Write On! GoJIL Special Issues on Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict – Beyond the ILC

A reminder from GoJIL: Call for Submissions for Special Issue on “Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict – Beyond the ILC”.

The International Law Commission included the topic “Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict” in 2011 on its future program of work. It is now in the stage of finalizing the project by drafting principles that address the phases of pre-conflict, during conflict, and post-conflict in light of different fields of international law, in particular laws of armed conflict, human rights law and international environmental law. This GoJIL special issue attempts to consolidate the legal protection of the environment during the three phases of armed conflict by the laws of armed conflict, human rights law and international environmental law. Contributions should address one (or several) of the three conflict phases with regard to environmental protection.

Deadline for the submission of abstracts is 1 June 2019. All articles must be submitted 1 August 2019. Selected contributions will then be published in Issue 1 of Vol. 10 in 2020. The full GoJIL call for papers can be found here.

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Safeguarding: good intentions, difficult process. On white feminism and abolitionism in humanitarianism.

In the wake of the scandal in Haiti revolving around sexual misconduct by Oxfam staff in the aftermath of the 2010 Earthquake, the aid sector is now engaging in ‘safeguarding’ exercises. While initially based on a UK legal definition that applied to vulnerable adults and children, safeguarding has acquired a broader meaning, which includes all actions by aid actors to protect staff from harm (abuse, sexual harassment and violence) and to ensure staff do not harm beneficiaries. However, despite good intentions, I suggest that the safeguarding response has some problematic qualities which need to be discussed. Here I will focus on two:

Formulating inclusive and informed safeguarding

First, as we move from arguments for the legitimacy of safeguarding initiatives, to a discussion of the legitimacy of how they are implemented, there has been vocal concern about the lack of inclusivity to this extent. Critics have noted that a “safeguarding industry was hatched, and experts magically appeared and promises of change were made’ with little attention to local and national contexts or participation.

These types of objections speak to the sector’s long-standing struggle with bottom-up accountability. The view that safeguarding is yet another Western-centric practice, and frustrated complaints about the absence of meaningful field participation and local consultations when formulating safeguarding approaches, need to be taken seriously and addressed carefully – with the cognisance that the underlying issues of discontent go much beyond safeguarding.

 

Photo credit: Cindy Shebley

Photo credit: Cindy Shebley

 

However, I think we need to be clear that technical and ‘programming’ conversations around safeguarding also expose difficult and normally ‘hidden’ contestations over privilegepower and race. Where long-standing struggles of women of colour in aid crash head-on into the whiteness of the Me Too movement, the whiteness of ‘humanitarian feminism’ and the whiteness of the sector more generally. Here I think the sector – including reform minded individuals – could be more honest about who is around the table and why, and display a greater willingness to engage: this type of conversation is and will be uncomfortable – but if we want to go anywhere with safeguarding, so be it.

Establishing clarity not de facto criminalisation

The second issue pertains to the inherent vagueness and malleability of the concept. While problems in the sector are frequently attributed to a ‘lack of clear definition’ of an emerging challenge, something else seems to be at play here.  At its core, the idea of safeguarding is to reinforce the humanitarian imperative to Do No Harm, by preventing ‘sexual abuse and exploitation’. Humanitarians have long been concerned about this and tried to do something about it. For decades, sexual exploitation has been considered the worst possible behaviour humanitarian workers can be guilty of, but it has perhaps not been quite so clear what constitutes exploitation and which relationships exploitation takes place in.

Previously too many behaviours and relationships were left out of the equation for behavioural mores in the sector – but are we on the road to leaving too many in today? Is safeguarding at risk of becoming some sort of moral trojan horse that implants new social and political struggles into the humanitarian space?

 

Photo credit: BBC.

Photo credit: BBC.

 

I am here particularly thinking about transactional sex. The interpretation of what safeguarding means is also shaped by changing cultural perceptions of transactional sex and prostitution, primarily in the Global North. While the Me Too campaign is of very recent date, it links up with a more longstanding trend in big donor countries, namely the de facto criminalisation of prostitution by criminalising the buyer. Whereas Codes of Conduct have been promoted as a key mechanism for governing the sexual behaviour of humanitarian workers, the act of buying sex is increasingly construed legally and ideologically as a criminal practice.

In my view, this is possibly the most difficult field of social practice covered by safeguarding, and where it is vital to think carefully so that one can navigate the fine line between justifiable moral censure and moralistic outrage. Is moralistic outrage necessarily a bad thing? The view appears to be emerging that paying for sex, anywhere and at any time, is incompatible with being a ‘good’ humanitarian worker and dependable employee; the distinction between paying for sex and exploiting someone for sex is being erased.

While buying sex in the 1980s, for example, appears to have been a fairly common practice in the aid world (broadly defined), much of the moral indignation previously linked to prostitution and aid was linked to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the fact that buying sex helped spread the epidemic at home and abroad. Today, in such donor countries as Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden, buying sex is illegal and is punished with fines or prison sentences. At the same time, criminalisation remains extremely controversial, and the extent of this controversy is perhaps getting lost as the abolitionist approach travels to the humanitarian space.

 

Photo credit: David Holt.

Photo credit: David Holt. 

 

Global prostitution activism has long been an ideological battlefield, with a seemingly unbridgeable abyss between those who see prostitution as violence against women and those who want it regulated as work, regardless of gender.  What are the costs and trade-offs of transporting this battlefield into humanitarian practice? While I am not aware of any comprehensive effort to track the consequences of criminalisation for sex workers, new research indicates that vulnerable women in prostitution become more vulnerable through criminalisation in the Global North.

Thus, when trying to gauge an appropriate scope for the idea of safeguarding, I think it is necessary to reflect on the usefulness (and normative appropriateness) of maintaining a strong conceptual distinction between procuring sexual services from individuals receiving aid or falling under protection mandates, from sex workers who are not recipients of aid nor in a position of vulnerability in a specific humanitarian field setting.

It is now widely recognised that buying sex in emergencies rests on deep power differences, is fundamentally unacceptable and as such threatens the legitimacy of the sector. While this recognition is long overdue, its emergence should be seen as progress. However, this does not imply that safeguarding practices should be used as a vehicle for criminalising buyers and abolishing prostitution going forward.

This post was originally published by ALNAP under the title ‘Safeguarding: good intentions, difficult process’. See https://www.alnap.org/blogs/safeguarding-good-intentions-difficult-process

Work On! Summer Course on International Protection of Human Rights

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Work On! is an occasional item about workshops, roundtables, and other fora that do not necessarily include publication:

The Poznań Human Rights Center of the Institute of Law Studies, Polish Academy of Science will host the 2019 Summer Course on International Protection of Human Rights “Gender in Law and Practice” on August 19-28, 2019, in Poznań, Poland. Deadline to apply is May 31, 2019. Details here.

Safeguarding women after disasters: some progress, but not enough

Hundreds of Mozambicans were killed and thousands made homelessrecently by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth. Almost immediately, there were reports of a sadly familiar story: women being forced to trade sex for food by local community leaders distributing aid.

Globally, international organisations appear to be grappling with the issue more seriously than before. Yet reports about sexual exploitation keep coming. How does the aid community strategise to protect women’s safety in disaster situations?

Over the past 15 years, I have done research on sexual exploitation of displaced women in Uganda and Colombia. I have also worked with a variety of humanitarian organisations on accountability and legalisation. Through this, I have identified the factors necessary to bring justice to the victims of predatory aid workers.

Sexual exploitation must be recognised as a real and widespread problem. There must be staff and management accountability. Transgressions must be sanctioned through disciplinary or penal measures. But there are also major dilemmas that need to be understood and tackled by governments, agencies and, most importantly, local communities.

Sexual exploitation in aid

The sexual exploitation of disaster and conflict victims is a global – and longstanding – phenomenon. Over the last 25 years, there have been radical changes in the standards of global public morality around the conduct of personnel working for international organisations and NGOs when vulnerable adults and children are involved.

Nevertheless, the willingness to see sexual exploitation as an inherent feature of the international community’s intervention to bring development, humanitarian aid or peace has been much slower to evolve.

It was only 24 years ago that UNHCR issued guidelines on sexual violence and refugees that expressly mentioned international refugee workers as being implicated in sexual violence against refugees.

The sexual abuse of vulnerable women and girls in several African countries by international aid workers was recently described as “endemic”. It was also noted that perpetrators easily moved around the sector undetected.

Several recent cases have been reported from Cote d’ivore, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

These have involved aid workers and peacekeepers, as well as local aid workers and government employees.

In my research on refugees, accusations concerning “sex for resettlement” registration surface regularly. I found these to be frequent while working on refugee resettlement in Kampala 15 years ago. Despite the UNHCR’s promise to reform, similar accusations keep resurfacing, most recently in Kenya. The time has come for the international community to seriously debate the power mechanisms embedded in the resettlement process that enable sexual exploitation to fester.

What will fix the problem?

The first step is to organise accountability.

Humanitarian accountability first emerged as a concern in the 1980s. It was institutionalised in the 1994 Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief . The 1996 Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda was a defining moment.

That report resulted in several sector-wide initiatives. Five years ago efforts were made to streamline these in the revised Core Humanitarian Standards.

Throughout this period, sexual exploitation has been considered the worst possible behaviour humanitarian workers can be guilty of. But it has not been clear what constitutes exploitation and in which relationships it takes place. The lack of a definition, the unwillingness to articulate and enforce robust norms for professional behaviour and the absence of effective complaint mechanisms and protections for whistle-blowers have contributed to a culture of impunity for predatory behaviour against aid recipients.

Early policy responses to sexual exploitation were concerned with reputational issues. But over the past 15 years the humanitarian sector has seen a flurry of institutional initiatives to grapple with this specific issue. The effort to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse is led by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

The aid sector is now engaging in “safeguarding exercises”. These emerged after the Oxfam scandal in Haiti. The organisation was seen as failing to act on sexual misconduct by staff in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, and then to have attempted a cover-up.

Safeguarding includes all actions by aid actors to protect staff from harm (abuse, sexual harassment and violence) and to ensure staff do not harm beneficiaries.

This broad definition represents both a welcome recognition of the scope of the problem and an opportunity for a comprehensive approach. But it also creates some new challenges. Three are particularly worth noting.

The challenges

Who gets a voice: There has been vocal concern about the lack of inclusiveness in how safeguarding is practised. Critics have noted that a safeguarding industry was hatched with little attention to local and national context or participation. There is a view that safeguarding is yet another Western-centric practice. I think this critique is true. But it also creates a dilemma: should global norms about sexual exploitation in international aid be up for local negotiation?

Regulation and criminalisation. In recent years, there have been calls to regulate foreign aid actors more robustly. This is understandable. Aid actors have operated with a great deal of license and even impunity under the humanitarian banner. But drawing up new laws also creates problems. This is particularly true in a context where African civil society generally is under pressure from new restrictive laws that curtail their activities.

Responding to the call to “do something”, the international community has embraced criminalisation and criminal prosecutions to promote and strengthen the fight against impunity. But opting for criminal law and the courtroom rests on a deeply simplistic framing of structural power imbalances in aid. Legal strategies are costly and slow. The focus on sexual violence in disasters and conflicts also risks crowding out concern for other aspects of women’s lives.

Localisation: Since 2016 there has been a significant focus on the localisation of aid. The Charter for Change focuses on contracting, resource allocation, transparency and communication. It highlights the importance of not undermining local capacity. The process is generally painfully slow and a shockingly small percentage of international aid funding is actually allocated to local actors.

At the same time, there is a persistent call for international actors to do, control and know more about what goes on locally to limit corruption, incompetence and abuse. This call comes partly from media in donor states addressing taxpayers, but also from watchdogs within the sector.

This is also the case for sexual exploitation. In its report, Human Rights Watch demands that “international partners, particularly the UN, should ensure greater oversight of the conduct of local officials during the distribution of humanitarian aid”. This will not come for free.

The question is how a balance can be found between control and localisation – and who gets to determine what this balance should be.

This post was originally published at https://theconversation.com/safeguarding-women-after-disasters-some-progress-but-not-enough-116619. For an extended critical commentary on the rapid rise of the Safeguarding concept in the aid sector, see https://jhumanitarianaction.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41018-019-0051-1

Write On! Palestine Yearbook of Int’l Law Vol. 22

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This installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes calls to submit papers for the Palestine Yearbook of International Law Vol. 22 as follows:

► The Palestine Yearbook of International Law is now inviting submissions of scholarly
articles for publication for its next volume, XXII (2019). This is a general call for papers. The Yearbook is published in the English language, is edited at Birzeit University’s Institute of Law (Birzeit, Palestine), and published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers (The Hague, The Netherlands). The Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook is Mr. Ardi Imseis. 

► The Yearbook is now accepting abstracts for review. Abstracts should include a working title, with a preliminary outline of the author’s research and arguments, along with a current CV. Applicants should e-mail an abstract (of under 750 words), along with a CV by June 15, 2019.  See here for more information. All submissions should be made to:

• Ms. Reem Al-Botmeh: rbotmeh@birzeit.edu and iol.pyil@birzeit.edu; and
• Mr. Ata Hindi: atahindi@yahoo.com.

Write On! Law & Practice of Int’l Courts & Tribunals Rosalyn Higgins Prize

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This installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes calls to submit papers for the Rosalyn Higgins Prize as follows:

► The Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals now invites submissions for the Rosalyn Higgins Prize. The Rosalyn Higgins Prize is an annual prize which awards EUR 1,000 of Brill book vouchers and a LPICT subscription to the author of the best article on the law and practice of the International Court of Justice, either solely focusing on the ICJ or with the ICJ as one of the dispute settlement mechanisms under consideration. The winning article will also be published in LPICT and made freely available online to maximize its dissemination.

► Competition for the Prize is open to all: scholars as well as practitioners, junior as well as senior professionals. Submissions will be selected via a double-blind peer review process by a Prize Committee, including both co-Editors-in-Chief. Exceptionally, two papers of an equally high standard can be selected. The Committee is also able to choose not to award the Prize if in its opinion none of the submitted papers reaches the required standards.

► Submissions should be between 6,500 and 8,000 words in length, not yet published or under review elsewhere. Other submission requirements are the same as for regular LPICT submissions. Instructions available here. The deadline is August 31, 2019. All papers for consideration of the 2019 prize should be sent directly to Pierre Bodeau-Livinec (bodeaulivinec@gmail.com ) and Freya Baetens (freya.baetens@jus.uio.no), LPICT Co-Editors-in-Chief. The winner(s) will be announced in September 2019.

Write On! Rapoport Center Conference on Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform

 

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This installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes calls to submit papers to the conference on Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform: From the Local to the Global, as follows:

► The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at The University of Texas at Austin, School of Law invites submissions for an interdisciplinary conference on the theme of “Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform: From the Local to the Global,” to be held September 26-28, 2019 in Austin, Texas.

►The Rapoport Center invites proposals for papers, panels, art, or other forms of presentation from activists, practitioners, and scholars in all disciplines. Please send an abstract of your paper, panel, or project in under 500 words to Sarah Eliason by July 15, 2019. A limited number of need-based travel grants are available to support travel costs for selected participants. If you wish to apply for a travel grant, please complete this application form by July 15, 2019.