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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: united nations, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. The other torture report

At long last – despite the attempts at sabotage by and over the protests of the CIA, and notwithstanding the dilatory efforts of the State Department – the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has finally issued the executive summary of its 6,300-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. We should celebrate its publication as a genuine victory for opponents of torture. We should thank Senator Dianne Feinstein (whom some of us have been known to call “the senator from the National Security Agency”) for her courage in making it happen.

Like many people, I’ve got my criticisms of the Senate report. Suffice it to say that we’ve still got work to do if we want to end US torture.

We now know something about the Senate report, but many folks may not have heard about the other torture report, the one that came out a couple of weeks ago, and was barely mentioned in the US media. In some ways, this one is even more damning. For one thing, it comes from the international body responsible for overseeing compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – the UN Committee Against Torture. For another, unlike the Senate report, the UN report does not treat US torture as something practiced by a single agency, or that ended with the Bush administration. The UN Committee Against Torture reports on US practices that continue to this day.

Here are some key points:

Guards from Camp 5 at Joint Task Force Guantanamo escort a detainee from his cell to a recreational facility within the camp.
Guards from Camp 5 at Joint Task Force Guantanamo escort a detainee from his cell to a recreational facility within the camp. Photo by US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kilho Park. Public domain via Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
  • The United States still refuses to pass a law making torture a federal crime. It also refuses to withdraw some of the “reservations” it put in place when it signed the Convention. These include the insistence that only treatment resulting in “prolonged mental harm,” counts as the kind of severe mental suffering outlawed in the Convention.
  • Many high civilian officials and some military personnel have not been prosecuted for acts of torture they are alleged to have committed. It would be nice, too, says the Committee, if the United States were to join the International Criminal Court, where other torturers have already been successfully tried. If we can’t prosecute them at home, maybe the international community can do it.
  • The remaining 142 detainees at Guantánamo must be released or tried in civilian courts, and the prison there must be shut down.
  • Evidence of US torture must be declassified, especially the torture of anyone still being held at Guantánamo.
  • While the US Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations prohibits many forms of torture, a classified “annex” still permits sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. These are both forms of cruel treatment which must end.
  • People held in US jails and prisons must be protected from long-term solitary confinement and rape. “Supermax” facilities and “Secure Housing Units,” where inmates spend years and even decades in complete isolation must be shut down. As many as 80,000 prisoners are believed to be in solitary confinement in US prisons today – a form of treatment we now understand can cause lasting psychosis in as short a time as two weeks.
  • The United States should end the death penalty, or at the very least declare a moratorium until it can find a quick and painless method of execution.
  • The United States must address out-of-control police brutality, especially “against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals.” This finding is especially poignant in a period when we have just witnessed the failure to indict two white policemen who killed unarmed Black men: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. Like many who have been demonstrating during the last few weeks against racially selective police violence, the Committee was also concerned about “racial profiling by police and immigration offices and growing militarization of policing activities.”

Why should an international body focused specifically on torture care about an apparently broader issue like police behavior? In fact, torture and race- or identity-based police brutality are intimately linked by the reality that lies at the foundation of institutionalized state torture.

Every nation that uses torture must first identify one or more groups of people who are torture’s “legitimate” targets. They are legitimate targets because in the minds of the torturers and of the society that gives torture a home, these people are not entirely human. (In fact, the Chilean secret police called the people they tortured “humanoids.”) Instead, groups singled out for torture are a uniquely degraded and dangerous threat to the body politic, and therefore anything “we” must do to protect ourselves becomes licit. In the United States, with lots of encouragement from the news and entertainment media, many white people believe that African American men represent this kind of unique threat. The logic that allows police to kill unarmed Black men with impunity is not all that different from the logic that produces pogroms or underlies drone assassination programs in far-off places, or that makes it impossible to prosecute our own torturers.

At 15 pages, the whole UN report is certainly a quicker read than the Senate committee’s 500-page “summary.” And it’s a good reminder that, whatever President Obama might wish, this is not the time to close the book on torture. It’s time to re-open the discussion, to hold the torturers accountable, and to bring a real end to US torture.

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2. Human Rights Day: abolishing the death penalty

Every year, on December 10, UN Human Rights Day commemorates the day in 1948 on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although the Declaration itself said nothing about the death penalty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that incorporated its values in 1966 made it clear in Article 6(6) that ‘nothing … should be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the … Covenant,’ which now has been ratified by all but a handful of nations.

Today, we pause to consider the considerable changes that have taken place in the use of capital punishment around the world over the past quarter of a century, changes which have shifted our pessimism – believing that in many regions of the world there was little hope of worldwide abolition occurring soon – towards increasing optimism. Since the end of 1988, the number of actively retentionist countries (by which we mean countries that have carried out judicial executions in the past 10 years) has declined from 101 to 39, while the number that has completely abolished the death penalty has almost trebled from 35 to 99; a further seven are abolitionist for all ordinary crimes and 33 are regarded as abolitionist in practice: 139 in all. In 2013 only 22 countries were known to have carried out an execution and the number that regularly executes a substantial number of its citizens has dwindled. Only seven nations executed an average of 20 people or more over the five year period from 2009 to 2013: China (by far the largest number), Iran (the highest per head of population), Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen. The change has been truly remarkable. Indeed, we have witnessed and recorded a revolution in the discourse on and practice of capital punishment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

We have witnessed and recorded a revolution in the discourse on and practice of capital punishment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This year’s Human Rights Day slogan – Human Rights 365 – encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. What better day then to reflect on the dynamo for this new wave of abolition – the development of international human rights law and norms.

Arising in the aftermath of the Second World War and linked to the emergence of countries from totalitarian imperialism and colonialism, the acceptance of international human rights principles transformed consideration of capital punishment from an issue to be decided solely or mainly as an aspect of national criminal justice policy to the status of a fundamental violation of human rights: not only the right to not to be arbitrarily deprived of life but the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. The idea that each nation has the sovereign right to retain the death penalty as a repressive tool of its domestic criminal justice system on the grounds of its purported deterrent utility or the cultural preferences and expectations of its citizens was being replaced by a growing acceptance that countries that retain the death penalty – however they administer it – inevitably violate universally accepted human rights.

A prison cell in Kilmainham Gaol. Photo by  Aapo Haapanen. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
A prison cell in Kilmainham Gaol. Photo by Aapo Haapanen. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

The human rights dynamic has not only resulted in fewer countries retaining the death penalty on their books, but also in the declining use of the ultimate penalty in many of those countries. Since the introduction of Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of those Facing the Death Penalty, which were first promulgated by the UN Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 and adopted by the General Assembly 30 years ago, there have been attempts to progressively restrict the use of capital punishment to the most heinous offences and the most culpable offenders and various measures to try to ensure that the death penalty is only applied where and when defendants have had access to a fair and safe criminal process. Hence, in many retentionist countries juveniles, the mentally ill, and the learning disabled are exempt from capital punishment, and some countries restrict the death penalty to culpable homicide.

There has been some strong resistance to the political movement to force change ever since the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. Attempts by the abolitionist nations at United Nations Congresses, in the General Assembly, beginning in 1994, and at the Commission on Human Rights, annually from 1997, to press for a resolution calling for a moratorium on the imposition of death sentences and executions met with hostility from many of the retentionist nations. By 2005, when an attempt had been made at the Commission on Human Rights to secure sufficient support to bring such a resolution before the United Nations, it had been opposed by 66 countries on the grounds that there was no international consensus that capital punishment should be abolished. Since then, as the resolution has been successfully brought before the General Assembly, the opposition has weakened as each subsequent vote was taken in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012, when 111 countries (60 per cent) voted in favour and 41 against. Just three weeks ago, 114 of the UN’s 193 member states voted in favour of the resolution which will go before the General Assembly Plenary for final adoption this month. The notion behind Human Rights 365 – that we are a part of a global community of shared values – is reflected in this increasing support for a worldwide moratorium as a further step towards worldwide abolition. We encourage all those who believe in human rights to continue working towards this ideal.

Headline image credit: Sparrow on barbed wire. Photo by See-ming Lee. CC BY 2.0 via seeminglee Flickr.

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3. Nuclear strategy and proliferation after the Cold War

On 4 November 1994, the United Nations Security Council formally endorsed the so-called “Agreed Framework,” a nuclear accord discussed for years but negotiated intensively from September to October 1994 between The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) and the United States.

The framework had four main parts:

  1. The nations would cooperate to replace the DPRK’s graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities with light-water reactor (LWR) power plants.
  2. The United States and DPRK would work toward full normalization of political and economic relations.
  3. The United States and the DPRK pledged to seek peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
  4. The United States and the DPRK agreed to work together to strengthen the international nuclear non proliferation regime.

In light of recent events these are eye-catching promises. They were then as well. As The New York Times reported, the agreement was a remarkable event. The four key tenets of the accord, even to the jaundiced eye of a seasoned diplomat seemed symbolic of the post-Cold War era. However, according to the Times, the announcement of the agreement “kept secret many details of how the accord will be put into effect.”

It is unclear whether the momentum for the framework continued despite the secrecy or because of details hidden from view. Within two weeks of the agreement, the Security Council took up the cause and numerous nations were on board (many not yet privy to some more secret aspects of the Framework). The UN proclaimed support of North Korea’s decision to freeze its current nuclear program and to comply with a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Yet perhaps such international approbation did more harm than good, because North Koreans objected to how the agreement was playing out symbolically. The UN statement seemed to emphasize only North Korea’s responsibilities under the framework agreement and not the reciprocal obligations of the United States and of South Korea.

North Korean leaders aimed for their nation to be perceived not as a rogue state being brought into line, but as holding the United States and its allies accountable in an agreement with mutual responsibilities. The agreement itself, as events unfolded, seemed promising enough. Within another two weeks, by 11 November 1994, the IAEA arranged to send inspectors, and soon thereafter United States and North Korean scientists and policymakers announced preliminary protocols regarding storage issues for over 8,000 spent fuel rods. South Korean diplomats pushed back, seeking security guarantees, but eventually bought into the agreement. By 18 November, according to Reuters, the United States, South Korea, and Japan agreed to lead an international consortium to finance more than $4 billion in construction and maintenance costs for light-water reactors in North Korea.

To many observers, the Agreed Framework of 1994 augured a new chapter in non-proliferation, tailored to the post-Cold War era. Despite difficult negotiations regarding the compromise framework and the international consortium, it seemed to be a real success.

Why such a promising framework collapsed bears further scrutiny and has profound implications for the future.

North Korea: By Roman Harak. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The end of the Cold War did not eliminate the challenges of nuclear weapons and strategy. Far from it. Recognizing the new nuclear and strategic landscape, the Clinton Administration tried to align nuclear policy with new circumstances. “A wide-ranging and thorough bottom-up study conducted by the Pentagon during 1993,” writes Joseph Siracusa, “identified a number of key threats to United States national security. Foremost among them was the increased threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

Clinton’s strategy for dealing with obvious threats, such as a resurgent Russia and the need to keep track of former Soviet stockpiles, materials, technologies, and experts, was to pursue new agreements that addressed the concerns of individual states, while strengthening the existing Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Just months after the agreement with North Korea, for example, the United States, Britain, and Russia worked with Ukraine to send its inherited Soviet-era nuclear arsenal to Russia, persuading it to join the NPT in return for security guarantees. It seemed that new accords, adjusted to the new era, could be reached to foreclose future proliferation. Notorious cases of international trafficking in materials, technology, expertise, such as the transnational network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, served as a reminder that proliferation required constant attention. Through diplomatic channels, military threats, and economic coercion, the Clinton Administration sought to work with allies to alleviate nuclear threats in such places as Libya, Iraq, and North Korea. Subsequent administrations hoped for productive results into the early 21st century despite instability in the Balkans, Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.

So, what changed?

First, on the Korean peninsula tensions persisted. “Pyongyang’s continued failure to come into full compliance with its IAEA safeguard obligations,” according to Daniel Poneman, “appeared to threaten the project.”

Second, US policymakers and many among their allies in the international community lost sight of the importance of perception for a country like North Korea. Third, American leaders too easily assumed that “unipolar” power, stability, and unilateralism could go hand-in-hand. US political rhetoric, especially related to nuclear and WMD negotiations and in sharp contrast to international economic agreements, abandoned the sense of mutual obligation and reciprocity that had been essential to Cold War and immediate post-Cold War diplomacy. Instead, American leaders tended to emphasize the pacts as treaties “to be enforced” rather than ones in which nations “shared,” which often resulted in resentment and retrenchment.

In terms of the Agreed Framework, Siracusa argues that the agreement collapsed because in 2002 President George W. Bush refused to honor the two most crucial precepts of the Agreement: helping to build light-water reactors and moving to normalize relations. North Korean diplomatic brinksmanship did not help, but rejecting direct negotiations was clearly a mistake. Pushing for new “six-party talks on North Korea, in which the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States were jointly to reach a solution with Kim Jong-il’s Stalinist regime” may have added too many voices and competing interests. Similarly, new incentives seemed to be aligning to make states like North Korea, in the wake of 9/11 seek nuclear power status as a bulwark against more overt attempts at regime change.

No longer obliged to the Framework, on 9 October 2006, North Korea exploded a nuclear bomb in a tunnel complex at Punggye, in the far north of the country, which made it the ninth nation in history to become a nuclear power.

In his 2002 State of the Union Address President Bush inveighed against all members of the “Axis of Evil.” Of the three “members” of this purported axis, Iraq was first to be invaded, in large part based on the premise that weapons of mass destruction were located there but no nuclear threshold had yet been reached. Iran has been attacked largely via sanctions and covert operations and to date there have been no recent military assaults on the nation’s nuclear facilities.

In contrast to Iraq and Iran, the already isolated, impoverished, and heavily sanctioned nuclear North Korean state, a nation that the New York Times deemed “too erratic, too brutal, and too willing to sell what it has to have a nuclear bomb,” has retained a high nuclear barrier to direct military action. Indeed, the Times in 2006 ruled out “a military strategy” entirely. The differential treatment of North Korea and Iraq, one nuclear-armed and the other not, has left strategists in Iran with mixed messages from the United States.

Even as nuclear stockpiles have been dramatically reduced, the new nuclear strategic world seems to be one of state proliferation. On the one hand “any confrontation between nuclear armed states runs the risk of escalating to the use of nuclear weapons, whether by inadvertence, accident, or bad decision-making,” reasons Tilman Ruff, co-chair of the International Steering Group and Australian Board member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. On the other hand, without those weapons, states and groups out of favor with the United States, Russia, or other “great” powers may find themselves far more susceptible to coercion or even attack. In turn, with nuclear weapons as a credible threat, states may be able to negotiate better deals, even if those accords ultimately might result in the relinquishing the very weapons themselves.

The ability of the impoverished North Korean state to stand up to the United States and its allies in recent years remains a product of its nuclear deterrent. The Russian annexation of Crimea followed by Russian-backed separatist attacks and revolution in the Ukraine pinpoint a similar counterfactual lesson: would a nuclear Ukraine be able to stand up more effectively to Russia? Kazakhstan and Belarus, which also gave up their Soviet era stockpiles in the mid-1990s, are confronting this question today.

There is an unfortunate logic for states to develop nuclear weapons in the 21st century, even if they have no intention of using them. Despite the end of the Cold War, the concept of deterrence may have more legitimacy than ever before. Potential combatants around the world now see the development of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear, as a means of neutralizing the hegemonic capacities of the United States and other major military and economic powers. The stubborn, persistent spread of nuclear weapons – in large part because of the apparent strategic-diplomatic need for them – in a multi-polar world is more complicated and more problematic than most would have predicted in November 1994. In no small measure the changes of the last two decades mark a moment of diminished US leadership and what Andrew Bacevich has depicted as the limits of American power. The United States, in the wake of 9/11 and in attempting to combat the spread of WMDs, has not exactly made the world safe for an NPT by all-too-often abandoning the interest- and mutual security-based discussions of the 1990s.

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4. Kerry On? What does the future hold for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?


By Martin Bunton

It may be premature to completely write off the recent round of the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The talks faltered earlier this month when Israel failed to release a batch of prisoners, part of the initial basis for holding the negotiations launched last July. The rapidly disintegrating diplomacy may yet be salvaged. But the three main actors have already made it known they will pursue their own initiatives.

They each may think that their actions will allow them to accumulate more leverage, maybe help position themselves in anticipation of a resumption of bilateral negotiations which, for over twenty years now, has been directed towards establishing a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel. But it is also possible that the steps the parties take will instead deepen the despair of a two state framework ever coming to fruition.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

The United States will focus their attention to other pressing issues, such as securing a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Progress on this front may encourage, perhaps even empower, the Obama administration to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations later in its term. But the chances of their success will depend less on yet another intense round of shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and more on whether a distracted Obama presidency will be prepared to pressure Israel to end its occupation. True, Obama enjoys the freedom of a second term presidency (unconcerned about the prospects of re-election). So far however he hasn’t appeared at all inclined to challenge Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As for Israel, the Netanyahu government will take steps to make life even harder for Palestinians under occupation, and no doubt further entrench its settlement infrastructure in the West Bank, the territory on which Palestinians want to build their own state. Netanyahu, now one of the longest serving prime ministers in Israeli history, has provided very few indications that he is willing to enable the Palestinians to build a viable and contiguous state. He appears confident that the status quo is tenable, and that occupation and settlement of the West Bank can continue to violate international law without facing any serious repercussions. The more likely outcome of such complacency, however, is the irrevocable damage inflicted on the prospects of a two state solution and the harm done to Israel’s security, possibly subjecting it to a wide ranging international boycott movement.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian government, led by Mahmoud Abbas, will desperately strive to ensure that the breakdown of talks not lead to the collapse of his Palestinian Authority. Abbas may seek to use this opportunity to lessen the overall reliance on US sponsorship and achieve Palestinian rights in international bodies such as the UN and the International Court of Justice.  This move may placate the growing number of Palestinians who until now have angrily dismissed Abbas’ participation in American-sponsored bilateral negotiations as doing little more than provide political cover to the on-going Israeli occupation, begun almost 50 years ago. But the majority of Palestinians will continue to disparage of how the pursuit of their national project has been paralysed by the weakness and corruption of their leaders and the absence of a unified government and coherent strategy.

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

Though no side wants to be blamed for the collapse of negotiations, it is easy to see how a cycle of action and recrimination could scupper all attempts to revitalize them. More to the point, however, is to ask whether the steps taken will end up burying the very prospects of a two-states solution to the century long conflict which the negotiations are supposed to achieve.

Martin Bunton is an Associate Professor in the History Department of the University of Victoria and author of the recently published The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013).

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Image credits: (1) Benjamin Netanyahu. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons; (2) Mahmoud Abbas. By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland (AbuMazem). CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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5. Multiculturalism and international human rights law

By Federico Lenzerini

When, in 1935, the Permanent Court of International Justice was requested by the Council of the League of Nations to provide an advisory opinion on the Minority Schools in Albania, it emphasized that “the application of the same regime to a majority as to a minority, whose needs are quite different, would only create an apparent equality.” The Court also added that the rationale of the protection of minorities is to allow them to “preserving the characteristics which distinguish them from the majority, and satisfying the ensuing special needs” (ibid., at 48). The well-known Aristotelian formula — according to which equality consists in treating like cases alike and unlike cases differently — implies that the metaphysical “idea of equality of men as persons and equal treatment” should be handled in a flexible manner, to allow “different treatment of persons [when it is justified by] the consideration of the differences of factual circumstances such as sex, age, language, religion, economic condition, education, etc.”

International Court of Justice; by Yeu Ninje at en.wikipedia. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

International Court of Justice, The Hague, Netherlands. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

If one were asked to choose one word to embrace all factual — but also spiritual, intellectual and emotional — circumstances (rectius: ”elements”) determining the existence of differences among individuals and communities, this word would certainly be culture, intended as “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group [including] not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs” (1982 UNESCO Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies).

Culture is indeed the element determining the uniqueness, identity, and distinctiveness of each human being (as an individual) and community (as a collectivity). Ultimately, the cultural specificity of each person or community determines their life aspirations, expectations, and choices. Since human rights are one of the main “tools” available to human beings to pursue their life expectations and dreams, their strict interconnection with culture is beyond question. Therefore, conceiving human rights in terms of a monolithic system of inflexible rules destined to be applied according to pre-determined and standardized criteria wouldn’t help much in ensuring their effectiveness in pursuing the well-being and happiness of human beings.

On the contrary, the correct approach to international human rights law–in terms of understanding, interpretation, adjudication and redress for breaches–should be centered on the idea of multiculturalism, so as that in each concrete case the specific needs of the people specifically concerned should be taken into primary account. In the most recent decades such an approach has actually been adopted in the context of relevant international practice, which, through promoting the process of culturalization of human rights law, is making human rights standards much more responsive to the real needs of human beings and, a fortiori, much more effective.

The specific situation of indigenous peoples–who, due to their cultural specificity and vision of life, actually need a differentiated treatment in the context of human rights adjudication and enforcement–offers a very clear idea of how such a process works. Human rights monitoring bodies have developed a marked sensibility for their needs, carving in stone a noticeably evolutionary piece of culturally-responsive jurisprudence. In particular, they have “adapted” human rights standards of individual character to the collectively-driven understanding of life and social relationships of indigenous peoples. In this respect, for example, the Human Rights Committee has affirmed that, although the rights of the members of ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language, contemplated by Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “are individual rights, they depend in turn on the ability of the minority group to maintain its culture, language, or religion. Accordingly, positive measures by States may also be necessary to protect the identity of a minority” (General comment No. 23(50) (art. 27)).

To a similar extent, most monitoring bodies have extended the scope of human rights treaty provisions defending the individual right to property to cover the collective property of ancestral lands by indigenous peoples. A similar hermeneutic approach has been followed with respect to the interpretation of other human rights standards, through adapting them to the cultural needs and views of indigenous communities. This happens, for instance, with respect to the right to humane treatment, which includes the right of every person to have their physical, mental, and moral integrity respected and, consequently, the prohibition of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. So, for example, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has equated a community that is denied the possibility of burying its dead according to its own traditions to inhuman treatment. This is because such a situation is perceived by the community members–in light of their own culture–as a severe offence, leading “to a number of ‘spiritually-caused illnesses’ that become manifest as actual physical maladies and can potentially affect the entire natural lineage” of the community itself (e.g. Case of Moiwana Community v. Suriname). This practice is certainly to be welcomed, and its extension to the specific needs of all diverse cultural groups inhabiting the world promises to represent a huge step forward towards maximizing the effectiveness of human rights standards in the life of people.

Federico Lenzerini is Professor of International Law and European Union Law at the University of Siena (Italy). He is also Professor at the LLM programme in Intercultural Human Rights of the St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami (FL), USA. He is the author of the book The Culturalization of Human Rights Law, published by Oxford University Press in 2014. Federico Lenzerini can be found on LinkedIn.

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6. World Refugee Day Reading List

World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June to recognise the resilience of forcibly displaced people across the world. For more than six decades, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been tracking and assisting refugees worldwide. At the beginning of 2013, there numbered over 10.4 million refugees considered “of concern” to the UNHCR. A further 4.8 million refugees across the Middle East are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

To mark World Refugee Day 2014, we’ve compiled a short reading list about issues in international law arising from the forced displacement of persons, including definitions of refugees, asylum, and standards of protection, international refugee legislation, international human rights legislation, the roles of international organisations, and challenges arising from protracted refugee situations and climate change. Additionally, Oxford University Press has made select articles from refugee journals freely available for a limited time, including ten articles from the International Journal of Refugee Law.


Refugees” in The Human Rights of Non-Citizens by David Weissbrodt

Explore the legal definition of refugees and their rights under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Dieter Kugelmann on “Refugees” from The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law

Survey several legal definitions of refugees, refugee status, and refugee rights.

The Refugee in International Law by Guy S. Goodwin-Gill and Jane McAdam

Explore three central issues of international refugee law: the definition of refugees, the concept of asylum, and the principles of protection.

The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, and Nando Sigona

How did Refugee and Forced Migration Studies emerge as a global field of interest? What are the most important current and future challenges faced by practitioners working with and for forcibly displaced people?

Population fleeing their villages due to fighting between FARDC and rebel groups, Sake North Kivu, 30 April 2012. Photo by MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Population fleeing their villages due to fighting between FARDC and rebel groups, Sake North Kivu, 30 April 2012. Photo by MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Refugee Legislation

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol: A Commentary, edited by Andreas Zimmermann, Assistant editor Jonas Dörschner, and Assistant editor Felix Machts, including Part One Background: Historical Development of International Refugee Law by Claudena M. Skran

Analyze the Convention and Protocol that function as the indispensable legal basis of international refugee law. What provisions do they make for refugees?

Chapter 5 “Refugees” in International Migration Law by Vincent Chetail

Legislation relating to the movement of persons is scattered across numerous branches of international law. How does current law govern the movement of refugees, and how might legislation develop in the future?

Textbook on Immigration and Asylum Law, Sixth edition by Gina Clayton

How has the law relating to immigration and asylum evolved? And how does the asylum process operate for refugees and trafficking victims? Gina Clayton’s newly-revised volume provides clear analysis and commentary on the political, social, and historical dimensions of immigration and asylum law.

Climate Change, Forced Migration, and International Law by Jane McAdam

Climate change is forcing the migration of thousands of people. Should this kind of displacement be viewed as another facet of traditional international protection? Or is flight from habitat destruction a new challenge that requires more creative legal and policy responses?

Refugees and international human rights

“International refugee law” by Alice Edwards in D. Moeckli et al’s International Human Rights Law, Second Edition

Alice Edwards, Senior Legal Coordinator at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, examines international human rights laws relating to refugees.

Textbook on International Human Rights, Sixth Edition by Rhona Smith

Check chapter 22 “Group rights”, which focuses on four specific groups which are currently beneficiaries of dedicated human rights’ regimes: indigenous peoples, women, children, and refugees.

“Are Refugee Rights Human Rights? An Unorthodox Questioning of the Relations between Refugee Law and Human Rights Law” by Vincent Chetail in Human Rights and Immigration, edited by Ruth Rubio-Marín

While originally envisioned as two separate branches of law, refugee law and human rights law increasingly intersect as refugees are highly vulnerable and often victims of abuse. What framework can we use to ensure the best outcome for refugees?

The obligations of States and organizations

The Collective Responsibility of States to Protect Refugees by Agnès Hurwitz

What legal freedom of choice do refugees possess? Can they choose the countries that will decide their asylum claims? States have devised several arrangements to tackle the secondary movement of refugees between their countries of origin and their final destination. See the chapter ‘States’ Obligations Towards Refugees’, which assesses the limitations of current safe third country mechanisms.

Complementary Protection in International Refugee Law by Jane McAdam

What obligations do – and should – States have to forcibly displaced persons who do not meet the legal definition of ‘refugees’?

The European Union Qualification Directive: The Creation of a Subsidiary Protection Regime’ by Jane McAdam in Complementary Protection in International Refugee Law

How does the European Union address the rights of persons who are not legally refugees, but who still have need of some other form of international protection?

Göran Melander on ‘International Refugee Organization (IRO)’ from The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law

What can the history of the IRO tell us about the development of international agencies working for refugees, and about its successor, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)?

Refugees in Africa

African Institute for Human Rights and Development (on behalf of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea) v Guinea, Merits, Comm no 249/2002, 36th ordinary session (23 November-7 December 2004), 20th Activity Report (January-June 2006), (2004) AHRLR 57 (ACHPR 2004), (2007) 14 IHRR 880, IHRL 2803 (ACHPR 2004), African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights [ACHPR] from ORIL

Case-study by the African Commission: was the treatment of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea in 2000 in violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights?

Human Security and the Protection of Refugees in Africa’ by Maria O’Sullivan in Protecting Human Security in Africa, edited by Ademola Abass

What is distinctive about refugee flows in Africa, what are the challenges arising from mass influx and ‘protracted’ refugee situations? What are the implications of new UNHCR initiatives to protect refugees?

Oxford University Press is a leading publisher in international law, including the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, latest titles from thought leaders in the field, and a wide range of law journals and online products. We publish original works across key areas of study, from humanitarian to international economic to environmental law, developing outstanding resources to support students, scholars, and practitioners worldwide. For the latest news, commentary, and insights follow the International Law team on Twitter @OUPIntLaw.

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7. Ralph Zacklin: a personal perspective on international law

What does international law truly mean in the world today? For the publication of Malcom Evans’s International Law, Fourth edition, we asked several leading figures that question. Ralph Zacklin, the former UN Assistant Secretary General for Legal Affairs, provides his personal perspective on international in the edited essay below. A full version of his essay can be found on the textbook’s Online Resource Centre, along with five other personal perspectives.

By Ralph Zacklin

I have been privileged to work for almost thirty years as an international lawyer in the United Nations and from this vantage point international law is neither the omnipotent solution to the world’s problems nor is it an illusion that only die-hard pacifists cling to. It is, in fact, for the practitioner a very real and pragmatic discipline. That it may be uncertain, incomplete, and difficult to enforce does not lessen the need for the rule of law on the international plane nor does it mean that the efforts to codify the law and develop its institutions should cease or be diminished.

At the core of contemporary international law is the Charter of the United Nations. It is a tribute to its drafters in the San Francisco Conference that this instrument has retained its essential validity as a set of fundamental principles which have guided the community of States for more than fifty years. It is the basis for the development of much of international law as we know it today in such key areas as human rights, the environment, and the law of the sea and outer space, not to mention the vast array of multilateral treaties in numerous technical, economic, and scientific areas.

International law provides a common legal vocabulary within which States and other actors operate. It provides a framework for conceptions of what is ‘legal’ or ‘right’. For the author personally, the most striking lesson of the last thirty years is not the quantitative qualitative development of international law which has been substantial but the degree to which States have come to accept the existence of international law as a standard that must be observed or by which their actions must be justified.

There is another dimension to international law which is sometimes overlooked in an era of globalization. International law, however inchoate it may be, represents the expectations and claims of substantial segments of humanity. It cannot be dismissed merely because of its perceived weakness. This dimension is of particular relevance to the member States of the United Nations, the overwhelming majority of whom rely on international law-making processes in international forums to weave together the fabric of the rule of law.

This accounts for the persistence of the United Nations in the holding of major conferences or summits––much derided in some quarters––which have produced soft law Declarations on the environment, human rights, advancement of women and a panoply of economic and social rights. These fora move from agenda-setting gradually towards normative outcomes and have undeniably altered the international legal landscape over the past twenty-five years.

Law, whether domestic or international, is by nature a conservative discipline. Its evolution is slow, even laborious. International law is not, nor should it be, viewed as an ideal state in which harmony prevails. Like any other system of law, its rules and institutions mature over time. When one compares the international law of today with that of a mere three decades ago, one cannot but marvel at the advances that have been made both normatively and institutionally. The path of advancement is by no means uneventful but it continues.

I have been fortunate in my own career to have had the opportunity to contribute to significant developments in international law, such as the establishment of ad hoc criminal tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda as well as, more recently, the Special Court in Sierra Leone. Over the years I have provided legal advice which has helped to shape much of the contemporary law of UN peace-keeping and, like many of my colleagues, have rejoiced in the completion of UN mandates which have resulted in the independence of countries such as Namibia and Timor-Leste. There have also been tragic failures in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Somalia.

At the outset of my career I was motivated like many young people of the time by an idealistic determination to make the world a safer and a better place. Over the years my idealism has certainly been tested, but I believe that the role and impact of international law has grown, and it continues to grow.

Ralph Zacklin is the former UN Assistant Secretary General for Legal Affairs. Malcolm Evans is a Professor of Public International Law at the University of Bristol. Malcolm Evans is the editor of International Law, which provides wide-ranging analysis of all the key issues and themes in public international law and brings together an outstanding collection of interesting and diverse writings from the leading scholars in the field.

Oxford University Press is a leading publisher in international law, including the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, latest titles from thought leaders in the field, and a wide range of law journals and online products. We publish original works across key areas of study, from humanitarian to international economic to environmental law, developing outstanding resources to support students, scholars, and practitioners worldwide. For the latest news, commentary, and insights follow the International Law team on Twitter @OUPIntLaw.

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8. What constitutes a “real” refugee?

Refugee identity is often shrouded in suspicion, speculation and rumour. Of course everyone wants to protect “real” refugees, but it often seems – upon reading the papers – that the real challenge is to find them among the interlopers: the “bogus asylum seekers”, the “queue jumpers”, the “illegals”.

Yet these distinctions and definitions shatter the moment we subject them to critical scrutiny. In Syria, no one would deny a terrible refugee crisis is unfolding. Western journalists report from camps in Jordan and Turkey documenting human misery and occasionally commenting on political manoeuvring, but never doubting the refugees’ veracity.

But once these same Syrians leave the overcrowded camps to cross the Mediterranean, a spell transforms these objects of pity into objects of fear. They are no longer “refugees”, but “illegal migrants” and “terrorists”. However data on migrants rescued in the Mediterranean show that up to 80% of those intercepted by the Italian Navy are in fact deserving of asylum, not detention.

Other myths perpetuate suspicion and xenophobia. Every year in the UK, refugee charity and advocacy groups spend precious resources trying to counter tabloid images of a Britain “swamped” by itinerant swan-eaters and Islamic extremists. The truth – that Britain is home to just 1% of refugees while 86% are hosted in developing countries, including some of the poorest on earth, and that one-third of refugees in the UK hold University degrees – is simply less convenient for politicians pushing an anti-migration agenda.

We are increasingly skilled in crafting complacent fictions intended not so much to demonise refugees as exculpate our own consciences. In Australia, for instance, ever-more restrictive asylum policies – which have seen all those arriving by boat transferred off-shore and, even when granted refugee status, refused the right to settle in Australia – have been presented by supporters as merely intended to prevent the nefarious practice of “queue-jumping”. In this universe, the border patrols become the guardians ensuring “fair” asylum hearings, while asylum-seekers are condemned for cheating the system.

That the system itself now contravenes international law is forgotten. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan asylum-seeking mothers recently placed on suicide watch – threatening to kill themselves in the hope that their orphaned, Australian-born children might then be saved from detention – are judged guilty of “moral blackmail”.

Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma (7134901933).jpg
Population fleeing their villages due to fighting between FARDC and rebels groups, Sake North Kivu the 30th of April 2012. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti (from Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Such stories foster complacency by encouraging an extraordinary degree of confidence in our ability to sort the deserving from the undeserving. The public remain convinced that “real” refugees wait in camps far beyond Europe’s borders, and that they do not take their fate into their own hands but wait to be rescued. But this “truth” too is hypocritical. It conveniently obscures the fact that the West will not resettle one-tenth of the refugees who have been identified by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as in need of resettlement.

In fact, only one refugee in a hundred will ever be resettled from a camp to a third country in the West. In January 2014 the UK Government announced it would offer 500 additional refugee resettlement places for the “most vulnerable” refugees as a humanitarian gesture: but it’s better understood as political rationing.

Research shows us that undue self-congratulation when it comes to “helping” refugees is no new habit. Politicians are fond of remarking that Britain has a “long and proud” tradition of welcoming refugees, and NGOs and charities reiterate the same claim in the hope of grounding asylum in British cultural values.

But while the Huguenots found sanctuary in the seventeenth century, and Russia’s dissidents sought exile in the nineteenth, closer examination exposes the extent to which asylees’ ‘warm welcome’ has long rested upon the convictions of the few prepared to defy the popular prejudices of the many.

Poor migrants fleeing oppression have always been more feared than applauded in the UK. In 1905, the British Brothers’ League agitated for legislation to restrict (primarily Jewish) immigration from Eastern Europe because of populist fears that Britain was becoming ‘the dumping ground for the scum of Europe’. Similarly, the bravery of individual campaigners who fought to secure German Jews’ visas in the 1930s must be measured against the groundswell of public anti-semitism that resisted mass refugee admissions.

Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma (6988913212).jpg
Population fleeing their villages due to fighting between FARDC and rebels groups, Sake North Kivu the 30th of April 2012. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti (from Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

British MPs in 1938 were insistent that ‘it is impossible for us to absorb any large number of refugees here’, and as late as August 1938 the Daily Mail warned against large number of German Jews ‘flooding’ the country. In the US, polls showed that 94% of Americans disapproved of Kristallnacht, 77% thought immigration quotas should not be raised to allow additional Jewish migration from Germany.

All this suggests that Western commitment after 1951 to uphold a new Refugee Convention should not be read as a marker of some innate Western generosity of spirit. Even in 1947, Britain was forcibly returning Soviet POWs to Stalin’s Russia. Many committed suicide en route rather than face the Gulags or execution. When in 1972, Idi Amin expelled Ugandan’s Asians – many of whom were British citizens – the UK government tried desperately to persuade other Commonwealth countries to admit the refugees, before begrudgingly agreeing to act as a refuge of “last resort”. If forty years on the 40,000 Ugandan Asians who settled in the UK are often pointed to as a model refugee success story, this is not because but in spite of the welcome they received.

Many refugee advocates and NGOs are nevertheless wary of picking apart the public belief that a “generous welcome” exists for “real” refugees. The public, after all, are much more likely to be flattered than chastised into donating much needed funds to care for those left destitute – sometime by the deliberate workings of the asylum system itself. But it is important to recognise the more complex and less complacent truths that researchers’ work reveals.

For if we scratch the surface of our asylum policies beneath a shiny humanitarian veneer lies the most cynical kind of politics. Myth making sustains false dichotomies between deserving “refugees” there and undeserving “illegal migrants” here – and conveniently lets us forget that both are fleeing the same wars in the same leaking boats.

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9. rgz Newsflash: International Day of the Girl, October 11

Just caught this early shout out from iheartdaily:

Just two years ago, the United Nations declared October 11th to be International Day of the Girl. The UN has said, “Girls face discrimination and violence every day across the world. The International Day of the Girl Child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.”   

This year's theme is "Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence."

Amen to that! Bravo, to the United Nations for this intentional focus. With their estimate of 200 million girls missing around the world due to gendercide, dowry infractions, and forced abortions of girls we need to stop and think and act.

Since the publication of FIRSTBORN, inspired by my outrage over gendercide, I've been trumpeting the work of All Girls Allowed. The nonprofit funds young women, pregnant with females, so they can carry their babies full term and keep them. They work to stop the intentional annihilation of girls. And then there's the Global Gendercide Advocacy and Awareness Project who takes internships, rgz! Or there's the movie which is absolutely chilling. Take a look at the trailer for IT'S A GIRL and then watch the full movie on NETFLIX.

I created a collection of posters on Polyvore to draw attention to gendercide. You can see the full group of 30 by clicking here. Share them and raise awareness.

Gendercide Poster #25Gendercide Poster #27

Celebrate INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL! Read, reflect, and reach out, rgz!

LorieAnncard2010small.jpg image by readergirlz

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10. International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding

International Year of Youth- logoOn December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming the year commencing today, August 12th 2010, and ending on August 11th 2011, as the International Year of Youth (IYY). Under the theme “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,” the Year aims to promote the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and solidarity across generations, cultures, religions and civilizations. The Year also coincides with the 25th anniversary of the first International Youth Year in 1985, when a framework and guidelines for national action and international support to improve the situation of young people were first put into place.

For an overview of the importance of the Year for young people, take a look at this brochure, which soon will be available in all UN official languages.

If you are planning to hold an event in celebration of the International Year of Youth and would like to officially register it, you may do so here.

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11. To Be a Child Soldier

By Susan C. Mapp

On December 23, 2002, the United States ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This document defines a “child soldier” as a person under the age of 18 involved in hostilities. This raises the minimum age from the age of 15 set in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Neuroscience is now providing us with the tools to see what many have long suspected: the adolescent brain has not yet fully developed. In particular, the prefrontal cortex, which regulates complicated decision-making and calculation of risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. The American Bar Association used this knowledge in its support of the ban on the death penalty for minors.

Article 7 of this document states that nations who are parties to it will cooperate in the, “rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims.” The Declarations and Reservations made by US related primarily its recruitment of 17-year-olds and noting that the ratification did not mean any acceptance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child itself, nor the International Criminal Court, thus indicating its acceptance of Article 7.

However, the United States frequently detains and incarcerates child soldiers. The United Nations has noted the “presence of considerable numbers of children in United States-administered detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan” (p.6). The New York Times states the U.S. report to the UN regarding its compliance with the Optional Protocol states that it has held thousands of children in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. The same report also states that a total of eight children have been held at Guantanamo Bay.

The United States is currently in the process of trying a child soldier who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for the past 8 years. Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, is accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer. Omar was 15 years old at the time, well below the minimum age for child soldiers. The head of UNICEF, a former U.S. national security advisor, has stated his opposition to the trial:

The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible – the adult recruiters – should be prosecuted.  The children involved are victims, acting under coercion. As UNICEF has stated in previous statements on this issue, former child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution.

The Paris Principles, principles and guidelines on children associated with armed groups, was developed in 2007 to provide guidance on these issues. Developed by the United Nations, it has been endorsed by 84 nations as of 2009, not including the United States. It states that “Children … accused

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12. Assassinating terrorist leaders: A matter of international law

By Louis René Beres

Osama bin Laden was assassinated by U.S. special forces on May 1, 2011. Although media emphasis thus far has been focused almost entirely on the pertinent operational and political issues surrounding this “high value” killing, there are also important jurisprudential aspects to the case. These aspects require similar attention. Whether or not killing Osama was a genuinely purposeful assassination from a strategic perspective, a question that will be debated for years to come, we should now also inquire:  Was it legal?

Assassination is ordinarily a crime under international law. Still, in certain residual circumstances, the targeted killing of principal terrorist leaders can be defended as a fully permissible example of  law-enforcement. In the best of all possible worlds, there would never be any need for such decentralized or “vigilante” expressions of international justice, but – we don’t yet live in such a world. Rather, enduring in our present and still anarchic global legal order, as President Barack Obama correctly understood, the only real alternative to precise self-defense actions against terrorists is apt to be a worsening global instability, and also escalating terrorist violence against the innocent.

Almost by definition, the idea of assassination as remediation seems an oxymoron. At a minimum, this idea seemingly precludes all normal due processes of law. Yet, since the current state system’s inception in the seventeenth century, following the Thirty Years’ War and the resultant Peace of Westphalia (1648), international relations have not been governed by the same civil protections as individual states. In this world legal system, which lacks effective supra-national authority, Al Qaeda leader bin Laden was indisputably responsible for the mass killings of many noncombatant men, women and children. Had he not been assassinated by the United States, his egregious crimes would almost certainly have gone entirely unpunished.

The indiscriminacy of Al Qaeda operations under bin Laden was never the result of inadvertence. It was, instead, the intentional outcome of profoundly murderous principles that lay deeply embedded in the leader’s view of Jihad. For bin Laden, there could never be any meaningful distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. For bin Laden, all that mattered was the distinction between Muslims and “unbelievers.”

As for the lives of unbelievers, it was all very simple.  These lives had no value. They had no sanctity.

Every government has the right and obligation to protect its own citizens. In certain circumstances, this may even extend to assassination. The point has long been understood in Washington, where every president in recent memory has given nodding or more direct approval to “high value” assassination operations. Of course,  lower-value or more tactical assassination efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have become a very regular feature of U.S. special operations.

There are some points of legal comparison with the recent NATO strike that killed Moammar Gadhafi’s second-youngest son, and his three grandchildren. While this was a thinly-disguised assassination attempt that went awry, the target, although certainly a supporter of his own brand of terrorists, had effectively been immunized from any deliberate NATO harms by the U.N. Security Council’s  limited definition of humanitarian intervention.

It is generally

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13. Q&A With Monique Coleman, UN Youth Champion

You might know Monique Coleman best as Taylor McKessie from the High School Musical series, but she’s recently taken on a new role that she thinks is the most important of her life. She is working with the United Nations as the first ever UN... Read the rest of this post

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14. Soon facing Iranian nuclear missiles

The United States, preemption, and international law

By Professor Louis René Beres
Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney
General Thomas G. McInerney

For now,  the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath still occupy center-stage in the Middle East and North Africa. Nonetheless, from a regional and perhaps even global security perspective, the genuinely core threat to peace and stability remains Iran. Whatever else might determinably shape ongoing transformations of power and authority in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia, it is apt to pale in urgency beside the steadily expanding prospect of a nuclear Iran.

Enter international law. Designed, inter alia, to ensure the survival of states in a persistently anarchic world – a world originally fashioned after the Thirty Years War and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – this law includes the “inherent” right of national self-defense. Such right may be exercised not only after an attack has already been suffered, but, sometimes, also, in advance of an expected attack.

What can now be done, lawfully, about relentless Iranian nuclear weapons development?  Do individual states, especially those in greatest prospective danger from any expressions of Iranian nuclear aggression, have a legal right to strike first defensively? In short, could such a preemption ever be permissible under international law?

For the United States, preemption remains a part of codified American military doctrine. But is this national doctrine necessarily consistent with the legal and complex international expectations of anticipatory self-defense?

To begin, international law derives from multiple authoritative sources, including international custom. Although written law of the UN Charter (treaty law) reserves the right of self-defense only to those states that have already suffered an attack (Article 51), equally valid customary law still permits a first use of force if the particular danger posed is “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” Stemming from an 1837 event in jurisprudential history known as the Caroline, which concerned the unsuccessful rebellion in Upper Canada against British rule, this doctrine builds purposefully upon a seventeenth-century formulation of Hugo Grotius.

Self-defense, says the classical Dutch scholar in, The Law of War and Peace (1625), may be permitted “not only after an attack has already been suffered, but also in advance, where the deed may be anticipated.”  In his later text of 1758, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, Swiss jurist Emmerich de Vattel affirmed: “A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.”

Article 51 of the UN Charter, limiting self-defense to circumstances following an attack, does not override the customary right of anticipatory self-defense.  Interestingly, especially for Americans, the works of Grotius and Vattel were favorite readings of Thomas Jefferson, who relied  heavily upon them for crafting the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

We should also recall Article VI of the US Constitution, and assorted US Supreme Court decisions. These proclaim, straightforwardly, that international law is necessarily part of the law of the United States.

The Caroline notes an implicit distinction between preventive war (which is never legal), and preemptive war. The latter is not permitted merely to protect oneself against an emerging threat, but only when the danger posed is “instant” and

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15. Extractive industries, intellectual property, and the health of indigenous peoples

By William H. Wiist

Because the corporate goal is to obtain the highest profit possible, not social welfare, public health or environmental sustainability, business interests often give little or no consideration to the effects of corporate practices on indigenous peoples. Thus, the estimated 257 to 370 million indigenous peoples in about 5,000 communities in 70 countries, speaking 5,000 of the 6,000 existing languages, often experience severe detrimental consequences from commercial activity. The effects of extractive industries such as mining, agricultural crops and timber, and the theft of intellectual property rights illustrate some of those consequences.

Extractive industries

In many parts of the world, indigenous people inhabit areas that have been identified as areas with abundant resources that are in demand as profitable ventures for global industries:

Forests for the logging industry; oil and gas for exploration and drilling industries; gold and other minerals for mining companies and agriculture; use of the land for mono crop farming such as tobacco, palm oil, coffee, rubber; dams on indigenous land to create lakes or use of rivers to produce electrical energy; and nature reserves established in areas where they displace the indigenous peoples living there.

These extractions are reminiscent of early European appropriation of the Americas under the concept of “terra nulius” that is, land not belonging to anyone, and therefore available for the taking, even though millions of indigenous peoples had inhabited an area for thousands of years prior to European explorations.

The various extractive industries have several effects in common relative to indigenous peoples: [1]

1. The industrial operations displace indigenous people from their ancestral homes and land which have been integral to their spiritual, physical, mental and emotional life, requiring indigenous people to move to other remote but unfamiliar areas, or to migrate to the unsanitary, unhealthful fringes of urban areas with unlikely means of earning a decent livelihood. As a result the indigenous people experience social disorganization in their relationships to each other, and disruption of their relations with other indigenous group. They are forced to interact in new and unfamiliar settings with unfamiliar types of people, practices and ways of behavior.

2. This displacement, dispersion and migration leads to loss of their language and culture.

3. Their ancestral land may be confiscated with no or little financial remuneration for the land or for the extracted substance.

4. With loss of land, they lose their traditional livelihood, subsistence farming or place for gathering food and traditional medicinal plants.

5. Their sacred land or water be polluted by the extractive operations.

6. Contacts with extractive industry workers may expose the indigenous peoples to new diseases that they then transmit to their families, neighbors and other groups of indigenous peoples.

The Case of the Nahua and Nati Peoples in Peru

Napolitano described a 20 year history of an indigenous peoples’ contact with extractive industries within a territorial reserve the government established for four groups of indigenous people in an isolated area of the Amazon River. [2] Logging of mahogany and cedar, and oil operations in or near the area during the 1970s and 1980s led to some violence against the industry operations, some displacement of one indigenous group, and interethnic clashes between groups. In about 2001, work began on a gas field concession granted by the Peruvian government, 75 percent of which was within the territorial reserve.

Loggers working in an area of the Amazon encountered members of the Nahua indigenous group. Some of the Nahua went down river and interacted with the loggers. Upon their return up river, epidemics, including pneumonia, compli

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16. Celebrating International Women’s Day

As you may know, today is International Women’s Day. Although it has become a bit of a Valentine’s Day sequel in some communities, many countries are still recognizing the holiday for it’s original purpose. The United Nations created this day to recognize women who have impacted our world, as well as a way to focus public service efforts towards women in need around the world.

Each year since 1975 (when the United States began celebrating IWD), the United Nations selects a theme to focus the day’s efforts. This year’s theme is “Empower Rural Women- End Hunger and Poverty”, and I encourage you to find out more about what you can do to participate in this important cause.

Another way to celebrate women is by learning about a woman who has changed history, particularly those who have not received recognition for her contributions. Remembering these women, many of whom weren’t recognized in their own day or have since been forgotten, is an important aspect of realizing how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go, in terms of women’s rights. Click on the image below for a selection of Lee & Low titles that introduce you to some such women, each of whom, we believe, should have her own holiday.

Book Covers for Books about Women

Filed under: Diversity Links, Holidays Tagged: International Women's Day, IWD, United Nations, women in history

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17. Challenges for international law

By John Louth and Merel Alstein

What is a state? We think we know but when we compare things that are (e.g. Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein) to things that are not (e.g. Scotland, Kosovo, Palestine) our understanding unravels. This is a core question of international law and the troubling thing is that the best experts in the subject wouldn’t give a consistent explanation for the differences between these examples.

The UN is the closest thing we have to a world government. It is founded on a legal document (The UN Charter), it has a Court to resolve disputes between members, it has a Parliament of states (the General Assembly), and crucially, unlike its predecessor the League of Nations, it can authorize collective enforcement of its will (via the Security Council). There are dozens of other international organizations getting on with regulating different aspects of the world’s behaviour, so how come in spite of this appearance of a legal order, international law seems incapable of addressing urgent problems of poverty, violence, and climate change? How come the powerful get away with breaking the law? Why does justice so often get trumped by expediency?

Maybe that’s not fair — our national governments suffer from these same failings too. They do some basic things well (international law does a great job co-ordinating postage and telecoms) but can’t seem to manage the big breakthroughs. Surely there is a difference though: we created the international system to improve on what our governments can achieve on their own. If it can’t do better, then what is the point?

Today more people than ever before are engaged with international law. Many are, as one would expect, learning and applying it, but an increasingly vocal proportion question its role, its effectiveness and even its very existence. If it is to fulfil its promise, international law needs to rise to the following challenges.

(1) Is it law or is it just about power?

International lawyers are tired of hearing this question but it isn’t addressed to them. It is addressed to the leaders who take part in a legal order yet subvert it at the same time. Every state sends and receives diplomats yet simultaneously carries out espionage. States choose to use law to enforce some obligations whilst insisting not to be bound by others. The late great Sir Ian Brownlie used to say “if you doubt the reality of international law, have a look at my bank balance”, i.e. his clients (states) were paying him so they must believe it in. But that is just the problem — the very actors that Brownlie cited as proof of the reality of the law are the ones who can also make it seem like an optional extra, not a source of obligation.

(2) Who does it apply to?

Nowadays many of the entities regulated by so-called international law are not nations: corporations, international organizations, indigenous peoples, individuals, armed resistance groups. Cases at the International Criminal Court pit its Prosecutor (an individual acting on behalf of an international organization) against an individual criminal defendant. Then a group comes along who certainly seem to merit the protection of international law, such as the Guantanamo detainees, and we find that they don’t fit into any accepted legal category. If states can insist that only those laws they consent to can bind them, what about all of these other entities? Do they get more of a say in the content and application of the law? Should there be gaps in protection from human rights abuses?

(3) Where does it reach?

This follows from the last question. International law claims to reach directly into domestic legal systems; treaties apply to situations and places that nobody ever expected when they were first agreed. Then we have the increased use of outer space and the virtual arena of cyber space to contend with. Will these develop as adaptations of international law and if so would that not begin to stretch “international law” to the point where it is so diverse as to be meaningless?

(4) Are we expecting too much from a legal system?

International law can only move forward when there is a political consensus that it should. In the absence of political will, it is impossible to subject new areas to international law or to increase its reach. It is hard to square this compromising approach with international law’s progressive and at times utopian spirit. The planned recognition of Palestine as a state is a good illustration of the pragmatic dilemma: the legal order is advanced (by recognizing a new state) whilst also undermined (by restricting what statehood means).

(5) How can we know the content of international law?

The two primary sources of international law are custom and treaties. Whilst nothing involving lawyers is ever clear cut, treaties are vastly easier to engage with than custom, the exact nature of which remains shrouded in mystery. How customary law is formed and who is bound by it are matters that are crying out for authoritative resolution. For international law to be taken more seriously it is vital that the processes and content of custom are clarified and made available to all those who might use it or be affected by it.

Scholarly legal publishing has its part to play. We cannot of course makes statesmen and women take their obligations more seriously nor put in place the economic prosperity in which ideas of justice and fairness have a better chance of taking root. We can however nurture scholarship which looks to clarify the nature, content, and scope of international law.

John Louth is editor-in-chief of academic law books, journals and online, and head of Oxford University Press’ US law office. Merel Alstein is commissioning editor for books in the area of international law.

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Image credit: School of Law. Photo by SeanPavonePhoto, iStockphoto.

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18. News From United Nations Global Compact: A new resolution to put emphasis on strengthening the role of local GC network

The United Nations Global Compact can be a secret weapon for professional authors in getting an unheard-of-before title into the mainstream distribution channel, as retailers increasingly look for a more global literary flavor to offer readers. As a committed stakeholder of the United Nations Global Compact, and one of the few U.S. book publishing partners to maintain an active role, Schiel & Denver is pleased to add our support to the Second Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (Economic and Financial Committee) as they took the progressive step of adopting a resolution on the evolving relationship between the United Nations and the private sector in the American publishing industries.

For those unaware, the Global Compact initiative has made substantial progress for book publishing in America, less than a year after the critical UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which brought together different factions of government leaders (from both developed and developing nations) in an effort to build consensus on a more sustainable course for representing publishing and printing business in partnership with governments, local authorities, civil society and UN entities.

As a book publishers with a modern chain of custody gradually ending dependence on wood fibers and pulp to make our books, and keen on embracing digital eBook publishing – particularly in our Christian book publishing division, our view is that the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum is shaping up to be a vibrant and unparalleled platform for innovative businesses like Schiel & Denver, and key stakeholders to demonstrate real action, make commitments and mobilize genuine consumer growth towards a more environmentally sustainable future.

Putting our authors first continues to be Schiel & Denver’s primary mission, and with on-going author support on a daily basis – our book publishing program is designed to provide a firm infrastructure for our partners, leverage opportunities and harness our book publishing logistics. Schiel & Denver succeeds at building momentum for our author’s books, as they move into the competitive marketplace to sell to the book buying public.

As 2012 closes, Schiel & Denver is pleased we continue to be of value for our passion and commitment to new writers, not least the broad efforts that our business plays to help set a better course for emerging literary talent. Being able to ‘tap’ the United Nations Global Compact’s mainstream benefits for global book distribution forms a corporate sustainability service that our authors’ need and deserve.

Book publisher and Self Publishing Information provided by S&D book publishers and christian book publishers as a courtesy.


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19. What does the future hold for international arbitration?

How can we outline the discussion on the law and practice of international arbitration? What is the legal process for the drafting of the arbitration agreements or the enforcement of arbitral awards? Long-time international arbitrators Constantine Partasides, Alan Redfern, and Martin Hunters — co-authors of Redfern and Hunter on International Arbitration: Fifth Edition with Nigel Blackaby — sat down with the OUPblog to discuss the latest developments in their field. Watch the following videos to learn more about current views on international arbitration and what changes they expect to see in the future.

How did the idea of writing a book come about?

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What challenges are arbitrators facing now?

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How do you view the future of international commercial arbitration? 

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Nigel Blackaby, Constantine Partasides, Alan Redfern, and Martin Hunter are the authors of Redfern and Hunter on International Arbitration: Fifth Edition. Nigel Blackaby is one of the partners of the international arbitration group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Washington, DC. Constantine Partasides is a one of the partners of the international arbitration group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London. Alan Redfern is the barrister and international arbitrator at One Essex Court Chambers in London. Martin Hunter is currently a barrister and international arbitrator at One Essex Court Chambers.

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20. Every Four Seconds

I was struck yesterday by a news item about a UN report that states that the number of refugees in the world is now at a twenty year high – with a person leaving their home to seek refuge and safety every four seconds. Every four seconds. That is the state of our world. Syria alone now accounts for 1.6 million refugees. And world wide 46 percent of refugees are under eighteen – essentially children by our own definition.

So last year approximately 2 million children left their homes, sometimes with parents, sometimes without, to find a safer place to live. Children born into war, prejudice and starvation. These two million joined the seven million who are already out there.

Contrary to the image portrayed by some sectors of the media the majority of these refugees are being supported and looked after by the developing world – 86 percent of all refugees are in the care of the developing world.

And a statistic that took me by surprise, one in four of all refugees is from Afghanistan – and has been for the past 32 years. For 32 years there has been a steady stream of people fleeing Afghanistan in search of safety. A country that the US has spent $636,000,000,000 being at war with (and this number increases every second – see Cost of War website for the figures)

Today is World Refugee Day – the UN has a page detailing how people can help refugees and you can find it here.  Small things can make a difference.

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21. 496 Million Women

496 million. That’s how many women in the world can’t read or write even the most simple sentence. Many women never have the opportunity to reach 6th grade, and some don’t get to go to school at all.

Today, we join citizens around the world in celebrating International Women’s Day, and I want to share the stories of Dinah Mwangi and Katie Hendricks, two special women whose lives exemplify the theme of this year’s celebration, “Equality for Women is Progress for All.”

Dinah MwangiDinah makes progress for all in Nairobi, Kenya. While waiting in line at a carwash, Dinah noticed two young boys straining to see what she was reading – a children’s book she had purchased for her niece. When she asked if they would like to join her, the boys lit up.

They read, and laughed and shared stories with Dinah. Then they told her they had no books of their own.

Dinah started buying books with her own salary and recruited volunteers to read and distribute them to kids each Saturday. In less than three months, she had over 500 kids participating. Now she’s pursuing relationships with Kenyan publishers, corporations and funders in order to expand her reach and deepen her impact.

On the other side of the world, Katie makes progress for all by helping girls from low-income families in California’s East Bay bridge the gap between school and home.

Photo from girlsinc-alameda.orgAs a young teacher, Katie yearned to improve all aspects of her students’ lives, inside and outside the classroom. Her holistic approach led her to create Girls Inc. of Alameda County, a program that inspires girls to be strong, smart and bold. Katie and her team reinforce what their girls learn at school, help them become fluent English speakers, provide them with healthy meals and expose them to subjects girls aren’t always encouraged to study, like science, technology and athletics.

By improving the lives of girls in California’s East Bay, Katie also improves the lives of their family members, teachers, friends and classmates.

Dinah and Katie represent what’s possible when women have the education, resources and motivation to make progress for all. Their immediate impact on the kids they serve is immense. Equally powerful, however, is how their spirit and service ripple through entire communities, transform lives and change the future.

In addition to celebrating heroic women like Dinah and Katie, I invite you to join me in recommitting ourselves to becoming a powerful force for equality.

The gender gap has closed significantly over the past few decades, but we still have a long way to go. In some countries, less than a quarter of women finish primary school; 496 million women around the world cannot read or write a simple sentence; and globally, women only reach 93 percent of men’s educational attainment.

I believe the path to equality is through access to quality education. That’s why First Book is equipping educators like Dinah and Katie with brand-new books and resources for the kids they serve, expanding our network to reach women and girls around the globe and lifting up the voices of an unprecedented community of individuals serving children at the base of the economic pyramid.

Please consider a gift to First Book today. Together, we can support the work of heroic women like Dinah and Katie around the world.

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22. Five to Rule Them All: An Excerpt

Sarah Noonan, Intern

Yesterday David L. Bosco blogged for us about Obama’s speech in front of the UN General Assembly. Below is an excerpt from his new book, Five To Rule Them All: The UN Security 9780195328769Council and the Making of The Modern World, which tells the inside story of this remarkable diplomatic creation, illuminating the role of the Security Council in the postwar world, and making a compelling case for its enduring importance. In the excerpt below we are introduced to the Security Council.

The Security Council is like no other body in history. Its five permanent members-China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-account for nearly 30 percent of the world’s population and more than 40 percent of global economic output. In military affairs, their dominance is even more overwhelming. They control more than 26,000 nuclear warheads, 99% of all those in existence. They have a combined 5.5 million men and women in arms. When the Council is united, its members can wage war, impose blockades, unseat governments, and levy sanctions, all in the name of the international community. There are almost no limits to the body’s authority.
The council usually meets in the UN headquarters complex on New York’s East River, but it has greater power and authority than the rest of the sprawling organization. The council is a creature of great-power politics, not international bureaucracy. It is built on the assumption that five of the strongest nations have the right and duty to safeguard the globe. Most of the UN structure insists that member states are equal; the council, by contrast, grants the most powerful countries special rights and responsibilities.

The idea that the great powers should chaperone the world is not new. Coalitions of powerful nations-including the Congress of Vienna and the Holy Alliance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries-have tried before. The Geneva-based League of Nations, inaugurated in 1920, was the world’s answer to the horror of the First World War. It constituted the first fully developed world political organization, and it had a council of major powers charged with preserving the peace. The league and its council died prematurely when they failed to prevent an even more devastating war, but the idea of a world organization endured.

During its almost seven decades of operation, the UN Security Council has launched a broad range of diplomatic, legal, and even military initiatives to provide order. Since the late-1980s, its activities have increased dramatically. The council has blessed armed interventions in places like Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, and Kuwait. It has imposed sanctions on the regimes in Serbia, Libya, and Sudan; launched war crimes courts to try sitting heads of state; and targeted terrorist finances. During the Cold War, the United States usually felt comfortable exercising its military power without the council’s permission. No longer. Even the George W. Bush administration-with its deep skepticism of the United Nations-worked to get the council’s approval for its policies. For many, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq demonstrated the perils of operating without the council’s blessing, and the body has emerged from the imbroglio active and relevant. In 2007, the council authorized peacekeeping missions that involved more than 100,000 troops from dozens of nations. From nuclear proliferation to the global war against terrorism to genocide in Africa, the council is often the cockpit for global politics.

Yet even the council’s vigorous post-Cold War activity has fallen well short of effective global governance. Atrocities and crimes against humanity still plague many parts of the globe. Entire countries have collapsed, and in so doing they have exported refugees, drugs, and radicalism. Since the 1980s, Pakistan, India, and North Korea have tested nuclear weapons while the council watched. These shortcomings have led to frequent and angry charges that it is feckless, impotent, and unprincipled. More than a few commentators have charged that the United Nations and its council are an impediment rather than an aid to world order.

The council’s new activism has stirred hopes that it will assure world order, stop atrocities, and counter global threats like terrorism and weapons proliferation. Yet it exists in a world of realpolitik. Its members are, above all, powerful states with their own diverging interests. Time and again, the council’s performance has dashed hopes that its members would somehow rise above their narrow interests and work together to establish a more peaceful and just world.

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23. Countdown to Copenhagen: Mark Maslin

By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK

Next week sees the beginning of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Copenhagen. The aim of the conference is to reach an ambitious global agreement including all the countries in the world. This week OUPblog will be posting a series of Countdown to Copenhagen blogs from some of our authors. Kicking things off is Professor Mark Maslin, who is the Head of Department and Director of the Environment Institute at University College London, and the author of Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction.

Climate change is the most important science issue of the 21st century, challenging the very structure of our global society. The COP 15 meeting at Copenhagen provides a real opportunity for global society to decide how to deal with this major threat. We already know that atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from a pre-industrial level of 280 ppmv to 389 ppmv by 2009. This has already caused climate change; with clear evidence for a 0.75°C rise in global temperatures and 22 cm rise in sea level during the 20th century. In the last 150 years the twelve warmest years on record have all occurred in the last thirteen years: 1998 was the warmest, followed by 2005, 2002, 2003 and 2004, while 2008 was the 10th warmest year on record. The threat of climate change has been assessed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 synthesis report. Based on 23 complex climate models they predict that global temperatures by 2100 could rise by between 1.1°C and 6.4°C (best estimates being 1.8˚C to 4˚C). Sea level could rise by between 28 cm and 79 cm, more if the melting of Greenland and Antarctica accelerates. The potentially effects of climate change on human society are devastating, including drastic changes in global health, agriculture, the economy, water resources, coastal regions, storms and other extreme climate events, and biodiversity. The IPCC states that the scientific evidence for global warming is unequivocal and there is very high confidence that this is due human activity. This view is supported by a vast array of learned organisations, including the Royal Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is why the negotiations at COP15 at Copenhagen are so important.

vsiglobalwarmingI believe a legally binding agreement to limited global warming to a maximum of 2˚C above pre-industrial temperatures is required at Copenhagen. This has profound implications as the science tell us this is equivalent to putting a total of a trillion tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere. As we have already emitted half a trillion tonnes the political challenge at Copenhagen and COP16 in Mexico is how to limit the world to just another half a trillion tonnes of carbon. The first challenge is the essential involvement of Developing countries in long-term carbon reduction targets because the scale their current and future pollution. Of course this will only occur is the rich countries such as the EU and USA lead the way with stringent cuts. It is also moral imperative, however, that people in the poorest countries have the right to develop and to obtain the same life style we currently enjoy. We also need massive investment in alternative/renewable power sources and low carbon technology. One of the key ways that Developing Countries may be encouraged to achieve reduction targets given a positive lead by the western world would be through carbon trading and other financial incentives. The s

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24. Countdown to Copenhagen: Joe Smith

By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK

Joe Smith is senior lecturer in environment in the social sciences faculty at The Open University and Co-Director of the Cambridge Media & Environment Programme which runs seminars on environmental change and development issues for senior media decision makers. Joe is initiator and chair of Interdependence Day a new communications and research project. He is also co-author (with Stephen Peake) of Climate Change: From Science to Sustainability, an interdisciplinary introduction that takes the reader from keystones of the underlying science – and not just the headlines – through to the philosophical and political consequences of climate change. In his Countdown to Copenhagen post, he talks about ‘truth’ and climate change in the light of the recent hacked emails at the University of East Anglia.

For the rest of the Countdown to Copenhagen posts, click here.

What to say about ‘truth’ and climate science in the context of what appears to be the theft of ten years worth of private emails between climate researchers by mischief-making hackers? I’m not going to comment further on the incident but it proves once again that there are some highly motivated people out there who want to tear up the narrative that climate change is human caused and requires urgent action. There are a small number of high profile media commentators who have savoured the opportunity to insist once again that climate change is a massive science fraud and big-state tax plot.

climate change joe smithHow should we investigate the notion that humans are changing the climate? Who is best equipped to advise on how to behave in an experiment that we may only get to run once? If I wanted to know about a very complex scientific problem I’d start looking for answers by running the biggest scientific peer review process in human history. The IPCC is exactly that. It was set up to do the best job possible in making sense of an enormously demanding intellectual question: does human activity influence the climate – in the past, present and future?

The dominant model of science is one of aggressive (individual or lab based) competition to get the most convincing arguments supported by publicly published evidence, and to break new ground with original and supportable arguments. As an outsider looking in I think that that can be an unproductive form of ‘knowledge generation’, but one thing for sure is that it isn’t designed to produce consensus around such a complex topic as climate change. The IPCC is a review process with only a very small secretariat, and the thousands of scientists who generate the work across many disciplines that make up the raw material of the review are all highly competitive. The IPCC reports should be all the more disturbing for the fact that they point to so much willingness to agree within the science community on the headline themes.

Why then does a substantial minority of the population feel more confidence in Lords Monckton or Lawson, or the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips? It is the intellectual equivalent of backing a Sunday pub team of vain injured veterans against Real Madrid’s best side. We’ve all got pretty good feeling for who has the better f

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25. Countdown to Copenhagen: Gordon Wilson

By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK

In the last of this week’s Countdown to Copenhagen blog posts, Gordon Wilson of the Open University writes about public action and climate change beyond the COP15 summit. He is Senior lecturer in Technology & Development, and has been writing and researching on development issues for many years. These include technological capabilities, professional expertise and practice, knowledge production through active social learning, and science and technology for development. He has also written extensively on sustainable development. He is one of the editors of Environment, Development, and Sustainability: Perspectives and cases from around the world.

Click here for the rest of the Countdown to Copenhagen blogs.

World leaders at COP15 may or may not put their pens to a deal where it is worth waiting for the ink to dry. But to place too much reliance on anything that raises hopes is more than creating a hostage to fortune. It amounts to abrogating our responsibilities as citizens through setting up straw people who fall down when they fail to deliver.

The history of public policy and action has shown that they are rarely the sole acts of benign, neutral government drawing the right conclusions from technical analyses. More likely they copenhagenwilsonrepresent a process of more-or-less ruly accommodations between many players and their different interests. Governments may be the most important of these players, but they are not the only ones. The history of public health initiatives in 19th century UK provides a useful lesson in this regard, the favourable social indicators of the Indian state of Kerala compared with the rest of India another. There is no reason to suppose that these lessons of how public needs come to be defined do not also apply to the international arena.

With respect to climate change, we owe a great debt to the scientists who created a consensus under the umbrella of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and who have ensured that the issue is on national and international agendas. We should not forget, however, the potential role of informed citizens operating individually or collectively in defining public policies and actions. This role is more than ‘green’ behaviour in terms of, for example, doing our bit to reduce carbon footprints. It is also more than our right in many countries to elect and de-elect our governments, important as that is. (In any case, at an international scale, a world government that is democratically accountable is not even on the radar.) Nor does it necessarily concern our ability to mount 10, or even 100, demonstrations relating to Copenhagen. It does concern, however, our abilities to apply individual and collective pressure through a combination of working with, and where necessary confronting, governments and their international manifestations, and demonstrating alternatives.

I stress the qualifying adjective ‘informed’ which I don’t restrict to citizen understanding of the science of climate change and its likely impacts, nor of the social science of understanding socio-economic impacts. Such understandings are undoubtedly necessary to be ‘informed’ but they are not sufficient. Knowing the ‘facts’ is neither enough to change personal lifestyles nor to change po

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