Mar 24 2017

Women’s Rights in Retrograde: Understanding the Contentious Politics of Gender Violence Law in Nicaragua

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By Pamela Neumann, Ph.D.*

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new law reducing the penalty for some forms of domestic abuse from a prison sentence to a fine. Although the legislation has been roundly criticized by international human rights observers, Russia’s move to decriminalize certain forms of domestic violence is not unique. For the last several years, a similar situation has been unfolding in Nicaragua, where a comprehensive law addressing gender-based violence (Law 779) passed in 2012, has been systematically weakened via legislative action and presidential decree. At the time, women’s organizations viewed Law 779 as a culminating achievement following decades of advocacy, but today that law is little more than papel mojado (wet paper). For the last five years, I have been closely following the trajectory of Law 779 as part of my broader research examining women’s experiences with the legal justice system in Nicaragua. The story of how a landmark law against gender-based violence was undermined in Nicaragua is a cautionary tale about the precariousness of women’s legal gains in political environments in which conservative religious actors wield substantial influence. It may foreshadow some of the challenges that women’s movements in other Latin American countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Peru could face in defending women’s rights given the wave of new center-right governments in the region.

Law 779 originated with a campaign by local women’s organizations in Nicaragua who were deeply concerned about rising rates of femicide and high levels of impunity in the country. In the midst of these women grassroots efforts, the government formed its own inter-agency commission to study the issue. These dual processes (one from below, the other from above) led to the drafting of two legislative proposals that eventually became the Ley Integral Contra La Violencia Hacia Las Mujers (Law 779), which went into effect in June 2012.

Law 779 expanded the legal definition of violence against women, established special prosecutors and courts to hear gender-based violence cases, and introduced new protections for female victims. One of the law’s most important provisions was the elimination of mediation. Prior to Law 779, mediation was commonly used by Nicaraguan police to informally settle disputes between female victims and the accused. According to local women’s organizations, this practice only put the lives of women in further jeopardy.

When the details of the law became known, it was the ban on mediation that generated the most controversy. Conservative religious leaders denounced Law 779 as an attack on evangelical values, discriminatory against men, and a tool that would destroy families. One bishop went so far as to compare Law 779 to “the number of the beast,” a biblical reference to the end times. A challenge to the law was filed in the Nicaraguan Supreme Court, which subsequently ruled that the law was constitutional, but the article prohibiting mediation would need to be revised. The National Assembly responded in 2013 by passing a reform of Law 779, which reinstated mediation under limited circumstances (for first time and minor offenses). Then, in 2014, President Daniel Ortega issued an executive order mandating the formation of community councils to resolve domestic violence disputes. According to the presidential decree, women would be obligated to seek “family counseling” via these councils and/or the Ministry of the Family before filing a legal complaint with police.

These changes outraged local feminists, who argued that they represented a direct violation of regional agreements signed by Nicaragua, such as the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women. Yet they were wholly consistent with the religious and pro-family discourse that Ortega has maintained since forming a strategic political alliance with prominent Catholic and evangelical leaders in the early 2000s.

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been called “the fifth branch of government” because of its historical political influence. Prior to the country’s 2006 presidential election, Ortega and his long-time partner Rosario Murillo (and now vice-president) were officially married in the Catholic Church. This act cemented Ortega’s alliance with his powerful long-time critic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, who was later appointed head of the government’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission. Ortega has also reached out to evangelicals, who have become an increasingly influential group in Nicaraguan society, now comprising approximately 30% of the population. During the 2011 presidential campaign, Ortega adopted the slogan “Christian, Socialist, Solidarity,” and at least one prominent group of evangelicals issued a public statement in support of Ortega. In recent months, some prominent intellectuals in Nicaragua have criticized evangelical leaders for their silence on the Ortega government’s crackdown on dissent. For the most part, however, conservative religious leaders in Nicaragua enjoy widespread favour and respect within the population.

Forty years ago, there was a brief window during which the trajectory of gender relations in Nicaragua might have been radically shifted. The triumph of the Sandinista revolution in 1979 gave birth to a strong popular class consciousness in Nicaragua, but that same kind of critical consciousness was far less widespread on gender-related issues. Then, as now, the Sandinistas were led by Daniel Ortega, but at that time, they faced a powerful counter-revolutionary force backed by U.S. military power which forced the government to devote the vast majority of its resources to survival rather than social and economic reforms. Today, Ortega faces no comparable threats, but he still remains uncommitted—and at times, openly hostile—to implementing reforms that would advance women’s rights efforts, preferring instead to maintain the alliances which keep him in power. In such a climate, the church’s traditional teaching about appropriate gender roles and sexual behavior continue to hold sway, and even made its way onto the bulletin boards of some government offices I visited during my research. Likewise, local outcry over issues like the country’s total ban on abortion (in effect since 2006) has been limited to a small but vocal group of women’s organizations.

Just a few months ago, the Nicaraguan government took an even more drastic step, shutting down the specialized police units established to investigate domestic violence cases, supposedly due to lack of funds. Local women’s organizations have publicly denounced this move, but to no avail thus far. Looking back, the events of the last four years in Nicaragua make clear the fragility of women’s legal gains, especially on the issue of gender-based violence. Nicaragua’s history shows that progress is neither linear nor inevitable. Vigilance is required to ensure that women’s voices are heard and their rights protected.

Works Cited

Aizenmen, N.C. 2016. “Nicaragua’s Total Ban on Abortion Spurs Critics.” Washington Post.  28 November.

Amnesty International. “Russia: Domestic Violence Law Puts Women at Greater Risk.” 8 February 2017.

Aragon, Rafael. 2011. “¿Es cristiano el proyecto del gobierno de Daniel Ortega? ¿Y cuál es el proyecto de la Iglesia?” Envio Magazine (Nicaragua).

Cerda, Arlen and Danae Vilchez. 2016. “Campesinos resisten represión con valentía.” 30 November. Confidencial.

Chamorro, Emiliano. 2016. “El silencio de los pastores evangélicos ante la crisis del país.” 13 December. La Prensa.

“Demandan Apertura de las Comisarias de la Mujer.” 23 November 2016.  La Prensa (Nicaragua).

“Evangélicos apoyan a Daniel y plantean alianza” 31 October 2011. Radio La Primerísima.

“IACHR Takes Case Involving Nicaragua to the Inter-American Court.” 26 September 2016. Organization of American States.

Jubb, Nadine. 2014. “Love, Family Values, and Reconciliation for All, But What about Rights, Justice, and Citizenship for Women? The FSLN, the Women’s Movement, and Violence against Women in Nicaragua” Bulletin of Latin American Research 33(3): 289-304.

Kampwirth, Karen. 2014. Latin America’s New Left and the Politics of Gender: Lessons from Nicaragua. Springer.

Luna, Yader. 2015. “Crece población evangélica en Nicaragua.” 16 January. El Nuevo Diario.

Molyneux, Maxine. 1985. “Mobilization without Emancipation? Women’s Interests, the State, and Revolution in Nicaragua.” Feminist Studies 11(2): 227-254.

Nechepurenko, Ivan. 2017. “Russia Moves to Soften Domestic Violence Law.”  25 January. New York Times.

Neumann, Pamela. 2017. “When Laws are Not Enough: Violence against Women and Bureaucratic Practice in Nicaragua.” Social Forces 95 (3): 1105-1125.

“Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega Wins Third Term, Wife to Serve as VP.” 7 November 2016. Associated Press.

“Obando asume Comisión de Reconciliación, Paz y Justicia.” 9 May 2007. El Nuevo Diario.

“Obispo Sándigo propone revisión de Ley 779.” 10 May 2013. El Nuevo Diario.

Romero, Elizabeth. 2016. “Comisarías pasarían a Auxilio Judicial como parte de cambios en la Policía Nacional.” 29 January. La Prensa.

Sharma, Ruchir. 2016. “The Anti-incumbency wave is changing the politics of Latin America.” Time. 6 June.

Van Note, Sara. 2015. “The Promise of Justice is Receding, Nicaraguan Women Say.” 10 September. Public Radio International.

*Pamela Neumann is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University in the United States.

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Feb 22 2017

Battle of Mosul: Mass Displacement of Natives and a Blatant Violation of International Humanitarian Laws

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By P Avinash Reddy*

Islamic State of Iraq and Levante (ISIL/ISIS) startled the international community when it seized and established control over the city of Mosul in June 2014. Since then, the city had become a major hub for terrorist activities and subsequently became ISIS’ de facto capital in Iraq. The ongoing ‘Battle of Mosul’ to regain the city began in October 2016, more than two years after ISIL/ISIS occupied the city. This offensive has been mounted by the coalition of a number of armed forces including the Kurds, Iraqi soldiers, and Sunni Arab tribesmen coupled with air and strategic support from the U.S., France, and the UK.

At the outset, both the ISIS and Coalition forces are bound by Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, 1949 as it is applicable to the armed conflicts which are not of an international character. Article 3 explicitly prohibits any inhumane treatment of the persons not taking an active part in the battle and also prohibits the taking of hostages. In the ongoing battle, ISIS is found to be in gross violation of this Article as it is constantly using hostages as ‘human shields’ as a defensive strategy. The group has been deliberately positioning itself in hospitals – where there are disproportionately large numbers of civilians – to shield itself from the offensive, which has led to a significant number of civilian deaths.

Moreover, there is a valid apprehension that the Iraqi forces are also violating International Humanitarian Law (IHL); for example, they have aerially dropped ‘barrel bombs’ while retaking the densely populated city of Fallujah, and these weapons have been banned by the UN Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons. Barrel bombs qualify as incendiary weapons as per the definition provided under Protocol III of this convention, while Article 2 explicitly prohibits air-delivered incendiary weapons in areas with a concentration of civilians. A similar rule is applicable for international conflicts in the form of Article 51 of Additional Protocol I, which elaborates on the rights of the civilians to be protected and not made targets in conflict situations. Article 51 (4) of this protocol specifically prohibits indiscriminate attacks in such situations. By using weapons such as barrel bombs, the parties to the conflict are playing a major role in blurring the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, thereby inflicting greater harm on the civilian population.

The Coalition forces also include ‘Shiite Militia Groups’ who have been accused of perpetrating atrocities against the Sunni community members after Fallujah was liberated from ISIS. One of the basic principles to be followed by the State in situations involving serious violations of IHL is to adopt an “adequate, effective and prompt reparation” process to effectively promote justice. Even though the Iraqi government has issued strict guidelines against Shiite militia groups entering the Sunni majority city of Mosul, it is evidently downplaying the war crimes committed against the Sunnis by involving the accused group in the offensive. Such disregard to the violations of IHLs will only end up propagating many more of such violent acts and will in turn make it even more difficult for securing the basic human rights in conflict-ridden areas. Through its actions, the Iraqi government has turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Sunni community by compromising their right to reparation.

The offensive, which marks the most complex presence of armed forces in this area since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, is set to displace at least one million natives. It is quoted to be “One of the largest manmade disasters,” as it will add onto the 3.5 million internally displaced individuals spread all over Iraq. As vital it is to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, so is the need to protect the displaced population from succumbing to the extreme climatic conditions and/or lack of basic amenities. Though UN and other international organizations in collaboration with the Iraqi government have pitched in to provide shelter and basic amenities, their efforts have proven to be inadequate to cater to the requirements of such a large number of displaced individuals.

All of this bolsters the proposition that as long as IHL is not given its due importance and is not implemented in strict sense, the parties to the conflict will seldom adhere to them and will continue to disregard the lives of the civilian population. The disproportionately large number of civilian casualties in the Battle of Mosul should at least serve as a trigger to effectively monitor and curb such gross violations of human rights and IHL.

Works Cited

  1. Luis Martinez, Why the Battle for Mosul Is Important, ABC NEWS (Oct 16, 2016),
  1. David Sim, Battle for Mosul: Rival forces band together to fight common enemy – but then what? INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES (Sep. 26, 2016),
  1. Article 3, The Geneva Conventions of 1949, ICRC,
  1. Fazel Hawramy and Emma Graham-Harrison, Islamic State using hostages as human shields in Mosul – UN, THE GUARDIAN (Oct 28, 2016),
  1. Iraq Dropping Barrel Bombs On Fallujah, Attacking Hospital: Human Rights Watch, THE WORLD POST (May 27, 2014),
  1. Protocol III, UN Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, ICRC (June 2005), pages 45-46,
  1. Article 51, Additional Protocol I, Geneva Conventions of 1949,, page 26,
  1. Principle 7, Guideline 11, Victims’ right to remedies, Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law,,
  1. Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Battle for Mosul could spark ‘one of the largest man-made disasters’ in years, U.N. warns, LOS ANGELES TIMES (Oct 3, 2016),
  1. UNHCR Fears Mosul, Hawiga Fighting will Trigger Displacement Wave, (Feb 3, 2017),

*P Avinash Reddy is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in law from National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) in India. He has previously worked on a project with the Centre for Legal Philosophy and Justice Education (CLPJE) to realize socio-economic rights. International humanitarian law and human rights form his primary domains of interest.

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Feb 8 2017

It is Time

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By Rory P. Mondshein*

Mahatma Gandhi once said that the “earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs,
but [it does] not provide enough to satisfy every man’s greed.”[1]
Our earth is bountiful, its resources are plenty,
but we live in a society where some have all the power, and others do not have any.
The rich continue to usurp the natural resources to increase their wealth,
while the poor live in destitution as they beg for help.
In an increasingly globalized world, politicians focus on economic prosperity
even if their people’s safety is compromised in the wake of their temerity.
In the 21st century, politics has become a global game of chess,
and governments neglect the environment in their pursuit of (relative) economic success.
Unfortunately, many believe that focusing on the environment will stunt economic growth,
which is why they fail to think about the ways that they can have both.
In China, local governments dump all of their industrial waste in the water,
ignoring the effect that this practice will have on their sons and daughters.
On the Niger Delta, politicians continue to fumble,
leaving their ecosystems to crash and crumble.
In Chile, desalination is destroying their crops and soil,
while the ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico have been destroyed by oil.
In the Third World, many politicians fail to think
about the consequences of polluting the water that their poorest are forced to drink.
Instead, we are driven by selfishness and a desire to compete,
which is why our crops have been destroyed and our children have nothing to eat.
Thanks to capitalistic selfishness, many populations have been neglected,
and many more will face the music if the environment is not protected.
Although some countries, like Canada, have stringent environmental regulations,
it is imperative for us to have a global conversation.
Consequently, the UN General Assembly has worked to create global objectives
to protect the environment in the name of the collective.
It is time for introspection, it is time to conserve,
it is time to give our planet the attention it deserves.
It is time for corporations, like Monsanto, to be less cruel,
it is time for nations to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels.
It is time for nations to work together, and, instead of focusing on economic competition,
governments must collectively commit to reducing greenhouse emissions.
It is time for all of us to wake up, and tackle the problem at its core,
and it is time for us to realize that the environment is actually worth fighting for.

*Rory Mondshein received her B.A. in Political Studies and Social Policy from Bard College in 2014. Currently, Rory is the founder of Make It Appn, and serves as the Chief Community Officer of the Political Student. She is pursuing her MSc in Human Rights at the London School of Economics.

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Feb 6 2017

Obstetric Violence and Human Rights in Brazil: What Happened, Mrs. Adelir de Goés?


By Suelen Gil*

Can a person be forced to have any medical procedure performed on them without indication? Perhaps not, but the answer is never simple when the subject concerns delivering a baby in Brazil.

In 2015, according to Ministério da Saúde, 40% of the deliveries in Brazil’s public health service were performed via caesarean sections (“C-sections”), while this rate reached 85% in the private service. In comparison, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a rate of 10 to 15%. The result is that most women in Brazil are being submitted to this surgical procedure without any medical indication, which can cause complications for both mother and baby, or even death.

Yet, there is a difference between being submitted to a C-section and being forced to have one. Many women believe that a natural delivery is painful and unnecessary, and the same is said by their doctors, who often do not inform them about the dangers involving this kind of procedure, or the benefits of a natural delivery. Actually, C-sections are frequently more profitable to health professionals; as a result, birth-giving becomes a business. Nevertheless, once the patient is informed about the risks of having a C-section, she can decide to have one or not. On the other hand, any surgical procedure performed without consent is a serious ethical, medical, and juridical problem. This very issue arose two years ago in Brazil with the case of Adelir Lemos de Góes.

In April 2014, Mrs. de Góes, a 29-year-old woman, called the world’s attention to, and began a debate about, the Brazilian model of maternity hospital care. She intended to have a vaginal delivery without the need for any medical intervention because she had been advised by an obstetrician that she could not have a C-section again—having already undergone two and with no complications to preclude her from having a natural delivery. But once in the hospital, she was informed that her baby was in a transverse position, so the child would not have a natural birth. The doctors in that hospital considered the baby’s position a reason to perform a C-section, although there are different professionals’ opinions about the natural delivery in this specific medical case. Therefore, Adelir signed a responsibility term and went home, where she would wait for the natural labour process to develop in order to return to the hospital in an advanced stage of labour.  But, her plans failed when justice officers made her immediately return to the maternity unit by virtue of a court order. The order also allowed the hospital to operate on Adelir because it was alleged that she and her baby’s lives were at risk.

Adelir de Goes and her husband with their child in the hospital. Photo made by Erika Carolina, from Folha de São Paulo.

Adelir de Goes and her husband with their child in the hospital. Photo made by Erika Carolina, from Folha de São Paulo.

Medical ethics extinguishes the need for consent when there is an imminent risk of death. In these cases, the doctor must act to save the patient, no matter what the patient thinks about the doctor’s judgement. In addition, Brazilian law states that nobody can be submitted to a medical procedure which presents the risk of death, unless an agreement is reached. Yet, it is not clear whether something presented a real threat to either Adelir’s or her baby’s health, especially since no judicial decision has been published since then and the government publicly acknowledged her consent as essential. 

Mrs. de Góes’ case was relevant to outline a critical problem in Brazil called obstetric violence, a kind of gender and institutional violence that victimizes numerous women and can occur through a large variety of bad practices during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum healthcare. These mistreatments include verbal humiliation; the denial of treatment before, during or after childbirth; the denial of admission into public hospitals; the refusal of water and food; and unnecessary and invasive procedures.

A report from 2010 showed that 25% of women surveyed suffered from some type of mistreatment during or before delivery in Brazil. But it is a common problem throughout all of Latin America. For example, Bolivia was recently found responsible for performing forced sterilization, and some countries, like Venezuela  and Argentina, have already codified “obstetric violence” into their laws. Indeed, obstetric violence involves other common Brazilian problems, such as racism, sexism, and social prejudice, which altogether make this problem even harder to fight.

Nevertheless, Adelir’s case is an important illustration of the discussions by which some ethical and judicial debates are surrounded. First, she was forced to deliver her baby contrary to her choosing because a judge thought Adelir and her baby’s lives were in danger. Did the judge make the best decision? At the time, another professional had affirmed she could die and that there was not much time to waste, so the judge trusted a medical opinion. Therefore, on these terms, it seems that the Brazilian State inhibited Adelir’s ability to harm her own life. But what about her dignity?

The answer could be quite simple if debates regarding human rights were not so complex. Some people say human dignity sustains all fundamental rights but there are many of them, including the right to life, the right to health, and the right to personal integrity, for instance. Obstetric violence is harmful to personal integrity, including its social and psychological aspects, which is protected by the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, civil and penal codes, human rights treaties incorporated into Brazilian Law, and other legal documents. Perhaps, Mrs. de Goes’ dignity was diminished when some of her rights were disrespected: she was not given a say, she faced rude treatment, she was not told about her state of health, and she was forced to have her body cut open. In the end, was all of this acceptable or not? But, that is a job we have reserved for judges.

Works Cited

Perseu Abramo Foundation; Social Service of the Commerce (SESC). Mulheres brasileiras e gênero nos espaços públicos e privados (August 2010).

Brazil, Ministry of Health, CONITEC. Diretrizes de Atenção à Gestante: a Operação Cesariana (March 2016) Report n. 179.

World Health Organization, Human Reproduction Program. WHO statement on caesarean section rates (April 2015) WHO/RHR/15.02.

*Suelen Gil is majoring in Law at Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), Brazil. Her study interests involve Human Rights, Human Dignity, Women Rights, and Labour Law.

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Feb 2 2017

“Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry” And Other Bogeymen: Is Trump’s Populism Compatible With The Rule Of Law?

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By Laurin Liu*

Totalitarianism begins in contempt for what you have. The second step is the notion: “Things must change—no matter how, Anything is better than what we have.” Totalitarian rulers organize this kind of mass sentiment, and by organizing it articulate it, and by articulating it make the people somehow love it. . . . Totalitarianism appeals to the very dangerous emotional needs of people who live in complete isolation and in fear of one another.

— Hannah Arendt, comments made during an interview with the French writer Roger Errera (1974).

Arendt was writing about totalitarian Germany, but her observations about nationalist populism strike at the heart of current events. Trump’s executive order signed last week is an attempt to capitalize on populist Islamophobia. It closely followed executive orders on securing the nation’s interior, directing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide reports quarterly “studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.” This, despite the fact that census data demonstrates that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in United States than those born in America.

Trump’s election has spurred debate among human rights scholars about whether or not populism can be compatible with respect for human rights. Can the rule of law withstand populist behemoths, and are Western institutions strong enough to protect fundamental human rights against the overarching power of the President?

At the same time as we decry Trump’s lawlessness, a closer examination of executive power enshrined in law also appears to be necessary. In other words, at the same time as Trump ignores or blatantly violates international law, we may ask ourselves whether legal precedents set by the United States are the very institutions that enable Trump to act.

The enabling legal provision that allows for the order can be found in section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f). The sweeping powers this provision enshrines cannot be understated. It allows the president to suspend entry of entire groups of individuals upon finding “the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States”, to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States”.

Moreover, as multiple observers have pointed out, “Donald Trump didn’t come up with the list of Muslim countries he wants to ban. Obama did.” Sara Harvard notes that some of the countries affected by the ban are those previously named by President Obama in his Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act.

Meanwhile, Trump’s order explicitly invokes the rule of law: “The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law.” Legal experts note that, contrary to what is stated, no statutory requirement exists that requires noncitizens entering the United States to support the Constitution. When the Trump administration falsely claims that the law is on their side, one wonders if this falls within the current administration’s tactic of inundating an uninformed public with “alternative facts.”

In neighbouring Canada, The Canadian Immigration Minister has announced that temporary residence permits will be offered to travellers stranded in Canada as a result of the travel ban. However, so far, Canada has indicated that it does not plan to make any changes to its refugee policy in response to the executive order, and has put into place no measures to offer asylum to those turned away from American soil.

Canadian lawyers and advocates, including two hundred law professors, Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have called on the Canadian government to immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).[1] The agreement prohibits any asylum-seeker entering Canada by way of the United States from applying for refugee status, under the principle that refugee claimants must be required to request protection in the first safe country they arrive in. To date, the U.S. is the only state that is designated as a safe third country by Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The Canadian government has consistently claimed that the requirements of the STCA continue to be met.

*Laurin Liu was the member of Parliament for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles (2011-2015), and has served as deputy critic in the Official Opposition for the environment, science and technology and international trade. She is currently completing a MSc in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


[1] Article 10 of the agreement contains provisions for its suspension:

  1. This Agreement shall enter into force upon an exchange of notes between the Parties indicating that each has completed the necessary domestic legal procedures for bringing the Agreement into force.
  2. Either Party may terminate this Agreement upon six months written notice to the other Party.
  3. Either Party may, upon written notice to the other Party, suspend for a period of up to three months application of this Agreement. Such suspension may be renewed for additional periods of up to three months. Either Party may, with the agreement of the other Party, suspend any part of this Agreement.
  4. The Parties may agree on any modification of or addition to this Agreement in writing. When so agreed, and approved in accordance with the applicable legal procedures of each Party, a modification or addition shall constitute an integral part of this Agreement. See full text:
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Jan 31 2017

Let’s Be Clear: This is a Muslim Ban

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By Alexandra Funk*

On Friday, 27 January, President Trump signed an executive order – “Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” – that suspended entry to the U.S. for any refugee for 120 days; indefinitely halted entry for Syrian refugees; and imposed a 90-day immigration ban for citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Individuals with visas or permanent residences within the U.S. are also affected, and many were detained at airports. The American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged this provision in court on Saturday, 28 January, and a federal judge temporarily blocked part of the order, allowing a number of those detained to enter the United States. However, the Department of Homeland Security stated that while it would comply with judicial rulings, it would still enforce all aspects of the executive order.

This is a Muslim Ban

As much as Trump and his administration disguise their aims as being oriented toward protecting Americans and countering terrorism, this executive order works to keep Muslims out of the U.S., and it is intended to do so.

Throughout Trump’s campaign, he repeatedly advocated for a Muslim ban. Rudolph Giuliani, a prominent White House advisor, explicitly told Fox News that Trump tasked him to create a commission of expert lawyers to determine how to legally institute a Muslim ban. These facts should serve as a lens through which to view this executive order. The realities of governing differ from those of campaigning, and signing an order explicitly banning Muslims is politically perilous. This toned-down version, then, is a means to practically ban Muslims by using language that one might be able to rally behind. An executive order that comes under the ostensible purpose of pursuing national security offers legitimacy, and this is how leaders like Paul Ryan can justify their support.

By analyzing the executive order and Trump’s statements, however, it is clear that this is about Islam. After all, it simply cannot revolve around terrorism alone. Terrorism as a tactic of violence has been used since the first century, and has since been employed by individuals of any number of religions and nationalities. People intent upon using terroristic tactics can come from anywhere, and the decision to block entry into the U.S. for citizens of specific countries in the name of fighting terror must be based upon a fundamentally flawed understanding of terrorism.

The order’s text and the President’s words, however, show this executive action to be the Muslim ban that it is. This begins with the fact that it bans over 130 million people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. On the same day that these restrictions were enacted, though, Trump spoke about wanting to admit more Christian refugees from among the countries whose citizens are now persona non grata. Trump’s declaration that he hopes to “admit those into our country who will support our country, and love deeply our people,” spoken after his signature blocked access to that country for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, suggests that somehow the predominantly Muslim countries from whence they might have come are unable to offer up anybody who love and support the United States. This order bans entire nationalities that predominantly identify as Muslim, while Trump simultaneously speaks of welcoming Christians from among them. This further suggests that he is intentionally targeting Muslims, and that it is only Islam that he believes can be terroristic.

“Keeping Americans Safe”

Trump’s executive order represents the institutional persecution of individuals ascribing to one religion, under the guise of “keeping Americans safe.” His order is not based upon any policy or academic understanding of terrorism. Instead, Trump is equating one of the world’s largest religions with terrorism. Trump’s administration is pushing Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization’s narrative, an idea that the division among people and states is a cultural, and, thus, religious identity. Here, terrorism is falsely presented as inherently Islamic, while terrorism in reality is inherently political. Trump is refusing to acknowledge the political and social root causes that work to bring terrorism into being. Nor does he understand that the language he employs in this order and in public statements can be exploited as a recruiting mechanism by organizations that utilize terrorist tactics.

Furthermore, the claim that refugees make Americans unsafe is not factually supported. Over three million refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since 1975, making the year-over-year chance of dying in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a refugee approximately 1 in 3.64 billion. In fact, a number of refugees have joined the U.S. military, and fought beside American-born citizens.

Immigration and refugee resettlement actually benefits cities and their economies. Studies have shown that wages are lifted when refugees join the work force in advanced economies. People like Sayed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, an Iranian scientist who was en route to his Harvard fellowship studying cardiovascular medicine, are a benefit to the U.S., not a detriment.

A Disgrace to Religious Freedom

America is built upon religious freedom. It is a defining pillar of the Constitution, and is a key element of both the Republican and Democratic parties’ platforms. Trump and his administration have stained the very principle of religious freedom for which the U.S. stands – or once stood.

This executive order violates the U.S. Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. is party to despite attaching an unprecedented amount of reservations, understandings, and declarations. It should not take courage to stand up to Trump and against this shameful and immoral action, but rather the most basic human decency. Last Friday, America shut its doors to Syrian children fleeing from a deadly conflict; it turned its back to Yemeni civilians who have seen their hospitals and marketplaces bombed using explosives manufactured in the U.S. and sold to Saudi Arabia; it denied thousands of people who could better the U.S. economy; and it betrayed the very ideals and principles upon which it was founded and without which it can never be made great.

*Alexandra Funk holds an MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Louisville. She is a human rights activist in Washington D.C., and her research interests include terrorism and foreign policy. You can find her on Twitter @alfunk.

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Jan 24 2017

Trampling Human Rights in Kashmir

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nasir4 year old Nasir’s eye was badly damaged when Indian force personnel inserted a sharp metal object into it (Source: Ahmer Khan). 

*By Umar Lateef Misgar

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Jammu & Kashmir, commonly referred to as Kashmir, is occupied by India, China and Pakistan. It remains the site of world’s largest and most militarized territorial dispute. Kashmir, primarily seen as a point of fierce contestation amongst the nuclear armed India and Pakistan, encompasses complex internal political dimensions with a massive constituency vying for complete sovereignty. In the Indian-occupied part, the movement for national self-determination has taken multiple forms: the Plebiscite Movement of the 1950s and 60s, popular armed uprisings of the late 1980s, and massive street protests, also dubbed as intifadas, of 2008, 2010, and 2016. The thread that binds every phase of Kashmiri uprisings however is the scorched-earth response of the Indian state. With 700,000 Indian armed forces—one for every seventeen Kashmiris—deployed throughout the past 69 years of Indian rule, north of seventy thousand civilians have been killed, around ten thousand subject to enforced disappearance and thousands tortured. According to Human Rights Watch, Indian forces have consistently used rape as a weapon of war. Moreover, upwards of six thousand mass and unmarked graves have been discovered by various human rights groups.

The latest phase of popular protests, was triggered this May when the rebel-leader Burhan Wani was killed during an armed confrontation with India’s special ops forces in a village in South Kashmir. Many activists maintain that, even by the standards of India’s domestic law, the killing was an extrajudicial-execution. The execution of Mr. Wani was mourned and protested by huge crowds, numbering in the tens of thousands. But the reaction of the Indian state was no different this time either. If anything, the intensity of the Indian crackdown acquired a more asymmetrical form targeting children, women, men and even livestock. Close to 100 civilian protestors have been killed, 17,000 injured,  crops burnt, houses ransackedhospitals and ambulances attacked, and religious establishments besieged.

The ongoing repression of Kashmiri dissent has been distinguished by what a prominent Kashmiri novelist has called, the “world’s first instance of mass-blinding.” More than 1100 people have been hit in the eyes with birdshot or pellets from pump-action guns, with many of them facing some degree of blindness. Fourteen percent of the victims are below the age of 15.

First commissioned in 2010 as “non-lethal” weapons for crowd control, the Indian forces have shot upwards of 3000 canisters containing 1.2 million lead-coated pellets in the seven months of mass-uprising in Kashmir. Pellet guns, according to weapons experts, are essentially 12-guage shotguns whose design was copied by an Indian ordnance factory from the American Mossberg 500 series. The Mossberg 500 was employed by the US Marines in the Gulf War, Iraq invasion and the war in Afghanistan.

The physical damage caused by the use of pellet guns is unprecedented according to Kashmiri doctors. Calling them “mini-bullets,” ophthalmologists at one of the largest hospitals in Kashmir have said, “this epidemic of dead or dying eyes is the largest in the world caused by un-natural causes. Nowhere in history will one find anything comparable.” Despite condemnation by international human rights agencies like Amnesty International, the use of pellet guns continues unabated in Kashmir.

Political imprisonment and arbitrary detention have been regular features of Indian rule in Kashmir. Over 7000 arrests were made by Indian forces since May, including 350 people, some being minors, who have been arrested under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). The PSA has been repeatedly deemed as a “Lawless Law” by Amnesty. Many of them remain incarcerated far away from their homes, effectively depriving them of family visits and legal counsel. A very stark example of this phenomenon was the recent detention of a prominent Kashmiri human-rights activist Khurram Parvez. Mr. Parvez was arrested in September, soon after the Indian authorities barred him from travelling to Geneva to attend a UNHR Council Session. Charging him on spurious grounds, the state-authorities arrested Parvez for violating the PSA. Thanks to a sustained online campaign and global condemnations from influential public intellectuals, like Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and UN experts, Parvez was recently released after 76 days. Many popular political leaders have also been detained or face house arrests.

Free speech is another casualty in Indian-held Kashmir. Soon after the killing of Mr. Wani, a blanket ban on internet and mobile-phone services was imposed by authorities across the region, ordering ISPs and telecommunication companies to shut down Internet and mobile phone access. Furthermore, all local newspapers were ordered to stop publishing for three days. State authorities didn’t stop there. A local English newspaper, the Kashmir Reader, was banned from publishing. Amnesty Internationalcalled the banning of Kashmir Reader “a setback to free speech.” Internet was partially restored after 133 days.

The education system in Kashmir is tightly regulated by state entities. The Jammu Kashmir State Board of School Education (JKBOSE) handles both public and private schools, while state-controlled Kashmir and Islamic Universities largely oversee higher education. Amidst the longest military curfew and widespread protests, schools, colleges and universities remained closed for at least four months, only recently reopening.

In a shocking announcement, to project a cosmetic sense of normalcy, state-authorities in October announced the schedules for conducting examinations of 10th and 12th classes—Kashmir’s equivalent of GCSE and A-Level, respectively. Students instantly began protesting, demanding the deferment of examinations until March of next year, primarily citing the inadequate class-work and insensitivity of authorities towards the injured students. Paying no heed to student protests or to civil society groups, who lamented that the examinations could lead to suicidal-tendencies amongst students, the state authorities remained adamant. This eventually led to a situation where unknown arsonists burnt down around 30 schools across Kashmir. While the enforced exams were being conducted, a minister in the Indian government called them a “surgical strike against terror,” turning the examinations into tool for propaganda. Insensitive state-actions like these can, in fact, and may already have turned Kashmir’s school education system into a politically over-charged battlefield. If history is any indication, future mass-uprisings are inevitable, and the education system of Kashmir is going to suffer even more intensely.

Despite the past 69 years of deadly conflict, repression and popular resistance in Kashmir, India shies away from investing any meaningful political effort to negotiate a resolution with Kashmiris and Pakistan. Rather, India continues to brush it away as Pakistani-sponsored terrorism and labeling Kashmir as its integral part. Pakistan, although formally recognizing the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination in accordance with the UN resolutions, has been accused by Human Rights Watch of torture, political repression and censorship in the Pakistani-held part of Kashmir.

Amidst all of this, Kashmiris continue to suffer and resist, away from the media spotlight and in a constant shadow of nuclear annihilation that, besides erasing Kashmir from the face of earth, will initiate a nuclear winter with a potential of starving at least a billion people, according to Ira Helfand of the Royal Society of Medicine.

* Umar Lateef Misgar is a graduate student of International Relations at the Islamic University of Kashmir and co-editor of He has written for openDemocracy, Counterpunch and London School of Economics Human Rights Center. Twitter @Kaashur



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Jan 23 2017

Responsibility of the First World Nations to Protect Refugees: Non-Refoulement as an Obligation Erga Omnes

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By Devershi Mishra and Komal Khare*

The Global North’s approach to addressing the European refugee crisis raises troubling questions about their self-professed democratic standards. Europe, North America, and Australia’s responses to the refugee crisis are discriminatory: cemented on disguised racism, their response reflects their ostensible “comfort” with the idea of an inclusive, multi-religious, and multi-racial-democracy.

Since the end of WWII, First World nations have proclaimed to be the sole upholder of human rights. They condemned the Global South on human rights issues to utilize it as an instrument to boost their own economic and foreign policy. For instance, the U.S.’ invocation of Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) in Iraq, and the blatant absence of such responsibility in Syria posits a duplicitous stance vis-à-vis RtoP. It is evident that the U.S. invoked RtoP for “prevention of human rights violations” in Iraq to further its self-interest of procuring oil, which is absent in Syria. We will explore Europe’s violation of non-refoulement, and its accountability under international law by positing this principle as obligation erga omnes. We will also establish a greater responsibility placed on the U.S. under RtoP.

Western media houses have supported government descriptions by labeling the present influx as a “migrant crisis” as opposed to “refugee crisis.” The deliberate use of the term “migrant” implies a consensual displacement and represents a European attempt to avoid international legal liability for the refugees. Under the UN Refugees Convention, refugees are people who have left their country and cannot return due to “fear of persecution.” Therefore, people being displaced from the Middle East and Africa must be understood as refugees, and viewed as the U.S. and Europe’s humanitarian responsibility – especially because their geopolitical involvement has contributed to regional instability. In this case, sovereignty is a feeble excuse to shirk the responsibility of protection of refugees because sovereignty also entails a respect towards human rights.

Principle of Non-Refoulement

The EU-Turkey deal envisages the return of refugees and migrants from Greece to Turkey. Such a deal would violate the principles of international law. Article 33 of the UN Refugees Convention mandates the fulfillment of the principle of non-refoulement on the signatories of the Convention. The principle prohibits the return of a victim of persecution to his persecutor where his life is in danger.

However, from various instances like Hungary building a fence at the Hungary-Serbian border, it is evident that certain European responses endanger refugees’ lives by denying them entry at the borders. This is an explicit violation of the non-refoulement principle. This failure is further amplified when considering that poor and middle-income nations are discharging the burden of hosting the substantial international refugee population. Conceding to the fact that there have also been certain instances of mismanagement of the refugee population in developing countries, however, it is asserted that such missteps must not be taken as an ideal response to neglect the responsibility owed to the present refugee crisis and thus pass the buck to poorer nations.

The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe creates a responsibility for its mitigation, not only on Europe, but on the world community as a whole.

Non-Refoulement as an Obligation Erga Omnes

All the nations are legally bound to resolve the refugee crisis under the global obligation to protect people from racial discrimination, slavery, and genocide under erga omnes. The rights constituting obligation erga omnes are so important that it is in the interest of the international community to protect them, even if it requires intervention.

In the context of the refugee crisis, obligation erga omnes can be extended to the obligation to eschew refoulement, as obligation erga omnes is similarly placed as non-refoulement with respect to basic individual rights vis-à-vis the whole international community. Therefore, whenever refoulement transpires, every state has the right to invoke the responsibility of the violating state, and hold it liable.

Thus, the European refugee crisis can also ensure collective global intervention by invoking non-refoulement as obligation erga omnes in two ways: firstly, Syrian and African refugees in Europe are facing racial discrimination due to refoulement, and because refoulement enjoys the reputation of an international crime, there is an affirmative obligation on each nation to intervene. Secondly, non-refoulement can be viewed as a basic right warranting correlative duties to avoid refoulement, and because the availability of basic rights is necessary for the enjoyment of every other right, they must be protected.

First World’s Responsibility to Protect (RtoP)

During the U.S.-Iraq war, the U.S. utilized the human rights narrative to justify the invocation of RtoP. The U.S. now has the responsibility towards refugees fleeing Middle East and Africa.

Paragraph 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit outcome document introduced RtoP. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in his 2009 report, illustrated a three-pillar approach to RtoP. Pillar one explains the responsibility of an individual state to protect its territorial population, including citizens and non-citizens, from genocide, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. Pillar two prescribes the measures for global assistance and capacity building. Finally, pillar three advocates the responsibility of the international community to collectively respond, in extreme circumstances, where a state has manifestly failed to discharge its RtoP under pillar one.

Thus, pillars two and three of RtoP require internationally shared responsibility of refugees when hosting nations are not able to provide sufficient level of protection to them. The U.S. and other First World nations are bound to aid Lebanon and Jordan under pillar two of RtoP, as these countries have acknowledged their inability to protect Middle Eastern refugees.

Under pillar three of the RtoP, the responsibility arises when refugees are vulnerable to RtoP crimes. Thus, the U.S. and other First World nations have a responsibility towards refugees in Europe irrespective of their geographic placement. Moreover, after getting refuge in the host country, pillar one’s provisions protect a refugee, regardless of citizenship and immigration status. Thus, the global community cannot unilaterally suspend their corresponding responsibility towards Syrian refugees, whether they are located in Lebanon, Turkey, or elsewhere.

Works Cited

  1. Telegraph View, Migration crisis exposes the EU’s disregard for democracy, September 24, 2015,
  2. This racist backlash against refugees is the real crisis in Europe, The Guardian, February 25, 2016,
  3. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees UNHCR,
  4. Lucas Bento, Sovereignty Cannot Hold Back the Power of Humanity – Harvard International Law Journal Harvard International Law Journal (2015),
  5. Patrick Kingsley Migration correspondent & Jennifer Rankin, EU-Turkey refugee deal – Q&A, The Guardian, March 8, 2016,
  6. Patrick Kingsley on the Serbo-Hungarian border, Migrants on Hungary’s border fence: “This wall, we will not accept it,” The Guardian, June 22, 2015,
  7. Tackling the Global Refugee Crisis: From Shirking to Sharing Responsibility, Research by Amnesty International, 18 October, 2016,
  8. Poor countries need to allow more immigration, too, The Economist, 2016,
  9. Henry Shue, Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy (1996).
  10. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Report: Implementing the Responsibility to Protect,
  11. E. Tendayi Achiume, Syria, Cost-Sharing, and the Responsibility to Protect Refugees, 100 Minn. Law Rev. 687–762 (2015

*Devershi Mishra and Komal Khare are undergraduate students at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

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Jan 18 2017

More Speech, Not Less

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By Amy Shepherd*

In early December 2016, the High Court heard a test case brought by Mr. Salman Butt, a British Muslim labelled an extremist in a September 2015 press release by the Government’s Extremism Task Force. The litigation challenges the legitimacy of the Government’s ‘Prevent’ Strategy, which proscribes methods for identifying individuals allegedly expressing ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values.’ The intent of ‘Prevent’ is ultimately to suppress the views of extremists, expression of which, according to ‘Prevent,’ puts society at risk of violent harm.

It has been well-highlighted that the ‘British values’ definition of extremism is of questionable compliance with international principles of legality, including non-discrimination. Mr. Butt’s case highlights the stigmatising implications of using broad and vague terminology to identify ‘dangerous’ extremists. Since his challenge provides a valuable opportunity for judicial scrutiny of whether extremism-curtailment measures do or can comply with the rule of law, in anticipation of judgment this post reflects on whether the curtailment of so-called extremist speech can in any circumstance meet the legal standard of necessity under international human rights law.

Given the central importance of free expression to democracy, there is little scope for any restriction on extremist speech to be justified. The European Court of Human Rights increasingly emphasises the societal value in promoting tolerance, broadmindedness, pluralism and participation in public debate. Any restriction must take account of the content and context of expressions, directly respond to the harm to the State identified as likely to be otherwise inflicted and be at the minimal adequate level of severity.

It could be argued that restricting extremism respects the rights of all citizens to have access to a free and open democratic discourse – if silencing a minority serves to protect the very existence of public discourse. The particularly vocal nature of extremists, who often actively recruit to their cause with intensity and fervour, leading them to gain disproportionate prominence – coupled with the increased danger of violent escalation when one interpretation or discourse gains the ‘upper hand’ and stifles alternative voices – could justify greater intrusion into extremist speech. If running counter to liberal values, extremist expressions arguably warrant little protection.

However, extremist views are precisely the kind of minority speech human rights law is designed to protect, and a secure democracy has no need to fear any disagreement with its precepts, nor even challenge its very foundation. As far as necessity is concerned, it is fallacious to assume that curtailing extremist speech negates existence of its underlying ideology and goals. Extremists may be willing to make superficial concessions in service of their aims, but ostensibly moderate speech may mask an uncompromising worldview that is shared only with select audiences. Restrictions on certain categories of extremist speech have no impact on these private conversations, dimming the urgency of restricting fundamental rights to protect.

Additionally, for some individuals, silencing extremist messages will exacerbate rather than alleviate potential damage. Suppression of extremist views can cause alienation and disaffection: identified factors in the road to radicalisation and terrorist violence. As noted above, focusing on eliminating extremist speech can take extremist conversations underground, preventing meaningful engagement with those most at risk of being radicalised by exposure to extremist material. Censorship also gives credence to claims by extremists that one of the most core freedoms of democracy is denied to those who argue against it, increasing the ‘level’ of extremism some individuals will be willing to subscribe to. And repressive action taken by the State against extremist speech can feed two dangerous illusions: that clashing with authority is a ‘testament to truth,’ and ‘sinister attribution error,’ whereby everything negative is construed as a plot. Overall, official narratives portraying extremism as an ‘embedded problem’ unhelpfully promotes and reinforces false stereotypes, distorts public discourse, and fosters social divisions, all of which increase the likelihood of violence ultimately occurring.

Cumulatively, therefore, the need to and wisdom of silencing the voices of extremists to secure the nation appears seriously contraindicated. Legally, measures harming fundamental rights but failing to benefit anyone or to achieve the desired results are not reasonable, effective, or necessary. The ‘Prevent’ view that the UK must ‘only give a platform to the right people’ has disturbing echoes, and it is questionable whether it will withstand intense judicial scrutiny. It is strongly arguable that a better – and more legitimate – approach to counter-extremism would be to teach people how to recognise extremist propaganda, understand when they are being manipulated, and identify poor arguments in order to build their resilience to hate-filled material. Fundamentally, effective counter-extremism needs more speech, not less.

Works Cited:

R (on the application of Dr. Salman Butt) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department CO/6361/2015 (judgment outstanding)

UK Government ‘Prevent’ Strategy (June 2011) Command Paper 8092

UN Human Rights Committee, ‘General Coment No. 34 (Freedoms of opinion and expression)’ (12 September 2011) UN Doc CCPR/C/GC/34

Royal United Services Institute, Drivers of Violent Extremism: Hypotheses and Literature Review (16 October 2015)

Buyse, A. ‘Words of Violence: “Fear Speech,” or How Violent Conflict Escalation Relates to the Freedom of Expression’ (2014) 36 Human Rights Quarterly 779

Kundnani, A. A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism (Claystone 2015)

Nehustan, Y. ‘Offensive Expression: The Limits of Neutral Balancing Tests and the Need to Take Sides’ (2016) 16 Human Rights Law Review 1.

Reynolds, L. ‘Even with the face-lift of the Queen’s Speech, the Extremism Bill is misguided and counter-productive’ (Demos Blog, 20 May 2016)

Voorhoof, D. ‘The Right to Freedom of Expression and Information under the European Human Rights System: Towards a more Transparent Democratic Society’ (EUI Working Paper, RSCAS 2014/12)

Article 19, ‘Joint Statement: Planned new UK laws on extremism threaten free speech’ (18 May 2016)

*Amy Shepherd holds a degree in law from the University of Cambridge and an LLM in Public International Law and Human Rights from the University of Utrecht (Netherlands). Her research interests include: Freedom of Expression, Protest, Public Space and Extremism.

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Dec 19 2016

War and Peace: From London to Aleppo

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By Kwame Sekyere*

A narrative that parallels the experience of politicians in Downing Street being disturbed by the sound of protesters, with the experience of civilians in Aleppo being disturbed by the sound of war.

On the 13th of December at 10 Downing Street, politicians, political advisors and other professionals sat down to have their daily meetings and discussions, to consider issues both at home and abroad. They were having a general conversation about the weather and how positive anticipations of Christmas come with the dread of icy winds.

Each time they spoke their words would be drowned out by a bombardment of footsteps and with each sentence uttered, a shelling of chants would overwhelm it. Their discussions were armed with a barrage of ‘pardon?!’ and ‘excuse me?!’ because of the constant disruption caused by the protesters outside.

So they would go to the thermostat and turn it to 25 degrees. They would make a call to the kitchen and ask for the tea to be renewed. They would circle the room and make sure that every window was closed and all the curtains were drawn. Then they would be settled enough to have a productive meeting in peace.


In what was once a building in Eastern Aleppo, what is left of a family sit down to share the food they had rationed for the evening. Over their meal they discuss what they should say in their latest tweet, trying to construct a message that would hit home in all the countries in which it will be read.

As they speak, the sound of planes relegates their voices to mere background noise and as the engine sound increases, so do their fears as they know the aircraft edges closer. In this moment of fear they call out to the world to help them, correcting the typos in the message caused by hands that tremble in the same manner that the surrounding buildings do.

To everyone who can hear me!#SaveAleppo#SaveHumanity

— Lina shamy (@Linashamy) December 12, 2016

As the pitter-patter of bullets turns to the pitter-patter of rain, and the bullets that once streamed past their windows turn to rain drops, there comes a rare moment of peace.

Good news for people in Aleppo! It’s raining! That means there are no planes in the sky! 😎

— Bilal Abdul Kareem (@BilalKareem) December 13, 2016


Back at Number 10 this sentiment was shared: the rain had brought an end to their troubles too. As the showers increased the number of protesters decreased, then the footsteps and chants quietened. Now they could properly discuss issues at home and abroad in peace.


In writing this narrative I wanted readers to leave, asking themselves some questions about the U.K’s (individuals, institutions and the Government) involvement in the peace process in Syria:

  • Can we compare a protest to an act of war on apathy?
  • Is it in the sound of peace or the sound of war that key decision makers can truly understand the way to act on the events in Syria?
  • Is marching with placards the most effective way to protest?
  • How can we make sure key decision makers are aware of the experiences and emotions of civilians in Syria?

*Kwame Sekyere is a part-time student on the MSc Human Rights programme. Aside from his degree he also works part-time at the human rights organisation Global Dialogue and spends time developing various writing and advocacy projects that you can hear about on his Twitter page @KBSekyere.

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