Justice(s) for Crimes Against Humanity: The Uyghur Muslims in China

*a topographical map depicting where many Uyghur Muslims live in Western China*
“Outline map showing Keiry / Yutian County in Xinjiang, China” by centralasiatraveler, Creative Commons

In early November 2018, the United Nations confronted China about the Chinese government’s human rights record since 2013, with UN Member States pointing specifically to China’s suppression of the Tibetan people and for the barbaric ‘re-education camps’ used to indoctrinate the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.  China flatly denied these allegations, contending they are politically motivated and violate Chinese national sovereignty.  While the ongoing conflict regarding Tibet has been covered for decades (you can read an IHR post about it here), the plight of the Uyghur Muslims in China is arguably less familiar to laypersons with vested interests in human rights.  This blog post explores the history of the conflict with the Uyghur, how the international community typically handles these kinds of human rights violations, and what everyday citizens can do to help the Uyghur.  For another perspective on the plight of the Uyghur, read my colleague Dianna Bai’s post here.

History of the Conflict

The Uyghur are an ethnically distinct group, hailing originally from the Altai Mountains in Central Asia, now spread through Central and East Asia (Roberts, 2009).  Scholars frequently debate the heritage of the Uyghur; government-sanctioned Chinese historians claim the Uyghur are indigenous to the Tarim Basin (located within the Chinese Xinjiang province), while most historical accounts situate the Uyghur as descendants of peoples in modern-day Mongolia (Roberts, 2009).  Until recently, many scholars believed that the Soviet Union groomed Uyghur nationalist sentiments during the Cold War, intending to use the fledgling Uyghur people as a colonized Soviet pseudo-nation to exert political and cultural influence in the East Asian theater (Roberts, 2009).  This view has since been challenged, as Uyghur Muslims have long defined themselves an ethnically distinct group with the goal of creating their own nation on sovereign territory, intended to be called Uyghurstan (Roberts, 2009).  Today, the Uyghur of China largely practice Sunni Islam, speak their own language (similar to Uzbek), and some Uyghur label the territory they inhabit “East Turkestan”, not the Xinjiang providence of China.

The Xinjiang providence, located on the fragments of the ancient Silk Road, is rich in resources and attracted the migration of many Han Chinese to the province (aided and abetted by the Chinese government).  This migration brings us to the present day.  Beginning in 2009, the Chinese government has cracked down on Uyghur dissidents and rioters expressing a frustrated desire for autonomous rule (some of these Uyghur were subsequently exiled to the United States).  In 2016, the Chinese government amped up their approach to the Uyghur, attempting to squash Uyghur cultural practices to create a culturally homogenous Xinjiang province.  The Chinese justified these practices by claiming their motivation was to reduce religious extremism in the Xinjiang region.  Homogenization efforts included banning baby names (such as Medina, Jihad, and Muhammad) and restricting the length of beards; both aforementioned names and the tradition of long beards stem from the Uyghur’s Islamic faith.  These tactics are part of the Chinese government’s “Strike Hard” campaign, designed to specifically monitor the Uyghur situation in Xinjiang.  In addition to cultural destruction, the Chinese have recently implemented surveillance programs designed to monitor separatist movements, jihad-ism, or proto-nationalist sentiment.  Surveillance programs largely take the shape of indoctrination (or ‘re-education’) camps.

The United Nations has received verifiable reports that up to one million Uyghur (approximately 10-11% of the adult Muslim population in the region) are currently held against their will in these re-education camps.  The Chinese government, however, claims these are vocational centres, designed to empower the ethnic Uyghur to learn the Chinese language, Chinese law and ideology, and gain workplace skills.  Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress (more on the WUC later), has publicly decried the camps, as they incessantly monitor Uyghur prisoners through sophisticated facial recognition software, designed with the intention to predict individual or communal acts of protest through the analysis of the prisoners’ micro-expressions (and no, the current year is not 1984).  The prisoners in these camps are expected to ‘secularize’ and ‘modernize’; the Chinese government conditions the entrapped Uyghur Muslims by forcing the prisoners to wish Chinese President Xi Jinping ‘good health’ before the prisoners are given food, thank the Chinese government and Communist Party, and renounce devotion to the Islamic faith.  Furthermore, Uyghur Muslims have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol during their imprisonment which, for many devout Muslims, is forbidden by the Islamic faith.  One escapee who found asylum in Kazakhstan testified that she “worked at a prison in the mountains” in Xinjiang and was forced to teach Chinese history during her imprisonment.

The Chinese government has not limited its repression to these detention centers.  Beginning in 2016, Uyghur Muslim communities in the Xinjiang province have been subjected to China’s “Becoming Family” initiative (also directed by the government’s “Strike Hard” campaign).  The Chinese government mandates ‘home stays’ (lasting between five days and up to two months) within these communities, dispatching over one million cadres to closely monitor the private homesteads of the Uyghur communities.  These cadres monitor ‘problematic behavior’ such as suspected alcoholism, no alcohol consumption whatsoever (a sign the family is devout Muslim), uncleanliness, and other signs that the Uyghur are becoming ‘too Muslim’ for the secular Chinese government.  Finally, these cadres are tasked to promote ‘ethnic unity’ in the region, spouting the dangers of Islamism, pan-Turkism, and so on.  These spies of the state document every move of the Uyghur communities, reporting intelligence back to the Chinese government, who then specifically targets individuals and families suspected of dissident behavior.  It is impossible to track how many ‘dissidents’ (whether in their home communities or in the Uyghur detention centers) have been murdered by the Chinese government.  A prominent Uyghur human rights activist recently lamented,

Every single Uyghur abroad has relatives waiting for a slow death in these camps… innocent Uyghurs are now counting their final days of isolation under physical, psychological, and spiritual torture.

This begs the question: how do human rights organizations (from the United Nations to the Institute for Human Rights) classify this level of social, cultural, and civil repression?  And furthermore, how can human rights organizations utilize this classification to mobilize aid for the Uyghur Muslims?

A pair of Uyghur elders lead a donkey and boy across a Chinese marketplace
“Uyghur elders” by Todenhoff, Creative Commons

Addressing Crimes Against Humanity

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7, broadly characterizes Crimes Against Humanity (CAH) as:

any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

  1. Murder;
  2. Extermination;
  3. Enslavement;
  4. Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
  5. Imprisonment or other sever deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
  6. Torture;
  7. Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  8. Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
  9. Enforced disappearance of persons;
  10. The crime of apartheid;
  11. Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

In theory, the plight of the Uyghur Muslims certainly falls within this definition, as the Chinese government is violating parameters 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 11 of the Rome Statute.  Again, in theory, this means the international community has an obligation to both classify this as a CAH and prosecute both the Chinese government as a whole and individual officials directly responsible for the repression of Uyghur Muslims.  In practice, however, formally prosecuting CAH are tricky.

To prosecute CAH, a step towards retributive justice, one of two forms of jurisdiction must apply: the state must either (a) be a member to the Rome Statute / International Criminal Court (ICC); or (b) the case is referred to the ICC Prosecutor by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).  In this case, China is not a State Party to the Rome Statute, so requirement (a) is out.  Regarding requirement (b), the UNSC can indeed refer this to the ICC Prosecutor.  However, since China is a permanent member of the UNSC with full veto power, it seems extremely unlikely the Chinese government would permit a prosecution against its own state.  So what options are left for the international community to protect the Uyghur Muslims and hold their repressors to justice for this ‘unofficial’ Crime Against Humanity?

If the international community suspects a state conducts COH, accusatory states may take indirect action to punish the offender state.  Here’s one example of such indirect action: US Senators Rubio (R-FL) and Menendez (D-NJ) and US House Representatives Smith (R-NJ) and Suozzi (D-NY) are set to introduce legislation to US Congress proposing (a) the creation of a State Department role to monitor the persecution of Uyghur Muslims; and (b) the Secretary of Commerce enact sanctions to state agents in the Xinjiang province.  Indirect action, whether government-led sanctions or non-governmental tactics (e.g. ‘naming and shaming’), aims to overcome the absence of international legal precedent in circumstances such as these (Franklin, 2015).  The endgame of indirect action in circumstances such as these is to either offer an incentive for states to cease CAH or increasingly layer punishments (whether economic or otherwise) to render the CAH more trouble than it’s worth.  In this case, the ideal outcome for US Congress members is that the threat of economic sanctions would punish the Chinese, forcing the state to choose economic growth as a higher-ranking priority than repressing the Uyghur.

A final alternative to addressing CAH is that of truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC; Landsman, 1997).  TRC’s are structured around the idea of restorative justice, meaning that in the wake of CAH, damaged communities themselves work with the international community to: (a) collect ‘facts-on-the-ground’ about ongoing repression, (b) negotiate with the repressing state to end the CAH, and (c) devise solutions to repair the trauma caused by the CAH (Longmont Community Justice Partnership, 2017).  This is a human-driven approach, placing the victims themselves at the center of the process to document, cease, and heal from CAH.  In the this case, this would mean international NGO’s would connect with local Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang Province; document the short-, intermediate-, and long-term needs of the afflicted communities; and allow this joint collaboration to drive local and international efforts attempting to bring the CAH to a close.

 

an Uyghur group holds their native flag while protesting repression against the Uyghur people
“Uyghurs protesting” by Paul Keller, Creative Commons

Justice(s) for the Uyghur

Resolving the plight of the Uyghur is a highly complex issue.  Formal legal mechanisms, such as referring this case to the International Criminal Court, are constrained by the structure of international governing bodies.  Indirect action, such economic sanctions proposed by members within the US Congress, have historically had a low success rate (~34% rate of success) to compel policy change (Pape, 1997).  Finally, truth and reconciliation commissions have been criticized for their toothlessness regarding holding human rights violators responsible for their crimes (Van Zyl, 1999).  What, then, can we do?

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), whose president Dolkun Isa is an exiled Uyghur Muslim, is taking a hybrid approach to seeking justice for the Uyghur.  The WUC’s platform combines the three previously discussed approaches (retributive justice, economic sanctions, and restorative justice), channeling their efforts into international governance, state-level policy and advocacy, and community-driven capacity building.  The WUC, steered by survivors of the conflict themselves, aims to achieve justice(s) for the Uyghur people, through a multi-lateral and multi-level approach.  While many of their efforts are aimed at high-level government officials and advocacy networks, the WUC additionally aims to engage, educate, and empower ordinary citizens (like you, the reader) to make meaningful contributions towards ending the repression of the Uyghur, ranging from advocacy training to planning peaceful protests.  The WUC (and other innovative NGOs addressing other global human rights violations) understands that it is not only the United Nations and its member states that can end human rights violations.  Ordinary citizens themselves must take up the mantle of protecting human rights when the hands of the international community are tied.  Creating justice for crimes against humanity is the responsibility of all global citizens – and here’s what you can do to help.

References

Franklin, J. C. (2015). “Human rights naming and shaming: International and domestic processes” in H. R. Friman (Ed.) The Politics of Leverage in International Relations. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Landsman, S. (1997). Alternative responses to serious human rights abuses: Of prosecution and truth commissions. Law and Contemporary Problems, 59(4), 81-92.

Longmont Community Justice Partnership (2017). Restorative Conversations and Agreement: Structured Conversations for Resolving One-on-One Conflict. https://boulderhousingcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Restorative-Conversations-and-Agreement-Meetings-for-BHC-Manual.pdf

Pape, R. A. (1997). Why economic sanctions do not work. International Security, 22(2), 90-136.

Roberts, S. R. (2009). Imagining Uyghurstan: Re-evaluating the birth of the modern Uyghur nation. Central Asian Survey, 28(4), 361-381.

Van Zyl, P. (1999). Dilemmas of transitional justice: The case of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Journal of International Affairs, 53(2), 647-667.

The Generations of Human Rights

The words "liberte egalite fraternite" written above the entrance to the Hôtel de Ville in Avignon, France.
Avignon – Place de l’Horloge – Hotel de Ville – Liberte Egalite Fraternite. Source: Elliot Brown, Creative Commons

When human rights are being discussed, they are often divided up into three categories called generations.  A reflection of the three generations of human rights can be seen in the popular phrase of the French Revolution: liberté, egalité, fraternité.  These generations of human rights were first formally established by Karel Vasak, a Czech jurist, in 1979.  This division of the types of human rights helps improve conversations about rights, especially those involving legislation and the role that governments play in human rights.

The First Generation: Liberté

The first generation of human rights encompasses an individual’s civil and political rights.  First generation rights can be divided into two sub-categories.  The first sub-category relates to norms of “physical and civil security.”  This includes not committing acts of torture, slavery, or treating people inhumanely.  The second sub-category relates to norms of “civil-political liberties or empowerments.”  This includes rights such as freedom of religion and the right to political participation.

First generation rights are based around the rights of the individual person and are often the focus of conversations about human rights in western countries.  They became a priority for western nations during the Cold War.  Some documents that focus on first generation rights are the United States Bill of Rights and Articles 3 through 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The Second Generation: Égalité

The second generation of human rights encompasses socio-economic rights.  Second generation rights can also be divided into two sub-categories.  The first sub-category relates to norms of the fulfillment of basic needs, such as nutrition and healthcare.  The second sub-category relates to norms of the fulfillment of “economic needs.”  This includes fair wages and sufficient standards of living.

Second generation rights are based on establishing equal conditions.  They were often resisted by western nations during the Cold War, as they were perceived as “socialist notions.”  The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and Articles 22 through 27 of the UDHR focus on these rights. 

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, first and second generation rights were considered to be divided by the responsibility they place on governments.  First generation human rights were looked at as being a “negative obligation,” which means that they place a responsibility on governments to ensure that the fulfillment of those rights is not being impeded.  Second generation human rights were viewed as being a “positive obligation,” which means that they place a responsibility on governments to actively ensure that those rights are in fact fulfilled.  After the Berlin Wall fell, perspectives shifted to see governments as having the responsibility to “respect, protect, promote and fulfill” these rights. 

The Third Generation: Fraternité

The third generation of human rights encompasses broad class rights.  Third generation rights can be divided into sub-categories as well.  The first sub-category relates to “the self-determination of peoples” and includes different aspects of community development and political status.  The second sub-category is related to the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

Third generation rights are often found in agreements that are classified as “soft law,” which means they are not legally binding.  Some examples of these agreements include the UDHR and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.  This generation of rights is challenged more often than the first and second generations, but it is being increasingly acknowledged on an international level. These rights started gaining acknowledgement as a result of “growing globalization and a heightened awareness of overlapping global concerns” such as extreme poverty.

Overall, recognizing the differences between each generation of rights can help us to better understand how broad the field of human rights is and how varied the issues involved truly are.  Each kind of right is best fulfilled through the use of different forms of legislation, and recognizing the different generations of rights can improve our ability to identify the what type of legislation is best suited for dealing with a particular issue.

The History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

UN Flag
Flag of the United Nations, paixland, Creative Commons

The conception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) gave birth to human rights as they are known today. Adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the UDHR was a response to the atrocities that took place during World War II. As half the globe laid in ruin and millions of lives were taken, a dormant side of humanity seemed to reawaken within the world powers, and an international prioritization of human rights emerged. The UDHR, comprised of 30 Articles defining human rights, was an expression of humanity’s resurgence, as well as an international commitment to never allow such monstrous acts to take place again.

Those tasked with composing the UDHR were members of the Commission on Human Rights, chaired by the dynamic Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. Roosevelt transformed the role of the First Lady by using her position as a platform for social activism in women’s rights, African-American rights, and Depression-era workers’ rights. After her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, died in 1945, she was appointed to be the US Delegate to the UN and served in this role for 7 years. It was her experience and passion for social activism that prepared the widow Roosevelt to Chair the commission responsible for creating the UDHR. Roosevelt asserted the Declaration would reflect more than Western ideas; to accomplish this, the Human Rights Commission was made up of members from various cultural and legal backgrounds from all around the world, showing respect for differing cultures and their customs while also ensuring each region had a hand in creating the document. Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the diverse commission was able to craft the UDHR in a unique and culturally-competent way.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt, Kevin Borland, Creative Commons

The UDHR was the first document in history to explicitly define what individual rights are and how they must be protected. The Preamble of the document outlines the rights of all human beings:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…

Thus, for the first time in history, human rights were assembled and codified into a single document. The Member States, or sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, came together in agreement to protect and promote these rights. As consequence, the rights have shaped constitutional laws and democratic norms around the world, such as the Human Rights Act of 1998 in Britain and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States.

Silhouette of a dove holding an olive branch
Dove Silhouette, Creative Commons

The Commission on Human Rights defined human rights with the conception of the UDHR. By fusing dignity, fairness, equality, respect, and independence, the UN defines human rights as:

rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Human rights are the cross-cutting theme within every UN agency. They have inspired the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are goals to “provide peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” These planet-, urbanization-, and group-focused goals substantially contribute to the realization of human rights, as the human rights-based approach to development stipulates development is conducive to the promotion of human rights.  In the ideal sense, human rights are a guiding force toward living in global harmony, and through the promotion of the basic rights bestowed by the UDHR, the world has made strides toward achieving that harmony.

 

Children’s Rights in the United States

A baby sitting on a blanket in the grass.
Cal. Source: Torrey Wiley, Creative Commons

Despite the many different viewpoints that exist on the political spectrum within the United States, one of the few things we all seem to be able to generally agree on is the importance of protecting children.  Their life and well-being completely rely on adults actively working to keep them safe and nurture them.  On September 2, 1990, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was put into effect by the United Nations to aid in the protection of these most vulnerable members of society.

Despite the resolution’s wide acceptance, the United States is the only one that has not ratified it out of the world’s 195 countries.  Why is this?  What are its implications?

What Is Included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

The CRC does exactly what the title suggests: it outlines the rights held by children.  It covers the rights to parental guidance, survival, development, nationality, identity, freedom of expression and thought, privacy, education, healthcare, and much more.

It states that, above all else, adults should be focused on ensuring that all their actions have as positive an impact on children as possible.  Governments are responsible for protecting children’s rights in all situations, and any legislation that affects children should support their development and well-being. The CRC also addresses government responsibility in trying to keep families together (so long as it is the best thing for the child) and the fact that child refugees, children with disabilities, indigenous children, and children of minority groups have the same rights as any other children.  Governments should take any extra action necessary to see that these rights are fulfilled.

Article 42 states that adults and children should be made aware of the rights put forth in the Convention.  It emphasizes the importance of adults teaching children about their rights.

The United States and Violations of Children’s Rights

The United States is currently involved in the violation of many of the rights set forth in the CRC, but if it were to ratify the CRC, it would then be expected to begin working towards fixing them.

Children Facing Life Without Parole

One way in which we are currently violating the CRC is through the fact that, in many states, children can be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.  More than 3000 people are currently serving life sentences without the possibility for parole for crimes they committed while under the age of 18.  In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for children to be given mandatory life-without-parole sentences.  However, in 28 states it is still a possibility for a child to face life in prison without parole.  This number does not include states that allow sentences lasting decades, even 90 years, which are in effect life-sentences, despite not being labeled as such.  This violates Article 37 of the CRC which states that children should not be sentenced to life without the possibility of release.

A young girl looking over her shoulder at the camera.
Child. Source: Florencia&Pe, Creative Commons.

Children in Adult Prisons

We are also violating the CRC because there are around 10,000 children in the United States who are being held in adult prisons and jails.  This fact within itself violates Article 37 of the CRC, which states that children should not be kept in prisons with adults.  This also violates Article 34, which states that “Governments should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse,” as children are five times as likely to experience sexual assault in adult prisons than juvenile detention centers.  Children are 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being held in adult facilities than those who have been held in juvenile facilities.  This violates Article 27, which states that children “have the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs.”

Trump’s Zero Tolerance Immigration Policy

The United States has also recently violated the CRC through the “zero tolerance immigration policy” that The Trump Administration put in place earlier this year.  As a result of the push for prosecution of undocumented immigrants caught crossing the border and “rules on holding children in either criminal or immigration detention,” thousands of children were separated from their parents.  This violates Article 9 of the CRC which states that children should be remain with their parents unless it is more harmful for them to be together than separated.

Despite the rules that relate to holding children in criminal or immigration detention, the children who were separated from their families were held in what were essentially cages: holding areas surrounded by “chain-link fences,” with 20 children being held in each of them and “few comforts besides foil blankets.”  They were kept in inhumane conditions, violating Article 27 of the CRC, which describes the right to an adequate standard of living.  It is difficult to see how these conditions could possibly have had a better impact on the children than finding a way to allow them to remain with their parents.

Most of the families who were separated have now been reunited and new families are no longer being separated, but it is still important that we recognize the impact that such situations have on the children involved.

Basic Human Rights for Children in the United States

The United States also has a long way to go in taking steps to improve and preserve children’s access to their rights.  In 2014, 22% of children lived in poverty, and 30% had parents who did not have job security.  Between 2012 and 2014, 53% of young children were not in school, bringing concern to the right to education.  Also, the US is the only high-income country that does not provide paid leave for new mothers.

The United States’ withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council makes it difficult to be optimistic about the possibility of ratifying the CRC any time soon.  It is a country that is self-proclaimed as being one of the most progressive in terms of human rights, yet we have not even ratified the document created to protect the vulnerable members of society whom we all agree need to be protected.  At this point in time, the actions of the United States do not match its claims, and that needs to change.

The United Nations and Psychosocial Disabilities

Recently, members from UAB’s Institute for Human Rights (IHR), including myself, had the opportunity to visit the United Nations (UN) in New York City for the 11th Conference of States Parties (COSP) on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is an agreement that details the rights of persons with disabilities (PWD) with a list of codes for implementation, where both states and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) are suggested to coordinate to fulfill such rights. Currently, the CRPD has 177 ratifying parties, with the United States being one of the last to have not ratified it, although it was modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the cornerstone for disability rights in the U.S.

I had the opportunity the serve as rapporteur for Round 3 of the General Debate, witnessing representatives address issues such as education and employment barriers for PWD in rural Afghanistan, India’s concern about the treatment of women and girls with disabilities, Malta’s 20 million Euro dedication to programs and organizations for PWD and Peace 3 Foundation describing how climate change disproportionately endangers PWD. Additionally, I attended many side events that covered topics such as the Voice of Specially Abled People (VOSAP) phone app, barriers to political participation in the Middle East and North Africa, and the first Regional Report of the Americas. The side events were less formal and engaging because the audience was welcomed to participate by sharing their thoughts and expertise, allowing coalition building to take place.

IHR at the 11th COSP to the CRPD. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

 

Amid this experience, there were a few important lessons learned. First, there is an enormous push for inclusive education, as opposed to special education, which values PWD’s contributions, equips them with essential skills and validates their societal presence. This approach would allow PWD, namely children, to learn and grow with their peers. Secondly, many nations are not responsibly addressing psychosocial disabilities which are clinical conditions/illnesses that affect one’s thoughts, judgments or emotions. Many countries have legislation that prevent people with an “unsound mind” from full participation in society, which doesn’t relate to one’s acts, but only their character. This stigmatizing approach effectively criminalizes their disability status, possibly resulting in forced institutionalization that separates them from loved ones and their community. Finally, there are countless people worldwide addressing disability rights. In the U.S., it seems disability rights are in the background, while other justice causes get most of the attention; however, I am confident that persistent coalition-building between justice organizations, especially in our impassioned political climate, will change this narrative, much like the collaborations built through the CRPD.

I want to use this blog as an opportunity to address an issue that has personal sentiments and speaks to my second point, stigma toward people with psychosocial disabilities (PWPD). Given my experience working in homeless shelters and having someone close to me who was institutionalized for their schizophrenia diagnosis, I believe there is a cultural disparity in how we talk about psychosocial disabilities because, on many occasions, they are addressed from a criminal and/or deviant lens, often devaluing the person(s) being addressed. According to the Mental Health and Human Rights Resolution of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, PWPD are defined as those, “…regardless of self-identification or diagnosis of a mental health condition, face restrictions in the exercise of their rights and barriers to participation on the basis of an actual or perceived impairment.” Psychosocial disabilities differ, meaning they are capable of being episodic, invisible and/or not clearly defined (e.g. depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia). Also, psychosocial disabilities are subjected to a medical narrative that arguably benefits mental health industries more than consumers.

Two years ago, during the 9th COSOP to the CRPD, Paul Deany (Disability Rights Fund Program Officer) claimed psychosocial disabilities are addressed in many countries through Western-influenced legislation that is separate from other disabilities, streamlining the establishment of psychiatric institutions that undermine fundamental issues for PWPD such as workforce participation, health care and political/rights. Therefore, we cannot view this concern as being exclusive to poor, underdeveloped nations because psychosocial disability stigma in rich, developed nations have fed this narrative and still have a prominent effect on PWPD. Although, to achieve collaborative global efforts that empower PWPD, supportive mental health policy must, first, be endorsed on the homefront. For example, political turmoil in the U.S. has contributed to recent events geared to strip health coverage from millions of vulnerable Americans. These efforts clearly demonstrate political incompetence of the mental health discussion at-large and confess to a larger narrative that admits power doesn’t always equate to knowledge and global leadership must be justified, not assumed.

Although many countries have enacted and enforced rights for PWPD, other countries are falling behind. For example, in Indonesia, roughly 18,000 people are forced into pasung, the practice of shackling or locking one in a confined space. Although pasung was banned by Indonesian authorities in 1977, families and healers continue to exercise this inhumane practice because they believe evil spirits or immoral behavior induce such disabilities. A similar practice in Ghana, at Nyakumasi Prayer Camp, was scrutinized last year, followed by the release of 16 people and the country’s Mental Health Authority claiming they would begin properly enforcing the shackling ban put into law in 2012. Such treatment of PWPD clearly impinges the Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR), a watershed document for global peace, by violating commitments to end “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5) and equal protection before the law without discrimination (Article 7).

To someone living in the modern U.S., such treatment seems unimaginable. However, past images of PWPD experiencing isolation and inhumane treatment inside the asylum walls are now echoed from a different, yet similar, perspective. During the mid-20th century, the U.S. underwent a period of deinstitutionalization which saw the closing of large state institutions that harbored PWPD. Largely due to the advent of the antipsychotic drug Thorazine, thousands of people were discharged from state mental hospitals and the shutting of such doors soon followed. However, the following decades have seen an influx of criminalizing PWPD, leading to their incarceration, where jails and prisons now serve as some of the nation’s largest de facto mental hospitals. This series of events, which moves PWPD from one total institution to another, undermines the liberation narrative of deinstitutionalization by continuing to segregate PWPD from their families and communities. As a result, this misfortune contributes to the current crisis that has seen the U.S. prison population increase by 408% between 1978 and 2014.

These appalling scenarios underscore a comment made by the representative of Kenya, during my visit to the UN, who insisted that policy cannot solely enforce human rights because programming must also be present to guide that path. Since 2007, Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Kenya, a DPO, has not only influenced legislation that expands the rights of PWPD, but also organizes participatory public education programs through various media outlets, challenging stigma and misconceptions. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Connecticut, the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights works with local governments, universities and health systems to ensure recently incarcerated people access health care and insurance. Many of the individuals receiving such care access health-related goods and services to treat psychosocial disabilities that could’ve influenced or been a byproduct of their incarceration. Looking forward, this is the type of advocacy and programming that needs to be highlighted so it can be shown that good governance, particularly through the CRPD and ADA, is possible.

My experience at the CoSP10

by MIRANDA GRAY

a picture of the inside of the UN General Assembly Hall
Inside of the UN General Assembly Hall. Photo by Tyler Goodwin

As I reported to the United Nations for my first day of actual volunteering, I felt enwrapped by excitement, anticipation and fear. Working at the United Nations had been a goal of mine for years, and after a tour of the UN just a couple of months before, I left telling myself that my long nights of studying and research for my masters in the anthropology of peace and human rights would be worth it. That May morning, when I walked into the UN, with a purpose, not just as a visitor, I felt important and like I was on my way to making it. At the end of the experience, however, I had other career goals in mind.

Personally, one of the most memorable parts of the whole experience came on that first morning, when my coworker and fellow graduate student, Ajanet Rountree, made me march onto the floor of the General Assembly Hall to find the volunteer coordinator, Fred Doulton. The security guard told me when I walked in that I strictly was to stay off the floor, as those spots were reserved for state representatives and UN workers. Ajanet spotted Fred, and her confidence led me to where I needed to be. Stepping onto the plush green floors of the General Assembly was electrifying; I simultaneously felt like somebody, as tour groups walked across the upper floor, and nobody, as I walked past ambassadors and other state representatives. I am particularly thankful for that moment and the ability to witness such an intricate and important session.

During the opening session when states stated their progress since the last conference, I became aware of the many moving pieces and challenges states must grapple with in advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities. Lack of awareness and resources as well as increased social exclusion have all impeded progress in protecting and ensuring rights of persons with disabilities. Many nations implored the other members of the conference for more concrete data on persons with disabilities in order to better tailor advocacy measures to persons with disabilities. However, the second session I took notes on truly opened my eyes to the other pieces of the advocacy puzzle, in addition to states, and tempered my opinion of a United Nations career as the ultimate goal for a human rights worker.

My second volunteer session incorporated statements given by several nongovernmental organizations. These organizations seemed to have specific goals and methods of implementation that might drastically improve lives of persons with disabilities. I realized that a great deal of the accomplishments that states reported on were often directly because of the work of NGOs. I previously thought of work with NGos as stepping stones to the ultimate career with the United Nations. And while working at the United Nations is still a career goal of mine, I have come to realize that meaningful necessary work is not a stepping stone, but rather the ultimate career in and of itself. When I heard NGO workers talk about the most important aspects of rights of persons with disabilities, I left feeling personally challenged to advocate for others in an inclusive manner that promotes full participation and addresses the impact of multiple discriminators on persons with disabilities, specifically women and children. I realized that day that no matter the name on the door, doing good work for people would always be admirable.

Before volunteering at the United Nations’ Conference of State Parties on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I do not think rights of persons with disabilities were at the forefront of my mind of imminently pressing human rights issues.  My previous studies have mostly focused on the rights of persons in areas of conflict, and those studies more specifically have been focused on the right to life. But following my experience volunteering at the Conference of State Parties on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I left having learned that any study on human rights violations should be inclusive of the particular violations persons with disabilities face. I left feeling a call to action, to advocate for persons with disabilities by listening to persons with disabilities, hearing their opinions, and acting accordingly. As I returned to UAB and Birmingham, I operate with a heightened sense of the lack of accessibility in our city, and I feel equipped with the drive and tools afforded me through my week at the UN to do something about it.

 

Accessibility: A Paradigm Shift

a picture of the inside of the UN General Assembly Hall
Photo by Tyler Goodwin

I was given the opportunity to work as a rapporteur for the Conference of State Parties to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at the United Nations in New York City. As a rapporteur, it was my duty to report on each event and assembly that I attended by drafting a summary of what took place respectively. I was able to attend the opening ceremony in the General Assembly Hall, which is where the meetings of the 193 Member States originally take place; an event on data mining, which is when one uses a large database to come to conclusions, and the importance of technology for persons with disabilities, where Dr. Reuter presented her research; a Roundtable Debate, where each party was able to ask questions and address any concerns they may have; and finally, a panel discussion with members, one of which was Dr. Reuter, who had the opportunity to present their findings from their research and answer questions from the audience.

When we were getting our duties and learning our roles, the Director for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Division for Social Policy and Development, Daniela Bas, came in to speak to us. It was a humbling experience, as she made an effort to get to know everyone in the room. I was also able to meet delegates from Canada, Zambia, and New Zealand. I remember Zambia’s representatives standing out specifically, for many reasons. Zambia is a country in southeastern Africa, where resources are limited. However, with the resources they have left, they have made efforts to allocate some of them to persons with disabilities. They also reported on their progress in implementing the CRPD, and it claimed to have many positive strides despite the fact that there is still much to be done.

During the Roundtable Debate, the issue of travel complications was raised. It was an eye-opening moment for me personally, as someone who loves to travel. I learned that a lot of individuals and families must plan business trips and vacations around accessible places and there will more than likely still be difficulties during their travels due to accessibility issues. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who is the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities then spoke on how there must be a greater political commitment to combat this issue. As the Special Rapporteur, she is trusted to be impartial and knowledgeable when she reports on a country’s trials. She was not speaking of a certain country in this case, but what she had examined across the globe. She also called for more respect, dignity, and a gender-equal approach when concerning persons with disabilities and the obstacles they face. It is important for all of these prongs to be met for persons with disabilities as they are seen as lesser or incapable at times. In reality, it is not feasible for persons with disabilities to accomplish something due to inaccessibility.

a picture of the stone wall outside of the UN
Photo by Tyler Goodwin

Prior to my week of working for the United Nations, I had a vague idea about how it was operated. I assumed it was similar to a business, but on a much larger scale. I imagined that the employees, directors, and delegates would be strictly focused on the Conference. I now have a small, but a clearer understanding of how the United Nations works. Those mentioned were certainly focused, but they were open to chatting and encouraging to others. Ms. Bas went out of her way to come speak to us, and the employees that I sat beside during the events were extremely welcoming and helpful. They asked about who I was, where I am from, and what I hope to accomplish one day. I expected to have to aggressively network to get to meet higher-up employees, but they were the ones who made the efforts to get to know me and the rest of the team. It changed my perspective of the United Nations in a positive way and fanned the fire inside of me to want to work there more. I was unsure of what a day at the United Nations would be like for an employee, and I only received a small glimpse of it, but I am thrilled to have gotten the experience.

Throughout the course of the Conference, I was able to see the importance of a global approach to handling persons with disabilities’ rights and implementing the CRPD. When it comes to a community so large and diverse, the United Nations must act cohesively to reach the 2030 agenda of sustainable development, and this Conference was a testament to their commitment. Doing so would ensure the world would be more accessible for all and lessen the issues faced by persons with disabilities.

This opportunity was heavily impactful for me. I was introduced to the world of the United Nations, and the humanitarian world outside of it. I met people who are involved in advocacy and fighting for rights around the globe, whether they are employed by the United Nations or not. I always envisioned myself being truly fulfilled by working for the United Nations alone, but I learned that there are many different outlets to accomplish the types of things I want to one day. It is still my end goal to be employed by them, but I have realized that I can have a fulfilling career. I am beyond grateful to Dr. Reuter for her research and advocacy, as she is truly making a difference. I am also grateful to have had her bring me along to experience the United Nations from the perspective I was given.

Aleppo, Just War and Responsibility to Protect: Why we have failed humanity!

Aleppo A view of Aleppo, Syria from above. It's a real concrete jungle.
Aleppo. A view of Aleppo, Syria from above. It’s a real concrete jungle. Source: Michael Goodine, Creative Commons.

By RUSS HUNTER

I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Dr. John Pace who served in the United Nations for thirty-three years. He distinguished himself as a champion of human rights. He was Secretary to the Commission on Human Rights (1978 to 1994) and Coordinator of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1991 to 1993) with many other posts and special envoys on human rights. I asked Dr. Pace specifically about Aleppo–whether the armed humanitarian intervention (AHI), right to protect (R2P) or the International Criminal Court (ICC) will ever address the glaring human rights abuses by many actors internal and external to Syria. His reply gave me pause. First, he related that AHI as a term is useless. It needs to be debated and defined. AHI is like saying: (paraphrasing) Here is a poisonous sandwich that will nourish you. Second, Syria and in particular Aleppo, will in time be reviewed and the ICC or some other UN commission will tackle the issue. In the meantime, not much will change. I was not surprised by his assessment.

Aleppo, we hear much about the death and destruction, lives forever lost, families forever marred by the violence. Communities wiped out. Horrors that we can barely grasp or fathom as we sit idly by as hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The following will not comfort you, but I do hope it makes you think, make you reflect, make you pause, even if just for a moment about our world politics, and  question the reasons why we have allowed something so heinous occur. We have often heard our politicians say things such as ‘never again’, ‘we must not let the human suffering of this magnitude occur’, and ‘don’t cross the red line or we will act’. The reality is, that is all bluster and posturing from politicians. We have just war theory and responsibility to protect as accepted doctrines that can be used to stop an Aleppo from happening. This blog will challenge your thinking in a way that will force you to engage in finding a way to prevent future Aleppo.

We have seen the politics of the UN and in particular the UN Security Council many times before. The failure of the UN has prompted regional coalitions to band together to tackle issues. The UN Security Council is supposed to be the framework for the use of military forces against all forms of aggression. This is particularly the case when forces are piercing the territorial and political sovereignty of a nation. If regional alliances decide to invade on humanitarian reasons but are not sanctioned by the UN, does this destabilize world order? If the politics of the UN fails to protect human rights do regional alliances have a right to intervene? The politics of the UN leads me to my concern: What are the barriers to human rights? What is more likely to succeed in the protection of human rights in a conflict zone?

I will lay out my argument that just war theory (JWT) is justified for humanitarian intervention. The role of the United Nations (UN) Security Council cannot be overstated in this process. My argument lays out how the UN in its political machinations refuses to address the shortcomings of humanitarian intervention (HI). By refusing to address the shortcomings, the UN is a body politic who is complicit in the loss of life and displacement of refugees. Before we go into Aleppo and why it has not ‘triggered’ HI let us first look at intervention, R2P, AHI and HI, and see if we can discern them and come to an understanding of how we can understand them.

R2P is a doctrine that has evolved and used much like JWT to justify military action. It has most of the same elements as JWT: just cause, right authority and right intention, used as a last resort, proportional means, and a reasonable chance at success. The significant difference from JWT is that R2P is for humanitarian reasons or protection of civilians. In other words, JWT seeks political justification for using military force while R2P is not about the political justification but the humanitarian justification. This justification is a fundamental change in the notion of sovereignty. R2P attempts to move from the Westphalian notion of the state being supreme to the R2P claim that an individual’s sovereignty is supreme.

R2P has three distinct responsibilities: responsibility to prevent, responsibility to react and responsibility to rebuild. AHI, HI, and intervention can all be represented in R2P, in essence, R2P evolved from AHI, HI, and intervention. R2P has become part of the UN framework in dealing with a humanitarian crisis. The inclusion is seen by the UN appointing a Special Adviser to focus on the R2P in 2008 and 2009, the release of a report entitled ‘Implementing the Responsibility to Protect.’ R2P is not internationally accepted nor is the basis of intervention (whichever terminology used AHI, HI, or R2P) without controversy. For this commentary, R2P will be synonymous with intervention, HI, and AHI.  Is R2P legal? If so, why is it not used more often to secure human rights? If not, how do we legally protect human rights in places like Aleppo?

a picture of old Aleppo from the Citadel
Aleppo – from the Citadel. Source: Beshr Abdulhadi, Creative Commons.

War, armed conflict, police actions, intervention, right to protect (R2P), and armed humanitarian intervention (AHI), all have common threads that run through them that connect them to just war theory (JWT). The 1648 Peace of Westphalia gave rise to the current idea of the nation state and the sacredness of its territory. This concept of sanctity has led the world to accept that international order works best when there is respect for non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. The atrocities of the Nazi regime in World War II has challenged that Westphalian notion of the nation-state but has not resulted in an accepted form of humanitarian intervention. We are left wondering: Is humanitarian intervention (HI) a right to use force based on JWT or human rights? Walzer, in his legalist paradigm, tells us that the international community has established that the rights of territorial integrity and political sovereignty is above all else. He also says that the political reality must give exceptions, one of which is humanitarian intervention. JWT recognizes that there are extreme cases where HI is needed. We leave this thought for a moment as we look at R2P.

Simon Chesterman, in his book Just War or Just Peace? Humanitarian Intervention and International Law, argues that there is no ‘right’ to use humanitarian intervention in the UN Charter nor customary international law. If this is correct why and how do we use R2P or apply it in future cases, or more importantly apply it to Aleppo? He claims that humanitarian intervention has no legal basis, and yet we have many examples where interventions have taken place. In his analysis, he argues that it is dangerous to have a checklist of additional justifications to engage in humanitarian intervention. By having a list, states are more likely to engage in bad faith interventions (US Iraqi invasion 2003). How do we reconcile the notion of a world based on law if R2P is illegal? He suggests we should view an intervention based on humanitarian reasons as illegal but that the international community may well tolerate it. Let us apply this to Aleppo. If as he says R2P is illegal, but the UN has embraced it, WHY is Aleppo happening?  For me, it is political. The UN and specifically the UN Security Council is playing politics. The politics are shaped by the doctrine of R2P and the Westphalian use of JWT. R2P and JWT both agree that HI may be necessary, but there is no agreement on which one may take precedence over the other.

The JWT and R2P conundrum leaves us with what is happening in Aleppo. R2P to date has not been invoked by UN Security Council due to the veto power of Russia and China (and I am unsure if the US, Britain, and France would vote in favor due to strategic interests). The sheer amount of deaths, suffering, and destruction clearly shows HI should have occurred sooner. Why not R2P? Only the UN Security Council can answer that one. From an outsider’s perspective, it is due to political maneuvering and unlike Libya, Syria is not a major oil producer and supplier of oil to the EU like Libya is.

a picture of Syrian children
Children. Source: Giulio Bernardi, Creative Commons.

The argument gets sticky here, and some may cringe at what I am about to say. JWT for HI has been invoked – by Assad. Follow me on this. Back to Walzer, his legalist paradigm says the territory and political sovereignty is above all else with exceptions. Within that framework of exception is that the sovereign nation can ask for help with insurrection or anything that threatens to overthrow or pierce their sovereignty. By Assad ‘asking’ Russia for help, they invoked JWT. In doing this, they cut off R2P from occurring. Why? A sovereign nation (Syria) has asked for help (Russia) to defeat an insurgency. Legal and ‘just’ according to JWT. If another country (countries) declared R2P, they do not have a legal basis to intervene, especially without a UN Security Council resolution. If R2P were invoked, it would be declaring war against Syria and Russia. The moment for R2P has fallen to the wastelands of missed opportunities. Why did this happen? R2P has been used recently in Libya, and the aftermath that has ensued in Libya has made everyone pause. For this writer, Libya may have ended R2P from fully realizing its potential. However, why has it failed?

We need to look at the structure of the UN and in particular the sovereignty of the nation-state. We have established under Walzer that the territorial and political sovereignty is above all else. The UN also guarantees this under UN Charter Article 2 (7). As with Walzer the UN Article 2 (7) gives exceptions. This non-intervention can be revoked if the state fails to protect their citizens from repression and internal armed conflicts. Back to my discussion with Dr. Pace. I asked when has the UN ever kicked out a member or declared them minimally unjust? His response “never.” I checked the UN website and could not find any nation expelled or declared minimally unjust. That is where the UN, JWT, and R2P have an issue. If the sanctioning body (UN) and the body that authorizes intervention (UN Security Council) fail to call out leaders of nations who are not minimally just and are not protecting their citizens, how can human rights be upheld? In my opinion, this is the core issue. The UN and the international society have given the state more rights than the individual. R2P tried to change the sovereignty from the state to the individual but as Chesterman points out the law is not on the individual’s side when the nation-state is involved.

Where does this leave us? Is it safe to say that humanitarian intervention is in competing doctrines? Which doctrine is correct? JWT based on national territorial boundaries and political sovereignty or R2P which has no basis in law? If we listen to David Rodin (2002) in War and Self-Defense, he proposes that we should resurrect Kant’s two-tier moral strategy. First, by seeking to mitigate and moderate the evils of war. Second, create a program for achieving a just international system based on an official international rule of law. What Rodin wants is the realization of the ‘cosmopolitan view’ as he pushes for a radical reworking of JWT and international relations.

The basic lesson we should take from the present argument is that our traditional  conceptions of international law and international ethics need to be fundamentally rethought. There is a great scope for real and substantial progress to be made in this area. We need a framework of international ethics which gives greater recognition and protection to the rights of individuals as against states, which can address the problems of     civil war and internal oppression, and which is able to more effectively restrain international aggression. (Rodin 2002, 199)

Perhaps Rodin has it right. We need to listen and take a lesson from Aleppo. We do need a framework of international ethics, and we have no international body to provide it. The UN is continuing to fail us. The world is suffering. Our human history has never been strong about individual rights. We have had Kings, Queens, Arch-Dukes, Czars, Khans, and Emperors who have ruled empires. We have had conquests to rule the world with no thought of the individual. Human rights are new in the timeline. The Enlightenment ushered in a new awareness of the unalienable rights of the individual, but that has not triumphed over the rights of the state.

History is full of examples of the state trampling on human rights even after the Enlightenment. Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, and many others have killed millions, and yet an individual’s right to life is second to the sovereignty of the nation.

a picture of a man in a boat on the Eufates River
2008-XIII-A Eufrates. Source: Mr. Theklan, Creative Commons.

We must face that Aleppo suffers because it is the wrong class, race, and religion of people being harmed.  A current list of emergency alerts, published by Genocide Watch, reveals there are no alerts  from a global North, or any countries part of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) nations; listed are Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Myanmar (Rakhine and Kachin), Burundi, and Boko Haram – Borno State. We have had some regional responses to some of these areas; however, I wager that if this were happening in the global North, we would have seen intervention a long, long time ago.

What will it take to shape the future of human rights? I wager a global North event, an event that rivals that of which we do not like to compare to, I hate to say it but, on the level of the Holocaust. Why? It is because of the failure of the UN to evolve past political manipulation. The League of Nations and the subsequent United Nations was born from the horrific event of the Holocaust. For the UN to evolve once more, I fear it will take something so drastic as to shake the foundations and cause the international society to evaluate itself and what it is doing for humanity.

How can human rights best be protected in a conflict zone? By the UN enacting strong, swift, and a just response to any nation that violates and commits atrocities against humanity. The UN has to act. The UN has to become apolitical when it comes to crimes against humanity. As long as there is a failure of the state to protect the right to life, we must understand that human rights are being pushed backward and not forward. Until the UN becomes able to deal with internal politics, we will continue to have Aleppo’s in our future. So far, the nation-state’s sovereignty reigns supreme, and that does not bode well for the future of humanity.

 

Russ Hunter Expertise: Civil/Military Operations, Intelligence, WMD Operations
Russ is currently in the Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies program at the University of Otago. He holds a Master Degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Richmond, a Post Grad Certificate from the University of Stirling, Scotland and is a graduate of the U.S Army Sergeants Major Academy. He retired from the U.S. Army as a Sergeant Major in 2009 with over 24 years of distinguished military service in both Operations and Intelligence. He has been a guest lecturer at the University of Richmond. The titles of Russ’ past lectures have been Drone Strikes: A Case for a Moral Response, Evolution of Unmanned Air Systems (Drones in the Sky), and Counterterrorism/Antiterrorism Strategy. He co-taught a Drone law course for law, paralegal and Masters students. Russ has multiple awards and citations both professional and academic.

Works Cited:

Chesterman, S. 2001. Just War or Just Peace? Humanitarian Intervention and International Law. New York: Oxford University Press.

Genocide Watch. 2016. http://www.genocidewatch.com/countries-at-risk

Rodin, D. 2002. War and Self-Defense. New York: Oxford University Press.

Walzer, M. 1977. Just and Unjust Wars. New York: Basic Books.

Peace as a Human Right in Somalia

A young woman holds the Somali flag during a demonstration by a local militia, formed to provide security in Marka, Somalia
A young woman holds the Somali flag during a demonstration by a local militia, formed to provide security in Marka, Somalia. Source: AMISOM Public Information, Creative Commons.

The Declaration of the Right of Peoples to Peace, issued by the UN in 1984, “solemnly proclaims that the peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace.” Issued in the decade of extreme unrest in the nation of Somalia, this human right is particularly vulnerable in the war-torn state. In the past two hundred years, Somalia has been through an extremely complex series of conflicts that has included colonization, dictatorship, civil war, widespread violence, and UN intervention. Only declared to be no longer a failed state within the last year, Somalia is still in its fledging phase as an independent nation. Last week, Somalia elected its second president since the establishment of its current government, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. To understand the issues of today, first we must delve into the rich history of the nation.

Historical Background

The nation of Somalia was never originally a nation by its geographic boundaries today, but an area encompassing individual sovereign clans. In the late 19th century, in a period known as the “Scramble for Africa,” several European powers colonized the area as authorized by the Berlin Conference of 1884. The actors included Britain, colonizing the north-west area formerly known as Puntland, and Italy, colonizing the large area of Somaliland. France also conquered a small corner in the northeast. The colonizers were not interested in populating the area, but rather chose to exploit natural resources and use land for trade routes. The roots of the conflict begin here, as the European powers dismantle clan hierarchy and institute central governance. After World War II, the European powers begin to disengage and decolonize the area. In 1960, both Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland have both established independence from their former colonizers and then united, founding the United Republic of Somalia. This democratic state was successful for nine years, but the country succumbed to a coup by Mohamed Siad Barre.

Barre instituted a dictatorship under the new government, the Somali Democratic Republic. His reign, lasting for twenty years, amassed tremendous human rights abuses including targeted attacks on cultural groups and forced allegiance to the state (Metz 45-51). Caught in the middle of Cold War tensions, the country received funding and arms from both the Soviet Union and from the United States after the Soviet Union cut ties in the late 70’s. Cold War politics, when combined with post-colonial factions and the Ogaden War, proved to be a lethal blow to Barre’s dictatorship. The state collapsed in 1991, causing a power vacuum that provoked massive clan warfare. Within four months in the capital alone, “25,000 people [were killed], 1.5 million people fled the country, and at least 2 million were internally displaced.” Somalis know this period as burbur, or catastrophe (Bradbury and Healy).

United Nations Guard Unit guard of honor soldiers stand at attention infront of the Ugandan, United Nations and Somalia flags during the Inauguration of the United Nations Guard Unit in Somalia
United Nations Guard Unit guard of honor soldiers stand at attention infront of the Ugandan, United Nations and Somalia flags during the Inauguration of the United Nations Guard Unit in Somalia. Source: AMISOM Public Information, Creative Commons.

UN Intervention

As one of the first large-scale humanitarian aid projects that the UN attempted, Somalia took the role of a laboratory of peace making and nation building. UNOSOM (United Nations Operation in Somalia) and their 30,000 troops did assist in stimulating economic and political infrastructure, aid in food security, and drive warring factions out of certain areas. However, the mission did not result in a conclusive peace settlement; it actually strengthened warlords and substantially increased terrorism. UNOSOM left in 1995 as an internationally known example of UN failure (Bradbury and Healy).

Women adorned in Somali flags celebrate Somalia's Independence Day at Konis stadium in Mogadishu on July 1. Today's celebrations mark 53 years since the Southern regions of Somalia gained independence from Italy and joined with the Northern region of Somaliland to create Somalia
Women adorned in Somali flags celebrate Somalia’s Independence Day at Konis stadium in Mogadishu on July 1. Today’s celebrations mark 53 years since the Southern regions of Somalia gained independence from Italy and joined with the Northern region of Somaliland to create Somalia. Source: AMISOM Public Information, Creative Commons.

Movement towards Peace

The years following the departure of UNOSOM were neither peaceful nor war-struck. In fact, the rise of militant terrorist groups causes them to grab attention. A series of peace conferences hosted by neighboring countries attempted to find a solution for peace, but only successful session was the Mbagathi conference in 2004. The conference formed the Transitional Federal Government  (TFG) with the election of elected President Abdullahi Yusuf. The TFG was given a mandate to rule until the country was stable enough for independent governance. The mandate expired in 2012, and the election for the newly established Federal Government of Somalia began, resulting in the election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Mohamud lead the country for the past five years, but lost the elections that occurred just last week. The newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a Somali nationalist, is popular among the people and expected to bring an era of prosperity.

After the UN’s infamous failure in Somalia, outlook on global humanitarian aid became more critical. Though global aid operations became less popular, the need for assistance and justice did not die. It is of utmost importance that the global community keep a close watch on human rights abuses anywhere. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Peace is an essential human right, and violation of that right is intolerable. Somalia’s outlook today is much brighter than it was twenty years ago; however, acts of terrorism and high levels of crime still plague the nation. President Mohamed may bring great things to the Somali people, but it is the duty of our global society to uphold the Somalians’ right to peace.