How Do Wars End?

I had the great pleasure of attending Southern Denmark University’s Center for War Studies‘ signature event “How Do Wars End?”.  The conference started with the riveting reflections of the famous Danish author, Carsten Jensen, on “The Forever Wars”.  He described his experiences embedded with Danish troops in Afghanistan and related the soldiers’ problems dealing with a lack of clear strategic goals within the conflict, complex  homecoming struggles, as well as the current trend towards privatization of war. His books included characters that range from traditional soldiers to drone pilots and who grapple with ethical challenges as well as boredom.  He also provided a wonderful overview of war literature from around the world, leaving the audience with a compelling urge to run to the library.  The next presentation was by Christopher Kolenda, a Senior Military Fellow at King’s College London.  Kolenda served as commander of an infantry task force in Afghanistan which handed out notebooks and pencils to the local community as part of its peacemaking strategy (in part influenced by Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea).  He also co-authored the McChrystal assessment on Afghanistan and has worked with strategic policy on Pakistan as well.  He delivered an insightful explanation of why the US has trouble managing war termination; including the cost of failure to follow up early negotiation opportunities, problems related to centralization of security decision-making, and the challenges of narratives which delegitimize the enemy and impede negotiation.  This was followed by Joachim Krause , the Director of the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.  He discussed confusion regarding the definition of war and set forth a typology, ranging from cabinet wars to classic international wars, limited wars over specific islands, post-modern wars, hybrid wars, people’s wars, religious wars, wars of secession, civil wars, and the emergence of war economies.  He ruefully commented on the negative consequences of war efforts that were terminated too early as well as those that were terminated too late.  The breadth of his presentation served as a confirmation to me that the ethics academic, Jonathan Glover, had appropriately named his book on the scope of atrocities committed in the 20th Century, HumanityCian O’Driscoll of the University of Glasglow reflected on the Victory of Just War, ruminating on the scope of triumph.  He was followed by Thomas Obel Hansen of Ulster University who gave a thorough overview of transitional justice, breaking myths and underscoring real dilemmas in practice.   In conclusion, I gave a perspective from international law in which I reflected on the challenges we face given the lack of normative agreement on what we mean by peace, explaining the difference between negative peace and positive peace, as well as institutional failures to implement peace in the long term.  I gave an overview of the book Promoting Peace through International Law and then proceeded to discuss specific cases. I noted the Peace Accords in Colombia and the observation that there is no more war in the Americas.  To counter this, I used the example of Guatemala, which formally experienced a Peace Accord in 1996 while having 1 million IDPs and 200,000 refugees who claimed land restitution, as well as 200,000 paramilitary troops and 3,000 URNG guerillas who required demobilization.  In spite of a solid commitment by MINUGUA, USAID, World Bank, EU, Norway, and other entities, Guatemala experienced a serious setback in human rights and security, well documented in a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. At present, Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, as well as high levels of illiteracy, and a homicide rate that renders it one of the most murderous countries in the world.  Most crimes are not prosecuted and the state’s security system has been infiltrated by criminal elements resulting in a parallel state. Thus, there is in effect a new war between criminal elements and the government.  This experience leads us to consider the process in Colombia, which has an overwhelming 7 million IDPs to contend with, difficult in particular due to ongoing polarization within the society regarding accountability vs. amnesty dilemmas.  I called for more research in peace studies, in particular adding legal and critical perspectives.

Kudos to  Anders Engberg-Pedersen and Sten Rynning for organizing a thought-proving conference!

Trouble? Remembering the Belfast Agreement in the Brexit Aftermath

Although Brexit resurfaced in the weekend’s newspapers with the revelation that Britain’s exit from the EU could be delayed until 2019, the referendum has largely taken a backseat to other news. Even at the height of the Brexit fervour there was little to no substantive debate on the effect a potential EU exit would have on Northern Ireland (which voted remain by a majority of 56%).

UK Passport

The passport for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

This oversight notwithstanding, Northern Ireland’s ties to the European Union are significant and merit consideration, especially in the context of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Europe has paid £1.3 billion to the Northern Irish PEACE programmes alone since 1995. This figure does not include farm subsidies or the economic gain from Northern Ireland’s food and agricultural exports to the EU. Monetary ties aside, I will focus on the proliferation of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Belfast Agreement, the important role it plays in the peace process, and the right to citizenship and self-determination in the context of a post-Brexit border poll. Continue reading

El Salvador’s Constitutional Court Invalidates Amnesty Law; Will Prosecutions Follow?

After years of deliberations, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled on July 13 that the country’s 1993 amnesty law is unconstitutional and must be stricken. The 4-1 decision, although long expected, has caused uproar in El Salvador, where neither side in the civil war has been supportive of prosecutions for past crimes and where rampant criminality and insecurity are present-day scourges. The four-person majority of judges Sidney Blanco, Florentín Meléndez, Rodolfo González and Eliseo Ortiz, grounded the decision in the rights of the victims to access to justice, to judicial protection of fundamental rights, and to full reparations. It makes extensive use of international law, especially the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It will provide new hope for the long-suffering victims of the country’s twelve-year civil war, but will also complicate the country’s politics and challenge a weak and compromised prosecutors’ office.

The complaint was brought by a number of NGO representatives and victims of rights violations, alleging that the amnesty law was illegally passed and violated El Salvador’s international commitments and constitution. The 1993 amnesty was passed to deal with the crimes of both sides in a civil war that cost some 75,000 lives. The amnesty was passed just three days after a U.N. sponsored Truth Commission issued its report. The Commission found that most of the massacres, assassinations, forced disappearances and torture committed had been carried out by the armed forces or by death squads connected to them.

The text of the decision

The Court first dismissed the procedural illegality argument, but used the occasion to note that the amnesty was not, as the Prosecutors’ office argued, a part of the peace accords that ended the civil war. On the contrary, those accords had stressed the need to end impunity for human rights violations. The Court thus confronted head-on one of the central myths of the country’s political classes, that amnesty was required by the peace accords. Rather, the Court held that the legislature had to balance the need for reconciliation with the need for justice for the victims. It cited with approval in this regard the 1992 Law of National Reconciliation, which provided amnesty for political crimes, but expressly excluded “grave violent events from January 1, 1980 on, which have left their mark on society, and demand the most urgent public knowledge of the truth” that were mentioned by the U.N.-backed Truth Commission.

In its July 13 judgment, the Court held that the amnesty is unconstitutional as applied to all crimes against humanity and those war crimes that violate the fundamental guarantees of Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions, committed by either side in the conflict. The amnesty violates the country’s international obligations to investigate and prosecute under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, Protocol II, and the constitutional right of the victim of a crime to civil damages and to judicial protection of fundamental rights. Regarding war crimes, although Protocol II calls for the “widest possible amnesty,” that provision must be read in light of all the country’s international obligations, and the amnesty cannot be absolute. With respect to crimes against humanity, those crimes are by definition not subject to amnesty or statutes of limitations and are subject to universal jurisdiction.

Continue reading

Transitional Justice: What is the role of law in bringing imaginative and imaginary peace to Colombia?

This blog post is based on a reflection presented at the “Transitional Justice as Legal Field, Site and Imagination” panel at the Transnational Law Summer Institute, Kings College, London June 29, 2016. I am grateful to Prabha Kotiswaran and Peer Zumbansen for the invitation.  

What is the role of law in bringing imaginative and imaginary peace to Colombia?

June 23 2016 was described by Colombian and international media as the “last day of the war”, adopting FARC’s hashtag #ElÚltimoDíaDeLaGuerra. The signing of a bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC formally ended hostilities in the world’s longest running war. The signing of a peace agreement is expected to take place during the summer of 2016.

To the overlapping academic fields of human rights, transitional justice and post-conflict reconstruction, the sophisticated Colombian transitional justice process is attractive and will likely be highly influential for the coming decade, both as an example of success and of failure. There is also a significant risk that scholars (outside Colombia) will embrace the Colombian experience either deterministically — as an example of systemic yet de-historicized power imbalances — or as a fantastical  and outsized legal progress narrative that can serve as an endless source of political models, constitutional processes and legal arguments suitable for embellishing the transitional justice juggernaut.

My argument in the following is based on one big supposition: I will put forward the idea that approached from a law and social change perspective, the Colombian transitional justice project is necessarily a failure foreseen.

“Everybody” knows that positive peace is not going to happen through legislation, decisions by a progressive Colombia Constitutional Court or the signing of a formal agreement. This Everybody also knows that if positive peace happens, it will not happen soon.  At the same time, it is easy to imagine that a year from now, politicians, ordinary Colombians, pundits and academics will dismiss the transitional justice legislation and the peace agreement as partial or total failures for their inability to perform the impossible expected by the Everybody; namely ending violence, providing reparations and changing the structural inequality that is the source of much of the violence.

However, I think that precisely at this juncture, as a community professionally engaged in the business of imagining peace and transitional justice, we need to reflect on what the critical takeaways from and beyond this failure foreseen could be. We may find that imagined and imaginative outcomes turn out to be imaginary. But this is not enough, it’s not even a starting point. We need to go beyond that.

Hence, after briefly describing the Colombian peace process, I will map out three sets of issues that could serve as tentative points of departure for critical reflection. This includes:

  • How we can gauge the meaning of the Colombian transitional justice process for Colombian citizenry, citizenship and the state;
  • The implications of Colombia being both outlaw and legal outlier for how we consider the role and place of the law in creating durable peace;
  • A first attempt to think through some of the general lessons Colombia can have for transitional justice practice and scholarship.

Peace and conflict as statecraft

The armed conflict between the government and FARC began in 1964. Separate negotiations have previously led to the demobilization of smaller guerillas (MAQL, M-19; EPL) and an agenda for formal negotiations has now been agreed with ELN.  However, Colombia has been at war or seen violent societal conflict for most of the time since the late 1890s. Colombian peace processes and attempts at political, legal and land reform are a fixture of Colombian statecraft. The last round of peace talks with FARC ended with fiasco in 2002. From 2003 president Uribe engaged in a much-criticized effort to demobilize the paramilitary AUC, with a basis in the 2005 Justice and Peace Law. Despite its shortcomings, it must be remembered that this framework has provided a platform for the current process.

Continue reading

The humanitarian quest for accountability: Examining the role of UNHCR

UNHCR 2015: A difficult crisis

The European refugee crisis has been a difficult experience for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On the one hand, UNHCR has been criticized by civil society and the humanitarian community for not being present on Greek islands. On the other hand, the organization has experienced difficulties in negotiating this access with Greek authorities. In addition to criticism of UNHCRs actions/inactions in Greece, the organization also faced criticism for not doing enough to push states across Europe to admit a bigger responsibility for the refugee crisis, and to accept greater numbers of refugees for resettlement.

In the fall of 2015, there was explicit criticism of previous High Commissioner of Refugees, Antonio Guterres, as it was argued that his ambitions of becoming the new United Nations Secretary General was getting in the way of confronting European states more explicitly to  ensure that they live up to their responsibility as stated in the 1951 Refugee Convention:

“The heads of U.N. agencies with ‘well-nourished careers’ prefer to ‘put out cutesy heart-warming videos’ about individual refugees rather than criticize governments… They want another U.N. job … And they won’t get it if they piss governments off. You have to start shaming governments. That’s how things get done.”

Laying a new path under high commissioner Grandi?

Now things may be changing. Prior to the much debated EU-Turkey refugee deal, the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stated that the potential refugee bottleneck in Greece was a major topic of discussion. And during a February 2016 visit to Athens, he took the opportunity to criticize “the border closures and the inability of European countries to face the refugee crisis with generosity and unity”. Only weeks later (in March 2016), the organization explicitly distanced itself from the EU-Turkey plan, as potentially undermining the tenants of international refugee protection.

Arguably this marks a shift in how UNHCR interprets and enacts its function as a key international actor tasked with the important job of holding states accountable to their commitments to international refugee protection (1951 Convention). And now that the EU-Turkey deal has become is a reality, it is certainly worth noticing that UNHCR was not part of the deal making. Instead, UNHCR is now looking to the future: “Let’s see what the European courts has to say on this,” said Vincent Cochetel, who is leading the UNHCR’s response to the crisis in Europe. A deal might be legal if Turkey overhauls its asylum system and guarantees that those returned are not kept in detention and are given a proper chance of claiming refuge, which is not currently the case, says Mr Cochetel. Other than Europeans, only Syrians have any right to claim shelter in Turkey under its current system. Accordingly, in line with UNHCR’s policy on opposing mandatory detention, the organization has suspended provision of transport to and from detention sites on Greek islands, and has also expressed concern that Greece may have deported asylum seekers by mistake, in violation of international law.

Good Enough Accountability as existential challenge

These contradictory examples illustrate what amounts to an existential challenge not only for UNHCR, but for the humanitarian enterprise as a whole, namely the quest for good enough accountability.  In situations where the host state may be unable or unwilling to protect civilians, humanitarians step in to provide governance, care and protection. With a record-high number of humanitarian emergencies and displaced individuals worldwide, there are more humanitarian organizations doing more things in more places than ever before. They are not elected and are mostly unencumbered by legal obligations towards the communities they proclaim to work for. While the humanitarian sector has developed its own ‘accountability-industry’, humanitarians continue to express concern about how accountability-initiatives are skewed towards donors, at the expense of accountability towards crisis-affected communities and individuals. At the same time, there is deep disagreement about what good enough accountability might look like, how it might be achieved and what resources humanitarians and donors would be willing to invest towards reaching a satisfactory level of accountability.

A knowledge gap: Conceptualizing the history and ‘technologies of accountability’

Despite the key importance of accountability for the legitimacy of humanitarian action, inadequate academic attention has been given to how the concept of accountability is evolving within the specific branches of the humanitarian enterprise. Up to now, there exists no comprehensive account of what we label the ‘technologies of accountability’, the effects of their interaction, or the question of how the current turn to decision-making software and biometrics as both the means and ends of accountability may contribute to reshaping humanitarian governance.

In a recent book, UNHCR and the Struggle for Accountability: Technology, Law and Results-Based Management (Routledge Humanitarian Studies series) we explore UNHCR’s quest for accountability by viewing the UNHCR’s accountability obligations through the web of institutional relationships within which the agency is placed (beneficiaries, host governments, implementing partners, donors, the Executive Committee and UNGA). The book takes a multidisciplinary approach in order to illuminate the various layers and relationships that constitute accountability and also to reflect on what constitutes good enough accountability.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction: The Quest for an Accountability Cure Katja Lindskov Jacobsen & Kristin Bergtora Sandvik
  • UNHCR and the Complexity of Accountability in the Global Space Niamh Kinchin
  • Advancing UNHCR Accountability through the Law of International Responsibility Maja Janmyr
  • Narratives of accountability in UNHCR’s refugee resettlement strategy Adèle Garnier
  • UNHCR and accountability for IDP protection in Colombia Miriam Bradley
  • Universalizing the refugee category and struggling for accountability: the every-day work of eligibility officers within UNHCR Marion Fresia and Andreas von Känel
  • Accounting for the Past, A history of refugee management in Uganda, 1959-64 Ashley B. Rockenbach
  • How accountability technologies shape international protection: results-based management and rights-based approaches revisited Kristin Bergtora Sandvik
  • UNHCR, Accountability and Refugee Biometrics Katja Lindskov Jacobsen

 

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is an Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at University of Oslo and a Senior Researcher at PRIO.

Katja Lindskov Jacobsen is Senior Researcher at The Centre for Military Studies at Copenhagen University, Department of Political Science.

‘It is a cold liaison!’ Military perceptions of humanitarian distinction

RS NATO 1-2

‘You are the company commander today. Your task is to negotiate access to land with the local mayor in order to secure a new space for our military hospital, which has flooded.’ After a brief strategy session, my team proceeds to the negotiation table. I am seated directly across from the local mayor and his businessman friend, and I have one hour to convince these civilians to help me.

This is not a story from a conflict zone, though it is a theatre of sorts. The scenario unfolds on a military base in Italy, where a training run by the NATO Multi-National CIMIC (civil-military cooperation) Group is underway. The ‘mayor’ and ‘businessman’ are members of the Italian armed forces performing the role of civilians, while I, in turn, am a civilian acting as a military commander. How did I come to be involved in such civil-military shape shifting?

Attacks against humanitarian aid workers have attracted considerable attention in recent years, especially the October 2015 bombing of the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Important legal and operational measures have been proposed to bolster aid worker protection and, crucially, attempts are being made to better understand the causes of violence against aid workers. The roles played by other actors, such as international militaries, are being examined and there is renewed interested in bolstering guidance on humanitarian-military interactions  (e.g.  IASCMCDA, and country-specific guidelines).

The public conversation about aid worker security has opened a window for reflecting on the humanitarian-military relationship more broadly. As a former aid worker myself, I am intimately acquainted with efforts humanitarians make to separate themselves from military actors—often by appealing to a protected civilian status in IHL. Less clear is how these attempts are perceived from the other side. And so I am attending this NATO training and others like it to investigate how military actors learn about, make sense of, and respond to the humanitarians they meet in armed conflict contexts.

As the civilian humanitarian trainers at NATO emphasize, perceptions are paramount. One trainer states: ‘Beyond following the humanitarian principles, I must be perceived as following them, by the population, by the army, by the government…’ Another adds, ‘it’s all about perceptions—that’s the pin that I dance on.’

Military trainees are taught that their direct engagement in humanitarian-type activities is problematic for humanitarians, who fear the ‘association, mobilization, and utilization of humanitarian assistance to achieve other objectives.’ One military trainer advises: ‘You have to watch for mission creep, you can’t send the wrong message to the public.’ Another touches on general issues of proximity: ‘If they share a room and coffee with us, they can be seen as taking sides by people outside.’

How do the military trainees receive these lessons?

Continue reading

New Developments in Drone Proliferation: How Africa was Deployed to Rescue Drones

Debates on global drone proliferation tend to assume that adoption and adaptation of drones follow a universal logic and that the drone industry is a singular thing, geographically concentrated in the Global North. In this blog post I argue that these assumptions make it difficult to critically assess the growth in drone use across Africa. I suggest that one way to think about African drone proliferation is by considering the way drones and Africa are being construed as solutions to each other’s problems: drones are seen as a game changer for develop­ment and security, while in return Africa inspire new and innovative use of drones. The percep­tion of Africa as being in need of external drone intervention dovetails with the drone industry’s efforts to identify and promote good uses for drones — efforts that are central to increasing the legitimacy of drones in the eyes of a skeptical global public. Here I want to highlight three key issues related to drone proliferation in Africa.

First, that there is an unbroken link from colonial use of airpower in Africa and the legacy of technological imperialism to today’s discussion of unmanned technology and its perceived capacities. The first use of airpower in Africa occurred more than a century ago, during the Italian-Turkish War fought in Libya in 1911–1912. In their conquest of Morocco in 1912– 1914, the French used aircraft for reconnaissance and bombing. British use of airpower to enforce civil control in sub-Saharan Africa began in 1916 in British Somaliland. The use of surveillance drones in Africa initially emerged as a part of this colonial apparatus: According to Darren Oliver, the first known drone prototype developed in Africa, the Champion, was developed by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 1977 and delivered to the South African Air Force in 1978. Some of the Champions were supplied to Rhodesia for use in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle (1964– 1979), also known as the Rhodesian Bush War. Unbeknownst to almost everyone today, a fleet of South African and Israeli drones “saw extensive combat duty across the southern African theatre between 1980 and 1987, operating from Mozambique to Angola.”

Second, that drones reshape the use of force on the African continent. A central concern in the global debate on armed drones is that such drones may drive military action and lower the threshold for the use of lethal force: the scope of operations is determined by the number of designated individuals drones can target for elimination. In 2007 the first known drone strike on African soil occurred in Somalia. Today, the numbers of targeted drone killings are continuously expanding: The United States, the United Kingdom (UK), and France have bases for surveillance and combat drones in Chad, Libya, Mali, Niger, and Somalia. African militaries are also embracing surveillance and combat drones. A non-exhaustive inventory finds that more than fifteen African states have purchased drones, and at least six can manufacture their own. This includes armed drones: In 2015, the South African company Denel Dynamics introduced the Snyper, an armed version of its Seeker 400 drone. The market for Israeli military drones continues to grow across Africa. China, meanwhile, has exported five armed drones to Nigeria, to boost that country’s efforts to fight Boko Haram.

The third point worth noting is the manner in which the drone industry construes an image of “Africa” as an appropriate testing ground for development of “good” drones suited to solve the continent’s “problems”. Globally, drones have a bad name: in addition to the controversies surrounding the drone wars, drones are generally perceived as technologies that are subject to a range of risks, from pilot error to mechanical failure, cyber-attacks, and bad weather. The result is very limited access to civil airspace. Thus the drone industry has a significant unmet need to test and improve the technology by increasing flight hours and trial applications. The African continent’s lack of infrastructure — including power lines, airspace control, and commercial flights — is attractive to the drone industry: African airspace has been described as “less cluttered with flights that have slowed the adoption of commercial drones in North America and Europe.”

Africa is also a place where drones can obtain legitimacy as a “good” technology. Peacekeeping missions and wildlife conservation are examples of drone use intended to address specifically “African” problems. By allowing practices with high degrees of legitimacy — like peacekeeping and the African War on Poaching — to be juxtaposed with drone uses that, in other contexts, may be viewed as more controversial, the African context provides opportunities to strengthen the notion of drones as “good” technology.

In 2015, a UN Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping called for drones to be integrated into all UN peacekeeping missions, missions that are increasingly set to enforcing peace with military means. Of the sixteen ongoing UN peacekeeping missions, nine are located in Africa. The first mission to acquire a drone capability was MONUSCO, the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nongovernmental organizations operating in and around Goma, for example, have voiced strong concerns that such peacekeeping drones are blurring the line between military and humanitarian action. This concerns the actual uses of the drones as well as community perceptions.

In the intensifying African War on Poaching, drones are currently being used to combat poaching on elephant and rhino in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. According to the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa, the massive market demand for illegal game has meant that rangers are increasingly likely to find themselves in combat situations. Conservationists might argue that drones are merely visual aids for rangers to gain an advantage over the poachers. However, when conservation is reframed as a “war on poaching”, this approach is modelled on the war on terror and relies on military-grade weapons. In 2014, in Kruger National Park, South Africa, one poacher was killed by a ranger who was acting on information provided by a drone. Using drones to monitor animals and to target poachers are qualitatively and morally different activities.

In conclusion, the ‘African drone’ has become a vehicle for the production and distribution of norms, resources, and forms of legitimacy that have implications for drone proliferation, both within and outside Africa. By contributing to further militarization and lowering the threshold for the use of force, drones transform the ways in which security operations, peacekeeping and conservation work are carried out across the continent. At the same time, by affiliating drones strongly with these types of projects, the perceptions of African and Northern audiences change with respect to the respectability and utility of drones. As academics, it is our job to try to keep track of these developments; both in the local context and in a broader pan-African perspective.

This blog was first posted over at Mats Utas blog. The post is based on Kristin Bergtora Sandviks article African Drone Stories, which was an output of the Dynamics of State Failure and Violence Project. Sandvik is the co-editor of “The Good Drone”, released by Ashgate in 2016.

An academic New Year’s resolution for Colombia: understanding continued gendered violence as a threat to positive peace

Over the last decade, Colombia has been host to the world’s largest population of internally displaced people (IDP). In 2016, it is expected that the Colombian government and FARC will reach a peace agreement, marking the formal end of more than 50 years of civil war. It is widely recognized that this peace agreement will not resolve the immediate causes of displacement, but rather generate one kind of settlement in a context of longstanding and complex uses of violence. At present, contradictory tendencies seem to be at play: While periods of 2015 have seen the lowest levels of violence recorded on a national level since 1975, threats against civil society actors are increasing at an alarming rate.

As academics, we should be prepared to contribute to the development of a positive peace that amounts to more than the absence of armed conflict. We must continue to research, analyze and theorize violence against grassroots activists; in particular we must make sense of the type of gendered threats and gendered violence female activists are subjected to. From a socio-legal perspective, I think two challenges are particularly significant here.

First, that our theoretical tools for making sense of a violent post-conflict setting are underdeveloped. Existing theories of uses of law by social movements tend to be based on the legal cultures and institutions of industrialized liberal democracies.

In a recent article in Law and Society Review on IDP organizing in Colombia, Julieta Lemaitre and I argue that in violent contexts, mobilization frames are unstable and constantly shifting, resources tend to vanish, and political opportunities often imply considerable physical danger. In recent years, the legal and political conceptualization of the IDP situation as a humanitarian crisis has given way to a transitional justice frame. Yet, the challenges of violent context persist, with additional violence resulting from the ongoing land restitution process. We suggest that future research must pay attention to how legal mobilization in a social context that will most likely remain violent develops under a post-conflict legal regime, for various groups of women’s grassroots activists, including but not limited to displaced women.

Second, in particular, it will be necessary to do a better job of accounting specifically for the persistence of gendered violence and the ways it interlinks with grassroots women’s organizing. For example, Goldstein and Arias influential idea of “violent pluralism” as a mode of describing the Latin American and Colombian experience with conflict and violence is silent on the gendered realities of this violence.  In the post-conflict setting, we need to get a better understanding of political and legal mobilization in response to gendered violence; gendered violence as an obstacle to such political and legal mobilization; and how political and legal mobilization become the causes of gender-based violence.

Continued gendered violence will be a serious threat to positive peace. Taking the New Year’s resolution seriously involves figuring out what’s new, what’s old and which stories have not yet been told. In particular, it involves a commitment to resist the danger of (English-language) scholarly amnesia that often follows watershed moments like this type of peace agreement. It also includes being cognizant of the existing gaps in knowledge that are not going away with a peace agreement.

Happy Holidays.

 

Launch of the Nordic Women Mediators’ Network

On November 27th 2015, representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland gathered at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway to launch the Nordic Women Mediators Network.  State Secretary, Tore Hattrem, of MFA Norway explained that this initiative was inspired by a South African network of women mediators.   He expressed the belief that the implemenation of sustainable peace could only be achieved by including meaningful participation of women in peace negotiations.  The persistent lack of women peace negotiators in spite of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was recognized, between 1992 and 2011, only 9% of peace negotiators and 2% of lead mediators were women.  Hattrem noted that it was important for the Nordics to lead by example, hence they should ensure that their own delegations and negotiation teams are gender balances and address gender issues, as well as support the appointment of women as UN Special Envoys, Special Representatives, Ambassadors, and other Offices.  He concluded by stating “It is not about counting women, it is about making women count.”  Ambassador Ann Bernes (MFA Sweden) underscored how this network fit in within Sweden’s Action Plan for a Feminist Foreign Policy.  Stefan Haukur Johannesson (MFA Iceland) suggested that it was essential to engage men in supporting gender awareness, encouraging them to become agents of change to support gender empowerment.

There was discussion about the common heritage of the Nordic countries in implementing gender equality through public education, health care, child care, social safety nets, etc. In addition “Nordic” was considered to be a good brand name in international affairs that could help push the aspiration of promoting gender empowerment throughout the world.

The launch included a high-level panel of women mediators and negotiators who provided vivid reflections on their experiences in the field.  Hilde Frafjord Johnson, former Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (2011- 2014), observed that since women are more seldom belligerents they are more often excluded from cease fire negotiations.  She indicated that peace negotiations should ideally be divided into different stages, separating the cease fire stage from the state building/peace building stage which would address political and social issues relating to marginalization and exclusion that should include women.

Greta Gunnarsdottir (Ambassador of Iceland) commented that women always face the challenge of having to prove that they are competent and that they have something to bring to the table, whereas in the case of men this is never questioned, rather it is taken for granted.  She pointed out a climate of indifference or irritation regarding gender issues among many actors.  The lack of a woman UN Secretary General and the presence of only token women representatives within the UN General Assembly were noted as giving evidence of the poor status of women around the world.

Karin Landgren ,former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General who led the UN Missions in Liberia, Nepal, and Burundi, called for increased support of conflict prevention and mediation efforts, in spite of the fact that these approaches are not easily marketed to donors who may not be oriented towards long term perspectives.

The objectives of this network are:

  • To increase the number of Nordic women that are actively involved in international peace mediation efforts.
  • To connect with and promote networks of women mediators in the South, both at country level and in regional organizations.
  • To serve as a pilot for similar initiatives in other regions or at the international level, through close coordination with the UN.

 

One member of the audience recounted  the Nordic Women’s Peace Marches against nuclear weapons in Europe (1981), in the USSR (1982), and USA, suggesting that Nordic women have a long history of cooperation for peace and that this initiative had good prospects for success.

This event was co-hosted by PRIO and NOREF.

Beyond Sexual Violence: Gendered Political Insecurity as a Threat to Peace

Julieta Lemaitre and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

Based on extensive field research in Colombia, our new article Beyond Sexual Violence in Transitional Justice: Political Insecurity as a Gendered Harm examines political insecurity as a specifically gendered harm that must be addressed in the ongoing Colombian transitional justice process.

In a previous blogpost we described the tragic plight of the women’s rights activist and survivor of sexual violence Angélica Bello. Bello was one of the main proponents of Law 18 June 2014, which sets out to guarantee access to justice for victims of sexual violence. The Law is part of the transitional justice process and seeks to bring Colombian law into harmony with international law regarding sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict. It defines crimes of sexual violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sets out criteria for investigating sexual crimes and protecting survivors analogous to those of the ICC. As the peace negotiations in Havana between the government and the FARC guerrilla continue to make slow but steady progress, the sexual violence agenda increasingly captures the field of harms to women in war.

While recognizing the importance of this law, we nevertheless suggest that it is a problem for the ongoing transitional justice process that there are so few articulations of what other kinds of gendered harms may look like and how they should be effectively addressed. Much of the growing literature on gender in armed conflict and the debates over post-conflict reparations for women focuses on the prevalence and harms of sexual violence. This development has engendered controversial debates concerning the alleged prioritization of sexual violence at the expense of other harms to women, whether this debate sexualizes and infantilizes women, as well as with respect to forms of victimization not captured by feminist frames of reference, such as male rape (This is often framed as a debate between the Halley and MacKinnon schools of thought). In her work on reparations, Ruth Rubio-Marin takes issue with what she sees as an excessive emphasis on sexual violence in transitional justice, embodying both a suggestion that sexual harm is the worst abuse that can happen to women and the entrenchment of a patriarchal ideal of female chastity. Rubio-Marin (2012) argues that the ‘hyper-attention’ to sex now risks doing further harm to women by deviating attention from other non-sexual forms of sex-specific harms, and isolating sexual and gender based violence from broader agendas that confront the multiple gendered forms of harm and injustice.

What are these other gender specific harms? What should transitional justice focus on beyond sexual violence? How can we think of gendered harms in relation to poverty alleviation or of resource redistribution?

In our article, we argue that if civic trust is to be built among all citizens, women’s experience of exclusion from the political through force and intimidation must be included in the narratives of armed conflict, political insecurity and the aftermath of war. Importantly, political insecurity is complex and extends beyond conflict between the state and the guerrillas, and yet the guarantee of security of political activity is a central component of a transition to peace. Arguably, political insecurity will persist as long as there is no effective challenge to the subnational hold of illegal armed actors emerging in the aftermath of war. The insecurity fostered by these actors is gendered, enforcing cultural mandates to confine women to the domestic space. In a transition to the end of armed conflict guerrillas can stop being both a threat for community organizing, and a justification for state repression.

Finally, we also suggest that the complete dismantling of gendered political insecurity will remain a challenge for transitional justice. A just transition to peace for women would require first, the dismantling of the capacity of private powers (at least of organized crime and business interests) to use violence to achieve their economic goals, and it will also require a vigorous promotion of women’s political participation at the grassroots level. More scholarly attention to the gendered aspects of these problems and scenarios is needed as Colombia continues to stumble towards the end of its 5o year old civil war.