Why torture? Exploring our Perceptions of Torture, and What Causes It

In this post, our Communications Intern, Jee-Young Song, reports from the second day of the recent GJA-sponsored GREYZONE summer school.

26 June 2018 was the second day of the GREYZONE Summer School, and starting the day’s session was Danielle Celemajer, Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Titled ‘The worlds that produce torture’, the main question put to us was:

“What causes torture?”

The straightforward answer to this would of course be obvious: doesn’t torture occur because a malignant perpetrator decided to inflict such an act on the victim?

However, this is an over-simplistic approach, as Professor Celemajer professed her view that there is in fact a complex map of causality for torture, with many contributory factors which extend beyond the scope of the individual perpetrator.

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Complicity, Elitism and Storytelling: Exploring Moral Ambiguity in Times of Injustice

In her second post for this blog, GJA Communications Intern, Jee-Young Song, reflects on the recent GJA GREYZONE Summer School keynote session on ‘Conceptual Perspectives’.

The Summer School kick-started on Monday the 25 June, the theme this year being ‘Navigating the Grey Zone: Complicity, Resistance and Solidarity’.The following is from the ‘Conceptual Perspectives’ talks, where expert speakers from the fields of human rights, philosophy, and political theory (Ruth Kelly, Charlotte Knowles and Lukas Slothuus, pictured above) each gave their unique insight on the key issues.

Storytelling as a way to reinforce human rights

First to speak was Ruth Kelly, who focused on the potential for narrative to help communities articulate approaches to the development of human rights. To give an example of such artistic intervention, she showed footage taken at a poetry workshop in Uganda, where a woman recites a poem about struggling to choose between action and complicity, entitled ‘Should I stay? Should I go?’.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo IV: Person Zero & Camp 7

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the fourth in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

In my last post, the use of evidence obtained through torture in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) was introduced. This post further considers how torture impacts detainees held at Guantánamo and the 9/11 trial. An interesting addition to the already complex pre-trial considerations is the possible appearance of a detainee who has not been seen in public since he was rendered into the custody of the CIA. Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian, is believed to have been taken into CIA custody in 2002 following his capture in Pakistan. After three years on a CIA ‘black site’, he was delivered to Joint Task Force-Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO) in 2006 where he remains a High Value Detainee (HVD) despite never having been charged with a crime. As characterised by former FBI agent, Ali Soufan, Zubaydah is the ‘original sin’ of the US in its post-9/11 anti-terror campaign.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo III: Torture Evidence

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the third in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

Right now, on a small island in the Caribbean, what will ultimately be one of the most comprehensive examinations of torture is taking place in the form of a military commission proceeding in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case). A common understanding among the observers that are witnessing KSM is that half are there to see the 9/11 trial and half are there to see the torture trial. In anticipation of what many view as a foregone conclusion, the defence lawyers are diligently representing their clients in order to ensure that if the ultimate penalty, death, is pursued in the sentencing phase of the trial; then the brutality that they suffered at the hands of the CIA is in the trial record. This record will be instrumental to mitigation of the death penalty and speak to the reality that much of the evidence presented may have been extracted or derived through torture, which is prohibited under international law.

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The Refugee Crisis: Where to Begin?

In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, anti-refugee rhetoric has continued to grow in the British press and on social media. In this post, GJA Managment Group member, Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, reflects on her recent visit to a refugee camp in Serbia. Dr McCall-Smith is a Lecturer in Public International Law at Edinburgh, and Programme Convenor for the GJA’s LLM in Human Rights.

Many weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit a refugee camp in Belgrade, Serbia. The experience was double-edged because it was harrowing to speak to and move in and among individuals who were fleeing from horrors that I could never personally imagine. At the same time, there was courage among these people who were travelling thousands of miles, away from their homeland, towards an idea. That idea is something that is often hard to define but what I will simply refer to as hope.

In the Syrian man, who had been on the site for two weeks with his twin one-year old daughters and his wife, there was hope for a landing place where he could raise his daughters without fear.

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Why is it important to Remember Srebrenica: some personal reflections?

by Adam Boys, University of Edinburgh alumnus

In 1994 and early 1995, I was working for a small British charity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We, like the United Nations and many other agencies, had been trying for months to make our way through Eastern Bosnia to get food and medicine to the isolated enclave of Srebrenica. We all knew that many thousands of people had fled to the town from surrounding municipalities as a consequence of a brutal policy of “ethnic cleansing”.

The United Nations had a military presence in the town. NATO member states gathered intelligence on what was happening and the status of the enclave was consistently raised at the highest levels, by international peace envoys from the UN and the EU. Continue reading

How should religion be addressed in attempts to prevent atrocities?

george-wilkes headshot

This guest post is by Dr George Wilkes, founding Director of the Religion and Ethics in the Making of War and Peace Project, and Research Fellow at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

In June 2014, the Global Justice Academy supported the launch of a new programme bringing scholars and civilian protection practitioners together to identify the state of the art of atrocity prevention, and the state of the academic literature addressing the impact of religion on civilian protection work.

‘Preventing Atrocity: Reasons to Engage with the Religion and Ethics of the Other’ brought specialists from across the College of Humanities and Social Science together with experts from the ICRC, DfID, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, the European Centre for the Prevention of Mass Atrocities, Human Rights Watch, Islamic Relief, the Bosnian Islamic Community and Finn Church Aid.

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