Other days of September (post-9/11 stories)

I’ve posted about ‘September 11’ before, here and here. This post includes other links and stories.

Perhaps what I remember most about that day in September 2001 was the sheer ordinariness of it all.

I had gone to bed that night where I was in the southern hemisphere, and awoke the next day, 12 September, feeling that nothing particularly of interest would affect me that day. Boy, was I wrong. 

The events of 11 September 2001 may not have changed the world; rather, as many commentators have argued, it re-defined the relationship of the pre-eminent world power, the United States, to the rest of the world.

Sadly, the US has been asserting its power and influence to the detriment of peoples in other states long before that. In the southern hemisphere, Latin America has suffered the worst of it for quite some time. One occurred on 11 September, 1973.

Other days: Chile, 1973

Remembrance at the 40th anniversary of the right-wing military coup on 11 September that overthrew Salvador Allende turned ugly as some protestors clashed with police. The basic message of human decency and rights should not be forgotten, however. The CIA-backed coup and regime resulted in horrific human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

As Americans remember Sept. 11, 2001 with video montages, scattered candlelight vigils, and an avalanche of #neverforget Facebook and Twitter posts, Chileans are remembering a different 9/11—Sept. 11, 1973, the day a CIA-backed military coup ousted a democratically elected president with a right-wing strongman.

Tensions in the South American country have been rising for weeks in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the morning in 1973 that Chile’s military, with the secret support of the United States, flew fighter jets over Santiago and bombed its own presidential palace. Within hours, Chilean President Salvador Allende—Latin America’s first popularly elected socialist president—was dead. He was replaced by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose regime killed, tortured, and exiled tens of thousands of Chileans. For the next 17 years, Chileans lived under an economically prosperous dictatorship that showed little regard for human rights.

The regime of Augusto Pinochet lasted nearly 20 years. In a country still split by that legacy, the sister of one of the regime’s victims

Reyes Manriquez noted that it is not usually the families of the victims that cause trouble for the police; often, it is young people who have no direct memory of the dictatorship.

“The families have lived through enough violence,” she said

There are other things that the younger generations and victim-families can do — strive towards making sure that such things can never happen again, in their own country as well as others.

Other links

On the Syrian crisis and the humanitarian-interventionist concept known as the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, openDemocracy has published a series of articles:

“This week we are launching a series of articles that address the usefulness and relevance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine in the current debate over Syria. R2P was first proposed in 2001, in the wake of NATO’s controversial intervention in Kosovo.  As eventually endorsed by UN Member States in 2005, R2P provides that the international community, acting through the UN Security Council, should act decisively – including as a last resort through the use of force – to halt mass atrocities. But the divided Council’s manifest failure to do so in Syria – even in the face of mass atrocity, 100,000 killed, and millions forced to flee – calls into question the relevance of the doctrine, even as it reignites support for a more robust R2P to support non-UN authorized military action.

Justice in Conflict, on Syria, where not all deaths are treated equally:

Even if you have not watched the videos of the alleged chemical weapons attack, it is not difficult to understand the intense desire to do something about what is happening to civilians in the Syrian conflict. Tens of thousands of Syrians are now dead, and it is increasingly difficult for many to continue to look away from that conflict. But the fact that the United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have died begs the question: why the current intense need to punish Syrian actors for these particular deaths? Violating Syria’s sovereignty in response to deaths from the chemical weapons attack without a UN mandate is an illegal act just as is a military intervention launched outside the UN in response to these other deaths. So, despite the international law violations committed by Syrian actors against civilians throughout the conflict, why is the United States contemplating violating another set of international laws in this instance but not the others? Why act in the name of nearly 2000 deaths from chemical weapons and not for the tens of thousands killed by other means?

In The New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart writes about the cocoon that many American Jews unknowingly find themselves in:

I used to try, clumsily, to answer the assertions about Palestinians that so often consume the American Jewish conversation about Israel. But increasingly I give a terser reply: “Ask them.” That usually ends the conversation because in mainstream American Jewish circles, asking Palestinians to respond to the endless assertions that American Jews make about them is extremely rare. For the most part, Palestinians do not speak in American synagogues or write in the Jewish press. The organization Birthright, which since 1999 has taken almost 350,000 young Diaspora Jews—mostly Americans—to visit Israel, does not venture to Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. Of the more than two hundred advertised speakers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference, two were Palestinians. By American Jewish standards, that’s high. The American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum earlier this year, which advertised sixty-four speakers, did not include a single Palestinian.

His earlier article, ‘The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment’, is worth a read too.

The evolution of AI (2)

From The Thin Blue Line: How humanitarianism went to war, by Conor Foley (Verso, 2010), p. 30.

These types of pressure groups exerted a particular influence over the Labour Party in its long years in opposition during the 1980s and 1990s. Labour moved from a leftist unilateralism during the 1980s towards a full embrace of multilateral institutions such as the European Union (EU) and NATO by the 1990s. Its 1997 manifesto included a proposal to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, upgrade its commitment to international development and ‘put human rights at the heart of its foreign policy’.

Human rights also became a recognized force in international relations during the 1990s. The EU made ratification of the European Convention a precondition for states applying for membership, and this process helped the former communist countries of Eastern Europe in their transition to democracy.  Turkey’s human rights record significantly improved as a result of the European Court’s judgements and diplomats often spoke of the growing importance of the Court’s ”soft power’ in world affairs. President Bill Clinton also increasingly allied the US Government’s  rhetorical support for the promotion of democracy and human rights to the specific standards contained within international human rights treaties. The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights led to the creation of a new UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) the following year. The genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina gave a new sense of urgency to the debates on human rights violations and bridged the gap between human rights and humanitarian organizations. At the same time, in the aftermath of the cold war, some argued that human rights transcended, or even counter-posed, traditional politics. For example, in Values for a Godless Age Francesca Klug contrasted the ‘ethical values’ of human rights with the ‘failed ideologies’ of the mainstream left and right.

The rise of political humanitarianism (2)

From The Thin Blue Line: How humanitarianism went to war, by Conor Foley (Verso, 2010), p. 29.

For many involved in international development work, human rights and political humanitarianism seemed to provide the basis for a new movement for social justice. According to one estimate, humanitarian expenditure witnessed a six-fold increase during the 1980s and 1990s. This came while most western governments were cutting back on their long-term development assistance budgets. Development purists have traditionally dismissed humanitarian assistance as ‘ambulance chasing’, but, after the billions spent trying to support economic and social development in some of the poorest countries in the world, its supporters could retort that at least they were saving lives. Political humanitarianism conveys a sense of urgency and righteousness that attracts the same kind of idealistic partisan for development. For many former leftists growing to middle age, it also provides a comforting connection between the youthful idealistic dreams that ‘another world is possible’ and the increasing material possessions that make their previous socialist certainties seem less plausible. A liberal-leftist in the early 1980s might have gone to pick Nicaraguan coffee with the Sandinistas, but was more likely ten years later to be campaigning to lift the siege of Sarajevo or protesting the genocide in Rwanda.

Political humanitarianism was also partly a response to the declining participation in mainstream politics in Europe and North America. Amnesty International UK now has over a quarter of a million members, overtaking that of the British Labour Party. Oxfam Great Britain has over 100,000 active supporters and the combined supporter bases of the main aid charities in Britain easily exceeds those of the three major main political parties. These organizations are also highly effective at using the media and have gained real influence with opinion-formers and decision-makers. Through their advocacy efforts they play a leading role in defining what constitutes a humanitarian crisis, and have become an important factor in shaping the foreign policy of western governments.

The rise of political humanitarianism (1)

From The Thin Blue Line: How humanitarianism went to war, by Conor Foley (Verso, 2010), p. 28.

It is probably no coincidence that the human rights movement attained its respectability in Britain just as the Northern Ireland conflict was coming to a close and before the start of George Bush’s war on terror. It is always easier to condemn human rights violations in far-off places than those committed nearer home by your own government or its closest allies. The end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union also convinced many on the left that human rights could, in the words of Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos, ‘fill the void left by socialist politics’.

The metamorphosis of many anti-colonial freedom fighters into corrupt autocrats, such as Robert Mugabe, discredited the notion that groups mouthing radical slogans can be trusted to help the people they claim to represent. There now exists a burgeoning literature dedicated to documenting the almost complete failure of international aid to have any impact on poverty reduction in Africa over the last few decades. Aid agencies such as Save the Children, Oxfam and CARE explicitly adopted a ‘rights-based’ approach to their programming during the 1990s. This replaced what David Reiff calls ‘third worldism’, which often manifested itself in romanticism about the revolutionary liberation movements about Africa and Latin America. Collective ownership and state-led economic development went out of fashion. By focussing on the essentially liberal notion of individual rights, they repositioned themselves in response to the wider political changes taking place in the world.

The evolution of AI (1)

From The Thin Blue Line: How humanitarianism went to war, by Conor Foley (Verso, 2010), pp. 23-24.

The key to the success of the advocacy organization created by Benenson and MacBride was political neutrality. Amnesty would adopt ‘prisoners of conscience’ and encourage its members to write polite letters to the government concerned requesting their release. A prisoner of conscience was defined as someone imprisoned solely for expressing his or her peaceful political views. The legal background of both Benenson and MacBride was much in evidence in the construction of this formulation, which became known as the organization’s mandate.

The formulation excluded the imprisoned Nelson Mandela and those leaders of anti-colonial movements who advocated or involved themselves in violent resistance. It would also have excluded MacBride himself in his revolutionary days. Indeed, it was probably because he knew how his Irish republican background was viewed in some quarters that MacBride was so aware of the need to ensure that Amnesty positioned itself as politically neutral. The organization tried to adopt equal numbers of dissidents in the Soviet bloc and those facing persecution by Spain and Portugal’s right-wing dictatorships. Its national sections were forbidden from campaigning in their own countries, and when the organization hired specialist researchers it stipulated that they could not come from the country they were investigating. It also refused to accept government funding and held itself consciously aloof not only from political parties but from other pressure groups as well. The organization still prides itself on how scrupulously it cross-checks its facts – though some new staff members are told the perhaps apocryphal story of the time it ‘adopted’ a former railway station in Cambodia because someone confused the Khmer word for ‘detained’ with the one for ‘closed down’.

Amnesty’s mandate gradually expanded, adding campaigns against torture and the death penalty. If it is wrong to imprison someone solely for their political views then it must, by logical extension, be wrong to imprison them for their race, gender or sexual orientation. Thus Amnesty also embraced the cause of those persecuted for these reasons. It also spoke up on behalf of refugees fleeing such persecution and, by the time I joined its staff, against the sale of weapons to countries where they might be used to carry out human rights violations. In 2004, it expanded its mandate to campaigning on economic, social and cultural rights alongside the more traditional civil and political ones. As it  moved further and further from its original focus, Amnesty increasingly began to look to international human rights and humanitarian law to provide a framework for its campaigns.

The torture and genocide Conventions – challenging state sovereignty

From The Thin Blue Line: How humanitarianism went to war, by Conor Foley (Verso, 2010), pp. 21-22.

Torture and genocide are among the two most serious crimes under international law. Both have universal jurisdiction, that is, states are required to prosecute them irrespective of where they have been committed or the nationality of the perpetrators or victims. Pinochet had awarded himself an amnesty for his crimes in Chile and assumed that, as  a former head of state and senator for life, he would enjoy diplomatic and state immunity when travelling abroad. However, Britain, Chile and Spain were all signatories of the UN Convention against Torture, and the British Law Lords ruled that, since it defined torture as something that could only be carried out by a public official, it would be absurd to provide former public officials with state immunity for the crime. The principle of state immunity is that public officials cannot be held personally responsible for acts carried out in their official capacities, but, as the Law Lords noted, torture can never be regarded as a legitimate official activity.

The Genocide Convention goes one step further in challenging state sovereignty and sovereign immunity, stating, ‘Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate’ to prevent or suppress acts of genocide. This implies that the UN could not only arrest the perpetrators of such acts but could also authorize military intervention in a state’s national territory to prevent their occurrence.

Both Conventions form part of a body of international human rights law that can theoretically be used to trump state sovereignty when, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, events occur that ‘outrage the conscience of mankind’. But the circumstances in which the principle of ‘non-interference in another state’s internal affairs’, which is itself enshrined in Article 2 of the UN Charter, can ever be put to one side are hotly disputed. Who should decide when such interference is legitimate, what form it should take and how those who intervene can be held to account themselves?

Biafra, the prototype

From The Thin Blue Line: How humanitarianism went to war, by Conor Foley (Verso, 2010), pp. 17-18.

Britain attracted international condemnation for continuing to supply Nigeria with weapons during the conflict. France and Portugal, which still held African colonial interests, supplied the Biafrans with weapons for quite cynical reasons of their own. Church agencies also mobilized their supporters in solidarity with the ‘Christian Igbo’, who were said to be facing genocide from the Muslims of northern Nigeria. Oxfam ran advertisements warning that ‘the price for a united Nigeria is likely to be millions of lives.’ Such fears had a rational basis since the Igbo had been victims of sectarian riots the year before their secession. But when Biafra finally surrendered in January 1970, the central government was noticeable conciliatory to its defeated foes. Civil servants and soldiers were reabsorbed into the Nigerian federal state and many of those who lost property had it restored. Nigeria’s president quoted Abraham Lincoln’s words about ‘binding up the nation’s wounds’ after the American civil war. The predictions of the political humanitarians, in other words, turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

Of course it is easy to be wise in hindsight, though from as early as September 1968 it was clear that Nigerian forces were not carrying out genocide in the areas they had overrun. The conflict was also marked by a willingness of aid agencies and the international media to collude in a skilful campaign by the Biafran political leaders who hired a PR company to promote their cause. The image of starving children would become an iconic symbol of the intervention. …

Most aid organizations now admit that the main effect of their efforts was to prolong the conflict by a further eighteen months and that they needed to ‘learn the lessons’ from their mistakes. If the business of humanitarian aid is to reduce human suffering, then actions that increase it should presumably be subject to some sort of sanction. Yet it is doubtful if any aid worker suffered disciplinary action for violating humanitarian principles over Biafra. On the contrary, it proved of enormous benefit to the careers of a number of individuals and the creed of political humanitarianism. In other words, Biafra became a prototype for future interventions.