The Ukraine Crisis – IHR Event Recap

War continues to embroil Ukraine as Russian forces advance through the country. Putin’s assurances of only attacking military sites are belied by the mounting civilian casualties in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian individuals have picked up arms for the first time, putting up a valiant stand against the aggressors, while other are seeking safety in neighboring countries. The sanctions levied on Russia and their leadership are likely to have an impact on the country, although they have not yet significantly influenced the current Russian offense. There is, however, a constraint in terms of resources for the Russian troops. For more information regarding this issue, visit Dr. Tina Reuter’s blog post for the Institute for Human Right.

In light of these developments, the UAB Institute for Human Rights (IHR) and the UAB Department of Political Science and Public Administration (PSPA) held an expert panel on March 3rd. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Robert Blanton, the Chair of the Department of PSPA at UAB. The panel was comprised of Dr.Tina Kempin Reuter, Director of the UAB IHR and associate professor in the Department of PSPA as well as the Anthropology Department; Dr.George Liber, retired professor from the History Department at UAB; Scotty Colson, coordinator at the Jimmie Hale Mission and Alabama’s Honorary Consul for Ukraine; Dr. Renato Corbetta, associate professor in the Department of PSPA and Director of the UAB International Studies Program; and Dr. Peter Verbeek, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the graduate program in Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights. Panelists discussed the past, present, and future of the Ukraine crisis and consideration of the implications for the people of Ukraine, international relations, and world peace.

Graphic for the Ukraine Crisis Event, with a light blue background and white text reading, "Virtual Panel Discussion. The Ukraine Crisis. Implications for Geopolitics and Human Rights."
The Ukraine Crisis Panel Discussion took place on March 3rd, 2022.

Historical Context

Dr. Liber began the conversation by providing a historical background for the current crisis. Ukraine has been an independent country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and a majority of its people have supported a pro-democratic position including, but not limited to, free elections. Putin, in contrast, leads Russia as an authoritarian dictator, controlling the parliament, courts, and state media. Civil liberties have taken a toll under his leadership as the government goes as far as to reshape public opinion through its influence. Putin has always struggled to recognized Ukraine as an independent state and aims to restore Russia to its former power. Two significant events have led to the recent escalation. The first was the removal of the pro-Russian government from office in 2014, and the subsequent appointment of a more democratic leadership. In response, Russia annexed Crimea with the help of pro-Russian annexationists in Eastern Europe. The conflict between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists created great turmoil at the time. The second event that prompted the recent attack by Russia, according to Dr.Liber, was the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which signaled to Putin that the US may be hesitant to engage their military forces at the time of conflict.

The Situation on the Ground

Scotty Colson followed this historical summary with a description of the current situation in Ukraine. He recounted his interactions with former participants in the Open World Program, which is a government funded program that offers young Ukrainian leaders the opportunity to travel to the US and exchange ideas on key global issues with their counterparts. Mr.Colson relays the experiences of participants of this program who visited Birmingham and who are currently in the center of the war in Ukraine. One individual, a lawyer who advocates for the democratization of Ukraine, took up an AK47 despite his lack of experience handling firearms. He now mans a barricade in Ukraine after his regular work hours. Another individual that Colson interacted with was an entrepreneur who created programs to help people receive first aid. He is currently one of the leaders in providing emergency care for war torn areas. Another individual stands guard with a machine gun outside an airport. Colson also mentioned that advocates from other countries are being removed from social media platforms in Russia. He emphasized the connection we have with these individuals, and others, in Ukraine, as they were inspired by Birmingham’s history to lead civil reform in their own country.

Humanitarian Consequences

Dr. Reuter detailed the human rights implications of the conflict. Undoubtedly, there has been an increase in human rights violations, including the right to life and civilian integrity. The air strikes and heavy artillery are in direct breach of international law, prompting an investigation by the International Criminal Court. The number of casualties is uncertain, with the. However, since the UN Office of the High Commissions for Human Rights only counts deaths that they can verify, the numbers reported by them are likely to be an underrepresentation. Moreover, the most concerning development in Dr. Reuter’s opinion is Putin’s remarks during his conversation with president Macron, in which he showed no sign of relenting. At the time of the panel discussion, approximately 160,000 people were displaced, and this number was expected to climb to several millions. Some individuals had to wait for up to 60 hours in in freezing weather before being allowed to enter Poland.

Despite this, the overwhelming attitude towards Ukrainian refugees has been one of warmth and acceptance: the European Union (EU) is set to grant Ukrainian refugees with permission to live and work in the EU, while receiving education and healthcare, for a year. While Dr. Reuter appreciates this response, she points to the problematic contrast in attitudes towards the refugees from Ukraine as opposed to refugees from the Middle East and Africa, who have not been received as positively. Another significant challenge is the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly since the war conditions have made it more unsafe for aid workers. At the time of the panel discussion, Russia tentatively agreed to arrange for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians and deliver aid safely. However, since then, there have been reports of air strikes impacting these corridors and other civilian buildings as well, including a maternity ward.

Interventions by the International Community

Dr. Corbetta discussed the possible options for the international community to intervene in the situation at hand. The reason for the hesitancy of western powers in deploying troops is the risk of escalation into nuclear warfare. The escalation may not necessarily be due to a strategic attack but even just an accident by the troops stationed in the area. This is known as the stability paradox – conventional forces cannot be used because it might lead to the use of nuclear weapons, but the potential disastrous consequences of nuclear weapons will encourage the use of conventional warfare instead. Dr. Corbetta believes Putin is attempting to make it seem as if Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons in order to prevent the stationing of conventional troops.

Sanctions are one of the other ways the west will be able to influence the situation in Ukraine. Although the sanctions imposed thus far have been strong, they take act slowly. It is important that the sanctions are increased progressively rather than levying all of the most severe sanctions at once in order to maintain leverage. Hence, the gradual nature of the impact of sanctions gives Putin time to cause further damage in Ukraine. China plays a key role in the success of sanctions as well. Dr. Corbetta says that Putin will count on China to become their key economic partner to reduce the burden of the sanctions. China at the time had not chosen sides, waiting to see the reaction from the West and the precedent that will be set for Taiwan. Another intervention is to have negotiations between Ukraine and Russia with the United Nations present to mediate. This may be particularly likely if the Russian advance is not very successful in the future, although Putin has not been keen on negotiations until now. Mediation can take a more direct form as well, with a neutral group placing troops in between the two countries to prevent conflict.

The image shows a soldier holding a gun. The Ukrainian flag is raised in the background.
“Ukraine Crisis” by theglobalpanorama is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Path to Peace

Dr. Verbeek was asked to speak about the prospects of peace and how to achieve it. He began by distinguishing the two components to peace. The first is negative peace, or the cessation of violence, while the second is positive peace, which goes beyond that to tackle social injustice that prevent the attainment of peace. Dr. Verbeek also cautioned against being quick to take sides and encouraged everyone to consider the human experience on both sides in addition to the actions of the leaders. He gave the example of a Russian soldier’s text message exchange with his parents, who wanted to send their son a package only to find out he was deployed in Ukraine. The soldier, distraught, told his parents that they were promised a warm welcome from the Ukrainians. Similarly, on the other side, it is important to ensure that refugees who are under assault are able to safely exit the country. Moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified, should be invoked to reduce the suffering of children stuck in the middle of the war. Dr. Verbeek also believes it is time to reassess the necessity of NATO, as it was devised to combat the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. While some say it is needed for the situation in Iraq, it is worth considering if the way we have been doing things is the best way to continue moving forward.

With regards to sanctions, Dr. Verbeek mentioned that punishment is not very effective according to behavioral science. He believes more emphasis should be placed on negotiations, with the UN or western countries present to aid in coming to a compromise. There are currently talks underway in Belarus, and it is crucial that these continue. Thinking creatively and differently than in the past is necessary to find a solution to the crisis. As Dr. Verbeek put it, “it is very important for people to talk. As long as the guns are going, and people are not talking, peace will be far away.”

Other Key Points

When asked what Putin’s overarching goal may be, Dr. Corbetta mentioned that it would be difficult to say with certainty. His intention may be to restore Russia to its status in the past when the Soviet Union still existed. He also may not want Russia to take a back seat in the increasingly important US-China relationship. Colson added that Putin’s may be more financially motivated, aiming to take control of resources in the north and simultaneously undermining and dividing the Western powers. An example of such a resource is oil, which Putin may be able to leverage to exert influence over countries dependent on oil. In terms of the implications for international relations, Dr. Verbeek highlights the importance of not only addressing the current loss of lives but also paving the path for global cooperation in the future, a necessary prerequisite to addressing  existential crises such as global warming.

When asked about the United Nations Security Council’s role in diffusing the conflict, Dr. Reuter answered by first stating that the UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s actions was a positive sign. However, the influence of the Security Council is limited by Russia’s veto power. The Security Council, having been established after WWII, may not accurately represent the distribution of power in today’s world. Dr. Verbeek believes that it is time to reconceptualize the way in which the UN operates. In addition to this, Dr. Liber brought up the point that the outcome of the Ukraine crisis will have implications for nuclear disarmament as well. After being pressured by the US and other world powers, Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal towards the end of the twentieth century and sought a guarantee for its national sovereignty in return. In light of the invasion of Ukraine, other countries may hesitate to proceed with nuclear disarmament out of fear for their national security.

Is there reason for hope? The answer from the panelists is a resounding yes. Dr. Reuter believes that the dissenting voices in Russia that are creating pressure from within is indeed a case for hope. In addition to that, the possibility for a corridor to supply humanitarian aid is a positive development. There are numerous organizations that are providing humanitarian relief to Ukrainians, and a detailed list can be found in an IHR Blog post written by Dr.Reuter. Dr. Corbetta sees the cohesiveness of the western countries as a reason for hope, particularly if this can be translated to other global issues. Moreover, the invasion of Ukraine is not rolling out as smoothly as Putin would have liked, which may dampen further efforts. This conflict has also made people realize that environmental issues overlap with security concerns – becoming less dependent on fossil fuels will reduce the influence that Russia has over western countries in case such a conflict arises in the future. Dr. Verbeek also finds It reassuring that many UN members stand in agreement that Russia’s actions are wrong. He believes the UN can be reformed to more fairly distribute power and create safeguards to prevent such a crisis, and all its disastrous consequences, from occurring again. For more thoughts from Dr. Verbeek on the conclusion of this war and a more peaceful future, visit his IHR blog post.

 

Racism in Refugee Crisis

by Laura Nell Walker

Drawing of Black woman sitting on steps with her head in her lap
Source: Yahoo Images

Since Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, much has changed. The ruble plummeted in value, the historically neutral Switzerland joined other nations in sanctioning Putin, and airspace around the world is now banned to Russian flights.  However, as the refugee crisis reaches 2 million people fleeing war torn Ukraine, one pre-invasion precedent remains the same: racial inequality. Multiple allegations of racist incidents occurring at Ukraine’s border were reported with more surfacing in news outlets everyday.   

Ukraine is home to around 76,000 foreign students according to the BBC, the majority traveling from India and multiple countries in Africa.  This is the result of attractive educational policies and an anti-imperialist stance cultivated since the soviet era.  Characteristics like affordable living (relative to other European countries), high quality education, and easy visa access have established Ukraine as a gateway to high paying jobs in Europe.  In the lead up to Putin’s invasion, many students petitioned their universities to move online.  Not only were their pleas dismissed, but they were told fines would incur if they missed class.

Now, as students evacuate, they are met with obstacles at the border, harassment, and little help from their home countries.  After making the harrowing trip from their universities to the miles long traffic jam at the border, international students are told that Ukrainian citizens have priority.  Some reports state that for every 200 to 300 Ukrainians, only 5 to 10 people of other nationalities are let through. Yetunde Asika, a Nigeria-based international human rights attorney, told CNN “…the story of a [Nigerian] medical student who had walked about 11 hours overnight to the border and was then told she couldn’t cross until the Ukrainians had been evacuated first.”  Similarly, Jessica Orakpo, another Nigerian student, describes in a video how she was forced to walk nearly  20 hours within the span of two days in her desperate attempt to reach Poland.   Other reports include segregated lines, Black women and children blocked from trains, and a group of black students forced to make yet another journey to the border of Hungary after giving up hope on admission to Poland.

In some cases, representatives from the student’s home nation wait in neighboring countries to assist, but many international refugees assert that the more immediate need is advocates on the Ukrainian side of the border.  Nigerians interviewed by a CNN reporter blamed the Nigerian government more than the Ukrainians, saying “It [government support] would have been so helpful in Ukraine, we were looking for someone to speak on our behalf there.”  Some African students took matters into their own hands, creating a network of support and funding for other Africans and people of color trying to flee the country.  Korrine Sky, Tokunbo Koiki and Patricia Daley created an organization called Black Women for Black Lives.  Daley told NBC that “There was a gap in the access Black people and brown people were getting. There was no one offering their homes to Black people, no one offering to pick up the Black individuals”.  As a result, the three started a group chat to share information and facilitate mutual support among other Black and brown refugees.  They also created an online document outlining paths of least resistance out of the country, including warnings to avoid checkpoints where racial harassment took place, accommodations friendly to people of color, and drivers available to assist with transport.  The three women estimate they’ve helped around 500 people cross the border and that number increases everyday.  They’re bravery points to an unfortunate reality that people of color, especially Black women, are left to fill the gap in support as a result of governmental failings. 

Photo of protest that reads Indians and Africans Face Racism in Ukraine
Source: Yahoo Images

While Black and Brown refugees still lack immediate assistance from officials on the ground, global support and outrage is increasing.  Multiple African government officials have condemned the treatment of their citizens and an International Coalition appealed the U.N. on March 2.  The coalition of activists and human rights attorneys petitioned for the international community to hold Ukrainian and Polish officials accountable for what they see as actions on par with war crimes.  Their two primary demands are an end to racially motivated harassment at the border and equal admission into neighboring countries for non-Ukrainians.  During a press conference associated with the coalition, attorney Jasmine Rand said, “They face one war waged by Russia, and they face a second war waged by racism because of the color of their skin. We are here today because Black Lives Matter in times of war, and in times of peace,”  

 Simultaneously, global outrage responding to racist comments by multiple news reporters sparked a discussion of the assumptions and stereotypes associated with the word “refugee.”  One of the most provocative and widely shared was stated by CBS correspondent, Charlie D’Agata:  “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades.  This is a relatively civilized, relatively European…city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”   A refugee crisis deserves immediate action whether it takes place in the Middle East or Europe.  Popular comedian Trevor Noah spoke out on Instagram in response to the controversy saying, “I think rather than this being a moment to turn on each other, the Ukraine refugee crisis should be a reminder that ‘refugee’ is not a synonym for ‘Brown person.’  Anyone could be a refugee.  It’s a thing that happened to you.  It’s not who you are.”  As the world unites to confront this tragedy, it highlights the hypocrisy historically implemented in humanitarian crises, serving as a prompt that all refugees deserve the same level of support and concern from the international community.      

How to Help

Support Black People Fleeing Ukraine!

Photo of refugee camp. Reads Our Humanity is Not Transactional.
Source: GoFundMe

 

How to End the War in Ukraine and Build Lasting Peace

by Dr. Peter Verbeek

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus, we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.                  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., December 1964

On May 14, 1940, the Nazis aerial-bombed Rotterdam to smithereens. Utrecht, the city where I was born, was next up for annihilation if the Dutch were to continue to resist the Nazi invasion. Following the destruction of Rotterdam, the Dutch army gave up its resistance, and for the next five years the Netherlands suffered under Nazi occupation. Many thousands of Dutch Jewish citizens were transported to Nazi extermination camps where they died horrible deaths. I was born after the war and learned about the horrors of the Nazi occupation from my parents and other close family members, bit by excruciating bit. Many of the most terrifying facts I had to learn through sources other than my family members as my family either spared me or just could not bring themselves to relive them by recounting them to me.

My family’s story is but one that is relevant to the current invasion of Ukraine. Today, February 26, 2022, while writing this piece, I noted this entry on Twitter by @Val_Voschchevska that tells another poignant story:

My aunt: it is impossible to imagine that my mother, who lost her parents and became orphaned at 7, fought against Hitler with the Russian people, had to hide in a haystack from Nazi German soldiers, today, at the age of 85, is hiding in the basement in Kyviv from Russian soldiers.”

My family owe their survival and freedom to the blessed souls, American, British, and Canadian, who stormed the beaches of Normandy while their fellows were gunned down all around them by Nazi soldiers and who continued to fight their way on the Western Front through France and Belgium to liberate the Low Lands from Hitler’s henchmen. From the East, it was the Russian soldiers who died and fought to rid the world of Hitler’s fascist scourge. Now, early 2022, Russia and the United States of America, formerly aligned against fascism, and now each harboring contemporary fascist elements at home, are at war. Yes, let’s call a spade a spade; the country of which I became a citizen out of conviction, and not by birth, is, de facto, at war with Russia. Levying harsh sanctions on Russia is an act of economic and social violence in response to Russia’s deadly violence in Ukraine. Violence begot violence. No amount of semantic wrangling about the meaning of “war” is going to challenge this fact.

Map of Ukraine with arrows showing path of Russia's attack
Source: Yahoo Images

I will leave it to geopolitical analysts to disentangle fact from fiction regarding how it could have come to this, and what the predicted chances of escalation are in this violent confrontation between two nuclear powers that each have a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying most of life as we know it on this planet, effectively and thoroughly. And I will just clearly state that I call on all people of good will to stand with and speak up for all who are victimized by the violence instigated by Putin and his henchmen, and to join UNICEF’s call for a cessation of all violence, for the sake of all of humanity, and, in particular, for the sake of children, the world’s next generations. (Currently, Russia is arresting children for leaving flowers and messages of peace and hope outside of Ukraine’s embassy.) We need our children. The world needs them to grow up healthy and strong, to flourish, and, when they grow up, to clear the messes that we are leaving them. To do better than we did. Much better. To live in peace and to experience happiness. To respect and propagate Life.

Here I offer a peace perspective on the tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine. It is a perspective based on the nascent behavioral science of peace that arose from traditional Peace and Conflict Studies, which, in turn, trace its origins to the end of World War II (1). It is a perspective rooted in the conviction that diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation and collaboration. In sum, nonviolence coupled with reason and perspective taking, is the only way to end or prevent war and other forms of collective physical violence (negative peace). It is also based on the conviction that the cessation of physical violence needs to be followed by an end to structural violence, including an end to social injustice, discrimination, prejudice, social or moral exclusion, and poverty linked to these conditions, so as to pave the way for a sustained positive peace of reciprocally beneficial and harmonious interactions between people and nature, and among human communities and nations (1).

The peace perspective that I offer here is a comparative perspective. It takes into account our evolutionary history as a species which cannot be seen apart from that of the rest of nature nor from our species-specific cultural histories (1). As an example of this, humans are susceptible to ideological indoctrination. Our early evolutionary history most likely predisposed us for this trait, and it can be culturally modified and enhanced. Ideology is the seed from which ‘us versus them’ thinking can take root and flourish. Such collective exclusionary thinking comes in handy when dictators and potentates want to mobilize citizens and soldiers to support and fight their wars (2).

As a species, we also have an ability to discipline our thought processes into critical evaluation and reflection, and this faculty can also be modified and enhanced by culture. It most likely is part of a more recent set of evolved faculties that provided us with the adaptive advantages that allowed us to be the only complex animal of which the population spread to the four corners of the world. Critical thinking requires the specific allocation of mental energy, but, with effort, we are quite capable of acquiring this cognitive ability, especially when we are privileged by an education that nurtures and scaffolds it (3). War thrives on indoctrination, while peace thrives on critical thought. However, beware, our species ability for critical thinking can also be a factor in war when criminal dictators put it to use for plotting and conducting non-provoked warfare and violent oppression. It is not difficult to identify criminal dictators in our past and present who used critical thinking for their evil ways, nor is it hard to think of people who used this faculty for peace and to benefit our world.

Last, and by no means, least, note that the peace perspective presented here derives from the increasing scientific evidence across species and cultures of behavioral processes that preserve harmony in social relations, for example through the active pursuit, establishment, or deepening of mutual or reciprocal interests, tolerance, helping and sharing, the active avoidance of aggressive confrontations, and the restoration of valuable relationships in the aftermath of aggressive conflict. The peace perspective recognizes the empirical distinction between aggression and violence, where violence, such as war, is escalated aggression that is out of inhibitory control. In nature, as well as in human affairs, aggression and peace are not antithetical but, rather, linked in recurring relationships. Aggression, while as seemingly widespread as peaceful behavior, is commonly kept in check through natural behavioral mechanisms such as ritualization, dominance hierarchies, and avoidance, and the damage to relationships is often repaired post-aggression through processes of consolation and reconciliation (1). However, importantly, and with few exceptions, uninhibited aggression, such as the violence of war, is unique to the human species (1,2). Violence is our uniquely human problem. We need to deal with it courageously and definitively.

How can we bring this peace perspective to bear on the invasion of Ukraine? To start, it brings into the light that diplomacy and negotiation have utterly failed to prevent this war. People in the opposing camps need to hold their leaders accountable for this abject failure. In our own country, the United States, people in government from both major political parties need to stop tittering about partisan issues and beating the drums of war and get on with the pursuit of a negotiated settlement that stops the killing and holds off the prospect of unfathomable global catastrophe. Our leaders need to use whatever nonviolent means it takes to reach this immediate goal as there is no alternative. The majority of the people in Russia, Ukraine, the US, the UK, the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world do not want war. This sentiment against war comes natural to people. It is part of our evolutionary inheritance from which cultures unfold and thrive. Political and national leaders represent the people – they need to act on what the people want and need. If that means, for example, that the President of the United States should fly on Airforce One to Moscow to conduct the negotiations there, then so be it, get on with it. It would be an excellent use of taxpayer’s money.

Photo of protestors holding sign that says "Putin hands off Ukraine"
Source: Yahoo Images

All parties need to freeze sanctions to set the stage for negotiations for peace. The sanctions of the US and its European allies are being described as a form of punishment for Vladimir Putin for ordering his troops to invade Ukraine, but an extensive literature in behavioral science shows unequivocally that punishment does not change behavior while incentives do. The most likely consequence of the US sanctions will be that Russia reciprocates in kind. Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, already proposed today (February 26) that the sanctions offer the Kremlin a pretext to completely review its ties with the West, and he suggested that Russia could opt out of the New START nuclear arms control treaty that limits the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. If Russia opts out of the agreement now, it will remove any checks on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces and raise new threats to global security. Medvedev also raised the prospect of cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries, charging that “there is no particular need in maintaining diplomatic relations” and adding that “we may look at each other in binoculars and gunsights.” 

A peace perspective further emphasizes that the world needs to focus its attention and resources on threats that require us to unite as opposed to divide, including the global existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss that interact to challenge and exceed the planetary boundaries that make human life and much of the other forms of life that we share this planet with possible. These existential threats are not going away while we are preoccupied with war, but rather, they will be amplified by the ravages of war. We also need to finish what we started in fighting the spread of SARS-CoV2. With much of the world still unvaccinated it can be expected to be only a matter of time until new variants evolve with a potential to add significant more COVID-19 deaths to the current tally of close to 6 million deaths worldwide and close to 1 million in the US. We must urgently trade in our missiles for syringes.

We must care about peace now. We must pursue peace now. The reasons for it are clear. There are no alternatives and no excuses. Peace is attainable. Nature has equipped us with behavioral and cognitive means to pursue and sustain it. Our human cultures have nurtured and built on these natural means in a great variety of effective ways. We must respect and use these culturally varied means and advance peace – now.

I end, in all humility, as I started this essay, with a quote by a champion of peace whose eternal words we should all heed when we pursue peace, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. — Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” Strength to Love  

References:

(1) Verbeek, P., & Peters, B.A. (2018). Peace ethology. Behavioral processes and systems of peace. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Publishers.

(2) Verbeek, P. (2013). An ethological perspective on war and peace. In D.P. Fry (Ed.), War, peace, and human nature: The convergence of evolutionary and cultural views. New York: Oxford University Press.

(3) Cole, J.R. (2021). Academic freedom under fire. Science, 374 (6573), 1300.

Russia’s Attack on the Ukraine: Why You Should Care

After weeks and months of rising tension, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Russian troops moved over the border into Ukraine and the Russian air force started attacking cities and strategic locations like military installations and airports. These attacks have happened all across the country, not only in some of the contested provinces in eastern Ukraine. These areas have experienced violence and fighting since 2014 after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. World leaders have condemned Russian actions, with the U.S. and EU announcing additional sanctions on Russia and security-related, economic, and humanitarian support for Ukraine. NATO and the UN have held emergency sessions.

Map of Ukraine with Russian attacks on 2/24/22.
Source: New York Times, 02/24/2022.

 

While this conflict seems far away for us here in Alabama, these developments are impactful, significant, and not to be underestimated for multiple reasons.

Impact on Geopolitics and the International Order

Most importantly, this is the first time since World War II that we are seeing what will likely shape up to be a full-blown international war in Europe. The Russian aggression against Ukraine puts the international order generated at the end of World War II at risk and shakes the very foundations of international relations. The invasion violates international law and denies principles and tenets established by the United Nations Charter, namely the concept of collective security, the maintenance of international peace through multilateralism and institutions, and the outlawing of the use of force in international relations. The war also threatens to destabilize Europe and undermines the order established after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. This has the potential for severe and long-term consequences for Eastern European countries that were formerly under Soviet influence.

From a geopolitical point of view, the invasion highlights Russia’s expansionary tendencies and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to assert his power and restore regional dominance. Reinstating direct or indirect Russian control over Ukraine – a country that was formerly a part of the Soviet Union and before of the Russian Empire – has long been on Putin’s agenda. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the following eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union to include countries that were formerly within the Soviet sphere of influence (e.g., Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Baltic States, and the Czech Republic) have humiliated Russia’s ambitions to be perceived as a major world power and undermined its influence in Eastern Europe. NATO announced in 2008 that it would consider membership of former Soviet Union states Ukraine and Georgia, which Putin considered a direct threat to Russia’s influence. When Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was overthrown in 2014 and a pro-European government was installed, Putin invaded and annexed Crimea and started to support pro-Russian separatist forces in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. Tensions have grown since then, culminating in the Kremlin calling the Ukraine “not a state”, designating it an artificial country, and Putin’s speech justifying the invasion by accusing the Ukrainian government of a genocide against the country’s Russian-speaking population. He has also issued warnings to NATO and the U.S. that interfering would lead to “consequences you have never seen”.

Soldiers in Ukraine
Source: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

This has implications not just for the Ukraine, but also for other former provinces of the Soviet Union like Georgia and Kasakhstan. Further, it might set a precedent for other countries like China, which has long contested the independence of Taiwan and the validity of Taiwan’s statehood, or Serbia, which has disputed Kosovo’s recognition as a state. If the international community and Western power show a weak response, China might feel emboldened to take military action to annex Taiwan.

The Human Rights Perspective

From a human rights point of view, there are two particular points of concern I want to highlight. First, there is the potential of grave human cost. In the first hours of the invasion, 40 Ukrainian soldiers have already been killed and dozens more wounded. While Russia’s defense ministry promised not to attack cities or put civilians at risk, we all know that this is not how war works out or how Russia has fought its past wars (think Chechnya and Syria). Human rights violations, especially against women, children, and other vulnerable groups, tend to be widespread in armed conflict. A number of agencies have already called for a ceasefire to protect people in the Ukraine and to allow for humanitarian action, but so far we have yet to see any progress on this.

Second, there is the larger issue of authoritarian regimes expanding to the detriment of democracy and human rights. The “democratic recession” or the decline of democratic institutions and individual rights even in countries that were traditionally stable liberal democracies with high levels of freedom (including our own…) has been demonstrated by political scientists over the years (the term was coined by Larry Diamond, but see also here and here for other approaches). While scholars are debating the impact of democratic decline, Freedom House scores have consistently declined since 2005, showing democracy and human rights in crisis.

Meeting of the UN Security Council.
Meeting of the Security Council. Source: Nagpur Today.

It seems that the foundations of international peace, democracy, and human rights are at risk. Russia’s open aggression shows that these foundations are crumbling or at least are perceived to be crumbling. Putin is not alone in his interpretation  – other authoritarian leaders in China, Venezuela, and Iran, and even some heads of state of democratic countries like Poland and Hungary, have openly defeated traditional avenues of political interaction, trade, treaty making, and diplomacy in favor of hard power and force.

Where does this leave us? At this point, it is unclear how the war between Russia and the Ukraine will unfold, how long it will last, and what the exact human and economic costs will be. We also don’t know yet how the world will respond beyond strong condemnation and imposing sanctions. What we do know is that there is great volatility and potentially long-lasting consequences from this fall out. This is a dangerous situation that we need to observe carefully. It has major implications for geopolitics and will affect us here at home.

What can you do to support the people in the Ukraine?

Afghanistan: Looking Back to See the Future

Written by Courtney Andrews and Faiza Mawani

Photo of armored car driving through mountains of Afghanistan
Mountains of Afghanistan. Source: Creative Commons

Twenty years after the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent war on terrorism, the United States military has ended its operations in Afghanistan. The country, ravaged by war and too fragile to stand on its own, was immediately overtaken by the very forces the U.S. sought to defeat. After two decades, three administrations, and 170,000 American lives lost, the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan in much the same shape as it was found.

What is to become of Afghanistan and what toll will the inevitable economic and humanitarian crisis take on its people, many of whom do not know where their next meal will come from? What will happen to a generation of women and girls whose education and employment are now at stake and whose rights are tenuous under the new/old regime? What will happen to the millions of children under five that are expected to become acutely malnourished in the next year? What will happen to those that managed to escape – will they find safe refuge in neighboring countries, or will they suffer the plight of many refugees and displaced peoples around the world? All remains to be seen, but at this point, the outlook is dire. Here we provide a brief history of Afghanistan over the past century and consider what lies ahead for the struggling nation.

Afghanistan: A Retrospective

Afghanistan is located centrally in southeast Asia and shares a border with Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. It is home to at least 14 distinct ethnolinguistic groups, and the mountainous terrain has kept these clans separate and made it difficult for a central government to take hold. The strategic location of the country, however, has made it very enticing to those seeking to procure a hold on southeast Asia. After a period of relative stability after its independence from colonial rule in 1921, the country has been plagued by invasion and power struggles since the 1970s.

In 1953, the pro-Soviet General Mohammad Daoud Khan became prime minister of Afghanistan, and in 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to help Khan establish economic and military ties. At this time, women were granted a more public presence and were allowed to attend university and join the workforce. In 1973, Khan abolished the monarchy and replaced it with The Republic of Afghanistan, naming himself president and keeping close ties with the USSR. While creating his new government, Khan proposed a new constitution in which women were granted more rights, and the country set out on a path to modernization. This did not sit well with local clan members who believed in a strict interpretation of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. Tensions rose under the surface until they eventually boiled over.

In 1978, an armed revolt broke out in the countryside, led by conservative Islamist and ethnic leaders who were protesting social changes Khan was trying to implement. This group became known as the mujahideen, or “holy warriors.” Backed by the United States, the mujahideen killed Khan, and a full-scale war broke out from 1979 to 1989: communists versus mujahideen. This being the height of the Cold War, the US continued to provide weapons and tactics to the rebels in order to defeat the Soviets.

Around 1988, Saudi Islamist Osama bin Laden founded the group al-Qaida (“the base”). Though the US had backed the mujahideen in defeating the Soviets, bin Laden argued that the US stood as the primary obstacle to the establishment of a truly Islamist state. By 1995, a newly formed Islamist militia, the Taliban, rose to power, promising peace to the war-torn people of Afghanistan. Calling themselves “students of Islamic knowledge,” the Taliban imposed strict sharia law, stripping women and girls of their basic human rights and instituting public floggings and amputations of those who broke the law.

Photo of soldier crouched down pointing gun
Afghanistan. Source: Yahoo Images

The War

September 11, 2001: Al-Qaeda operatives hijack four commercial airliners and crash them into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Close to 3,000 people die in the attacks, thousands more are injured, first responders are exposed to toxic fumes that will later be listed as the cause of cancer, and a nation that has never before been attacked on its own soil mourns an incomprehensible loss.

Most of the 9.11 hijackers originated from Saudi Arabia, none from Afghanistan, though the mastermind behind the attack, Osama bin Laden, was operating out of the country. The ruling authority in Afghanistan, the Taliban, was accused of harboring terrorists. In the coming weeks, George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism” provided the U.S. blanket authority to invade any country accused of sympathizing with or aiding Muslim extremists. On October 7, 2001, the U.S. military began a bombing campaign against Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Ground combat troops arrive two weeks later. Thus began what would become the longest war in U.S. history.

Both the Obama and the Trump administrations tried to leave Afghanistan, but the situation remained too precarious to do so safely. President Biden, convinced that there was never going to be a safe time to leave, was determined to put an end to the loss of American lives, especially in a situation of no measurable progress. “It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he declared. The remaining 3,500 troops in Afghanistan have been withdrawn despite the failure of intra-Afghan peace talks and the increase in Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces and citizens. The Taliban wasted no time storming the capital of Kabul, forcing president Ghani into exile, and reasserting its authority.

Biden says Washington will continue to assist Afghan security forces and support the peace process, but what does that mean? As the U.S. officially ends its military operations in Afghanistan with precious little to show for it, much is at stake for those who remain in the country, most notably women and children.

A Human Rights and Humanitarian Crisis

One of the central tenets of the Taliban’s ideology has been the opposition to girls’ and women’s education. It is predicted that around 1 million children will miss out on education due to increased attacks on schools and villages dramatically increasing in the past month since the Taliban has resumed control over Afghanistan. Rather than educate them, the Taliban have a history of enslaving women, increasing the risk of domestic violence, abuse, and exploitation, including forced child marriage. Many humanitarian agencies are concerned about an increase in violence against women during this time of crisis. In an apparent attempt to rebrand themselves as more moderate, the Taliban have made some statements alluding to protections for women, though some see this as an empty promise. The days of denying women the right to education and subjecting them to public floggings and mass executions seem part of a not-so-distant past.

The ensuing humanitarian crises is expected to affect nearly half of children in the country. Food stocks will soon run out, and a third of the country will not have access to basic goods and services. Afghanistan does not have sufficient funding in its international humanitarian response plan; as of August 2021, it is only 38 percent funded. This translates to approximately 1.2 million children losing protective services, leaving them vulnerable to violence, sexual exploitation, and forced early marriages, and about 1.4 million women left without a place of comprehensive support.

Displacement and a Refugee Crisis

Although President Biden did agree to allow Afghani people who worked with the US coalition to come to America with US troops, there were several tens of thousands that could not board the planes. Images of the Kabul airport being jam-packed with families awaiting airlift, along with videos of people handing their babies to American soldiersand absolute strangers for the sake of safety and refuge did circulate our social media pages the past few weeks. The outpouring of compassion did overwhelm the global community, but now that airlifts have ceased, about 39 million Afghans remain trapped in the humanitarian crisis that is yet to emerge in the country. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 3.5 million people have already been displaced due to violence in Afghanistan. These people are fearful of returning to their homes, but they also lack the finances to survive.

Consequently, the people of Afghanistan will seek refuge in neighboring countries, where many of their fellow citizens already live. For four decades, Pakistan and Iran have hosted millions of Afghan refugees. But these countries are also not capable of doing this for too long due to their own lack of international humanitarian aid. The UNHCR has called on countries to leave their borders open and permit refugee status to the people of Afghanistan in order to evade any more human rights violations and to prevent a greater humanitarian crisis from emerging.

 What Next?

In an article about the challenges that the Taliban now faces, Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times writes: “Will the Taliban engage the world with a more inclusive approach? Or will they return to the ways of the past?” So far, the Taliban have been cracking down on protests, rounding up known opponents, and violently suppressing the news media. Unfortunately, from a human rights perspective, it appears that the worst is yet to come.

 

An Overview of the Insurgency in Cabo Delgado

The country of Mozambique, a nation of 29.5 million in sub-Saharan Africa, is currently facing increasingly alarming violence at the hands of Islamist extremists. The violence has affected countless lives and is coming to the attention of international peace-keeping bodies, with the Human Rights Chief declaring a “desperate” situation in Mozambique as calls for intervention by Mozambique’s government grow by the day.

Cabo Delgado is located in Northeastern Mozambique, shown here. SOURCE : Wikimedia Commons

Background

Beginning in 2017, Islamic groups intent on establishing an Islamic State in Southern Africa have terrorized the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique. The population of Mozambique is extremely young, with about 45% of citizens being under fifteen years of age, and a median age of just seventeen. As Islamic groups began to move into the region, many exploited the high rate of poverty to recruit young people to their cause. These militant groups have brought destruction to Mozambique, killing an estimated 2,000 people in three short years and causing a refugee crisis as over 430,000 have been forced to flee their homes and begin their life again, only adding to massive rates of poverty present in the region currently.

Increasing Horror

The violence of the current insurgency in Cabo Delgado has reached new heights of horror in 2020. In April, it was reported that over 50 young people were murdered by insurgent groups for refusing to join their cause. Beginning on October 31, insurgents beheaded dozens in a series of attacks on the Muidumbe District. Survivors who returned reported dead bodies and buildings that burned for several days, completely uprooting the lives of many who called the Muidumbe District home. While the increasingly more violent attacks have drawn attention from international bodies, including the president of Zimbabwe, the situation continues unfold as more lives are stolen.

The violence even has grown to the neighboring country of Tanzania, where 175 houses were burned down in an attack on the border village of Ktaya. The violence in Tanzania can be traced back to earlier in October, when more than 20 were beheaded in another attack on Ktaya. The expansion of attacks into Tanzania led to a more coordinated effort by Tanzania to become involved in containing the insurgency.

Despite mobilization efforts by Mozambique’s government, backed by a coalition consisting of South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Russia, the ISIS-backed insurgency groups continue to lay siege to Cabo Delgado, with many fearing an all-out civil war breaking out in the region.

The current insurgency in Cabo Delgado has caused hundreds of thousands to seek refugee status, with many travelling by boat. SOURCE : Wikimedia Commons

Potential Motives

While the insurgents in Mozambique claim their ultimate goal is establishing an Islamic State in Southern Africa, it should be noted that region is also home to $60 billion in natural gas developments. Many of the recruits of these terrorist groups are also promised a better life, a message that preys on the impoverished youth of the nation and the region.

Theocratic states are also inherently incompatible with the promises of the modern human rights movement. Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear in its promise of freedom of religion:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The methods of these insurgent groups use to establish power are also extremely problematic, leading directly to loss of life, destruction of property, loss of cultural identity, and violent intimidation that denies the people of Cabo Delgado their basic human rights on a daily basis.

The attacks have also led to the abandonment of many promising economic opportunities that Mozambique’s central government hoped would lead to poverty reduction in Cabo Delgado, which has lagged behind the rest of Mozambique in terms of economic development and poverty reduction. Norwegian fertilizer company Yara pulled out of a contract with the Mozambiquan government to make fertilizer from Cabo Delgado natural gas, mainly out of fear that the insurgency would lead to an inability for Mozambique to provide the gas at a stable cost. The region’s poverty rate has not been improved by the insurgent groups despite their promise to thousands of youths who joined a cause for increased economic mobility. Instead, the insurgency in Cabo Delgado has only led to senseless violence, destruction, and worsened Mozambique’s position to grow into a healthy economy in the 21st century.

A Promising Future?

The calls for international intervention in Mozambique have begun to grow as the violence increases daily. As well as the President of Zimbabwe and the United Nations Human Rights Chief, both the British Foreign Secretary and French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a heightened level of concern for the situation after news of the October 31 beheadings began to spread worldwide.

During an October visit to Cabo Delgado by Filipe Nyusi, current president of Mozambique, a man in the audience put in quite plainly in his urge to the president, saying “We want the war to stop.”

There have been signs that perhaps the insurgent groups are beginning to lose the war of attrition occurring in Cabo Delgado. On November 19, The Muidumbe District, which had been occupied by the insurgent groups, was retaken by over 1,000 Mozambiquan troops, killing 16 militants in the process.

Positive developments in Cabo Delgado can continue to occur if Mozambique’s central government is provided the adequate support and resources from international peacekeeping organizations like the United Nations. A statement by the Organization for World Peace critiqued the practice of simply condemning violence and called for more direct international support, saying:

“Though the UN’s condemnations of violence and appeals for humanitarian and investigative action are significant, the organization must carry out this action itself while motivating states and international courts to follow suit. The UN must also provide necessary assistance to Mozambican security forces while ensuring that this assistance is not abused to propagate more violence. This collective action will harness all the investigative legitimacy and humanitarian resources of the international community to uproot the militants and secure long-lasting peace.”

The citizens of Cabo Delgado deserve peace after years of violence. The region has enormous untapped potential for economic and cultural growth that has been stifled by the ongoing insurgency. No human being should have their life or home stolen by violence.

Assisting the Non-Assisted

On Monday, October 1, the Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored an event with local education, faith-based and law organizations, titled Addressing the Global Refugee Crisis – Part 1: Focus on Europe. Following, Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Director of UAB Institute for Human Rights, and April Jackson-MacLennan, J.D., from the Law Office of John Charles Bell, L.L.C., covered the legal challenges of this phenomenon from an international and national perspective, respectively.

Dr. Reuter Presenting Refugee Statistics. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

The event began with a viewing of the documentary Non Assistance, sponsored by the Consulate General of Switzerland in Atlanta, which illustrates how sociopolitical crises in the Middle East and North Africa have galvanized thousands of people to flee their home countries, permeating the Mediterranean Sea with frail boats past occupancy, holding limited supplies. Just like its title, the film focused on the lack of assistance refugee boats receive during their treacherous journey, highlighting the tragedy on March 27, 2011 that lead to 63 Tripolitanian refugee fatalities.

Despite endearment from many Europeans citizens, like the vigilantes that aim to rescue whoever they can with their personal boats, many ships in the Mediterranean to do not strive to assist the refugees. However, in 2015 alone, Doctors Without Borders rescued over 23,000 people in the Mediterranean with a just three boats, demonstrating how non-governmental parties can be instrumental in addressing this crisis. One theory for this disparity is, since the first country of contact is responsible for reporting asylum, governments do not want to carry the burden of assisting refugees. Such an outcome begs us to ask: What steps are the European Union (EU) taking to address this issue? How would you feel being lost and abandoned at sea with just the shirt on your back? Where is the humanity?

After the film, Dr. Reuter and Mrs. Jackson-MacLennan fielded questions from the aghast, yet spirited, audience. People wanted to know what can be done; answers centered on policy change and contacting elected officials. Others asked why rescue ships are being held at the ports, leading to discussion about the legal entanglements that now restrict these boats from aiding refugees. Despite there being less rescue boats navigating the Mediterranean and a drop in migration via this route, often attributed to slowing of violence in the Syrian Civil War, there is still a need to assist refugees.

Mrs. Jackson-MacLennan Engaging with a Student. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

On November 12, the sequel to this three-part series, titled Addressing the Global Refugee Crisis – Part II: Focus on the United States will be held at Birmingham-Southern College and followed by the third event in early 2019, at Samford University, where action planning around this global issue will take place. Please join us for the following events whereas every voice and helping hand counts.

Bacha Posh: The Resilient Girls of Afghanistan

Three curly haired Afghan kids look up to the camera
Afghanistan Kids. Source: Army Amber, Creative Commons

Afghanistan has been embroiled in numerous civil wars and regime changes as global powers like Britain, Russia, and the United States have attempted to each bring their own version of peace and governance to the country for the past 150 years. The international community’s involvement has made little progress in quelling the violence during this time span, despite attempts at installing kings, providing assistance, backing rebels, and imposing sanctions. In some ways, the international community has instead reaped the consequence of empowering extremist groups like the Taliban, who have used the money and weapons funneled to the country for the original purpose of fighting the Soviets to stage a takeover of their own once the Soviets withdrew. With this climate as a backdrop, many of the stories from the region told in the West are often focused on soldiers and battles taking place in Afghanistan’s arid desert, with men from the Afghan government, extremist groups, and foreign armies fighting vigilantly for their homeland, whichever land that may be. When the focus shifts, Afghan women take center stage as the West’s fascination with their sheet-like garment–the burka–brings out calls for liberation of the oppressed group; however, on rare occasions, a story of the resilience and resistance of Afghan women pierces through our media landscape and introduces us to a new facet of the human experience.

Inspired by her visit to Pakistani refugee camps and encounters with many Afghan women in 1996, Deborah Ellis wrote a book about an Afghan girl who dons the persona of a boy to provide for her family. An adaption of Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner was released in select theaters in November. Based on the book published in 2000, the narrative follows an 11-year-old girl named Parvana who lives with her family in Kabul, Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. After her father’s imprisonment because of Taliban’s disdain for his western education, her mother and school teacher disguise her as a boy so she can work and become the sole breadwinner in the family, bringing in an income for the household of six. Audiences worldwide are now able to watch Parvana’s journey on the silver screen, but with the revelation that a portion of girls do dress as boys in Afghanistan, many questions arise. What happens if they are caught? How is cross dressing allowed by the families? Do the girls transition to being boys forever? If this is a more common occurrence than previously thought, why doesn’t the international community recognize this subversion being undertaken?

Jenny Nordberg steps in to dive deeper into the subject. Author of the 2014 book The Underground Girls of Kabul: in Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, she spent months tracking down and interviewing families across the country who had a bacha posh, or a girl “dressed up as a boy” in the Dari language. Through her research, she creates the “only original non-fiction work on the practice of bacha posh”, bringing to light the ways in which women in a hostile environment have innovated and found ways to survive under incredible circumstances. Both the fictional tale in The Breadwinner and the real-life stories of bacha posh in The Underground Girls of Kabul bear striking similarities in themes, but combined they also highlight how the experience of each girl is unique to her own personal circumstances.

War

One constant held across both accounts is the presence of war and the Taliban. For the bacha posh, physical and environmental factors force their adaptation. In both the story and in the in-person interviews, Afghan parents reminisce about the brief period of peace in their youth when they freely roamed the streets in their garment of choice without fear during the Soviet rule. It was only when the Taliban took control that the practice of girls dressing as boys became necessary, as the schooling of girls became illegal and all women who had reached puberty were ordered to wear a burka, be accompanied by a male escort, and stay inside. If a woman is caught outside without an escort and a burka, she risks assault and death. This threat drove the decision of Parvana’s family in The Breadwinner, for without the father figure her family was left without a male, and this lead to her mother and siblings being trapped in the house with no way to earn money or buy food at the market. By making Parvana a boy, even at 11, she was able to escort her family members and secure a job reading and writing letters for illiterate men that passed her by on the street.

 

A line of Taliban soldiers stand beside a table handing in their weapons
Former Taliban fighters return arms. Source: Resolute Support Media, Creative Commons

Society

Yet if girls were unable to navigate the street on their own, doesn’t dressing a girl as a boy increase the risk to her safety if she is found out? Many experts Nordberg consulted when she first began her project dismissed the possibility of the bacha posh’s existence as it seemed to run contrary to the Western view of conservative Islamic societies. In a community in which the roles of males and females are so well defined, it is hard to believe that someone crossing from one role to another would not be in the greatest of violations. Shukria Siddiqui, a bacha posh until she was 20, interviewed 15 years later, clarifies this contradiction by giving an example from when she was challenged by three Mujahideen soldiers at her home when she was 17. The soldiers called out for the rumored girl who dressed like a boy, and when she went to her door to answer one of the men stated “Okay, you look like a boy, and you are completely like a boy, so we will call you a boy.”

The soldier’s statement is the stance that most Afghans, male and female, religious and nonreligious, take when confronted with a bacha posh. In The Breadwinner, Parvana lived in constant fear of being found out by those around her, but Nordberg observes that as long as the status quo of the roles remain, meaning boys complete tasks outside the home and women complete the tasks inside the home, there is nothing provoking about a bacha posh’s actions. In their eyes, the child is still conforming to societal norms, unlike if they were to stay a girl and complete traditionally male tasks. As long as the child switches back at an appropriate age to be married, around their late teens, in order to continue fulfilling their role, all is well. This sentiment is also echoed by the majority of families interviewed who raised a bacha posh. They transform their daughter to become a boy anywhere between birth and 10 years old, but as the bacha posh begins to show signs of puberty, they switch them back to assume their female identity with little problem. Only in two rare types of cases did Nordberg find that the transition back caused lasting difficulties for the girl and her family: when the girl exhibits signs of gender dysphoria, and when the transition back to being a girl occurs later in life.

Psychology

Defined by the American Psychiatric Association,

“Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.”

The common term associated with someone who experiences gender dysphoria and identifies with another gender is transgender, however,

“Gender dysphoria is not the same as gender nonconformity, which refers to behaviors not matching the gender norms or stereotypes of the gender assigned at birth. Examples of gender nonconformity (also referred to as gender expansiveness or gender creativity) include girls behaving and dressing in ways more socially expected of boys or occasional cross-dressing in adult men.”

The majority of girls Nordberg spoke with fell into the category of being gender nonconforming; comfortable with being a girl even if they took on traditionally male roles. Yet Zahra, a 17-year-old bacha posh, felt the opposite. Transformed into a bacha posh at birth, she fully embraced the idea of being a boy, reveling in her male friendships and shunning interactions with girls as it was not considered manly to interact with the other sex. After working for several years, Zahra’s mother suggested that she transition back, but this caused Zahra great psychological distress. Zahra refused to change back, and feeling appalled by her now changing body she confessed to Nordberg that should she get the chance she would undergo an operation to permanently transition herself into a boy. This was outside of the norm even for a bacha posh, but it does fit into what would be diagnosed in the West as gender dysphoria. While Nordberg was unable to draw a conclusion as to whether the original bacha posh transition influenced Zahra or if the two happened in tandem, it was an important case to demonstrate that while the majority of bacha posh are not gender dysphoric, there may be gender dysphoric bacha posh.

The other case when the transition out of being a bacha posh is rendered more difficult is when the girl transitions back later in life. In Shukria’s case, she was transitioned back at 20 just before her wedding, set up by her family. She accepted this arrangement and went through with it, but she quickly found that she lacked many of the skills that women her same age were already competent in; cooking, cleaning, and recognizing non-verbal cues from other women were all difficult to pick up. It was as if her brain had settled into the male pattern of behavior and found it difficult to let go. Her steps were too long, her voice was too loud, and she found it hard to relate to idle gossip and conversations around childrearing. Yet, it is important to emphasis that all the problems she encountered stem from social, not biological, norms. When Nordberg asked Shukria if she could teach her, the Swedish born New York based reporter, how to become a man, Shukria look her over and said she was already a man due to her Western mannerisms. To Shukria, the basis of being male or female in Afghanistan was not in biology, and as Shaheed, another woman interviewed who remains a bacha posh at 30, describes, the difference is in freedom, and that “between gender and freedom, freedom is the bigger and more important idea.” 

Malala sits and speaks with David Cameron at a conference about Syria
David Cameron meets with Malala Yousafzai at the Syria Conference. Source: UK Department for International Development, Creative Commons

Heroines

The women in The Underground Girls of Kabul and The Breadwinner all demonstrate this spirit of defiance and freedom, and historically they are no exception. Much like the stories of Joan of Arc and Mulan, Afghanistan also holds a woman folk hero in high regard. During a fight against British troops in 1880 when the Afghan army was close to defeat, a woman rushed out, rallied the troops, and used her veil as flag to lead them to victory. While killed in battle, the memory of the warrior Malalai lives on to inspire both Afghan girls and boys to be strong in the face of adversity. Both Parvana and the bacha posh Nordberg spoke with bring to mind Malalai to give them strength when their own resolve begins to waiver, and even the Afghan Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is named after Malalai. In 2009 at the age of 12, Malala began blogging for the BBC about her life under Taliban leadership as she was forced out of school. She continued writing for three years until, after rising to prominence for her activism for girls’ education, she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban in an attempt to silence her. Malala survived, and after her miraculous recovery and continued activism she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, making her the youngest person to ever become a Nobel Laureate. Even if their life is dominated by religious leaders, threatened by the Taliban, and restrained due to cultural norms, these women cling to the stories of their collective past in the hopes that one day, they too may be recognized as courageous and valuable in the eyes of their society.

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.