The Persistence Grit of Suffragettes

a picture of an "I Voted" sticker
Day 36/366…I voted. Source: Denise Cross, Creative Commons

Enfranchisement is the act of participating in the political process, namely through voting. It is the acknowledgement and acceptance of citizenship. Sociologist T.H. Marshall defines citizenship as the status a person enjoys as a full member of a community. Citizenship participation in the community has three components that function as rights and duties: civil, political, and social. First, civil citizenship encompasses all individual freedoms—the inalienable rights given to each human being. Second, political citizenship afford the right to participate in the political process, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and/or ability. Lastly, social citizenship provides the right for an adequate standard of living. Full participation in a community, through the act of enfranchisement, has been a difficult and tenuous process for half of humanity: women.

Women have sought to gain full citizenship status for centuries. While this blog briefly focuses on the women’s suffrage movements in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), the breath of the women’s rights movement extends to and finds mirroring throughout Europe and in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and parts of South America and Africa according to Dolton. She reminds that women’s movements are grassroots operations, which strike at the heart of hegemonic institutional and cultural systems. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) ascribes the right for everyone to take part in their country’s government with equal access to public service, and the expression of the collective will through free and equal voting. In other words, while voting is a method utilized in some nation-states, an understanding of the variations in governmental form is imperative.

The US and UK Suffragette Movements

American women were growing dissatisfied with their lack of position and subsequent silence within the public sphere. The outgrowth of this dissatisfaction was the Seneca Falls Women’s Convention led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The topic of voting was a part of the discussion, as was divorce and martial rape. Despite economic and social progress during the 19th century, including Wyoming becoming the first state to extend voting rights to women, the failure to grant voting rights in all states left women undeterred. English women were dissatisfied also but seemingly protested quietly until the late 1890s.

Emmeline Pankhurst initiated the UK suffragist movement in 1898, following the death of her husband. By 1903, she began the Women’s Social and Political Union and recruited her daughter, Christabel, and cultivated an alliance with the Independent Labour Party. The outbreak of WW1 brought about the suspension of politics; yet, the enfranchisement of women, under 30 who met a minimum set of requirements, occurred in 1918. Full enfranchisement for all persons over 21 took place in 1928.

August 18, 1920

Two years following the enfranchisement in the UK, the long-awaited battle for women’s suffrage in the US ended with the passage of the 19th amendment on August 18, 1920. The amendment afforded women the right to vote in the US. The victory secured the right to vote for some but not all.

 

 

Libya, Slavery Revisited

a statue, entitled Emancipation, of Lincoln standing over a kneeling freed slave
Emancipation statue at Lincoln Park. Source: David, Creative Commons.

A video of a slave trade in Libya presently circulates the international circuit, eliciting pleas from the international community to the UN, and the UN Security Council to Libyan government to do something to end the “heinous abuses of human rights.” Questions of the video’s validity arose when Libyan officials, based on President Trump’s go-to slogan, discredited the report as “fake news” because it is a product of a CNN investigation. However, in April, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) exposed the slave markets after staff based in Niger and Libya gathered testimonies of these markets. The trafficked individuals are migrants from Nigeria, Ghana, and Gambia seeking passage through Libya to Europe. “Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border. There they become commodities to be bought, sold, and discarded when they have no more value.” In other words, the video confirms what the humanity already knows: human beings are trafficked and disposed of by other human beings. The Palermo Protocol defines trafficking in persons is an all-encompassing term for the recruitment, transportation, transfer, and exploitation of another for the purposes of commercial sex exploitation, labor trafficking, and organ trafficking. This blog focuses on labor trafficking, which includes domestic/manual forced migrant labor, and speaks to three issues surrounding this labor trafficking case: the international attention, the commonplaceness, and the international complicity.

The rawness of the video, in many ways, conjures images of American colonial and antebellum days gone by—when Africans were sold in markets and public squares to the highest bidder, thereby becoming property and labor on soil that was not their own. Given the fact slavery in the United States occurred nearly 400 years ago, why is this scene garnering international attention and creating a stir? First, the video provides undeniable evidence of the dehumanizing condition of slavery and the audacity of traffickers and traders. Second, it is a stack reminder that slavery, despite the Emancipation Proclamation in the US, never ended in many other regions of the world, including Libya. Lastly, it is challenges the notion of who is valuable and worth saving, and who civil society may continue to turn its back on.

It is essential to distinguish between indentured servitude and slavery. An indentured servant enters into an agreement with full acknowledgment of unpaid labor for a fixed and agreed-upon timeframe. William Mathews voluntarily made himself the servant of Thomas Windover in 1718 for the period of seven years. For his part, Windover agreed to teach, feed, clothe, and provide lodging to Mathews, who upon his release would receive “a sufficient new suit of apparel, four shirts, and two necklets [scarves].” Slavery, on the other hand, was and is about exploitation and “every sort of injustice…and debasement.” The written account of Olaudah Equiano and his family describes the feelings of betrayal and disillusionment of being “torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain… Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty”. The essential difference here is the presence or absence of choice.

Choice is the thin line separating the inferior from superior, poverty and enough, and animals and human beings. Choice, whether from individual, societal, or government level–influences how we perceive. Bales, in his book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, offers two views of slavery: old and new. Both possess a dehumanizing element. However, old slavery prided itself on ownership and maintenance of “property”; new slavery focuses on bodies for profits. Ownership takes a backseat to the profit margin. This new slavery relies on the disposability of human beings. This reliance enables Bales to assert slavery never ended; it simply evolved. Slavery, at its core, is the theft of life. The theft of one life indirectly affects another.

Traffickers sell sex slaves on the black market, underground, and on the dark web. Bonded labor is often intergenerational in places like Pakistan and India, thus, children oftentimes are born into slavery. Migrant workers build soccer stadiums in Qatar and Brazil for FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, respectively, after fleeing poverty in their home countries. Unpaid or slightly paid workers, specifically children, sew garments for major fashion brands, grind coffee beans for industry leaders, and pick cocoa beans for chocolate bars sold in America. The major issue with labor trafficking lies in the complexity of the supply and demand chain, and the complicity of local and national government officials.

book00 slavery project. Immokalee — Jose Solano shows the record book he is keeping that marks the hours he goes to work and the hours that he actually gets paid for in Immokalee. He, like many other migrant workers, said that they go to work early in the morning but then wait for hours before they can pick tomatoes yet they are only paid for the hours they pick. Source: Moody College of Communications, Creative Commons.

Per Free the Slaves website, of the estimated 40 million enslaved persons worldwide, 50% are forced laborers. ABC used last spring’s television show, American Crime, to bring some aspects of labor trafficking to light. The mini-series revealed the interconnectedness of an American tomato farming family and the illegal migrants they employed. In a poignant scene, a fire conflagrates the property, killing several enslaved workers trapped inside. A real-life similar incident occurred in July 2017, whereby nine migrants died in a semi-trailer at a San Antonio Walmart. Many quickly jump to the assertion that ‘they should have done it the legal way’ and ‘they are taking away American jobs’ or ‘should not seek refuge in the EU’, yet what often happens is we fail to examine the backstory and interconnections.

Libyan Arab Spring occurred in February 2011. The death of leader Colonel Muammar Gaddaffi in October 2011 by NATO forces left a vacuum for the rise of the Islamic State. Several failed attempts for parliamentary elections, crumbling infrastructure, thousands of internally displaced citizens (IDPs), and limited resources coalesce to create the perfect storm for the rise and perpetuation of trafficking in persons. Additionally, continental intrastate conflicts and civil unrest result in large migrations of IDPs and refugees desperate for a semblance of normalcy and peace. The proclivity of new slavery, unlike old slavery, is not race or religion but on “weakness, gullibility, and deprivation”. Put another way, the subjection of the trafficked is the misapplication of trust in an uncontrolled situation. Nikki Haley, in the 2017 TIPS Report, concludes that the impact of trafficking in persons is cross-cultural, leaving no country “immune from this crisis.” The slave markets of Libya are not the first occurrence and they will not be the last; however, the video makes them known.

After a month of awareness and contained outrage, where do we sit on the elimination of slave markets in Libya, specifically? The UN released a statement condemning the markets while noting Libyans have launched an investigation, and encouraging inter-regional cooperation. Amnesty International (AI) named and shamed EU governments–particularly Italy—for their collusion and complicity in creating and maintaining a system of abuse. AI discloses the three-pronged policy of containment consists of provision of assistance to run detention centers, coordination with Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return fleeing refugees, and cooperation with leaders on the ground to halt the smuggling of seekers by increasing border controls. The Italian government, a state party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, pays to refuse refugees and asylum seekers and knowingly returns them to a foreign land for detention and torture. Libya is not a state party; therefore, signing the Convention and implementing asylum law as suggested by Dalhuisen will constitute a step in the right direction, when Libya establishes a functioning government.

The fight to end human trafficking is a global civil society (GCS) responsibility. Glasius believes GCS is a voluntary, social contract based association with others who desire to reach and include humanity to think and participate in the world as global citizens, not simply national citizens. How can one participate in GCS? First, employing social media platforms as advocacy tools. Second, reading the TIPS report and following international entities like the UN and AI will keep you informed of changes in international government strategies and shortcomings for prosecution, protection, and prevention of human trafficking. Third, shop and buy products that are fair trade by understanding the relationship between the supply and demand. Fourth, dig deep and ask questions. Lastly, look up, become aware and watch your surroundings because you, like Shelia Fedrick, could rescue a trafficked person.

The Caged Voices of Azerbaijan

“Every gay and lesbian person who has been lucky enough to survive the turmoil of growing up is a survivor. Survivors always have an obligation to those who will face the same challenges.”

-Writer/actor Bob Paris

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), beginning in September, the Azerbaijani police force began a violent campaign against civilians presumed to be gay, bisexual, and transgender women.

The campaign began in mid-September when police in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, arrested members of the LGBTQ+ community when other citizens of Azerbaijan filed a complaint that “non-heterosexual people were engaging in prostitution.” However, according to human rights activists, detainees were not prostitutes, and the “accusations were used as a pretext for persecution.” In an interview with Samed Rahimli, a lawyer assisting detainees, “the police targeted homosexuals in general, not the prostitutes as they have claimed.”

Interviews conducted by HRW reveal those arrested were subject to beatings and electric shocks in an attempt to arrest other members of the LGBTQ+ community. Lawyers representing the detainees report 83 men and transgender women were confirmed to be arrested. However, the lawyers also said, “the overwhelming volume of arrests means there are many other cases they are unable to address or document,” and the media has reported up to 100 accounts of unconfirmed arrests.

protestors holding anti-hate signs
LGBT love is stronger than anti-gay hate. Source: Allsdare Hickson, Creative Commons

Most of the victims were publicly arrested at work, on the streets, or even at home, thereby exposing their sexuality to their co-workers, family members, and other community members. A majority were falsely charged with prostitution resulting in 30 days of detainment.

Azerbaijan decriminalized same-sex relations in 2000, but discrimination and violence against the community continue to be dire. Azerbaijan was also labeled as the worst European country to be gay in, according to a survey conducted by the Guardian. There are currently no active LGBTQ+-friendly organizations in all of Azerbaijan, and the government is known to manifest false charges to detain openly gay men. The Minority, an anonymous magazine in Azerbaijan that reports on gay and transgender issues, cited those who were arrested were forced to ‘out’ other gay men. Another method utilized by the police to track down members of the community is the tracking of gay-dating apps. The police would create profiles and lure gay men to meet with them, at which point the app-user would be arrested.

Members of the Azerbaijan government shifted their stance from attempting to control prostitution to cracking down on public health issues; this indicates the government knowingly switched tactics to target an already marginalized group. Ekhsan Zakhidov, of the Azer Interior Ministry, announced the arrests were justified. He claims 16 of the 80+ arrested were infected with AIDS, but only six have been found to be infected. He also claims the mass detainment was to protect children, as “anyone infected with AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases were a threat to children or people who come into contact with them.”

By making these claims, the government perpetuated two derogatory narratives surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. The first is: “all gay men have AIDS”. While proven to be statistically untrue, this is a stigma that has stood the test of time and facts. Gay men are still not allowed to give blood in America on the grounds of being “more susceptible” to HIV and AIDS. The second stigma is: homosexuality is rooted in pedophilia. Because AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, by saying “it is for the safety of our children,” the Azerbaijan government is spreading the false rumor that gay men are child-rapists.

Protestors holding anti-hate signs
LGBTs and Muslims unite – oppose all hate. Source: Allsdare Hickson, Creative Commons

Unfortunately, the Azerbaijan government is not alone in the tracking of LGBTQ+ folk. Reports of the Egyptian police force also creating fake profiles on gay-dating apps and websites surfaced in 2016. At a concert earlier this month, a rainbow flag, which represents pride for the LGBTQ+ community, was flown. When photos of the flag spread across social media, the Egyptian government began tracking down those who were responsible to arrest them on charges of “promoting prostitution” and “immorality.” The Egyptian government designated waving the flag as an “incident,” and used gay-dating apps to track down those involved in said “incident.” Once arrested, anal examinations were reported to have followed, which is protocol in Egypt for such claims. Those arrested for waving the flag at the concert face trial on October 29th.

Like Azerbaijan, homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but acts of marginalization and repression continue to happen. Both of these instances bear similarity to the mass incarceration of LGBTQ+ folk in Chechnya that took place earlier this year, which was compared to the concentration camps in the Holocaust. Violence against the LGBTQ+ community is a trend that is repeated throughout history, even to the present day. While it is not easy to pinpoint when it officially surfaced, homophobia is seen even in B.C. times. The West still has its share of homophobia, but we see the most concentrated and severe acts of homophobia in the Middle East. This is likely due to the fact religion has a more prominent role in Middle Eastern society and government.

Azerbaijan was once a part of the Soviet Union, just as Chechnya was. That colonial legacy of oppressing the LGBTQ+ community, the religion, and the government all play into the modern-day culture and how their respective societies view the LGBTQ+ folk. The topic of homosexuality is taboo in Azerbaijan’s society, and the unacceptance of the gay community is shown by the aggravated reports made by citizens that prompted the arrests by the police.

What makes oppression in Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Egypt different from LGBTQ+ oppression in the world? Dignity. While oppressed in other regions, the LGBTQ+ community in Western cultures has freedom of expression. In the aforementioned countries, freedom of expression is a myth for LGBTQ+ folk. Based on available data, these three countries are the most dangerous places in the world to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. Based on anecdotal accounts, other countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, also present obstacles for LGBTQ+ persons. The voices we hear are not the only voices who matter.

“Life would be much easier if we were all just less horrible to each other.”

– Ellen Page, actor and activist

Rainbow heart with "love" spelled out in the middle
LGBT Rainbow Heart with Love Inscription. Source: b_earth_photos, Creative Commons

Article 3 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person. When people are arrested for being the person that they are, this article is violated. Without the security of being able to express the person one is, flourishing is nearly impossible. How can one expect another to live their life to the fullest without being able to live comfortably? We all have a right to live our life as loud as we want; how we need and want to express is not up for dictation.

Article 5 of the UDHR sets forth that “no one shall be subjected to torture…” This has obviously been violated by the Azerbaijan government. When trying to get the names of other gay men, the police resulted to using electric shocks to coerce the victims to give them information. This is inhumane and is an unfounded violation of human rights.

Article 7 reads: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” When the government allows discrimination against an individual or a community, this article is violated, as it has been in all cases mentioned in this post. The police have been allowed to arrest citizens based on their sexual orientation. No laws were violated, but human rights definitely were.

Without these laws being enforced by a governing legal entity, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Chechnya show no sign of following the UDHR for the safety and security of their LGBTQ+ citizens. Organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Watch have given a megaphone to the tortured voices of Azerbaijan. Now the job falls upon us as informed citizens to continue to spread awareness. It is also our job to make our companions feel comfortable in the world that we live in. We all want to be accepted, to prosper, and to love. Each of us is human; each of us deserves the same rights.

The Catalan Revolution

Catalan protestors demonstrate for independence.
20Set Barcelona 14. Wikimedia: Màrius Montón, Creative Commons

After an enormous earthquake destroys the city of Lisbon in Candide, Voltaire poignantly asks the reader, “If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others” (Voltaire, 26)? Increasingly, the most potent of political earthquakes – nationalism – is enjoying a powerful rebirth following a long and tortuous decline in the aftermath of World War II. People across the globe are beginning to envision a different world, a better world – one in which they possess a nation of their own. Whether this rebirth will result in bloodshed on a scale not seen since the 1930s or in a peaceful resolution of differences is yet to be seen, but in all likelihood it will be determined on the opposite side of the Iberian Peninsula – in Catalonia.

Since at least the 1920s, the issue of self-determination – which can be defined as the ability of a distinct people to establish a nation of their own and exercise unimpeded sovereignty in their own affairs – began to be adopted into the lexicon of human rights. Woodrow Wilson was one of the first to interject self-determination into human rights, claiming that “nationalities … should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development” in his Fourteen Points. Ultimately, this belief influenced nearly every major, Western-produced document concerning human rights. Self-determination is explicitly guaranteed to all peoples in the Atlantic Charter, the Declaration by the United Nations, the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights among others.

Curiously, however, the European Convention on Human Rights – which is the most relevant document in this situation due to Spanish membership in the European Union – does not guarantee self-determination. In fact, it states that freedom of expression may be limited “in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, … or for maintaining the authority … of the judiciary” (ECHR, 11).  As will be demonstrated later, the Spanish government has employed all of these arguments in its bids to stop the Catalonian independence referendum from coming to fruition.

Aside from the European Convention on Human Rights, the connection between human rights and self-determination – at least until recently – has not been prominently disputed. The question then becomes, how do we determine to which groups the right of self-determination applies? The general consensus is that this right is primarily granted to peoples demonstrating the characteristics of a nation. However, the question of who constitutes a nation, and on what basis, generates considerable disagreement, particularly in the West, which has long attempted to suppress its own nationalism as penance for the destruction wreaked by Nazi Germany.

Some claim that the nation is a figment of the imagination, that it is an invented national tradition, that it is an imagined community (Hobsbawm and Ranger; Anderson). This is not to say that it does not possess meaning – history clearly demonstrates that it does – but that there is very little actual quantitative or qualitative basis on which a nation can be delineated. Others suggest that the nation is real, but that its membership is constantly in flux, shaped solely by economic considerations, individual choices, and shared beliefs (Deutsch; Gellner; Kohn). This “civic nationalism” generally possesses a more cosmopolitan outlook, and it often taken to the extreme by intellectuals, such as Ernest Renan, who claimed that “a nation’s existence is … [simply] a daily plebiscite,” (10) a daily referendum.

Yet others still define a nation as something timeless and primordial (Geertz; Isaacs; Smith). To these theorists, physical characteristics, shared culture, shared history, and shared language – to put it simply – combine to create “a self-aware ethnic group,” which forms a nation (Connor, 279-88; Schmitt). In modern academia, this conception of the nation is generally regarded with scorn as an outdated, primitive view. Among many people, however, it still holds tremendous sway as demonstrated vividly by the universal opposition to immigration by nationalist, as well as by the decline in social trust in multi-ethnic areas of the United States (Putnam). While there exists some genetic overlap between different ethnic groups in border regions, generally speaking, ethnic groups, and the nations they constitute, remain homogenous and distinct from one another. And even if they did not, as Walker Connor notes, “what ultimately matters is not what is but what people believe is” (Connor, 379-88).

Som una nació, nosaltres decidim

In determining if Catalonia possesses the right to independence and self-determination, one must first decide whether or not Catalonia constitutes a nation. As evidenced by the slogan above – which means “We are a nation, we decide” – Catalans clearly believe that they do. And all evidence unequivocally indicates that they are correct.

Indeed, Catalonia has previously experienced independence, existing as an independent kingdom until the fifteenth century when it was divided between the Spanish and French monarchies. Despite this conquest, Catalan culture – and a sense of “Catalan-ness” – survived and even thrived (Sahlins). The people of the region possessed a common language (Catalan), culture, symbols, and history that both united them and kept them distinct from their neighbors and conquerors. However, this distinctiveness was not preserved without a struggle. Various Spanish monarchs, as well as the dictator Francisco Franco from 1936 to 1975, sought to hispanicize the Catalans by banning their language and symbols. Attempts to resist were brutally and bloodily repressed, yet Catalonia’s distinctiveness survived into the current century.

After the death of Franco, the new Spanish Constitution granted Catalonia a limited form of autonomous self-government, and for several decades this largely satisfied the Catalans. Between 2009 and 2011, with the repression of Franco but a distant memory, this rapidly changed as various Catalan towns voted in symbolic independence referendums. In 2014, the first non-binding, Catalonia-wide referendum was held with a result of 81% in favor of independence.

Unfortunately for its supporters, however, this referendum encountered several difficulties. First, it was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Spanish government, which then pursued criminal charges against the Catalan leaders responsible. Second, turnout only reached 42%, indicating that the referendum was not representative of the entire populace. And third, in subsequent elections, pro-independence parties received a plurality of the votes (48%), but never a majority.

Ultimately, this brings us to the Catalan independent referendum of 2017, which – due to the intransigence of both parties – threatens to engulf the Iberian Peninsula in its second civil war in under one hundred years. There were crucial differences between this referendum and those that preceded it. Unlike the previous referendum, the results of the 2017 referendum were binding. Furthermore, it was administered by a new Catalan leader, Carlos Puigdemont, who refused to swear the customary oaths of allegiance to the Spanish Constitution and monarch, King Felipe VI.

On October 1, 2017, approximately 42% of Catalans voted in the independence referendum, despite numerous human rights violations committed by the government of Spain in its attempt to disrupt the vote. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of independence – 92% supported the referendum. On the next day, Puigdemont took a fateful step and announced that Catalonia would declare its independence from Spain the following Monday, October 9, 2017.

¡No hay negociaciones con los golpistas!

To many Spaniards, the referendum was an illegal act and those who participated were criminals. Following the announcement of the results, millions of Spaniards took to the streets, shouting slogans – as in the video above – such as “I am Spanish,” “No negotiations with traitors,” and “Puigdemont to prison.” It is abundantly clear that the Spanish government under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took a similar hardline view of the Catalan independence referendum.

Although the Spanish government was correct in its stance that the referendum was illegal, and it rightly questioned the legitimacy of the vote, it grossly violated the human rights of its Catalan citizens as established in nearly every human rights document. As previously noted, however, it did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights, leading – along with no doubt more cynical reasons – the European Union to support Spain’s actions.

Generally, Spanish violations of Catalan human rights can be divided into two stages: the period before the vote and during the vote. In the weeks leading up to October 1, the Spanish government committed the vast majority of its human rights violations in Catalonia. Desperate to stop the vote from occurring, Spain infringed on the right to freedom of expression (censoring pro-independence websites, arresting pro-independence mayors, raiding the offices of pro-independence parties, occupying Catalan communications networks, threatening journalists cooperating with the referendum, and banning voting apps). The censoring of pro-independence speech, as well as the blocking of the actual referendum itself, violates the right to self-determination. However, Spain defended its actions, claiming that these actions were taken against criminals who were violating the law and undermining democratic processes. It likewise submitted a detailed rebuttal to all the claims made by the Catalan government.

On October 1, the day of the vote, the Spanish government dispatched hundreds of riot policemen into Catalonia. Videos subsequently emerged of policemen violently assaulting protestors, dragging people from voting stations, and seizing ballot boxes. Both El Pais and Le Monde, claim that many of the videos and pictures showing police brutality are fake. On the other hand, Catalan civilians also committed violence, throwing projectiles at policemen and assaulting anti-independence Catalans (the same video shows Spanish policemen administering first aid to pro-independence protestors). Other videos show Catalan protestors initiating violence against the police.

In the aftermath, the Catalan government claimed that over eight hundred people were injured during the clashes; however, El Pais, quoting Doctors Without Borders, disputed these figures, claiming that most of those individuals were not injured by the police. Furthermore, over four hundred police were injured.

Los independentistas catalanes han fracturado la unidad española

Addressing the Spanish nation in response to the Catalan independence referendum, King Felipe VI claimed that the separatists had fractured the unity of Spain, as well as Catalonia itself, and were undermining democracy. In an interview with El Pais, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy admitted that Catalans constituted their own nation, but denied their right to secede. Rajoy professed the belief that Catalans should abandon extremism, and work to coexist with the rest of Spain in a peaceful and mutually beneficial manner.

Are the Spanish monarch and prime minister correct? Or do the Catalan people possess the right to secede?

Although the Catalans do constitute a nation, and nations do possess the right to self-determination, the current iteration of the Catalonian independence movement possesses little, if any, basis for secession from a human rights or any other standpoint. This is true for several reasons. First, Spain is a highly functional democracy. According to the 2016 Democracy Index, Spain is the seventeenth most democratic nation in the world, several spots above the United States. If Spain were an authoritarian, dictatorial state, then Catalonia would present a stronger case, but Spain is not an authoritarian state, it is one of only 19 full democracies. And in a democracy no group should possess the right to unilaterally ignore the law or constitution simply because they disagree with it. An obvious exception would be if the laws were unjust; however, the Spanish Constitution and law – from an outside perspective – are not unjust in their treatment of Catalonia. In fact Spain has gone to great lengths to attempt to meet the demands of the Catalans – guaranteeing their right to autonomous self-government, granting the Catalan language official status, and pledging to protect their culture and traditions among other initiatives.

Second, no independence referendum, including that of 2017, has managed to even convince a majority of Catalans to show up to the polls. In both 2014 and 2017, only 42% of Catalans voted, and in 2015, pro-independence parties only managed to receive 48% of the vote. Such low turnout – especially when combined with massive, Catalan anti-independence rallies – does not equal a popular mandate for secession. Third, the voting was marked by highly irregular and often fraudulent voting conditions. Some videos show Catalan individuals stuffing ballots into boxes with no oversight or demonstration of identity, while others have sparked debate on whether the boxes arrived to the polling places already full of ballots. Even worse, several journalists documented the ability to vote multiple times at the same polling place. Catalonia’s implementation of the universal census, which allowed voters to vote at any polling place, also significantly increased the risk of fraud.

Finally, the independence referendum is ultimately one of futility. Self-determination is about charting one’s own course, independent of other bodies; however, Catalonia does not plan on actually achieving independence. It is merely exchanging one master in Spain for another in the European Union, which is arguably far less democratic than the Spanish government. What is the point of self-determination if you don’t have control over your own borders, currency, trade, laws, research and development, or even arts funding?

Today, Monday the 9th of October, Catalonia – despite Spain’s cancellation of its parliamentary session – will attempt to officially declare its independence. Prime Minister Rajoy, as well as King Felipe VI, have continually stated that there is no situation in which they would entertain actually allowing Catalonia to achieve independence. They have pledged to employ all of the means at their disposal to halt such a declaration, including ending Catalan autonomy and ordering the military to exercise its duty to maintain the territorial integrity and constitutional order of Spain.

Ultimately, the Catalan pursuit of a pointless independence, possessing little to no basis in human rights or even common sense, could see a return to the bloodshed that characterized the apex of nationalism – the 1930s. Already the signs can be observed. The referendum is serving to polarize both sides of the issue, heightening Spanish nationalism, and encouraging violence. Increasingly, many disillusioned Spaniards – in a last bid attempt to maintain their country’s longstanding territorial unity – will look for example to the last Spanish leader who was able to control the separatist tendencies of Catalonia: Francisco Franco. And if that occurs, Catalonia will certainly have created a different world, but will it be a better world for Catalans?

 

Solidarity vs The Vile Maxim

a picture of Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen. Source: Jim G, Creative Commons.

Social systems such as economics, the rule of law, and healthcare affect all of our lives and are the core facilitator for human rights (or the lack thereof) throughout the world. Of course, the principle vehicle for these social systems is government. Government comes in many forms throughout the modern world but they all function to create peace within their given societies. Throughout history, governments that fail in this endeavor have fallen and new countries have arisen from the ashes or at the very least, new regimes or government systems replace the fallen.  A good, recent example of this is the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Many of the inadequacies within social systems result from poor design and/or implementation. The term used for these negative consequences is structural violence. Most of the war and conflict within nation-states is a product of one segment of society being unhappy with the social systems that rule their lives and government officials failing to address these issues. In liberal democracies throughout the world, citizens enjoy increased participation in designing their social systems. This comes in various forms including voting rights, running for office, and the right to free speech. However, in liberal democracies, human rights are a battle of competing ideals, oftentimes over resources or status, within various segments of society. These ideals are a struggle between public and private interests, the wealthy and the poor. This blog will examine a few liberal democracies and how the role of private interests affects social systems and human rights within those societies.

Before we dive into a few examples, it is important to understand what constitutes a liberal democracy and how they function, from a societal perspective. In Aristotle’s Politics, he postulates that of the three main forms of government (kingly rule, aristocracy, and constitutional government) and their corresponding perversions (tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy); constitutional democracy is best because it pertains to a peaceful and free society.  Aristotle explains there are three elements that constitute a society – the wealthy, the poor and the middle class. This translates into social power from below (the poor) and social power from above (the wealthy). The flaw within democratic systems is the poor can organize to take property and rights from the wealthy. This would be unjust. Conversely, the wealthy can organize to take property and rights from the poor. This is unjust as well. Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, reiterates this: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” Aristotle states one way to remedy this problem is through the creation of a welfare state or by raising the poor’s quality of life through public funds (taxes). Historically, the alternative solution has been incorporated throughout most of the modern world. Only the wealthy may hold positions of power. Noam Chomsky, a renowned linguist, has been very vocal and written extensively on this subject. Now, we will turn to some real world examples in history.

In Denmark, citizens enjoy universal health care, as a human right, through government and taxation but this has not always been the case. In the 18th century, Denmark was an absolute monarchy, which, under the rule of Christian VII, began to deteriorate. Local landowners were responsible for the healthcare, and increasingly failing to provide, of the rural farming families that worked their lands. Christian VII was under pressure from the landowners to bind workers to the land.  This equated to serfdom for many farming families. This resulted in power rising from below and the king’s son, with the help of his father’s cabinet members, to overthrow him. In the years following, the crown prince, Frederick VI, introduced massive reform allowing farmers to move freely to work under different employers, instead of landowners. In addition, farmers were given the option to work their own parcel of land and own property. Sweeping reforms took place with increased focus on public education and the creation of safety nets, such as welfare. In short, by removing the corruption of private interests and radically altering the social systems with egalitarian economic principles, Denmark’s productivity skyrocketed through peace and solidarity.

In England, during the 17th century, another form of private interest was invading the English government system and effecting human rights, this time in the form of religious persecution, similar to the economic malpractice of landowners influencing government in our previous example of Denmark. During that time, uniformity of religion was coming to the forefront of English politics in the form of a battle between Catholics and Protestants. Both factions believed uniformity of religion was necessary for a healthy English society. Both factions also believed their form of religion was the “one true religion”, and it was the responsibility of civic government to impose this belief, through force if necessary, on its citizens in order to save souls. Nonconformists to these beliefs suffered verbal and physical attacks, many publicly executed for heresy.

Many felt socially excommunicated through persecution; and left England for fear of their lives and sought new lands, for example the Puritans aboard the Mayflower. Religious affiliation mattered more than ever and in some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in other areas Protestants persecuted Catholics and it was worse for those that did not pick a side, or identified with neither, and even those who respected the views of both religious traditions were ridiculed for their tolerance and not picking the “right” side. English society became greatly imbalanced due to religious polarization and increasingly intolerant views toward segments of society that were different from one’s own. In short, private individual beliefs infiltrated and corrupted the civic virtues of English society and the result was disharmony, violence, and the mass emigration of religious refugees. The social discord was so pronounced that many new religions found their start during this time, such as Lutheranism, Methodism and Baptist churches, to name a few. The belief that “one true religion” was necessary for a healthy English society was ironically, accomplishing the opposite and societal peace and solidarity was lost, echoing in the memory of future generations, including Roger Williams and his influence to persuade leaders like Thomas Jefferson to separate church and state in the fledgling American society.

a picture of a toy standing on a pile of money
Campaign. Source: P.O. Arnäs, Creative Commons.

Today, in the United States, the newest version of one of the oldest forms of private interests infiltrating public institutions has taken place. With Citizen’s United being victorious in the recent Supreme Court decision, money became a form of free speech.  This echoes our previous Danish example of the wealthy influencing government to support their own private interests over that of societal peace and solidarity.  This is evident in the basic economic principle that a million dollar political contribution is “louder”, or holds more weight than a twenty-dollar political contribution. Therefore, the more money an individual possesses the more influence they have in affecting civic government. It is a form of economic inequality similar to 18th century Denmark, when farmers held less political weight so the landowners influenced the king to oppress farmers and their families. Similarly, as farmers tied to the land they occupied and not allowed to move, workers in the United States today find themselves tied to their land while corporations enjoy a choice of workers throughout the world, through international trade deals, tied to an ever merging and expanding business sector.

The current American worker is competing with exploited workers in China and Mexico, becoming exploited themselves through low wages and an increasingly diminished voice within their own public institutions and government. This is unjust as corporations and big business can move and have choices in where they manufacture and produce; the American worker cannot, without moving to another country.  Until the reversal of Citizen’s United vs. the FEC, the American worker will be deprived of economic equality and have a diminished voice in their government system. This affects societal peace, evident in increasing political polarization and intolerance within sects of American society. Over time, this will increasingly lead to the loss of human rights, and a free society, ironically, the paramount principle that defines American culture.

A society can debate what form its social systems take. However, once a government is structured and defined, the separation of what consists as private ideals versus public ideals can fracture solidarity and perpetuate the loss of human rights, resulting in a less peaceful society. Historically, the wealthy enjoy this advantage more so than the poor do because they have more resources. The additional resources translates into increased individual mobility and time to pursue idealistic visions instead of focusing on basic physical needs such as water, food and shelter. Every civilization that has risen from the beginning of time has fallen because of societal failure. Every society and culture today is a product of a rebirth, or reconstruction, of the failed society and culture that came before it. This is the story of social evolution. Where we go from here depends on what we learn from the past and correct, instead of continually fostering new forms of corruption within our social systems. We have to educate our children on the importance of solidarity, less they fall curse to the vile maxim. As populations rise and our world is increasingly globalized through economics, politics and technology, these lessons are paramount if we want to create social systems that promote peace through solidarity.

NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED

Preventing the practice of FGM/C in primary schools. Source: DFID – UK Department for International Development Follow, Creative Commons.

These three words “NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED” by Mitch McConnell, meant as a means of expressing his authority over Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor last month, have been co-opted by women around the world as a rallying cry and a reminder that women’s rights are human rights. The phrase uttered to news outlets, regarding Warren’s defiance as she read a letter from Coretta Scott King about the US Attorney General appointment of Jeff Sessions. As Warren read, she was interrupted, forced to stand down and remain silent for the duration of the session. Unshaken, Warren utilized another room and modern technology to continue the statement. The male Democrat Senators proceeded to read the entire letter on the Senate floor, without interruption. This scene symbolizes, in various ways around the world, the blatant and subtle, dismissive and disrespectful interaction of some men towards women.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD originated as a nod to the women in the 1909 New York City factory workers strike. A 1910 international meeting in Copenhagen established the annual recognition of female advancement in human rights, including voting rights, though there was no date for the observance; in 1975, the United Nations settled on March 8. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres explains that the protection of women and girls comes to fruition through empowerment, reducing the gender inequality that leads to discrimination, and bolstering socially and economically weak communities and societies. “Women’s legal rights, which have never been equal to men’s on any continent, are being eroded further.” Gender equality, one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, is an essential component in the plan “agreed by leaders of all countries” as they work in partnership to ensure the inclusion of all.

Women have been fighting against an imbalanced relationship between the sexes for centuries. Sherry Ortner believes “the universality of female subordination, the fact that it exists within every type of social and economic arrangement and in societies of every degree of complexity…something we cannot rout out simply by rearranging a few tasks and roles in the social system…The underlying logic of cultural thinking assumes the inferiority of women.”  According to historian Gail Collins, the single women of the colonies were either “tobacco brides”, indentured servants who were raped and often forced into marriage, or labeled witches and spinsters. Married colonial women achieved the highest status and authority when contributing to the progress of the nation by working in the fields, growing crops, and harvesting food; black couples were indentured servants who once they gained their freedom, owned businesses and shops. At the time, black women did not have the same constraints as white women. She contends, “Virtually all the colonial women wanted to marry, but when they did, they were automatically stripped of their legal rights. A wife’s possessions became her husband’s, and she was unable to do any business on her own, sue, borrow money, or sign contracts. A married women was virtually powerless…His character determined how far she could rise in life.” Collins is describing colonial America; however, presently, in 2017, women—whether single or married– many countries around the world remain powerless, consigned to relying on the males in their family to determine who and what she becomes.

By the 1800s, white women and homemakers were creating reform movements and petitioning for equality; black women were now domestic and sexual property of slave owners. In 1848, abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave her Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions at the Seneca Falls Women’s Convention she organized. Suffragette Susan B. Anthony pronounced, “Woman has been the great unpaid laborer of the world, and although within the last two decades a vast number of new employments have been opened to her, statistics prove that in the great majority of these, she is not paid according to the value of the work done, but according to sex.” The late 19th century brings the right to vote to the women of New Zealand; however, for the public sphere to hear the voice of women, it will first arrive in the form of protest from around the world.

a picture of a women's protest from 1930s
Feminism. Source: kcochran06, Creative Commons.

The 20th century generates the fight for suffrage via women like Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in Britain. Margaret Sanger battles Comstock Laws, making birth control available for women desperate to end the circular nature of “barefoot and pregnant”. The rise of labor needs introduces women to factory work. Yet with wars end, women lost their jobs by being “expressly fired”, replaced by men, and reduced to the ranks to domesticity. In 1963, the Civil Right Act passed, the Commission on the Status of Women is established and the Equal Pay Act, which bars unequal pay for the same or similar work completed by men or women, within the same organization, becomes federal law. Betty Friedan in her book, The Feminine Mystique, exposes the American ideal as a myth, stating

“Over and over women heard voice of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children and handle their toilet training… They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights—the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for. All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.”

Enter the second wave of feminism. Ortner argues that ‘female is to nature as male is to culture’ is a code of practice derived to perpetuate inequality. Most distressing is that global humanity bought into this lie and label anyone willing to stand against it, deviant. Herein lies the disdain for the term “feminist”.

The characterization of feminists as an ambitious, aggressive, bossy, b*%$#y, bra-burning woman who hates all men reveals the failed understanding of a women who stand up for themselves and the rights of other women as a means of gender equality. The fight for feminists is political because the political is personal, and the personal, political as Leymah Gbowee believes. Though progress has been made, there are significant strides yet to be made on behalf of women, politically, socially, and economically; until the fullness of women’s rights are human rights is fully accepted, implemented, and recognized.

First, women need positions of governmental leadership. The public sphere has made room for female representation by respecting the human right to participate in country elections–Saudi Arabia was last in 2015—but the issues facing women are not accurately addressed. Of the 192 nations on earth, women represented 59 in the past 50 years. The feminine voice has representation on some local levels of government within the US; however, on the national level, women possess less than 20% of the seats. Conversely, Rwandan women account for 64% of parliamentary seats as of 2013. Rwanda, known for the 1994 genocide, “has the most women’s participation globally.” Additionally, www.heforshe.org ranks Rwanda as the highest commitment leader, based upon population, for gender equality.

Second, “boys will be boys” is not an acceptable stance to take regarding misogyny and sexism. The cliché permits the turn of a blind eye where gender-based violence (GBV)–sexual harassment, bullying, stalking, assault, etc.–are concerned. Whether UN peacekeepers or college students, the combination of these actions, and a lackadaisical response from citizens and law enforcement, creates a culture where violence against women is not considered taboo. Brock Turner caught in the act and convicted of sexual assault, and released within three months of his six-month sentence. Survivors of sexual assault, regardless of gender, endure treatment as guilty of contributing to their assault: ‘what were you wearing’ or ‘why did you walk alone’, more often than the perpetrator is innocent of committing assault; therefore, most go unreported. Jill Flipovic presents rape and sexual assault as “both a crime and tool for social control.” She believes sexual assault is the result of a systemic problem of misogynistic behavior, rooted in the debasement of women by men and accepted by the by-standing status quo.

Rape and sexual assault will continue as a weapon and means of control until perceptions about sexism and misogyny change, and the creation and implementation of laws protect the survivors rather than the attacker. In Malawi, the government plans to increase the number of reported GBV by “setting up a mechanism… [that] will strengthen the 300-community based victim support units and build their capacity to handle cases in coordination with law enforcers and judiciary.”  Male heads of state, university presidents, and business leadership possess a unique opportunity of deconstructing structural violence and reconstructing institutional, gender equal framework by employing IMPACT 10x10x10 top-down engagement strategy.

The first seven female pilot officers of the Colombian Air Force against a T-34
The first seven female pilot officers of the Colombian Air Force against a T-34. Source: Aviatrix Aviatrix, Creative Commons.

Third, look for the glass ceiling to be broken through the removal of economic and labor barriers. Tennis leads the way in pay equality due to the persistent advocacy of Billie Jean King and Venus Williams. American Bessie Coleman was the first black female pilot; two weeks ago, First Officer Dawn Cook and Captain Stephanie Johnson made history as the first black pilots to command the cockpit at the same time. In addition, Soudaphone and Phinanong of Laos, made aviation history as the first female pilots.

Nathaniel Parish Flannery writes, “one in 4,000” of the world’s largest companies have a seat for women on their boards. Prime Minister of Iceland Bjani Benediktsson stated, “When it is no longer news to have women in leading position, then—and only then—will we have gender parity.” According to the glass-ceiling index, Iceland is the best nation in the world to work, leading the way in gender equality. Over the course of five years, Scandinavian countries have positioned in the top five, whereas the United States ranked 20th, seven below the average. On Tuesday, the fearless girl representing gender inequality and pay disparity became an addition to the bull on Wall Street.

For more nearly 400 years, the persistence of women has pushed back the bounds of patriarchy, which interrupted our growth, forced us to take a backseat on policy and agenda issues regarding our personhood, seeking our demure silence and acceptance. Today, in 2017, given the persistent history, current global political climate, and subsequent rise of global solidarity, the collective SHE has heard the warnings, ignored the explanations, and raised a resistance.

The Right to Food: A Government Responsibility

a picture of a fresh fruit stand
Fruit. Source: Glenn Dettwiler, Creative Commons.

Good nutrition plays a vital role in a person’s health, ranging from growth and development to mental health. The consumption of healthier foods significantly reduces the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, the immune system improves and delays the aging process. In the United States, good nutrition is expensive nutrition; a luxury many low-income families abandon. Essential expenses– rent, utilities, clothing, and health are priority for many families with limited disposable, therefore, forgoing the nutritious food option.

Income disparities contribute to poor nutrition. Higher income families can select healthier foods because their higher income provides access to places that provide healthy options, whereas, lower income families due to city planning and a lack of urban development, receive pre-packaged, canned, and fast food. Healthy foods can be pricey and the additional sales tax is regressive towards lower income families. The local and state government has a duty to their inhabitants to provide access to nutritious food and proper education regarding the importance of a healthy lifestyle while economically conscious about the impacts of high sales tax on foods.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) describes the right to an adequate standard of living. A key tenet, accounted for, is the right to food. This is accomplished when every person “has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or the means for its procurement” according to the Icelandic Human Rights Center. The right to food is an essential birthright; a denial means a violation of other rights.

Dr. Mariana Chilton and Dr. Donald Rose assert the right to food–adequate, nutritional food–adheres to three intrinsic policies: the need to respect, protect, and the fulfillment of human rights. To respect human rights, food must be accessible. In some regions in the United States for example, nutritional food is out of reach yet available are fast food restaurants providing cheap, less sustainable food. The protection human rights means others cannot impede the accessibility of food. According to the UNHR Office of the High Commissioner, there is enough food produced in the world to feed its entire population. Unfortunately, the problem lies in the access to food, whether it be poverty or famine, discrimination, or lack of transportation. In order to ensure human rights as related to adequate standard of living, the creation of an enabling environment that provides for and allows for the procurement adequate food becomes the mandate of government officials.

a map of Visual Representation of Taxes in Each State. Source: Tax Foundation
Visual Representation of Taxes in Each State. Source: Tax Foundation

Adequate food refers to healthy, nutritious food that our body needs to survive. Consuming nutritious food leads to numerous health benefits including, but not limited to, maintaining a healthy weight, allowing organ systems to function optimally, and promoting sleep. For the most part, the good quality foods are on the high-priced side, which leads people to avoid it. A documentary, Food, Inc., highlights the America’s corporate controlled food industry. A segment in the documentary shows a family of four, low-income, and their struggle in deciding between a burger from a fast food restaurant or broccoli from the supermarket. “Sometimes you look at a vegetable and say, ‘okay, we can get two hamburgers over here for the same amount of price’”. This ultimatum is difficult for families. They do not have a substantial amount of money to spend; however, the purchase the unhealthy foods means the purchase unsaturated fats and cholesterol that can increase the risk of diseases. The growing children are not receiving proper nourishment needed to supply their brain and body with energy or their bones with calcium, which is violation of a basic human right. The United States government can help low-income families receive nutritious food by adjusting the tax policies. Some states, Pennsylvania for example, have high sales tax of 6% and it caps the localities ability to impose local sales tax up to 2%. This, however, offsets the high sales tax by exempting uncooked nutritious groceries, clothes, and prescription drugs. A state like Alabama is at the opposite end as it has a low sales tax of 4% and allows localities to tax up to 7% more thus driving up to sales tax to one of the highest in the United States. In addition, Alabama does not exempt clothes, groceries, and prescription which leads the lower income family to spend a majority of their income of purchasing food.

The United States, internationally, opposed the notion of food as a human right. In 1996, the World Food Summit, sponsored by the United Nations, affirmed the “right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food.” While other sovereign nations signed agreeing with that statement, the United States refused to, insisting that hunger could lead to “international obligation or domestic legal entitlement”. In 2002, during another World Food Summit, the United States, again, opposed that food is a human right. According to Pol and Schuftan, the United States understands the right to access to food to connote the prospect to secure food, not a “guaranteed entitlement” and the “adequate standard of living is a goal or aspiration to be realized progressively”. Furthermore, the United States, Canada, and other European countries “have consistently and openly not been sympathetic” to the right to food as a provision of the state.

a picture entitled The Colour before the storm... Nyhavn, copenhagen
The Colour before the storm… Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Source: Joe Hunt, Creative Commons.

In contrast, Denmark agreed that there is a right to food. The Danish government recognized that if an individual or a community had deficient access to nutritious food and health that they are “kept in poverty and exclusion”. The country also understands that the usage of technology and scientific knowledge can increase the knowledge of nutrition and how it can benefit it citizens. Meik Wiking reports that although Denmark taxes heavily, almost 45% of the average citizen’s income, citizens believe there is an overall investment in their quality of life. The taxes collected from Danes provide several welfare programs. For example, student’s tuition and health care are free, a reduction of stress of lower income families in Denmark significantly. In the United States, a low-income family fret over school, health care, and housing so much so that they neglect to take care of the nutritional food aspect. Not surprising in some states in America, food is not tax exempt. Denmark’s citizens contentedly pay for taxes because they are safe financially.

Overall, lower income families often struggle because of limited financial means. With the added burden of the sales tax on groceries, eating right becomes difficult. The lack of nutrition leads to poorer performance in daily activities which puts a hindrance on growth and development. States like Alabama and Mississippi have allowed for higher income families to be comfortable regarding property taxes but allowed for the lower income families to be susceptible to paying more for nutritional food than they can afford. The state has a duty to their people, all people, for a sustainable, healthy, living standard.

 

 

 

 

Refugees Crisis: Who are refugees and who should help them?

I can remember a few years ago, after hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, the term ‘refugee’ was used to describe victims in New Orleans. Civil rights activists in America were noticeably upset because of the negative connotation and mental image generated with the use of the term. Rev. Al Sharpton, in an NPR interview shortly after hurricane Katrina, commented, “They are not refugees wandering somewhere looking for charity. They are victims of neglect and a situation they should have never been put in in the first place.” Could the same thing be said for people fleeing persecution, civil war, and conflict?

When you hear the word refugee what image comes to mind? According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk. The agency established the Convention Related to the Status of Refugees in 1951 to aid the more than 1 million people who were still displaced from World War II.

Photo taken by Charles Coleman
Zabia and Firas Attar. Photo taken by Charles Coleman

The increase in conflicts and civil wars in Africa and the Mediterranean have created a refugee crisis that is threatening international security. We have to ask ourselves, “who are refugees and who is responsible to care for the millions of people who are fleeing imminent danger”? Today, refugees around the globe number more than 20 million people. According to data compiled by UNHCR, half of these refugees hail from 3 states: Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria. The number of refugees continues to grow. This crisis has created an atmosphere whereby countless human rights violations occur on a daily basis; however, policymakers and politicians seem to focus on the affects the numbers of people will have on their population, rather than on the wellbeing of those seeking asylum or refugee status. On November 16, Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter led a panel discussion that provided faculty and students with an opportunity to hear from experts who have intimate knowledge of this global crisis, including two personal testimonies, in an effort to bring understanding and ensure clear background information on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean is communicated.

Zabia and Firas Attar are siblings and Syrian refugees living in Birmingham. They shared their harrowing story of escape from Syria, and their  elation at arriving to safety  in America.  Elation turned to fear  when  calls from Governor Bentley and other state officials who believe that an influx of refugees would threaten Alabama residents. Refugees are not in America to destroy our way of life. They are hard working individuals who want the same things that you and I want— to live in peace and provide for our families.

Panelists. Photo by Charles Coleman.
Photo by Charles Coleman.

Catherine Philips Crowe, director of UAB International Student and Scholar Services, Dr. Serena Simoni, associate professor of political science at Samford University, and Dr. Abidin Yildirim. associate professor, UAB School of Engineering presented insights on how the refugees in the Mediterranean from countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, are impacting the populations of Italy, Germany, Australia and the United States. As an international community, it is understood that the responsibility to protect people of every state from harm when their country is unwilling or unable to do so belongs to all of us. While images of refugees such as Omran Daqneesh litter the Internet, you or me could have been born into a similar situation.

 

 

From hostility to hope: Kosovo’s struggle for inclusion and independence

 

property of UAB IHR. Photo taken by Charles Coleman
Photo taken by Charles Coleman

Ambassador Ahmet Shala, former Minster of Economy and Finance in the government of Kosovo, recently visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Institute for Human Rights to speak with faculty and students about minority rights in the Balkan Peninsula, current economic development in Kosovo, as well as efforts to modernize the country.

The Republic of Kosovo is located in South Eastern Europe nestled among a group of nations, which were part of former Yugoslavia. In 1990, economic disparities in Yugoslavia led to increased tensions in the ethnically diverse territory. As the economy declined, Croats, Bosniaks, Slovenes, Albanians, Montenegrins and Macedonians began to promote ideas of ethnic nationalism. Croatia and Slovenia were the first to seek a split from the union, followed closely by a brutal war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and later Kosovo. This series of wars for independence spanned nearly a decade and as Human Rights Watch reports many human rights violations were committed, in addition to the ethnic cleansing of several groups, which left thousands of civilians dead.

After years of Serbian crackdowns in Kosovo, NATO intervention led to the small territory’s liberation and recognition as a United Nations protectorate from 1999-2008. Finally in 2008, Kosovo declared independence and today is recognized by 110 countries as a sovereign state. The road to independence was littered with atrocities and war crimes based on ethnicity. According to Ambassador Shala, “the different groups in Yugoslavia did not feel as if they were citizens. Slavic people are different from Albanians, which was the key feeling for minorities.” Ambassador Shala added that the resulting Yugoslav wars became “Apartheid on the heart of Europe.” From the onset of the conflict, many ethnic Albanians were fired from their jobs, not allowed to attend school or university, and thousands were either killed or imprisoned.

Although, the situation improved under the UN protectorate, according to Ambassador Shala, the UN administration was incompatible with the needs of the Kosovars.  Ambassador Shala commented, “There were UN soldiers on the ground from other countries that had no idea about the needs of the people” and “there was no sustainable vision for the future and no real goals, which led to increased anxiety and frustration.”

Photo taken by Charles Coleman
Photo taken by Charles Coleman

After independence, the leaders of the Republic of Kosovo have made tremendous strides in determining the future of the country. From its inception, the idea has been that Kosovo would be a true democratic society, which embraces its multicultural identity and provides equal rights to all citizens. Today, the country seeks to create partnerships with its neighbors, fully integrate into the international community and become a member of NATO, the European Union, as well as the United Nations. The country is well on its way to succeeding at its stated goals. In 2013, the country had an estimated population of 1.86 million and according to economists as of 2015, Kosovo had a GDP (ppp) of 9140.10 billion USD. There are still some hurdles to cross, namely, not all NATO countries have recognized Kosovo as a nation; this has not stopped the ambitions of the young nation. In a recent interview with EURACTIV, the Brussels based EU policy driven news outlet, Kosovar Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj explains how important it is for Kosovo to become a member of both the EU and NATO. Hoxhaj states, “being an EU member is the best way to modernise [sic] politics, the economy and society. For us, it is a modernising [sic] agenda that will allow us to compete with others in the region and to grow.”

 

 

Threads in American Tapestry: Asylum Seekers and Refugees

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Ilhan Omar. Source: Lorie Shaull, Creative Commons.

Ilhan Omar is a Minnesota state representative. She is the first American lawmaker of Somali descent. She is a former refugee. Omar and her family fled Somalia during the civil war and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for four years before emigrating to the United States in 1995. Wearing a white hijab, Omar who is Muslim, declared in her victory speech that “this was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams. Our campaign has been about more than just uniting a district, more than winning back the House, more than making history. Our campaign has been about shifting narratives, restoring hope and re-establishing access in our democracy.” Her victory reminded me to ignore political and xenophobic rhetoric, and search to better understand the lives of asylum seekers and refugees in order to place them in a position of honor for what they have endured and overcome in pursuing a new life for themselves and their families.

Asylum seekers and refugees are often on the receiving end of a disqualifying international narrative, rooted in half-truths and innuendos. In her address at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Samantha Power remarked that “people do not become refugees by choice, obviously; they flee because their lives are at risk – just as we would do if we found ourselves in such a situation. And most want to go home.” The current discourse of asylum and refugee status has brought about some confusion, given the misconception that the terms are interchangeable. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” An asylum seeker or ‘prima facie’ refugee is a person who seeks safety from persecution or serious harm in another country and awaits a decision on the application for refugee status under relevant international and national instruments. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states that there is a system which determines who qualifies for international protection; an interview is a key part of the process that is often negated given the swells of people crossing a border. For many who seek asylum, the first step in the process is generally a placement in detention.

Michael Welch insists that detention is the harshest act of punishment a state can inflict on people, and that seriousness increases if persons are escaping persecution rather than being held for criminal or immigration offenses. Chico Harlan reports that immigration detention is a billion-dollar industry in America. President Obama closed a detention facility in Taylor, Texas in 2008 because children were imprisoned and limited to play. Yet, in response to the “porous state of the nation’s border”, the administration implemented a tougher stance that changed the policies and empowered the Corrections Corporation of America to build the country’s largest immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas. The 2400 bed facility is home to thousands of asylum seekers as they work their way through the immigration process.

Asylum seekers are individuals or families in crisis, yet they are often treated as criminals. The women and children at the Dilley detention facility arrived at the border in search of the American value of welcoming those fleeing violence. Their hope is for hospitality and refuge; instead they describe their detention experience as worse than the abuse and violence they fled. Human rights violations and the fleeing from persecution go hand in hand as Gil Loescher explains. He writes that some find the protection they need while others find themselves victims in exile; many at the hands of the governments from whom they are longing to gain compassion.

City residents who live outside the walls of the detention center in Dilley, Texas assume that those dwelling in the center have a nice existence. However, those who have been released revealed their treatment included sleep deprivation, sleeping on cold floors, feelings of prolonged imprisonment, and not receiving an opportunity to appeal to a judge. Children should only be held in detention for up to 20 days. On average, according to the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), “asylum seekers are mandatorily detained pending a DHS [Department of Homeland Security] determination of their ‘credible fear’ of persecution upon return. This detention lasts an average of 27 days, including the time it takes to ascertain whether they have a “credible fear,” and to decide whether those found to have a credible fear should be “paroled” (released) while they pursue political asylum.” In Berks County, Pennsylvania, at least three families have been detained for nearly one year, forcing the women to initiate a hunger strike in protest for their release. Additionally, Nauru and Manus Island off the coast of Australia, asylum seekers spend an average of 450 days in detention. The detention of asylum seekers as an anti-terrorist or immigration strategy is a blatant disregard for international law. Human Rights Watch reported that on July 24, 2015, US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the Obama administration was committed to making considerable changes to the family immigration detention process.  

The Australian government in late October 2016 announced new legislation banning asylum seekers–who arrived by boat since July 2013–entrance to the country, in any capacity. Government officials believe the “law change was necessary to support key government border protection policies, including temporary protection visas, regional processing and boat turnbacks.” Australia’s new policy shines light on the underworld of asylum seeking: human trafficking and smuggling. The UNHCR reports that nearly 34,000 people (or the population of Vestavia Hills, Alabama in 2014) are forced to flee their homes every day because of conflict and persecution. Desperate and vulnerable, those who are unable to find refuge in neighboring countries seek out other means–smuggling and trafficking—to get across borders, thus circumventing border patrols and the proper immigration process. Human trafficking and smuggling presents additional problems if a victim is caught. Loescher believes that international laws have to be adjusted, if not created, because the flows of those seeking refuge have been unprecedented. “This is not because there were no refugees; numerous acts of persecution and expulsion accompanied the rise of the modern state of Europe and elsewhere. Only in the twentieth century when refugee flows exploded and came to be regarded as a threat, were legal and institutional responses developed…” The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as

“…[a person] owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. In the case of a person who has more than one nationality, the term “the country of his nationality” shall mean each of the countries of which he is a national, and a person shall not be deemed to be lacking the protection of the country of his nationality if, without any valid reason based on well-founded fear, he has not availed himself of the protection of one of the countries of which he is a national.”

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 65.3 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, or the current population of the United Kingdom.

Refugee Camp. Source: tpsdave, Creative Commons.
Refugee Camp. Source: tpsdave, Creative Commons.

Forced migration is a political, economic, and security concern; more than that, it is a human rights issue that should be treated as a humanitarian crisis. Refugees International provides recommendations and solutions which identify needs for basic services such as food, water, and protection from harm. Presently of the 21.3 million refugees in the world, 39% are being hosted in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Turkey has received 2.5 million. As a means of housing the multitudes, many governments have set up encampment sites. Dadaab in Kenya–home to nearly 300,000–is the world’s largest refugee camp. Unfortunately, as Loescher points out, the exile violates the numerous statues in the 1951 Refugee Convention, namely freedom from movement and wage-earning employment. The limitations cripple the family from creating a dignified life in a new country. Additionally, because refugee camps are established by the government, they can be closed and destroyed like Moria in Lesbos, Greece and ‘The Jungle’, in Calais, France. Both camps have been destroyed by fire, forcing thousands of refugees to flee once again.

Refugees have no state rights. Their country rights were forfeited when they fled their home country. Fortunately, the 1951 Refugee Convention stipulates that first and foremost, a refugee should not be returned to a country where there are threats to their life or freedom. This is the principle of non-refoulement. It also states that refugees must have access to courts, employment and education, and other social and civil rights afforded to the host country’s citizens. This year, the United States has admitted 10,000 Syrian refugees and 38,901 Muslim refugees. Earlier this month, it was announced that approximately 1,200 asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island will make their home in America during 2017. Many have been vocal about the perceived threat and the uncertainty about the adaptability of these newcomers to American life. However, the two year screening and resettlement process and the success story of Ilhan Omar, Madeleine Albright, Marlene Dietrich, and Albert Einstein should prove to contradict naysayers, giving voice to the tremendous contribution asylum seekers and refugees have brought and continue to bring to the United States when provided an opportunity to become a part of the fabric of our society rather than a stain on it.