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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Justice and Resilience: the Reality of Rohingya Women Refugees

This post is by Jee-Young Song. Jee-Young has joined the Global Justice Academy as our Communications Intern over the summer break, as part of the University’s Employ.Ed Campus Programme. Jee-Young is a rising third-year law student, reading for the LLB. In her second week in post, she went along to this IIF-funded meeting of the Bangladesh Studies Network, convened and ran by Lotte Hoek and Delwar Hussain from the School of Social and Political Science. Here, Jee-Young reflects on the key messages from the afternoon.

On Friday 8 June 2018, academics and other industry professionals gathered for the Bangladesh Studies Network Meeting. Various issues were discussed, ranging from the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster to the inevitable subject of the Rohingyan refugee crisis.

As part of the event, Jessica Olney, representative for a social justice NGO, delivered a public lecture titled ‘Concepts of Justice, Accountability and Resilience amongst Rohingyan Refugee Women in Cox’s Bazaar’ (pictured left).

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The Use of Sport Initiatives to Promote Human Rights in Palestine

This post, by Asil Said, first appeared on the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Sport blog, Sport Matters. Academy of Sport Director, Professor Grant Jarvie, is a member of the Global Justice Academy Management Group.

Books and Boxers and the Right to Movement are but two interventions aiming to make a difference to the lives of youth in Palestine. This Academy of Sport-Sport Matters blog provides an evidenced insight into the struggle for sport as a human right within Palestine. 

Sport, Palestine and the International Community

Sport and physical activity has international recognition as a simple, low cost and effective tool for development, and a means of achieving national and international development goals. The United Nations Agenda 2030 has provided sport with a mandate to contribute to social change.

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Legacies of Human Rights Violations: Beyond the Legal Paradigm

In this blog, the organisers of this IIF-sponsored film series reflect on the three events and issues raised. The series took place which took place between January and April 2018 at The University of Edinburgh.

The film series ‘Legacies of Human Rights Violations’ addressed the contemporary legacies of human rights violations from an artistic, cinematic perspective. The series involved showing four films: I Am Not Your Negro, My Beautiful Laundrette, REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony, and Kamchatka. The selected films tackled issues as diverse as racial oppression, gender norms and agency and institutionalised state violence. Specifically, the films focused the experiential reality of human rights issues that stands beyond the grasp of the legalist perspective and its disembodied standards of right and wrong. Indeed, our purpose was to shed light on how the structural, deeply entrenched practices of oppression and discrimination affect people’s everyday lives, intimate domestic spheres and interpersonal relationships, while also unearthing the everyday, relational forms of dissent, solidarity and resistance that arise in response. The film screenings ensued in a fruitful dialogue across the fields of political theory, anthropology, law, film and music studies. They were well attended and engaged students, staff and the broader public in a discussion on the ethical potentials and limitations of cinema as a mode of creative learning and democratic education.

The first film, I Am Not Your Negro, perhaps most explicitly exposed the limits of the Western liberal understanding of democracy and the supposed neutrality of its legal institutions, as revealed by the structural nature of racial oppression. In the film, the director Raoul Peck tells the story of James Baldwin, an American novelist and social critic, based on his unfinished manuscript Remember This House. At the forefront stands Baldwin’s conversations and friendships with prominent figures of the American civil rights movement, such as Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr, bringing forth an emotional insight into the struggles for racial equality in the US.

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The Shadows of Torture: Reporting from Guantánamo

This series of blogs presents a number of the legal issues raised at the April – May 2018 military commission proceedings against the alleged plotters of the 11 September 2001 (9/11) terror attacks against the US in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. taking place at Camp Justice, Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba.

The author, Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, is conducting a research project entitled Torture on Trial, which is funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

1. The Shadows of Torture

When people speak about torture and the war on terror, the most egregious and publicly decried acts generally pop to mind: waterboarding, walling, sleep deprivation, and so on. As the military commission proceedings in case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) unfold, less examined examples aspects of torture reveal the irreversible physical and mental impacts on victims of such abuse.

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Talking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in the Context of Migration Negotiations

Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, Chair of the Association of Human Rights Institutes and member of the Global Justice Academy, discusses Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in the context of the UN Global Compact for Migration.

In a previous post, I gave general overview of the UN Global Compact for Migration and a brief analysis of the Migration Compact thematic discussions on the distinctions between human smuggling and human trafficking. This note considers modern slavery, a topic with which the University of Edinburgh is highly engaged through both academic projects as well as its Modern Slavery initiatives. Following on from the distinction between migrants smuggled into a state for the sole purpose of evading legal migration and individuals trafficked into (or within) a state for purposes of exploitation, the following will present key debates about modern slavery and human trafficking that are highly relevant to the conclusion of a comprehensive Migration Compact.

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Smuggling or Trafficking? Defining the Terms in the UN Migration Compact

Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, Chair of the Association of Human Rights Institutes and member of the Global Justice Academy, discusses recent steps towards a UN Global Compact for Migration. This is the first of two blogs from Dr McCall-Smith on the Migration Compact negotiations.

The next steps toward a UN Global Compact for Migration to combat the ever-growing legal and policy issues associated with mass and irregular migration were taken at the UN headquarters in Vienna, Austria, 4-5 September 2017. The Compact aims to deliver a comprehensive approach to human mobility as well as further clarification of and support for existing international frameworks addressing migration, refugees and trafficking, including the Refugee Convention and its Protocol, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking in Persons Protocol) and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol), as well as a number of human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), among many others.

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Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum

Dr Dimitrios Kagiaros (Edinburgh Law School) reports on a recent workshop, ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’, held at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, Spain with support from the Global Justice Academy.

Organised by Professors Mike Adler (University of Edinburgh), Sara Stendahl (University of Gothenburg) and Jeff King (UCL), the purpose of the workshop was to bring together international experts from a variety of research backgrounds to discuss the theme of ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’. The overarching issue that was examined related to the difficulties in determining how poor and vulnerable people can achieve basic minimum standards of nutrition, health care, housing, income, employment and education.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines, including legal theory, human rights law, constitutional and administrative law and social policy, the invited academic speakers were asked to submit research papers illustrating recent developments and new challenges in this field. The workshop followed a particularly innovative approach in generating discussion. Commentators were assigned to each paper and were responsible for presenting its content while also acting as discussants, providing feedback and identifying points for further discussion. This facilitated in-depth consideration of each paper and multiple opportunities for exchange of ideas across disciplines.

The conference theme generated debate on two controversial issues. Firstly, the workshop addressed different approaches and obstacles to defining a social minimum. This included discussion on the concept of poverty, the legal position of social assistance recipients, the concepts of social rights and social responsibilities, and the relationship between resources and the concept of a ‘minimally decent life’.
Secondly, the workshop aimed to bring further clarity to the thorny issue of how such a minimum can be achieved. More specifically, participants critically assessed the contribution of national policies, international conventions, targets and development goals, bills of rights or other forms of constitutional protection to securing this social minimum. Special emphasis was placed on the role of courts. Participants presented judicial approaches to securing a social minimum from India, South Africa, Brazil, and at the international level, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Dr Kagiaros’ paper focused on the role of the European Court of Human Rights in this debate. The paper relied on recent admissibility decisions where applicants unsuccessfully challenged austerity measures adopted to give effect to conditionality agreements in states in the midst of a debt crisis. While ultimately the applications failed at the admissibility stage, the Court in obiter statements alluded to the possibility that a wholly insufficient amount of pensions and other benefits would, in principle, violate the Convention. The paper explored these statements in detail to decipher whether in fact the Court would be willing to set a social minimum standard of protection. The paper argued, that although a duty not to target specific individuals with harsh austerity measures while leaving others unaffected has been read into the ECHR, it is unlikely that with this statement on insufficiency of benefits the Court intends to create a social minimum.

Overall, this was a particularly enriching experience for all involved and hopefully more similar opportunities will arise to discuss these issues in even greater depth.

More about the author:

Dr. Dimitrios Kagiaros is a Teaching Fellow in Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. He has taught on constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law courses at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Hull. His research interests include whistle-blower protection, the impact of European sovereign debt crisis on human rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to freedom of expression.

 

 

The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh, and is an intern at UN House Scotland. As a member of a delegation from Scottish civil society, she recently attended negotiations in New York on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted 7 July 2017, at the United Nations.

The United Nations has aimed to ban nuclear weapons since it was established in 1945.[1] In fact, the very first UN General Assembly resolution established a Commission to set in motion measures towards nuclear disarmament.[2] Until recently, the most important instrument to this end was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).[3] Recent years have seen growing discontent with the discriminatory nature of the NPT, which distinguishes between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Additionally, the NPT faces criticism with regard to the stagnation of nuclear disarmament. Although the treaty includes an obligation to work towards nuclear disarmament, Article 6 has not, as of late, provided sufficient incentive for nuclear weapon states to act.

With an aim to finally move forwards, in October 2016 the UN disarmament and international security committee saw 123 nations voting in favour of meeting to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. These negotiations have taken place throughout spring and summer 2017 and have culminated in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on the 7th July this year.

The treaty prohibits member states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, and disallows them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to participate in such activities. Furthermore, it has become forbidden to allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on member states’ territory. Of equal importance are the positive obligations in the treaty to provide adequate victim assistance and to take measures towards the remediation of environments contaminated as a result of the use or testing of nuclear weapons. Although not explicitly mentioned, there is a growing understanding that financing constitutes ‘assistance’ with prohibited acts.

The text and preamble of the ban treaty reflect the efforts of civil society by emphasising the humanitarian and environmental impact of any nuclear detonation, be it accidental or intentional. The humanitarian initiative proved successful in shifting the debate out of the security argument stalemate states had become entrenched in. At the negotiations, civil society had the opportunity to share the experiences of victims of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, and to highlight the devastating impact of any detonation and the lack of adequate emergency-response capacity.

By placing human welfare and safety at the centre of the treaty, it is hoped that the ban treaty will have a ripple effect similar to that of the Conventions prohibiting Biological and Chemical weapons. Therefore, even though none of the nuclear weapons states have expressed any interest in joining the negotiations or the treaty, it is hoped the legal norm combined with continued pressure from civil society will eventually convince governments to discontinue nuclear deterrence policies.

The ban treaty is of particular interest to Scotland because of the country’s unique position of having to facilitate nuclear weapons without having any say in the decisions involving them. This is because nuclear weapons are considered a matter of national security and as such fall outside the scope of Scotland’s devolved powers.

[1] https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/ (last visited 9 July 2017).

[2] General Assembly Resolution VIII, Establishment of a commission to deal with the problem raised by the discovery of atomic energy (24 January 1946), available from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/1(I) (last visited 9 July 2017).

[3] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (5 March 1970) 729 U.N.T.S. 161.

If you are interested in reading more about the negotiations on the ban treaty, including daily reports from the Scottish civil society delegation to New York, visit http://www.nuclearban.scot/ and http://www.icanw.org/

If you want to find out more about civil society engagement surrounding nuclear disarmament, please visit:

http://www.banthebomb.org/

http://www.nukewatch.org.uk/

http://www.article36.org/

If you’re interested in reading twitter updates, the handle to follow is #nuclearban

More about the author:

Dagmar Topf Aguiar de Medeiros is reading for a PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh. She holds an LLM in Private Law from the University of Leiden and an LLB from the Utrecht Law College of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Dagmar’s research interests span public international law, specifically environmental law, climate change law and human rights. Her current research relates to the international constitutionalism in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.