The Erosion of the Civilian

A guest post by Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon. 

On the 16th of November 2018, speakers from different parts of the world and different backgrounds—academics, human rights and humanitarian practitioners, policy makers, and investigative journalists—interrogated and debated the status of civilians in armed conflicts.The Erosion of the Civilian was the first of two events that Neve Gordon, Professor of International Law at Queen Mary, Jonathan Whittall, Director of the Analysis Department at MSF in Brussels, and Nicola Perugini are organizing. The second workshop will take place in London at Queen Mary on the 14th of December. The aim of these two workshops is to create a dialogue across different disciplines and areas of expertise and to try to establish a thinking group on the topic of civilian protections and erosions.

The Edinburgh workshop was organized through collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London, and the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Analysis Department in the Operational Centre in Brussels, and was sponsored by the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Global Justice Academy, the Global Development Academy; the Centre for Security Research (CeSeR); Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh; and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action 703225 “On Human Shielding” for funding this event. What follow are the introductory notes to the Edinburgh workshop.

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Off the Record: Unlawful Influence on the War Crimes Proceedings

This is the second post in a blog series by Dr Kasey McCall-Smith examines some of the crucial legal issues and broader public questions raised regarding the US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. military commission proceedings against the five men charged with various war crimes and terrorism in relation to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. The series is part of her project ‘Torture on Trial’ and funded by a grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

In the 9/11 war crimes trial taking place in Guantánamo, an array of motions have been filed regarding unlawful influence on the US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.(9/11 case) proceedings. They began with complaints regarding statements by then-President Obama and continue to the present with complaints regarding President Trump, Secretary of Defense Mattis, former Attorneys General Sessions and Holder and CIA Director Gina Haspel. These motions, all based on section 949b of the 2009 Military Commissions Act, cover a range of statements and actions.

During the April-May 2018 proceedings, the influence of current US President Trump was raised as lawyers debated the influence of statements made by Trump as the commander in chief of the US military. The relevant statements focused on the president’s response to the Bowe Bergdahl v. US courts martialand also the 31 October 2017 New York incident where an alleged terrorist drove a van onto a bike path killing eight people. Trump’s statements on the campaign trail and after his election were also potentially problematic for the 9/11case and attacked the integrity of the military justice system. His statements and twitter posts explicitly called into question the administration of justice and constitutional protections in the US. Defence counsel in the 9/11 war crimes tribunal argue that collectively these successive statements by US presidents and other government officials equate to unlawful influence (UI), a concept drawn from provisions in the US Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibiting Unlawful Command Influence (UCI). UI is a concept set out in 10 USC §837 and article 37 of the UCMJ and is deemed the ‘mortal enemy’ of military justice and also violates due process as guaranteed by the US Constitution and the right to a fair trial under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The concept applies here as the governing law of the trial is theMilitary Commissions Act 2009 (MCA 2009) – combining rules of military, domestic and international law – and the president is the constitutional Commander-in-Chief of the US military.

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Off the Record: Observations on the 9/11 Military Commission

This blog series by Dr Kasey McCall-Smith examines some of the crucial legal issues and broader public questions raised regarding the US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. military commission proceedings against the five men charged with various war crimes and terrorism in relation to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. The military commissions are in the sixth year of the pretrial phase and taking place at a purpose-built Expeditionary Legal Complex in Camp Justiceon Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The series is part of her project ‘Torture on Trial’ and funded by a grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Taking a Step Back – A Primer on the International Prohibition against Torture

Many members of the public not trained in international law fail to understand why the international prohibition against torture matters or should matter in the US legal system. This post seeks to explain how international law on the prohibition against torture relates to US law and the impact of the prohibition on the military commission proceedings against the five men charged with conspiracy and war crimes in relation to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US in US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.(9/11 case).

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Peacebuilding and Syria: What Hope?

Between 13-15 October 2018, the Global Justice Academy co-hosted a weekend of events joining Relief & Reconciliation for Syria with peacebuilding communities in Scotland. This post from Dr George R. Wilkes, reflects on the series of events that took place.

The prospect of an inclusive peacebuilding process in Syria looks bleak now. From the perspective of millions of Syrians who have fled regime controlled areas, atrocity, terror and armed extortion all confront attempts to straddle divisions to talk about peace. Refugees face daily existential pressures in the face of which peace talks appear distant and untimely. Critics of regime ‘reconciliations’ see the concept reduced to the mechanics of overpowering the regime’s outlaws. In regime territory, a more inclusive embrace of populations controlled by Islamist armed groups is undercut by the sense that violence and terror were the inevitable result of a religious fundamentalism shared widely within those populations, and by the international supporters of those forces.

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Philippe Sands on the Making of Modern Human Rights

Guncha Sharma is a candidate for the Global Justice Academy’s LLM in Human Rights, and a GJA Student Ambassador for 2018-19. From India, she is also one of three recipientsof the GJA’s LLM Human Rights scholarship awards for this year, and has a keen interest in gender issues, the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, and public health. In this post, Guncha reflects on the recent Ruth Adler Memorial Lecture, which was delivered by Philippe Sands QC, with a response from Scotland’s Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

On October 24 2018, Philippe Sands delivered the Ruth Adler Memorial Lecture with a talk based on his bestselling book East-West Street and the Making of Modern Human Rights. Phillippe Sands is one of the most successful British lawyers working in the field of International Law. He has argued many high-profile cases before International courts and tribunals, and currently directs the Project on International Courts and Tribunals from his position as Professor of Laws at UCL.

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Inspiring Action in these Challenging Times

The Global Justice Academy (GJA) and Edinburgh Law School welcomed over 200 human rights academics and practitioners to the University of Edinburgh for the 2018 Association of Human Rights Institutes  (AHRI) Annual Conference on the 6-8 September 2018. The GJA holds the current Secretariat of AHRI in conjunction with the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law (CSHRL) at the University of Strathclyde. In this post, AHRI Chair and GJA Management Group member, Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, reflects on the three days.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Renewing Rights in Times of Transition: 70 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. The conference began with Works in Progress sessions on 6 September followed by the launch of the Political Settlements Research Programme’s PA-X Peace Agreements database (PA-X). Professor Christine Bell delivered a public lecture entitled The Inclusion Project: Human Rights Dilemmas in the Negotiation of Peace Agreements, with a response from the UN’s Ian Martin, entitled A UN ‘Surge in Diplomacy’ in a World in Transition

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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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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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