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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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] (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 (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 and

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

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.

Colombia’s peace process: reflections

This post was written by Sara Valencia and Alejandra Londoño. It reports from a series of recent workshops on the Colombian peace process, led by Colombian students at The University of Edinburgh. The Global Justice Academy and the Global Development Academy supported the workshops.

Colombia’s peace process and Latin America

The first workshop examined the impact and influence of the Colombian internal conflict in the Latin America region. The methodology employed in this workshop was a Collaborative Critical-Thinking Sheet, in which the participants reported the main reflections emerging from the discussion.

The discussion highlighted the role of the Latin-American community in the peace process. This has been crucial for the exploration phase of the Peace Processes with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). On the one hand, for example, Venezuela, Cuba, and Chile played a central role to build a bridge of trust between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla, a process that started with the FARC in 2012 in La Habana Cuba and concluded with the signing of the agreement in Bogotá on November 24th of 2016. On the other hand, Ecuador has been a crucial actor in the peace process with the ELN guerrilla, offering a neutral space to host the negotiations that started on January 7th of 2017.

During the implementation phase of the Agreement with the FARC guerrilla, the monitoring and checking mechanism of the Agreement on the Bilateral and Definitive Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities were explicitly limited to countries of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) on behalf of the United Nations. These are just a few examples of the level of commitment and active participation of Latin American States in Colombia’s peace processes.

The direct impact of the peace process in Colombia on the commercial dynamic of Latin America was then discussed. The strategic geographic position of Colombia makes it an important route for transportation between the West and the East (Pacific- Atlantic Ocean) and North and South. The pacification of the country will not only allow the improvement of the Colombian economy, but also may have a direct impact on Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela because of a reduction in illegal activities like drug production and trafficking; human trafficking and the illegal immigration routes to the United States. In addition, the shift in the Colombian Foreign Policy since 2010 has strengthened the integration process of Colombia in Latin America. Blocks like the ‘Alianza del Pacifico’ and the formulation and implementation of Bi-national Integration Plans with Ecuador and Peru will be strengthened by the implementation of the Peace Agreements.

On an international level, it was argued that Colombia’s peace offers a historic opportunity to rethink the position, role and contribution of the Latin American bloc in the 21st century. Through these peace processes, the Latin America states can have the opportunity to project themselves in the international community as a region which supports dialogue, openness, interdependence and inclusion where other regions like North America and Europe have begun to shift to a more closed, controlled and independent dynamic within the regional and international systems. The peace process in Colombia is an opportunity to strengthen the regional economy, increase foreign investment, trade and governance in the border areas, and overcome the USA military influence in the region.

A new topic emerged as discussion continued, namely, the popular mobilisation in support of the peace processes following the rejection of the comprehensive peace agreement via referendum on October 2, 2016. The feeling among youths that their agency was weakened by corrupt powers and misinformation, it was argued, catalysed mass mobilization. From this discussion emerged questions like, ‘which factors inspire citizens to mobilise at a personal and collective level?’ ‘How can citizen participation be strengthened after a collective mobilisation?’ ‘What is the role of the citizen as an agent for change within its community in a context of post-truth?’

These questions become the base for our second workshop.

Citizenship in the 21st century: dialogue and mobilisation

In response to the rejection of the peace agreement in Colombia, a massive social mobilisation emerged under a social movement called “¡Paz a la calle!” (Peace to the streets!). This movement reunited social groups and individuals who marched on the streets across the country demanding the Government and FARC guerrilla maintain the bilateral ceasefire and include the proposals of the 50.2 per cent of the electorate whose turn-out did not approve the text. The objective was to claim only for an outcome shared by both parties: peace.

However, the Colombian case of mobilisation is not unique. Other mobilisations like the Women against Trump movement in the United States or the massive protests against corruption in Romania are clear examples of citizen mobilisation. Nonetheless, these types of national dialogues and social mobilisations have not been so evident in the UK after Brexit.

As this workshop opened up many questions on the role of the citizen as an agent of change within processes of public participation and deliberative democracy, this became the focus of our final workshop, which was particularly interested in how such participation might be strengthened.


Diana Diajer (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Oliver Escobar (University of Edinburgh), researchers on citizen participation, were event panellists at our final workshop. Diana highlighted the need to generate spaces free from violence with guarantees to enforce participation. Unfortunately, in countries like Colombia, citizen participation is associated with communism and creates a stigmatisation of this type of participation as well as discouraging public participation. In countries where leaders have been constantly murdered, a cyclical process of fear and death prevent participation. For Diana, there are four main challenges to encourage citizen participation in peace building: A highly polarised society, the lack of a national peace movement that articulates the local initiatives, lack of trust, and apathy produced by corruption. Therefore, she proposed six elements to trigger citizen participation for peace: provide security and protection to leaders, use of an offline-online coordinated strategy, create a state of articulation and coordination, create meaningful dialogues among people, strength state capacity, and enforce individual incentives to participate.

In the Colombian case, the process to build peace initiates with what people understand for peace. She has identified four understandings of peace: peace as a social inclusion process, peace associated with transparency in elections, peace as the empowerment of people to have a possibility to have a word, and reconciliation. Nonetheless, this last understanding is one of the most difficult to reach. For example, people at the local level do not talk about reconciliation, they talk about co-existence or tolerance despite differences – so it is a long path to follow.

Oliver focused his talk on the micro-dynamics that take place in peace processes and civic participation, paying attention to the need to promote spaces for dialogue and deliberation to enhance citizen participation. Nonetheless, the creation of these spaces must overcome challenges that emerge at the individual level.

First, Oliver addressed the tendency of people to avoid conflict, which creates the first barrier to participating in spaces where their ideas are challenged. The lack of diversity and segregation in groups give place to like-minded groups, which create polarisation. Oliver highlighted the ‘Spiral of Silence’, as another barrier to participation. This is a scenario where people think that they are part of a minority and they are not going to be listened to. For this reason, they silence themselves, creating a polarisation by omission in the group, where apparently one idea prevails. Also, in groups where individuals are exposed to opposing views, if they are strongly attached to a position they will tend to avoid any evidence, processing only those messages that confirm their own perspective, so dialogue and deliberation are less possible. Therefore, the lack of views in any conversation reduces the opportunities to be exposed to alternate points of view, furthering polarisation.

According to Oliver, dialogue takes time and is a painful process, but in safe spaces, people can engage with their diverse perspectives and a constructive dialogue can emerge. The creation of these spaces is not simple and requires the work of facilitators to promote spaces where people listen and engage in the conversation. In this way, the facilitator helps the participants to suspend their immediate reactions and reflections, allowing a fluid communication through active listening. However, the communication can be influenced by several factors like different standpoints, communication norms, and a lack of information. In these dialogues, storytelling becomes the most effective way of communication. In the narrative of these stories, emotions play a fundamental role because, as some neuroscience studies reveal, people can only think and reason about things that they care about. One of the challenges for mediators in dialogue spaces, then, is how to channel emotions in a positive and constructive way to promote a constructive process. In conclusion, in safe spaces, dialogue and participation can be fostered, creating a sustainable and legitimate way forward by becoming more open minded.

As Oliver explained that such micro-dynamics in groups matter at the global level because if social movements make an attempt to welcome different positions, there is a risk to only mobilise the like-minded people, which prevents public dialogue and deliberation, thus creating elites of power and micro-worlds in the society. Therefore, mobilisation and public dialogue have a different role and various functions in the political sphere. Social mobilisation is right to create an agenda, paying attention to one issue. However, dialogue allows the inclusion of different perspectives to create not only a shared understanding of complex issues but also by co-producing solutions.

 Note of thanks:

This series of workshops was made possible through the generous support of the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund. Special thanks to the organiser team Alejandra Londoño, Ana Chaparro, Natalia Salamanca and María Gundestrup.

COP 21: the Global Challenge of Climate Change

Lauren Donnelly is reading for an LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School. In her role as a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador, Lauren reflects on discussions raised from the Paris talks on climate change, including what Scotland can do.

On Saturday the 19th of March, the UN House Scotland held, “Climate Change: Global Challenges, Local Solutions Conference” to explore the impact of the much publicised 2015 Paris Climate Change agreement. The event consisted of two panel discussions, the first which examined from an international perspective and the second which explored the Scottish response, to the various challenges faced in achieving the goals set out in this agreement.

COP 21The opening address of conference was delivered by Tom Ballantine, the Chair of Stop Climate Change Scotland. The opening address paved the way for what was to be an inspiring and enlightened discussion throughout the afternoon. The presentation outlined briefly why climate change matters, the broader effects of climate change and climate change after the Paris agreement. It highlighted that climate change has been discussed since the nineteenth century, stressing that despite the fact that the developing world is contributing the least to climate change, these countries are most likely to suffer the impact of global warming. Expanding on this point, the presentation outlined that if we do not act urgently we can expect to see: coastal flooding and displaced people due to land loss; reduced yields of major crops; human insecurity; and mass poverty.

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The Accountability and Remedy Project: Corporate Liability for Human Rights Undergoes Some Research & Development

Helen Kemp is a GJA Student Ambassador for the 2015-16 academic year. Helen is reading for her Law LLB at Edinburgh Law School. She is a fourth-year student and is writing her dissertation on the role of human rights in international environmental law.

Convincing multinational corporations to protect the rights of people involved in, or affected by, the flourishing of their business is hardly a simple task. Endless frameworks and guidelines may be available to help States induce companies to comply with human rights law, but the quality of life of factory workers in a faraway nation has not usually shown to outweigh the short-term profit brought about by their exploitation.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) resulted from a decades-long effort to set standards for states to address human rights violations resulting from global business activities. Continue reading

Ebola: Judging Reactions and Responses. What Happens Next?

LG Ebola 27 Oct 2014

The University of Edinburgh’s Global Academies have announced their Autumn 2014 Ebola Series in response to the current global crisis. In this short post, Dr Harriet Cornell from the Global Justice Academy reflects on how the global response to Ebola has unfolded in the press, and criticisms that have been voiced by experts in the field.

This evening’s Ebola headlines are divided between pleas for world help from Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and blame for the spread and devastation of the outbreak been laid squarely at the doors of the world’s supranational bodies: the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations. Then there is the intersect between the outbreak of the disease in West Africa, and the western media response, with The Guardian running a comment piece entitled The problem with the west’s Ebola response is still fear of a black patient’.

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