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
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
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
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
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
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
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 distinction—on 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.
Updated and revised version of the original, cross-posted courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (February 17, 2016).
2015 faded into the new year with a glimmer of hope for the people of Syria. A hope propelled by renewed international engagement, as expressed within the Vienna Statements of October 30, 2015 and November 14, 2015 — and underwritten by Security Council Resolution 2254. Two years since the dissolution of Geneva II, the UN Special Envoy for Syria reconvened formal negotiations between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition for January 25, 2016. In the face of continuing egregious violations of international humanitarian law, the proximity talks began a week late and were suspended — three days later.
Neither this, the time gap since Geneva II, nor the escalation of the conflict are unusual: peace trajectories recurrently stall, fracture and reconfigure, sometimes escalating and de-escalating over decades. More unusual is the form and intensity of that escalation: the ever increasing parties to the (increasingly internationalised) non-international armed conflict and the layers of international lawlessness — the exponential rise in international crimes layer on the violations of international human rights law that sparked the protests and internal disturbances of March 2011. Continue reading
As opined in the first part of this posting, an international humanitarian obligation to respect and ensure respect for the civilian character of spaces of learning may be inferred from existing treaty and customary law. However the precise point of delimitation remained unanswered: when, if at all, may the space be lawfully transformed by, for example, military use? Of course determining this, the scope, demands probing the equipoise—the interrelations between the principles of military necessity and limitation—more deeply.
Yet to an extent, this too may be determined from treaty and customary law. Indeed military necessity itself extends the inviolability (or protection) of the space, in so far as it prohibits military acts if not militarily necessary. Thus there is minimally an obligation to refrain, from transforming learning spaces from civilian objects to military objectives, unless required by military necessity. And, in light of the multiple sources of international humanitarian rules from which the obligation may be inferred, there is reason to argue, the obligation is particularly restrictive; that is, it forms a prohibition on such transformation ‘unless imperatively required by military necessity’, on a par with the customary rule limiting the use of cultural property for military purposes, if not the more restrictive treaty rule. To this, there is another delimiter: humanitarian rules limiting the (vulnerability creating) effects of non/international armed conflict, both those basic and specific express rules of treaty and customary law, and the principles of precaution and proportionality applied as general principles of international humanitarian law. Indeed, and here the opinion becomes more precarious, in light of the multidimensional hurt and harm that may follow the use of learning spaces by armed forces/groups, it may be opined, such use is (or should be) presumed to be unlawful—disproportionate or excessive in relation to the military contribution and advantage sought. Continue reading
Chibok. Rafah. Peshawar. Garassa. Donetsk. Aleppo. Sana’a.
The recent violations of spaces (of lower and higher) learning have evoked near universal condemnation. Held there are ‘the dictates of public conscience’. Undergirding, if not sparking, this collective sense of injustice is a supposition: the spaces of learning are supposedly inviolable from attacks /acts of violence. From this, a supposition of law might follow: ipso facto the spaces are protected as inviolable as a matter of international law. But is this so?
Of course, the multifarious spaces of learning, as holders of embodied subjects of rights, principally learners, and their rights to, in and through education, are necessarily accorded protection under international human rights law. The concomitant duo dimensional obligation to protect the embodied rights holder within the space from acts of violence, and the space as a safe space of learning continues within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international and peace and security and non/international armed conflicts. Indeed the latter triggers international humanitarian law—and the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants and civilian objects and military objectives, or in other words the humanitarian obligation to refrain from attacking learning spaces as civilian objects, and embodied persons in relation to the space, as civilians. The international legal protection, then, may be viewed as doubling itself: the human rights and humanitarian obligations are—complementary and mutually reinforcing. Of course, either way the—supposed—inviolability of the space is a partial international legal actuality; under both bodies of law the space may be lawfully delimited. Continue reading