Law of Peace(making) and Transforming Children’s Invisibility

Courtesy of the Blog of the Groningen Journal of International Law (August 22, 2017).

The law of international human rights came into being through an international peacemaking process, in particular the successive processes that gave birth to the Charter of the United Nations. The law as developed affirms children’s legal standing and agency as subjects of human rights. There is a concomitant international obligation to affirm the same in relation to the successive processes of peacemaking and give effect to those rights through the resultant agreements, as recalled by treaty and Charter bodies. Yet children are mostly invisible in such processes. Its extent is laid bare by a cursory review of collections of peace agreements. Of the close to eight hundred peace agreements in the United Nations database, for example, approximately ninety-five include a reference to children. The extremity of their invisibility raises a multiplicity of questions. Is it justified from the perspective of the law of peace(making)? May children’s human rights yield to the pursuance of peace?  And if not, why are children (mostly) invisible in peacemaking? These questions sparked and structured a probe of peace processes from a juristic, human rights and child rights perspective. Continue reading

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The bare knuckled fight for rights

The past year has been the bleakest of years. At least, for those of us, who believe we are stronger together. And in invoking that particular slogan, I speak more broadly than the US election.  Today many of those acts of international and regional solidarity born and crystallised by war are under threat, or seem so. Under threat by seeming disregard for their ‘founding impulse’ and the laws they constituted. Therein, I invoke, the micro aggressions unleashed by transatlantic  electoral processes, and the macro aggressions enacted in the town lands of constituent members of the UN, most luminously Syria, but not exclusively. Held there are acts of international lawlessness: violations of the laws international human rights and armed conflict, as documented by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, among others. Those acts, then, have laid bare the omnipresent forces of regression, and in doing so, exposed previously supposed certitudes about international law and its protective capacity as tenuous.

Yet the phoenix will rise, is already rising. Engagement and re-engagement with law has already begun. And this will be as Gina Miller  and Sally Yates both know to their cost, ‘a bare knuckled fight’.  And there I quote Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.  It may seem a paradoxical metaphor for High Commissioner for Human Rights. And yet it has always been so: rights have seldom been gifted; they have always been fought for. Still this is a twenty-first century fight few imagined; a battle seemingly to safeguard rather than demand more from the laws of international human rights and armed conflict.  And, if it is to prevail, the fight must be broader and deeper than ever before. It was after all, born, at least in part of a failure of those circles of solidarity, and their constituent members, to embody the precious pledges of their foremothers and forefathers, intra and inter state. Continue reading

Eight reasons why the Safe Schools Declaration matters

Crossposted courtesy of The Right to Education Project (November 27, 2016), summarising a mini series of four postings on the international legal protection of education.

‘I felt that humanity has ended. I mean, a place of learning, to be hit in this way, without warning… where is humanity? …It is supposed to be illegal in any war to strike such places…’ A teacher’s account of airstrikes on al Shaymeh School, Hodeidah, Yemen (25 and 27 August 2015) in ‘Schools Under Attack in Yemen’ Amnesty International Report (11 December 2015).

‘Bodies were on the ground. We didn’t know what we were stepping on. […] There was no armed presence around the schools. Had there been, we wouldn’t have been teaching on that day.’  A teacher’s account of airstrikes on schools in Haas, Syria (26 October 2016) in ‘Russia/Syria: Satellite, Video Imagery Confirm School Attack’ Human Rights Watch Report (16 November 2016).

The testimonies of these two teachers, one Yemeni, one Syrian, evoke the egregious hurt and harm of attacks on schools. These attacks, among others, illume the imperative of conducing compliance with foundational rules of international humanitarian law, in particular, as recalled recently by the Security Council in relation to the Syrian attack above, the obligation to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives, and the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks. Undergirding this is an another imperative of respecting the civilian character of schools.  The two are deeply interconnected. The international legal protection accorded schools from attack is necessarily contingent on their civilian character. It is of these dual imperatives that the Safe Schools Declaration was born. Led by the Governments of Norway and Argentina, 56 states have thus far signed the Declaration and committed to implementing the associated Guidelines.  And this matters. Continue reading

Law of peace(making) and the promise of a new beginning for children

Cross-posted courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

The act of peacemaking may be viewed as the promise of a new beginning. It is latent within the sui generis legal form of the self-constituting process, and the often layered human rights transformation at its substantive epicentre. In the complex and evolving legality that constitutes peacemaking, international human rights claims often have heightened performativity. Or in other words, international human rights law (itself born of international peacemaking processes) is both applicable to, and performative within, the self constituting process of peacemaking. However, the layered human rights transformation is often partial: children and their rights are particularly likely to be invisible in the successive processes and agreements that constitute peacemaking. Yet, there is an international legal obligation to respect and ensure their rights ‘in’ and ‘through’ peacemaking, as affirmed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and underwritten by the Security Council. Further, as noted in an earlier posting, peacemakers may for multifarious reasons — some principled, others political — commit to ‘transforming children’s rights as part of human rights’. So, why, then, are children mostly invisible in peacemaking? Continue reading

Seizing the ‘radical progressive potential of peace processes’* for children

 

The act of peacemaking may be viewed as the promise of ‘a new beginning’. The promise is latent within the complex and evolving legality that binds the self-constituting process, and the often layered human rights transformation at its substantive epicentre. Therein, as illuminated and crystallised by Christine Bell, lies the ‘radical progressive potential of peace processes’.* Like the progression of the process itself, it is made possible, at least partially, by legal and political imagination. The challenge is to seize this creativity to ensure children are part of this ‘new beginning’. Or in the words of George Bernard Shaw, it is about ‘dream[ing] things that never were and […] say[ing] ‘why not?” The aim of these six principles, informed from a critical and constructive probe of peace processes from a juristic, human rights and child-rights perspective, is to support this act of legal and political imagination.  Continue reading

Meta-engagement with international law, understated effects and engagers

Fourth of a series of four postings probing the international legal protection of the right to education within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international peace and security and armed conflict.

Images of violated spaces of learning — untouched since the moment of flight — have a visceral luminosity that belies the absence within. Latent there are the attacks, or acts of violence, of the recent past: the incursions of spatial and bodily inviolability, or as opined in postings one and two, violations of the duo dimensional international legal obligations to protect embodied learners, and their spaces of learning from attack. Lesser stated (if there is no rapid recovery response or alternative) is the multi-dimensional hurt and harm that lies beyond: the violations of the rights to, in and through education (see posting three). And the hurt and harm beneath: domestic embodiment of those rights may be partial and/or access to public affairs or remedies limited. Or in other words, the vulnerability shift from ordinary to extraordinary embodied vulnerability may precede, undergird and be exacerbated by the attack. The sole form of redress, then, may be international law.

Meta-engagement with international law 

Relatively the engagement doubles itself: extraordinary engagement invoked by the vulnerability shift (of which attacks on schools may form apart) is undergirded by ongoing ordinary processes of human rights treaty and Charter bodies and promotional engagement of the guardian of international humanitarian law. Discrete fractals of this engagement are renowned, if not infamous. If the violations of applicable international law are recurrent, the Security Council’s sui generis monitoring and reporting mechanism may be invoked, or if persistent, the Security Council may decide to adopt targeted and graduated measures against the listed violator. Equally the Office of Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court may, subject to its jurisdiction, act on its recent commitment ‘to pay particular attention to crimes against and affecting children’ (including those relating to attacks on schools in violation of article 8 (2) of its Statute) by either supporting genuine domestic investigations or opening an investigation itself. Undergirding both is the often unseen and unheard direct dialogue opened with applicable parties by the International Committee of the Red Cross and extraordinary mechanisms adopted by the Human Rights Council, for example, the Independent International Commissions of Inquiries. Continue reading

Knowledge and practice of rights ‘in’ and ‘through’ the inviolable spaces of learning

Third of a series of four postings probing the international legal protection of the right to education within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international peace and security and armed conflict. 

‘I felt that humanity has ended. I mean, a place of learning, to be hit in this way, without warning… where is humanity? …It is supposed to be illegal in any war to strike such places…’  Director of al-Shaymeh School, Hodeidah, Yemen (as cited in ‘Our kids are bombed’ Schools under attack in Yemen (Amnesty International, 11th December 2015), 17).

Held there is a widely held supposition: the multifarious spaces of lower and higher learning are supposedly inviolable from acts of violence. Such spaces are, after all, holders of embodied rights-bearers, principally learners, and their multidimensional right to education. Thus viewed inviolability is three-dimensional: spatial, bodily and inner. So too is the right as expressed in international law: the human rights treaty and Charter bodies (and eminent scholars) have illuminated the right as multi-dimensional, encompassing multiple composite rights ‘to’, ‘in’ and ‘through’ education. And it is of continuing applicability at the shift from ordinary to extraordinary ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm. The right has been invoked by those same bodies within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international and peace and security and non/international armed conflicts. Too often—as exemplified by the recent violated spaces of learning—attacks on spaces of learning (and the embodied rights-holders within) form part of this vulnerability shift.

Of course it is the egregious acts of violence that capture attention—the bodily hurt and harm. Yet some attacks on spaces of learning may be viewed as less about incursions of spatial and bodily inviolability and more about incursions of inner inviolability: the creative (thinking, feeling) embodied self. The attack is targeted. And the target of the attack is education itself: the containment of thought part of the targeted hurt and harm. Or more accurately, the containment of thought by distinctionon the basis of protected aspects of our innermost identity. In other words it is specific (and age-old) form of violence: gender, race, or belief based or a composite amalgam. It, therefore, violates the rights to bodily integrity and security of the person among others, in conjunction with the right to non-discrimination, individually and as constituent elements of rights ‘in’ and ‘through’ education.

Continue reading