Why human rights campaigning needs to change more than just its framing

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This article was published in Open Democracy UK

The problem is not how we speak – it’s who we are.

Human rights campaigning in the UK, where I am writing this from, is shifting from finger pointing to emotional appeals. In this post-factual world of fake news, trolls and bots, simply uncovering human rights violations no longer works as effectively as it used to. A new approach is needed because connecting with people’s hearts is more urgent than ever.

One persuasively articulated new approach is that not everyone is the same – and thus, framing is crucial. This approach notes how some people support human rights messages whatever the package they come in, whilst others will always oppose human rights. And some, possibly the majority, do not have anything against the idea of human rights or against their champions, but remain sceptical or distant, or simply have not cared enough to make up their minds yet. This third group should be human rights’ target audience because they will tip the scales in one direction or the other. This tribe has a cracking name that matches their super heroic responsibility: The ‘persuadables’.

To reach out to the persuadables human rights groups are urged by the re-framers to change the conversation. Based on neuroscience and cognitive linguistics, campaigners must communicate hope over fear, they must tell stories that speak to emotions and humanity. Facts and figures are useful with your loyal friends. Feelings work better with the persuadables, or so says the theory.

I admire the zeal to reassess what works and what doesn’t. It is good news that the sector is paying more attention to public opinion here and abroad.

But I think we risk hitting a target by missing the point. Continue reading “Why human rights campaigning needs to change more than just its framing”

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Realism: Human Rights Foe?

Realism-coverChapter published in the collective volume Realism in Practice: An Appraisal, published by e-IR and edited by Davide Orsi, J. R. Avgustin & Max Nurnus.

This chapter appraises Realism from a human rights perspective. The first section introduces the conventional view according to which realism, with its focus on the state, material power and international anarchy, would dismiss the idea that human rights could matter at all in global politics. The second section provides an alternative perspective. There are at least three ways in which human rights can survive and indeed flourish in a world guided by classical realist parameters. I contend, first, that realism creates the space for a political critique of international law, which helps us understand the political reasons why certain claims get framed in the language of human rights law. Secondly, realism advises restraint in the use of military force, leading potentially to better human rights outcomes. Finally, realism can also allow us to theorise about a certain idea of order guided by international rules defined by states themselves.

Koldo Casla

Ecocide: the international crime that could have been but never quite was

This post was first published in NBXMain in October 2015

Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are international crimes and, since 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate individuals accused of having committed acts of that nature. From 2017, under certain circumstances the ICC will also have jurisdiction in relation to the crime of aggression. These are the four international crimes recognised in the Statute of the ICC. There was a time, however, when scholars, international bodies and even some government officials spoke about a possible fifth international crime: Ecocide.

Ecocide was a crazy idea promoted by a bunch of visionary/loony academics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Aware of the fact that human action was causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem, they argued that humanity as a whole could be considered to be the victim of premeditated forms of aggression against the environment.

The idea could have remained an exercise of academic engineering had it not resonated, even if mildly, in international political discourse. Most famously, the then Prime Minister of Sweden, Olaf Palme, said in his opening address of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Environment:

”The immense destruction brought about by indiscriminate bombing, by large scale use of bulldozers and herbicides is an outrage sometimes described as ecocide, which requires urgent international attention.”  Continue reading “Ecocide: the international crime that could have been but never quite was”

Should rights be submitted to referendum? (You won’t find the answer here)

0fe51435c8d9f2e165e32117bb1d8c65-800xEarlier this year, many of us felt proud of Ireland. 62% of Irish people voted to proclaim marriage equality in the national constitution. Ireland, a country of profound Catholic roots, had become the first country to recognise at the constitutional level the right to marriage regardless of sexual orientation. It was very good news for those who believe in human rights, equality and non-discrimination.

Last week, only seven months after the Irish vote, 63.5% of the Slovenian electorate rejected a law allowing same-sex marriage. Turnout was rather low (36%), lower than in Ireland (61%), but enough to make the result just as valid. The result was particularly disappointing considering that in 2005 Slovenia became the first Eastern European country to legally recognise same-sex partnerships. (By the way, two days after Slovenia voted against equal marriage, the Greek Parliament voted in favour of civil partnerships for gay people).

Reportedly, the Slovenian constitution forbids referendums on human rights issues, but the Constitutional Court authorised the popular vote called by a civic platform (suggestively named “Children Are At Stake”) that had gathered more than 40,000 signatures.

I haven’t been able to find the ruling in English, so I am not familiar with the Court’s reasoning, but the Slovenian story makes me wonder: Should rights be submitted to referendum? Continue reading “Should rights be submitted to referendum? (You won’t find the answer here)”

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”

Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015

Amnesty International held its International Council Meeting (ICM) this last week in Dublin.

The Strategic Goals were the most important issue under consideration, but Amnesty delegates from all over the world also talked about internal governance nationally and internationally, fundraising, austerity, resource allocation, and the work on individuals at risk, for example.

Yet, one other issue stood out: sex work. After months of preparation and internal and external discussion, Amnesty was presented with the guiding principles of a draft policy to decriminalise sex work in order to protect the rights of women and men in this sector.

The proposal had generated massive interest not only among Amnesty members, but also far beyond. Social and conventional media bustled with comments for and against the resolution, or perceptions and reinterpretations of it.

Continue reading “Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015”

The ugly t-shirt or the cost of supporting feminism in Britain

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg wear the Fawcett Society’s feminist T-shirt.British media are echoing the claim that the t-shirts Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman posed with a few days ago were made in Mauritius by workers being paid 62p an hour. Fawcett Society, the organisation behind this campaign, promised that they take this allegations very seriously and they are looking into it. The t-shirt says “This is what a feminist looks like”. Each t-shirt costs £45.

It is true that the working conditions are not the exception, but the norm in this sector. Having said that, it has been clumsy. And it is Fawcett’s fault. Continue reading “The ugly t-shirt or the cost of supporting feminism in Britain”