The thought of farming practices and food quality being interfered with is understandably unpalatable. As awareness has grown of the risks from TTIP to essential protections for our environment and public, so too has opposition grown. Our farming and food production system needs drastic improvement, but this Trojan horse of a trade deal would lock us into a regulatory race to the bottom.

For the sake of our food and its impact on our environment, TTIP needs to be stopped.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The Free Trade movement's hypocrisy
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Public service broadcasting at a crossroads

26. February 2015 - 13:23

The timing of today's report on the 'Future of the BBC' is vital to understanding its argument. The Corporation is likely to be a major issue in the coming elections. 

The Culture, Media & Sport (CMS) Committee report on the ‘Future of the BBC’ begins with a back-handed compliment: “Over the last few years, at times, the BBC has been beset by mistakes of its own making but despite this many people judge the broadcaster first and foremost on the quality of its content, on its programmes, on its journalism, on the value for money they consider it delivers, and on the societal and cultural contributions it makes.”

It is a sly way of introducing the most radical proposals for change since the Peacock Committee way back in 1986. Sir Alan Peacock may not have gone as far as the Thatcher government (and Murdoch) in willing Aunty to the wiles of the ‘free market’, but the CMS Committee appear to have taken up his mantle. In 2004 he was proposing the removal of the license fee with the BBC forced to compete with other broadcasters for a share of subscription based public service broadcasting. That is precisely what John Whittingdale’s all party committee is now proposing.

Acknowledging that 96% of the population make use of the BBC’s services each week, his committee queries whether that justifies revenue of £4 billion from licence fee payers, and warns that “the BBC is a powerful player and unchecked there is a danger that it will, by accident or design, crowd out smaller rivals and inhibit their ability to grow.” Murdoch could not have put it better.

They want the licence fee switched to a ‘broadcasting levy’ on every household regardless of whether it contains a radio, TV or computer, based on a German model. The revenue thus generated would be shared between the BBC and competing providers of public service content, such as local programming and children’s broadcasting.

It would no longer be a criminal offence to avoid paying the levy. Instead, BBC and possibly other PSB services would be encrypted, with access only through an add-on device which would eventually be built into all new broadcasting receivers. This is a novel approach to universal access.

The short-lived BBC Trust is for the chop too. The BBC would continue to function under Royal Charter but strategic management would be controlled by a Board of executive and non-executive directors who would also act as champions of the institution. Their efforts would be monitored by an independent Public Service Broadcasting Commission (PSBC) established under statute. The PSBC would also conduct public consultations and advise the BBC Board.

In the main the Committee has reiterated proposals first mooted by the Independent Panel on the Charter Review under Lord Burns in 2005, ideas rejected by the then Labour government.

Meanwhile they want the National Audit Office to have ‘unrestricted access to the BBC’, and propose that Ofcom take over responsibility for all complaints handling about BBC output and compliance issues. This would do away with the BBC’s much criticised internal complaints procedures.

To keep the BBC on tenterhooks during the election period and way beyond, the all-party Committee proposes their recommendations form the basis of a fresh Charter Review process which could last for more than 2 years. To add salt to the wound they suggest extending the existing Charter from 2017 until 2019.

Timing is all. It will be interesting to see whether the future of the BBC itself becomes an election issue. It is difficult to see how the manifesto writers can ignore it. Media issues – from plurality and ownership issues to the botched responses to the Leveson Inquiry, and from the continuing hacking scandals to police misuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain journalists’ sources – must surely be exercising candidates minds, especially when they can see that journalists are keeping a close eye on their integrity…

This article was first published on mediawise.  

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From electricity suppliers to doctors, why do many reject the modern imperative to 'shop around'?

26. February 2015 - 12:32

A new report by the Competition and Markets Authority highlights how poorer people are failed by energy markets. Jonathan Tomlinson finds the same for health - and for understandable reasons. 

Image: Lee Jeffries / Flickr. All rights reserved. 

Last week, the Competition and Market Authority reported that those least able to take advantage of competition and choice in the energy market were,

less educated, less well-off, more likely to describe themselves as struggling financially, less likely to own their own home, less likely to have internet access, more likely to be disabled or a single parent.

They were also more likely to stick with providers with whom they had an established relationship.

Tese vulnerable people also stand to benefit least from competition and choice in healthcare, because of the associations between poverty and ill health.

Dr Smith was well past his due retirement, but was unable to find anyone to take over his surgery in a pretty rough part of town where he had been a single partner for nearly 40 years. His wife had been the practice manager until she had a stroke and then had to be cared for in a nursing home. He had been struggling to make money from the surgery for the last few years due to the cost of locum GPs and a locum manager.

The building was desperately in need of repair. Dr Smith was tired and struggled to keep up with the paperwork, coming into work every weekend and staying late into the evenings. He hadn't had a holiday in the last 3 years. He had survived his annual appraisals and revalidation by the General Medical Council. and he was allowed to continue working even after the Care Quality Commission made a long list of recommendations after inspecting the practice. Like many GPs it was his considered opinion that the only things guaranteed by regulation and inspection were time taken away from patient care and low professional morale. Dr Smith was loved by many of his patients who known him for years and trusted him unquestioningly, though his treatment regimes were often out of date and he was tended to be pretty blunt.

One day, at work, Dr Smith had a heart-attack and died at his desk. When Dr Jones and partners took over his list, they found that the patients were more likely to be,

less educated, less well-off, more likely to describe themselves as struggling financially, less likely to own their own home, less likely to have internet access, more likely to be disabled or a single parent.

They were also more likely to be over 65 and have cognitive-impairment, learning difficulties or long-term mental illnesses. Other patients had changed GP long before Dr Smith retired. They didn't need Friends and Family tests, NHS choices feedback, 'I want great care' or any other on-line rating system to recognise that the shabby waiting room and the ever-changing locum GPs weren't 'great'.

But many of those that remained valued the long relationship that they had with Dr Smith and everything they had been through together. A fair few had been born at home and delivered by Dr Smith - twenty or thirty years ago it was common for GPs to deliver babies. He had cared for their parents and grandparents, their children and grandchildren. Personal care from a doctor they considered a family friend was of more significance than anything that could be measured and listed on a GP comparison site. According to the CMA report, energy consumers who valued long-term relationships based on trust and familiarity were also not served well by competition and choice.

The NHS is founded on the basis of equality and fraternity but competition and choice are new values for the NHS. 'Liberating the NHS' was the name of the 2010 government white paper that preceded the NHS Act, and the focus on liberty has increasingly eclipsed equality and fraternity. Competition and choice are enforced by a new NHS organisation called Monitor and strongly advocated by government advisers including Tim Kelsey, National Director for patients and information and Andrew Taylor, founding director of the NHS Competition and Cooperation Panel and now adviser to NHS providers on competition issues. 

A situation where there is less transparency and no choice between providers cannot reasonably be defended, but questions need to be asked. What is the point of competition and choice in healthcare? Why must it be enforced? Who will benefit and who will lose out? What if patients don't want to behave like consumers? What are the alternatives?

The point of choice is that it demonstrates respect for autonomy. Proponents argue that since quality between providers of care varies, patients have a right to know who is best so that they choose accordingly. They argue that if patients choose the best or cheapest providers then all providers will have to increase their quality or reduce their costs to stay in business. Even when choosing energy supply the cost is not the only consideration, though you wouldn't know it from the CMA report. Other issues include 'green energy' and customer service and the confidence that comes with staying with an established provider.

When choosing healthcare, measuring quality is extremely difficult. Other factors like access, location, continuity or 'customer service' may be more important or even conflicting. For example, a service with better continuity of care - assuming such a thing is measured, may be hard to get access. Quality, whatever that means, may not be the same as 'what matters', because what matters to a young mother joining a GP surgery may be very different for a working man with diabetes or a frail, elderly couple.

'Choice' when you are having a miscarriage, when you've broken your neck, when you have cancer or when you've got depression, hepatitis and diabetes all together or if you are housebound with severe agoraphobia and heart-failure may have very little to do with choice of healthcare provider and a lot to do with the quality of the relationships you have with health professionals. Leaving Dr Smith who has looked after you for 20 years because Dr Jones has got a better CQC report doesn't make so much sense when you think about the importance of therapeutic relationships.

Healthcare is, for the most part, dependent on the quality of relationships between patients and professionals. It is interactional and cooperative. It is full of uncertainty about the nature of the problems and what should be done. More than ever it is about the care and support of patients with multiple long-term conditions. At other times care is for emergencies in which speed, not choice is key. 

Less often health care is transactional -for example when a patient has a clearly defined problem and is in need of a standard procedure for which outcomes are easier to measure and relationships relatively unimportant. Here competition and choice may have value. For most health care however, the relationships between patients and professionals are both complex and caring and depend on mutual trust and respect and time to get to know one another.

Both the CMA and those directing health policy are of the opinion that the problems of choice and competition can be overcome by offering more choice and making it easier to choose at the same time as increasing competition. Not only is this based on a misunderstanding of the nature of care, but it is very unlikely to serve the interests of those who are most vulnerable and whose health is most precarious.

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