Keeping Guantánamo on the Map

Vivek Bhatt, a Student Ambassador with the Global Justice Academy (GJA), has written this blog following a panel event he attended at the Edinburgh Law School. The event, hosted by the GJA, explored the continuing relevance of legal and political issues arising from detention at Guantánamo Bay.

The United States acquired control of Guantánamo Bay in 1903, when it entered into an agreement with Cuba for the perpetual lease of the 45 square mile area.[1] Guantánamo Bay has since been operated as a naval base, and in the 1990s, it was ‘refashioned as a detention camp for those seeking asylum in the United States.’[2] From 1991 to 1996, more than 20,000 Cuban and 36,000 Haitian asylum seekers were interned in Guantánamo Bay.[3] And, in November 2001, merely days after the declaration of a ‘global war’ against terrorism, a US Military Order authorised the indefinite detention and trial of ‘enemy combatants’ at the camp. The US promptly began transferring individuals captured during its international counterterrorist operations to Guantanamo Bay. A total of 770 have been held there through the course of the war on terrorism. Only 8 men have been convicted, with more than 500 released during the Bush administration, 198 released during Obama’s presidency, and 9 killed in custody. 41 remain in detention, with 14 considered high value detainees and 26 designated as ‘forever prisoners,’ individuals whose knowledge of practices at Guantánamo Bay renders them too dangerous to be released.

The legal justifications provided for detention at Guantánamo Bay have been vague, at best. Those transferred to the camp are characterised as ‘enemy combatants’ under the laws of armed conflict, even though many have been captured outside areas of fighting.[4] The camp’s location in Cuba has, furthermore, allowed officials to assert that detainees are not entitled to the protections of the US legal system. According to Harold Koh, Guantánamo Bay is effectively a ‘rights-free zone’ constructed by the US. [5] Its detainees, writes Agamben, ‘[Are] legally unnameable and unclassifiable beings.’[6] After the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture in 2014, it was finally confirmed that many of these detainees have been subjected to ongoing torture practices as part of their interrogation. The camp has, therefore, come to symbolise the legal and ethical dubiousness of the war on terror, with the ‘visceral image’ of the orange Guantánamo jumpsuit now engrained in public memory and popular culture.[7] Fifteen years on, however, International attention to the legal and political issues arising from detention at Guantánamo Bay is waning. Some, it seems, believe the worst is over, while others may simply have accepted that the goings on at the camp are part of an inevitable, ‘new’ reality of the war on terror.

This was the topic of ‘International Law and Guantánamo Detention Operations: Why it Matters,’ a panel event hosted by the Global Justice Academy and the Edinburgh Law School on 9 February 2017. The event aimed to examine the range of international law and human rights issues relating to detention operations in Guantánamo Bay, and was opened by Kasey McCall-Smith, lecturer in public international law at the Edinburgh Law School. Dr McCall-Smith provided an overview of the breaches of international law at Guantánamo Bay. She began by pointing out that the United States is not solely responsible for these breaches; the international community has facilitated the detention programme at Guantánamo Bay, and has failed to react to the grave violations of human rights that have occurred there. The violations of human rights at Guantánamo Bay begin with rendition flights, which transport terrorists to the camp for interrogation, and have been allowed to land at various airports throughout Europe. Various areas of international law are relevant to rendition, but particularly the prohibition of enforced disappearance. Once at Guantánamo Bay, detainees have been denied their right to visits from a consular official of their national State, protected under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.[8] As Dr McCall-Smith pointed out, various provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have also been violated in the course of detention and interrogation at Guantánamo Bay. These include the right to non-discrimination,[9] the right to liberty and security of person,[10] the right to be heard before a court,[11] and the right to be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the person.[12]

Meanwhile, Jacques Hartmann, a senior lecturer in Law at the University of Dundee, spoke of his research into arbitrary detention in non-international armed conflicts. This topic is particularly relevant to Guantánamo Bay, given that most of those taken to the camp are captured as enemy combatants. To Dr Hartmann, the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay is symptomatic of a much larger problem: the lack of treaty provisions that explicitly address detention in non-international armed conflict. The lack of an express provision leads many to infer the authority to detain from the authority to use lethal force. Yet Dr Hartmann warned against such inferential reasoning, reiterating that any detention without legal justification is arbitrary, and is thus prohibited under both international human rights and humanitarian law.

As suggested above, the most widely discussed human rights violation at Guantánamo Bay is the continued use of torture. This was the focus of an address given by Dr Mitch Robinson, an international law specialist at the United States Department of Defense. He characterised Guantánamo Bay as a concentration camp; the only people detained there since November 2001 have been Sunni Muslim men. Dr Robinson spoke of one of his clients, a Saudi national who was accused of financing terrorism, and was in the CIAs’ torture programme for three and a half years. Though reports from early questioning suggested that he ‘does not appear to be a financing mastermind,’ the client was repeatedly deprived of sleep, sodomised and water-boarded, among other things. Robinson proposed a strategy for global human rights litigation relating to Guantánamo Bay. He refers to this strategy as ‘collateral advocacy’ for detainees’ human rights through domestic courts, regional human rights bodies, the UN’s human rights treaty bodies and high commissioner for human rights, international non-governmental organisations, civil society, and the application of legal or diplomatic pressure by other States.

Andrea Birdsall, lecturer in international relations at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out that as the international community has become aware of torture practices in Guantánamo Bay, the US government has moved along a ‘continuum of denials.’ This began with literal denial, a phase in which the Bush administration simply argued that the US Government does not commit acts of torture. This was, however, challenged by the release of the torture memos,[13] which made clear that torture was being used as a government policy. This led to ‘interpretive denial,’ in which it was argued that detainees were not subjected to torture, but to ‘enhanced’ or ‘increased pressure’ phases of interrogation that did not entail the ‘near-death’ experiences that would constitute violations of international or US domestic law. In the final stage, ‘implicatory denial,’ it was admitted that ‘mistakes had been made’ in the interrogation of suspected terrorists, but it was argued that the measures taken were justifiable in times of crisis. To Dr Birdsall, the US government’s treatment of terrorist suspects does not signify the demise of the anti-torture norm. Instead, the discourse surrounding Guantánamo Bay has legitimised the international law prohibition of torture, reinforcing a shared global understanding of the prohibition’s non-derogability.

The panel concluded that the programme of detention and interrogation at Guantánamo Bay warrants continued attention from scholars, lawyers, governments, and international civil society. There are three reasons for this conclusion. Firstly, violations of human rights are ongoing; Article 14 of the Torture Convention, for example, requires States parties to rehabilitate victims of torture, an obligation the US government has not fulfilled in relation to Guantánamo detainees.[14] Secondly, Guantánamo Bay is unlikely to be closed in the foreseeable future, and conditions may in fact worsen in coming years. And, finally, the prominence of human rights violations at the camp presents an opportunity for scholars and practitioners to reflect upon the state of the international rule of law, and to reify the value of the fundamental rights protected within the international legal order.

About the author

Vivek Bhatt is an Edinburgh Global Research Scholar, and is reading for a PhD in Law. He holds an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and a Master of International Law from the University of Sydney. Vivek’s research interests span public international law, international political theory, and counterterrorism. His current research relates to the engagement of individuals in the international legal system through the course of the war on terror.

[1] Fleur Johns, ‘Guantánamo Bay and the Annihilation of the Exception’ (2005) 16(4) The European Journal of International Law 613, 616.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mary Ellen O’Connell, ‘The Choice of Law Against Terrorism’ (2010) 4 Journal of National Security Law & Policy 343, 353.

[5] Quoted in Joan Fitspatrick, ‘Spekaing Law to Power: The War Against Terrorism and Human Rights’ (2003) 14 European Journal of International Law 241, 242.

[6] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Kevin Attell trans., University of Chicago Press, 2005) 3.

[7] This phrase was used by Mitch Robinson, a panelist at ‘International Law and Guantánamo Detention Operations: Why it Matters’, hosted by the Global Justice Academy and Edinburgh Law School on 9 February 2017.

[8] Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed 24 April 1963, 596 UNTS 261 (entered into force 19 March 1967) art 36.

[9] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976) art 2.

[10] Ibid art 9(1).

[11] Ibid art 9(4).

[12] Ibid art 10(1).

[13] See, for example, Philippe Sands, ‘Torture Team: The Responsibility of Lawyers for Abusive Interrogation’ (2008) 9 Melbourne Journal of International Law 365, 366.

[14] Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, opened for signature 10 December 1984, 1465 UNTS 85 (entered into force 26 June 1987) art 14.

The Asylum Monologues

This blog has been written by Dr Grit Wesser, a postdoctoral fellow in Social Anthropology at The University of Edinburgh. Here, she reports from a recent Asylum Monologues event in Edinburgh, which brought together performers, academics, students and the public to discuss this global human rights issue.

Immigration has perhaps always been – at least since the rise of nation-states – a contentious issue for policy makers, in public discourse, and around families’ kitchen tables. The so-called “European Refugee Crisis” has renewed a debate not on ‘whether’, but on ‘how much’ to control and limit immigration to Europe. In this process, the issue has been reduced to one of numbers.

But why do people cross borders and leave behind their home countries and loved ones? What does it mean to be an asylum seeker in Scotland? What new boundaries do migrants face, once they arrive in a country that is foreign to them – and treats them as foreigners? Could Scotland become their new home? These questions were being creatively examined through a performance of the Asylum Monologues, and in the panel discussion that followed.

Ice&Fire, a theatre company that explores human rights issues through performance, created the first script of the Asylum Monologues in 2006. Since then the company has recorded and performed various testimonies of asylum seekers, aimed at raising awareness of asylum seekers’ experiences by sharing their stories with the communities to which they now belong. The audience listened attentively to a Scottish script, launched only during Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in 2016.

The three Ice&Fire performers took turns in telling the stories of a Kurdish unaccompanied minor, a young Pakistani man, and an Iranian woman and their experiences in Scotland. These narrations were candid and often bittersweet, taking the audience on the asylum seekers’ journeys, oscillating between the fear of state persecution and the sensations of loss, hope, and homesickness. The stories evoked the grief caused by broken families and the joys experienced through new-found friends as well as the frustrations and struggles associated with having to start from scratch and the potentials and expectations that new beginnings hold.

The performance was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Jenny Munro from Beyond Borders Scotland. The panel comprised Professor Anthony Good, Social Anthropology; Phil Jones, manager of the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers; and Steven Ritchie, one of the three performers. The panellists were joined by two young men whose stories we had just heard: Tony and Aras.

Since Aras had listened to the script of his own story for the first time, he was eager to praise the performer: “It was great. You told it better than I could have!” Tony and Aras spoke to the audience about their new life in Scotland, while Phil explained how the Night Shelter’s work attempts to mitigate the difficulties faced by asylum seekers in Glasgow. Steven, who was also involved in interviewing asylum seekers, revealed more about the process of recording and retelling their life stories.

Issues surrounding the asylum process in the UK were clarified by Prof Good, who has frequently acted as an expert witness on asylum appeals in the UK and other countries. Contrary to the stories we had listened to, he elaborated, the Home Office structures its interviews with asylum seekers in a way that does not accommodate a chronological order of their experiences. Questions are often phrased ambiguously so that asylum seekers’ answers could vary, in turn leading to an intentional undermining of their credibility – a credibility required for gaining refugee status.

After a vote of thanks to the performers, panellists, and sponsors, the event ended with much applause and a donation appeal. The audience donated a total of nearly £200, which was equally split to support the work of Amnesty International and the Glasgow Night Shelter.

Aimed at making the people behind immigration numbers visible again, it was a successful evening – as one attendee later commented: “I’ve been to a few discussions on refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland, but this was the first to have a more creative take with the monologues, which I thought worked really well. It’s always helpful to have a more personal take, because numbers and places are difficult to bring to life.  I thought it was great all in so thanks for putting it together.”

Grit Wesser organised The Asylum Monologues event with Helene Frössling (Scottish Graduate School of Social Science) and Hannah Cook (Centre for African Studies), and in collaboration with Beyond Borders Scotland and Ice&Fire. The event was co-supported by the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ through their joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

The Future of Pan-Africanism

This blog post was written by Micaela Opoku-Mensah, a masters student in Africa and International Development at The University of Edinburgh. Micaela reports from The Future of Pan-Africanism event, hosted recently in Edinburgh, that received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

Fellow students and lecturers from various disciplines across the University of Edinburgh came together at the Evolution House Boardroom to amplify conversations on ‘The Future of Pan-Africanism’ through a series of panel debates. From tracing the historical foundations, we discussed its current efforts in mobilizing those of African descent and envisaged future ramifications in its influence in African politics, philosophy and economics.

The event opened with the first panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and its Historical Foundations’, led by Dr. Kehinde Andrews (Birmingham City University). Taking us back to the origins of the Pan-African movement, Dr. Andrews drew attention to the importance of differentiating between the all-encompassing ‘Pan-Africanism’ movement with a capital ‘P’ and ‘pan-Africanism’ movement with a small ‘p’, demonstrating that the former refers to the renowned figures W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and the five Pan-African Congresses and the latter constituting a group of cultural movements that are somewhat ephemeral. Placing emphasis on the tendency to use the terms interchangeably, he explicates that one misses the nuances surrounding the objective. For instance, in regards to Dr. Kwame Nkumah’s end goal of Pan-Africanism to be the United States of Africa, this pushes us to rethink its application in the 21st century and what we mean by the nation-state in Africa.

Following on from this, Dr.Lawrence Dritsas (The University of Edinburgh) also traced the historical trajectories, however he ventured upon a different route talking about the history of pan-African Science, pan-African scientific institutions and explored their combined origins in both colonial and diasporic ideas.

Mr.Muhammed Dan Suleiman, a PhD candidate from the University of Western Australia, digitally spearheaded the second panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and Islamism’ speaking on locating the ‘African’ in contemporary Islamism. He embarked upon critically unpacking the Eurocentric understandings of Islamism and highlighted continuities in laying aside the Afrocentric perspective. Muhammed closed this segment urging the need for scholars to augment discussions.

In the final panel, ‘Pan-Africanism and Prospects for the Future’, was Mr.Nigel Stewart from the Centre for Pan-African Thought. He indicated that we are in a unique time in history where the future is to what degree one can harness and shape the global awakening and resistance into a program for sustainable change towards the ultimate aim for the total liberation of the African continent and its people. He stipulated that the spirit of Pan-Africanism, a beacon of social, cultural, political and economic emancipation is being revived and will continue to speak essentially on the importance of the unity of Africans across the globe. Nigel closed the event with considerable attention to Pan-Africanism becoming a model that represents a framework and pillars of which one can construct values and principles, particularly through corporate institutions, community programs and development programs focusing renewing consciousness in the mode of decolonization.

This workshop was made possible through the generous support of the Global Development Academy, the Global Justice Academy and the Centre of African Studies. I would like to give a special thanks to Sarah-Jane Cooper Knock, Louise McKenzie, the Student Rapporteurs: Courage Matiza, Safiya Mann, Patrick Brobbey and all of the wonderful volunteers from the MSc Africa & International Development, MSc African studies and MSc Global Health & Public Policy student cohort.

Cinema and Social Justice in Zimbabwe: An Evening with Agnieszka Piotrowska

Brooks Marmon is a PhD student in the Centre of African Studies at The University of Edinburgh.  His thesis examines Zimbabwean responses to the broader process of decolonization in Africa. In this blog post, he writes about an illuminating evening in Edinburgh with Agnieszka Piotrowska on cinema and social justice in Zimbabwe.

With support from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ Innovative Initiative Fund, the University of Edinburgh hosted Dr. Agnieszka Piotrowska (University of Bedfordshire) in March 2017 for a screening of her film Lovers in Time: Or How We Didn’t Get Arrested in Harare and presentation of a paper on post-colonial trauma.  The event explored the theme of ‘Cinema and Social Justice in Zimbabwe’ and was moderated by Dr. Francisca Mutapi from the School of Biological Sciences.

For the better part of the past decade, Piotrowska has been engaged with cinematic and theatrical initiatives in Zimbabwe.  Expanding on her initial training activities undertaken in Zimbabwe with the support of the British Council, Piotrowska has now made several feature-length and short films in the country and recently published Black and White: Cinema, Politics and the Arts in Zimbabwe.

Piotrowska has been particularly engaged with the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).  This annual festival in the Zimbabwean capital was the subject of one of Piotrowska’s earliest works on Zimbabwe, The Engagement Party in Harare.  A subsequent edition of the Festival formed the backdrop to the film for which we gathered at Thomson’s Land.

Lovers in Time traces the controversy surrounding a play of the same name.  Written by a Zimbabwean, Blessing Hungwe, Piotrowska was selected to direct the performance at the 2014 edition of HIFA.  The play provocatively traces Nehanda and Kaguvi, revered Zimbabwean spirit mediums who played prominent roles resisting the intrusion of white colonists in the late 19th century.  State media criticized the play for reincarnating the characters with a different gender, calling it “a distortion of history” and Piotrowska was requested to make (slight) alterations to the script, which she refused.  The documentary follows the impact of the tension induced by this critical attention on the cast and crew.

Piotrowska spoke frankly on the challenges she faced in directing the play both in the film and during her remarks. Toward the end of the film, following a scene in which the play has been disrupted by a protester, she queries in a voice-over, “I’m left confused and battered, not sure at all anymore.  Did we change anything?  Did we open a space for dialogue about history and race?”  She does not directly answer the question in the film, however during the Q&A, she noted that if she could do it all over again in that moment, she would.

Ultimately, as the title foreshadows, no one gets arrested. Piotrowska continues to work in Zimbabwe.  She has overseen the production of several shorts on the tumultuous relationship between the German academic Flora Veit-Wild and the celebrated Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera.  Her latest feature-length piece, a film noir entitled Escape with Joe Ngagu (with whom she also collaborated on Lovers in Time) will soon premier in the UK.

Piotrowska, whose work draws heavily on psychoanalysis, has described herself as a ‘trickster’, subverting dominant structures in a humorous manner.  In light of her continued (and prolific) work in and on Zimbabwe, it seems that the post-colonial trauma she endured in staging Lovers in Time has not dented her ambition to provocatively interrogate the lingering impact of foreign rule on Africa.

 

Human Shields: From International Law to Legitimate Political Violence (Peace and Conflict Series)

 

Nicola Perugini on the weaponisation of human bodies and the increasing justification of the killing of innocent civilians through international law

 

Nicola Perugini is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. For this exclusive blog post in the Global Justice Academy’s Peace and Conflict Series, Nicola was asked to answer the following question about his research:

What does human shielding tell us about the link between international law and contemporary political violence?

 

Nicola Perugini

Human shielding is growing phenomenon intricately linked to the increasing “weaponisation” of human bodies in contemporary warfare. The term refers to the deployment of civilians in order to deter attacks on combatants or military sites as well as their transformation into a technology of warfare. From Gaza City through Mosul in Iraq to Sri Lanka, accusations of using human shields as an instrument of protection, coercion or deterrence have multiplied in the past few of years.

Indeed, the dramatic increase of urban warfare, including insurgency and counterinsurgency, terrorism and counterterrorism, has inevitably meant that civilians often occupy the front lines in the fighting, while the distinction between civilians and combatants is blurred. This, in turn, presents a series of ethical dilemmas relating to the use of violence and whether the violence deployed complies with international law.

Continue reading

Peace and Conflict Series: Conflict and Syria, Think-tanks, and the Academy, Interview with Thomas Pierret

Universities find impact beyond academia increasingly important. In situations of violent conflict, however, it can be difficult for experts who are working on evolving conflicts such as Syria to remain relevant outside of the academy.  The increasing influence of think-tanks, and use of social media, together with pressures of wider academic life, pose serious questions as to what the academy has to offer.  In an interview with GJA Peace & Conflict blog series editor Andreas Hackl, Thomas Pierret looks back at 13 years of research in Syria and reflects on the changing role of his expertise within and outside of the academy.  Thomas suggests that academics may uniquely contribute the ability to locate specific events and moments in a conflict within wider conflict patterns and dynamics.

Thomas Pierret is a Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He has worked on the Syrian insurgency with a focus on the leadership of insurgent movements and the role of various brands of Salafism. As an expert on the Syrian crisis, Thomas Pierret’s commentary was featured on hundreds of occasions in dozens of media outlets, among them the BBC, The Financial Times, The Guardian, the New York Times, and Le Monde.

How has your research field changed since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis?

I have done research in Syria for almost 13 years now, and at the beginning I was almost alone on my topics of expertise. In a matter of years, the field has become extremely crowded, including non-academics such as think tank analysts. The problem is: they are good. It is no longer true that academics know more than they do. Once we could look at think tanks and say that their research is superficial, with some exceptions. But this has changed.

It seems academic expertise on Syria is becoming less relevant. How did this happen? Continue reading

Trafficking in the UK: Demands and Dilemmas for Justice

Mahlea Babjak is reading for a PhD in Religious Studies and is researching human trafficking in South Asia.  She is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2016-17. Here, Mahlea reports on the recent Tumbling Lassie seminar on Trafficking in the UK.

The Faculty of Advocates, as well as other lawyers and justice advocates, gathered on the 28 of January 2017 to hear from key stakeholders fighting human trafficking in both the UK and abroad, due to the interlinking nature of trafficking networks.

The seminar opened with a short history of The Tumbling Lassie, followed by a compelling talk led by Andrew Bevan of International Justice Mission (IJM). When Andrew stated that the IJM’s mission to “rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible” was an ambition being met (with IJM currently protecting an estimated 21 million), I was filled with hope and reminded that seemingly impossible justice goals are never beyond reach.

Andrew traced the story of one woman whom IJM worked with in India. The woman was trafficked for labour and enslaved at a brick kiln under debt bondage for forty years. Our hearts grew heavy as we felt the weight of one brick that Andrew passed around the seminar from the kiln. Andrew is passionate about seeing students, businesses and lawyers in Scotland becoming advocates in anti-human trafficking. As Andrew stated, you can “use what’s in your hands to respond” to the global justice issue of human trafficking.

We then heard from the Solicitor General for Scotland, Alison Di Rollo, who emphasised her (and the Lord Advocate’s) desire to “make the invisible visible” by improving our ability of detecting, challenging, and reporting cases of trafficking in the UK (see photo).

Alison’s talk drew widely on the general approach of the justice system in Scotland and about their commitment to safeguarding human trafficking victims rights, working collaboratively with NGOs and academics, and prosecuting traffickers. While many would be surprised to hear that trafficking is indeed happening in Scotland and the UK widely, Alison noted common destinations in Scotland and discussed several cases as examples and stressed that improving our ability to detect victims of trafficking as critical.

Alison’s talk led nicely to Bronagh Andrew’s of TARA (Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance), a sector of Community Safety Glasgow. Alison shared about how TARA offers a support service to trafficking survivors and helps to identify victims of sexual exploitation. TARA has a unique survivor-led approach, which has provided survivors with hope as their survivors re-learn how to trust people and the legal system. The work of TARA has empowered survivors through TARA’s ability to support survivors on a long-term basis, until the survivors express that they feel they’ve regained a sense of agency.

The final speaker was Parosha Chandran, an award-winning human rights barrister and receiver of the ‘Trafficking in Persons Hero Award 2015’ from former US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Parosha spoke about establishing rights recognition for victims of trafficking and she over-viewed some of the ground-breaking trafficking cases she has worked on over the past 15+ years, which have come to shape anti-trafficking efforts in the UK. A theme that would be interesting to explore further from Parosha’s presented cases is the often out-dated relationship between the justice system and Home Office. Since much of Parosha’s discussion was technical, legal language, she has offered to share her powerpoint that outlines the major human trafficking cases in the UK if requested by email.

Overall, this event sparked both hope within attendees and a desire to see more anti-human trafficking seminars combining major UK law firms and legal advocates. I would highly recommend people mark their calendars in advance for whenever the next Tumbling Lassie seminar may be.

More about the author

Mahlea is also the Emerging Fields Researcher for Tiny Hands International, an NGO fighting human trafficking globally through border and transit monitoring. Mahlea can be contacted at: mahlea@tinyhands.org.

The Tumbling lassie

If anyone is interested in this field and would like to get in touch with The Tumbling Lassie directly, you can email them here: tumblinglassie@gmail.com 

Should we have hope for the human rights project?

Vivek Bhatt is reading for a PhD in Law, and is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2016-17. He recently attended and spoke at a conference hosted by the University of Sussex’s Human Rights Research Centre. The conference theme was Challenging Human Rights Disenchantment.

The past few years have been uncertain times for the human rights project. On one hand, the human rights discourse seems ubiquitous in contemporary international affairs. Yet on the other, the authority, legitimacy, and efficiency of international human rights law are continually being challenged. 2016, for example, saw the escalation of the refugee crisis resulting from conflict in Syria and Iraq, the rejection by several African heads of state of a UN dialogue on the human rights of same-sex attracted individuals,[1] and the election of a new American head of state, who – from the outset – has expressed an unwillingness to abide by key international human rights laws, the Convention against Torture, and the Refugee Convention.[2] In light of such developments, disenfranchisement and frustration with international human rights law seem inevitable. While some suggest that human rights are admirably idealistic but ultimately unenforceable,[3] others claim that the human rights project is but a vehicle for capitalism, the entrenchment of global power disequilibrium, and Western neo-colonialism.[4]

It was against this troubling backdrop that the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Sussex hosted its inaugural conference, titled Challenging Human Rights Disenchantment 50 Years on from the ICCPR and ICESCR. The interdisciplinary conference brought together human rights advocates, lawyers, and philosophers, with speakers considering various forms of human rights disenchantment, and the ways in which they can be challenged. Mona Rishwami – Chief of the Rule of Law, Equality, and Non-Discrimination branch of the OHCHR – opened the conference with an outline of the developments that galvanised the human rights movement and the profession of human rights law. Rishwami suggested that although the current legal framework for human rights was conceived in the aftermath of the Second World War, it articulates concerns and ideals that are pertinent to contemporary human experience. She was followed by Professor Pamela Palmater, who – as an indigenous woman – argued that human rights activism should no longer be left to members of the world’s most marginalised communities. Citing the disproportionate number of indigenous women in custody and the infrastructural underdevelopment of indigenous nations within Canada, Palmater suggested that human rights violations are rife even within States that are reputed as bastions of human rights. To Palmater, human rights law generates demands for state accountability, demands that we must all amplify within and beyond academic circles.

Following a series of thematic sessions featuring speakers from the UK and abroad, the esteemed Professor Andrew Clapham delivered a closing address. Professor Clapham shared anecdotes about the many ways in which he has been confronted by human rights disenchantment, from being told that human rights ‘are for girls,’ to seeing politicians and the press tell ‘lies’ about the competence and function of regional and international human rights bodies. While Professor Palmater highlighted the importance of human rights advocacy by individuals, Professor Clapham addressed the roles of academics and lawyers. He suggested that we must defend human rights as a binding and legitimate body of law, dispel pervasive fictions about the function and reach of human rights bodies, and challenge rhetoric that characterises human rights law as vacuous idealism.

Though they focused on different issues, Palmater and Clapham made a common argument: that there exist innumerable human rights issues around the world today, and their resolution requires engagement with individuals outside the realms of human rights law and academia. This, to Palmater, is in order to encourage widespread human rights activism. To Clapham, meanwhile, it is in order to legitimise human rights as a valid and functional category of law that can – and does – influence governance and society. Clapham’s argument resonated with Charlesworth’s description of international law as a ‘discipline of crisis’;[5] we can challenge human rights disenchantment by encouraging sceptics to look beyond the law’s most prominent failings, and to recognise the ways in which human rights laws exist as practice, constituting everyday realities.

As a participant, I left the conference with conflicting intuitions. I had spent the day speaking and hearing about the emancipatory promise of human rights, but simultaneously reading news about a travel ban in the USA and a possible escalation of torture practices in the context of the war on terror. Yet there was meaning to be found in this apparent clash between theoretical optimism and reality. Not that we should give up on human rights altogether, but that the human rights project is most important and meaningful precisely when the reasons for disenchantment with it seem most convincing. Human rights provide a basis for critical discursive and legal engagement with political institutions by academics, social movements, lawyers, and jurists. International human rights law also serves as a reminder that each individual is entitled to certain liberties and securities by virtue of his or her humanness. The policies of the Trump administration may be conspicuous and shocking, but they should not diminish the significance or urgency of other human rights issues around the world. As moral claims and as law, human rights require us to reflect on and respond to all instances of marginalisation, deprivation, and violence. This includes not only the suffering of migrants in constitutional democracies, but also indigenous communities, persecuted religious minorities, and same-sex attracted individuals, among others.

We should, therefore, have hope for and promote the human rights project. As Professor Palmater implied, inaction and despair would merely aid the demise of something we recognise as intrinsically valuable. The inaugural conference of the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research highlighted not only the diversity of current human rights scholarship, but also the number of domestic, regional, and international practices that can be influenced (and improved) by human rights considerations. More information on the conference proceedings and speakers, including a copy of the programme, can be found at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/schrr/pastevents/challenging-human-rights-disenchantment.

About the author

Vivek Bhatt is an Edinburgh Global Research Scholar, and is reading for a PhD in Law. He holds an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and a Master of International Law from the University of Sydney. Vivek’s research interests span public international law, international political theory, and counterterrorism. His current research relates to the engagement of individuals in the international legal system through the course of the war on terror.

[1] Permanent Mission of the Republic of Botswana to the United Nations, Statement of the African Group on the Presentation of the Annual Report of the United Nations Human Rights Council (4 November 2016) United Nations PaperSmart < papersmart.unmeetings.org/media2/7663738/botswana.pdf>.

[2] See, for example, Mark Mazzetti and Charlie Savage, Leaked Draft of Executive Order Could Revive C.I.A. Prisons (25 January 2017) The New York Times < https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/us/politics/executive-order-leaked-draft-national-security-trump-administration.html?_r=0>.

[3] See, for example, Eric Posner, The Twilight of Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2014).

[4] See, for example, David Kennedy, ‘Reassessing International Humanitarianism: the Dark Sides’ in Anne Orford (ed), International Law and its Others (Cambridge University Press, 2006) 131, 133-5.

[5] Hilary Charlesworth, ‘International Law: A Discipline of Crisis’ (2002) 65(3) The Modern Law Review 377.

Peace and Conflict Series: Into the Grey Zone of Human Rights Violations with Political Theorist Mihaela Mihai

The many ways of being complicit in violence and injustice

An interview with Mihaela Mihai, Senior Research Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh

 

Mihaela Mihai

What is your current research about?

The Auschwitz survivor and great Italian writer Primo Levi – who coined the term ‘the grey zone’ to refer to moral ambiguity in a situation of violence – said that ‘we all make our deals with power, willingly or not.’

In our research project, we are using his concept of the ‘grey zone’ and his insights into the ambiguity of moral responsibility as starting points for an inquiry into the many ways in which people are complicit in violence and injustice. We analyse complex accounts of moral and political complicity in four cases: Vichy France, apartheid South Africa, totalitarianism in Communist Romania and the military dictatorship in Argentina during the Dirty War in the 1970s and 80s.

Our claim is that the ambiguous roles of collaborators, bystanders and beneficiaries has not been properly reckoned within the current theory and practice of transitional justice in post-conflict societies. We ask how historical sources, cinematic and literary representations illuminate this murky reality of political conflict.

Can they then reinvigorate efforts at justice and reconciliation in societies wrought by violence and division?

To give one example, we’re exploring how powerful films that touch on this space between victims and perpetrators can promote debate, public engagement and historical understanding. Think of how Louis Malle’s classic film Lacombe, Lucien unsettles viewers’ preconceptions about the motivations of perpetrators in its portrayal of the thoughtlessness and divided loyalties of its lead character. Likewise, the disturbingly ambivalent relationship between a torturer and his young female victim in the powerful 1999 Argentinian film Garaje Olimpo challenges the way we normally think about responsibility and culpability.

 As you can imagine, this research takes in many disciplines, including philosophy, history, political science, law, literature and cinema. Within that general project, each of the four team members has developed specific interests.

As the principal investigator in this project, I am currently exploring two themes of relevance. First, I am working on delineating an account of the epistemic functions of artworks. The main question is: by virtue of what characteristics do films, novels and poems help us better understand the thorny issue of complicity?  In addition, I explore the significance of feminist theories of responsibility and complicity for the ‘grey zone’. Feminists have long worked on unpacking the issue of how one becomes complicit with an unjust structure. Their insights into this phenomenon bear a great relevance for any sophisticated attempt to illuminate the ‘grey zone.’

Hugh McDonnell has recently published his book, Europeanising Spaces in Paris, c. 1947-1962, which examines contested conceptions of ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeanness’ in the post-World War Two French capital. He is now undertaking historical research on aspects of the ‘grey zone’ in Vichy France, and is also working on an article on Jean-Paul Sartre’s varied engagements with the idea of Europe and what it means to be European.

Maša Mrovlje is currently exploring ways of judging instances of violent resistance to oppressive systems, looking particularly at South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. More generally, she is interested in how existential philosophy illuminates the dark realities of conflict. She is also finalising a book manuscript on existentialism and the ambiguity of political judgement, with a focus on transitional justice as the area where these philosophical frameworks clearly show their value.

Last but not least, Gisli Vogler’s PhD project focuses on the issue of responsibility and is located between social and political theory. Gisli draws on the work of Hannah Arendt and Margaret Archer to provide an account of political judgement that takes seriously its situatedness and limited emancipatory power. This has great relevance for transitional justice in general, and for our understanding of resistance and complicity in particular.

How does your research contribute to global justice and peace?

We address what we consider to be weaknesses in current approaches to transitional justice: their unsatisfactory take on the ‘grey zone’. Post-conflict societies worldwide understandably seek clear answers and solutions, but these obscure the messiness and ambiguity of human interaction. We argue in favour of sustained efforts to understand the shadowy zone of collaborators, bystanders and beneficiaries of violence. By grappling with invisible injustices in various historical and geographical situations, we call attention to the fragility of peace and the incompleteness of justice in societies that have neglected the ‘grey zone.’

We should also say that our work is not about dismissing or overthrowing existing approaches to transitional justice processes. Rather, it is about supplementing or enriching the toolkit of scholars and practitioners of transitional justice. As already mentioned, one innovative aspect of our work is our belief that art might be better placed to provoke societal processes of reflection on invisible forms of participation in violence and injustice.

What impact has your work had so far, and what impact do you hope it will have?

Not least because of the broad scope of our work, we are excited about its future impact. In the first place, it raises awareness of the dangers involved in ignoring general complicity with violence and allowing undemocratic attitudes to reproduce across generations. In this vein, it aims to make a convincing argument about why and how cinema and literature should be used in civic education aimed both at deterrence and reconciliation.

And as part of giving wide exposure to our research goals, last April the team organised and participated in the prestigious European Consortium for Political Research – The Joint Sessions in Pisa. We organised a workshop on “Imagining Violence: The Politics of Narrative and Representation,” which brought together scholars from all over Europe and North America to discuss the role of imagination in understanding and responding to the complex issues of political violence. The fruitful discussion has in turn led to a special journal issue on Imagination and Violence, forthcoming with Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.

We also aim to translate our academic work for a broader public audience, to promote dialogue between academia and the wider community, and to develop cultural and educational resources on the issue of ordinary complicity in injustice. We are especially excited about our film series on “Complicity and Resistance” that will be held in March 2017 at Cameo cinema in Edinburgh. Films like The Secret in Their Eyes and The Headless Woman from Argentina, Une Affaire de femmes and Lacombe Lucien from France, Quad Erat Demonstrandum and The Paper Will Be Blue from Romania, or Fools and Skin from South Africa will be screened to highlight exactly these sorts of troubling questions about complicity, difficult choices and agonising dilemmas confronting individuals in the grey zone.

What other research questions are you discovering which you think need to be addressed, and others you would like to move on to?

It’s certainly the case that our research is always generating further avenues of fruitful inquiry. For instance, an examination of the ‘grey zone’ of resistance as the other side of the coin of complicity in injustice. What are the moral dilemmas, tragedies and human cost involved in (violent) struggles against oppressive systems?

Another example would be the further investigation into the distinct nature of complicity and responsibility of artists and intellectuals, and the significance of varying representations of the grey zone.

The project also raises the problem of how the political effects of failures to engage complicity in human rights violations might be transmitted and reinforced not only over time, but across different geographical and spatial contexts. The questions we raise are of course applicable far beyond our case studies. Similarly, the colonial links or global interconnections in histories of complicity in violence need to be further addressed.

We are also finding that the issue of complicity raises new questions about silence and memory, betrayal and revenge, friendship and trust – notions that remain at the margin of transitional justice scholarship, which yet contain important insights.

Finally, the exploration of cinematic and literary narratives poses the question in turn of the potential moral and political significance of other art genres, such as music or architecture, and their relevance to the issue of ‘grey zone’ and transitional justice more broadly.

Peace and Conflict Series: What is so ‘Modern’ about Modern Conflict?

Eavesdropping on a roundtable conversation at the Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict…

‘Modern conflict’ is commonly used to refer to conflicts in recent history that used particular modernised means of waging war and share a number of other elements. Why the label ‘modern’ is used to describe some conflicts and not others, and what its analytical purpose should be was heavily debated during a roundtable organised by the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict. Hosted by Emile Chabal, four young experts put their own research into the context of the debate on the utility of Modern Conflict as a concept.

For Fraser Raeburn, the label ‘modern’ explained ‘for how long we can look back in time and find things we recognize in conflicts’. It was thus a question of familiarity and continuity. Researching the Scots who fought against fascism among the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, Raeburn suggested that the concept of Modern Conflict allows for comparisons between similar types within a particular time period. Moreover, he suggested that a certain cultural continuity defines Modern Conflict – that it remains central and defining in one way or another within a given society’s culture.

The first modern war

However, Catherine Bateson, whose research explores the American Civil War (1861-1865), suggested a different approach. Speaking about songs invoked about the Civil War, she said that a whole sub-culture of war and music relates modern conflicts back to the origins of war. In this sense, the ancient practice of songs about and within wars represents continuity across time, but also deeply “unmodern” roots of supposedly modern conflicts.

The American Civil War is in many ways considered to be an early, or even the ‘first modern war’.  The role of mass mobilization, industrialization, new technology such as submarine prototypes, and the number of deaths are among many other factors that are known to distinguish this war as ‘modern’.

Yet one of the most important aspects, explained Bateson, was the fact that modern conflicts were and continue to be much more visible than earlier ones: they were photographed. ‘Photography opened a new lens, it changed how the image of war was perceived’, said Bateson.

Sounding the taps in the Civil War / Flickr, Cc license

Modern civilisation

Anita Klingler has been researching political violence and political culture in interwar Germany and Britain, saying that one important concept attached to modern conflict is civilization: the emergence of the Second World War shows that the ‘protective shell of civilization was not thick enough’.

At the heart of this realisation lies the question of whether violence is an enemy of civilization or one of its central characteristics. Or, as Klingler asked in reference to the interwar period, ‘how did violence become the enemy of our civilisation?’

Don’t say war

However, violence has also been institutionalised and legitimised as a motor of civilisation, whether in the wake of colonialism or contemporary interventions. Indeed, as Sissela Matzner argued in the case of Libya, France has defined its military intervention as an extension of its own national culture and global leadership ambitions.

Matzner’s research compares the foreign policy of Germany and France on Libya from the perspective of political parties. Her findings suggest that the military intervention was framed in ways that may relate to a particular periods of contemporary modern warfare:  responsibility as a central elements in their ‘national role conceptions’, and the fact that most interventionists avoid using the word war altogether. ‘The categorical avoidance of the term war reflects the changing nature of war itself, and the controversy around interventions’, said Matzner.

As the nature of conflict and war is changing, so should the concepts that help us to understand and compare them. But as Catherine Bateson put it: ‘How long can modern conflicts remain modern? What about 50 or 100 years from now, will we still talk about these wars as modern conflicts?’