Who holds the responsibility to protect? And who is to be protected?

Lucke Glanville argues in his recent Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect (2014) that this responsibility dates back from the 16th and 17th centuries. However, a good number of scholars believe that the first “humanitarian intervention” took place in Bulgaria in 1876, when Ottoman troops attacked villages killing thousands of civilians. Outraged, the British public demanded action, and indeed European Powers mobilised to require the Sultan to protect the Christians living in Eastern Europe. Former PM Gladstone famously campaigned for intervention echoing “the moral sense of mankind at large”. Western Europe intervened. Eastern European Christians were to be protected.

Last Thursday, President Obama announced that he had authorised “limited air strikes” against the combatants of the self-named Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It was the first American military action in the country since 2011. But this is not 2003, and President Obama did his best to “make this perfectly clear”: It is a “humanitarian intervention”; it is “at the request of the Iraqi Government”; “we have a mandate to help”; “we cannot turn a blind eye”; “we must prevent the total destruction of innocent Iraqis, which would constitute a potential act of genocide”. America intervenes. Iraqi Christians (and Kurdish Yazidis) are to be protected.

It can hardly come as a surprise that the US is leading this mission with no end date for the time being. So far, the UK Government has only pledged the delivery of humanitarian and medical support. Meanwhile, le Quai d’Orsay has been trying to push its European counterparts to agree on something on the matter. The EU Political and Security Committee recognised on Tuesday that individual members states are free to send weapons to the Kurdish militia, but did not reach an agreement on any EU-level intervention.

r2pThe words carefully chosen by President Obama last week remind the language used by the supporters of the “Responsibility to Protect” (also known as R2P). Coined in 2001, R2P firstly means that states are obliged to protect their citizens from international crimes. This is not new, because in essence protecting the people within the national jurisdiction is what International Human Rights Law has been all about since 1948. However, R2P also claims that if a state fails to protect its people, the international community has the responsibility to intervene, using force if necessary. This, if it could be a norm, would constitute a major change. But it is not a norm. Continue reading

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¿Qué tienen que ver la jurisdicción universal y el impago argentino?

r620-fc7e9f56dfca8b77360c7d259645fdf8Hay un argumento recurrente contra la jurisdicción universal: Al dotar a los jueces del poder de investigar y procesar independientemente del lugar de comisión del delito o de la nacionalidad del agresor o de la víctima, coloca al gobierno en una posición comprometida respecto a sus homólogos extranjeros. Para los detractores de la jurisdicción universal, si un juez “independiente, inamovible, responsable y sometido únicamente al imperio de la ley” (artículo 117 de la Constitución Española) investiga delitos cometidos en el Tíbet, Palestina o el Sahara Occidental, indirectamente este juez está creando un lío morrocotudo y diplomático para su país. Se está metiendo en política, y la política es cosa de políticos, es decir, del Ejecutivo y del Legislativo. En resumen esto es lo que quería decir Alfonso Alonso cuando dijo en el Congreso que “la jurisdicción universal solo provoca conflictos”.

Vayamos a Argentina, pero pasemos antes por Nueva York. Allí vive un juez que recientemente ha ordenado al Gobierno argentino a pagar una gran cantidad de dinero a fondos de inversión que compraron deuda soberana cuando su precio era más bajo, a principios del milenio. En realidad, este juez, llamado Thomas Griesa, les dio unos días a ambas partes para que alcanzan un acuerdo. Llegado el 1 de agosto no hubo tal acuerdo, y Argentina entró en una crisis de deuda, que ha creado una serie de “dificultades” para el país, según ha reconocido su propio Gobierno. Continue reading

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¿Por qué prohibir la tortura si vamos a seguir torturando?

obama_tortura_cia-webLa semana pasada, el Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos condenó a Polonia por permitir en su territorio interrogatorios y retenciones secretas de la CIA en el marco de la llamada “Guerra contra el Terror”. Según la agencia Reuters, un portavoz del Gobierno polaco dijo: “La sentencia sobre las cárceles de la CIA es vergonzosa para Polonia y supone una carga para nuestro país, tanto económica como para nuestra imagen”. Casos relativos a otros países europeos están pendientes de resolución en Estrasburgo. Hace unos meses, el Senado estadounidense votó a favor de la desclasificación de un informe sobre el programa de detención e interrogatorios de la CIA. Se espera que la Casa Blanca lo permita próximamente, pero el propio Obama ya ha reconocido lo que todo el mundo sabe: Estados Unidos utilizó la tortura. El Gobierno británico está dando muestras de nerviosismo ante la próxima difusión de dicho informe, que a buen seguro acreditará la complicidad de sus servicios secretos. La organización de derechos humanos británica Reprieve ha denunciado que el Gobierno de David Cameron está instigando para retrasar la publicación de este informe y censurar apartados comprometedores del mismo.

Se supone que hay una prohibición internacional absoluta sobre la tortura. Sería lo que los expertos en la materia denominan una “norma de ius cogens”. La prohíbe la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos de 1948, el Convenio Europeo de Derechos Humanos de 1950 y el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos de 1966, además naturalmente de la Convención Contra la Tortura de 1984, ratificada por 155 países. Sin embargo, Amnistía Internacional ha documentado y denunciado prácticas de tortura y otros malos tratos en 141 países en los últimos cinco años. Casi la mitad de las 21.000 personas encuestadas por Amnistía en 21 países de todo el mundo reconocieron temer ser torturadas si son detenidas. Continue reading

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What human rights norms do Western European countries promote? #TimeToAct

jolie and hagueWilliam Hague and Angelina Jolie are hosting a global summit in London to put an end to sexual violence in conflict (follow #TimeToAct). In June 2013, Madrid hosted the 5th world conference on (against) death penalty. It was organised by an abolitionist group (ECPM), and sponsored by the Governments of Spain, France, Switzerland and Norway.

Western European countries promote international human rights norms. The summits of London and Madrid are just two examples of what and how they do it. Now, the questions are: Why do they do it? And, related to this, what kind of norms do they promote?

According to Finnemore and Sikkink’s famous model of international norm diffusion, states play a major role in this process when they choose to embrace certain norms, understood as “standards for the appropriate behavior of states”. Finnemore and Sikkink are of the opinion that states promote human rights norms “for reasons that relate to their identities as members of the international society”. In other words, states promote norms because they consider them legitimate.

I hold a different opinion. Continue reading

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When could I start considering the possibility of anti-homeless spikes?

The inch-high studs have been installed in an alcove at the entrance to luxury flats in LondonThese spikes were installed in the entrance of a luxury block of flats in South London. Somebody took the picture and sparked a rapid reaction on social media. Both the local Council and the Mayor of London urged the owners to remove them as soon as possible. I don’t know if they are still there. It is a private area and public authorities have demanded action. They are not the ones to blame in this case. However, what if these spikes had been installed in a public square? And even in the case at hand, what about the legitimate right to property of the people living in those flats? Continue reading

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UN bodies insist: Human rights have extraterritorial effects

fronterasThe United States and the Vatican have recently been criticised by three UN committees for the very same reason: Because both States refuse to accept that their human rights obligations have effects beyond their national borders.

In February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) demanded the Vatican to put an end to the impunity in relation to sex abuse and to remove immediately all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers (find CRC’s Concluding Observations here). In its defence, the Vatican representative argued that “priests are not functionaries of the Vatican”; they are “citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country”. The CRC rightly responded applying the general principle of International Human Rights Law that says that States must respond for the human rights abuses committed wherever they exercise “effective control”, regardless of whether it is within or beyond national boundaries. Continue reading

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What matters in the EU debate? Numbers, authorship or content?

article-2330871-19FEC6D0000005DC-122_634x434I attended yesterday an event organised by the European Institute of the LSE. The title was: “European Parliament Elections: What is at stake?” The speakers were Stuart Wheeler, UKIP treasurer, Maurice Fraser and Sara Hagemann, from LSE, and Mark Leonard, director of ECFR. The event was supposedly chaired by John Peet, Europe editor of The Economist. I say “supposedly” because he was there, but he didn’t do anything to prevent questions from the audience from becoming speeches from the audience. He didn’t really do a very good job, to tell the truth.

Anyway, one of the points that stirred up most comments was the issue about the amount of legislation that comes “from Brussels”. Mr. Wheeler said it was more than 70 or 80%. Others responded it was only 7 or 8%. My conclusion: Who knows? My question: Considering that 31% of Brits would vote for UKIP, does it mean that nearly 1 out of 3 don’t care about who decides in Brussels and, more importantly, what kind of decisions they make? Continue reading

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