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Updated: 1 hour 38 min ago

Desperate people, hazardous escapes

0 sec ago

Those fleeing violent conflict or brutal repressive regimes, facing darkness and terror as they journey from home to Europe, deserve compassion—not intolerance, paranoia and hate.

Stefano Montesi/Demotix. All rights reserved.

Libya to Italy in search of freedom

Besieged by civil war, poverty and violent repression, huge numbers of people are risking their lives making the hazardous journey from Tripoli or Benghazi across the Mediterranean to Italy. Crammed into unsafe, poorly maintained vessels, thousands of vulnerable men, women and children are leaving their homes in search of peace, freedom and opportunity.

They come from countries in turmoil: Syria, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya among others; they have lost hope of life becoming peaceful and just in their homeland, and see no alternative but to pack a bag with their past and set off into the unknown. They are scared to leave and terrified to stay.

There is no functioning state in Libya; armed militia patrol the streets and the Islamic State or Da‘esh are increasing their presence in the country. Around half a million people wait in Tripoli for a boat to Europe, nationless and ‘illegal’; they are vulnerable to a range of dangers in various uniforms.

Sekou Balde from Senegal told The Telegraph “he was stabbed six times, by a gang of four Libyan soldiers who demanded money after they raided the house near Tripoli. ‘My brother was shot dead in front of me—boom, boom—as well as two of my friends,’ he said.”

Thousands of people arriving in Libya are held in ‘migrant detention centers’, run by the Department for Combating Illegal Migration. Between 1,000 and 6,000 inmates are kept in each of the 19 centers, where violent abuse and mistreatment is commonplace.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that in these prison-like places, guards have "tortured and otherwise abused migrants and asylum seekers, including with severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.” Bribes of anything up to $1,000 for release are commonplace.

Nightmare journeys

The journey to a new peaceful life is protracted and unmapped, with no guarantee of safely arriving on Europe’s shores, let alone being welcomed. Over the weekend of 14 February, 2,600 people were rescued in the Mediterranean off the Italian island of Lampedusa, near where 360 had died last October. The crossing is said to be the most dangerous in the world: 1,700 people died this year making the journey, and over 3,200 last year. 

Criminal gangs are the agents for the journey: there is no travel itinerary, travel insurance, swanky departure lounges, café’s and friendly cabin crew, just criminal gangs who charge a fortune and will beat and abuse anyone who challenges them. The costs are astronomical—averaging between $5,000 and $10,000—and the routes many and varied.

They walk, these frightened men, women, children, often for miles, often barefoot or in plastic sandals; sleep on the streets or in the bush; travel from country to country. They are unwanted, intimidated and exploited; risking rape, abuse and death; every step perilous, every day pregnant with uncertainty.

After months of grinding hardship following on from years of struggle, homelessness, imprisonment, repression and fear—a boat manned by thugs, a worn out vessel for the drained and degraded. No space to breathe, to rest, no food—even no water. The children cry and are cold and scared, the sea rough and unforgiving, the dark suffocating.

The risks, however great, are no deterrent to those seeking to escape conflict, suppression and hardship. From Syria, where civil war still rages, 24,000 journeyed to Italy in 2014, and in Libya, which is on the verge of imploding, the risks are greater than anything the Mediterranean has to offer.

So too in Eritrea—29,000 left for Italy in 2014—where a lifetime of forced military service for both men and women, poverty, arbitrary detention, torture and repression have driven over 200,000 to flee the country in the past decade—more than 3 percent of the population.

And then there’s Somalia, still in the grip of a civil war that kills civilians, where soldiers rape and abuse women, and almost half the population lives under the shadow of suffocating poverty. And Egypt—another military dictatorship—is suffering the most serious human rights crisis in its history, according to HRW.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many are trying to find sanctity and refuge in Europe? You would have to be crazy to stay!

Prejudice and indifference

The men, women and children making, what are by all standards, nightmare journeys, are not responsible for the poisonous environment that they have been forced to live in. They are innocent people, who are simply trying to find a peaceful place where they can live, prosper and bring up their families. In so doing, they are being exploited and mistreated by criminal traffickers, police and bandits alike.

Leaving the familiarity of home, these desperate people are generically called ‘migrants’. A charged term filled with all manner of hate and prejudice; it denies the individual and tarnishes everyone with the brush of appropriation, the sour stench of suspicion. It is a lazy label of intolerance, which fosters abuse and mistreatment.

The migrant is ‘the other’, the one who wants to take something from us; who will exploit our social systems, pollute or dilute our culture, soil our communities and threaten the safety and sanctity of western democracy. They have become a series of inconvenient statistics for western politicians to hurl at one another and an excuse for right wing prejudice and hatred.

Compassion, tolerance and understanding need to flow unreservedly towards the needy and fragile, not intolerance, paranoia and hate. 

As Pope Francis cried out on the shores of the Mediterranean:

“In this world of globalisation we have fallen into a globalisation of indifference... Forgive us our indifference towards so many brothers and sisters."

Sideboxes Related stories:  Arab migrants face a new Sykes-Picot in Calais Iraqi refugees from Mosul seek a home away from home Palestinians in Syria struggle for bread and agency Coping with displacement - Syrian refugees in Lebanon (Syrian) black skin, (Lebanese) white masks Israel's two-step solution to African 'infiltrators' Migrant smugglers: monsters or saviours? Closed eyes, closed borders: EU policy and refugees from Syria EU’s approach to migrants: humanitarian rhetoric, inhumane treatment Country or region:  Libya Syria Eritrea Ethiopia Somalia Italy Topics:  Conflict Equality
Categories: les flux rss

The press campaign so far - the 'coup' gathers pace

3 hours 10 min ago

The groundwork continues to be laid for what amounts to overturning the constitution on May 8th.

For the last month we have been tracking the election coverage of the right wing press: the Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mail. The picture that emerges, particularly with the Sun the Mail, is essentially a media machine entirely in lock step with Conservative HQ. Their attacks are the same, their language is the same, their soundbites, their heroes, their villains, the lot. When one changes tactics, so does the other. It gives an entirely warped view of the real choices on offer to voters.

I should say, firstly, how surprisingly good the Times has been. A Murdoch paper, and yet seemingly the most balanced and fair of the four - it has published some great pieces from unexpected angles. Even the Mail, in the shape of Peter Hitchens - much maligned on the left - has delivered some honest, sharp and refreshing perspectives. As for the general quality of the four papers, however, Hitchens probably said it best in his Sunday column. Why have the press made so little of Tebbit's remarks that in Scotland Tory voters should vote Labour? Because of the:

"squeaking multitudes of political journalists who... have settled on a line about what this election is about and are reading from a script given to them by the government spin doctors on whom they depend so much."

April 6th to April 12th, the early campaign, was really a continuation of the last five years: relentless personal attacks on Ed Miliband, a general silence on the legislative sins of the Coalition, and endless talk about the economic wonders the Conservative Chancellor is alleged to have achieved. Personal insults against Miliband for this period average over 5 a day across the papers. Attacks on his political character averaged just over 3 a day. The high point came on the 12th, when the papers produced 10 personal insults against the Labour leader: backstabber, geek, gauche, clumsy, nerd, and so on.

At this stage, the key points that came up time and again were: the party with the most seats should have the right to form the government (ahistorical, unconstitutional, and baseless), and that Labour should rule out any sort of deal with the SNP (why they should have to do this is never really made clear). Articles attacking Labour were running at around 45 per week, while attacks on the SNP were only at around 6 a week. The most common soundbites were that a Labour win would be an economic "catastrophe"/"disaster", that Miliband betrayed his brother David, that a Labour win would cause 'wealth creators' to flee the country, and that Labour had an "anti-business" agenda.

On policy, most common by far was praise for the Conservatives on the economy followed by praise for their NHS policies and thirdly their tax cuts. Attacks on Labour were dominated by attacks on tax rises, followed by criticism of their stance on an EU referendum, and thirdly knocking their economic credentials and record.

Then something changed. The negative campaign wasn't working. Labour's polling was holding well and time was running short. Miliband's personal ratings had actually improved, off the back of his appearances in the Paxman interview and the debates. And so began the 'SNP phase' of the campaign.

From around April 12th onwards, the new villain was Nicola Sturgeon, the "poisoned dwarf" as the Sun called her, the "most dangerous woman in Britain". The message runs essentially as follows: Sturgeon will dominate a weak Miliband in a coalition, the SNP will destroy the country. It's "the worst constitutional crisis since the abdication", ran the Mail's front page. This strategy doesn't target anyone except UKIP voters and the odd swing voter; unless you vote Tory the country will be destroyed. The message is entirely negative, just as the first part of the campaign was - smearing Miliband.

In this SNP phase, the decline in attacks on Miliband have been remarkable. Personal insults have fallen from over 5 a day to just under one a day since April 12th. Attacks on his political character have fallen from over 3 a day to around 0.5 a day. These are enormous shifts.

In the same period, attacks on the SNP rose from around 1 a day to over 6 a day.

Claims that SNP would "hold the country to ransom" or that Labour would be "in the SNP's pocket" rose in the same period from around 5 a day across the papers, to 9 a day across the 'SNP phase' of the campaign, from April 12th onwards. The (false) implication that the party that wins most seats should be allowed to form the government rose from 2 occurrences in week 1, to 4 in week 2, and to 11 in week 3.  

This has been the extent of the campaign, and it has been hammered home day after day. It is strictly fear and negativity except for one area - the economy, for which Osborne is praised day after day. Unusually for the right wing press immigration was scarcely discussed - in all likelihood because they perceive the issue as driving Tory voters towards UKIP, yet it remains a dominant issue for voters when polled, and it was the scene of one of Cameron's key (and failed) pledges in 2010: to reduce immigration to under 100,000.

Another key concern for the voters is the NHS, yet virtually the only coverage you'll see on it concerns funding: who will and won't provide the '£8bn' that the NHS 'needs' (this number is a fantasy). Mentions of the most significant Act of the Coalition, the Health and Social Care Act, has warranted only 8 mentions across all four papers since April 6th, an average of twice per paper. Praise for the Conservatives on the NHS has appeared 21 times by way of comparison. Despite the press being incensed at the disproportionate wins likely for the SNP compared to UKIP, with UKIP being likely to gain three times as many votes, there has been only one mention of electoral reform. As for taxes, the press are unremittingly hostile to tax rises and overwhelmingly in favour of tax cuts - so much for "balancing the books".

The level of coordination between the Conservatives and the right wing press is impressive. The exact same words and phrases appear frequently from both camps. Former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks' text message to David Cameron has never been more apt: "We're all in this together". We also learn from the Independent that in February Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not attacking Miliband aggressively enough, and that the future of News Corp was on the line. This demonstrates not only the nonsense of claims that proprietors never get involved in editorial, but also the real reason for Murdoch's press empire - to protect his much more lucrative operations with the political leverage it grants him.

So the press campaign overall has been largely indistinguishable from the Conservative HQ campaign. The first phase was entirely about smearing Miliband and talking endlessly about the Conservatives' economic achievements. The second phase has been talking of the sheer terror of the devil Sturgeon "destroying the country", while still talking endlessly about the Conservatives' economic achievements. Moving forward, the soundbite picking up pace is that the SNP-Lab government would be "illegitimate". And this is the crucial part of the media's game.

Early in April Adam Ramsay wrote that the press would try their own "coup" in the event of a Lab-SNP government, that they would insist Cameron forms the government because he "has most seats" and is "most popular". These have been key messages in the press. Last week I wrote about the Conservatives apparent attempt to drag the Queen into supporting such a 'coup' - and they were rebuffed publicly, though only the Times mentioned this fascinating story. Read the comments from John Major, Nick Clegg and Theresa May about a Lab-SNP government being "illegitimate"/"a coup" and you should be in no doubt as to the intentions of Conservative HQ and the press: if their man cannot command a majority and Miliband can, they will try to circumvent the constitution to retain power. This really would be a "coup" and it is unfolding before our eyes.

If the polls hold steady the real battle begins not on May 7th but May 8th. The right are looking likely to attempt to keep Cameron in power despite it being Miliband with the ability to get a Queen's speech passed. As to whether the SNP could really "hold the country to ransom", read Adam Ramsay's article on the subject. It's scaremongering. But that is the battleground and voters will have to make their own mind up come May 7th.

...and be prepared to defend the constitution on the 8th.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The newspapers are preparing for a coup, and Labour is doing nothing to stop them OurKingdom rolling election blog Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
Categories: les flux rss

Listen to Syria’s non-violent activists: stop the bombs

3 hours 24 min ago

Eighty-five groups representing 17,000 Syrians have backed the new campaign Planet Syria, demanding international pressure for an end to the bombs and real peace talks.

Konstantinos Tsakalidis/Demotix. All rights reserved.

“Should I spread my family out through the house so if a barrel bomb hits we won’t all die together? Or should we all stay in the same room so we can die together? Should I sleep in the basement in case a barrel bomb hits, or on the top floor so I don’t suffocate if it turns out to contain poison gas?”

These are not rhetorical questions, nor an exaggeration designed to show you how difficult life is for us Syrians as a result of the bombardment we are subjected to on an almost daily basis. These are questions a Syrian mother asked my friend after a recent poison gas attack by the regime on the town of Sarmin.

My hometown of Atarab is only a few kilometers away from where the chemical attack took place. Days before my last visit home, a regime jet bombed our town centre, killing more than thirty people, all of them civilians. My sense of impending death grew after I arrived and heard the details of what had happened from my mother, who lives only one street away from the explosion site. This only increased my obsessive worrying over where the best place to take shelter might be in case of aerial bombardment—and what the probability of my dying was wherever I found myself.

The regime is well aware of the impact of fear of death due to random bombardment, on the lifestyle of Syrians in areas outside its control. Everyone is too preoccupied with minute-to-minute survival to think of the future. Regime jets can be heard a number of times in a single day, just to spread fear.

A few months ago, a few Syrian grassroots groups surveyed 277 prominent non-violent activists to find out what they thought needed to happen in order for the violence and extremism to end. There was overwhelming consensus on two issues: first, the urgent need to stop barrel bombs and other weapons of indiscriminate killing, and second, the importance of engaging in genuine peace talks to reach a just political agreement.

This consensus turned into a rallying cry. Eighty-five groups, representing 17,000 peaceful Syrians, are backing these demands under a new campaign named Planet Syria, and I am one of them. We want an end to the bombs and real peace talks.

These barrel bombs are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths right now. They’ve displaced vast numbers of Syrians from their homes and destroyed schools and infrastructure. The UN Security Council banned them last year with a unanimous resolution, which even the regime's allies Russia and China voted for. Yet still Bashar al-Assad denies the existence of barrel bombs, as recently as last month, in a brazen interview with the BBC.

Leaders around the world, from Cameron to Obama, need to uphold these UN resolutions and stop the barrel bombs for four reasons:

First, their silence on barrel bombs actually emboldens the regime to use them. Their silence is killing Syrian civilians.

Second, the lack of any attempt to implement the UN resolution stopping the barrel bombs empties all UN resolutions of their value, rendering them just ink on paper. One clear example of this was the chemical attack on Sarmin in northern Syria last week. Poison gas was used on civilians just days after another unanimous resolution that bans the use of chlorine and makes a promise for action should attacks continue.

Stopping the bombs does not necessarily involve the use of military force.

Third, allowing the barrel bombs to continue helps ISIS promote its propaganda. The group portrays itself as the only actor concerned with defending Islam and capable of bringing an end to the crimes of the Syrian regime.

Fourth, stopping barrel bombs will help strengthen non-violent activism. It will curb displacement and exile, help in the fight against extremism and speed up the process of finding a political solution.

Stopping the bombs does not necessarily involve the direct use of military force. The Syrian regime has shown on more than one occasion that it is prepared to abandon its strategies when it senses true pressure. A good example is Bashar al-Assad relinquishing of his chemical weapons stockpile in 2013, when the Americans threatened military action.

And it wasn’t the first time. In 1998, Hafez al-Assad exiled Abdullah Ocalan, head of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), when Turkey threatened the use of military force against Syria. In 2005, Bashar al-Assad withdrew the Syrian army from Lebanon when pressure mounted following the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

International pressure is what we need—it is what we non-violent activists are calling for. Our campaign is named Planet Syria because of the feelings of isolation and solitude the majority of us Syrians feel. Many treat our demands for peace and democracy as if they are alien.

Silent sympathy is not enough on its own. We all, inside and outside Syria, have a moral and ethical responsibility to put pressure on all parties to bring a halt to the use of barrel bombs and other indiscriminate weapons. We need to find a just political solution, and to ensure that those of us living on Planet Syria no longer feel alone.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4) Peace in Syria: civil society and a utopian glimpse of hope in dark times Making local ceasefires work in Syria Syria and the International Criminal Court: justice denied On the frontline: citizen journalism in Syria Time to be bold and make peace in Syria Bombing in the Middle East again: three easy questions Country or region:  Syria Topics:  Conflict International politics
Categories: les flux rss

The ‘western model’ and its discontents: an interview with Pankaj Mishra

3 hours 30 min ago

The Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra believes that the west has lost the power to create a world after its own image. What is the future of the ‘western model’?

Pankaj Mishra, Flickr/Palestine Festival of Literature 2008. Some rights reserved.William Eichler: You recently wrote in the Guardian, adopting a phrase used by two editors of the Economist, that the 'western model' is broken. Could you explain what you mean by the 'western model'?

Pankaj Mishra: It's shorthand for certain assumptions, certain expectations that elites in western Europe, and in the United States since the early twentieth century, have used to define the evolution of their powerful nation-states. They try to apply these so-called lessons from their own history to the rest of the world, including places that they themselves have dominated. I'm speaking here specifically of western Europe, of Britain and France, where a particular teleology, which intellectuals, thinkers and statesmen in these countries have observed in their own history, is then applied to other countries in other parts of the world. The basic assumption is that these societies can also progress, and arrive at western-style liberal capitalism and democracy, using the same techniques and going through the same stages that we have gone through.

It's very much a model that is dependent upon certain provincial historical generalisations, certain historical assumptions, that are applied to the rest of the world. These assumptions, though, are derived really from the history of a tiny part of the world: western Europe and the US. It has had many incarnations, as I said in the Guardian piece, from the Economist arguing from the mid-nineteenth century onwards about the importance of free trade to Henry Luce talking about the American century and then W.W. Rostow advocating modernization theory down to the Washington Consensus. Since the Cold War, there has been a renewed stress on, and an ideological certainty about, some of these notions that what worked well for a small part of the world can also work well for everyone else.

WE: You argue that this 'western model' became globalised as a result of imperialism. What are the differences between western and non-western imperialism?

PM: The key difference is capitalist expansion through industrialism. This defines the history of the last 200 years and has driven the search for resources, territories and markets. If you look at the history of the Ottoman Empire or the Qing Empire you'll find plenty of evidence for varieties of capitalism, for a market economy, but you would not find this frantic urge to expand, to continually find new resources in different parts of the world, not just in your neighbourhood but on the other side of the globe. The British empire, for example, was active in the Fiji Islands as well as the Caribbean and India, not to mention Australia. None of the other empires of the past had that kind of reach or that kind of hunger. Even if you could somehow prove that they had the aspiration, the ambition, you would have to prove that they had the means, which they certainly did not.

WE: The depth of colonial penetration seems to be a key factor when discussing imperialism. How deeply did western imperialism affect non-western societies?

PM: It radically changed – some might say devastated – these societies. Many of them, such as China, had enjoyed periods of economic growth and relative political stability for a very long time before the Europeans arrived and those societies were thrown into chaos, civil war and political unrest. You might say that many of them have never really recovered from the particular trauma of facing this European invasion.

It was also not just a military invasion; it was cultural, moral and intellectual as well. There was the trauma of having to adjust to the fact of European power, to this particular modern world that European power had made. I don't think we have witnessed that kind of radical social and economic engineering before in human history. So in terms of, to use your phrase ‘depth of penetration’, this turned out to be a project of remaking the world that was really unprecedented.

Liang Qichao. Wikimedia Commons/Tung Wah News. Some rights reserved.WE: In your book From the Ruins of Empire (2012) you talk about how Asian intellectuals responded to this process. What were their main reactions?

PM: There were people trying to resist that power by upholding some sort of nativist tradition or set of nativist ideas. There were people who said: let’s take selectively from Europe and combine it with what we already have. And there were others who said we have to completely overhaul our societies, nothing of the past should be allowed to survive. Those were the radicals and we saw that with the communists in China and Atatürk in Turkey, and indeed elsewhere over the twentieth century.

This was the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 100 years later we are in a different world altogether and the past that people could still invoke convincingly in the nineteenth century is lost. It's now invoked by fanatics and fundamentalists of various sorts who have never lived in that premodern world and who have no experience of it whatsoever. They were trained politically and ideologically by modernity, so when they invoke the past they are really invoking a figment of their imagination, often based upon some ill-digested western scholarship. They have no real experience of it, unlike many of the people who I write about in the book. And so one has to emphasise that there is a big difference between how those people responded, or tried to respond, and the way people respond today.

WE: How did the intellectual challenges posed by western power affect post-colonial societies?

PM: The important thing to note here is that decolonization must be understood in the context of the Cold War. It was against this backdrop that these countries were decolonized and started to develop modern economies and started to create for themselves new nation-states. The 1940s and 1950s was a time when they were trying to convert these heterogeneous societies into nation-states and this enormous task was undertaken under great geopolitical pressures where countries had to make choices between communism and joining the free world.

Not only that but the range of internal challenges was staggering so in that context anything that was said or thought in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century had very little purchase. So even some of the more influential thinkers of the time were systematically disregarded. The most prominent example is Gandhi. If you look at post-colonial India, you ask: do we see any evidence of Gandhi's political or social programme in post-colonial India? I think you'll find very few of Gandhi's ideas have survived or very little of Gandhi's ideas have been developed into enduring institutions. If you can say this about such an influential figure, then what to say of all the others who were not as influential?

WE: What were the main internal issues that these new nation-states had to deal with in their attempts to ‘catch up’ with the west?

PM: If you are trying to create a nationalist identity in a country like India, which is essential to creating a nation-state, you are already running into all sorts of problems because the country is internally incredibly diverse. Look at Europe and how much violence and ethnic cleansing it had to undergo before it arrived at its present shape where you can say these societies are relatively homogenous. At some point they were much more fragmented and there were much smaller political units and so a lot of violence had to be done before Europe arrived at its present shape. Europe had all the time to do that – centuries in fact – when it was not threatened by any force from outside or only threatened periodically, say, by Arabs, but even that was a very localised threat and wasn't a threat to the way of life or political structures.

Now in the post-colonial world you had to create some degree of national coherence. You had to build up an industrial economy very fast because that was how you survived. Otherwise you were in danger of going back to being a country that would be looted for its resources by the  powerful capitalist industrialised nations. So industrialisation seemed to many of these nations as absolutely key to any kind of sovereignty, and there were so many related tasks such as having a proper army or having a proper police force.

Some countries were fortunate in inheriting from old colonial structures some semblance of a security establishment but that had its own problems, like in India where the police did not become part of democratic India and remained this essentially colonial and brutal institution. The policeman is still one of the most hated public figures in India today. So there were all these problems that these countries had to deal with. And they had no time, they had to do it immediately.

Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.WE: There is a lot of discussion about the decline of the west and the rise of the rest. But you are sceptical about this whole process. In From the Ruins of Empire you describe it as “something darkly ambiguous” and you have also written elsewhere that the BRICS, commonly cited as the most important emerging powers, are unable “to offer an acceptable moral and political alternative to Western hegemony.” Could you expand on this?

PM: I think both of these notions – the decline of the west or the rise of the rest – are incredibly inane at many levels. They can be disproven in any number of ways. Economically you could look at the size of the American economy and the size of China's economy: there are still huge gaps in terms of power and living standards and there is no guarantee that those gaps will be bridged. I'm not even talking of India which is 20 years behind China. There are all kinds of social and political problems that countries like China are yet to face. One can easily mock these notions of decline and fall or the rise of China by simply pointing to some of these very obvious empirically verifiable facts.

But I think I was making a different argument which is to say that if we do not come up with an alternative to a model of political and economic development that has caused so much ruin and violence in the world, then whether you are in the west or the east we are doomed to live with the same kinds of violence which we have already seen in other parts of the world. In that sense, the rise of the east makes absolutely no difference.

I think you could argue that some people are well-off. They can strut around the world and claim equality at the UN security council. They can say we also want a seat here, we also want a place at the World Bank and the IMF and if those are denied they try and set up their own world bank like China tried to do with the help of other countries. This so-called decline of the west and the rise of the east is a bonanza for these kinds of globalized elites who want a place at the high table but most people in these countries are looking at a very uncertain, very dark future.

So I think I would be more admiring of this so-called assertion of previously trampled upon peoples if these countries who have had their sovereignty violated innumerable times in the last 100 years had also come up with a new way to ensure dignity and freedom for all of humanity. But the fact is they have not. They are simply trying to adapt for their own purposes certain techniques of achieving wealth and power, which include modern modes of capitalist imperialism. If not imperialism in other countries then internally, whether it’s dispossessing tribals in central India of their land or developing Tibet, they are doing more or less the same kinds of things that imperialists from other parts of the world have done.

The decline of the west is a narrative often invoked by neurotic supremacists in the west; likewise, the rise of the east is the preferred narrative of the megalomaniacal easterner. And there is a perfect synergy between the two narratives. So we hear a lot about them and decline-and-rise seems to be the dominant narrative. But once you start looking at what decline and rise really mean, what success really means in this context, then we'll have a very different perspective on these narratives.

WE: You have argued that “the world of cohesive nation states is now passing, more rapidly than we could have imagined. As in the early twentieth century, the elemental forces of globalization have unravelled broad solidarities and loyalties.” And in your response in the Guardian to the Charlie Hebdo massacres, you also wrote that globalization has brought about a “negative solidarity of mankind”. Could you explain what you meant? And what have been the consequences of this unravelling of “broad solidarities and loyalties” and the “negative solidarities” that this has led to?

PM: The old idea of the nation-state was, in many ways, an ideal or normative state that people talked about. Growing up in India in the 1970s and 1980s, I experienced what one would call today a sort of national culture where you had the sense that, broadly speaking, we were in it all together, that the rise and fall of the country affected all of us and, very importantly, it affected all of us equally because we were all more or less at the same socioeconomic level. Some were, of course, much, much poorer but if the country was doing well it was likely that all of us would be helped along.

Now whether this was an illusion in the mind or whether this was something actually happening is a separate matter altogether. That was the feeling and that's how nations are created and sustained. They are essentially invented communities that tell successful lies about themselves and this is what we were all doing and have been doing for a long time.

I think, though, that now the illusions have shattered. Our societies have become more atomized. Everyone is supposedly on his own and out for himself. And everyone is supposed to want what the richest and most powerful people in the world have. At the same time, we've become much more aware that there is extreme inequality in the world today and that national economies are globalized and rigged against most people. We continue to behave as though we are still working within the boundaries of nation-states but the elites have broken free. They now belong to a transnational culture. Today's New York Times has a front page cover story which is part of an investigative series about real estate in New York and what it is doing is tracing these very expensive purchases of New York real estate back to the countries where this money is coming from. The latest instalment is about an Indian real estate tycoon who basically duped people in India who gave him money to build condos and apartment blocks and he went ahead and bought himself an apartment worth millions of dollars in New York.

This is just an example of the elites breaking free and this would have been impossible in the India I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s because at a very basic level it was impossible to take money out of the country unless you were extremely well connected. And even then it was really difficult. Now these things are possible. Capital is mobile, more so than labour, and as we know political elites are now accountable to a great extent to business men who actually help pay for the elections. These are democratic countries we are talking about, not the outright kleptocracies.

So those solidarities that I was aware of in India back in the 1970s and 1980s and the idea that we were working within a national culture to resolve problems, such as those facing women in the work place, the lower middle classes, the working classes or low castes, all these problems have become diffused. They haven’t gone away but their importance in the public realm has diminished because of globalization and the neoliberal idea that we are all basically individual entrepreneurs. This is an extraordinary notion which has dominated our minds, deluded many people and depoliticized our cultures at large – while of course a small number of people grow rich and powerful. And what are the implications for the politics of these countries? Scotland was one illustration. Catalonia is another. There are many others all around the world. There are enough re-politicised people saying that this process has gone on for far too long and that wherever we are or however small our region is we need to come together and take control of our particular destinies.

The other side of that phenomena is that the Internet has created this illusion that we are all neighbours. We are all invited to participate in this large extended public sphere where we are all talking to each other all the time from our respective national, ethnic or religious backgrounds. And not just talking to each other but constantly confronting each other. This is because of the way capitalism works. It constantly creates relations of inequality while knitting the world closely together and brings people necessarily into relations of confrontation. I think that again has created the sense that we are now living together on this planet sharing a common present, but actually our interests and priorities radically diverge and our values also conflict.

That is what I mean by “negative solidarity”. It is not a solidarity anyone assented to. In a nation state you take a pledge of allegiance to the constitution at various stages of your life and you are a citizen.  This solidarity of this particular membership of the global world that we are all now part of…we did not ask for this at all. It is something imposed upon us from the outside.

WE: Is this the reason behind the growth of conservative movements across the world? Are figures, such as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, trying to recreate these older solidarities?

PM: In one sense, it's not really conservatism because in many of these places there is not much to conserve. These are essentially political movements manipulating remnants of the progressivist ideologies, infusing them with the idioms of ethnic and religious identities. Even when they invoke the past, even when Putin talks about Orthodox Christianity or Erdogan invokes a mythical past or Hindu nationalists talk about Vedic science, they are still modern movements. The fact is these are elites trying to manipulate public opinion in their respective societies and they are using a variety of ideological and rhetorical means to do that.

From the outside you might sense some contradictions in their positions, like Erdogan supporting various businessmen who are ruthless capitalists and who are changing the face of Turkey, while at the same time talking about Islamic values. But I think at a fundamentally different level altogether these contradictions often work; they make people feel that they are not being completely uprooted by the modern world, that they can be capitalists at the same time as being devout Muslims. I think ostensibly conservative movements like that have become particularly successful because their appeal lies in their promise to resolve many important tensions and ambivalences in the lives of many of their followers. Older parties who only talk about right wing economics or left wing economics are finding it really hard in large parts of the world because they really don't have a very effective vocabulary at this point with which to address the existential challenges before many people in these societies transitioning to the modern world.

Islamic State fighters, Anbar, Iraq. Wikimedia Commons/Ritsaiph. Some rights reserved.WE: In a recent essay in the Atlantic, Graeme Wood argued that ISIS is an essentially medieval organisation. He writes: "there is a temptation to rehearse this observation – that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise – and make it fit the Islamic state. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse." Is this a convincing analysis of the ideology of ISIS?

PM: There has been a lot of fascinating discussion in academia about whether our categories and oppositions of secular-modern and religious-medieval are so watertight after all. I don't want to get into this. But it is instructive to look at how many people in the Muslim world interpreted the statements and actions of American statesmen right after 9/11, especially the more Christian-fundamentalists among them – how they concluded that a new crusade against Islam had been launched. So a similar charge of medieval legality and apocalyptic mentality can also be levelled – and more convincingly – against the ultra modern-seeming perpetrators of endless wars and torture. Let's not assume they represent sweet reason, otherwise Guantanamo would have been closed a long time ago, the 'torture memo' would never have been written. Much of this kind of interpretation arises from our particular location in the world.

The important question for us is: is it useful? Does conclusively identifying ISIS or the Shia militias fighting it as a product of the Dark Ages, or invoking theological categories, do anything apart from satisfy our desire to feel morally superior and justified in unleashing extreme violence around the world? Or does it make more sense to consider ISIS along with very similar eruptions of political-religious fury in the last century and a half: from the Taiping rebellion and the Mahdi and Boxer uprisings to Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and even Buddhist millenarianisms in recent decades? If we do this, then we can start to identity ISIS as the symptom of a wider social and political breakdown in its region which inevitably produces various DIY interpretations of scripture and a crazy utopianism. We can then also predict that the transition to a new order would continue to produce such movements. This at least helps us calibrate our response; the theological interpretation on the other hand, or the pathological obsession with Islam, seems largely useful to exponents on all sides of holy war.

WE: In your Guardian essay on the 'western model', you write: “Looking at our own complex disorder we can no longer accept that it manifests an a priori moral and rational order, visible only to an elite thus far, that will ultimately be revealed to all.” But without an “a priori moral and rational order” isn't there a danger of cultural pluralism slipping into moral relativism and cultural nativism?

PM: I think we have to undertake a careful attempt to find a place between different kinds of triumphalist fundamentalisms. The right wing fundamentalism that mostly comes from the technocratic business and political elites and the mainstream media says that there is only one way to spend one's time on this earth: to accumulate lots of money, to consume all kinds of new products, to work in an office or a factory – hundreds of millions of people are raised from poverty while car sales shoot up. The other fundamentalism is the cultural nationalism that you find in Putinism, Erdoganism or Hindu nationalism. I think you'll find that both of them have a particular teleology in mind.

Essentially, these are fundamentalisms which are positing this great redemption somewhere in the future and asking you to sacrifice your present for it. I think my attempt is to undermine the teleological assumptions and to say: actually, where we are right now, this is it. We have to live in the present. We cannot commit crimes, kill or dispossess people, for the sake of some future which may never come. Human life is a very complex thing, not assessed by poverty statistics, and human desires are very ambiguous and ever-shifting, not amenable to easy fulfilment. I’m attacking this notion of a rational order which some of us can see right now but eventually everyone will love when they see it. This is what tyrants of different kinds have said throughout the modern era, whether it was Stalin or Mao or Hitler, not to mention any of the smaller figures or the so-called “civilisers” of the 19th century. The Iraq war was the most recent example of this kind of catastrophic thinking. In 2015, we simply cannot afford to keep believing in these fantastical projections. We have to be much more sceptical of these notions that we have internalised.

Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire is published by Penguin.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The history of the west is not the history of the world Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics
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Learning from Scotland

4 hours 17 min ago

Can the English left finally wake up and smell the constitution?

'Constitution' by See-ming Lee.

The British left south of the border took little interest in Scottish politics even after the SNP became the government, seemed unconcerned about the agreement to hold a referendum there, and then largely ignored the campaign. With the exception of openDemocracy, Red Pepper’s openness to invention and creation, and the New Statesman under Jason Cowley, who grasped the profound cultural impact for Britain of somewhere that was alive and not Westminster, the Anglo‑British left patronised the whole experience. It was petty nationalism; the priority is for working-class solidarity across borders; we know better than to be diverted from the ‘real’ issues – all the mind-numbing, thought-suppressing clichés that condemn the left to the comforts of futility came wheeling out.

But in the course of the summer of 2014 it become clear that, in addition to Greece and Spain, another country was giving birth to a popular politics of opposition to neoliberalism. It was as if, when viewed from space, the English left was as much in the dark politically as North Korea can be seen to be in terms of electric light – while north of Hadrian’s Wall, far-reaching argument was lighting up cities, towns and islands and an entire country was visibly alive.

How to account for this exceptional, intelligent release of political energy across Scotland? The lesson is surely the importance of the shift from one level of politics to another: from the level of policies, legislation and parties to the more foundational level of political structure, in effect the constitution. Not in its legal and specialist form, but with respect to the nature of government, the relation between government and citizens and how these relations are organised in a democracy so that the people can genuinely hold power to account – issues of equality, therefore, the nature of rights both social and individual, the nature of sovereignty in the modern world and what kind of country one wishes one’s country to become.

This shift came about because, in effect, the future of their constitution as a whole was put to the people of Scotland, for real, in real time, with a process that had a beginning, middle – a long middle that allowed all the issues to be considered – and a decisive conclusion. That this happened was thanks to the skill, popularity and relative lack of corruption of the SNP and its leader Alex Salmond. But what then happened took even him and his party by surprise.

Revolution of the normal

When the referendum was being negotiated it was the view of Alex Salmond and his colleagues that the ‘settled will’ of the Scottish people was ‘devo-max’, not full independence. The prime minister, David Cameron, undoubtedly knew what they thought and why – the secret services would have listened in, since the ‘security of the country’ was at stake. Cameron resolved not to allow a third option of devo-max, or domestic home rule within the UK, on the referendum ballot paper. That way, he would deprive Salmond of an easy success. Then the prime minister sat back, confident of a victorious No vote. For his part, Salmond agreed to a two-question referendum rather than trying to stage his own, because, he explained, the vote had to be a fully legal process endorsed by the Westminster government.

The SNP then ran a campaign that seemed to me at the time, admittedly mostly from afar, to be over-cautious and too much like a party political campaign rather than a referendum on the future of a nation. But Salmond’s judgement was that his country’s temperament was sober rather than radical. His emphasis was on the reasonable nature of independence with him in charge, a friend of the queen, keeping the pound.

Yet this tapped into what I call “the revolution of the normal”. Full employment, greater equality, free education, decent child-care, a reasonably funded health service, not having lords and ladies as your legislators, in short becoming an average European country, what could be more reasonable? Yet such things are transformational in the UK context; an argument beautifully made by Adam Ramsey in a widely read openDemocracy essay, Scotland isn’t Different, it’s Britain that is Bizarre.

The SNP’s call to make Scotland a regular country exposed the constitutional fit between the hyper‑centralised Westminster system and the neoliberal world order. This started to become apparent as the referendum conversations intensified. The Yes campaign began to be driven by the energy of young people frustrated by the lack of options within the legislative institutions, by communities feeling abandoned or taken for granted by the old political parties, by policy thinkers seeking creative ways of responding to a profoundly changing world. The deeper that issues were mined for ideas and alternatives, the stronger the pull became.

A deeper level of politics

How do we best understand this form of politics? The mental inheritance of the left can lead to a language that says the Scottish movement embraced a ‘deeper’, foundational level of politics and political argument among a critical mass of public actors and citizens and saw a shift that reflected a widespread recognition of the exhaustion of the superficial level of politics, revolving around policies and parties. Not just an intellectual process, in other words, reflected in opinion polls and the like, but the active assertion of a desire, a demand even, for the creation of a deeper level of politics.

In English terms we can see a glimmer of this in direct‑action tenants, like the E15 women, insisting on their right to housing. They are in effect demanding a political solution based on a fundamental right to a home – rather than this or that policy.

There is a danger of trying to fit this approach into the classic analysis of base and superstructure. The radical politics that we need demands fundamental revision of classic Marxist determinism and can’t be shoehorned into it.

We should define our politics around the central concept of livelihood. As Raymond Williams argued, this unites production and consumption, family and work, generations and environment. For all to enjoy the livelihood that fulfills our potential we need a cluster of networks, some of which will be local communities, some employment-based, some educational and others governmental: local, national and international.

A constitution sets out the framework governing our networks. It fulfills three functions (and all constitutions, both codified and uncodified, do this).

• To establish the rights of individual citizens, our claims on the institutions of power and the authority that institutions can exercise over us as citizens.

• To set out the power relationships between the different institutions of authority within a society.

• To express what kind of community a society aspires to be.

The last defines what a constitution means, its moral purpose, for all constitutions are above all claims about how a society should live. They stand or fall by the way they are lived, not what is written down, important though that is for them to be owned by all citizens.

According to vulgar Marxism economic realities determine all such superstructural, ideological emanations and going on about them as if they matter or are fundamentally influential is a bourgeois deviation.

Who, with a mite of intelligence, will gainsay that states are shaped by the modes of production of their epoch? But how things are determined within an epoch, from one century to the next, is another matter. Determination in this context can be governed ‘from above’: a country’s constitution can define what is possible, can release or confine social energy, can defend or undermine the commons. Hence the importance of who decides the constitution. If, genuinely, the people make the final call, then a society has good reason to describe itself as a democracy.

The constitution is not a materialist base, but it is a determining framework. To see this involves raising our heads and looking up not down.

This should now be the ambition of the left: to add to its economic and social demands the vision of a democratic constitution, a new settlement decided by an open process, bringing in as many allies as possible from across the spectrum as it will have to belong to the right as well as the left if it is to command legitimacy. The time is ripe for a return to the call for a new constitution.

Scorn from the left

The call first surfaced at the end of the 1980s and led to the important yet partial and incoherent changes of New Labour. Then much of the left scorned such efforts. It is worth looking at one example because it signals the profound cultural growth that the Anglo-British left will need if it is to catch up with its Scottish comrades.

Today Larry Elliott, in his Guardian column, is an outstanding critic of the criminal foolishness of coalition economics. Back in 1998, with Dan Atkinson, he published The Age of Insecurity. It opened by declaring: “The central struggle of our time is that between laissez-faire capitalism, which represents the financial interest, and social democracy, which represents democratic control of the economy in the interests of ordinary people.”

But for these authors democratic control of the economy did not extend to advocating a democratic constitution. They tagged the campaign for constitutional reform as a “mystery tour down a blind alley”. Charter 88 was derided as “pseudo-underground chic”. Will Hutton, who was on the Charter 88 council was scorned for connecting the “winner-takes-all” electoral system with the cash-in-your-winnings of the City – not praised for his insight. The British constitution, far from being ‘semi-feudal’ as we reformers claimed, had no more oddities in it than most other European democracies.

Scotland had just voted in a referendum to have its parliament. Elliott and Atkinson saw its new parliament as having “a rag bag of functions and responsibilities, the selection of which was a poor advertisement for ‘rational’ constitutional reform . . . Scotland, with its new legislative class itching to start work, marked a key point of fusion between constitutional reform and social control.” The authors concluded that, “There is not and will never be anything specifically ‘left-wing’” about constitutional reform. It may sometimes be good, they concluded triumphantly, but it is “a terminus not a corridor . . . Hugely irrelevant to Britain’s real problems”.

Wrong! Indeed you could hardly have been more mistaken! And the English left who so ignore, disparage, patronise and sideline full-scale constitutional reform, thinking electoral reform is all that is needed and then they can walk off with the British state, should reflect on this. What the reform movement’s success in Scotland demonstrates is that taking on the constitution, far from being a dead end, blind alley or ‘terminus’, opened up the whole field of politics to the public - and in so doing unleashed a democratic process that cannot but confront corporate dominance.

The question, then, for the rest of us in the UK is: can we now learn from this and start to generate equivalent, connecting energy? 

No longer scandalous

Outside the old doors of parliament the idea of a new constitution is no longer scandalous. During the hacking controversy, leading newspapers called for a ‘first amendment’ to establish the right to publish. Since Edward Snowden’s revelations many have called for a ‘fourth amendment’ to safeguard privacy. With the creation of secret courts, some seek a ‘sixth amendment’ to protect the right to due process of law. But we do not have a constitution to amend or a Basic Law that can entrench such principles.

Codification is necessary as a focus; the aim has to be a public process that makes the country a self-confident democracy – a process that lets us translate our confidence, in which we are not lacking as a country, into a constitution we can call our own. The last thing we want is a constitution imposed by the political class that simply writes down the existing system (a hilarious sketch of what this would be like was set out in The Unspoken Constitution published by Democratic Audit, it’s opening words: “We, the elite”).

Thirty years ago the received wisdom judged that a new constitution was simply impossible this side of an insurrection or defeat in war. Britain’s framework was regarded as virtually eternal. We only did partial constitutional change once every 50 years or so when it might just be needed, certainly never a constitutional ‘revolution’. Back then, however, the idea of a Human Rights Act was ‘foreign’; there were no Scottish or Welsh parliaments; freedom of information was for Americans; the government of London could be and was summarily abolished; and numerically most members of parliament inherited their seats in the legislature.

Today, by contrast, these changes and more have broken the coherence of Westminster’s rule and political specialists are researching how to hold an effective constitutional convention. On the right, Conservative Home carries posts arguing we must Look at our constitution as a whole, or, We need a written constitution, or, A new model for the constitution. And from the House of Commons itself, A New Magna Carta?, a report published by the Select Committee for Political and Constitutional Reform, sets out what a written constitution could look like.

The question, then, is not can it happen, it certainly can, the time is ripe. The issue is how can it happen.

We need a moment that starts a chain reaction, which brings together as wide a connection of forces demanding a new settlement as can be mustered. Not a traditional campaign, or an alliance of NGOs concerned with their remits, but action with a faster foot – which releases energy rather than not confines it – with as widespread and open a network of alliances as possible. We need media partners; a call to arms that joins the issues together and shows how they are connected in life as well as argument; support from writers, journalists, musicians, scientists, filmmakers, bloggers, commentators and scholars; connections to many local non-party movements defending housing, communities and local environments; websites and debates and as many campaign groups as possible. In short, a movement from outside the official system with the capacity to redefine it.

Some of us want to bring the idea of an alternative, democratic constitution to life by linking it to the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in June 2015, a month after a General Election whose campaign has reinforced England's twisted view of the constitution that protects its established order.

The official celebrations are designed to embellish the status quo in self-congratulation. But it is impossible for unease not to creep in. The Magna Carta was an elite stitch-up by feudal barons angered at being over-taxed; the rights it claimed were privileges for free men only and it discloses the privileged, feudal roots of our government. That was then. Yet at the same time it made the idea of the rule of law and access to justice for all part of our inheritance, it rewarded resistance to arbitrary power, its success depended on writing down principles of government, and its association with the Charter of the Forests (‘Magna’ originally identified it as the greater of two important charters) set out rights to the commons.

The legacy of the Magna Carta, poses four sets of contemporary questions:

  1. How do we check arbitrary power today and ensure both the executive and corporate ‘barons’ are accountable?
  2. How do we ensure there are basic rights for all, protected from government and corporate power, including access to the law?
  3. How do we protect and develop our commons: essential public goods and spaces, including the environment?
  4. And who are today’s Barons?

They put party politics into the shade.

This article was written in January for Red Pepper (many thanks!) where it has just been published. It is now slightly added to. 

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The future of welfare

4 hours 35 min ago

From benefit reforms to cuts to care budgets, austerity has transformed British society. What does the future of welfare look like? 

People's Assembly march against austerity, Summer 2014. Image: Flickr / Marienna Pope-Weidemann

As part of the CCIG Lecture series 'Being on the line: citizenship, identities and governance in times of crises', John Clarke and Sue Himmelweit reflected on the current ‘austerity’ model and analysed its consequences on people’s lives. John Clarke argued that austerity, presented as a virtuous necessity, has deeply changed British politics. In particular, the concept of fairness has been inverted: fairness is no more for those who are disadvantaged; it is for those who have. Sue Himmelweit, on the other hand, argued that care norms have changed and a crisis in both child and adult care has been intensified through the adoption of austerity and the imposition of market based policies. Both interventions are an invitation to critically assess debates around the current general election. 

Austerity: a virtuous necessity? 

On the 21 May 2013, John Clarke gave a lecture on contemporary politics and policies of governing the social in the age of ‘austerity’. 

‘Austerity’ is understood in the current coalition government as a virtuous necessity. Austerity occupies a paradoxical position in Conservative & Coalition discourse. Austerity is said to be freely chosen by the UK, not forced on us by external powers. Nevertheless, this Choice is presented as being not driven by ideology, but as an absolute necessity. “We are all in this together” has been the mantra of the Conservatives since 2009, and can be seen as a performative moment. This is undoubtedly a major shift in British politics. 

What are the claimed core values of the coalition government? Freedom, fairness, and responsibility. The idea of making responsible people, however, needs to be dissected. The current government has fantastic enthusiasm for making people responsible. The problem becomes the ‘irresponsibles’, those who are not earning, those who are exploitative, those who do not know how to make the right choices. This underlines how much the concept of ‘fairness’ has been transformed in becoming central to current political culture. The concept of fairness has indeed known interesting mutations. From the mid-1990s, the use of ‘fairness’ by New Labour watered down earlier concepts of equity and equality. Fairness became part of a discourse that embeds conditionality in the reorganisation of the rights and responsibilities of citizens. 

This nurtures a culture of suspicion. Rather than being ‘all in this together, we are invite to suspect there are some who are not pulling their weight, that some of us are not doing our bit. Some of us fail to rise to the challenges of austerity and the demands that it places on us. The dividing line of suspicion is between those who earn their participation as citizens, and those who do not.

In the coalition government, discourses are driven by the idea that ‘you cannot solve problems by throwing money at them’. Worse, if you throw money at people, you undermine their moral capacity to be independent (as demonstrated in the ‘dependency trap’ denounced by Cameron). These political regimes of truth have dominated the welfare debate. 

Earning fairness has been turned into a different sort of disciplinary mechanism. This is the point where fairness is now defined as only available for those who ‘earn’ it and has become conditional. It no longer applies to the poorest or the most excluded. We are told that we are the victims of unfairness because of those who are leeching off us. It inverts what has been the historical discourse of fairness. Fairness is no more for those who are disadvantaged; it is for those who have, and that is an astonishing turn around. 

This way of framing ‘fairness’ has a direct impact on welfare reform, housing benefits reform, jobseeking allowance reforms. It goes also wider: it also applies for instance to working conditions and policing. Fairness has been used to legitimate both greater inequality and authoritarian measures. 

Care, in and beyond an era of austerity

On the 27 of January 2015, Sue Himmelweit gave a keynote on care: in and beyond an era of austerity.

The care system was already unsustainable before the financial crisis, relying on out-of-date gender roles and unacceptably poor pay and working conditions of care workers. In many countries there is a care penalty: not only poorly qualified people, but also those with higher qualifications who could apply their skills in many environments, are paid less if they work in the care sector. This has led to recruitment and retention problems in the care industry and thus falling availability and standards of care. 

This happened during a period of financialisation, in which finance capital promoted a small state that would tax less and not waste resources on ‘reproducing people’. The traditional supporters of the welfare state, both industrial capital and the working class, lost influence. The rising cost of social care has been an obsession of both Labour and Conservatives since the 1980s, claiming that they were making the system unaffordable. But such rising costs were in practice just the necessary costs of transition to a more gender-equitable society with increased women’s employment. Instead of the state accommodating these costs of promoting a fairer society, families were left with the option of paying more for care, providing more care themselves or leaving needs unmet. But this was counterproductive, rising inequality then left increasing numbers needing state support to meet care needs. 

An attempt to counteract this through market competition initially led to care services being put out to tender to private providers and then to care recipients being given their own budgets to buy care services. These policies were supported by the argument that increased competition in the care sector would foster responsiveness of services to individual needs and thus enhance its quality. Underlying such arguments, however, remained the obsession with containing public spending. In practice, market competition does not work to enhance care quality, because it is too hard for individuals to monitor and care markets tend to be very local without little real competition. In practice any savings through the use of the market comes at the expense of care workers (who in the private sector are less likely to be unionised) and care recipients (whose eligibility for public support has tightened, and spending per recipient diminished drastically).

Given the unsustainable state of social care before the financial crisis, what has happened since it? Austerity was not the only possible response to the crisis, nor even the fastest way of re-establishing business as usual. Nonetheless, the interests of finance capital - seen through the lens of what the markets would allow - prevailed. Resources spent on reproducing people, including on care, were seen as too high (even the cause of the economic crisis). Falls in living standards and cuts in spending in public services were not unfortunate by-products of austerity, but the measures of its success in meeting its goals. Austerity has been accepted as necessary, and care has been constructed as a form of waste. 

This is particularly true regarding the kinds of care needed by the most vulnerable: long term care (care for people who are not expected to get better), mainly, and not exclusively for the elderly. In 2010 there was a 26%, and in 2013 a further 10%, cut in government grants to local authorities responsible for the provision of long term care, while an increasing elderly population meant demand rose at the same time. Spending on residential care and day care dropped considerably, and eligibility criteria were tightened further. Even the Care Quality Commission registered concern about quality sustainability and the rise of unmet needs. Half a million people have lost access to social care: they are left to either rely on their own funds or on relatives. 

Another aspect of austerity is its impact on paid care workers, who are now the largest occupational group among the lowpaid. The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 10 to 16% of them are considered at risk of being paid less that the national minimum wage, usually through the use of “zero hours” or other “creative” contracts that do not count all hours in which a carer’s presence is needed as “work”. The vast majority of care workers are on these types of contracts.

Constraining spending on care is presented as a national necessity and has reshaped social norms around lowered expectations in terms of access and quality of care. This has led to increasing demands on families, especially on women (whether they provide unpaid care or whether they are underpaid as care workers). Such lowering of expectations and care norms is the direct effect of austerity. 

What would an alternative strategy be? A plan ‘F’ exists, a feminist plan. We should first reject the government’s (and finance capital’s) obsession with having a small state and instead invest in social infrastructures in order to build a more sustainable care system. We should reduce our reliance on gendered norms, get rid of poor working conditions, and make sure that access to quality care is available for those who need it. This requires equalising the opportunity costs of men and women in doing unpaid care, as well as improving the conditions in paid care, so that both men and women enter it. To achieve this, it is important to recognise the common interests of care workers and care recipients in better working conditions and care standards and organise around them. To set good standards both in care provision and in care workers conditions, strong public or non-for-profit provisions are needed. Such a system could be funded through progressive taxation on a large tax base.

How can we argue for this in the current climate? Plan F is itself a way out of the current crisis. Care should be recognised as an investment in a key component of the social infrastructure. Spending on care is also a very effective economic stimulus. It would generate much employment and promote greater equality as well as ensure the sustainability of care provision. The language of investment and infrastructure is now used more frequently with respect to care at the political level (Labour, LibDem, SNP), but a lot remains to be done if we are to have a genuinely sustainable care system that combats rather than entrenches gender inequality.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Who benefits from benefit? Death by a thousand tariff cuts Why bother about digital rights? An absence in the election campaigns
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Against all the odds

5 hours 27 min ago

Meet the new networked movements that are taking on big business, and winning big victories.

Fight for $15, New York, 2015. Demotix/Edward Leavy Jr. All rights reserved.From Egypt to Iceland, the citizen movements behind the Arab Spring through to the indignados caught the world's imagination as they rocked or overthrew the political and economic establishment. A considerable volume of headlines and academic analyses have been devoted to the ‘networked revolutions’ that have swept in with such spectacular speed and power, even as their lasting political impact is actively debated. 

While some wonder where the next Arab Spring will arise, there are hundreds of similar movements simultaneously coalescing at a smaller scale and taking on corporate interests over social justice and environmental concerns. Here we turn to the efforts to block the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline as well as the organized ‘Fight for $15’ movement, which is currently pushing for higher minimum wages across the United States. Both follow the broad pattern of new networked movements and both have been highly successful at forcing concessions from governments and corporations against heavy odds.

To measure these anti-corporate campaigns against the Occupys and Arab Springs of this world, we can line them up against the framework established by Manuel Castells in his 2012 study, Networks of Outrage and Hope. In this work, written shortly after the climax of the 2011 uprisings, Castells lays out the basic structural and ideological commonalities behind these ‘networked social movements’. 

Among the key features of Castells' model are five critical observations: networked movements use social media to organise and gain critical mass; they network in many ways, both online and offline; they become viral and spread well beyond their original instances; they are essentially leaderless and horizontal in terms of their organisational structure; they do not present a concrete set of demands due to the horizontal and polymorphous nature of such groups.

Anti-corporate movements such as those behind the Keystone XL opposition campaigns and the Fight for $15 most definitely align with Castells' first characteristic of networked movements insofar as they use social media and social networks as key strategic assets. Organising through a constellation of local and national Twitter accounts using the #Fightfor15 hashtag and a robust Facebook community, the movement for a higher minimum wage in the US makes extensive use of online networks to mobilise its members to join offline protests and also to put pressure on the corporate reputation of its targets, which include Walmart and McDonald’s. The anti-Keystone XL movement’s use of online organising has been so effective that analysts now cite the movement's dominance of online discourse as a critical component in its successful turnaround of public opinion

As for network-building, both these anti-corporate movements are exemplary. The Fight for $15 links up local city-based chapters in a loose US-wide federation. Going beyond its direct membership, the movement has associated networks with the #BlackLivesMatter movement for racial justice, which gained national prominence after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The anti-Keystone movement has also encouraged the creation of local protest nodes and uses its central website to help followers to find local chapters. Like the Fight for $15, the movement has gone well beyond its original networks of urban green supporters to forge alliances with Native American and rancher communities, who oppose the pipeline for a variety of reasons including health, safety and access to vital resources such as water. 

In December 2012, the original kick-off for the Fight for $15 amounted to a handful of local strikes against fast food outlets. In 2015, the Fight for $15 has snowballed to spark protests in over 230 cities in the US and 35 other countries across the world. Similarly, the struggle to block the Keystone XL pipeline began in 2011 with a series of civil disobedience actions and protests in front of the White House. Since then, the movement has seen actions replicated in over 750 locations across the US and the world. And the success of the movement against Keystone has inspired activists to mobilise against ten other pipeline projects in North America

When looking at the organisational structures behind the anti-corporate movements, as opposed to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring uprisings, we begin to drift away from Castells' model. Castells identified grassroots origins and horizontal leadership as key features of networked movements. Fight for $15 and the anti-Keystone campaign, for their part, were both launched by sizeable organizations. In its early stages, the Fight for $15 was not a spontaneous mobilisation but a protest movement put together and carefully managed by the Service Employees International Union. As time went on, the cause was picked up and led more autonomously by local grassroots groups, such as Occupy Portland.

Similarly, the campaign to oppose Keystone XL has been largely organised by environmental NGOs, such as and the Rainforest Action Network. Nevertheless, self-organising sub-groups are actively encouraged by the movement, as evidenced by the 'do it yourself' tools offered through's main campaign hub. In the end, the architecture behind the Fight for $15 and anti-Keystone movements appears to be a hybrid of top-down organisational support with the door left wide open for autonomous and horizontal parallel campaigning.

Another major difference with Castells' model concerns the end goals of anti-corporate movements as opposed to the larger networked revolutions of 2011. While the goals of the latter were intentionally broad and heterogeneous so as to include the voices of all those mobilising under the movement's broad banner, anti-corporate movements have set their sights on very concrete short-term objectives. The Fight for $15's ultimate goal is to address wealth inequality in the US and around the world. However, its immediate demands for the country's low-wage workers are quite clear: "$15 an hour and a union".

Similarly, those organising against the Keystone pipeline are pushing back against the fossil fuel industry and fighting to limit climate change, as the pipeline would enable greater development of Canada's high-carbon oil sands. By focusing on blocking the pipeline as a short term objective, they have cut the issue down to size and given themselves an achievable mission.

Ultimately, the outcomes of both types of movements differ and should provoke further reflection on their relative efficacy. Many of the networked social movements cited in Castells' work are now being re-examined in terms of their lasting results. Much has been written, whether fairly or not, about the failure of the Occupy Wall Street movement. More pointedly, networked movement skeptics such as Evgeny Morozov point to the failures of the Arab Spring uprisings to establish a lasting political legacy as evidence that such movements promise more than they can deliver. 

On the other hand, the recent anti-corporate movements have generated some impressive and incontestable victories. The Fight for $15 has so far brought two major US cities and 21 states to raise their minimum wages. It has also pressured giants such as Walmart into raising its minimum from $7.25 to $10 per hour in the US – a historic move affecting over 500,000 workers across the country. The anti-Keystone movement has defeated all odds, including a claimed public support base for the pipeline of up to 70 percent, to first delay approval for the project and then sway President Obama towards a veto, which came down in February of this year. At the time of writing, all of the other pipeline projects in North America opposed by movements styled after the anti-Keystone campaign are similarly stalled.

The defined focus of anti-corporate movements benefits from many of the tactical advantages that social network mobilisation offers, including the ability to rapidly build scale, swarm their targets and amplify their messages. Their hybrid structures draw from the advantages of a top-down organisational hierarchy, including a clear focus on goals and efficient decision making, while allowing enough freedom for autonomous leadership at the smaller scale. Finally, their carefully chosen targets and short-term goals allow them to focus their energy more efficiently, maintaining momentum and morale. And despite their modest beginnings, these anti-corporate movements are still going strong several years later, while the Occupy and Arab Spring movements rose fast and dissipated in swift social explosions.

These anti-corporate campaigns have adopted social network frameworks, re-engineering and retooling them for success. By radically reshaping the architecture of organising and mobilisation, they are squaring up to big business, and winning big victories.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Letter from a petro-state Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government
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Symbiotic Realism and just power

7 hours 1 min ago

Four interlocking elements shape the global system: the neurobiological substrates of human nature (providing a more complex account of human nature), the persistence of global anarchy, which today coexists with conditions of instant connectivity and interdependence

Shutterstock/Sunny studio. All rights reserved.In an era of widespread decentralization, formation of regional blocs, and popular uprisings the role of states will continue to evolve dramatically. While they will without doubt remain pivotal, their nature and the ways in which they deploy power are in a profound transition. 

In parallel to these developments, the discipline of International Relations can now benefit from a more complex understanding of human nature than what was previously held as perennially true. The role of rationality and egoism, long touted by the Realist school as critical to our understanding of human and state behaviour has become subject to significant criticism.

Neuroscience has contributed largely to providing a more nuanced view of humans and their neurochemistry. More circumspect accounts of human nature show that emotionality in fact plays a much more prominent role than previously believed, which overturns the conception of the foundations for interstate relations. A strong case can be made for the emotionality of states alongside a greater appreciation for the role of emotions in individual thought. These conceptions substantially undermine classical Realism in which the structure of IR itself was taken to be both zero-sum and analyzable in terms of pure rational self interest.

Alternatively, the theory of Symbiotic Realism adheres to our best neurobiologically-informed understanding of human nature, and offers the potential for a more collaborative conception of International Relations through the use of just power.

One important tenet of Symbiotic Realism is the acknowledgment that emotional vulnerabilities are shared by all parties, and that these can be orchestrated for good or for ill. While the human nature of classical Realism was fundamentally that of a pure rational egoist, Symbiotic Realism acknowledges the importance of symbiotic relationships in which both parties benefit from their willingness to interact cooperatively and compete in a non-conflictual way.

As such, Symbiotic Realism recognizes four interlocking elements which shape the global system: the neurobiological substrates of human nature (which provides a more complex account of human nature), the continuing persistence of global anarchy, which today coexists with conditions of instant connectivity and interdependence

Emotionality, individuals, and states

Neuroscience and advanced brain-scanning technology has helped to elaborate our understanding of human nature in at least two important ways. The first is to lessen the role of reason in human decision-making, in large part by demonstrating the immensely important role of emotions. The second is to name and characterize aspects of the ego that do not manifest straightforwardly in terms of self-interest or power-seeking. With regard to the first of these, there is growing consensus in both neurological and psychological research that human beings have long overestimated the role of reason in their thoughts.  Reason has an important role, but comes into play more rarely than is usually understood, and typically only after emotions have had their say.

The circumstances necessary for reason can best be realized where just power is consistently employed. The term “just power” is defined here as the exercise of power that respects human dignity and international norms, is savvy with regard to current global conditions, and protects the national interest. In these conditions, emotions will inevitably be present and have causal efficacy, but their effects will be accommodated rather than downplayed or ignored. Just power generates stability as well as a wider recognition of the equal availability and legitimacy of this stability.

This consideration does not override the basic tenet of international politics that self-interest is the fundamental attribute of human nature nor the argument about emotionality. This self-interest evolved according to selection pressures in precisely the same ways as all other features of human beings, and these attributes are marked by a strong inclination towards self-preservation. The fundamental nature of these emotions also highlights the importance of group inclusion and a narrative of identity in fully developed human beings. Therefore, these attributes might broadly be construed as egoist in the sense that they are required for individual human flourishing, yet they simultaneously indicate an irreducible interdependence of people which undermines a simplistic conception of self-interested rational actors.

Although states differ in many ways from individuals, it is worth noting that the decisions that inform interstate relations are ultimately in the hands of individual human beings, even in cases of collaborative decision-making. Evidence for the emotionality of states is ubiquitous if we realize that genuine existential threats to states are far less common than challenges to a state’s self-conception. In contemporary events, it is often issues with a state’s self-conception that results in conflict.

For example the desire for vengeance across generations is very difficult to characterize in terms of (purely) rational actors, but is sufficiently emotionally compelling to motivate some of the world’s longest-standing and most intractable conflicts.

Modern states, power, and sustainability

The game-theoretic interpretation of Classical Realism was characterized by a structural situation in which each actor was forced to act egoistically in order to avoid being taken advantage of or defeated by free-riders. Typically these actors were seen as rational and egotistical states and the zero-sum assumption that underpinned this idea meant that one party’s gain implied another’s loss.

Symbiotic Realism also recognizes the inherent propensity of actors to be egoistic yet in a more accommodative manner as implies a wider appreciation for cultural synergy and recognizes the possibility to move beyond a zero-sum scenario.

Globalization has greatly increased the interdependence between actors in areas such as environmental integrity, the stability of financial markets or the control of nuclear proliferation. This theory remains realist in the sense that it acknowledges an important role for rational self-interest, but Symbiotic Realism is better attuned to the realities of an interdependent world and emphasizes that mutual benefits should be possible in collaborative circumstances.

Cultural borrowing has been a source of great gain for centuries and now the opportunities for such shared benefits are more readily available than ever. Despite the significantly anarchic circumstances of contemporary interstate relations, connectivity and increasing interdependence now ensure that more intercultural exchanges are inevitable, and that problems of governance will arise (and are already arising) that cannot be resolved unilaterally. To put this in a simple scenario: suppose that “A” discovers a highly advanced and effective technology for mitigating carbon pollution, while actor “B” but not “A” has the resources and infrastructure to implement this technology successfully. In an arrangement in which both A and B will have absolute gain—that is, both will gain more than they lose if the technology is shared, Symbiotic Realism can overcome the zero-sum limitations of Realism. The pressing policy objective for the future will thus be to create the conditions in which such good faith arrangements are encouraged and implemented.

Just power includes conceptions of “hard,” “soft,” and “smart” power, with additional parameters of respect for human dignity, and a basic guarantee of justice and compliance with international law. These are the necessary conditions for this good faith to become the norm between states. Power conscientiously exercised in this way provides assurances to all the parties in the system and to would-be collaborators that their contributions will not be used unfairly. In order to be sustainable in our radically interdependent world, uses of power must be demonstrably just, as the misuse of power quickly destabilizes interstate relations.

The recent reporting of extensive torture in the name of security, and the violation of international norms should be examined in exactly this light. Such actions radically undermine the possibility of good faith agreements in the international theatre.

While Realism asserts an almost exclusive focus on the balance of power with an implicit assumption about the malign intentions of other powers, Symbiotic Realism is more nuanced in this view and alludes to the inescapable interdependence now predominant in the international system. The new climate of international relations imposes new mechanisms of deploying power. Manifestations of power that uphold robust regard for human dignity and respect for international norms enable the sine qua non trust that is necessary for mutually beneficial decisions. When such just power is exercised and recognized to be operational, the conditions are created for collaboration and the possibility of absolute gain among actors.

Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics Internet Science
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Death by a thousand tariff cuts

7 hours 21 min ago

The government denies it has cut funding to the NHS - but new research reveals how hidden cuts have pushed hospitals to crisis point.

Image: Flickr/Rena Tom

The government has cut the cash it pays hospitals by over 40% for a quarter of treatments – and by over 70% for one in 10 hospital treatments, new research by False Economy for the TUC and UNISON has revealed.

On average, payments to hospitals for each treatment they undertake have been cut by 10 per cent since 2010.

Around three quarters of each hospital’s funding comes from this system, known as ‘Payment by Results’, where hospitals are paid per treatment and prices are set by a ‘tariff’.

The system was introduced as part of New Labour’s ‘market’ reforms in 2002. The theory was it enabled hospitals to compete with each other to attract patients (and the NHS cash attached to each treatment they had), and incentivised these ‘providers’ to be more efficient.

But since then, the government has added in an ‘efficiency’ target requiring hospitals to deliver the treatment at a reduced rate year on year.

The cuts to tariff payments make up nearly half the £20bn ‘efficiency savings’ (also known as QIPP savings, or the ‘Nicholson Challenge’) that the NHS was told to achieve five years ago.

The cuts are contributing to the growing financial crisis across the NHS, with alarming deficits piling up among acute providers, as hospitals struggle to provide the same service for less money.

A hospital providing straight forward, non-emergency knee surgery would have been paid £3,077 for each procedure in 2009/10.

By 2013/14, the hospital would have received £1,673 for the same procedure. A cut of 45.6 per cent.

Is it likely the cost to the hospital of providing that service has also fallen by 45.6%?

We know that in 2013/14, nearly 10,400 of these procedures were undertaken – but the money paid out to hospitals has been cut from £26.5m to just £17.3m.

And that’s just one procedure. There are over 4,000 procedures with tariffs.

You can begin to see why all the red ink is showing up on hospital accounts this year.

60 out of 83 acute foundation trusts are in the red, according to the latest figures from hospital financial regulator Monitor. The total net deficit is £438m and rising.

Income is not keeping pace with rising demand, say Monitor:

“The deficit was largely driven by unplanned growth in both pay costs (2.1%) and non-pay costs (3%) exceeding the growth in revenue of 1.5%, bringing about the decline in financial performance ... “

The problem is most severe for ‘acute trusts’ (full service hospitals with critical and emergency care), it adds:

“Acute trusts remained most financially challenged, with a net deficit of £428m at Q3 2014/15 ... whereas mental health, ambulance and specialist trusts all made a small surplus This was largely due to acute trusts being more exposed to tariff deflator and other national tariff rules.”

As tariff payments are “deflated” down, the relationship between hospitals (providers), local health bosses (commissioners) and regulators is becoming increasingly tense.

NHS finance manager Jonathan Allsop detailed last month how tariffs and Payment by Results, and the market system they service, are sapping the service culture within the NHS. He points out how these systems are corroding the spirit of collaboration and partnership that the NHS is built on.

We already know these 'market' systems require a costly and wasteful bureaucracy to administer.

And Bob Alexander, finance director of the NHS Trust Development Agency, describes a “financial arms race” with “providers tracking down every last opportunity to charge and commissioners following a strategy… fundamentally based on finding ways not to pay for stuff.”

This tension boiled over earlier this year, when hospitals led a national revolt against the proposed tariffs to be imposed in 2015/16.

Who can blame hospitals? What are officially labelled as ‘productivity gains’ rather than ‘cuts’ in the official NHS figures, often turn out to mean rising waiting lists and mounting deficits, as  John Appleby, Chief Economist of the Kings Fund, pointed out in the British Medical Journal last week:

“Official figures suggest that (the NHS) is generated £19bn in productivity gains, but around half of this saving is an assumption based on the real price cuts imposed on hospitals; it less clear that hospitals responded perfectly to the price cut by reducing costs without affecting quality, for example. Moreover, productivity plans have not been met in the past two years, and with rising waiting times, for example, quality has suffered – as have finances, with hospitals likely to record an overspend of at least £800m in 2014/15.”

And what of the future?

NHS England’s Five Year Forward View is calling for an additional £22bn in ‘efficiency savings’ to be made by 2020/21 in order for the NHS to meet increasing demand and maintain the same levels of service quality.

This will require heroic levels of productivity in the NHS that have never been found before.

Yet it is inconceivable that further savings can be found on the back of continued tariff cuts (or pay freezes for that matter!) without substantially impacting on service quality or hospital finances.

As Chris Ham, Chief Executive of the Kings Fund says “it is clear that the policy of implementing year-on-year reductions in tariff has reached the end of the line”.

We need to think about how exactly the NHS is going to find the huge savings that the Five Year Forward View is predicated on or, alternatively, consider the funding that will be required if those savings are not achieved.

These are questions that few politicians seem willing to consider right now. 

Categories: les flux rss

3rd UN world conference on Disaster Risk Reduction: hypocrisy?

7 hours 24 min ago

Drawn-out negotiations ended with minimal agreement in Sendai on March 18, 2015. Closed to most accredited participants and to civil society, diplomats conveniently ignored the recommendations of the scientific community.

Students practise earthquake drill, Nepal, 2013. Flickr/Australian dept.foreign affairs. Some rights reserved.The Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai (March 14-18, 2015) aimed at adopting a new international framework for disaster risk reduction and to raise the importance of building the resilience of nations and communities against natural disasters.

The Conference was attended by more than 6500 accredited participants, including government representatives, UN agencies, international and local NGOs, civil society groups, private sector representatives and scientists. The public forums that were open to the general public gathered up to 143, 000 visitors over the five days of the conference. Hundred of events on disaster risk reduction were organized alongside the official negotiations, and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) publically welcomed the participation and expertise from all these actors. However, very little of this expertise was integrated in the new framework – the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

Diplomats would have benefited from the expertise of the scientific community and civil society groups as the delegates showed a very limited understanding of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and the broader concept of resilience during the negotiations.

Most delegates were more concerned in promoting their narrow national interests and to suppress any wording of policy that made their commitment to DRR too explicit, than with discussing the substance of the proposed framework. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, technology transfer for more effective DRR, and conflict and foreign occupation situations as underlying risk factors bogged down the negotiation process.

After more than 30 hours of restless discussions, the government of Japan rescued the deadlocked negotiations through strong mediation and by making the text even more technical, suppressing both mentions to conflict and foreign occupation.

However, researchers and humanitarian workers have shown for more than two decades how conflict and foreign occupation decrease resilience to natural hazards. Alex de Waal in the 1990s already demonstrated how the famine in the Horn of Africa was related to armed conflict, not nature. In a similar vein, Wisner et al (2004) showed how conflict greatly increases vulnerability to natural hazards by destroying infrastructures, displacing large population and further marginalizing social groups.

For example, the sufferings of the Gaza people during the recent floods in November 2014 were further increased by the blockade and the destruction of many infrastructures, such as hospitals and power stations, during the last bombardments by Israel in 2014.

In other words, much of the research done by the scientific community and many NGOs, that was centralized in the “Global Assessment of Disaster Reduction 2015 (GAR)” and presented at the conference, was totally neglected in the final agreement. It is striking to see such a low level of commitment and disregard towards the amount of research that was presented during the international event, and the lack of communication between state delegates and civil society on DRR.

The policy of double-standards by many states representatives shaped the negotiation process. While well-thought speeches on international collaboration and on making disaster risk reduction part of sustainable development were delivered during public forums, the official negotiations - not open to the public and accredited participants - became the theater of realpolitik and the promotion of narrow economic interests.  

The USA and most of the developed countries strongly opposed any mention of foreign occupation, transfer of technology and any text in the written policy where it made the commitment of the developed world to the developing world too explicit.

The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), formalized in international environmental law in 1992 during the UN conference on Environment and Development in Rio, and reiterated in international legal texts was strongly rejected by most developed countries. This principle establishes that developed countries, mostly responsible for environmental degradation and global warming, should take a greater share of responsibility in addressing environmental challenges and in helping the developing countries.

Laurent Fabius, president of the COP21 in Paris, gave an excellent speech during the opening ceremony linking natural disaster, climate change and sustainable development, arguing pertinently that most of the time the solutions are the same. He then continued by arguing that the poorest countries are the most vulnerable to natural disaster, and that “we must particularly show our solidarity with these countries” by agreeing on a “universal and differentiated agreement”.

The rejection of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities behind closed doors by the French delegation, the EU and most of the developed countries during the official negotiations was a strong illustration of the on-going hypocrisy in the negotiation room.

The United States agreed to approve the text only after providing a statement that it will not apply different parts of the framework, such as those on technology transfers. While these negotiations hardly made international headlines, they represent the first step towards the climate change negotiation and the post-2015 development agenda.  The difficulties negotiating and reaching minimal agreement demonstrated in this recent conference does not bode well for the coming climate change and sustainable development negotiations.

To avoid such a disappointing level of commitment and create a better informed diplomacy, it is high time to provide civil society with access to these international negotiations in order to ensure that promises are met behind the closed doors of international decision-making.


Country or region:  Japan United States France Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics
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Long view of the future in South America

9 hours 46 sec ago

What took the left to government in this part of the world should be understood as part of a process of exclusion of the poor strata of society from the socio-political arena.

Latin American and Caribbean Foreign Ministers meeting, 2011. Demotix/ Nelson Gonzalez Leal. All rights reserved.How to define the last decade and a half of South American politics? There are different options. One of the most used descriptions is that what unifies the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela is that left-to-the-center leaders govern these countries. Leaders come from traditional leftist parties, such as the Broad Front in Uruguay or the Socialists in Chile, from populist parties like the Peronists in Argentina, or from newer parties, such as the Workers’ Party in Brazil. While this is a correct way of highlighting a connection between these very diverse governments, it is not a definition that explains much of what they are actually doing.

We need to go further back in history to comprehend what contemporary South America is experiencing. Whatever we see now is inevitably linked to the past. This is not to say that we are puppets of our destiny, but that what seems to be new for us is always the result of accumulated changes that preceded us.

What took the left to power?

The process that took the left to government should be understood as part of what I call a process of disincorporation or exclusion of the poor strata of society from the socio-political arena. It was a long process that started in the 1970s and continued until the late 1990s. This period was associated with neoliberal state reforms and military authoritarian regimes. While neoliberalism increased precarious life conditions, socioeconomic inequality and marginalization; authoritarianism eliminated or substantially reduced civic and political liberties.
Latin America faced massive cycles of mobilization against neoliberalism, which in many cases led to the collapse of governments. In 2001-2002, Argentina saw four presidents in almost two weeks. Bolivia also went through four presidential breakdowns in 2002-2005. Ecuador and Venezuela experienced the collapse of their party systems and political regimes, but this was not the case in Uruguay and Brazil. Each country is very different, and when referring to such a huge process, we should not ignore these differences. However, what is common to all these countries is that the exclusionary consequences of neoliberal reforms led to the disincorporation from the socio-political arena of masses of poor people and middle-classes. In a few words, what took the left to power in these countries was the failure of neoliberalism as a sustainable developmental path.

What makes current governments similar to those of the 1930s-1950s?

The similarity among contemporary governments in South America is not based on the fact that they are all coming from the left, but that they are associated with a cycle of transformations that gradually reincorporated those segments of society that were disincorporated by neoliberal reforms and military regimes. This means that what characterizes and unifies these very different governments is that they put forward a series of policies for the expansion of the socio-political arena through the inclusion of those that have been socio-economically and – sometimes – politically excluded.

This implies a redistributive conflict, because in order to reincorporate excluded sectors what is needed is to relocate resources from the wealthier to the poorer segments of society through taxation, subsidies, social policies and other state mechanisms. This is generally considered a leftist program, but in this case, it has a wider connotation. The reincorporation of the excluded and poor people that has been happening since 1998 is the second wave of its kind in Latin America’s history. The first incorporation happened in the 1930s-1940s after economic (and sometimes political) liberalism collapsed due to the 1929 crack in the New York stock market, the ruin of most of the western European economies, and decades of accumulated protests for inclusion by peasants, indigenous and labor movements across most of Latin America. This led to the emergence of leaders such as Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico, Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, and Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina, who pushed for the creation of social policies that would include as full members of society the poor and excluded that were increasingly unionized and clamouring for their rights.
In the last decade, leaders such as Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, Lula de Silva in Brazil, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador are (or were) related to a similar process of recreation of social policies after the fall of neoliberalism. The current leftist governments in the region are part of a huge and prolonged historical process of struggle among socio-economic and political groups for the expansion or reduction of the socio-political arena. The 1970s-1990s cycle was a period of reduction of the socio-political arena, increasing the power and wealth of the richest, and massively marginalizing the weakest. As had happened before in the 1920s-1940s, this developmental path collapsed, and a new wave of incorporation emerged as a result. While Perón and Vargas dealt with incorporation in very different ways, Chávez and Kirchner did the same with reincorporation. 
Currently, some of these governments are going through what could be the end of this cycle of massive reincorporation of the poor. What will come next is difficult to say because developmental paths are as much the result of economic cycles as they are a mix of intended and unintended results of political struggles among contending groups in society. All that is certain is that using long-term historical lenses can help us to understand the present challenges of South Americans.


Further reading

For first incorporation: Ruth Berins Collier and David Collier (1991) Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

On second incorporation:Federico M. Rossi (2015) “The Second Wave of Incorporation in Latin America: A Conceptualization of the Quest for Inclusion Applied to Argentina”, Latin American Politics and Society, 57 (1): 1-28.

Topics:  Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics
Categories: les flux rss

There are more of us who want peace than want the killing to continue

9 hours 28 min ago

The ‘utopian’ slur against peacemakers is defeatist propaganda for pro-war, pro-militarisation and securitisation interests and the military-industrial complex. Marion Bowman reports from WILPF's Centenary Conference in the Hague.

‘Until the day that war is not profitable, the killing will continue,’ said Iranian Nobel peace laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi at the opening of WILPF's a global women’s peace conference in The Hague, Netherlands, yesterday (April 27 2015).

‘I want to ask the governments of the United Nations to reduce their military budgets by 10% and use the funds for the education and welfare of their peoples,’ she said. ’I want to ask the US and the West to throw books at people, not bombs, and you will see how to have a better world. If the US had built 4,000 schools in Afghanistan in memory of the people killed on 9/11, we would not now have ISIS.’

Ebadi was speaking at the centenary conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) attended by 1,000 women from over 80 countries, including Yemen where the humanitarian situation is now catastrophic after five weeks of bombing by Saudi Arabia. Ebadi was echoed by Madeleine Rees, WILPF’s Secretary General. ‘Last year, $1.776 trillion was spent on arms globally,’ said Rees.  ‘We now live in a world where 1% of the world’s population controls 48% of the world’s wealth. Before long, democracy will be over because the 1% will need the military to defend their wealth. We need to galvanise a new movement. ’

The new movement is the same movement as the one that a hundred years ago to the day, gave birth to the organisation Rees leads. Although there has been a century of conflict since, Rees said a lot had also been achieved through international efforts to fulfil the aims of the 1,336 women who met in The Hague in 1915 to try to stop the first world war. The UN has been set up, international law on human rights has been put in place, there have been treaties and resolutions committing governments everywhere to disarm and advance the cause of women, peace and security.

But, said Rees, it is clear now that this high level legal, policy and diplomatic framework is not working.

That it is not working is not just evidenced by the global spend on arms. The human side to the story is that, besides the numbers being killed by violence, whether in wars, conflicts, and insurgencies or in homes, streets and schools around the world, there are now more than 50 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide, more than at any time since the second world war. There are nine million displaced Syrians alone as a result of the conflicts in the Middle East.

So the wars, laws and ‘security’ that we are asked to believe are necessary to keep the world safe are not working, yet women who want peace are called utopian.

‘We are told we do not understand reality,’ said American Jody Williams, like Shirin Ebadi a Nobel peace laureate and founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, who also spoke at the opening of the conference. ‘We understand reality alright,’ she said. ‘We understand that people in power do not want to give it up. We understand that bombs do not make security. We understand that the 80% of the world that doesn’t want nuclear weapons are being held hostage by the nuclear armed members of the UN Security Council.’

Williams is living proof, like any number of women in the huge auditorium at The Hague’s World Forum convention centre, that making the case for and creating peace is not utopian and that the ‘utopian’ slur is defeatist propaganda for pro-war, pro-militarisation and securitisation interests and the military-industrial complex.  Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work in banning and clearing anti-personnel landmines and she is now campaigning to ban killer robots.  These are ‘fully autonomous lethal weapons’, the all-too  believable use of technology to create weapons that would be able to choose and fire on targets on their own, without any human intervention. Rapid advances in technology are enabling the development of such weapons.

Killer robots are the natural spawn of unmanned armed vehicles and drones, a market estimated to grow to $4.4 billion by 2025. These weapons were first thought up by an American inventor in 1940. An early model was powered by a lawn mower engine. The US and Israel worked with prototypes through the 1950s and ‘60s and in the 1980s an armed drone was used for the first time in war, during the Iran-Iraq conflict. The problem with them, for the arms industry and the governments that use them, is that they are operated, albeit at a distance, sometimes a distance of several oceans and continents, by human beings and even real-life soldiers are humans and we humans are flawed, vulnerable creatures. 

The realities of modern warfare mean that many of today’s soldiers  go back into their families and communities with post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and self harming problems like alcoholism and drug abuse. That makes them less efficient while in the military and creates political problems within the domestic civilian population. As Leymah Gbowee, another Nobel peace laureate bluntly told the conference: ‘Even soldiers experience war fatigue. That is an advantage for us.’ Drone operators are not immune from the nightmare psychology of killing as the story of US Airman Brandon Bryant shows. The answer? Not an end to the anti-human business of war, but robots. Robots would be the perfect answer to the problem of using flawed human beings to wage war and remove Gbowee’s perceived advantage at a stroke. 

So the work of peace lovers, the need to show that nonviolence, dialogue and negotiation are the only things that work and make the world safe, is becoming ever more urgent.

It is all too easy to say that history shows that war has always been and always will be part of the way humanity operates rather than the way that the small numbers who wield power operate. Peace, the wish of the majority, is much harder to document but the evidence that it can be achieved is there. Leymah Gbowee was one of a group who helped stop civil war in Liberia in 2003 by organising weeks of mass actions by women, disarming violent men through non-violent direct action.

In 1997, when the Mine Ban Treaty was signed, Jody Williams said: ‘We went to every single delegation and gave them our action plan to make sure they put into practice every single word.’ Patricia Sellers, a Special Adviser at the International Criminal Court, said that peace-makers have ensured that four major wars that could have happened in the past century didn’t happen: the war of India’s independence from Britain; the war that might have followed Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in South Africa; the war in the US that could so easily have ignited during the Civil Rights years and the long drawn out war for women’s liberation: ‘There have been no increases in the sales of Kalashnikovs to feminists,’ she said.

Do women have power to stop war, as the conference asserts? There is a strong belief in The Hague that they do -  through everything from sex strikes to picketing peace talks, to movement building to disrupting arms industry events to using consumer and shareholder power.

Madeleine Rees said: ‘There are more of us who want peace than want the killing to continue’.

But as the rallying, inspirational speakers galvanised the confidence of the gathering, other voices also spoke out into the darkness of the hall.

Zahra’ Langhi, Director of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, bore witness from the experience of Libya and struck a note of caution about enthusiasm for women’s empowerment. She said: ‘The international community likes women’s empowerment, but it keeps empowering the warlords too. Democracy without arms control is hypocrisy. We need to disempower warlords and end impunity.’

As Typhoon jets sold by the UK to Saudi Arabia drop bombs on Yemen, as another Bush considers running for the White House next year and as Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström faces a huge backlash for her feminist foreign policy of cancelling arms deals, Edith Ballantyne, WILPF’s 93 year old ‘ultimate member’, warned: ‘We don’t have so much time. I don’t think we have another hundred years.’

Marion Bowman is reporting for 50.50 from  WILPF's Centenary Conference in the Hague on 'Women's Power to Stop War', 27-29 April, and the Nobel Women's Initiative conference: 'Defending the Defenders' , 24-26 April.  Read articles by participants and speakers addressing the issues being debated.  Read previous years' coverage.




Sideboxes Related stories:  A new narrative on human rights, security and prosperity Leymah Gbowee: five words for the men of Libya This is what a feminist foreign policy looks like Speaking truth to power at the UN Lampedusa: Never again The pacifist dilemma: women peacemakers’ responses to Islamic State Security is not just CCTV: valuing ourselves is security At the margins of visibility: recognising women human rights defenders Mairead Maguire: breaking the silence on Palestine Defending the Defenders: a daunting challenge Iraq's female citizens: prisoners of war Challenging the merchants of human slavery Creating peace: a manifesto for the 21st century Challenging militarized masculinities Violence is not inevitable: It is a choice Excluded and silenced: Women in Northern Ireland after the peace process Feminist peacebuilding - a courageous intelligence Wheels on the ground: women’s ‘peace train’ to The Hague What kind of feminism does war provoke? Child soldiers, child wives: wounded for life An alternative history of peacemaking: a century of disarmament efforts Peacework: women in action across Europe Peacework: lessons we have failed to learn A common vision: The abolition of militarism Women human rights defenders: protecting each other Topics:  Civil society Conflict Equality
Categories: les flux rss

Back to the future in Turkish politics: CHP in search of a social democrat identity

9 hours 35 min ago

Kilicdaroglu not only promised to address the problems of the country’s 17 million poor, but tied the reforms to a timeline, not at all common in Turkish politics. 

The CHP's first rally in Istanbul, April 11.Demotix/Avni Kantan. All rights reserved.On April 19, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) launched its election manifesto to a storm of applause; nonetheless the clapping is not appreciative. Under the ‘clapping as a nation’ slogan, CHP recently kicked off a negative campaign against the AK Party where clapping is used as a means of protest at the government’s performance over the last decade. Many found this direct targeting of the ruling AK Party, provocative and aggressive, running the risk of alienating voters. However, the campaign did have the required impact: people are talking about it, and it is backed up with some concrete policy proposals.  

CHP’s chairman, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has announced his party’s four-pillar election manifesto: strengthening Turkey’s parliamentary democracy, building a social democrat economy, turning Turkey into a competitive economy and strengthening state institutions. Kilicdaroglu states that as the founding party of the Turkish Republic, which also transitioned the country to a multi-party system, CHP has a new role now:  creating a first class democracy to serve as a model for the region. To do so, he pledges to strengthen the country’s democratic credentials, reinforce a separation of powers, bolster media and internet freedoms, reduce the 10% electoral threshold, and resolve the Kurdish issue through strengthening the cultural rights of the Kurdish population. Kilicdaroglu’s remarks on democracy were often interrupted with the shouting of slogans and genuine applause by the audience.

Competing for power 

The enthusiasm for democracy itself shows the long way the party has come. Ironically, just a few years ago, CHP voters were the most resistant to the EU-related democratic reforms and freedoms carried out by AK Party government. Interestingly, the AK Party’s ending of the Kemalist supervisory regime pushed CHP towards defending and embracing democratic freedoms and rights.  With no supervisory regime to rely on, CHP has begun to learn how to compete for power in Turkey’s political scene.

Another issue that has received much attention in the election manifesto is the party’s economic programme. By putting economic issues at the heart of its election campaign, CHP hopes to reach out to wider segments of society. Ending poverty, increasing the minimum wage to 1500 TL, providing two additional salaries to the pensioners, introducing a family insurance for the poor, erasing 80% of the credit card debt of citizens and providing cheap housing are only a few to name from the party’s many economic promises. Kilicdaroglu not only promised to address the problems of the country’s 17 million poor, but also tied the reforms to a timeline, something one should note is not at all common in Turkish politics.

The CHP’s economic pledges met with considerable coverage in the media and drew a reaction from government. The ruling AK party accused Kilicdaroglu of populism and making promises it will not be able to keep up. Prime Minister Davutoglu said that they will not resort to a populist election campaign that could wreck the country’s economy. In all fairness, despite the party’s policy makers’ explanations on how to make room for social welfare spending in the budget, the question of whether these promises could be delivered, and if so how, is still a matter of some public confusion. Nonetheless, regardless of the viability of its economic promises, the generation of a considerable amount of discussion around CHP’s economic programme can itself be viewed as success for a party viewed by large segments of society as having no policies to provide other than opposing what government has to offer. CHP is finally beginning to position itself as a political actor which is able to create its own agenda in Turkey’s political environment.

It is no doubt that the election manifesto created social democrat enthusiasm within the ranks. Compared to the 2011 elections, now the party is more vocal about its social democrat identity in its election manifesto. Changes that started at the top after Kilicdaroglu became the leader in 2011, though slowly, appear to have resonated with the bottom. The results of the party’s primary elections on March 29 are also indicative of this.

While social democrat figures were placed in electable positions by the party members, an old establishment was pushed down to the bottom of the lists, where they have no or very little chance of getting elected as MP.  

CHP’s embrace of social democracy also has to do with the People’s Democracy Party’s (HDP) recent ascent on Turkey’s political scene. HDP’s leader Selahattin Demirtas’ successful performance in the last presidential elections in 2014 played an accelerating role in CHP’s leaning towards the left of centre politics.

CHP’s attempts to open up to central right voters by promoting central right candidates and by forming an alliance with an ultra nationalist party such as the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) in the presidential elections in 2014 did not produce any meaningful outcome for the party in terms of increasing its votes. On the other hand, Demirtas’s rise as a serious alternative to the left and his appeal to non-Kurdish segments of society earned him many votes from liberals and CHP voters. This created discussions within the party about the party’s future direction, and strengthened the hand of those in favour of reviving the party’s social democrat roots.

It is yet to be seen how much of this enthusiasm will translate into votes. As a party longing for power for decades, CHP wants to break with its ill omens in the upcoming elections. However, excitement has not turned into concrete support from the public yet. According to the latest polls results, support for CHP hovers between 25 and 26 percent of the total votes.

Whether this is a success is open to dispute. Election results for CHP, in this sense, will be a vote of confidence from the public for the party’s social democrat identity. If CHP fails to increase its votes in the June 7 elections, that will prolong and upset the party’s transformation process, paving the way for nationalist voices to be heard once again. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Will Turkey’s centre-left dare to reform itself? From Athens to Kobane, winds fill Kurdish sails The 2014 presidential elections in Turkey: a post-election analysis Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics
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"Your kindness could kill"

10 hours 43 min ago

Help the homeless posters are telling the public that beggars are probably crack addicts. Campaigns like these make money by demonising those they exist to help.

A poster in a Sainsburys in Ipswich, Suffolk, reads “could you spare 20p for a cup of tea? How about £10 for a bag of heroin? £12 for a rock of crack?”

The poster asks people to donate to a local homeless fund and gives a contact for Streetlink, who offer services to homeless people.

Demonising people who are begging under the guise of helping homeless people is not a new tactic for the police, but for homeless charities the emphasis of this campaign is part of a new, worrying trend.

Flyers designed to accompany the poster campaign read “in a recent radio programme one person claimed he could earn up to £150 per day.” No further evidence is offered.

Getting the facts straight

The campaign seems to rely on two core assertions: that “most people sleeping rough do not beg” and secondly that “most people begging do not sleep rough.”

We are invited to infer from these statements that homeless people are the deserving poor, people begging are drug addicts, and these are two different groups of people. Or to put it another way, people begging on the street are drug addicts pretending to be homeless.

Is it true that “most people sleeping rough do not beg”?

On the face of it, the 2011 Complex Lives study, coordinated by the UK Government Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), appears to agree with this statement. Its comprehensive study in seven UK cities found that 32% of homeless people reported having begged.

However, the study also found that begging was typically something that people engaged in “in the middle-late phase of homelessness.” This is vital because it suggest that people are only likely to resort to begging if they have been homeless for some time. The study also suggests that people in such situations are more likely to be cut off from society in other ways, more in need of help.

What about the second claim, that “most people begging do not sleep rough”?

Homeless charity Thames Reach takes this claim further saying that “the link is between begging and drug and alcohol misuse, not homelessness and begging, nor even homelessness and drugs.”

Again the ESRC study suggests this is misleading. It found that over time there was a close relationship between homelessness and begging: “there is a strong overlap between experiences of more extreme forms of homelessness and other support needs, with nearly half of service users reporting experience of institutional care, substance misuse, and street activities (such as begging), as well as homelessness.”

To be clear, it is not that there is no relationship between substance abuse and begging, or substance abuse and homelessness. It would not be fair to say that people begging on the street aren't going to spend any of their money on drugs. It probably is safer to offer food, blankets or a hot drink, instead of money.

What is important here is that these posters imply that people begging are “frauds” and “not real homeless people” without offering clear evidence for this idea and with little apparent concern about the impact of pasting these false claims all over the streets.

Those involved appear to have thought little of the demonising effect of their campaign. For the sake of raising a few pennies these charities are selling the dignity of the very people they exist to help.

Surely we can help those suffering on the streets without erecting media campaigns further stereotyping an already extremely vulnerable group and stopping one of their few options for generating their own income.

We've all heard the stereotyping, that friend you have that tells you the supposed “Romanians” you see on the street “aren't actually homeless”. These posters purposefully support the image of people on the streets as criminals and liars. Surely this is what we must collectively fight against?

A poster copied across England

How did it come to this? How did homeless charities hit on the idea of asking for people to donate by text, and turn away from people begging.

The poster seems to have originated from London-based Thames Reach. Their “your kindness can kill” campaign has been running since 2003, and they have extensive web-pages explaining it.

Thames Reach’s original design has since been remodelled and reworked by many councils in England, including Manchester, York, Liverpool, Cheshire, Kent, Bournemouth, and Exeter. Although Suffolk is a notable exception, most councils seem to have used less aggressive language than Thames Reach's original design.

A version of the posters in Manchester

Why are these campaigns supported?

One can't escape the feeling that these campaigns continue to be successful primarily because they make “the rest of us” feel more comfortable doing what most people are already doing: ignoring people on the street.

One Oxford University student told a student paper: “I feel ashamed when I see tourists who come to Oxford having to walk past beggars and homeless people on the streets. What sort of impression does this give of our city and our society as a whole?”

Jeremy Swain, Chief Executive of the London charity who invented the posters, Thames Reach, told The Guardian in 2013 that he wants to stop begging because "because of the incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of people begging on the streets are doing so in order to purchase hard drugs." But he goes on “I have stopped giving to beggars for another reason too. It is, I'm afraid, because I'm sick of them. One of the regulars round my way, a bit clever, fag in hand, became so persistent, so intrusive, that I got quite hostile, dismissing him with the same curt tone I find myself using with cold callers who plague my phone.”

Concern that the posters exacerbate negative images of people on the street made the campaign controversial when it launched in the City of Oxford. City Councillor Sam Hollick told us: “These posters seem more focussed on preventing people asking for money in the street than addressing the problems that cause people to do it. The message of the posters reinforces the idea in people's minds that any interaction with someone in the street asking for money is with an addict, and is somehow dangerous. This only increases the gulf between people who are homeless and those who aren't, which can cause a hardening of attitudes against people worst hit by societies problems.”

A City Council run review of the Oxford campaign highlighted other problems. The evaluation found concern, from people begging themselves and service providers, that the campaign would “affect trust-based relationships with the beggars”, have an unfair impact on the minority of people begging who did so for necessities, and encourage people to turn to crime for income. There is also some evidence that these campaigns don't have a significant effect on giving to homeless charities.

Kindness doesn't kill

There is compounding evidence that homelessness is linked to volatile life circumstances which would often already cause high levels of social stigmatisation. These can lead to a variation of homeless experience where form of income has to be navigated outside safety of permanent or even regular residence.

Homogenising homeless experiences into one stereotypical understanding is not only patronising but ignorant.

Further categorising those self identifying as homeless into 'deserving' and 'undeserving' only propels the stigmatisation of those in the most vulnerable positions, often without the connections to such caring organisations, and indeed pushes them further away from any kind of inclusion into society.

There is not enough social housing in Britain; cutbacks to public sector spending is closing some of the most critical care and rehabilitation centres; we are becoming the imprisonment capital of Europe; and the welfare state is being violently eroded whilst at the same time wages have never been so low and insecure.

This is a way of constructing society that WILL make people homeless, and yet charities on the front line of care provision for those within this traumatic experience are concerning themselves with making money by demonising those they seek to represent.

If this is the true face of austerity then God help us.

Or better yet, let's help each other. Suspicious and dividing narratives like these only serve to enforce a more individualistic society where governments can further enforce draconian policies in the knowledge that our communities are fractured and in judgement of each other.

Giving your pound to those begging on the street will not solve anything. In fact the best that money will do is absolve your guilt for the next ten minutes until you see that someone else that has been forced into the street within this system which you remain economically privileged within.

However, as a man begging outside Haymarket Station, Edinburgh, so rightly put it, “it's no about wanting all your money, but at least see me as a person.” Stopping to give someone the time of day on the street is a radical act of change in a society that demands we see each other as competition for the recourses those in authority refuse to give us. When we acknowledge that specific people on the street will often have experienced violent circumstances and stigmatisation within their daily life, it's not just a radical act, but a way of resisting their further subjugation.

They are not just 'beggars', they are our brothers, our uncles, our aunties and our mothers, and their lives did not begin when they sat down and asked you for a spare bit of change.

I do not believe our kindness could kill, but rather that it could be transformative. Let our daily conversations become the building blocks for community organising where those affected by such issues are brought to the front line of grass-roots resistance against discrimination, and we work together to create an alternative society that puts the resources available in the public hands.

Oh, and what happened to that poster in the Sainsbury's in Ipswich?

After the picture was shared widely on Facebook, Wesley Hall, a volunteer for Help the Homeless called up the shop asking for it to be removed. Although only put up that morning, the manager agreed to take the poster down. 

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Sideboxes Related stories:  Watch: homeless people each share one surprising fact about themselves A year of living generously Geographies of exclusion Tenants in danger: the rise of eviction watches Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
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Re-imagining the future of work

10 hours 46 min ago

An extract from Resist! Against a precarious future, a new book on young people and politics.

Resist! Against a precarious future, edited by Ray Filar, is the third book in the Radical Future series: publications by young activists, journalists and artists calling for radical alternatives to the status quo. We're interested in social justice, liberation and collectivity, and the ways young people are organising to create change. If you think mainstream politics is a dismal failure and you still have hope we can do better, Resist! is for you. It can be downloaded for free here.

Resist! cover art by Yoav Segal.

Imagine that it’s 2025 and the world of work has changed. Today, we do labour out of passion, not obligation. Nobody has a low-paid job or has to balance multiple jobs just to make rent. Work gives us meaning and direction, but it does not define who we are. The three day working week means we have time to spend with friends and family, to contribute to our communities and have a say in how society in run.

There is no unpaid intern working for a boss on a six-figure salary; one person is not paid 10 times another. Pay is allocated equally and fairly depending on the time and skills each person has contributed that month. Holiday and sick pay are mandatory. Everybody has input into how the organisation is run. Colleagues are equal: when decisions are made they are made together. The profit a company makes gets shared between the people who make it possible – the workers, not some distant shareholders. In this labour market, competition and inequality is reduced, and so are the feelings of injustice and worthlessness felt by many.

This new economy is directed towards solving social and environmental problems rather than creating them. Companies focus on protecting the rainforest rather than destroying it, on creating renewable energy rather than drilling more oil out of the ground, on making technologies that empower communities rather than companies, on building affordable and sustainable housing rather than expensive city apartments. The creative energy of musicians, artists and designers is directed towards helping people overcome addiction, inspiring youth, exploring ideas, generating debate or building community, not towards advertising and encouraging people to buy things they do not need, or making them feel inadequate.

In 2025 work generates a fair income, enables us to do what we love and to have a positive impact. Our economy is based upon principles of democracy, equality, sharing and sustainability.

But in 2015, this seems like a utopian dream. It would require a complete overhaul of the system in which we currently live. Could our actions create such a future?

Who will make change happen?

There are limits to the change we can create without a widespread redistribution of wealth and power in the economy. Prior to the overthrow and reconfiguration of the state, there are already a number of existing proposals for how we could create work that is more equal and fulfilling. This chapter will consider four: worker co-operatives, the three-day working week, basic income and freelancers’ unions. The young generation has the capacity to push for these kinds of radical changes. But how would we get there from our current situation?


A co-operative business is a specific type of organisation, one which is run and owned by workers, rather than stock market shareholders. In a co-operative, workers have an equal say over how the business is run as well as an equal share of the profits. Co-operatives reshape the social and environmental impact of our labour, and the way in which we work together to achieve it. Contrary to the idea of the ruthless individual entrepreneur portrayed in television shows like The Apprentice, they offer a supportive and collaborative model of entrepreneurship that is about working together to improve society, not fighting to be the best and sole person at the top. At least in principle, co-operatives aim to create both an economy directed towards positive social and environmental change, and one that is more equal and democratic.

In 2012, I was one of the many graduates leaving university and entering the world of work. I had heard about youth unemployment, about how competitive the ‘graduate market’ was, but I had a good degree, work experience and had spent time volunteering. I thought I would be fine. How wrong I was. I applied endlessly for jobs, but eventually had to move back home, going back to the waitressing job I had before university. During this time I got an interview for an unpaid internship at a youth organisation in London. Whilst undergoing the rigorous assessment process to see whose free labour the charity would choose, I asked how many other young people had applied for this position. The answer: 150.

This was a ‘light bulb moment’. 150 young people applying for one unpaid placement, supposedly to empower other young people … what was going on? This got me thinking, how can we stop competing and start co-operating to create change in a way that enables us to also survive?

I started an organisation called AltGen, that supports young people to set up co-operative businesses as a collaborative solution to youth unemployment, as well as a practical way to build a more equal and sustainable economy that we can be in control of. We provide start up grants, business advice and mentoring to help young people start co-ops, as well as running educational workshops and campaigning on a national and European level.

Worldwide, 1 billion people are already members of a co-operative. That’s one seventh of the world’s population. There are over 6000 co-operative businesses in the UK. They also exist in all sectors of the economy: there are co-operative schools, art galleries, web design agencies, architects, construction firms, doctors’ surgeries and record labels. The central point is the workers have an equal say over how the business is run, equal share of the profit, and care about the impact of their work on people and the planet.

For our generation co-operatives can combine the freedom of freelancing, of being your own boss (choosing who you work for and when) with the security, support, workers’ rights and benefits that are supposed to accrue to employees in a traditional business. Co-operatives can change our experience of work in the here and now, and redistribute power and wealth generated through business activity. Yet it is important to acknowledge that the co-operatives still function within the current capitalist economic paradigm: on their own they are not a significant enough threat to fundamentally change the system.

Setting up co-operative businesses is one way that our generation can begin to change the nature of work right now. We can choose to co-operate instead of compete; to do something we love instead of something we hate; to have a say over our work; and a fair share of the profit.

Universal Basic Income

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the idea that every citizen – regardless of employment, earnings, age or gender – should receive a guaranteed minimum income from the state: a single weekly or monthly monetary payment with no stipulations as to how it, or the time of its recipients, is spent.

This idea is gaining traction around the world and across the political spectrum. It has been argued for from left, liberal and communist perspectives by the likes of Stuart White, as a way to alleviate poverty, to ensure all citizens’ basic needs are met and to significantly reduce inequality. The Equality Trust suggest it will reduce crime and mental illness, and improve levels of health and education. On the other end of the spectrum, even right wing economists like Charles Murray support it, for reasons linked to increasing entrepreneurial activity and decreasing state bureaucracy.

It is a core policy of the Green Party in the UK, and it recently went to referendum in Switzerland – a process that requires over 100,000 signatures. In the Swiss example, every adult would receive 2500 Swiss Francs a month, equivalent to £1725. The Green party proposal suggests £72 a week per person, equivalent to the current weekly Jobseekers’ Allowance for over 25s.

The theory is that UBI enables all citizens to at least meet their basic needs. UBI would replace the current means-tested state benefits model. It could create help to create a new landscape for the labour market.

Firstly, UBI would reduce the likelihood of people remaining stuck in a poverty trap. Since the 2008 financial crisis it has become increasingly impossible to survive on wage labour. In real terms, wages in the UK have declined nine per cent in the last five years, whilst in the same period the cost of living has risen 25 per cent. Mass unemployment and the reduction of state welfare support have also taken their toll on our ability to survive. Whether in or out of work, poverty is a reality for millions of people living in the UK, despite the fact that we live in the world’s sixth largest economy.

Secondly, it would give people greater freedom to choose work that they are actually interested in and passionate about: a choice based on desire rather than necessity. Many people do jobs they hate just to survive, just as many people know there is no point to the work they do, as David Graeber highlights in his writing on ‘bullshit jobs’. Creative potential and talent is being wasted, as people struggle to survive, rather than contributing to the development and progression of society.

Critics of UBI suggest that it would lead to people doing no work at all. But experiments with basic income schemes in North America and Namibia have shown that not only did most people continue to work, but that it significantly increased entrepreneurial activity and the generation of new ideas. Even Google understand the benefits of allowing the space and freedom for their staff to pursue their own interests. Gmail was invented during ‘20 per cent time’, whereby employees can spend up to 20 per cent of their time doing what they want. Unfortunately the time is harnessed to corporate, capitalist ends: all ideas are owned by Google.

Finally, and importantly, UBI would allow everyone to reap the benefits of the technological advancements of the last 100 years, including working fewer hours. Keynes predicted in the 1930s that by the twenty-first century we would be working 15 hours per week, yet in the UK today we have the highest working hours in Europe. With the advancement of technology, there has been a decrease in the amount of human labour needed; this is leading to mass job cuts and poverty. UBI and the three-day working week combined would address this issue, leaving us with more free time to spend as we choose.

One valid criticism of UBI is that no-one would want to do the jobs that are not particularly enjoyable and inspiring: working at a check-out till, data entry or cold calling. Many of these jobs are for companies that may not be needed; others that are necessary could be automated where possible. Yet there are also jobs that people may not find enjoyable that are needed for society to function, such as collecting rubbish, driving buses or fixing street lamps.

What would be the fairest way to ensure that these essential services are still provided? My suggestion is something similar to national service, a non-militaristic citizens’ service that everyone does for one year between college and further education or work. You contribute to society for one year of your life, and know that these things will be provided for the rest of your life. This would potentially have some impact on peoples’ respect for, and solidarity with, the workers doing these jobs.

This is just a suggestion. Divorced from wider social change UBI could too easily be co-opted by the state, becoming corrupt, authoritarian, and nationalistic. In combination with other radical restructuring, it could increase solidarity, respect and a culture of mutual aid in society.

Freelancers' Unions

There are also a number of freelancers' unions and co-operatives being created to provide protection and support specifically for freelance workers. Many of the more traditional trade unions are not structured to support the growing generation of freelancers. But some old unions have adapted, including the UK National Union of Journalists, and new unions are emerging specifically to support freelancers.

In the US, a completely new organisation called the Freelancers Union has been created. It has over 249,000 members and provides health insurance, disability allowance, and pensions as well as campaigning for a ‘new form of mutualism’ that supports freelance workers being in control, collaborating together and serving the community.

Across Europe, exciting models are emerging too. In Holland there is ‘Broodfunds’, translated as ‘Bread Funds’, where a group of self-employed people regularly put money aside to support members that become too ill to work for an extended period. In France freelancers’ cooperatives such as Coopaname are being set up to overcome the difficulty of claiming unemployment benefits, as well as to provide additional benefits. Here, in exchange for 10 per cent of your earnings, you can become an employee of the co-op. Coopaname offers business mentoring, advice, space for meetings and a supportive and diverse network of freelancers. SMART, in Belgium, has over 60,000 members, and offers an exchange of similar services, as well as paying and chasing up unpaid invoices on freelancers’ behalves.

These different models are trying to deal with the difficulty and isolation of freelance work in a number of different ways: creating a community of support, fighting for fair contracts and pay, collectivising resources to gain the same benefits as employees, and providing services that allow freelancers to focus on their creative work rather than on complex legal issues and on admin.

The Three-Day Working Week

The three-day or shorter working week has become an increasingly popular policy proposal in the aftermath of the economic crisis. It is advocated for by disparate figures, from the world’s second richest man, Carlos Slim, to leading medical practitioners. In the UK, many of us spend a majority of our time in work, but research suggests that working 21 hours – three days – a week could lead to significant improvements in the economy, human well-being and our impact on the environment. 

After the economic crisis, the German government encouraged and subsidised companies to trim down working hours rather than jobs, enabling a continuation in consumption and demand, and ensuring that unemployment levels never rose as high as the rest of Europe’s. In the UK, a similar shift towards a shorter working week could be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to increase wage levels across the country: campaigns such as The Living Wage are already pushing us in the right direction. 

The Living Wage campaign was developed after research showed that if you worked the average number of hours a week in the UK (40), at the minimum wage (£6.50 an hour), which averages to around £12,000 a year, £11,000 after tax, you would not be able to meet your basic needs. It suggests that a minimum wage, which people can actually live on – a living wage. This is currently £7.85 outside of London and £9.15 in London. The campaign has already succeeded in making 100,000 businesses, including many government departments, pay all their employees living wage. A three-day working week paid at living wage at least, alongside UBI, would enable us all to work less.

The most common criticism of the three-day working week is that it would weaken our economy. But many countries where people work fewer hours, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have a stronger and more robust economy than the UK. A three-day working week could help create a more healthy and balanced relationship with work for our generation, as well as a more equal and sustainable economy overall. Research by UK think tank nef suggests that the three-day working week would make our work more productive, that we would no longer have one half of the population overworked and stressed, with the other half unemployed and depressed. 

A three-day week would give us time to relax, exercise, be with people we love, and reflect upon what we really value in life rather than just work and consume. It could contribute to greater gender equality, as everyone would have time to work and look after children if they so chose, balancing out the amount of undervalued and unpaid labour that women currently do. Finally, it could help us to reduce our carbon footprint, and to ensure that we all have more time to have to engage in politics, locally and nationally, to ask questions and to campaign for change.


The labour market has changed fast, specifically with regard to the atomisation and isolation of workers. Whilst this is supposed to give us greater freedom and control, it actually erodes the rights of workers, which previous generations spent years fighting for. Many young workers today can’t even imagine the idea of sick pay, holiday pay, guaranteed hours, set wages, a pension fund.

Not only is a more equal, sustainable and fulfilling future of work possible, it is already being built by people and movements across the world. The economy is anything but stable, and this crisis opens up space for us to create a better future.

Our generation stands at a crossroads: we could continue to accept the crisis we have been handed, fight one another for unpaid work, do jobs that we hate, and work 50 hour weeks. Or, we could refuse to participate in this set up any longer, and we could start creating something different and better. A shorter working week, UBI, workers’ cooperatives and freelancers’ unions represent four forms of possible radical change: young people can make this happen. It’s time to stop competing, and start collaborating, to create the kind of future we want to see.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Strivers and skivers? We’re all in this together Free University: the new wave of student occupations Rethinking basic income in a sharing society Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
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This is not what democracy looks like

11 hours 7 min ago

On 1 May Occupy Democracy will be returning to Parliament Square to demonstrate against the UK's inveterate political system. 

Reclaiming what's ours.Ask most people what it means to live in a democracy and they will tell you it’s having the right to vote, the right to turn up to a ballot box twice a decade and put an X in a box. But when the whole political system is set up in such a way that whichever box you cross it will be corporate power and profit that wins, surely it’s time to ask ourselves whether we are living in a truly democratic system?

It is clear from the recently launched manifestos that little will change whether it’s blue or red that enters Number Ten in May. To name but a few examples, both parties are committed to supporting low corporate tax regimes to ensure corporations can continue to reap maximum profits. Likewise, both are committed to pushing through the unjust EU-US free trade agreement – TTIP – which explicitly places profit motives above public services, environmental standards, labour rights and would even allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies threaten profit losses – an inherent assault on democracy itself. Furthermore, neither of the two major parties are promising to take the urgent action needed to tackle climate change.

Instead of leaving fossil fuels in the ground, both parties are committed to continue fracking for shale gas, maximising revenues from UK petroleum reserves and express only minimal commitments to renewable energies. While on austerity, the Labour Party has given no meaningful commitment to reversing the attacks on the poor and the cuts to public services that have been unleashed under the past five years of Conservative rule. In other words, the manifestos make clear that there will be no overhaul to the current status quo which ensures profit is put before both people and planet meaning our political system will continue to represent the needs of the top 1% of society.

In a further insult to democracy, even when there are alternatives on offer from beyond the traditional parties, the archaic 'First Past The Post' system means that votes for these parties do not translate effectively into political power. This further illustrates the fact that our ability as ordinary people to bring about meaningful change via the upcoming general elections is severely limited.

The importance of popular action

We know from history that the extension of our democratic rights, whether it be votes for women or greater civil rights for example, has not been led from the top by politicians, but forced onto the agenda by the actions of popular mass movements like the Chartists and the Suffragettes. It is on the shoulders of these past struggles that Occupy Democracy will be returning to Parliament Square this May, the seventh occupation since the movement launched in October last year. The occupation forms part of the ongoing campaign to expose and tackle the influence corporations are able to exercise over our current political system, while also building a movement that is focused on bringing about an alternative democracy that is capable of representing us all.

Whilst fighting for change, Occupy Democracy itself functions pre-figuratively, adopting alternative horizontal structures through which discussions are had and decisions are made by consensus, which can be a truly empowering experience of what it really means to participate in democratic processes. It is through this structure that Occupiers have developed six core demands which represent first steps towards ending the corporate control of our system. These include addressing the mechanisms which allow wealthy individuals and corporations’ unrivalled access to political parties through lobbying and political donations, and preventing MPs from having conflicts of interests via second jobs and company shareholdings. Further demands call for major democratic reform of the media, the introduction of proportional representation so that everyone's vote counts and a citizen-led constitutional convention for real democracy.

Real Democracy Now! Image courtesy of Art Against Blacklisting.

Addressing the systemic crisis

Occupy Democracy’s message is bold and brave and is resonating with a growing number of people who are rising against the system. The past year has seen the rise of an expanding network of politically aligned campaigners, radicalised by a raft of separate struggles – from the Focus E15 Mums fighting for their homes to the London Black Revs confronting race and class oppression, through to Reclaim the Power addressing the climate emergency – increasingly recognising that their issues are linked by the democratic deficit at the heart of our political system. Like Occupy Democracy, many involved in this resistance understand that the cycle of voting in and out neoliberal minded politicians only leads to broken promises and a widening inequality between the top 1% of society and the rest of us. Until we address this systemic crisis, individual campaigns will only have limited success. It is only once we have genuine democracy that we will we have true agency to participate on issues that affect our lives.

The programme for the ten day occupation of Parliament Square from May 1st-10th will bring together like-minded groups and individuals united in their conviction that there is an alternative. Student Occupiers, UK-Uncut campaigners and housing eviction resisters will all be sharing stories, skills and knowledge, and celebrating their resistance. Highlights include the activist preacher Reverend Billy and his shopping choir kick-starting the occupation at 5pm on May 1st and a guerrilla gardening flash mob who will 'reclaim the commons' on the 2nd. Workshops, walking tours and stunts will take place every day exposing the corporate capture of our political system and the deficit that will remain in our democracy regardless of who gets into power. This is where the political conversations that matter will take place this May. This is where we build alternatives for change. This is what democracy looks like. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  When is a democracy not a democracy? When it’s in Britain "Our turn to talk": why we should listen to Occupy LSE The British syndrome: an abdication of responsibility Occupy Democracy: Governments have a history of stopping protests in Parliament Square Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government
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Palestine’s accession to the ICC may strengthen peace-first approach

11 hours 17 min ago

While civil society pushes a rights-first agenda in Palestine, resistance towards Palestine’s ICC membership suggests that governments may not embrace this approach. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the ICC.

The prospect of the International Criminal Court (ICC) becoming mired in politics has been an ongoing concern for its supporters—and one that is not without just cause. Politics have shaped states’ trysts with international justice since long before negotiations in Rome. Palestine’s recent decision to join the ICC has reignited the passions and interests that infuse debates among civil society, international human rights advocates and governments about the role of the ICC in ongoing conflicts. References to accountability and justice have figured surprisingly little in the official responses by key government officials to this development. Rather than recasting how powerful regional actors think about the relationship between peace and justice, Palestine’s move to join the ICC has generated a backlash from those most capable of defining the course of the peace process. The US in particular has responded by digging in its heels, reasserting its view that a peace process should be free of the shadow of the Court.

Some analysts suggest that long-term trends favour a new rights-first approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Most notable is the repeated failure to achieve a peace settlement that will stick. The growing strength of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement among civil society actors in Europe and the US is also an important driver of change. Some researchers point to a generational shift among American Jews whose emotional commitment to Israel and support for Israeli government policies is far weaker among younger American Jews. This, they suggest, may alter America’s approach to peace between Israel and Palestine, thus creating the possibility for putting rights, and also the ICC, up front.

Recent events have facilitated the mobilization of civil society activists seeking to press forward with a rights-first agenda. Last summer’s Gaza War further diminished international public support for Israel. International human rights NGOs seized this window of opportunity, challenging once again the legitimacy and legality of Israeli government policy towards Palestine. The Gaza War also led to greater mobilization among BDS activists.

Flickr/Al Jazeera English (Somerights reserved)

Last summer’s Gaza War challenged once again the legitimacy and legality of Israeli government policy towards Palestine.

Despite these developments, evidence that governments will embrace a rights-based approach remains scarce. In Europe, where government support for justice, rights and law is generally robust, official reactions to news of Palestine’s desire for accession to the ICC were negative, stressing the need to protect the prospects for peace, presumably from justice.  Now that Palestine’s membership is official, the EU has been cautious. This is most likely driven by pragmatism. Public statements by European officials against Palestine’s membership open the door to allegations of hypocrisy, given the strength of Europe’s commitments to the ICC. This might also create the potential for yet more divisions among the EU’s member states at a time when the risk of division from various corridors is already very high.

Reactions by the US government have been far less nuanced. Palestine’s accession to the ICC has provoked a backlash marked by vehement statements against Palestinian brazenness.  It has also inspired a reassertion of the long standing US position, namely, that the question of Palestine’s status should be resolved through peace talks among local parties and should exclude external actors, such as the ICC, which would seek to inject external judgments about justice or accountability into a peace process.

The vehemence with which the United States has protested Palestine’s membership in the ICC may also suggest a degree of pragmatism with respect to its own role in any future talks. If the US recommits to an active peace process, one of its most basic tasks will be to bring Israel to the negotiating table and keep it there. Regional politics do not make this task easy. The recent announcement of a framework deal with Iran over its nuclear program may present a further complication. So far, Israel’s response to this suggests that the Iran deal will continue to antagonize and alienate Israel, possibly making the prospect of its engagement in peace talks less rather than more likely. Given this backdrop, the United States is unlikely to view the ICC as a welcome actor in the region. Nor is it likely to see the ICC as a lever that can help to facilitate peace. Instead, the ICC will continue to be viewed as threatening to throw a monkey wrench into any plans for peace talks. The sustained backlash this is likely to engender from Israel will ensure a steady supply of pressure on the US not to soften its stance on Palestine’s ICC membership.

The ICC’s role in Israel and Palestine is therefore unlikely to push the US government towards an embrace of a rights-first strategy. It may, however, lead to a few other changes. Overall US support for the ICC may decline, despite a sustained period of cooperation under President Obama’s tenure. The dynamics surrounding the ICC may also alleviate some of the current tensions in US-Israeli relations, especially if the US remains steady in its support of Israeli opposition to the ICC.

Many analysts agree that the Palestinian leadership is seeking to internationalize its conflict with Israel. Still, among Palestinian leaders, ICC accession probably does reflect the embrace of a new strategy. Legal instruments and institutions are playing a more significant role than before.  Many analysts agree that the Palestinian leadership is seeking to internationalize its conflict with Israel, in part by gaining membership in as many international forums as possible, not least the ICC. This is one aspect of a more general strategy that aims to make Palestinian statehood a “fact” that is difficult to undo. Europe’s enduring support of the ICC, along with French support of a draft resolution put to the Security Council calling for a strict deadline to end Israel’s occupation, and the growing strength of the BDS movement have facilitated this strategy by providing it some legitimacy.

But Palestine’s accession to the ICC may be driven by more than its general aspiration to statehood. The Unity government formed last June has failed to generate a strong bond among its participants, none of whom see eye to eye. Some Palestinian leaders may have more reason than others to embrace the ICC. If anyone stands to gain from ICC actions in the region, it may well be the leadership of Fatah. Neither Hamas nor Israel has much room for feeling secure that its leadership will remain free of surveillance while under the ICC’s shadow. Although it is still quite far-fetched, if the ICC is to have any serious impact on the prospects for peace, it may be by strengthening the legitimacy of those Palestinian leaders that present the best possible partners in peace talks.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 


Related stories:  Palestine, the ICC and the emperor’s clothes The ICC’s deterrent impact – what the evidence shows ICC – threat or opportunity for Israel-Palestine? Human rights dilemmas in the never-ending peace process Arguing like Abraham for Gaza’s innocents The ICC and beyond: tipping the scales of international justice The ICC and the Gaza war: legal limits, symbolic politics Replacing the peace process with civil rights
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A new narrative on human rights, security and prosperity

12 hours 1 min ago

It’s up to us to ‘reframe the narrative’ of development, to move beyond the historic thrust of capital and war and to say no impunity for the murder of Indigenous women. Jennifer Allsopp reports from WILPF's Centenary Conference in the Hague.

As I left the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on women human rights defenders yesterday to head the conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), I was ruminating on an unresolved tension. How does the liberal conception of human rights, which places the individual are its core, sit with the collective consciousness that is necessary for peace?

I found the answer in the women around me. In her opening address to the 1,000 women who had travelled to The Hague from 80 different countries, Jody Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, declared that, like many of us, ‘when I hear anyone in a movement say “I” an awful lot, I get extremely nervous.’ She’s confident that the peace movement has to be about ‘we: us unarmed civilians coming together to change the world’. For Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work creating peace in Northern Ireland, the movement for peace and human rights is also a collective. ‘It’s a great mosaic’, she explains, ‘if once piece is taken away it can’t work. We are involved in an evolution of the human family, and a whole new way of living.’

Like a mosaic, the collective finds its strength in its individual parts, in the personal, and in individual dignity. This is a relationship, says Jody, that is best articulated in the concept of human security: ‘We women know what is security’, she asserts, ‘it’s food on the table, a house to live in, it’s access to medical care, it’s a dignified job so you can raise your children, it’s taking all that money put to weapons of death and putting in into welfare for a better world. That’s security’, she concludes, ‘it’s human security.’

Human security

While security in the historical sense means a national security that protects the apparatus of the state and its structures of power, human security protects the integrity of citizens and the diversity of communities. It means a world where up to 2,000 people are not killed by arms every day. It means a world which calls on the United Nations to urge members to reduce military budgets by 10% and spend the saving on the social security of the people, says Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Judge and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Jody speaks at the UN against killer robots

This conception of security was something missed by the Dutch ambassador, Kees van Barre, on the first day of the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference when he proudly declared that ‘human rights, security and prosperity’ were at the heart of their international agenda. The Netherlands is frequently lauded as one of the countries that is doing most to support women human rights defenders internationally, but they seem to have missed the point. As Shirin reminded him, the genealogy of human rights is peace and human security, not militarism and capitalism. 

Jody confessed to us that the ambassador’s comments had stopped her sleeping, ‘the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I thought, more of this Western mythology! We need to ask what kind of human rights we are talking about’, she clarified. Is it the ‘name and shame human rights’ which, in the words of Mairead, are used to justify the undemocratic ‘taking out’ of dictators? Or is it the expansive view of human rights: social, economic and cultural rights?

Beyond a liberal conception of human rights

Discussions on the final day of the Nobel Women’s conference centred on the fact that for communities facing environmental destruction at the hands of international corporations, an expansive, grounded view of human rights is fundamental. There’s an interconnectedness, says Tatania Cordero Velasquez, of the Urgent Action Fund Latin America, that stems from the sacredness of life itself. Indigenous women in particular often ‘want to be supported to stay in their territory as a collective’.

Many of the strategies that Indigenous women have developed in Ecuador and Colombia to protect individual rights rely on linking the collective to land rights and the environment. ‘We’ve inherited the idea from the liberal approach to human rights that it’s us on top of the earth’, says Tatania, ‘this has been an important approach to modernity but there is a limit to these human rights…we need to remember the connection and have a more integral and whole approach to life.’ This integrated approach is a common feature of Indigenous and Afro-descent communities. ‘They do not speak of territories’, Tatania explains, ‘It’s not water alone, the river alone, the forest alone, the people alone, it’s everything. It cannot be broken up. The land cannot be seen in a fragmented way, nor human beings’ relation to the land.’

As a result of the involvement of Indigenous peoples in the constitutional process, Ecuador, like Bolivia, has enshrined this interconnected in their constitution by giving rights to nature as well as human beings. At the heart of this approach, explains Tatania is the notion of buen vivir, plenitude of life. This, she says, is the context for our human rights. Yet even in those societies with constitutional environmental rights, she warns, the threat of state defined notions of security and prosperity loom heavily in the form of foreign business. The Chinese have invested 20 billion dollars in what remains of the oil industry in Ecuador, and the debt means the government is doing everything to get the oil out, including silencing people. The future has already been written, says Tatania, and no one even asked us.

Idle No More flash mob blocks traffic in London, Canada. 2012. Photo: Mark Stowart

On the ground Indigenous women are meeting this global domination with local resistance, and in Canada too, explains Melina Laboucan-Massimo, of the Lubicon Cree First Nation and Greenpeace, ‘we’re talking about localising solutions on the ground’. ‘We can implement new technology on our own. It’s a “fuck you” to the big corporations. It’s us self asserting energy sovereignty, food security. These are things we need to localise back into our community. Things that this capitalist system has taken away from us and imported back.’ The importance of the interrelation between women’s human rights and land rights becomes of critical importance in the context of conflict and violence, Melina continues. For ‘women’s bodies are territory also’.

There are currently more than 370 socio-environmental conflicts in Latin America, and as Global Witness reports in their latest research, in the last four years being a defender of the environment has become much more dangerous as conflicts become more protracted and more violent. In Canada, a new law, Bill C-51 URL is being passed by the Harper government to criminalise those who defend the land. Meanwhile, defamation campaigns on the political Left and Right class Indigenous and Afro-descent people as against development. Legally they are now defined as a terrorist cell, the ‘anti-petroleum movement’.

One of the most devastating human rights crises facing Indigenous and two- spirit women in Canada who are resisting their land dispossession is sexual violence and enforced disappearances. ‘Resource extraction, conducted with full complicity between the state and private corporations, is explicitly linked to deaths, violence and disappearances of women’ says Erin Konsmo from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, ‘anywhere in the world where resource extraction is happening, fossil fuels, fracking, plantations etc, indigenous communities are seeing the link.’ Environmental violence is the new term for this, coined by indigenous women.

I ask Erin why this link exists between resource extraction and women’s bodies. ‘In many Indigenous communities women hold the power, so if you remove the women it’s easier to remove the power from whole nations’, she explains. ‘100,000s of men suddenly come to a community with the purpose of destroying the land. The same kind of attitude to the land is extended to women’s bodies, because we are part of that land. It’s a hetero-patriarchal model of extraction and entitlement. It’s extraction not just of resources, but of women from the earth’.

I ask Melina, who lost her 25 year old sister Bella in suspicious circumstances in 2013, about the police response. The general attitude is one of indifference, she replies. ‘They said we’ve followed all our leads, sorry…to them now she’s a statistic, she’s aboriginal and she’s a statistic’. 1,017 Indigenous women were murdered between 1980 and 2012 in Canada, and 1000s more have been ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances. Despite pressure from the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Women, the CEDAW Committee and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Canadian government is refusing to hold an independent inquiry. In a discussion of the issue over lunch, indigenous women activists - some coming together for the first time - agreed that at the heart of the struggle is the need to fight against big business which priorities prosperity as profit over the prosperity of people.

An alternative to capitalism: prosperity for the people

Prosperity, and its twin, development, agrees Jody, is an ambiguous and dangerous word in the mouths of state bureaucrats. ‘Real prosperity’, she chides, ‘is sustainable development that cares about the planet, that doesn’t destroy the Amazon to steal the resources out of it. It’s a prosperity that does not glorify the 1% and teach kids this is the greatest measure of success’.

So how it is that we have let those in power define prosperity for us? It’s a humbling call to action from Edith Ballantyne who, at 93, is the oldest living active member of WILPF, having joined in 1942. Back then too, ‘the women were talking about what kind of society we need to build’, she tells us, ‘the women were saying that there must be an alternative system to capitalism. Today we know the system does not work…today it’s not even just an economic competition. We’re complete slaves of an economic casino.’

The logic of capitalism can never bring peace, echoes Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of WILPF. ‘Our founding sisters said if we privatised the arms industry we would let market capitalism into security and it would never work. And now, while we’re busy buying arms the economic system isn’t working. 1% own 48% of the world’s wealth. Next year it’s likely to be 52% and it will accelerate and accelerate until there’s no such thing as democracy because they will control our countries. And they will need security and they will need arms.’

She’s getting agitated. We’re all getting agitated. We’re sick of hearing the same old words. Enough of state definitions of human rights, security and prosperity, says Jody, ‘enough of the men in that UN sitting there and writing resolutions and telling us, granting us the right to be participants in defining our own security…nothing about us without us!’.

‘It’s up to us’, echoes, Leymah Gbowee, recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, to ‘reframe the narrative’ of development. It’s up to us to move beyond the phallic thrust of history and capital and war, to say no impunity for the murder of Indigenous women. We need to look back, pass on, preserve and restore, says Leymah.

We’re fired up in the audience but with a humours flourish, Jody - unstoppable, unshakeable - re-grounds us and energises us so that we’re ready to act: ‘my mum told me not to use the phrase “F- bomb”’, she jokes, ‘it tarnishes the Nobel image…’

Jennifer Allsopp is reporting for 50.50 from the Nobel Women's Initiative conference: 'Defending the Defenders' , 24-26 April, and WILPF's Centenary Conference 27-29 April.  Read articles by participants and speakers addressing the issues being debated.  Read previous years' coverage.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Defending the Defenders: a daunting challenge Mairead Maguire: breaking the silence on Palestine Security is not just CCTV: valuing ourselves is security Speaking truth to power at the UN Climate and Indigenous Peoples: the real dispute at the UN A choir of lost voices: the murder of Loretta Saunders and Canada's missing women Awaiting justice: Indigenous resistance in the tar sands of Canada Militarism and non-state actors: ‘the other invasion’ "It starts with us": Breaking one of Canada's best kept secrets Harper’s Bizarre: anti-terror legislation targets Indigenous women How land rights are politicising Cambodia's women The pacifist dilemma: women peacemakers’ responses to Islamic State Hope as a survival strategy for Defensoras in Honduras Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics
Categories: les flux rss

The pacifist dilemma: women peacemakers’ responses to Islamic State

12 hours 13 min ago

Can non-violent strategies defeat the new fascism of Islamic State and its allies? Women peace makers’ hopes and doubts recall the rift in the peace movement when Nazism threatened Europe.

Cynthia Cockburn is reporting from WILPF's Centenary Conference in the Hague on 'Women's Power to Stop War', 27-29 April.

By the time Hitler attacked Austria in early 1938, the membership of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was already deep in disagreement as to appropriate, and effective, strategies against such armed aggression. The dilemma had already been sharply posed by Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1934, and Japan’s incursion into China in 1937.

From its 9th Congress in 1937 WILPF had issued a statement that recognized the situation as involving aggressors and victims. Notwithstanding, it affirmed ‘neutrality’, and stated a ‘firm and uncompromising’ position against arming or financing either side. Instead it urged that ‘every moral, diplomatic, political and economic means – except a food blockade – be applied to the aggressor’. But what, exactly, many Wilpfers were asking themselves, does that mean? Do we suppose that a reasoned appeal will succeed? Do we urge negotiation, and if so with what incentives? Should we call for sanctions – an oil embargo for instance?

Then came the Munich conference of September 1938, at which Neville Chamberlain, on Britain’s behalf, concurred in Hitler’s annexation of a slice of Czechoslovakia. Some WILPF members proclaimed Chamberlain’s concession ‘a chance for peace’, others called it ‘a sham peace’. On 1 September 1939 Germany proved the latter right by invading Poland, the Munich agreement was torn up, and France and Britain declared war. Qualified and unqualified pacifism remained locked in struggle, equally impotent. All that remained to Wilpfers for the duration of the war was humanitarian work with refugees.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the word ‘fascism’ is current again. The self-proclaimed Islamic State (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Da’esh), that now controls a large swathe of Iraq and Syria, is increasingly perceived by those who oppose it, including many Muslims, as something more than a mere terrorist militia. Many are characterizing it as neo-fascism, citing its moral authoritarianism, ideological supremacism and apparent intention to exterminate certain culturally-defined categories of people. They suggest, too, that Islamic State’s proclaimed intention to conquer the world and install a Caliphate invites a comparison with the Nazi project.

With the 1930s pacifist dilemma in mind, I took the opportunity, at WILPF’s Centenary Congress in The Hague last week, of asking some current members what they see as appropriate and effective responses to Islamic State. There is already external military intervention in the conflict. Iran and its ally Hezbollah have armed forces in the region. The US, besides using its influence to strengthen the Iraqi army, began air strikes against IS in August 2014. The Kurdish fighting units, the peshmerga, of northern Iraq and north-eastern Syria, together with others sent across the Turkish border by the the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) are engaging Islamic State in ground battles. In Rojava, in northern-eastern Syria, a Kurd-led semi-autonomous region is evolving, administered on lines of ‘democratic confederalism’, reflecting the political theory of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan. Rojava’s peshmerga, the People’s Protection Units, have two elements – the YPG, male fighters, and the YPJ units, comprised solely of women, under female command. The women peshmerga are particularly motivated to rescue the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Yazidi and other minority women captured and enslaved by IS. Through my links with their supporters in Roj Women, the Kurdish women’s association in London, I have learned that they feel that they cannot hope to prevail against IS unless its armed vehicles and heavy weaponry are destroyed by US air strikes.

So in my questions to WILPF women I hoped to discover how qualified and unqualified pacifism is expressed today. Would there be more agreement, this time round? I asked them: what would you say to the governments currently taking military action against IS? Persist or stop? And what would you say to the Kurdish women peshmerga? We support your campaign? Or - lay down your arms?

Two of the Wilpfers I spoke with were born to families living under Nazism in the 1930s. Edith Ballantyne was born in 1922 in the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia. She was a teenager when it was annexed by Hitler. Her family felt bitterly betrayed by Britain’s concessions at Munich. Luckily they were able to escape the region, to spend the war years as refugees. Inge Stemmler was born in 1930s Germany to parents who were strongly anti-fascist. The family fled to the Netherlands, but of course did not thereby escape Hitler’s war machine.

Edith Ballantyne.

So when Inge says, of Islamic State, ‘this is fascism’, her conviction comes from experience. She is acutely aware of the persistence of fascism, and feels it important to name it as such, and to be always ready to resist it, by force of arms if necessary. So now she believes the US bombing should continue ‘until they have finished the job’. She says, ‘Sometimes, you have to fight. It is important that Islamic State be stopped.’

Edith, for her part, is in no doubt that Nazism could not have been defeated without fighting. But she feels differently about the US military intervention against Islamic State. In the case of Iraq and Syria today, she believes, ‘Although it’s a situation where military action makes sense, bombing isn’t the answer. Too much is being destroyed, including innocent lives’. Besides, she fears it will draw yet more young men to Islamist extremism. Rather, we should be looking for the root causes of the rise of IS.

Like other women I spoke with this week, Edith has no doubt that the United States itself has helped create the phenomenon of armed Islamist extremism, by its maneuvers to control Middle Eastern oil supplies, by invading and occupying Iraq, by its arms exports to the region, by its support for Israel and betrayal of Palestinians, and every step in its ‘war on terror’ since 9/11. So, Edith would say, rather than try and destroy IS from the air, the USA and its allies should be giving positive, but non-military, assistance to those opposing IS, and working by all possible means for political unity.

Then I reminded Inge and Edith of the Kurdish peshmerga women who are soldiering on the ground, risking their lives every day, to rescue women captured by Islamic State and to prevent more falling into their hands. When they say, ‘But we need those air strikes!’, how would you answer them? Would you say, ‘Lay down your arms?’

Edith thought a moment, then replied, ‘I don’t think so. Sitting here safely outside the war zone, we should understand them, not condemn them. To resist is a human right. However, in the long run we should not accept that militarism is the only response. We should seriously begin to build peacemaking mechanisms’.

Inge Stemmler.In reply to the same question, Inge said, ‘As a Wilpfer I would like to speak with the peshmerga women, hear what they say. Fascism is so dirty. It’s like an octopus, getting its tentacles into society, its racist idea of the superiority of one kind of person over another. I might well agree, and say to the Kurdish women, “Yes, you have to fight”.’ But, she went on to surmise, perhaps when it’s over, they themselves might look back on their campaign and say, ‘That was not the way to do it’.

A third Wilpfer I spoke with in the course of the Congress last week was less than half the age of Edith and Inge. While they have many years of experience in the administrative and representative structures of the League, Edith as a former International President, Inge on the International Board and as Convenor of Finance and Fundraising Committees, Laila Alodaat is newer to WILPF, one of the team of fulltime employees, with particular responsibility for ‘crisis response’ and the League’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) programme. A Syrian, a lawyer, still engaged in practical work in her country as a WILPF representative, she is uncompromisingly pacifist. While vehemently opposed to Bashar Assad, she does not believe armed opposition is the solution to this devastating aggression. Syrian civilians were deceived into thinking that resorting to force will save them from extermination by Assad. Eventually their legitimate resistance was hijacked by possession of arms, with the result that many civilians were killed and others turned into warlords.

Similarly, Laila is unhesitating in condemning military intervention by the USA and its allies against Islamic State. ‘Bombing IS’, she says, ‘has clearly not been a solution. It’s reproducing a cycle of violence and preventing serious consideration of non-military means of combatting IS. They should rethink their approach.’ She is convinced that Islamic State cannot be defeated by arms alone. She cites Iraq after the US invasion to prove that a military response serves only to perpetuate a culture of violence. Those who are bombing IS now should make equal efforts, spend equal funds, she believes, on unarmed initiatives to combat this force.

Laila AlodaatLaila similarly would urge the Kurdish women peshmerga ‘to use the power they have to emphasize non-military means to ensure the freedom and wellbeing of civilians, women and men alike. And to create a space where women can be effective without having to take up arms’. I was heartened and relieved to learn from Laila of many civil society groups in north-eastern Syria and neighbouring Iraq that are even now running effective humanitarian and human rights projects, despite the fighting. She herself is working closely with initiatives providing support for women, health and psycho-social care for survivors, and ensuring secular education for children.

We admire the lightly-armed peshmerga for their courage in facing Islamic State. But this kind of civil society activism in a war zone is courageous too. Edith reminded me of the words in which British WILPF chairperson, Mrs. Barbara Duncan Harris, addressed the ‘pacifist dilemma’ in 1938. Writing to WILPF national sections, in the wake of Munich, she described pacifism as ‘the struggle for truth, the struggle for right, the struggle for clear political aims, for firm political will and action’. Pacifism is not, she believed, ‘the weak acceptance of faits accomplis achieved by brute force. Pacifism is courageous initiative for a constructive policy of just peace’.

I am grateful to Edith, Inge and Laila for contributing their ideas on these issues, and add my warm thanks to WILPF members Lorraine Mirham, Nancy Ramsden and Regina Birchem who likewise took time to share their thoughts with me. Their analysis has helped shape the article.

Cynthia Cockburn is reporting from WILPF's Centenary Conference in the Hague on 'Women's Power to Stop War', 27-29 April.  Read more articles addressing the issues being debated in 50.50's series Women's Power to Stop War. 





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Crocodile tears: tragedy and responsibility in the Mediterranean

27. April 2015 - 19:49

The European Council says that the situation in the Mediterranean is a tragedy. Its statement may display some sympathy, but an acknowledgement of responsibility is nowhere to be seen.

Amnesty International’s response to the crisis in the Mediterranean. Demotix/Randi Sokoloff. All rights reserved.On 23 April 2015, a special meeting of the European Council on the situation in the Mediterranean set out the EU’s response to the shocking deaths at sea of those seeking refuge in Europe. The statement of the European Council opens with the acknowledgement that “the situation in the Mediterranean is a tragedy”.

This acknowledgement displays some sympathy, but lacks an acknowledgement of responsibility. These deaths are shocking in their scale, proximity and needlessness.  But most of all, they are shocking in their predictability. When Italy ended its ‘Mare Nostrum’ sea rescue operation, and the EU’s more limited Triton programme took over, the gaps in maritime search and rescue operations were apparent.  Moreover, we also knew that demand for refuge in Europe would increase once spring came, given the current scale of global displacement, in particular from Syria.

The statement is not only disappointing for a failure of ambition in meeting the extent of the global refugee crisis, but also deeply concerning in both the aims its sets out, and the means it suggests the EU will use to achieve those aims. 

Four EU priorities

In summary, the European Council sets four priority areas of action.

- The first priority is ‘fighting traffickers’. EU member states will undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers. Other agreed measures include a step up in the co-operation against smuggling networks with the help of Europol, and the deployment of immigration officers to third countries.

- The second area concerns itself with ‘strengthening our presence at sea’. The EU will triple the resources available to Triton, the EU border mission in the Central Mediterranean, and to enhance its operational capability. This also implies the supply of additional vessels, aircrafts and experts by member states.

- The next priority is ‘preventing illegal migration flows’. The EU wants to limit the inflow and tackle the cause of illegal migration. The cooperation with the countries of origin and transit should be reinforced, especially the countries around Libya. EU leaders also agreed to implement a new return programme for the rapid return of irregular migrants.

- Finally, the Council commits itself to ‘reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility’. The EU calls for effective implementation of the Common European Asylum System, emergency aid to frontline member states, and the setting up of joint processing of asylum applications. EU leaders also agreed on a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU, offering places to persons qualifying for protection.

We examine each of these aims, and the means proposed in turn, and then offer some alternatives.

Fighting traffickers

The European Council conflates trafficking and smuggling. These are not interchangeable concepts. Trafficking has unwilling victims, who are coerced for the purposes of exploitation.  We are seeing desperate people taking risks, but willingly so, in order to seek protection. They often use smugglers for their whole journeys. For instance, to leave Eritrea, those who flee must use smugglers, just as those who sought protection during the Cold War from behind the Iron Curtain did.

The sea crossing is just one more irregular border crossing on the way to refuge. In the absence of legal and safe means of escape, a market for the services of smugglers emerges. Often, smugglers save lives. Sometimes they imperil life, as we see in the Mediterranean. If we use the same label for life-saving and life-endangering actions, we also facilitate the development of legal and political responses which suppress life-saving and routes of escape.

The main focus is on ‘fighting traffickers in accordance with international law’. Again, we find a conflation of smuggling and trafficking. The statement assumes criminal networks organise irregular border-crossings. But we also know there is much small-scale smuggling, as local people with few economic opportunities respond to the demand for transportation. Much smuggling is also self-organised by refugees and migrants themselves. In some instances, anti-smuggling laws have been used by states to criminalise the actions of refugees themselves.

EU anti-smuggling laws, as currently drafted, criminalise not only those who endanger life to make a profit, but also those who save life out of humanitarian impulse. This is not to deny the presence of organized criminal networks in human smuggling, but the statement fails to make the distinction. 

The statement imagines we can remove one of the means of transport, and thereby end irregular movement. The EU will “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”. We doubt whether this aim is sensible, feasible or likely to be effective. Boats are replaceable.

Would removing the supply of boats reduce the demand for crossings? And how is the EU to orchestrate this destruction of property outside member states’ territory? Will we ask the local police to destroy smugglers vessels in our name? Or will we seek a UN Security Council resolution for military action against inanimate objects? What would be the repercussions of such a military-police action on our relations in the fragile context of Libya, where a stable regime has yet to emerge?

EU leaders propose to stop the boats from departing, even by military means. Preventing migrants and refugees from leaving undermines the right to seek asylum and the right to leave any country, including one’s own, which are enshrined within universal and regional human rights instruments binding all EU member states.

Strengthening our presence at sea

Preventing loss of life at sea is a noble and necessary aim. Ensuring effective search and rescue at sea is one important way to achieve that aim.

The statement commits the EU not to enhance search and rescue at sea as such, but more ambiguously, to “strengthening our presence at sea”. There is a commitment to increase the resources of the Frontex missions in the Mediterranean. This commitment avoids the issue of whether a Frontex mission can truly serve as an active search and rescue one, given that Frontex is a border control agency.

Moreover, EU leaders do not provide details of the extent of the increase in assets, or the extent to which the operational area will increase beyond the current limit of 30 nautical miles from the Italian coast. The statement obscures these key questions of mandate and geographical reach.

Preventing illegal migration flows

The statement’s declaration on ‘preventing illegal migration flows’ requires two points of clarification. First, international law is premised on the likelihood that refugees will use irregular means to seek a place of refuge. We undertake not to penalize them for doing so in Article 31 of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. Secondly, using the term ‘illegal’ in this context is dubious. When the EU deems mobility to be ‘illegal’ when it is outside the EU (say a journey from Eritrea to Egypt, Syria to Tunisia), we should ask the question: ‘on what authority?’ 

In substance, the proposed cooperation is nothing new. Through cooperation and sending ‘European migration liaison officers’ outside the EU to work with ‘local authorities,’ Europe’s borders are to be extended. This is a reinforcement of an existing feature of externalized border controls. These policies and practices raise all sorts of concerns about the accountability for extraterritorial actions. Moreover, as they often entail cooperation in repressive border control practices, complicity in human rights violations – detention, beatings, extortion of migrants – is a likely practical consequence.    

Those human rights concerns aside, we should also ask: is such cooperation likely to reduce the demand for refugee protection? Or will it simply divert refugees towards even more dangerous routes?

Reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility

The last set of commitments refers not to solidarity with refugees, but across EU member states. At present, the EU’s Dublin System sets up rules for the allocation of responsibility to process asylum claims which potentially overburdens states where claimants first arrive in the EU. However, that potential overburdening does not materialize, as most asylum-seekers move on clandestinely and seek protection elsewhere in the EU. The unlucky few get caught up in complex ‘Dublin proceedings’ and are often detained while attempts are made to send them back to Italy or Greece or elsewhere. Dublin does not work, yet the EU has revised it three times without questioning the fundamentals.    

Dublin is up for revision once again, but there is no leadership in evidence in this statement. The European Council does not seize the moment to urge a rethink, but rather asks for “rapid and full transposition and effective implementation of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) by all participating Member States, thereby ensuring common European standards under existing legislation”. The CEAS includes Dublin, so therein lies the lack of vision.

Rather than acknowledging we need an alternative to Dublin, the commitment is merely to organise “emergency relocation between all Member States on a voluntary basis”. This would mean Italy could request other states to take some of those who arise on their shores, but no more than that. The only other method of strengthening solidarity is to use “EASO teams in frontline Member States for joint processing of asylum applications, including registration and finger-printing” – potentially useful but not significantly so.

For those who are not refugees, the statement offers only “a new return programme for the rapid return of illegal migrants from frontline Member States, coordinated by FRONTEX”. ‘Rapid return’ suggests that the process of identifying refugees and others with protection needs can be quickly effectuated, which is not always the case. Otherwise ‘rapid return’ risks being refoulement, returning people to persecution or serious harm in breach of international and EU law.


There are viable, sensible alternatives. Not panaceas, but a range of actions to provide safe means of access to protection, and diminish demand for the services of smugglers.

The statement is unclear about whether the operation will have a suitable extensive search and rescue mandate, both operationally and geographically.  Both points need clarification.  A better reform would have been to create a new unit with a clear search and rescue mandate.

By omitting any discussion on measures to let migrants and refugees reach protection and safety legally, the EU itself enhances the market for smugglers and creates the legal impediments that leave refugees with little option but to take perilous routes. The Mediterranean is a safe sea to cross – thousands do so daily in passenger ferries and other sea-worthy vessels. A ticket on a ferry from Tunisia to Sicily costs less than 50 pounds, and there are thousands of safe crossings daily.

The dangerous crossings organised by smugglers cost thousands. However, those fleeing persecution, war and deprivation rarely have visas to enter the EU legally, so they cannot board these vessels as the EU implemented a Carriers Sanctions Regime. If Carriers Sanctions were abolished, suspended or even moderated, the demand for the services of smugglers would evaporate.

If those seeking refuge were able to get visas to board these vessels, or fly to Europe, they would not spend vast sums to pay for irregular journeys. They could arrive with their health and savings intact, and start new lives.

The EU’s own Fundamental Rights Agency has just set out the range of options to allow greater safe access to protection. For instance, EU Member States could process humanitarian visa applications in their embassies, or extend other visa categories to those fleeing. Some do this quietly, but a coordinated move in this direction is legally warranted. Many small actions could enhance legal routes to the EU, and reduce demand for the services of smugglers. 

There is no mention of safe access to protection and temporary protection alternatives in the European Council’s statement. For those fleeing conflict, temporary protection is often suitable. Many will want to return home once the war has ended. EU member states responded to the Balkan Wars with temporary protection. The EU has a legal instrument it could employ to provide such protection, the Temporary Protection Directive.

The statement contains a reference to ‘refugee resettlement’. The EU will “set up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU, offering places to persons qualifying for protection”.

Resettlement refers to offering protection for those who have fled immediate danger and are recognized as refugees. We do not need a ‘pilot’ to see how resettlement works: it is a normal practice. Offering resettlement is the usual way to offer more secure protection to the vulnerable in an orderly way, and to support countries of first asylum. Governments tend to like resettlement as it allows them to select refugees (or delegate that selection to UNHCR or NGOs) and organise orderly admissions, with institutional support for welcome and integration.

There are over 3 million refugees from Syria in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Syrian refugees in Egypt are facing very limited support and a hostile political climate. As the Syrian crisis continues with no end in clear sight, host countries and refugees may face increasing difficulties. Refugees are likely to move elsewhere irregularly if conditions deteriorate. Resettlement is the safe alternative.

The EU could be leading by example, convening a global resettlement conference. We can point to some remarkable historical precedents where acts of enlightened self-interest led to international cooperation to resettle millions of refugees. The UNHCR Special Representative on the Human Rights of Migrants has urged that: "We could collectively offer to resettle one million Syrians over the next five years." The EU’s ‘pilot’ is a feeble response when the scale of the displacement crisis is considered.

For those who are not refugees in the legal sense, we could also be asking bigger questions about offering greater opportunities to migrate to the EU and using different ways of regulating migration, as Francois Crepeau has urged.  

The humanitarian impulse

The statement focuses on suppressing mobility, conflates trafficking and smuggling, and ignores the scale and persistence of a global displacement crisis, which inevitably creates demand for refuge in Europe. It thereby sets up a political and legal dynamic that undermines the right to leave any country and the right to seek asylum.   

Our elected politicians let us down when they fail to acknowledge our role in this tragedy, that EU laws deny safe access. We can make efforts to reduce loss of life at sea, to support protection where most refugees live. But we should not imagine we can prevent those seeking refuge by targeting smugglers. The EU is willing to engage in extensive and costly external efforts to thwart refugee mobility. The means it proposes should give us pause: using police and military means to suppress mobility will itself lead to human rights violations, as will cooperation with repressive regimes. We are responding to those fleeing war and repression with more of the same.  

If we imagine the EU can prevent mobility in Africa and the Middle East, and prevent refugees from seeking protection, we are fooling only ourselves. Welcoming refugees has huge benefits, not only for them, but also for us. We could be seeking creative ways to harness the groundswell of sympathy for refugees, creating a role for civil society as part of first reception for asylum seekers and even perhaps in refugee resettlement. Are we to remain paralysed in fear, like our political leaders, or work together to create institutions which support humanitarian impulses? 

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