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

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Dear fellow jurists, human rights are about politics, and that’s perfectly fine

socialjusticeFor decades, the global human rights community has seen human rights as a matter of law, mostly international law. Economic, social and cultural rights, however, are meant to be progressively realized making use of all available resources. The violations approach and the work on their justiciability do not address the structural factors that constrain the enjoyment of these rights. Human rights are about policy and politics as much as about law. There is room for human rights advocacy outside and beyond the limits of the law.

Abstract of a chapter by Koldo Casla in Can human rights bring social justice?, book edited by Amnesty International Netherlands in the Changing Perspectives on Human Rights collection.

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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.

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Right to housing in Spain: What have the Romans ever done for us?

Should we say thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands? I must admit we were not sure how to start the report Evicted Rights: Right to Housing and Mortgage Evictions in Spain, published by Amnesty International – Spain on 23 June 2015 (see here in Spanish).download (1)According to judicial statistics, there have been nearly 600,000 foreclosure procedures since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. Luckily, not all of them have ended up in an eviction, neither do all affect first homes. So, if not all, how many then? If we check the data from the National Statistics Institute and the Bank of Spain, we will get some information about the number of households and first homes that have gone through a mortgage foreclosure since 2012. Yet, not even then we’ll have the full picture. It may seem strange, but to this day there are not yet official statistics about the number of people who have lost their home because they couldn’t keep paying back their debt to the bank.

However, combining different sources, we can confidently say that since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted or are at risk of being evicted due to over-indebtedness and high unemployment (around 23%). Figures are overwhelming, but not as much as the testimonies of Ainhoa, Maritza, Sara, Francisco and 41 more people who shared their stories with Amnesty International. They are human rights defenders; they claim their own rights, and the rights of their relatives, friends and colleagues, of all of us, really. Continue reading

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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.


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

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El derecho a la vivienda en España, una de romanos

Screenshot 2015-06-24 11.35.09

Este artículo ha sido publicado en Huffington Post

¿Decimos miles, decenas de miles o centenares de miles? En Amnistía International tuvimos serias dudas sobre cómo dar comienzo al informe Derechos Desalojados: Derecho a la vivienda y desalojos hipotecarios en España, publicado ayer.

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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: tel: 00 44 (0)1273 500664

Copyright Steve Bell 2015/All Rights Reserved e.mail: 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

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