Calculus: Deal Doggedness and Human Rights Diplomacy

As the issue of denuclearization in the interest of global peace and security continues to be of pressing concern to the world, there is a growing tendency to prioritize such matters of international import above concerns around the problematic human rights records in countries like Iran and North Korea. However, concerns regarding the human rights situation within a country’s borders should not be relegated to the backburner while negotiating deals regarding international peace and security owing to two broad, interconnected reasons.

First, egregious violations of human rights within national borders – by their very nature – cut across these national borders and thus merit international anxiety. In particular, repressive regimes foster instability, dissatisfaction, violent conflict, and frequently, radicalization. While it is tempting to call for an emphasis on America’s “softer” side in response to human rights concerns beyond American borders, it may be prudent to acknowledge instead that the way a country treats its people can be of consequence to polities the world over. Accordingly, if Azadeh Moaveni’s conclusion that any substantial improvement in Iran’s human rights situation demands larger, structural reforms from within is accurate, any gains consolidated by finalizing deals such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are necessarily of limited value for international peace and security. In fact, regimes that mete out systematic repression to their own people, such as Iran and North Korea, are “inherently destabilizing”; their volatile internal dynamics, posited against the background of nuclearization, present huge risks to international security, which merit due investigation, analysis and response. In such a scenario, allowing horrific internal conditions to play second fiddle while negotiating sweeping arrangements for global peace is to miss the forest for the trees.

Secondly and more specifically, acknowledging that both these concerns are relevant to the all-pervasive ‘international security’ problem could also be helpful in selling negotiations and engagement with an adversary state such as Iran to domestic constituencies. By emphasizing its potential to raise Iran’s profile in the world order and bring economic relief within Iranian borders, President Rouhani, for instance, garnered some measure of domestic support for a deal which – on the face of it – seemed like a massive concession of sovereignty. In an increasingly polarized international order, where domestic forces operating within one of the negotiating parties may view the very act of approaching the negotiating table as an admission of weakness, acknowledging that there are costs to peace and security on both sides of the coin may be a wiser move.

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Despite UN inaction Haiti’s cholera victims fight for justice

Two years after the UN promised to do better, the victims of the UN cholera epidemic in Haiti are still fighting to make the organization keep its promises. On December 1 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly apologized to the Haitian people for the UN’s role in causing a devastating cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 10,000 lives and infected more than 800,000 people since 2010. Promising to right the UN’s wrongs in Haiti, Ban Ki-moon rolled out a $400 million plan to control cholera and provide assistance to victims.

Yet eight years into the epidemic and two years since this grand promise the UN is still refusing to keep its promises or honour its legal obligations. The UN’s response to cholera has always been one of charity, never a program of the justice that it is tasked with promoting globally. Ban Ki-moon, choosing his lawyers’ advice over the UN Charter’s directives, carefully avoided any admission of legal responsibility. None of the plan’s promises were enforceable by the victims. Two years later, in a textbook demonstration of the importance of accountability and the rule of law, none of the promises have been kept.

The UN had promised to place “victims at the centre of the work” of its $200 million victim assistance plan, and to consult with them in developing the package. It promised to consider not only community-based assistance but also “payment of money to the families of those individuals who died of cholera.”

Victims took the UN at its word, and prepared for the consultations. They met in groups to study and discuss the pros and cons of different approaches. They participated in victim committees and consultation training sessions, and brought the nuanced discussions home to their villages for more discussion.

In the meantime, the UN’s limited fundraising efforts yielded limited results, so the promised material assistance project was replaced with a “pilot consultation” in a single municipality, Mirebalais. The UN’s public comments on victim assistance discussed only community projects, with individual compensation apparently off the table.

The UN declined to include the victims who had prepared for the process in the Mirebalais pilot. Instead, a few selected cholera victims were included in larger focus groups of local political, religious and community leaders. The consultation process went ahead without transparency as to how it was being conducted and without clarity as to how these victims were selected. Reports from those meetings indicate that individual compensation was not presented as an option, and that the voices of the cholera victims – who contracted the disease in the first place because they were too poor to afford clean water – were predictably marginalized among the discussions of the leaders, who arrived with their own agendas for community development.

This obviously flawed process produced the conclusion it was designed to produce: that Haitians wanted community projects, not individual compensation. The UN now intends to expand on this “success” in other heavily affected communities. So the victims need to keep fighting for justice. As many of these victims often state, “it is not for the wrongdoer to decide what is justice for the victim.”

On the anniversary of the introduction of cholera, cholera victims in the town of Mirebalais—where the epidemic started–commemorated the day by organizing a requiem Mass to memorialize those who died from the disease. Victims then marched to the former UN base that recklessly discharged cholera-laden waste into Haiti’s largest river system, to lay flowers near the river.

To this day, the UN cholera continues to kill and sicken Haitians. Beyond the ongoing threat, the long-term consequences persist for those who have already been sick or lost loved ones. Crushing burial costs, loss of livelihoods, death of breadwinners, and ensuing accrual of debts has devastated those who already struggled to meet their basic needs.

This latest commemoration of cholera victims, so many years since the outbreak, is the utmost demonstration of victim perseverance. Despite the devastating economic impacts and struggles that victims face, they have continued to mobilize for justice. Together with organizations like the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and MOLEGHAF, they come out to protest month after month to remind the UN of its obligations to provide justice and reparations to those who have suffered so much from cholera. Victims have also filed claims through the UN’s legal process as well as a class action lawsuit in New York through their legal representatives the BAI and the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). On Human Rights Day in 2015, they delivered over 2,000 handwritten letters to the UN’s peacekeeping headquarters in Port-Au-Prince. In 2017, victims told their individual stories in a powerful video message to the UN.

Victims are not alone in rejecting this effort at replacing justice with charity. In June, over 100 US Congressional leaders called on the Secretary-General to ensure a just response to Haiti cholera victims. The following month an open letter signed by 60 human rights organizations worldwide to the UN Secretary-General, including Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights, opposed what they saw as problematic consultations of victims. It criticized the UN’s adoption of a charity-based as opposed to rights-based model that appeared to abandon the individual payment approach.

Charitable community projects are not a substitute for the remedies that cholera victims are entitled to by law, and victims are not giving up the fight. The UN’s grand promises to cholera victims two years ago will only be effective if it actually listens to victims, respects their perspectives and allows them to influence the development of policy. As the UN undertakes to review its efforts in Mirebalais, it is not too late to recognize that justice will only be served when victims are truly placed at the centre.

Violent Extremism and Terrorism in the Scope of Women, Peace and Security: an Uncomfortable Relationship

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Credit: UN Photo/DN (http://www.un.org/en/sc/about/)

The most recent and very controversial resolution of the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, Resolution 2242 of 2015, has started to be implemented by the member states: a very recent example is Bosnia and Herzegovina. To date, Bosnia and Herzegovina has adopted three National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement the WPS agenda in its legal, judicial and administrative bodies for the periods of 2010-2013, 2014-2017and 2018-2022. Although the first two NAPs have not engaged with counterterrorism (CT) or countering violent extremism (CVE), the third NAP has a specific section regarding the measures for CT and CVE. In the NAP of 2018-2022, greater involvement of women in the initiatives for CT/CVE is highly encouraged.

The engagement of women with the CT and CVE programmes has developed in a very problematic way. The international framework on CT and CVE was established by UNSC Resolution 1373 (2001), immediately after 9/11. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin’s review of 43 UNSC Resolutions regarding the CT/CVE agenda pointed out that the agenda made only a handful of references to women and/or sexual harms. Thus, the CT and CVE agendas were gender-blind. Whereas the WPS agenda, at least initially, was trying to bring a gender lens to the peace and security concepts, CT/CVE resolutions have remained detached from the UNSC WPS purposes and agenda.

Very recently, this detachment has been terminated, not through the application of a gender-sensitive lens to the CT/CVE, but through the engagement of the WPS agenda with the CT/CVE programmes. With the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2242, CT/CVE discourse has been introduced to the WPS agenda.

In Resolution 2242, the SC

“(…) expresses deep concern that acts of sexual and gender-based violence are known to be part of the strategic objectives and ideology of certain terrorist groups, used as a tactic of terrorism, and an instrument to increase their power through supporting financing, recruitment, and the destruction of communities (…)”

To tackle this, the SC

“(…) urges Member States and the United Nations system to ensure the participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism which can be conducive to terrorism(…)”

Integration of CT/CVE with the WPS agenda through “strategic essentialism” presented women as “an untapped resource for countering violent extremism” (page 31). Feminist scholars have been concerned with the language in the resolution which essentializes women “as wicked purveyors of extremist violence or virtuous saviours of sons, husbands and communities” (page 282).

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s latest NAP echoes this language of Resolution 2242. “Women and children” are depicted as the main victims of violent extremism and terrorism.  The NAP acknowledges the presence of “radical communities” in Bosnia and Herzegovina and encourages international partners, the non-governmental sector, academia and religious communities to cooperate in order to “protect” the main victims of violent extremism and terrorism: “women and children”.

A major problem with both Resolution 2242 and the Bosnian NAP of 2018-2022 is the “over-simplistic understanding of the causes of extremism, and the solutions”(page 108). Such an approach seems palliative; the reasons for the emergence of violent extremism and terrorism in societies are simply ignored and instead the aim is onlyto treat the symptoms.

In addition, Resolution 2242 leaves the meanings of “violent extremism” and “terrorism” open. Similarly, Bosnia and Herzegovina barely specifies the measures for tackling violent extremism and terrorism. This prevents us from gaining any insight into the meaning and scope of “violent extremism” and “terrorism” in the Bosnian context. Expansion of the WPS agenda and alignment of the CT/CVE  and WPS agendas “does not mean that women will be included in defining what constitutes terrorism” and violent extremism. This very point creates concerns for feminist scholarship since the ambiguous and “customizable” scope of violent extremism and terrorism might lead to the securitization and instrumentalization of the WPS agenda, and to the legitimization of the SC.

This is not the first time that international security has intervened in the WPS agenda. In an earlier resolution, Resolution 1960 of 2010, the SC brought forward “targeted sanctions” against perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict, which was a “counterproductive development in the contemporary collective security approach to women, peace and security”. Such security-oriented interventions sideline gender equality and aim to “empower” women with the only purpose of providing security in the affected societies.

As Diane Otto has pointed out, any so-called successes in the feminist theory and practice should always be weighed against their consequences. Integration of the CT/CVE into the WPS agenda is presented as a success by the UNSC since this integration could reduce the impacts of terrorism and violence extremism on women. However, as WILPF reminds us, “inclusive” strategies are more often than not used to justify the use of force.

Although Resolution 2242 has already been adopted in Bosnia and Herzegovina and many other countries through NAPs, legal, judicial, and administrative bodies and women’s rights NGOs should cautiously put the NAPs into practice by constantly examining the potential impacts of CT and CVE programmes on women.

On borrowed time: Five years after the Rana Plaza disaster, the Bangladesh Accord faces court-ordered closure

 

Five years ago, sometime before 9am on 24 April 2013, cracks started to appear in the Rana Plaza building in the Dhaka District of Bangladesh, revealing a structural failure that caused the eight-story commercial building to collapse. The building contained five garment factories supplying major global brands and retailers.

It only took 90 seconds for Rana Plaza to collapse, but it took two weeks to search for the dead. When the search ended on 13 May 2013, the total of lives lost was over 1,100.

The tragedy spurred textile and clothing companies into action. In May 2013, global fashion brands and retailers and trade unions signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (the “Bangladesh Accord“), a ground-breaking worker safety agreement. Adidas, H&M and Esprit are amongst the signatories.

The most famous pillar of the Bangladesh Accord is its five-year legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions to ensure a safe working environment in the Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry. This feature gained notoriety when a case was filed at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in October 2016 by two global unions, IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union, to hold two unnamed multinational companies to account. The case eventually settled for $2.3 million in January 2018.

There are, however, additional components to the Accord, including, importantly, the creation of an independent inspection programme.

The Accord, which gathered the support of more than 250 brands and retailers from over 20 countries, was originally established for a limited time of five years – until May 2018.

In May 2017, the Remediation Coordination Cell (“RCC“) was established under the government of Bangladesh’s National Initiative, with a view to take over from the Accord to implement the remediation process for garment factories.

In June 2017, leading fashion brands and global trade unions announced at the OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct that they would enter into a new agreement, which would come into effect in 2018. Later that year, a transition agreement (the “2018 Transition Accord“) was signed, extending the Accord’s mandate for another three years, and allowing it to continue its operations until the RCC was ready to take over the platform’s responsibilities.

Everything seemed on track to guarantee a smooth continuation of the Accord’s activities… until judicial proceedings were started by a Bangladeshi factory owner who had failed to remedy safety breaches, and was therefore removed from the list of factories that Accord signatories are allowed to source from.

The factory owner sued the Accord. In April 2018, in an extraordinary unilateral action, the Bangladesh High Court issued a “suo moto” restraining order against Accord office operations. The restraining order is due to come into force on 30 November. This means that, in two days, the Bangladesh Accord will have to close its Dhaka office, severely limiting its scope of work and its ability to inspect thousands of factories supplying clothes for brands such as H&M, Esprit and Primark.

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Brazilian NGO addressing environment and human rights receives inaugural Human Rights & Business Award

Justica nos Trilhos - logo

The Brazilian NGO Justiça nos Trilhos will receive the inaugural award from the Human Rights and Business Award Foundation, the recently-formed foundation announced today.  The award, which is accompanied by a $50,000 grant, is made in recognition of “outstanding work by human rights defenders in the Global South or former Soviet Union addressing the human rights impacts of business in those regions”.

As the foundation states in its press release:

Justiça nos Trilhos is an organization working closely with local communities in remote parts of Brazil – including indigenous peoples, peasants, and Afro-descendants – to address human rights and environmental abuses by mining and steel companies, in particular the multinational Vale.

Mining and steel companies have polluted the rivers on which these people depend for drinking water and their livelihoods, polluted the air causing respiratory and eyesight problems, contaminated the soil with industrial waste, displaced communities, and decimated the cultures and lives of indigenous peoples.

The foundation notes:

The human rights defenders of Justiça nos Trilhos, and the local communities they work with, have been subjected to surveillance and retaliatory lawsuits by Vale.

Information about the Vale mining company is available here.  Two stories about the work of Justiça nos Trilhos, the first of which includes Vale’s responses:

Session on Tuesday at UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

BHR ForumDanilo Chammas, a lawyer at Justiça nos Trilhos, will accept the award on behalf of the organization at a session being held at the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva on Tuesday 27 November. The session “will be an interactive learning and discussion opportunity, linking the particular experiences of the award recipient and the lessons learned through those experiences to the Forum’s priority issues including human rights due diligence, sector-focused challenges, and the UN Guiding Principles [on Business and Human Rights]”.

Human Rights & Business Award – Human rights defenders in the Global South
– Tuesday 27 Nov, 18:15-19:45, Room XX, Palais des Nations, Geneva
– The session’s objectives, key discussion questions, and discussants:  here

The Business and Human Rights Award Foundation was established by the founder of the award-winning Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Chris Avery.  The foundation website was launched today in eight languages.

Press release announcing the 2018 Business and Human Rights Award:

 

Human Rights and the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis: A New Approach

With the most recent mass shootings at Thousand Oaks Bar in California and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Americans are once more reeling from the shock and horror of seeing their compatriots mowed down while undertaking normal daily activities. Innocent men, women, and children have been killed or injured whilst worshiping; enjoying a concert; spending an evening out with friends; attending school; or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each time shots ring out, the media is full of conversations about “gun rights” and the Second Amendment. But what about human rights? What about the right to life; the right of association; the right to health; the right to safety and security; the right to attend school and receive an education?

11.02.2018- Gun Panel Photo by Mary ButkusOn November 2 and 3, more than 150 people attended a conference at the School of Law entitled, The U.S. Gun Violence Crisis: An Interdisciplinary and Human Rights Approach. Co-sponsored by the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University School of Law, the Washington University Institute of Public Health, The Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series, and the American Branch of the International Law Association (International Human Rights Committee), the event brought together leading scholars and experts in the fields of law, psychiatry, sociology, medicine, and public health policy to focus on new approaches to the U.S. gun violence epidemic.

11.02.2018- Gun Panel Photo by Mary ButkusMike McLively, director of the Urban Gun Violence Initiative at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, opened the conference by highlighting the scope and scale of the U.S. gun violence epidemic. He noted that more than 30,000 people die each from gun violence – violence that is, for the most part, easily prevented by simple and common sense regulation or even executive action. He noted that more than 60 percent of those killed by gun violence have committed suicide with a gun; deaths that were largely preventable through simple measures like waiting periods to purchase firearms. Others noted the disproportionate impact of gun violence on communities of color and young people, as well as the exportation of the U.S. gun violence crisis to third countries through the trafficking of weapons from the United States. The usefulness of international human rights regimes in reframing thinking about this issue, and the important work already being done on this issue by U.N. bodies was noted by several participants. Barbara Frey, in particular, has worked on this issue for many years at the U.N. in her capacity as the alternate U.S. member of the U.N. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and as Special Rapporteur to the Sub-Commission on the issue of preventing human rights abuses committed with small arms and light weapons.

Epstien_WLM_0156Lee Epstein, Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor, spoke insightfully about the history of the relationship between the Second Amendment in the U.S. Supreme Court and the evolution of conversations around gun rights. Professor Epstein noted that the relatively recent emergence of an individual right to bear arms can be traced to a flurry of recent law review articles advocating for this position. She suggested that further social science research and legal research could therefore contribute to the solution of the current crisis.

alpers_wlm_0227.jpgFinally, Philip Alpers, founder of GunPolicy.org, concluded by offering a comparative analysis of the crisis and its resolution in Australia as a result of legislative action, gun buybacks, and a change in legal and popular culture with respect to guns and gun ownership.

During the second day of the conference, speakers met to discuss the conference, as well as a Report on the topic prepared by Harris Institute Fellow Madaline George and myself. The Harris Institute’s Report, which concludes that the U.S. government has failed in significant respects to adequately protect the human rights of individuals living in the United States from gun violence, will be published in the coming months. The papers from the conference will appear in a special symposium issue of the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy in 2019. The Institute has already presented testimony on the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and is working on testimony before other human rights bodies as well.

To learn more about the Harris Institute’s Gun Violence Initiative, visit our website.

Experts' Meeting at Washington University School of Law

A Constitution for Mars: A Call For Founding Feminists

Constitutions. Hamilton. Founding Fathers. Fathers. Father. Patriarchy.

purple and brown colored planet

In July scientists found a lake in Mars, raising hope that life on Mars, or a ‘colony’ on Mars, may become possible. Elon Musk has been telling us it is possible. Blue Origin tells us that ‘our dramatic next step will take us closer to the potential space holds for us all’. Space exploration has become the sport and object of the super rich and of transhumanists who are convinced that the Event is coming upon us.  Beyond the bunkers in New Zealand built by the capitalist uber elite, space, planets, and terrain beyond ‘the Earth, our home’ is destined for exploration. And if they achieve their goals, then what?  When the first to arrive are the super elite and the wealthy will they do anything other than impose the capitalist extractivist patriarchy under which we live here and now?  What type of rules would these founding fathers desire to regulate their affairs in Mars? Who will the ‘founding fathers’ be?  Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg, Trump?

It is time that international feminist lawyers start talking about founding space feminism (For an excellent doctrinal overview of the laws on outer space including environmental protection and appropriation see Gerardine Goh Escolar here).  If space exploration is to happen (and it is happening), we must ensure that life in other spaces and times are not subject to the oppression, poverty, racism, sexism, and inequality to which most people on this planet are subjected to. It is up to us to become what Giaconda Belli termed the portadores de sueños (in her poem) and to write the treaties, covenants, and other instruments that provide for an alternative and better future. We must ensure that our ‘space’ constitution is binding and that it binds those who wish us to be bound.

The idea of a Bill of Rights in Mars or a Constitution for Mars is not new. CS Cockell has argued in an Essay on Extraterrestrial Liberty that ‘the most profound irony of the settlement of space is that the endless and apparently free expanses of interplanetary and interstellar space will in fact allow for, and nurture, some of the most appalling tyrannies that human society can contrive  Thwarting this tyranny will be the greatest social challenge in the successful establishment of extraterrestrial settlements’. He and others have previously gathered to discuss what a bill of rights for Mars would look like.  Astrobiologists, it seems, may be ahead of us critically minded lawyers.

The race for space exploration is undoubtedly influenced by the destruction of the planet, and fears over climate security. The UN has recently held debates on water, peace and security. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, principle 25 make it clear that ‘Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible’. Environmental peacebuilding recognises that conflict can be caused by or exacerbated by resource scarcity or resource abundance (for example, the war in Sierra Leone and its links to ‘blood diamonds’). More recently, General Recommendation No 35 (updating General Recommendation No 19 on violence against women) of the CEDAW Committee specifically recognises that:

Gender based violence against women is affected and often exacerbated by cultural, economic, ideological, technological, political, religious, social and environmental factors, as evidenced, among others, in the contexts of displacement, migration, increased globalization of economic activities including global supply chains, extractive and offshoring industry, militarisation, foreign occupation, armed conflict, violent extremism and terrorism.

As GR35 recognises, extractive industries exacerbate violence against women and girls. It is deadly. GR35 also recognises the role that corporations play when they operate extraterritorially. And what about when they operate extra-terrestrially?

So what then would a founding feminist constitution look like? How would it guarantee foundation against what bell hooks has termed the ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’? Is it a democracy to come? Whose work should we draw upon to inform this constitution?  Around the world, the brave, the portadores de sueños work on the ground against systematic violence.  Activists and academics work together on feminismos territoriales, and the rights of  women, forests, trees, and rivers.  Who will protect their rights in Mars?

The feminists.

 

Keina Yoshida is a research fellow at the Centre for Women, Peace and Security.  She is currently working on the AHRC funded project a Feminist International Law of Peace and Security.