Human rights may not seem like a first world problem. There are, however, many issues close to home, we just may have never given them a thought. In Food for Thought, we will give you a hand, adressing various topics that could use some critical thinking. Let us know what you've cooked up using the contact box at the end of this page!
Dealing with the consequences of a twenty-year war
By Alice Baker on the 10th of May, 2018
Across much of the world, it is probably not too far-fetched to guess that most people would have at least heard of “Kony.” In most part due to a campaign by Invisible Children, the name “Kony” became synonymous with the image of abduction, rape, child soldiers being forced to kill and general mass chaos.
Whilst discussing the conflict with some of my colleagues over lunch one day, one said to me: “when elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Never has a phrase seemed so relevant. The LRA conflict brought decades of violence, not only in northern Uganda but across the DRC and South Sudan. The conflict found root in a rebellion starting in 1986 led by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), of which Kony was the leader, against the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni. As fighting intensified between the LRA and the National Resistance Army (NRA, later to become the UPDF), civilians became caught up in the cross-fire. As was portrayed in the Invisible Children campaign, rape, abduction, forced marriage, mutilation, and violent deaths were an unforgettable reality of this conflict. Unbelievable numbers of civilians were abducted, killed and ambushed in their villages or towns.
However, the story should not be seen too much from one side. It is estimated that the war caused the displacement of over 1.8 million people, many of whom were forced into displacement camps or ‘protected villages’, established as part of government’s controversial counterinsurgency strategy. Many recall a time of intense fear, whether in or out of the camps. The displacement camps became not only areas lacking in water, relief aid, sanitation and food; but also unsafe territory, in which civilians became prey to sexual violence and other attacks. Women and men within these camps lived in fear of being raped by the UDPF and its auxiliary forces, or by the LRA and marauding deserters. The human rights violations in this conflict were extensive and varied, severely impacting women and men, boys and girls.
The severe violence met a steep decline when the 2006 Juba Peace talks aided in temporarily halting, and majorly decreasing in the long-term, the violence in the LRA-affected areas in the north. Additionally, from 2006 to 2009, internally displaced person (IDP) camps in Northern Uganda began closing, and many people started to return to their homes to start rebuilding their lives. As life for those in Northern Uganda became more stable, civil society actors could more steadily build upon previous efforts to address human rights violations, including cases of sexual violence. However, more than 10 years on and it is clear, and completely understandable, that the experiences and memories of war still holds a tight grip on the lives of many. After a conflict of such complexity, in which boundaries between good and bad, enemy and hero were blurred, and such a scale of human rights violations were committed, one may ask: how does a society begin to deal with such experiences of war?
This is my story from on the ground, as an outsider observing the incredible efforts to ensure peace and help try to bring some sort of redress for the violations suffered by many. I have now been in Uganda for over 2 months and have been working with an organisation called Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP). They strive tirelessly to empower conflict-affected communities to participate in processes of justice, healing and reconciliation. Many of the current projects focus on achieving redress for victims of human rights violations. In 2011, JRP helped to establish the Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN), a forum where more than 900 war-affected women and men come together to advocate for justice, acknowledgement and accountability for sexual and gender-based violations inflicted upon them during conflicts in northern Uganda. The main participating group within WAN is that of female victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), most of whom were abducted by the LRA and forced to become wives to commanders. For many of these survivors, a large sector of their childhood was spent in captivity. It is estimated that over 96,000 people, youth and children were abducted in Uganda during the twenty-year period. It would be simply wrong for me to try and summarise or simplify the experiences of thousands to fit into this short blog. Therefore, I encourage those reading this to explore the documented experiences of those survivors of the LRA conflict - there are some things that really should be heard through the words of the one who lived through it.
Evelyn Amony, a colleague and friend, works at JRP on research and transitional justice projects, and is the chairperson of WAN. Evelyn’s story reflects a similar one to thousands of former abductees; a story probably unimaginable to many. Evelyn was abducted at age 11 from her village in Acholi region. She went on to spend more than ten years in the LRA, where she was trained both as a fighter and a military escort to its leader, Joseph Kony. A few years after her abduction, Evelyn became a wife, one of an estimated 50 wives, to Kony and later the mother to three of his children. After her capture in 2005, Evelyn played a key role in the Juba peace negotiations between 2006 and 2008.
Evelyn has travelled around the world advocating for the rights of former child soldiers and informing audiences worldwide of the experiences shared by many in times of conflict. Her reflections on her experiences have helped to both humanise and challenge expectations of what it means to hold an identity as a “rebel,” a “soldier,” a “terrorist,” a “child,” a “wife,” or a “mother.” The Acholi language uses metaphors extensively, and in describing the conflict, Evelyn explained to me: “everything was affected by the conflict; the grass, trees and human beings. The only problem is that when a tree or plant is chopped down it can grow again, but when a person dies, there is no way to bring them back.” She added: “the injuries and trauma from war can stay with you for the rest of your life. Some things you see in war you simply can never forget, and it can torture you psychologically.”
She emphasised the absence of a communal understanding of human rights during the conflict. On the side of the government, even though thousands had been mistreated by soldiers during war, there was no form of justice sought during those twenty years. Those human rights activists who sought to stand for a victim of violations perpetrated by government forces feared consequences on many levels. The International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation, opened in 2004, brought worldwide attention to the atrocities committed throughout the conflict, with arrest warrants issued in 2005 for the head commanders of the LRA: Joseph Kony, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, and Vincent Otti. The investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity focused solely on crimes committed by the LRA, a side legally devoid of political legitimacy. International criminalisation of these acts has of course brought a sense of justice for many. However, it allows one to question what impact this has had on a region that observed atrocities committed by both sides. Dominant international portrayals can arguably be described as reductive discourse that has allowed for a downplay, or even complete ignorance of government violence. Much of northern Uganda still awaits justice, as many of the leaders responsible for the wartime atrocities have yet to be held accountable. The government body, Justice, Law and Order sector, established a policymaking wing in 2008 to write a post-conflict national law on transitional justice for Uganda. However, despite several drafts being presented to the government, legislation has yet to pass. How much longer will northern Uganda have to wait for public and official justice to be granted?
Reflecting on the attitude surrounding human rights since the end of the conflict in northern Uganda, Evelyn explained: “the work of organisations across the region has helped sensitise people to the concept of human rights and understand their own rights. However, following the official channels in Uganda to seek the right justice and fairness is very hard, sometimes justice is sabotaged by those very officials put in place to protect people’s right to justice.” She elaborated by saying that those living within urban centres were more aware of their rights as a person and a citizen. Whilst on the other hand, those living in villages were still very much unaware of the concept, their entitlements and how to deal with violations of these rights.
In her work with WAN, Evelyn aimed to provide a platform for survivors of mass violations to share the challenges and experiences they have faced both during and post-conflict. Evelyn added: “I want to advocate for their rights, so that the whole world knows what they have been through and continue to go through. I want the world to know that they are survivors but that the challenges of war don’t just stop when the guns fall silent.”
When I asked Evelyn about how she envisages the future of human rights in Uganda, she said that the way of dealing with human rights here had changed and this was promising. She explained: “before, activists would represent a victim and then just report back to wherever they had come from, but now there is really a platform for victims to be actively involved in advocating for, protecting and discussing their rights.” As Evelyn emphasised, providing active platforms on the ground is arguably a much more sustainable solution in a post-conflict setting. The work of many organisations, both locally set up and internationally based, has played an important role in not only informing communities of the opportunities and possibilities open to them, but also creating a space for healing, reconciliation and dealing with the past.
Now over 10 years after the conflict ended, can it be said that northern Uganda has recovered from the conflict itself and the gross violations that occurred throughout? Well, as Evelyn emphasised, the extended duration of the conflict means that it will take considerable time for a society to recover. She outlined: “people lost property, valuables and even their lives – you can’t just rebuild that overnight. Many of those who had studied before the conflict were killed. Therefore, to nurture a generation that have a vision for northern Uganda will take a while.” This conflict destroyed people’s property, sources of livelihood and sense of security. The people of northern Uganda collectively took the brunt of the conflict. However, from my experience here, many communities strive to face the challenges and struggles of this conflict together and will continue to push forward.
This short blog gives only limited insight into the conflict and the post-conflict recovery of northern Uganda. Despite the lack of news coverage or the absence of violent conflict, the lives of individuals and a society as a whole continues to be shaped by the memories of what happened. When human rights are violated, whether in a conflict setting or not, people’s lives are irreversibly altered. Therefore, as activists we should seek to keep one another informed and continue to strive to inform, advocate and protect the rights of those across the world.
*Thanks to Evelyn Amony for opening up about her experiences and work in Uganda. For more information about Evelyn’s experiences, her book documents in detail her life both during and after the conflict in northern Uganda:
THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT 20 YEARS ON: HUMAN RIGHTS AND NORTHERN IRELAND.
By Béibhin Gallagher, on the 17th of April 2018
It is difficult to separate human rights from both the Northern Irish conflict that spanned 30 years from 1968 - 1998, and the peace process that was officially put in place by the signing of the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement on the 10 April 1998. The conflict was both at the time, and has been in historiography, framed in human rights language; and therefore new human rights protections were an essential part of securing a peace deal in the negotiations of Easter 1998. As the 20th anniversary of the agreement took place last week, it is worth questioning how much peace the agreement has provided, alongside the future of human rights in a region thrust into new political turmoil as a result of the ongoing Brexit negotiations. We can, and should, question the extent this turmoil could potentially provide a real threat to human rights in Northern Ireland.
As stated above, it is pertinent to examine the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement in the context of human rights, as it was on human rights grounds that the conflict in Northern Ireland first emerged in 1968.
The Northern Irish Civil Rights’ Association (NICRA) was established in response to widespread discrimination against the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. The group pushed for equal housing rights, equal voting rights and equal employment rights; inspired and modelled after the US Civil Rights Movement of the same time. However, the unionist government and societal majority believed NICRA to be a front for violent republicanism, who sought to bring about the dissolution of the Northern Irish state and unite with Ireland. Police and military overreaction, combined with the radicalisation of republican sentiment in response, created the circumstances for an initially peaceful civil rights movement to descend into violence.
As the conflict dragged on over the next three decades, human rights abuses continued on both sides with paramilitary attacks on civilians commonplace. Indeed, in addition to this, the Irish government went to the European Court of Human Rights in 1978 with allegations that the United Kingdom was committing torture against republican prisoners. This was struck down, both in 1978 and on reexamination this year, on the basis that ‘cruel and unusual treatment’ did not necessarily constitute torture, but this verdict has been challenged by Amnesty International. Three years later, 1981 saw 10 republican prisoners die in prison on hunger strike; their demands to be treated as political prisoners were framed by republicans and the IRA in human rights language, though this narrative was, and continues to be, contested by both the British government and the unionist community in Northern Ireland. With the 1990s, and the first stutterings of the emerging peace process, came the first allegations of UK government collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, as well as with the IRA while acting as undercover agents. In 2015, almost 25 years later, Amnesty International dubbed the discovery of new evidence ‘truly disturbing,’and called for an overarching mechanism for dealing with all alleged human rights abuses during the Troubles. The ability to do this has been hindered by the lack of a Northern Irish Bill of Rights, the promised, human rights element of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement that has yet to be fulfilled. As the Committee on the Administration of Justice writes: ‘The UK state is seriously in breach of its European Convention Article 2 obligation to protect the Right to Life by properly investigating cases where state involvement in unlawful killing is alleged and is perpetuating a state of impunity for state agents.’
Following all this, then, it is clear that human rights is a consistent theme cropping up in the story of the Northern Irish conflict, whether legitimate or not, the language and the framing was used by both sides in order to justify their part in the violence.
GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT: THE HUMAN RIGHTS BILL THAT NEVER WAS:
In this way, just as human rights language played a role in the conflict, so too was it to be central to the bringing about of peace. The Good Friday Agreement was put in place first and foremost as a peace agreement. Made possible through a common European framework, the three-strand agreement effectively resolved the previously conflictual binaries of British and Irish identity, creating a complex consociational structure that set out a power-sharing system of government. Alongside this, the agreement stipulated for the previously mentioned Northern Ireland specific Bill of Rights, intending to address the legacy of the violence committed by the paramilitaries throughout the conflict, alongside state-sanctioned human rights abuses. However, this Bill of Rights has never been put into place by the UK government. This is widely regarded as problematic by human rights groups in Northern Ireland, as it means that the Good Friday Agreement, ever since its inception, has not functioned to promote human rights to the capacity for which it was intended.
Kevin Hanratty, director of the Belfast-based Human Rights Consortium, wrote on 10 April 2018:
‘The agreement provided for “safeguards” to ensure that the new institutions worked. Those safeguards included the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. For most people the idea of binding our system of governance to particular human rights standards was a strength rather than a weakness.’
However, in the lack of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, there remains a lack of faith in the power-sharing institutions to hold itself up to the human rights standards supposedly enshrined in the 1998 agreement.
BREXIT AND GOING FORWARD
So what does this mean for the future? There is already the issue of the lack of a Human Rights Bill to deal with Northern Ireland specific issues and the legacy of the past. However, with the UK vote to leave the EU, there are now significant concern from human rights groups in Northern Ireland that the loss of EU provisions will have a detrimental effect on human rights in the region, particularly in the post-conflict context. In addition to this, there are human rights laws in the UK that are not replicated in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s laws on hate crime and racism lag behind the rest of the UK. This is concerning in a region with a relatively new and growing immigrant population, not to mention the extensive history of sectarianism and division that still exists. In addition to this, unlike mainland UK and the neighbouring Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland still does not legally allow for same-sex marriage. Perhaps even more controversially, abortion is criminalised except in the most extreme of circumstances (only to preserve the life of, or to prevent severe physical or mental health difficulties for, the mother) this violates UN human rights standards and does not fall in line with the rest of the UK.
Brexit has exponentially exacerbated these existing human rights issues in Northern Ireland. As Britain leaves the EU, it also leaves the provisions of EU law, many human rights were never translated into British law as they were provided for under European law. There remains questions over whether these will be accounted for and replaced?
In terms of legislation, the situation is this: The UK leaving the EU does not mean that it loses the protections afforded under the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), commonly confused as EU law when it is in fact linked to the unrelated Council of Europe, which is enshrined in British law as of the Human Rights Act of 1998.
‘While the [EU repeal] Bill is designed to carry over all EU law, one area it will not download into local law is the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EU Charter is an overarching rights framework which ensures that all laws, policies and other measures within the scope of EU law are human rights compliant. Without its retention, we are losing an important human rights scaffold’ (Human Rights Consortium, 2017).
What is a cause for concern, then, is that the British Conservative government, prior to the EU referendum, stated its intention to repeal the Human Rights Act, withdraw from the ECHR and establish a British Bill of Rights. This has yet not manifested. But if a repeal of the Human Rights Act was to take place; the UK, already without ECFR protections as of Brexit in March 2019, could find itself with very little of its existing human rights legislation remaining. In this scenario, human rights in Northern Ireland, as previously explained, are likely to be worse off again. Indeed, the Centre for the Administration of Justice has even argued that doing so would be ‘a breach of the Good Friday agreement’ itself and the human rights commitments binding the British government in international law.
All of this, then, means that the 20th anniversary party of the Good Friday Agreement is slightly dampened. Its legacy on human rights is marred by the failure to enact a Bill of Rights, and the growing murkiness of the future. The clear reality of Brexit signals challenging times ahead for human rights in Northern Ireland. Amnesty International and other human rights groups are keeping a close eye, human rights in post-conflict Northern Ireland provide a specific challenge that the rest of the UK simply does not face.
(For context, I wrote this article while carrying out my internship at the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Northern Ireland, which is a part of my research for my MA thesis.)
Peace: a woman's perspective
Increasing the presence of women in installing peace and addressing conflict-related human rights violations
By Alice Baker on the 15th of March, 2018
The media is no stranger to the devastating conflicts that rage tirelessly across the world. The disastrous scenes in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years tell of a time in history where modern warfare means the number of fatalities keeps on rising. As discussions bounce across peace tables and peacekeepers are placed on the ground, stability and peace surely stand as everyone's desired outcome. However, where are the women in these processes? In 2014, it was noted by the Armed Conflict Survey that 42 armed conflicts across the world produced a total of 180,000 fatalities, a large number of which were civilians. Current conflicts disproportionately affect women and girls in a variety of manners. Conflict provides a stage upon which law and order starts to break down - 'normative social behaviours and positions, by their nature, constitute an order, and that order is in many and profound ways suspended, deformed, or destroyed in conflict situations'. As the European Institute for Security Studies (ISS) presents, 'violent conflict benefits few and tends to exacerbate the negative consequences of inequalities and marginalisation', often meaning gender-based inequities are aggravated, with women and girls often left particularly vulnerable in the conflict proper and in post-conflict period.
What does 'peace' mean for women?
UNICEF highlights how societal division of gender roles and responsibilities provide varying experiences of displacement for women in comparison to men. The frequent targeting of female victims within conflict, especially the perpetration of sexual violence by armed forces, further exacerbates the situation. How do these experiences shape a women's idea of peace and security? Buss outlines how 'tracing a women's involvement and experience of armed conflict can challenge dominant conceptions about the start and end of 'conflict'. For women, 'peace' is not necessarily represented by the change in government power or end of armed battle. For instance, the global prevalence of sexual violence among modern conflicts may mean that for women in these conflicts peace is simply the absence of rape. The UN Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, stressed the need for women's invaluable experiences of war to be involved in peace talks. Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon urged more women to be involved in peace processes, in order to address 'the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women'. Yet, they often remain invisible when the conflict fades - where are women in peace processes?
Stable peace needs women
The UN enthusiastically claims that the inclusion of women in peace processes increases the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years by 20 per cent. However, it seems that despite such statistics demonstrating the increased chance of peace when women are involved, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Between 1992 and 2011 only 9% of negotiators included in peace talks were women, a reality seen in the Syria peace talks in October 2015 when only the proportions stood eighteen men to one woman. These overpowering male settings stand to reflect one of two stories; either women are purposely being excluded, or rather, not actively included, from peace processes, or there just aren't enough women willing to be involved.
Women taking action
This said, there are plenty of women not sitting around and passively hoping for change. Although it may seem that the UNSCR 1325 may have fallen short, the situation in Afghanistan shows how there is still reason to hope. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) interviewed two prominent Afghan women with significant roles in setting out a place for women in Afghan peace processes: Shukria Barakzai, previous chair of the parliamentary defence committee, and Hasina Safi, director of the Afghan Women's Network. Shukria knew that if resolution 1325 on peace and security was to become a reality in Afghanistan, then women would have to be engaged in the security sector and the peace process. Challenging existing notions of gender and the perceived correlating roles stood out to Shukira as a necessary and important step that should be present in post-conflict settings. Extensive grassroots involvement has provided the Ministry with ideas and recommendations for the progression of gender equality across civil society. The Afghan Women's Network continues to see women as essential, not only to the process of reconciliation, but also to stability and nation-building. Their work promotes the idea that when women are included meaningfully in the peace process, the peace agreements are based on social needs, justice, gender equality and inclusion - a notion that should find its way into current peace negotiations across the world.
In times of social crisis, there is often greater 'political space' for radical change in social relations, including for instance those of gender. In addressing conflict-related human rights violations and attempting to promote human rights as a nation in the post-conflict journey, women's perspectives of war and peace need to be recognised, listened to and acted upon if peace is to prevail.
 Walker. 2009. 'Gender and Violence in Focus: A Background for Gender Justice in Reparations.' pp 30
 Buss. 2014. 'Seeing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict societies: the limits of visibility.' p.6.
- Afghan Women's Network. Accessed 08/05/2017. http://www.awn-af.net/
- Buss, Doris. 2014. 'Seeing Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-conflict Societies: the Limits of Visibility.' In Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies: International Agendas and African Contexts, edited by Doris Buss, Joanne Lebert, Blair Rutherford, Donna Sharkey and Obijiofor Aginam, pp 3-27. London: Routledge.
- Armed Conflict Survery. 14/04/2015. 'Armed Conflict Survey: The worldwide review of political, military and humanitarian trends in current conflicts.' Accessed 05/04/2017. https://www.iiss.org/en/publications/acs/by%20year/armed-conflict-survey-2015-46e5/acs-2015-02-introduction-e398
- European Union Institute for Security Studies. 11/2014. 'Gender in Conflict.' Brief Issue http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/Brief_33_Gender_in_conflict.pdf
- Hodgeson, Fiona. 07/09/2016. 'Was disproportionately affects women, so why so few female peacekeepers?' In The Guardian, accessed 28/03/2017. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/sep/07/war-disproportionately-affects-women-female-peacekeepers-fiona-hodgson
- Hodgeson, Fiona. 20/01/2016. 'Women must be at the peace table for a chance of ending war in Syria.' ' In The Guardian, accessed 29/03/2017. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/20/women-must-be-at-the-peace-table-ending-war-syria
- Norton-Taylor, Richard. 20/05/2015. 'Global armed conflicts becoming more deadly, major study finds.' In The Guardian, accessed 05/04/2017 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/20/armed-conflict-deaths-increase-syria-iraq-afghanistan-yemen
- OSCE. 2015. 'Afghanistan's Women: Keeping the Peace.' Security Community Issue 3-4. http://www.osce.org/magazine/224236
- UN Security Council. 31/10/2000. Resolution 1325. S/RES/1325. http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1325(2000)
- UN Security Council. 25/10/2016. 'Women Too Often Omitted from Peace Processes.' http://reliefweb.int/report/world/women-too-often-omitted-peace-processes-despite-key-role-preventing-conflict-forging
- UN Women. 2016. 'Women at the forefront of peacebuilding.' Accessed 07/04/2017. http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/women-peace-security
- UN Women. Accessed 08/04/2017. http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/peace-and-security/facts-and-figures
- Walker, M. U. 2009. "Gender and Violence in Focus: A Background for Gender Justice in Reparations." In The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies while Redressing Human Rights Violations, edited by Ruth Rubio-Marín, pp 18-62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Importance of Photography for Human Rights
By Emma Haverdings on the 16th of January, 2018
We demonstrate, debate, march the streets and create speeches to let our voices be heard. We speak louder and louder to get everyone to listen, especially when people do not want to hear what has to be said. However, standing up for human rights does not just require a strong voice. If done right, a single image can have even more impact.
One of the most iconic photographers within the human rights movement is Platon Antoniou. Born in Greece in 1968, he moved to Britain with his parents when he was 8 years old. Here, he experienced the difficulties being an immigrant can bring. First he studied graphic design in the UK and then he started working as a photographer. During his career he has worked with many international publications, such as Time Magazine and The New Yorker Magazine. Platon has always shown an interest in creating a story, rather than just creating something that is aesthetically pleasing.
That is why, in 2009, he joined forces with Human Rights Watch to help them celebrate human rights defenders in countries suppressed by political forces. One of these projects includes a series of portraits of protesters who were involved in the Saffron Revolution of 2007 in Burma. During this revolution, people protested in the streets against the strict military rule. Such protests were often led by local monks. Even though the protests were mostly peaceful, security forces of the Burmese government violently disrupted them. Many protesters were killed, wounded or sentenced to decades in prison. In this photo-essay, Platon captures the way in which the people try to raise awareness of the situation that has arisen in their country.
In 2013, Platon founded The People’s Portfolio. This is a non-profit organization that has created a multi-media platform through which individual human rights defenders are given the recognition they deserve. It’s also a platform where the general public, but also those who hold power, are encouraged to take action against human rights violations. As the photography Platon did earlier in his career, this portfolio provides its viewers with a powerful personal connection to problems that are currently happening in our world.
One of the projects presented in The People’s Portfolio is called Immigration: Images from the Border and Beyond, and addresses America’s broken immigration system. It shows immigrants who came to America and their often heart-breaking circumstances. Platon explains one of these stories in an interview with MSNBC on Changing America: ’Well, the story goes like this. This lady was married to a man, they were very poor. They have twins, a boy and a girl. And the kids are citizens, U.S. citizens. The father was not. He was arrested for not having the proper papers and sent directly to the border, this border right here [shows photo], where they plan to deport him immediately. He panics because he has no way to reach his wife, he’s also worried about who’s going to provide for my family if I just disappear. So in the panic, they begin to taser him, and they tasered him so much that he actually suffered a severe stroke and died’.
Platon invited this lady to the place where her husband had died to take a portrait of her. She agreed, because she wanted people to hear her story, to get the truth out in the open. When they met, she brought both her children with her because she could not afford a babysitter. The moment they stood on the spot where their father had passed, the children sought comfort in their mother. She holds her children, channelling strength through the photo. Everyone is looking down, except the father in the picture frame, he is looking right at you.
With this photo, Platon tells the story of families being torn apart because of controversial decision-making. In the interview he mentions: ‘It raises a very complicated political issue, which side are you going to follow? Because there’s the law and then there’s the much higher universal law [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] to follow.’ This is an example of how photography can be used to start a debate about matters of pressing concern.
The last photo-essay I want to discuss provides the viewer with a different perspective. In Portaits of Power, Platon shows us the humans behind the most infamous world leaders, for example Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya. What I think makes this series so interesting, is that it reminds you of the fact that even someone like Gaddafi is a human being, like you and me. I believe we can only properly fight human rights violations, if we safeguard this view, without letting the possession of power influence it. I believe this is what Platon states with Portraits of Power. He is not intimidated by the power that is in front of his lens, but instead snaps a portrait of the human being that is actually before him.
People look at Platons images and see the truth. It is not about winning or losing. It is not about right or wrong. It is about the emotion, the hurt, the humanity of the person that is depicted before you. I think that is the beauty of documentary photography within human rights. We hear so much about all these problems in the world, and we feel terrible about them, but we can not actually imagine how they affect the people that concerns them. Because of photography, these stories are reaching us directly and personally, without modifying the truth.
Want to see more? Checkout the original Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, S1E7: ‘Platon: Photography’ for a fascinating short documentary about Platon and his work. You can also have a look at his portfolio for more pictures and interviews here. Last but not least, checkout The People’s Portfolio for inspirational stories with beautiful photos of human rights defenders across the world.
Feel like starting a discussion or want to know more? Contact us via the box below!
The original Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, S1A7: ‘Platon: Photography’
The problem with “womenandchildren”
By Béibhin Gallagher on the 1st of January, 2018
“Pro-government forces in Syria have executed more than 80 civilians, including women and children.” (The Telegraph, 13 December 2016)
The last year has taught us all much about the power of language. Though Cynthia Enloe’s one- word womenandchildren as a term may be technically unknown to many in the public as a concept; the language perpetuating it is everywhere. Enloe coined the term prior to the Iraq War, highlighting the manner in which the media portrays women and children often as one singular entity of victimization in conflict. While it is important that we recognise that women and children do suffer disproportionately in modern warfare - given that women and children do make up the majority of civilians, who are increasingly targeted in contemporary conflicts - the terms should not be used interchangeably.
“Yemen airstrike kills eight women, two children, say residents.” (Reuters, 18 December 2017)
Zillah Eistenstein wrote on this very topic in 2013 for Al Jazeera, but the frequency of the term’s appearance in the media has increased as the conflicts in Syria and Yemen have dragged on and as Aleppo, in particular, dominated headlines in the latter months of 2016. This article contains only some of the examples of how this trope recurs in mainstream media headlines referring, mostly, to Syria and Yemen since this time last year. Calls for intervention, justified by the slaughter of women and children, are commonplace. But among the horrors of these conflicts, we must not lose sight of the problematic nature of this narrative in the media.
“Women and children killed in air strikes on rebel-held village in Syria.” (The Irish Independent, 20 December 2017)
The consistent blurring of the boundary and interchangeability of terms such as civilians and women and children is the main issue here. In doing this, the media is effectively reinforcing the idea that women are perpetual victims in conflict and the old binary: where women and children are assumed innocent, civilian men do not seem to be afforded that same assumption.
The mind-set behind this must be regarded as misogynistic - why are we outraged for women and children, rather than simply for all civilians, that should be afforded Geneva protections from war? Is this not an expression of the patriarchal attitude that deems women as inferior to men, in need of protection?
“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which opposes the government and tracks the conflict from Britain, said 72 people had been killed in all of Aleppo Province, including 24 women and children.” (The New York Times, 23 September 2016)
Within the Syrian context, the mindset behind this binary can be seen particularly outdated - given the prominent impact of the YPJ, the all-female branch of Kurdish military group the YPG, have had on the conflict. It is simply not the case that war can be understood along the traditional gender binary; and we do both female combatants and male civilians a disservice by buying into the media’s problematic tendency to assume women are without agency and perpetual victims in conflict.
“All women and children who were in militant-controlled districts have been evacuated.” (RT, 16 December 2016)
It is also worth noting that Enloe’s initial invention of the one word term came not long after Laura Bush’s speech justifying the US invasion of Afghanistan as preventing “brutality against women and children,” and “the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.” (2001) The idea of reducing the agency of women to victim status in times of conflict has been used, not only within the media, but in high politics as a means for justifying military intervention in itself. For us at AISU, and from a human rights perspective, it is important to be aware of how human rights language can be utilised by states for political objectives.
“Yemen civil war: 20 civilians including women and children 'killed in Saudi-led air strike', UN says.” (The Independent, 19 July 2017)
IAMnesty – “The Right to Protest”
By Alice Baker on the 13th of December, 2017
Within our current society, we have noticed a rise in global movements. Noticeably, the widespread use of social media has transformed both the organisational element of protesting, as well as the style and form of many public assemblies. Amnesty International has strived over the years to guarantee the right to protest across the globe.
Some of us here at AISU wanted to learn more about what the right to protest actually is and what the situation is like both globally and across the Netherlands, where the right to peaceful assembly has been increasingly contested. A couple of weeks ago, a few Editorial Committee members travelled to Amnesty House in Amsterdam for a masterclass on the ‘Right to Protest’. We joined many other eager students from across the country for an interesting afternoon of discussions, activities and, of course, plenty of coffee, tea and pepernoten!
After getting a chance to meet some other students enthusiastic about Amnesty’s work, we got down to answering some key questions. The first that we set out to tackle was: what is the right to protest?
Well, although not officially outlined as a human right under international conventions or declarations, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the “right to protest” stands as the manifestation of a collection of rights: (1) the right to freedom of expression; (2) the right to freedom of peaceful assembly; and finally (3) the right to freedom of association. These fundamental rights assign the state the task of “duty bearer”, meaning the state must endeavour not to restrict a particular right, whilst also putting into place systems and structures to facilitate and guarantee such rights. The measures necessary to ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly or association that must be put in place by governments could, in reality, be quite extensive. Arguably, for states, it may simply be easier to create unnecessary limitations or provide excuses as to why eager campaigners cannot exercise their right to protest, rather than facilitate it. However, in an age where we see growing pressure on civic space, it seems too easy to blame extensive measures completely for lack of compliance. Protests, marches and acts of peaceful assembly often centre around topics that call states or state institutions to account. Therefore, it seems somewhat clear that states would also seek to stop protests, if it meant that less attention would be called to their acts.
Zooming closer into the Netherlands, we were able to build quite an extensive and concerning picture of the situation regarding the right to peaceful assembly and the right to protest. Numerous unjustified infringements, such as unlawful interference with the context of protests, troubles with notification procedures and multiple unjustified arrests during peaceful assemblies have added to emerging concern at Amnesty over the Dutch government’s respect for such rights. Through completing a group activity centred around various cases in which the right to protest in the Netherlands was debated, we saw that often cases were complex. Often there is non-compliance with international standards, which is, of course, a major concern. However, a key lesson from this masterclass was that we must always bear in mind the complexities that surround human rights.
During the masterclass, I became aware of certain questions and started to ask myself: what are the limits to our freedoms and rights? To what extent can and should the state set these limits? How can we ensure the right to peaceful assembly can be guaranteed for all.
As citizens of states and of wider global society, we have the right to express ourselves and to gather with others in order to call the state accountable to their actions. Human rights defenders have been doing just that for years and years. Amnesty International has documented challenges and violations of the right to peaceful assembly in countries worldwide. Therefore, by informing ourselves as to not only the current situations but what our rights actually are, we can be better prepared in our endeavours to ensure human rights, hold actors accountable when they are not upheld, and support others fighting for human rights globally.
Thank you to Amnesty International Netherlands for holding such an interactive, interesting and necessary masterclass!
If you fancy learning more about Amnesty International Netherland’s special events and opportunities for students, then make sure to take a look at their website:
Memory politics, national myths and the pervasive legacies of De Gouden Eeuw
By Béibhin Gallagher on the 22th of November
Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral call to ‘make America great again’ was largely met with varying degrees of scorn throughout Europe and within the mainstream media. We are often very quick to pass judgement over the naivety and prejudice of the American public for his election last year.
But closer to home, we needn’t look very far to see this rhetoric echoed: ‘Nederland terugveroveren’, or ‘reclaim the Netherlands’, Geert Wilders tweets, accompanied by a picture of himself dressed as Michiel de Ruyter, famed admiral of the 17 th century Dutch navy. But we in Europe usually allow ourselves the glorified pat on the back of reminding each other that Wilders and the Partij voor de Vrijheid didn’t win, Le Pen and the Front National didn’t win. So, at least in Western Europe, we’re fine. Right?
Populism and nationalist politics, despite falling short of outright victory in the Netherlands, France and Germany, has had a tremendous influence on shifting discourse in the public setting, the media and politics to the right, throughout Europe. Now, more than ever, it is time to look at what tools are being implemented to capture popular discontent in such a wide- ranging way.
In both Trump and Wilder’s statements, the past is being called upon as an ideal. A reification of some past glory. The past is consciously used in a way that applies to the present. A usable past, it can be said, is not history – but the application and weaponization of history as applied to a modern, political context. Usable pasts, then, can be seen in the foundation narratives that make up the myth of a nation’s existence; simplified versions of the past containing a moral message as a form of nation-building and national cohesion. As Jeffrey K. Ollick wrote: ‘the past is not just a tool in the arsenal of power, but the very wellspring of identity.’ It is these usable pasts that are shaping political realities and, as such, it is important to recognise where it is that the facts end and the myth begins. Populism is, for want of a better word, so popular because it uses these simplified narratives of the past that the general population can understand and relates this understanding to a modern context for political purposes. Politicians like Trump and Wilders use these narratives of the past to assert a legitimacy over what it means to be truly American, or truly Dutch.
The legacy of de Gouden Eeuw or the Dutch Golden Age is one that continues to pervade political discourse as both a sort of ideal type society and a reality that has shaped society in informing what it means to be Dutch. Going back to Wilders’ tweet: ‘Nederland terugveroveren,’ it follows to ask: Reclaim the Netherlands… from who? There is an implication of a preference for a cultural sameness or Dutchness, devoid of foreign influence. The equivalence he draws between himself and de Ruyter is no coincidence. This is a conscious effort to use a narrative of the past that fulfils a political agenda. As a hero of the Netherlands, conquering against foreign enemies. It gets its message across quickly and it is easy to understand for a Dutch audience. These types of vague statements, when pulled apart, reveal a reliance on, as Joop de Jong puts it, ‘the partly mythical idea of the seventeenth-century Republic’s social and cultural homogeneity, of citizens and regents sharing basic values, having similar lifestyles, and belonging to one and the same social and cultural “middle class” or “bourgeois” universe.’
Only de Gouden Eeuw was not that: De Jong details how migration was an essential part of the 17 th century republic. Like now, experiences of immigration into the Netherlands were not homogenous, and it is certainly true that different groups were afforded different privileges based on their perceived status. The idea of de Gouden Eeuw and its ideals of ‘tolerance’ as the ultimate ideal society for which to strive is somewhat problematic in itself; as de Jong puts it ‘if tolerance of the unorthodox was acceptable as a temporary expedient under certain conditions, it was not a goal to be striven for.’ Tolerance implies a grudging acceptance, rather than a warm embrace of differences. Indeed, this tolerance of de Gouden Eeuw should be seen as nothing more than a precursory side-effect of the migration and cultural interaction necessary of a global power and the VoC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie/Dutch East India Company) as an international corporation, rather than a truly progressive model of society. All this nuance considered, it is easy to see why these black and white, snappy versions of historical narratives are so easily instrumentalised; leaving out the detail that provides factual accuracy.
"Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory; not enough to thinking"
- Susan Sontag
But being aware of how politicians can use formulations of the past and these simplistic foundation narratives to promote an agenda is an essential part of critical reflection on political discourse and to our being able to see through the often more comfortable familiarity of a storyline into which it is easy to slot our understandings of society. The age of fake news is officially upon us – it’s time for all of us to put on our critical thinking hats.
Joop de Jong, 2011. The Dutch Golden Age and Globalization: History and Heritage,
Legacies and Contestations, p. 58.
Jeffrey K. Ollick, 2007. ‘From Usable Pasts to the Return of the Repressed’, in the Hedgehog
Review, pp. 19-31.
Maurits Rade, Aakash Shah. 2010. ‘The Dutch Myth of Tolerance,’ for Humanity in A
ction https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/315-the- dutch-myth- of-tolerance
Thoughts on globalization, poverty and inequality
By Gerlien Spijkerboer on the 15th of November
The term globalization is not only well known, but also frequently used. In the current 21th century all different economies of our world are integrated to form a complicated network. Enterprises seek the best possibilities to extend their profits by out-sourcing all different stages of the production process or customer service. For example, by making one T-shirt for the H&M, rough cotton comes from Indian landery, labour laws in the Filipins are the most flexible and the final production costs are cheapest in China. Due to the time-space compression, the world has become more globalized than ever. The transport costs declined through new technological inventions, with faster and cheaper shipping as a result. This went together with the easing trends on political level in the 20th century. The liberal policy on economics had then already been custom in Western Europe and the USA. Now more countries are opening up their borders and ease their import taxes to join the liberal standardised structure. Besides, not only products are travelling more easily due to time-space compression, also information and people. This brings globalisation perhaps to a number one invention of world history. Products are becoming cheaper, enterprises are gaining more profit, nations are well connected and people are experiencing a cosmopolitan citizenship. Or is this just a rushed inference?
The theoretic model of globalisation seems to deliver the world only profit. A closer look, however, shows how economic and therefore non-human the model is. The fact that the term globalisation is born on Western soil is often neglected. This context of origin fuels the definition of globalisation with the neoliberal ideas of a 90's prosperous capitalist economy. The pillars of globalisation contain the integration of nation states into a worldwide network and the growth of global consciousness. These pillars are nevertheless supported by people, instead of vague and lifeless enterprises and institutions. The question is, who is actually engaged in this theoretical description of economic globalisation? Which people find themselves profiting from for example the lowering of import taxes and transport costs? Therefore, who is actually winning in the Western globalisation game as we play it for some decades now? The casual idea that the poor inhabitants of this world are losing is put too bluntly. Several researchers have shown that the periphery in China gained income during the 20th century as a result of China’s engagement in the world economy through trade. The same is visible for the inhabitants of India. No other country had such a fast growing economy due to import and export income. The goal to make world poverty disappear before 2030 is very likely to be achieved, because the amount of people living beneath the poverty standards of $1,90 a day declined from 60% in 1970 to less than 10% in 2015.
The profits and benefits of globalizing trade networks has a clear connection to this decline in poverty, people really became richer. But that also means the rich people became richer. The gap between the periphery and centrum of the world did not decline due to globalization. Inequality only grew and several processes of globalization contributed to it. The outsourcing of different production phases to the countries with the leanest law-making on labour, destroys internal labour markets. Enterprises are due to globalization more footloose, so governments will not protect their labourers by labour laws out of fear to lose the enterprises. The focus point of the production market will be on export, instead of nationally needed products. Economics state as objection that the profits made by exportation create a rise in income, but governments are often corrupt and refuse to return the profits as investment in the national labour market. The negative effects of out-sourcing are also visible on the other side of the production process, namely by companies leaving countries with protectionist regulations on labourers. Large cuttings on jobs are the result of the lowering in transport costs and the decline in travel time.
Globalization delivers benefits for companies and therefore consumers, but also disadvantages for people halfway the production process. The opportunity for nation states to maintain protectionism and participate in a global network is nearly impossible. All economic models deliver winners and losers. One gets the profit and the other does not. The fact is that in the 21th century the economically tinted system of globalization lost its humanity. Inequality is only growing further and the power of nation states to protect their citizens is declining. How prosperous and promising globalizing economic networks seemed in the 20th century, the political backlash should deliver a wake-up call by now. A growth in welfare means nothing if there is still just a handful of people owning the world’s estate. To show how big the gap is between the rich and the poor, please watch the video below. Afterwards, you should realise how the Western model of globalization contributes to the ravine cracked in the world population.
Global Wealth Inequality - What you never knew
The sociology of globalization by Luke Martell
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Blog by Emma Haverdings