Tagged: human rights

Anonymous

Why is Ethiopia’s the most under-reported conflict in the world?

German chancellor Merkel in Addis Ababa (October 2016)
German Chancellor Merkel in Addis Ababa, October 2016 (Photo credit: Bundesregierung/Steins)

According to Chris Blattman, the situation in Ethiopia is the most under-reported conflict in the world right now. This is rather true. (Although some media outlets reported on the recent political turmoil in Ethiopia, such as some German press in the context of the recent visit by Chancellor Merkel to Addis Ababa.)

In November last year, the first protests against the Ethiopian Government unfolded in the Oromia region when the government wanted to expand the margins of the city of Addis. As this implied the resettlement of the local Oromo population, this was considered by the Oromo – the largest ethnic group in the country – as a further expression of their political and economic marginalization.

The situation calmed down a little over spring this year and erupted again in summer, when the Amhara people in the North started anti-government protests. The military was deployed and further unrest unfolded again in the Oromia region. For the first time, an alliance between the Oromo and the Amhara was built. Since November last year, at least 500 people have been killed by security forces and tens of thousands have been arrested according to Human Rights Watch. What started as protest against the expansion of Addis turned into an expression of general dissatisfaction with authoritarianism and lack of public participation in the past two and a half decades.

On October 9, the Ethiopian Government declared a state of emergency for the first time in 25 years. This was after more than fifty people died at an Oromo religious festival in Bishoftu (close to Addis). A week after, further details on the state of emergency were made public. Now, the government can arrest and detain for six months (the duration of the emergency state) any person contravening the emergency prohibitions, and conduct searches without a court warrant.

There are now severe restrictions to the freedom to assembly and protest, and any communication with foreign governments or foreign NGOs “that is likely to harm sovereignty, security, and constitutional order” as well as any communication with “anti-peace groups” is prohibited. Moreover, the Government can monitor and restrict “messages transmitted” through different sorts of media outlets. This is reflected in cutting off the internet access through the mobile network, which is a major internet access route in Ethiopia, as well as the disabling of social media.

On October 15, shortly after declaring the state of emergency, the Ethiopian Government also announced reforms, including a reform of the electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation. A change of the cabinet has already taken place, and tackling corruption has been declared a priority.

So why are these developments in Ethiopia the most under-reported conflict in the world?

To reiterate: Ethiopia is experiencing political unrest over an extended period, and the  state of emergency has been declared for the first time in 25 years. This could be reason enough to report on the situation, but there is more: Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa (with nearly 100 million inhabitants), only topped by Nigeria. Secondly, Ethiopia’s GDP grew rapidly over the last years, with a growth of 9.6% in 2015. Thirdly, Ethiopia is considered by many as a bulwark against Islamist movements on the Horn of Africa. Despite recently retreating some forces, Ethiopia has been very active in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia.

The importance of Ethiopia (for the West) is a good reason to follow the current political events. At the same time, it provides at least a partial explanation for the lack of coverage. Looking at the increasing levels of development assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia, most notably the United States and the United Kingdom, it seems as if the West buys into two arguments by the Ethiopian Government: Political participation and democratic rights are less important than (1) Ethiopia’s economic development and (2) regional stability in the fight against terrorism.

For the U.S. and the United Kingdom, this is also reflected in their national focus on the “war on terror” and their own balancing of national security in relation to human rights. A similar dynamic exists with regard to the World Bank’s and other donors’ prioritizing of poverty reduction over issues of political governance when they decide on Ethiopia’s ODA levels.

Though it has to be mentioned that the U.S., among others, expressed that they were “deeply concerned” over the situation in Ethiopia, actions speak louder than words. It needs to be seen whether or not Western ODA levels continue to grow. In the same manner, we should all observe (and report on!) whether or not the Ethiopian government will really deliver on its reform promises.

Inshah Malik

The stalemate over Kashmir: How to resolve Asia’s oldest conflict?

On July 9, the Indian army killed a 23-year-old popular Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani. Since then, the region is under strict curfew. Due to the authority’s iron-fisted response to dissent, over seventy people are dead, more than eight thousand civilians are injured and about six hundred are blinded due to the use of pellet-guns. The right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remain unwilling to treat Kashmir as an international political issue and continue to disengage Kashmir’s demand for self-determination.

The disputed area of Kashmir (2003), from UT Austin's map collection
The disputed area of Kashmir (2003), from UT Austin’s map collection

The former state of Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the British-installed Dogra monarchy, is now divided between India, Pakistan, and China. The monarchy, through different periods, had seen several upheavals from its subjects. These Kashmiri uprising(s) paralleled the subcontinent’s anti-colonial struggle against the British rule. The British exit from the region in 1947 led to the partition of the Indian subcontinent, birthing two new countries—India and Pakistan. This left the Dogra king of Kashmir, Hari Singh, with an option to join either of the newly formed modern nations.

Singh, presiding over a Muslim majority, remained undecided. The undecidedness of the Kashmiri monarch is attributed to the complex political nature of Kashmiri society. The uprising in Poonch region in 1947 that sought to join Kashmir with Pakistan proved that the national will of Kashmiris could not be galvanized for a merger with either one of the nations. In the Kashmir valley, the popular leader Sheikh Abdullah propounded politics of Kashmiri nationalism with strong opposition to the idea of partition. To quash the Poonch rebellion and to deter the tribesmen entering from the north in support of the rebels,  fearing that the rebellion would break the country, the monarch sought the Indian military intervention. The military help came with a condition to accede to India.

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Sören Stapel

Dealing with the African Governance Transfer Tangle

AU HQ
AU Commission headquarter and Peace and Security Council buildings in Addis Ababa.

At the end of October, when the streets in Ouagadougou were filled with protesters calling attention to a reverberating crisis that is not unique to Burkina Faso, the African Union convened the 3rd High Level Dialogue on Democratic Governance in Africa in Dakar, Senegal, themed “Silencing the Guns: Strengthening Governance to Prevent, Manage and Resolve Conflicts in Africa”. This was the third workshop in a series of meetings organized under the auspices of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the African Union Commission. While the inaugural High Level Dialogue in November 2012 was broadly framed as “Governance and Democracy in Africa: Trends, Challenges and Prospects”, the follow-up consultations focused on constitutional order and the rule of law in 2013 and the governance-conflict nexus this year.

The High Level Dialogue is meant to bring together actors involved in the promotion and protection of governance standards in domestic contexts: AU organs and officials, actors from the regional economic communities, civil society, African citizens, and numerous stakeholders. These dialogues will hopefully initiate and promote the exchange of ideas and best practices amongst various governance actors, and help develop a common understanding and mutual support in fighting the governance gap in Africa’s domestic contexts. The consultations involved a social media campaign. Documents can be retrieved from the DPA’s Scribd page and some buzz was created via Twitter – see #DGTrends and #SilencingTheGuns. [The very informative DGTrends Website has been off for some days now.] Continue reading

Salvador Santino Jr Regilme

Human Rights Research in Political Science

santinoHR

Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy, human rights abuses remain pervasive in many parts of the world. State-sanctioned abuses such as extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and political imprisonments are still widespread in some parts of contemporary Asia, Latin America, and Africa — in particular, even in those countries that are self-proclaimed liberal democracies. What causes state-initiated human rights abuses? What is the current state of political science literature with regard to the causes of human rights norm compliance?

Taking stock of our knowledge about the topic is not only important for academic reasons, but it is also a crucial task toward better global governance of the human rights regime. On that regard, the table below from Google books Ngram Viewer shows the annual frequency of usage of the term “human rights” in millions of digitized books; it reveals that the increase in usage started sometime around the late 1940s, perhaps just right after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

ngramHR

In a recent article in Third World Quarterly, I provided a critical survey of contemporary scholarship on the causes of human rights norm compliance and deviations. The article revisits the state of the literature in comparative politics and International Relations with regard to the causes of human rights abuses. Notably, comparative politics scholars focus on intra-national variables as they explain variations in human rights compliance over time, while International Relations scholars emphasize the overwhelming importance of transnational and systemic variables. Thus, I argue that we have yet to see more systematic studies that examine the links between transnational and domestic factors as they jointly produce variations in human rights compliance over time.

The empirical implication of my argument is that the human rights crisis in the Global South (e.g. post-9/11 Pakistan) cannot be solely explain by pinpointing either the internal governance problems of the Pakistani state or by zooming into the failures of transnational civil society movements to put pressure on the government. On that regard, the article enumerates some pathways the current social science scholarship must traverse in order to better understand the causal underpinnings of human rights abuses in the developing world. If my arguments are correct, then the policy implication is clear: in many cases, human rights crises in the Global South ought to be posited as a global governance problem that requires the cooperation of transnational and domestic actors.

In addition, students and scholars of human rights might find it useful to also refer to other important and very recent works on the topic: Emilie M. Hafner-Burton’ Making Human Rights a Reality; Thomas Risse and colleagues’ edited volume called The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance; Sonia Cardenas’ Conflict and Compliance: State Responses to International Human Rights Pressure; David Karp’s Responsibility for Human Rights; Courtney Hillbrecht’s Domestic Politics and International Human Rights Tribunals; and Cindy Holder and colleagues’ Human Rights: The Hard Questions, among others.

Finally, these recent pieces of scholarship could provide us a better understanding of the causes and the consequences of human rights abuses, which in turn, could give us a stronger foundation for crafting effective public policies for stronger human rights compliance.

Gerrit Kurtz

Commonwealth Meeting 2013: Sri Lanka’s PR Miscalculation

The Official Photo of CHOGM 2013
CHOGM 2013 Official Photo

They had prepared the stage with impressive skill. Streets had been refurbished, a new motorway from the airport to the city had just been finished a few weeks before the first dignitaries arrived, and the Sri Lankan tourism authority had branded everything in a delightful range of colors, even the bottled water.

In preparation of the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo last week, the Sri Lankan government had spared no effort to present the island country in the most shining light possible. It had also worked hard to invite Commonwealth member states to send their heads of government to the meeting. Sri Lanka was to stand out for its rapid economic development, investment opportunities and organizational skills.

Instead, allegations of war crimes by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the last phase of the war, the lack of press freedom and other human rights violations took center stage in international and social media. A press conference held by President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the summit was completely dominated by these issues – in fact, not a single question was asked on issues that were actually on the CHOGM agenda. Only 28 out of 53 heads of government actually attended the summit (a record low), with Canada and Mauritius officially boycotting (the latter subsequently declining to host the next summit) and India’s Prime Minister giving in to domestic pressure to stay away as well.

When it came to the crunch, the Sri Lankan government demonstrated its lack of commitment to Commonwealth values such as press freedom with astonishing clarity. Promisingly, it had allowed the British TV station Channel Four into the country, despite their highly critical documentaries on war crimes allegations. But instead of giving the Channel Four journalists free reign, the government had them followed by intelligence officers at all time, organized demonstrations blocking their way to the Tamil-dominated North of the country and sent police to constrain their reporting.

The British journalists were finally able to travel to the North as part of British Prime  Minister David Cameron’s press convoy. Demonstrating the utility of attending the summit, Cameron was the first world leader to visit Sri Lanka’s North since the country’s independence. After he had spoken to the newly elected Tamil chief minister as well as visited a Tamil newspaper office and a camp of internally displaced persons, Cameron called on the authorities to lead a full, independent inquiry into allegations of war crimes. As a newly elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, the UK would press for an international inquiry at the UN Human Rights Council if a credible national inquiry was not forthcoming by March next year.

While the Rajapaksa family at the helm of the Sri Lankan government is used to criticism from Western countries, including the UK, its close international friends started to pick on it as well. After the Commonwealth meeting had ended, a Chinese spokesperson said Sri Lanka should “make efforts to protect and promote human rights,” and “dialogue and communication should be enhanced among countries” on the issue of human rights. China is the biggest bilateral donor (mainly by soft loans) to Sri Lanka and helped to finance, among other infrastructure projects, the convention center where most meetings of the CHOGM took place.

All this amounted to a huge diplomatic blunder for President Rajapaksa and his government. With the increased global attention, Sri Lanka’s attempt to clean its international image faces an uphill battle.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Drones; Forecasting; Ranking Researchers; Surveillance Logic

A combat drone, via Wikimedia commons
A combat drone, because that’s the most photogenic of all topics covered here today… (Wikimedia commons)

I hope you’re having a great week so far! My fellow bloggers have other obligations, so you’ll have to tolerate my incoherent link lists for the time being…

At the Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter makes a crucial point regarding the debate on military drones (emphasis added):

In my view, all these arguments have some merit but the most important thing to focus on is the issue of extrajudicial killing, rather than the means used to do it, for two reasons. First, if the US ended its targeted killings policy this would effectively stop the use of weaponized drones in the war on terror, whereas the opposite is not the case; and it would effectively remove the CIA from involvement with drones. It would thus limit weaponized drones to use in regular armed conflicts that might arise in the future, and only at the hands of trained military personnel. If Holewinski and Lewis are right, this will drastically reduce civilian casualties from drones.

I’d like to recommend a couple of links on attempts to forecast political events. First, the always excellent Jay Ulfelder has put together some links on prediction markets, including a long story in the Pacific Standard on the now defunct platform Intrade. Ulfelder also comments on “why it is important to quantify our beliefs”.

Second (also via Ulfelder), I highly recommend the Predictive Heuristics blog, which is run by the Ward Lab at Duke University. Their most recent post covers a dataset on political conflict called ICEWS and its use in the Good Judgment Project, a forecasting tournament that I have covered here on the blog as well. (#4 of my series should follow soon-ish.)

A post by Daniel Sgroi at VoxEU suggests a way for panelists in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) to judge the quality of research output. Apparently, there is a huge effort underway to rank scholars based on their output (i.e., publications) — and the judges have been explicitly told not to consider the journals in which articles were published. Sgroi doesn’t think that’s a good idea:

Of course, economists are experts at decision-making under uncertainty, so we are uniquely well-placed to handle this. However, there is a roadblock that has been thrown up that makes that task a bit harder – the REF guidelines insist that the panel cannot make use of journal impact factors or any hierarchy of journals as part of the assessment process. It seems perplexing that any information should be ignored in this process, especially when it seems so pertinent. Here I will argue that journal quality is important and should be used, but only in combination with other relevant data. Since we teach our own students a particular method (courtesy of the Reverend Thomas Bayes) for making such decisions, why not practise what we preach?

This resonates with earlier debates here and elsewhere on how to assess academic work. There’s a slippery slope if you rely on publications: in the end, are you just going to count the number of peer-reviewed articles in a CV without ever reading any of them? However, Sgroi is probably right to point out that it’s absurd to disregard entirely the most important mechanism of quality control this profession has to offer, despite all its flaws.

Next week, the Körber-Stiftung will hold the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. One of the panels deals with transatlantic relations. I’m wonder if any interesting news on the spying scandal will pop up in time. Meanwhile, this talk by Dan Geer on “tradeoffs in cyber security” illustrates the self-reinforcing logic of surveillance (via Bruce Schneier):

Unless you fully instrument your data handling, it is not possible for you to say what did not happen. With total surveillance, and total surveillance alone, it is possible to treat the absence of evidence as the evidence of absence. Only when you know everything that *did* happen with your data can you say what did *not* happen with your data.

Salvador Santino Jr Regilme

PhD Pitch #3: Does Foreign Aid Undermine Human Rights in Recipient Countries?

Video Source: “No Censorship!” in Youtube

The video as shown above vividly demonstrates the complex issues about counter-terrorism and human rights. It appears that public security is always pitted against human rights protection. Our  intuition dictates that intensified counter-terrorist efforts can lead to an increase in state-initiated human rights abuses.
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