Tag: opendemocracy

Human rights in a state of perpetual emergency

How long will it take for the European ‘crisis’ to be re-framed as the new norm, and what are the potential consequences of that shift?

Transition, not crisis

When things go wrong, we generally tend to speak of crisis. Yet, the term ‘crisis’ refers to the ‘exceptional’, to a harmful turmoil that will sooner or later diminish to a parenthesis before returning to normality. Well, this is not the case anymore. The reality we live in is not a human rights crisis. It is a new era. It is a transition: nowhere as visible as in the collective condition of vulnerability that saturates global politics from Sub-Saharan Africa and South America to the Far and Middle East, Europe and Central Asia. Seeing the juncture as a transition, as a chain of causes and consequences, implies that we should conceptualise the ‘crisis’ as a meaningful movement away from and not toward democracy.

The ongoing genocide in Myanmar

How the international community is failing to protect the Rohingya people.

At this moment, a genocide is happening in Myanmar of which most of the world is unaware. On 9 October 2016, three border posts were attacked in Western Myanmar by an unknown armed group, killing nine policemen. Following the attack, Myanmar government forces have been conducting a coordinated attack on the civilian population which includes mass killing, rape, torture and the burning of houses and crop fields. Because security forces have locked down the whole area, it is difficult to verify the reports of violence. Utilising independent sources, Voice of America has reported that the death toll could be 150 to 300 so far. Based on satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has observed that 1,250 houses or buildings have been destroyed as of 18 November.

As a result of the military crackdown, thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes; many are attempting to enter neighbouring Bangladesh by crossing the Naaf river. However, the Bangladeshi government has refused to accept more Rohingya, stating that the highly-populated country is already hosting half a million Rohingya who have fled the previous violence.

Ukraine’s corrupt counter-revolution

In Ukraine, revolution and reform has given way to reaction, with vested interests entrenching themselves even further.

Last week, as the world prepared for the Christmas holidays, Ukrainian MPs gathered in parliament at 10am, and departed 20 hours later. This legislative marathon happens every year, when, in a regime of secrecy and sleeplessness, Ukraine’s parliamentarians pass the budget for Europe’s biggest country. After all, when else can you carve up assets in a country that has seen the overthrow of an authoritarian president, a revolution and occupation by Russian forces?

For the past three years, parliamentary deputies, unashamed of television cameras, surround the country’s prime minister in the chamber as they trade for benefits and state contracts. Take Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party. Since 2014, this party, known for its populist rhetoric, has managed to triple the level of state support for a company that builds fire engines. In 2017, direct state financing of the company in question (which, of course, belongs to members of Lyashko’s party) will reach $25m. The Radical Party, meanwhile, positions itself as an opposition platform, yet still votes for the state budget from year to year.

Make Russia great again? Aleppo and a plea from another world

During the last days of December, Russia will host a round of diplomatic talks with Iran and Turkey.

A hundred years ago, Ernst Jünger described a peculiar encounter with a frightened British officer in his account of trench warfare, Storm of Steel: “he reached into his pocket, not to pull out a weapon, but a photograph (…). I saw him on it, surrounded by numerous family (…). It was a plea from another world.” According to conventional wisdom, “war is hell,” as famously sentenced by General Sherman. Hence Jünger’s depiction of the scene as something from another planet. And that is how the world today, more concerned with the holidays and the latest Hollywood blockbuster, is receiving the dire plea for help by multiple civilians caught in the crossfire of the battle for Aleppo. We simply content ourselves with the thought that civilians will always suffer in times of war, for war is hell. Or is it?

A few days ago, the soon to be replaced Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, gave his last press conference. Referring to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, he remarked ominously: “Aleppo is now a synonym for hell”. But surely the Secretary General did not intend merely to describe a regrettable fait accompli, as someone might depict a natural disaster. His closing official words carry a message for the world to actively engage in Aleppo, and particularly to make belligerents stop targeting civilians, for not everything is allowed in war after all. As Michael Walzer has pointed out in his decades-long effort to revive the Just War tradition, we strive to fight wars justly and to uphold rules even in the midst of hell.

Political eruption in Guatemala

Innovation cannot be understood without its context. Recent developments in Guatemala help to explain emerging innovative proposals.

Like many other Latin American countries, Guatemala has a very repressive political history. After years of dictatorship and intense armed conflict that caused the disappearance and death of 190.000 people, “clandestine security squads” are still using violent practices that violate human rights – often with the participation of public agents.

During the 90s, a peace deal was signed. However, violent practices remained common and the historical trauma remained vividly present in the Guatemalan imaginary. In 2007, an International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICG) was created to support the State Prosecution in its fight to break up violent illegal groups. In recent years, the Commission also began investigating corruption in the country. In 2015, it ended up charging the Vice-President (and later the President) for corruption.

Fighting back against Georgia’s war on drugs

Georgia’s draconian laws against narcotics are in the spotlight, as activists take to the streets and demand an end to the criminalisation of drug users.

There are angry crowds in Tbilisi again. On International Human Rights Day (10 December), protesters gathered outside Georgia’s parliament building to call on the government to “decriminalise!”. The event ended in a confrontation with the police, as protesters obstructed the main road. Nobody doubts that protests will continue; Georgia is fighting a war on drugs, and activists of the White Noise Movement are on the front line.

The decriminalisation of marijuana has been a real issue in Georgian politics since 2011. The country has a particularly repressive no-tolerance policy towards drug users, which has endured (with a few changes) since the Soviet period.

Sex work: not prohibited, not permitted

Criminalization sets a context in which the range of human rights violations experienced by sex workers is validated. Cross-movement collaboration on decriminalizing sex work is needed, now, more than ever.

In mid-November, I attended a RedTraSex meeting to review “Advances, challenges and strategies of the RedTraSex: strengthening sustainability and advancing the recognition of our rights.” RedTraSex is the Red de Mujeres Trabajadoras Sexuales de Latinamérica y el Caribe (Network of Sex Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean.) RedTraSex, on the cusp of celebrating its 20th anniversary, is made up of organizations from fifteen countries – Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Dominican Republic.

Tackling antisemitism doesn’t mean clamping down on criticism of Israel

The government has formalised a flawed definition of antisemitism that includes ‘exceptional criticism’ of Israel.

It is summer 2013, the height of the most recent Gaza war. With around twenty fellow members ‘Jewdas’ – a group of self-proclaimed leftwing Jewish anti-zionists, are assembled opposite Brighton Pavilion. I’m there to picket a demonstration by ‘Sussex Friends of Israel’. We read out the names of the Palestinian dead – a figure that by that point was already in the hundreds – only to be half drowned-out by the boos of the larger of demonstration.

From between two bulks of policemen, we were faced down by a gaggle of young men around the age to be fresh of the grand tour of Israel . who yelled at us that we were antisemites. Someone pointed out, as politely as possible whilst still being heard over the chanting, the cheers, the sirens, that we were in fact all Jews, or at least, Jew-ish. He replied that real Jews support Israel. Another Jewdas member shouted that antisemitism was not the same as anti-zionism, whilst someone else waded in to the effect that Jewish identity is complicated. From somewhere in the crowd someone lobbed a “self-haters!” at the picketers. This unlikely identitarian dispute was quickly broken up when an unprepossessing auntie-type (complete with cardigan and pearls) punched me in the arm and ripped up my “Zionism, Schmionism” sign.

The UN shakes up Guatemala with the Commission Against Impunity

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40648354

The UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has shaken the country’s political system to its core. However, the long-term consequences remain to be seen.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)—founded in 2007 by a mutual agreement between the UN and the Guatemalan government—has shaken up the country’s entire political system. The Commission’s original mandate was aimed at dismantling organized criminal bands that ran rampant after the end of the country’s brutal 36-year armed conflict, including training and supporting the Public Ministry, the National Police and other entities of the Guatemalan state. CICIG was also conceived as an international support mission to “build-up” judicial institutions in Guatemala. Since its inception, the Commission has developed into a powerful political force, amassing significant legitimacy in the eyes of many Guatemalans. The commission’s success and prominence was a welcome development, gaining support outside of the elite circles.

Inside Russia’s new Gulag

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6419432

My husband was humiliated, beaten and tortured in Russia’s penitentiary system. Here are the stories that I’ve collected from his prison.

One year ago, Ildar Dadin, a well-known Moscow activist (and my husband), was sent to prison: the court sentenced him to three years for carrying out solitary pickets. After a lengthy imprisonment in a Moscow investigation prison, Ildar was transferred to a prison colony — and disappeared. His family wasn’t told where he’d been sent. A month and a half later, Ildar was found in Karelia, in Prison Colony No.7 in the town of Segezha, where he told his lawyer how prison officers were torturing and beating prisoners. This story caused a scandal both in Russia and abroad.

When you talk about torture in Russia, the hardest thing is explaining why it’s so hard to deal with. For instance, someone asked me today: “Nastya, if the prisoners in Karelia Colony No.7 have been tortured for several years now, why haven’t they complained?” My response that letters from prison rarely make it to their intended recipients, and that the state prosecutor is a good friend of the colony director (the head sadist), meets with an iron logic: “But they should…”