Human rights in Brazil

In view of Yardena’s thought-provoking lecture on urbanisation and human rights in Brazil, this article based on an Amnesty International report is very timely and relevant. The Right to the City that we discussed, and issues of human rights in urban settings are becoming more and more urgent as the world becomes more urbanised in increasingly large cities. The need to assert a right to housing or access to basic resources may seem removed from many of our experiences in a country like New Zealand, but a lack of adequate housing or being forced from one’s house to make way for ‘development’ in the form of highways or Olympic preparations are very real concerns for millions of people in contexts like Brazilian favelas. I thought this article might help to provoke some thoughts about some of the issues that emerge in large urban centres and how that can impact on human rights, as well as providing some more background to Yardena’s discussion of the Brazilian context.

Is development and poverty alleviation only about ‘economic potential’?

UN DAILY NEWS from the
9 May, 2011 ==================================================

A major United Nations conference aimed at devising a new strategy to help the world’s poorest countries unlock their economic potential and accelerate development opened today in Turkey, where of heads of State and senior officials from international organizations are among 7,000 participants in attendance.

The Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in Istanbul will assess the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action – the outcome document adopted at the last such conference, held in 2001 – and try to reach agreement on a new set of support measures for the 48 nations classified as LDCs.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opening session that LDCs should not be seen as “poor and weak” but countries with “vast reservoirs of untapped potential” that are home to nearly 900 million people or 12 per cent of the global population.

“Investing in LDCs is an opportunity for all,” said Mr. Ban. “First, it is an opportunity to relieve the world’s most vulnerable people of the burdens of poverty, hunger and needless disease. This is a moral obligation.

“Second, investing in LDCs can provide the stimulus that will help to propel and sustain global economic recovery and stability. This is not charity, it is smart investment.

“Third, it provides a massive opportunity for South-South cooperation and investment. The world’s rapidly emerging economies need both resources and markets.”

The Secretary-General pointed out that LDCs “represent a vast and barely touched area for enterprise… for business. We have here, this week, all the ingredients for success… for a genuine partnership for development.”

Outlining some of the challenges facing LDCs, Mr. Ban noted that the countries suffer disproportionately from preventable diseases and are most vulnerable to natural disasters, environmental degradation and economic uncertainty.

They are also the least secure, with eight of the 15 UN peacekeeping missions operating in LDCs. Over the past decade, least developed countries produced 60 per cent of the world’s refugees.

Mr. Ban called for a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round of multilateral negotiations, saying there was little point in helping LDCs to grow food and other commodities, manufacture products and develop services if they cannot trade fairly in the global marketplace.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the conference, Mr. Ban stressed that the gathering must come up with a practical and far-reaching programme of action which will spur LDCs’ productive capacity through trade, improved agriculture, financing for development and addressing the consequences of climate change.

“Here in Istanbul, where continents and cultures connect and converge, let us build a strong bridge – a bridge that will enable the least fortunate and most vulnerable members of our human family to cross to the land of prosperity and security,” he said.

The President of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, described the conference as a unique opportunity to make a real difference for the development of LDCs and called for the renewed and stronger support of the international community.

He said the plan of action that will be agreed in Istanbul “must empower the least developed countries to transform their economies and society by helping to create an enabling national and international environment for social and economic development and enhancing productive capacities.”

But Mr. Deiss pointed out the quality of institutions and policies at the national and regional levels must be sound to facilitate development in LDCs.

“Rule of law, respect of human rights and democracy must be strengthened. The fight against corruption has to be intensified,” he said.

“Eradicating poverty and reducing vulnerability in the least developed countries is a duty that we have towards the million people living in these countries. This will in turn contribute to making the world safer, more prosperous, more dynamic, more democratic and more united.”

Disney through a postcolonial lens

This is just an entertaining post looking at some classic Disney productions that come under criticism for their cultural stereotyping. In lieu of the popularity of our Disney example in the postcolonialism lecture, I thought I would share this with you all so that you could have a further think about the ways in which out lives are structured by stereotypes in something as apparently innocuous(?) as a Disney film. You may also like to think about the regular consumers of Disney films- young children- and how these culturally biased representations are normalised and passed onto them.

What do you think about the UN?

This week we have been addressing the UN and its place in International Relations, and it’s been pretty heartening to hear some thoughts and personal opinions and to have some debate going on in tutorials. If you are interested in the UN, from whatever perspective, and want to get an idea of how it operates, see some positives and negatives around organising nearly 200 groups to debate on a certain issue and experience the joys and frustrations of diplomatic negotiations then you may be interested in having a look at the UN Youth and the associated Model UN conference in Canberra this July (AMUNC). Although your first thought on model UNs may be that episode of the Simpsons, or alternatively you have no idea about model UNs and wouldn’t know where to start, they are great experiences, easy for newcomers to get to grips with, and really are very informative, not least because they can really help you to decide where you stand on certain issues. You may find that they help give you a new perspective on the UN. You’ll also usually end up meeting some like-minded people who you can endlessly debate with, and overall it is just a lot of fun. If you are interested, check out specifically have a look at National Events- AMUNC is coming up in July and registrations are now open. Vicky Clarke is organising this year’s delegation to AMUNC, and you can email her if you are interested or want more information-

The drawbacks of intervention in Libya


The drawbacks of intervention in Libya

Concerns over oil markets, geopolitics and refugees might be behind no-fly zone decision, scholars argue.
Asli U. Bâli and Ziad Abu-Rish Last Modified: 20 Mar 2011 16:34
The no-fly zone could involve on Libyan runways, radars, and anti-aircraft artillery installations carrying the potential for significant collateral damage against civilians and civilian infrastructure [GALLO/GETTY]

The Libyan uprising is entering its fourth week. The courage and persistence of the Libyan people’s efforts to overthrow Gaddafi have been met with ongoing regime brutality ranging from shoot-to-kill policies to the indiscriminate use of artillery against unarmed civilians.

In addition to the current no-fly zone, the UN Security Council unanimously issued a resolution imposing tough measures against the Libyan regime including an arms embargo, asset freeze, travel ban and a referral of the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court for investigation.

The desire to act in solidarity with the Libyan people demands that we assess the available options against the core principle of legitimacy that any intervention must satisfy: Do no harm (that is, do not do more harm on balance by intervening).

The likelihood that coercive intervention would satisfy this principle is severely constrained when evaluated against the historical record, logistical realities, and the incentives and interests of the states in a position to serve as the would-be external interveners.

Put simply, coercive external intervention to alter the balance of power on the ground in Libya in favor of the anti-Gaddafi revolt is likely to backfire badly.

The attendant costs would, of course, be borne not by those who call for intervention from outside of Libya but by the Libyan people with whom we hope to show solidarity. In what follows we argue that embracing the call for solidarity requires a much more careful appraisal of the interventionist option, precisely because the potential risks will be borne by Libyan civilians.

Mixed motivations

Of the arguments against intervention, the most straightforward draws on an assessment of the long history of external intervention in the Middle East and North Africa.

There is no need to rehearse that history here since the failure of such past interventions to advance the humanitarian welfare or political aspirations of local populations is well-established. But because the possibility of intervention is debated in some circles as if the starting point is a clean slate, it is important to begin by recalling this dismal history. For instance, the imposition of a no-fly-zone on Iraq did little in and of itself to shift the balance of power against the Saddam Hussein regime, but it did result in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Further, the no-fly zone served as a predicate for the subsequent invasion and occupation of Iraq insofar as the ongoing use of this coercive measure against the regime from 1991 until 2003 was cited in support of the argument that there was “implied authorisation” to forcibly topple the regime.

While humanitarian considerations are often invoked in defense of intervention, humanitarianism is far from the only issue on the table. Other reasons that have been adduced in favor of intervention in Libya include vindicating international norms, re-establishing the leadership of the US in the region, preventing spill-over of the refugee crisis into Europe, and the stabilisation of world oil markets. The Libyan people are struggling to change their regime on their own terms and there is no reason to presume an overlap between these various logics of intervention and their interests.

The historical record clearly establishes that an external regime change intervention based on mixed motives – even when accompanied with claims of humanitarianism – usually privileges the strategic and economic interests of interveners and results in disastrous consequences for the people on the ground. Indeed, the discord currently evidenced among Western powers concerning intervention in Libya is precisely based in their doubts as to whether their strategic interests are adequately served by such a course.

The incongruence between the interests of external interveners and those on the ground in Libya is already apparent. Beyond their eleventh hour timing, serious mobilisations for intervention on the part of Western powers were issued only after most Western nationals had been safely evacuated from Libya.

The fact that outside powers were unwilling to act while their nationals were on Libyan soil demonstrates their understanding that treating the regime with coercion may lead to civilian deaths either directly as a result of an intervention or indirectly through reprisals against civilians identified as opponents.

Furthermore, the evacuation channels made available to Western nationals – airlifts across the Mediterranean – were not and are not being offered to Libyan civilians nor African migrant workers trapped in Libya. If the humanitarian welfare of civilians in Libya were paramount, they, too, would have been offered this secure escape route. Instead, once Western nationals were safely out of harm’s way, coercive measures were adopted without any effort to protect or evacuate the civilians that were left behind in Tripoli and beyond.

No-fly zone, local calls, and solidarity

To be clear, we are not categorically rejecting any and all forms of intervention irrespective of the context. Instead, we reject forms of intervention that, on balance, are likely to produce more harm than benefit. This is a context-specific determination that requires an assessment of the forseeable consequences of particular proposed interventions. With respect to the context in Libya today we are critical of current proposals for intervention in light of the identities and interests of would-be interveners and the limited understanding of intra-Libyan political dynamics on which they rely. There are circumstances under which a no-fly zone might conceivably serve a humanitarian purpose.

In particular, if air strikes were the principal means by which the regime was inflicting civilian casualties, there would be a much stronger case for a no-fly zone. Though the military situation within Libya remains unclear, the empirical evidence that is available suggests that Gaddafi’s artillery poses a more serious threat to both civilians and rebels than air strikes.

In addition, the regime’s aerial assaults have primarily employed helicopter gunships, which would be difficult to counter through a no-fly zone because they fly lower and are harder to target than warplanes.

Further, the no-fly zone imposed through the UN Security Council involves attacks on Libyan runways, radars, and anti-aircraft artillery installations with the potential for significant “collateral damage” against civilians and civilian infrastructure. A no-fly zone that risks killing Libyans would also run the risk of strengthening the regime’s hand by enabling Gaddafi to style himself as an anti-imperialist defender of Libyan sovereignty.

Rather than persuading elements of the military and air force to defect, such a move might produce a counter-productive rally-round-the-flag effect in parts of Libya still under the control of the regime.

The fact that for logistical and political reasons a no-fly zone poses a serious risk of backfiring is an important consideration. But it is not the only reason to question whether heeding local calls for a no-fly zone necessarily represent an act of solidarity.

Fragmentation risk

Furthermore, a response to calls emanating from one region may risk fragmenting the country. The fact that we know so little about the domestic context among non-regime actors in Libya is precisely the reason that the types of external intervention currently taking place are likely to backfire.

The desire to act in solidarity with local Libyans struggling for their liberation is important. But without a clear sense of the consequences of a particular intervention – or the interests and diverse actors likely to be impacted – there is no way to satisfy the do-no-harm principle. Notwithstanding the provenance of the no-fly zone – whether within Libya or the Arab League – and their attendant “authenticity” or legitimacy, we cannot justify intervention unless we can appraise its likely consequences for the civilian population with whom we are allegedly acting in solidarity.

This difficulty is further compounded by the fact that neither the Western nor Arab powers currently calling for intervention have a record of privileging particular domestic partners based on the interests or aspirations of local populations. There is little reason to expect that Libya will be exceptional in this regard, particularly in light of the mixed motives of any potential intervener.

We do not argue that the international community has no obligation to support Libyan civilians. To the contrary, we strongly believe there is such an obligation, but that current coercive options pose serious risks to the Libyan population with little concomitant benefit in terms of humanitarian protections.

The interests of potential external interveners are not well aligned with those of Libyans on the ground beyond that of regime change.

Further, the identities of involved in the process of intervention reinforce concerns about such proposals. Many members of the Arab League are currently undertaking repression of democratic uprisings against their rule. The legitimacy and representativeness of any call they issue should be called into question by their own internal anti-democratic practices.

As Saudi troops operate in Bahrain to shore up the defenses of an authoritarian ruling family against its own people, the bankruptcy of calls for intervention in Libya by members of the GCC and the Arab League is evident.

Members of the Group of 8 are also compromised by their ambivalence towards democratic demands met with repression by their regional allies and their own long history of brutal interventions and direct support of authoritarian regimes.

ICC referral ‘counter-productive’

Libyans have already made great inroads on the ground and without external support towards a goal of regime change in which they will determine the day-after scenarios for their country.

To date, measures adopted by the international community have done little to aid, and may have undermined, Libyan efforts at liberation. For instance, the call for an ICC referral in the measures adopted by the UN Security Council was most likely counter-productive. The first priority should have been a negotiated exit strategy for Gaddafi and his family, not unlike the path already paved for the other recently deposed Arab despots, Ben Ali and Mubarak.

Instead, by immediately referring the regime for investigation by the ICC the international community has signaled to Gaddafi that neither he nor his children will be allowed to go quietly, potentially redoubling his resolve to fight to the last.

Allowing a negotiated exit to exile in an African or South American country would not have precluded a subsequent ICC referral, but might have facilitated an early end to the violence currently ravaging Libya. Further, the same resolution that referred Libyan authorities to the ICC contained a specific exemption from ICC jurisdiction for foreign interveners not party to the Rome Statute, anticipating and providing impunity in some cases for civilian deaths that result from possible UN Security Council-authorised operations in Libya down the line.

The ICC referral has been described as an attempt to incentivise those around Gaddafi to defect. Rather than vindicating international accountability, this logic of incentives suggests impunity for last-minute defectors notwithstanding decades of crimes against the Libyan population.

At its most basic, the ICC referral represents the triumph of a set of international goals (vindicating a constrained conception of international accountability through the Libyan regime) over the immediate interest in an early resolution of the Libyan crisis through the provision of a regime exit strategy. This privileging of international over local interests is typical of external intervention and would only be exacerbated by options involving the use of force.

Useful assistance

We argue for forms of international assistance that reverse this privileging and begin from the known interests of Libyan civilians. At a minimum, resources must be mobilised to offer relief supplies to the Libyan population that is currently outside of the control of the regime (bearing in mind some of the problematic dynamics also associated with such forms of “aid”).

Urgent priority should be given to addressing shortages of medical supplies and provision of essential foods and clean water. Beyond these basics, an evacuation corridor for civilians – including non-Libyan African workers trapped in the territory – should be secured and responsibility for shouldering the burden of refugee flows should not be restricted to Tunisia and Egypt.

To the contrary, rather than imposing these costs on Libya’s poorest neighbors – in the early stages of transitions of their own – Libya’s relatively wealthy northern neighbors in Europe should be absorbing a much larger share of the costs, human and material, of offering refuge to fleeing civilians.

The fact that the airlifting of Libyan and other African civilians to safety out of Tripoli is an option that is not currently on the table speaks eloquently to the misalignment of priorities. Dropping the xenophobic European rhetoric on the “dangers” of African immigration would also have the benefit of removing one of the Libyan regime’s major levers with the EU.

As Gaddafi threatens to terminate the agreements by which he has been warehousing African migrants at Europe’s behest, he lays bare the cruel logic of tacit alliances (based on immigration, energy, and security interests) that has long lent support to his rule.

A Europe willing to take concrete steps to facilitate the evacuation to its own shores of civilians who wish to leave Libyan territory regardless of nationality would at least have broken with its record of shameful complicity in regime brutality.

Acting in solidarity with the Libyan people within a do-no-harm principle presents many constraints and frustratingly few options. This is not because of an absence of concern for the interests of the Libyan population but because there are few good options beyond the provision of relief supplies and evacuation channels.

Support Libyan rebels?

There may be other alternatives short of external coercive intervention that might be considered – such as sharing tactical intelligence with Libyan rebels or jamming regime communications – though such options would have to be carefully evaluated in light of potential risks.

By contrast, overt and covert coercive options ranging from no-fly zones to arming Libyan rebels or using regional commandos to train them all implicate external actors in altering the balance on the ground in unpredictable ways.

To engage in such coercive strategies without being able to evaluate the full range of consequences amounts to subordinating the interests of the Libyan people to our own sense of purpose and justice.

We strongly advocate creative strategies of solidarity with the Libyan people while underscoring that calls for coercive external intervention do not qualify. Indeed, it is possible that demands for Western support to the rebels may already have done more harm than good.

In the end, we argue for humility in imagining the role we might play in the course of Libyans’ struggle. The international community is neither entitled to take the reins today nor dictate the post-regime scenario tomorrow. Further, those of us who wish to stand in solidarity with Libyans from outside of their country must recognise that we may not be best placed to identify which local actors enjoy broad-based support.

Solidarity cannot be reduced to the diplomatic politics of recognition nor to arguments for external intervention.

In the end, we counsel acting from the outside only when our actions are clearly aligned with the interests of Libyan civilians. Imaginative strategies to offer much-needed relief and refuge to Libya’s vulnerable population represent a challenge the international community has yet to meet. That is a good starting point for transnational solidarity.

Asli Ü. Bâli is a professor of law at the UCLA School of Law. Her research interests also include comparative law of the Middle East.

Ziad Abu-Rish is a doctoral candidate in UCLA’s Department of History. He is the co-editor of Jadaliyya Ezine.

The article above first appeared on Jadaliyya.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera
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Poststructuralism is all around us


I came across this talk on TED this evening. If you haven’t heard of TED, it is a really amazing initiative with free talks from a very wide range of sources; academics, experts, entrepreneurs, activists. Unfortunately it is a bit trendy so you may find yourself faced with a talk by Bono, but don’t hold that against TED- there are some fantastic ideas and very informative presentations. This one by Jessica Jackley struck me as quite applicable to our course and some of its underlying themes. I think Jessica would find that post-structuralism resonates with some of her own ideas that she has presented. In particular I was struck by her points about the stories we are told about ‘the poor’. The idea that it is stories that shape how we consider the world and take action within it is something you might have recognised from our readings as discourse. In particular here, the concept of ‘the poor’ as miserable, hopeless and dependent is a dominant story or discourse told to those in developed countries from a young age. I think there is often a sense of guilt at our own comfortable lifestyles and a feeling that the problem is too big for us to be able to really make a difference, and we often assuage that with donations or petitions that we do not consider too carefully. The binary relationship of donor/receiver is a powerful way that our understanding of people in developing countries is shaped. It has become common in Western countries to donate to various poverty reduction programs and many of us unthinkingly support them without considering the power implications that underlie those transactions. We especially do not stop to consider what understanding of the ‘poor’ we are ascribing to and helping to perpetuate.

Later in the course we will be discussing poverty, aid and development and tackling issues about the dominant discourses that inform these issues, and we will be critically discussing concepts like ‘development’. It is certainly possible to critique the idea of microfinance as a development strategy and Jessica (as we all do) will still ascribe to certain ideas about people living in developing countries, but I think she makes some very good points about thinking for yourself- trying to see with your own eyes, listen with your own ears and question the stories that have been constructed into truths in the developed world.

Monitoring greenhouse gases

Mar 4th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

Highs and lows
You might think that measuring the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be a priority. If you did think that, though, you would be wrong

IN NEGOTIATIONS on nuclear weapons the preferred stance is “Trust but verify”. In negotiations on climate change there seems little opportunity for either. Trust, as anyone who attended last year’s summit in Copenhagen can attest, is in the shortest of supplies. So, too, is verification.

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