Bombardment of Damascus 90 years later: Two questions around the Responsibility to Protect

France bombed Damascus 90 years ago as a reaction to the Syrian revolt for independence. France held the mandate over Syria under the League of Nations authority. The day after an attack against French troops, France bombed the city for 48 hours. It is said that between 1000 and 5000 people died. Bombardments continued the following months.

France’s intervention was authorised by the Western powers and by the League of Nations. And precisely the endorsement of the League triggered the reaction of Arab critics: Was France allowed by international law to intervene militarily in Syria? Continue reading “Bombardment of Damascus 90 years later: Two questions around the Responsibility to Protect”

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The Greek tragedy proves that Europe does not believe in economic and social rights as a matter of justice

Early this morning, the President of the EU Council has announced that a deal had been reached. After one referendum and a collection of ultimatums, Grexit is out of the question, for now.

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The details of the agreement remain unspecified as I write these lines. The Guardian reports that, this last intense weekend, the German Government proposed measures such as Greece leaving the Euro temporarily if it refused a new bailout or, Greece setting aside €50 billion worth of assets as collateral for an eventual privatisation (hopefully, the Acropolis wasn’t in the list of assets). The paper says that the proposals “did not enjoy a consensus among eurozone leaders”, which is a slight relief.

At this point, the exact lyrics of the song have not been made public, but the stage where they have to be performed is well known. In 2013, the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights warned that “the prospects of a significant number of Greeks securing an adequate standard of living in line with international human rights standards have been compromised by bailout conditions imposed by Greece’s international lenders”. After visiting the country, he denounced that more than 10% of the population lived in extreme poverty. National economy has shrunk by a quarter since the beginning of the implementation of extreme cuts in 2010, with rocketing unemployment (nearly 30%), especially among youngsters (twice that percentage). In late 2014, the FIDH and the Hellenic League for Human Rights reported a similarly bleak picture, with radical cuts in minimum wages since 2012 (22-32%) and rising inequality.

164 countries from all over the world, including all EU Member States, have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), which demands from Governments the adoption of all necessary measures to achieve progressively the full satisfaction of the rights to work, housing, health and education, among others. All EU Member States have also ratified the European Social Charter, either the original (1961) or the revised one (1996). Economic, social and cultural rights are also included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (2000), “which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties” (Article 6.1 of the Treaty of the European Union, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009).

ICESCR Continue reading “The Greek tragedy proves that Europe does not believe in economic and social rights as a matter of justice”

What the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta tells us about Britain’s idea of human rights

Yesterday, 15 June, Britain celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The text proclaimed some of what we now call “human rights”, related to fair trial and the rule of law. It was meant to be a peace treaty between English barons and a particularly bully monarch, King John. Magna Carta did not really apply at the time, war resumed soon after and most of the text was repealed throughout history. However, yesterday, the birthday was greeted with royal splendour and the Prime Minister said that Magna Carta “changed the world”. Not bad for someone who not long ago didn’t know the literal translation of Magna Carta (it’s “Great Charter”, by the way).

Copyright Steve Bell 2015/All Rights Reserved e.mail: belltoons@ntlworld.com tel: 00 44 (0)1273 500664
Copyright Steve Bell 2015/All Rights Reserved e.mail: belltoons@ntlworld.com tel: 00 44 (0)1273 500664

David Cameron is not alone in his enthusiasm. Others have claimed that we still enjoy the rights “won” in 1215. BBC refers to Magna Carta as “the document that heralded modern democracy”. And the rather obsessive-looking historian David Starkey is convinced that the proclamation of property rights in Magna Carta was “the foundation of everything else”, in a way that other countries, like China and Russia, have not experienced to this day; Magna Carta was “unique in Europe” and Americans and continental Europeans learned about civil liberties from it.

I must confess my fascination. Continue reading “What the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta tells us about Britain’s idea of human rights”

Against the criminalisation of foreign fighters with the discourse of terrorism

chartoftheday_2658_Where_Syrias_Foreign_Fighters_Come_From_nLast week, interior ministers of the 15 countries sitting at the UN Security Council met to discuss foreign fighters. They did so as part of the follow-up of Resolution 2178 (2014), which defines foreign fighters as people who travel or attempt to travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, and other individuals who travel or attempt to travel from their territories to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training”.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, but foreign fighters are getting more and more attention in relation to Syria and Iraq. The number of foreign fighters in both countries could exceed 20,000, and according to the Director of Europol, between 3,000 and 5,000 of them would come from EU countries.

In Resolution 2178, as well as previous ones since 2001, the Security Council urges states to adopt legislative and criminal measures to prevent terrorism and bring suspects to justice.

With the intention to operationalise the mandate of the Security Council, the Council of Europe is working on a draft protocol to the 2005 European Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism. This text criminalises the action of joining a group and “participating” in its activities “for the purpose of committing or contributing to the commission” of terrorist offenses (Article 2), “receiving training for terrorism” (Article 3), “travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism” (Article 4), “funding travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism” (Article 5), or “organising or otherwise facilitating travelling” for that purpose (Article 6).

As noted by Scheinin, the formulation of these provisions relies on the intent (“purpose”) of the person to participate or contribute towards the commission of a terrorist offence.

The draft protocol, therefore, does not call for the criminalisation of travelling to conflict zones, and individual countries have not modified their criminal legislation to punish travelling per se. The subjective element of intent is required.

However, a variety of measures are already being taken in relation to foreign fighters, ranging from passport confiscation (Germany), attempts to bar foreign fighters from acquiring national citizenship (Austria), stripping known foreign fighters of access to social services (Belgium), or revoking naturalised nationality (UK and Netherlands) (see reports here, here and here).

So far, these measures are targeting Islamic foreign fighters travelling to conflict areas with a religious motivation. However, there is no reason why these measures could not be potentially applied to other conflicts. For example, Spanish authorities recently detained eight nationals that had fought in Ukraine on the pro-Russian side. Apparently their actions may have infringed Spain’s neutrality, and therefore compromise the country’s “peace or independence”. Continue reading “Against the criminalisation of foreign fighters with the discourse of terrorism”

Cuatro pensamientos sobre el ataque a Charlie Hebdo

Amnesty UK je suis charlieHay clases y clases, también cuando hablamos de terrorismo. Los delincuentes fueron deliberadamente contra los periodistas y humoristas de Charlie Hebdo, un medio conocido por su vocación de burlarse de todo y de todos, aunque las más conocidas sean sus viñetas sobre Mahoma. No fue un ataque contra personas inermes, sino un ataque contra personas armadas con tinta y con papel, y por alguna razón este hecho hace que nuestra repulsa sea mayor que si se hubiera tratado de doce personas irreconocibles, sin nada en común. (En la foto, minuto de silencio en la sede de Amnistía Internacional en el Reino Unido.) El valor de las vidas es el mismo, pero es como si al atacarles, nos hubieran atacado también un poco a todos. No se trata del ataque en sí mismo, sino del significado que el ataque tiene para nosotros, precisamente por el valor que le damos a lo que las víctimas tienen en común, quizás porque la libertad de la prensa es la herramienta a través de la que la sociedad ejercita su libertad de información.

Nous sommes tous Charlie? Los perfiles de Facebook de medio mundo dicen que hoy todos somos Charlie, pero yo albergo algunas dudas. Y no soy el único. En un agudo análisis en el que hace referencia al escaso apoyo que recibía la revista cuando se atrevía a ser políticamente incorrecta, Cas Mudde escribe que defender la libertad de expresión “exige no sólo que nos manifestemos en contra de los extremistas, sino también que defendamos a quienes les desafían… también antes de que sean amenazados o incluso asesinados”. En este sentido, el abogado inglés Adam Wagner observaba anoche que ningún medio británico se había atrevido a mostrar en portada ninguna viñeta publicada por Charlie Hebdo. A su juicio, se debe al miedo y a la autocensura. Hoy todos decimos ser Charlie pero ayer no todos valorábamos tanto la libertad de expresión.

Screenshot from 2015-01-08 16:18:03Dicho lo anterior, no estoy de acuerdo con lo que dices, pero defenderé con mi vida tu derecho a expresarlo”. Lo dijo Voltaire, pero aun a riesgo de equivocarme con el prejuicio, sospecho que podría haberlo dicho uno de los dos valientes policías que dieron la vida ayer. Se llamaba Ahmed Merabet. A lo mejor no es preciso tener altas cotas de tolerancia hacia lo políticamente incorrecto para mostrar solidaridad con las víctimas, compromiso con la libertad de expresión y repulsa por el crimen. Del mismo modo que no es preciso ser homosexual en Uganda, disidente político en Corea del Norte, judío en la Alemania de los años 30, o inmigrante indocumentado en la Europa de hoy para estar comprometido con la defensa de los derechos humanos.

Hay crímenes que provocan heridas colectivas. Francia lloró de dolor ayer. Hoy, mañana y pasado estará de duelo. Hubo manifestaciones espontáneas por todo el país. También las ha habido en el extranjero, muchas de ellas frente a las embajadas. Humoristas gráficos de todo el mundo también han mostrado una gran creatividad en sus muestras de apoyo (por ejemplo, aquí y aquí). Los líderes políticos franceses aseguraron que los responsables serán llevados ante la justicia y responderán por sus crímenes. Si este es el impacto que provocan doce asesinatos, ¿cómo poner en cuestión que pueda haber delitos que por su especial naturaleza y gravedad atentan contra la conciencia de la humanidad entera? ¿Y cómo negar en tal caso la competencia de los jueces de cualquier país para asegurarse de que un genocidio, un crimen contra la humanidad o un crimen de guerra no queden impunes?

Koldo Casla

@koldo_casla

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

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