End the counter-productive and costly ‘work ban’ on people seeking asylum

downloadThis article was published in Open Democracy

The UK ignores international conventions by preventing people seeking asylum from finding work. Relaxing the exceptionally stringent rules would boost the economy and could prove surprisingly popular.

9,380 people applied for asylum in the UK last year. This means that there were 5 applications for every 10,000 people living in the country. That’s little more than one third of the average in the European Union, which overall receives 14 applications per 10,000 people.

Despite the Government’s intentions to speed up the process, currently more than half of applicants waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim have been waiting for more than six months.

Since 2002, people seeking asylum in the UK are not allowed to work during the first year of their application. The UK is a continental outlier: no other country in Europe is so restrictive in denying people seeking asylum access to the labour market. Instead of the chance to earn a living for themselves and for their families, people seeking asylum are given a weekly cash allowance equivalent to just over £5 per day per person. At the end of 2018, there were 44,258 people receiving these payments.

Continue reading “End the counter-productive and costly ‘work ban’ on people seeking asylum”


What Putin’s supposed “death” of liberalism means for human rights

Casla_July17This article was published first in Open Global Rights

If Putin was right, and liberalism is dead, what would be the future of human rights in global politics?

In an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, the Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that “the liberal idea” hegemonic in the second half of the 20th century has “outlived its purpose”. The election of Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini, Jair Bolsonaro and, one should assume, his own presidency would support this conclusion. “Liberals cannot simply dictate anything to anyone just like they have been attempting to do over the recent decades”, Putin said.

Putin’s idea of liberalism is a convenient caricature. He appears to label as “liberal” any issue he feels strongly against: the rule of law, LGBTQ rights, the Refugee Convention, gender equality, to name a few.

That the Russian President has his own agenda, and that this agenda does not include the international promotion of human rights, cannot surprise anyone. But this interview raises an important question: What would be the fate of the international human rights regime in a world not guided by liberal parameters?

International human rights emerged and evolved in a world first defined by a cold war and later by what Francis Fukuyama thought would be the definitive ascendancy of liberal democracy. This was a world of Western hegemony where European countries played a very significant role in defining the rules of the international society, as superbly documented by Martti Koskenniemi.

Of course, this does not mean that human rights are necessarily a Western or a European idea, neither does it suggest that European countries have an impeccable record in human rights. Reports from NGOs and international human rights bodies give a persuasive account of the opposite. However, one can say that, geographically and temporarily speaking, the international institutionalisation of human rights is rooted in Europe.

Vladimir Putin is not the first one to posit that the rules of the game are changing or about to change. We are living a historical juncture of shifting tectonic plates with rising nationalism in the global North, ever growing power in the global South and a declining presence of Europe in global affairs. We are entering into a “no-one’s world” (Kupchan), a “multiplex world” (Acharya) of “decentred globalism” (Buzan and Lawson) with no more superpowers. Instead, we have multiple regional powers, a world of increasingly dispersed power and perhaps receding opportunities to forge global consensus.

The conditions under which the international human rights system grew up do not exist anymore. By itself this is neither good nor bad, but unpacking the factors beneath the legal recognition of human rights is essential if we want to maintain and raise the position of humans in future global politics.

History shows that Western European countries played a significant role in promoting international human rights law. But, as I argue in my recent book Politics of International Human Rights Law Promotion: Order versus Justice, this does not mean that they did so because they believed it was the right thing to do for global justice.

Based on the moral unity of humankind and equal deservedness of all human beings, cosmopolitans argue that morality cannot be contained to communities separated by national boundaries. On the other hand, realists are sceptical about international law in general, and about international human rights law in particular, as they believe it is unwise to judge states’ actions from a moral perspective. Between these two disparate views, I formulate an alternative political explanation of the critical role of Western Europe in the evolution of the international human rights legal regime since the 1970s.

I argue that, considering the features and the constraints in the international system, international human rights law has grown in a battle for legitimacy between two poles. On the one hand, we have had a state-centric and order-based European notion of international society with a minimalist conception of human rights, deferential to the general principles of international law, including national sovereignty, Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and the idea that inasmuch as possible promises must be kept (pacta sunt servanda). On the other hand, we have a broader conception of human rights, inspired by global justice and advocated by civil society and independent bodies under the umbrella of the UN and other international organisations. While all actors spoke the same language, they contested the meaning of each other’s words.

International human rights law becomes a matter of political contention within certain institutional confines. The international human rights system, with its limitations and contradictions, is what we see when order meets justice, when order clashes with justice.

Understood as such, human rights are not the fruit of passion, but the fruit of tension: tension in the political space of legitimacy. It is a tension not between those who believe in human rights and those who do not, but between those who believe in human rights as a matter of order and those who believe in them as a matter of justice.

Those who do not believe in the idea of human rights in any significant way (order, justice, or a combination of both) are not part of the equation. The question that arises, then, is what we can expect to happen in a world where those who openly reject the idea of human rights in all its acceptations are in the driver’s seat.

Illiberal governments and demagogic politicians have not yet articulated a cohesive and homogenous alternative to the liberal international society. And in itself, the relative decline of Europe in global affairs is neither good nor bad. But those of us who attempt to maximise the power of human rights in global politics would do well to think critically and self-critically about the politics and dialectics of international human rights law promotion in recent decades.

Human rights are not an idea whose times has come. Or just like it came, we have to accept the possibility that the time could go. The defence of human rights can no longer be built exclusively or even principally on some immaterial and superior principles. I think human rights “people” could do more to pay attention to local identities and listen to the values and fears of those who are not yet in our camp, opening up to new ways of constructing the ideas of human rights. Just in case Putin is right, we ought to come up with politically savvy strategies that resonate with individuals’ material interests and non-universal values.

Qué significa para los derechos humanos la supuesta “muerte” del liberalismo anunciada por Putin

Casla_July17Este artículo fue publicado en Open Global Rights en Español.

Si Putin tuviera razón, y el liberalismo hubiera muerto, ¿cuál sería el futuro de los derechos humanos en la política global?

En una entrevista exclusiva para el Financial Times, el presidente ruso Vladimir Putin recientemente proclamó que “la idea liberal” hegemónica durante la segunda mitad del siglo 20 “ha quedado obsoleta”. La elección de Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini, Jair Bolsonaro y, es de suponer, su propia presidencia respaldaría dicha conclusión. “Los liberales ya no pueden simplemente ordenar nada a nadie como han intentado hacer en las últimas décadas”, afirmó.

La noción de liberalismo que maneja Putin es una caricatura a conveniencia. Parece calificar de “liberal” cualquier idea a la que se opone: el estado de derecho, los derechos LGBTQ, la convención de las personas refugiadas, la igualdad de género, por mencionar algunos.

A nadie se le escapa que el presidente ruso tiene su propia agenda, y que dicha agenda no incluye la promoción internacional de los derechos humanos. Ahora bien, esta entrevista plantea una pregunta fundamental: ¿Qué sería del régimen internacional de los derechos humanos en un mundo que no se rigiera por parámetros liberales?

El sistema internacional de derechos humanos surgió y evolucionó en un contexto inicialmente caracterizado por una guerra fría y más tarde por lo que Francis Fukuyama creyó que iba a ser el ascenso definitivo de la democracia liberal. Se trataba de un mundo de hegemonía occidental donde los países europeos definían las reglas de la sociedad internacional, como documentó brillantemente Martti Koskenniemi.

Naturalmente, esto no significa que los derechos humanos sean necesariamente un invento occidental o europeo, ni por supuesto que los países de este continente puedan alardear de una trayectoria intachable en la protección de los derechos humanos. Informes de ONG y de órganos internacionales de derechos humanos dan buena cuenta de lo contrario. Sin embargo, en términos geográficos y temporales podemos afirmar que la institucionalización internacional de los derechos humanos encuentra sus orígenes en Europa.

Vladimir Putin no ha sido el primero en plantear que las reglas del juego están cambiando o están a punto de cambiar. Estamos viviendo una coyuntura histórica de placas tectónicas en movimiento, con pujante nacionalismo en el Norte global, creciente poder del Sur, y una presencia menguante de Europa en los asuntos internacionales. Estamos entrando en un “mundo de nadie” (Kupchan), un “mundo multiplex” (Acharya) de “globalismo descentralizado” (Buzan y Lawson) carente de superpotencias. Se trata de un planeta con varias potencias regionales, donde el poder se dispersa progresivamente y en el que quizás cada vez contamos con menos oportunidades para forjar consensos globales.

Las condiciones en las que creció el sistema internacional de derechos humanos han cambiado. En sí mismo, esto no es ni bueno ni malo, pero si deseamos mantener y elevar la posición del ser humano en la política global del futuro resulta necesario desentrañar los factores que hicieron posible el reconocimiento legal de los derechos humanos.

La historia atestigua que los países de Europa occidental desempeñaron un papel protagonista en la promoción del derecho internacional de los derechos humanos. Pero, como sostengo en mi reciente libro Politics of International Human Rights Law Promotion: Order versus Justice, esto no significa que lo hicieran porque creyeran que era lo correcto para la justicia global.

Partiendo de la idea de la unidad moral de la humanidad y de la igualdad en dignidad de todas las personas, los cosmopolitas consideran que las cuestiones morales no pueden ser circunscritas a comunidades separadas por fronteras nacionales. Por otro lado, en la teoría de las relaciones internacionales los realistas son escépticos sobre el valor del derecho internacional en general, y del derecho internacional de los derechos humanos en particular, puesto que creen que es imprudente juzgar las acciones de los estados desde una perspectiva ética. Entre estos dos puntos de vista discordantes, formulo una explicación política alternativa sobre el papel determinante de Europa occidental en la evolución del régimen jurídico internacional de los derechos humanos en los últimos cincuenta años.

Teniendo en cuenta los rasgos y las limitaciones del sistema internacional, sostengo que el derecho internacional de los derechos humanos ha avanzado en una batalla por la legitimidad entre dos bandos. Por un lado, tenemos una noción europea de sociedad internacional estatocéntrica y basada en el orden, con una concepción minimalista de los derechos humanos y respetuosa con los principios generales del derecho internacional, incluyendo la soberanía nacional, el Capítulo VII de la Carta de las Naciones Unidas, y la idea de que en la medida de lo posible las promesas hay que cumplirlas (pacta sunt servanda). Por otro lado, se presenta una idea más amplia de los derechos humanos, inspirada por la justicia global y defendida por sociedad civil y órganos independientes bajo el paraguas de las Naciones Unidas y otras organizaciones internacionales. Si bien hablan el mismo idioma, los actores pugnan sobre el significado de las palabras empleadas por los demás.

El contenido del derecho internacional de los derechos humanos se convierte así en una disputa de carácter político dentro de determinados parámetros institucionales. El sistema internacional de los derechos humanos, con sus limitaciones y sus contradicciones, es lo que vemos cuando el orden se encuentra con la justicia o, mejor dicho, cuando el orden choca con la justicia.

Entendido de esta forma, los derechos humanos no serían tanto una fruta de la pasión, como una fruta de la tensión, tensión en el espacio político de la legitimidad. Se trata de una tensión no entre quienes creen en los derechos humanos y quienes no lo hacen, sino entre quienes creen en los derechos humanos como una cuestión de orden y quienes creen en ellos como una cuestión de justicia.

Aquellos que no albergan creencia alguna sobre los derechos humanos (ni como orden, ni como justicia, ni como una combinación de ambas) no participan de la ecuación. Si es así, ¿qué cabría esperar en un mundo donde quienes abiertamente se oponen a la idea de los derechos humanos llevaran las riendas?

Los gobiernos iliberales y los políticos demagogos todavía no han puesto negro sobre blanco una alternativa coherente y homogénea a la sociedad internacional liberal. Y en sí mismo el debilitamiento político relativo de Europa no es ni bueno ni malo. Pero quienes tratamos de maximizar el peso de los derechos humanos en las relaciones internacionales haríamos bien en reflexionar crítica y autocríticamente sobre la política y la dialéctica de la promoción del derecho internacional de los derechos humanos en décadas recientes.

No hay nada definitivo en los derechos humanos. No se trata de una idea cuyo tiempo ya llegó. O del mismo modo que llegó, deberíamos aceptar la posibilidad de que ese tiempo pudiera irse. La defensa de los derechos humanos ya no debería basarse exclusivamente o incluso principalmente sobre principios superiores e inmateriales. Quienes trabajamos sobre derechos humanos podríamos prestar mucha más atención a identidades locales y a valores y aprensiones de quienes todavía no están en nuestro bando, abriéndonos así a la posibilidad de reconstruir los derechos humanos de diferente forma. Por si acaso Putin tuviera razón, deberíamos desarrollar estrategias políticas habilidosas para responder a los intereses materiales y a los valores no-universales de la gente.

Continue reading “Qué significa para los derechos humanos la supuesta “muerte” del liberalismo anunciada por Putin”

Poverty in the UK: The world is listening, but is the government?

Koldo Casla and Wanda Wyporska

This article was published first in Open Democracy

The UN has heard shocking findings about the level of UK poverty – but the response from government has been confused.

Last Friday, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, presented his report on UK poverty in front of the UN Human Rights Council.

Fourteen million people in poverty, one and a half million of them in destitution, proliferation of food banks, rising homelessness and rough sleeping, stagnant social mobility, closure of libraries and of bus lines in rural areas, local government funding cuts… In parts of our country more than half of the children are growing up in poverty. If you are a woman born in a deprived area you can expect to die younger than you would have done ten years ago. The poor have borne the cost of unfair taxes and social security cuts introduced since 2010.

All this, despite historically high employment levels. The conclusion is both clear and bitter: Cuts to public services do not work, and simply hurt far too many people. If the Government had meant to harm the British social fabric on purpose, their masterplan would not have had to look substantially different from what we have seen over the past decade.

The world’s fifth largest economy must do much better than this. But Friday was not about Mr Alston’s report. It was about the Government’s response. It is time neither for complacency nor histrionics. As pointed out by fifty UK civil society leaders in an open letter published last week, the Government needs to come up with far more responsible and constructive feedback than what they have been offering recently.

The UN Special Rapporteur came to monitor compliance with international human rights treaties that are binding upon the UK, and it is a general principle in international law that countries must act “in good faith” to comply with international treaties they have voluntarily subscribed to.

When Mr Alston made his report public on 22 May, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, said it was “biased”, “barely believable” and “a completely inaccurate picture of” the Government’s approach to tackling poverty.

A few days later, the Government added in its official response to the United Nations: “We regret the inflammatory language and overtly political tone of this report, and strongly refute the claim that the design and delivery of welfare reforms, including Universal Credit (UC), are deliberately punitive”.

Last Friday the UK delegation in Geneva simply referred to this written response, with no more comment (min 31:58).

However, only last month ago something rather odd happened at a in a parliamentary committee of one parliamentary committee. A senior civil servant acknowledged: “We did a fact check of the Special Rapporteur report, he made a lot of good points, a lot of it was factually correct; (…) in terms of the facts, austerity, cuts to local government funding (…) all of those things were really good points.” An opposition MP could not believe what he was hearing and turned to the visibly uncomfortable Minister, who added: “It was more the tone and some of the language used which I thought was unnecessary, but of course there are areas in there that I will be working with officials on”. So much for a biasedinaccurate and barely believable report.

A few days earlier, in early June, the Chancellor Philip Hammond said on BBC: “I don’t accept the UN Rapporteur’s report at all. I think that’s nonsense. Look around you. That’s not what we see in this country”. Poverty, deprivation and social exclusion are, of course, not the sort of things he sees from his windows in Downing Street. And that may be part of the problem. It would be helpful for the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members to take a walk around the country and meet the people trapped in poverty, with no choice, with no freedom, the people that are most affected by the policies they have been implementing.

Those who spoke with Mr Alston in November were not under the illusion that their living conditions were going to improve massively as a result of his presence or his subsequent report. They thanked him for having come to them, instead of expecting it to happen the other way around. It was as if they were not used to that sort of deference from people of authority.

We did not expect the Government to U-turn in Geneva after a decade of ideological austerity. But it is an opportunity for a new Prime Minister. Not everything is about resources, and there’s something the Government could do right now. Get out and talk to people. Certain decisions would not have been adopted if the relevant ministers had spoken with those that are struggling the most in our society. For example, we are convinced the digitalisation of social services would never have been signed off. It is unrealistic to take for granted the confidence and the digital literacy of vast numbers of potential claimants of Universal Credit. “Digital by default” is simply unfit for purpose, and it would not have taken them long to realise that if they had made the effort.

Mr Alston concludes in his report that “key elements of the post-war ‘Beveridge social contract’ are being overturned” in contemporary Britain. Over 600,000 copies of Beveridge’s report were sold when it was published in the early 1940s. We wonder how many people will have downloaded Alston’s report for the UN in 2019; the world record number of submissions from all around the country, the media coverage and above all the testimonies of people that met with him give us reasons to be optimistic. We are witnessing an unstoppable movement to end poverty, fight inequality, preserve public services and champion human rights. Poor people, whether in work, unable to work or unable to find work that pays, deserve to be heard. Mr Alston’s verdict is out. It’s the Government’s turn now. The world is listening.

Continue reading “Poverty in the UK: The world is listening, but is the government?”

Acoso escolar: La administración se pasa la pelota en el patio mientras el alumnado se queda castigado sin derechos

1Este artículo fue publicado en eldiario.es

Hoy Amnistía Internacional lanza su primer informe a nivel mundial sobre el acoso escolar. Y se centra en España.

El acoso escolar entre iguales, entre compañeros y compañeras de escuela, se define como una forma de agresión o de hostigamiento de carácter físico, verbal o relacional, que es deliberada, se repite en el tiempo y se basa en un desequilibrio de poder.

El acoso escolar pone en riesgo el disfrute de los derechos de niños y niñas, como el derecho a no sufrir violencia, el derecho a la no discriminación, a la educación o a la salud, todos ellos reconocidos en el derecho internacional. Independientemente de que un niño o niña vaya a un centro público, concertado o enteramente privado, los poderes públicos tienen la obligación de protegerles.

A lo largo de año y medio, Amnistía Internacional ha hablado con 125 personas entre adolescentes, madres y padres, profesores/as, directoras/as de centros, orientadores/as, inspectores/as educativos, asociaciones de padres y madres, y representantes sindicales, entre otros. Este informe ve la luz principalmente gracias a estas personas. Continue reading “Acoso escolar: La administración se pasa la pelota en el patio mientras el alumnado se queda castigado sin derechos”

Philip Alston’s Austerity Report Must Be A Turning Point For Social Justice In Britain

Koldo Casla & Daniel Willis

Published in The Huffington Post first.

Professor Alston said “austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so”. We need a radical change to establish the sort of society we want to become.

Continue reading “Philip Alston’s Austerity Report Must Be A Turning Point For Social Justice In Britain”

The socio-economic duty: A powerful idea hidden in plain sight in the Equality Act

This article was published in Oxford Human Rights Blog.

Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 asks public authorities to actively consider the way in which their policies and their most strategic decisions can increase or decrease inequalities. I am talking about the socio-economic duty. However, successive governments since 2010 have failed to commence it, to bring it to life in technical terms, which means that public authorities are not technically bound by Section 1. Continue reading “The socio-economic duty: A powerful idea hidden in plain sight in the Equality Act”