Made Democracy strong again

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By Julia Huentemann, 3rd year Student in International Relations and Editor-in-Chief of International Relations Today. 

Following the presidential elections on November 8th, 2016, the United States held its Midterm Elections on Tuesday November 5th, while the world was eagerly watching how America voted halfway through Trump’s term in office.

What mandates stood for election?

Both chambers of Congress, the Senate (consisting of 100 Senators, two from each state) and the House of Representatives (composed of 435 members representing the states according to the size of population) had to be re-assembled. In both chambers the Republicans have been holding the majority; in the Senate (Upper House) with 51 to 49 Senators and in the House of Representatives (Lower House) with 235 to 193 seats.

While the members of the Lower House only serve a two-year term (but in practice are often re-elected), the Senators are elected for six years. In order to guarantee continuity, not all Senators are elected at the same time. Hence, every two years one third, i.e. 35, of the 100 Senators and all members of the Lower House stand for election.

In this Midterm-Election, among the Senators 26 Democrats and 9 Republicans and among the Representatives 193 Democrats and 235 Republicans had to defend their mandates. Even though no final results are at hand when writing this article, it is a fact that the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives (at least 223 of the 435 seats) and that the Republicans were able to firm up their position in the Senate with at least 51 of the 100 Senators.

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 What do these results bring about for President Trump and his Administration?

The primary function of Congress is the enactment of laws. To make a new law, a bill is introduced by a member into one of the chambers. Each house of Congress has the power to introduce legislation on any subject except laws for raising money, which must originate in the House of Representatives. Hence, a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives can (and most likely will) refuse to authorize money for projects they do not support (such as the wall at the Mexican border). Moreover, a Democratic majority can submit requests making sure that the Trump Administration has to engage in matters other than prioritized. And finally, as a united front, the Democrats could force Trump to transparency (e.g. in terms of his private tax declaration) and to account, e.g. concerning the Russian involvement in the election campaign 2016.

In order to bypass a blockade policy by the Democrats, Trump could bring through his policy via presidential decrees, just like Obama did in his last years in office, struggling with a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. But in this case, his successor in office (in case he should not be re-elected) could rescind such decisions. To ensure sustainable change, Trump is reliant on Democratic cooperation and needs to find compromises, a skill he has not proven so far.

Another threat for Trump resulting from a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is the initiation of an impeachment process. But this is rather a theoretical threat, because in practice, Trump’s removal from office will not happen, since this requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate-vote, and a Republican-led Senate will not vote for Trump’s impeachment. Hence, this would be a waste of time and resources.

His power to appoint Supreme Court judges and ambassadors and to choose the heads of all executive departments and agencies is not affected by the new balance of power in the Lower House.

 To what extent can these results affect Europe and the rest of the world?

The president´s chief duty is to protect the Constitution and to enforce the laws made by Congress. But for formulating and executing the foreign policy of the United States, the president has overall responsibility and participates in summits conferences where chiefs of state meet for direct consultation. In this field of policy Trump does not depend on the Democrats and a policy of blockade in internal affairs might encourage him to concentrate on foreign policy instead with unpredictable consequences for the rest of the world. The more he gets under pressure on the national stage, the more he might let off steam on the international stage. A scenario, the world does not need.

Who is the winner of this election?

It was a small victory for the Republicans to have defended their narrow majority in the Senate. It was a remarkable victory for the Democrats to have gained control in the House of Representatives.

And it was a great victory for democracy! No midterm election in the recent decades has enjoyed so much attention – neither nationally nor internationally. Polling participation has increased from 37 per cent to 48 per cent respectively from 83 million to 113 million voters. Many young Americans have found their way to the polling station and especially the female electorate has been mobilized. Whatever his legacy will once be associated with, Trump obviously managed to boost appreciation for democracy itself, whether on purpose or not.

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It was neither a triumph for Trump nor actually for the Democrats, even though both parties claim election victory. Only future will tell who the real winner is, but for sure this election made Democracy strong again.

 

 

 

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100th Anniversary of the First Czechoslovak Republic

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Lucie Škopková is a 2nd year Student at King’s College London studying European Politics with a special interest in Central and Eastern European Politics.

The day of October 28th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the First Czechoslovak Republic. The Republic emerged amidst the economic hardships and sociopolitical turmoil following World War I. under the presidency of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and its significance powerfully resonates throughout the society to this day. Many people in the Czech Republic today continue to regard the First Republic as a democratic breakthrough for the nation, especially when addressing its Declaration of Independence that was drafted on October 18th, 1918. This included important references to general suffrage, minority rights, greater gender equality, as well as the Republic’s acceptance of economic and political responsibility on the international scene with regard to the post-war environment.1

 Perhaps the two elements most profoundly associated with the First Czechoslovak Republic are the complex question of nationality and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The First Republic consisted of several ethnic groups that included Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Germans and others, which put pressure on the Republic’s national identity. This pressure was revealed by the 1921 population census in which Czechs and Slovaks were merged under one national group of ‘Czechoslovaks’ in order to create a national majority group, contributing to the rise of a termed nation-state. Furthermore, the newly merged Czechoslovak national group concealed the fact that Czech and Slovak speakers alone were often outnumbered by German speakers, for example, which would have otherwise undermined the strength of the First Republic’s national character.2 The key figure of the First Czechoslovak Republic was the afore mentioned Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who adamantly lobbied and pressed for Czechoslovak independence on the international scene following World War I. He was the Republic’s first president and was glorified by the people as the nation’s guardian and to this day, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk is referred to as ‘Tatínek’ or the founding father of the nation and remains a celebrated, symbolic figure representing national pride and sentiment of the Czechs.

 The First Czechoslovak Republic provided the fundamental basis upon which the Czechoslovak nation continued to develop until its formal separation into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1st, 1993. However, the official separation of Czechoslovakia did not mean the influence and sentiment of the First Republic diminished amongst the Czechs and the Slovaks. It rather became one of the most symbolic and inherent parts of the nations’ history to which many contemporary historians continuously return in their academic studies.

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Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

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Greater coat of arms of the First Czechoslovak Republic (“The Truth Wins”)

 

(1) Pergler, Charles. “An Experiment in Progressive Government: The Czechoslovak Republic.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 84, no. 1, 1 Jan. 1919, https://doi.org/10.1177/000271621908400107.

 (2) Heimann, Mary. “A Troubled Democracy.” Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed, Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 48–87.

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China’s Greater Bay Area: How infrastructure will influence the future of the world’s most densely populated area and beyond

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Louis Hobbs Martin is a 2nd year International Relations student at King’s College London with a particular interest in China and South East Asia Region.

Autumn 2018 is seeing the inauguration of two key infrastructure projects in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) in the Chinese province of Guangdong, southern China. The new Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) was inaugurated on September 22nd, linking Hong Kong to China’s vast network of high-speed rail, whilst the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB), the world’s longest sea bridge, is currently set to open later this month, following long delays. [1]

These are key projects initiated by the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party in order to create a giant megacity in the Pearl River Delta, similar to the Jing-Jin-Ji megacity project linking Beijing, Tianjin and the Hebei province and merging them into one. [2] In order to understand the scale of this project, it is essential to understand that the Pearl River Delta is the most densely populated area in the world, having a population of approximately 70 million inhabitants in an area roughly the size of Croatia. Although outside of China, little is known of the PRD in comparison with Hong Kong, it is worth noting that the scale of the cities on the mainland side of the PRD, such as Guangzhou (old Canton) and Shenzhen (a new city created less than 40 years ago) dwarfs that of Hong Kong with its 7 million inhabitants. Were the Pearl River Delta to be its own nation, it would have the world’s 12th highest nominal GDP, standing between South Korea and Russia. [1] Nonetheless, this area is also one of great complexity with the presence of the two Chinese Special Administrative Regions (SARs): Macau and Hong Kong. The two SARs have their own monetary, legal and administrative systems, at least until 2049 for Macau and 2047 for Hong Kong.

However, with the completion of projects such as the HZM Bridge and the XRL, China hopes to further integrate its SARs into the Pearl River Delta to make it the “Greater Bay Area”, capable of becoming China’s Silicon Valley and rivalling San Francisco’s Bay Area. [3]

Given the cost of these projects (a $20bn 55-kilometer sea bridge and an $11bn trans-border highspeed railway) it is indeed to be hoped that there are sound economic reasons.

With the HZM Bridge, journey time between Hong Kong and Macau/ Zhuhai will be reduced to thirty minutes from three hours previously. [4] Officials also hope that the HZM Bridge will help to further to develop the West coast of the PRD (Macau/ Zhuhai) which is very much under-developed in comparison with the East coast (Hong Kong, Shenzhen). [5]

As for the XRL, officials hope to make it easier to get from Hong Kong, the major financial hub in Southern China to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, via Shenzhen, the home of tech giants such as Tencent (WeChat) or Huawai but also China’s first Special Economic Zone. Indeed, many believe it to be in Hong Kong’s interest to open up to the Greater Bay Area.

Historically, Hong Kong has been considered as the “gateway to China”. However, this role has been more contested over the last few years as Shanghai has emerged as the economic capital of China. But even in the PRD, Hong Kong’s importance has diminished. [3] Whilst its stock exchange is still more important than that of Shenzhen in terms of market capitalisation and its airport still busier that Guangzhou’s in terms of annual passenger traffic and cargo traffic, its port, which historically made Hong Kong what it is today, has been surpassed by Shenzhen and is seriously in danger of being overtaken by Guangzhou. Greater cooperation and higher integration of Hong Kong in the PRD could very well be one of its best chances of limiting competition coming from Guangzhou and Shenzhen as well remaining a great financial hub in the region. [3] All in all, China’s goal of building expensive and impressive infrastructure to bring together the gambling capital of the world, a top three world financial centre and the Chinese tech capital, all of which are in the most densely populated area in the world, which also happens to have three of the top ten busiest container ports in the world and numerous world-class airports, seems very bold. Not only is it bold, but also ambitious and, were it to succeed, could transform the Pearl River Delta into the “Greater Bay Area”, increasing its role as one of China’s economic powerhouses, rivalling Beijing, Shanghai and beyond.

 

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However not everything is absolutely perfect for the “Greater Bay Area” as it faced numerous obstacles whilst building its new grand infrastructure. Obviously, if you’re going to build the longest sea bridge in the world through one of the world’s busiest maritime routes and which links three different territories, you’re going to meet a few obstacles along the way. Needless to say that this is what actually happened to China, Hong Kong and Macau during the construction of the HZM Bridge. The long-in-the-making project was originally supposed to be completed in 2016 but is finally supposed to open later on this month after numerous engineering issues that caused important delays and an increase in budget of approximately $1.5bn. [5] Human rights activists have criticized the project for its poor safety conditions with a high number of casualties and injuries having been reported on the Hong Kong side of the project, with working conditions suspected of being worse on the Chinese side but numbers of injuries and casualties are still unknown. [6] The Bridge has also raised environmental concerns as numerous environmentalists have criticized the bridge as causing irreversible damage to the habitat of numerous species living in the Pearl River Delta such as the Chinese White dolphin and which could soon be considered as endangered as a result. [5]

Finally, an increasing number of people have deemed China’s grand infrastructure projects as unnecessary given cost and considering viable alternatives already existed. It is very easy to get from Hong Kong to Macau by ferry across the delta or to get an MTR train (Hong Kong’s subway system) to the border with Shenzhen. This resulted in people considering these projects as “White Elephants” and simply as a symbol of a growing Chinese political ambition over its SARs. [7]

 But, whilst the economic motives behind these projects are constantly being put forward, is China doing this to feed its political ambitions?

 The hypothesis of China using grand infrastructure to further integrate Macau and especially Hong Kong into the local economy as part of Beijing’s growing political ambition is very plausible. It is undeniable that China has economic interests in building these projects but these also take place in a context of high political tension between China and the people of its SARs. Indeed, the completion of both the HZM Bridge and the XRL is happening just four years after the pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution paralyzed the heart of Hong Kong in an attempt to pressure the Beijing government into respecting its promise of giving Hong Kong free and democratic elections for the 2017 election. The movement that lasted eighty days did not change Beijing’s mind and resulted in Carry Lam, a pro-Beijing candidate, being elected as chief executive of the HKSAR. [7]

Since then, China has intervened a numerous number of times in Hong Kong, such as the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2016 after the publishing of books criticizing the Communist regime. [8] And more recently the banning of a pro-independence fringe political party and refusal to allow entry to a British Financial Times journalist who moderated a debate which included the head of that party are seen in some circles as either directly influenced by Beijing or done to impress the Beijing government. [9]

Many people fear that China is fairly rapidly weakening the “One country, two systems” principle which emanated from the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that stated that Hong Kong would be able to keep a high degree of autonomy and hence, most of its human rights after the 1997 handover and at least until 2047. [6]

Macau, on the other hand, did not have a pro-democracy movement like Hong Kong did, but still suffered a crackdown on money laundering by the Chinese government during the 2018 summer which reduced profits made by local casinos, Macau’s primary source of revenue. The HZM Bridge and XRL are seen by some in Hong Kong as a means by Beijing to tighten its grip on the SARs before 2050. [10]

Whilst the bridge is an impressive marvel of engineering, many people consider it as just a part of Beijing’s process of “Mainlandization” for slowly integrating Hong Kong and Macau into the Chinese territory and transforming them into just two of the eleven cities of the PRD, instead of the current situation which would be nine Chinese cities and two SARs. [8] As Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy Hongkong legislator, said to CNN, the bridge “links Hong Kong to China almost like an umbilical cord. You see it, and you know you’re linked up to the motherland.”[4] So much ink has been used to write about the bridge that the XRL has received much less attention worldwide but it might just be as much of a tool to slowly incorporate Hong Kong into China. The presence of security personnel from mainland China and, more importantly, the application of mainland law at the Hong Kong XRL station (which is treated as sovereign PRC territory) is the first time that anything of this sort has happened in the former British colony. [8] Mainland law being applied in the very heart of the city could be considered a symbol of the current trend of “Mainlandization” of the SARs as it violates Hong Kong’s legislation and was only made possible after an intervention by the Beijing government.

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  Christopher Balding, a former British university professor in China, resumed the situation in an interview for The Financial Times: “The battle Beijing is fighting is that if they want more access to Hong Kong’s markets and capital, they have to open up but the movement over the past few years has been in the opposite direction,” [1] Whilst Hong Kong and Macau’s slow integration into the Chinese territory seem inevitable due to the 2047-2049 deadlines and China’s growing political ambition, the way that Beijing is accelerating this process, partly by spending vast amounts of money to build mega-infrastructure, remains fascinating. Not only do the HZM Bridge and XRL show China’s wealth and might, it could also symbolize the making of one of the world’s greatest economic areas rivalling San Francisco, New York and Tokyo.

The fate of Hong Kong as a bastion of freedom of speech and (relative) democracy in Communist China remains uncertain, however, greater integration with the other cities of the Pearl River Delta could also possibly be its best chance of economic “survival”.

If the construction of mega-infrastructures does end up playing a major role in “Mainlandizing” Hong Kong and Macau, this could be a milestone for China’s future expansions such as the South China Sea, where artificial islands have already been constructed to incorporate them in the Chinese territory, but also Taiwan, which has been watching developments with the SARs closely. Hence, this is how the longest sea bridge in the world and a high-speed railway could shape the future of the most dynamic region on earth.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Bland, B, “Greater Bay Area: Xi Jinping’s other grand plan”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/fe5976d8-ab81-11e8-94bd-cba20d67390c

[2] Qu, H, “The rise of China’s supercities”, HSBC News & Insight, 2018 https://www.hsbc.com/news-and-insight/insight-archive/2018/the-rise-of-chinas-supercities

[3] Follain, J, “China’s Silicon Valley Threatens to Swallow Up Hong Kong”, Bloomberg New Economy Forum, 2018

 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-08-28/bridge-to-china-s-silicon-valley-may-swallow-up-hong-kong-

[4] Lazarus, S, “The $20 billion ‘umbilical cord’: China unveils the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge”, CNN, 2018

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/04/asia/hong-kong-zhuhai-macau-bridge/index.html

[5] Blackledge, B, “The HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge: An economic excuse for a political gamble?”, Hong Kong Free Press, 2016

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/12/06/the-hk-zhuhai-macau-bridge-an-economic-excuse-for-a-political-gamble/

[6] Yip, H, “ Beijing Is Foisting a White Elephant on Hong Kong”, Foreign Policy, 2018 https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/14/beijing-is-foisting-a-white-elephant-on-hong-kong/

[7] Hale, E, “An Impressive, Unnecessary, Multi-City Bridge”, Citylab, 2018 https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/08/an-impressive-unnecessary-multi-city-bridge/567284/

[8] Kong, T, “Mainlandization: An overview of Communist Party attempts to control and assimilate Hong Kong”, Medium, 2017 https://medium.com/@KongTsungGan/mainlandization-an-overview-of-communist-party-attempts-to-control-and-assimilate-hong-kong-93df16cbfe1e

[9] Bland, B, “Financial Times journalist’s visa renewal denied by Hong Kong”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/5240ecda-c870-11e8-ba8f-ee390057b8c9

[10] Fraser, N, “Macau money chiefs order UnionPay clampdown over illicit mainland China cash fears”, South China Morning Post, 2018

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/hong-kong-law-and-crime/article/2149746/macau-money-chiefs-order-unionpay-clampdown

 

Image sources:

1)      Bland, B, “Greater Bay Area: Xi Jinping’s other grand plan”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/fe5976d8-ab81-11e8-94bd-cba20d67390c

2)      Fung Business Intelligence, “Fast facts of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area”, Business Policy and City Clusters in China, 2017

https://www.fbicgroup.com/sites/default/files/IG_12_GDP.pdf

3)      Kaiman, J, “Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution – the Guardian briefing”, The Guardian, 2014

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/30/-sp-hong-kong-umbrella-revolution-pro-democracy-protests

 

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The African ‘Oil-Rush’: A Battle Between new-found international power and domestic instability. What lies ahead for Nigeria?

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Madeline Sibley is a 3rd year Politics, Philosophy and Economics student at King’s College London, with specific interests in the international politics of energy and climate change policy.

Recent years have seen a substantial media presence concerning the ever-growing demand for natural resources amid the prospect of ‘peak-oil’ and how this has escalated the demand for new oil supplies. Yet what appears commented on to a lesser degree is that this recent global interest in Africa’s natural resources is generating a growing source of conflict between major energy players, in turn laying the foundations for countries such as Nigeria to become vital actors on the international oil stage. When taking a moment to reflect on this phenomenal turn of events it becomes evident that, somewhat paradoxically, it is precisely by virtue of this new-found power that Nigeria is becoming increasingly dysfunctional and unstable.[1]

To give some perspective, Nigeria is one of the identified ‘MINT’ economies, is the largest producer of petroleum in sub-Saharan Africa and the thirteenth largest producer in the world.[2] Endowed with plentiful oil reserves, it has the potential for an incredibly prosperous economy, but currently Nigeria remains remarkably poor, with many of its sizeable population starving. It comes as no surprise that what makes assessing the future of Nigeria in this respect difficult is the lack of transparency of the public bodies that govern the Nigerian oil sector, in particular the National Nigerian Petroleum Corporation. As is the case with many corrupt, state-owned monopolies, it is unclear exactly “how, when and to what extent corruption takes place”.[3] Nevertheless, certain avenues of corruption thankfully can be identified.

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Due to Nigeria’s control of vital resources it is becoming increasingly powerful and increasingly profitable; strengthening demands for a more equitable distribution of oil revenues.[4] Yet according to Dr. Charles Ebinger, a Senior Fellow with the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institute, billions of dollars of Nigerian oil money continues to vanish into London and Swiss bank accounts.[5] As a direct repercussion of this, for approaching two decades now, Nigeria’s Delta region has faced escalated insurgency risks and growing instability alongside the persistent security concerns of relentless kidnappings. Not only is this intensifying instability and deepening the poverty crisis, the consequential alienation of the impoverished Nigerian people has created a schism between the people and the elites which has been exploited by Boko Haram militance.[6] It is thus unsurprising to find that the bulk of poverty coexists with Boko Haram strongholds in the Northern regions of Nigeria.

Ultimately, if Nigerian elites continue to loot the rents from their county’s oil wealth the Nigerian people can expect not only to remain “marginalised and excluded from the benefits of oil” but will also be forced to face the reality of an explosive political emergency.[7] Nigerians must be heard clearly in their united call for major reforms to the state in an effort to diminish the corruption that has propelled their country into turmoil. Despite the great challenges that lie ahead, perhaps drawing attention to these issues will help ensure greater oversight of the Nigerian oil sector in pursuit of stability and transparency at a time of increasing international power for Nigeria.

[1] Roland Dannreuther, “International Relations Theories: Energy, Minerals and Conflict” Polinares, no.8 (2010): 3.

[2] Michael Watts, “Resource curse? governmentality, oil and power in the Niger Delta, Nigeria”, Geopolitics 9, no. 1 (2010): 50.

[3] Alexandra Gillies, “Reforming corruption out of Nigerian oil?” CHR. Michelson Institute, no.2 February, 2009 https://www.cmi.no/publications/file/3295-reforming-corruption-out-of-nigerian-oil-part-one.pdf [Accessed September 14, 2018].

[4] Michael Schwartz, “The Nigerian oil industry and renewed instability in the Delta”, Global Risk Insights. July 27, 2018, https://globalriskinsights.com/2018/07/nigerian-oil-industry-instability-delta/ [Accessed September 15, 2018].

[5] Daniel Tovrov, “Nigeria Poverty Rises as Government Deals With Corruption, Rebels”, International Business Times. February 13, 2012, https://www.ibtimes.com/nigeria-poverty-rises-government-deals-corruption-rebels-409810 [Accessed September 14, 2018].

[6] Daniel Tovrov, “Nigeria Poverty Rises as Government Deals With Corruption, Rebels”, International Business Times. February 13, 2012, https://www.ibtimes.com/nigeria-poverty-rises-government-deals-corruption-rebels-409810 [Accessed September 14, 2018].

[7] Michael Watts, “Resource curse? governmentality, oil and power in the Niger Delta, Nigeria”, Geopolitics 9, no. 1 (2010): 51.

The end of ‘Rajoyismo’: the downfall of non-ideological technocracy in Spain

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 12.24.46Excma. Sra. Da. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría takes her oath as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for the Presidency and Territorial Administrations before H.M. King Felipe VI, November 4th 2016.

Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro is a 2nd year student of History and International Relations at King’s College London and also the author of Limitando el poder, 1871-1939 and of Los últimos gobernantes de Castilla, with an interest in diplomacy and government.

June 1st 2018: Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister since 2011, is ousted from power by a no-confidence motion put forward by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE); a few days later he announces his withdrawal from the leadership of the conservative Popular Party and from politics. July 21st 2018: the PP has a new leader, Pablo Casado, 37. This young and exciting party leader with no experience in government wins against Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, 47, Rajoy’s deputy prime minister and natural heiress. September 10th 2018: Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría withdraws from politics and abandons the Popular Party.

Since November 2011, when Mr Rajoy won the general election with an absolute majority, Spanish political analysts and media have coined the term ‘Rajoyismo’ referring to the set of policies and attitudes of Mr Rajoy and his government. It is an ambiguous term many in Spain have been using in the last eight years with different significations. For example, the online newspaper Libertad Digital, wrote in early July 2018 that the Popular Party had to choose between ‘Liberal renovation or more Rajoyismo’, thus defining Rajoyismo as a form of political immobilism which supports government interventionism. The Spanish extreme left, represented by pseudo-Communist parties such as Unidos Podemos or Izquierda Unida, identify Rajoyismo’with economic austerity, corruption scandals and support for large corporations and fortunes.

It is difficult to define what ‘Rajoyismo’ has really been. Mariano Rajoy hasn’t been a traditional conservative leader in Spain. He hasn’t appealed to nationalistic feelings of ‘the grand Spain” or to the traditional values of conservatism and thus has been considered weak by many when confronting nationalistic problems such as the Catalan secessionist crisis of 2017. He has simply been an administrator of the state, a technocrat. As such he managed to put Spain through the most terrifying economic panorama of its recent history without having to resort to a financial rescue from the European Union. He had, nevertheless, to increase taxation and cut government spending, a sacrilege for centre-right governments. Rajoyismo, therefore, could be described as a form of government based on the rule of necessity, not on the rule of ideology. Rajoyismo is a form of technocracy which leaves traditional political ideology in the background.

Rajoyismo was practiced by what became the core of all of Rajoy’s governments from 2011 to 2018: the Deputy Prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Minister of Employment, Fátima Báñez, and the Minister for the Treasury, Cristóbal Montoro. Although these statesmen are part of the centre-right PP, they have been carrying out a liberal technocratic agenda which in several occasions confronted the more Christian Democrat wing of the council of ministers and the Party. Their detractors have accused core members of Rajoyismo of being ‘social democrats’ because of their economic policies and their ambiguous posture towards the demands of the different Autonomous communities the Spanish territory is divided into. Those who argue that the core of Rajoyismo sympathised with social democratic methods fail to understand that Rajoyismo, as Mr Rajoy, Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría and Mr Montoro practised it, is a form of government which is based on doing what needs to be done, not what one would desire to do. A critical member of the Popular Party of Catalonia argued that in the last years the PP had fallen into the hands of technocrats with no ideology at all. Yet, at the end of the day, technocracy is the ideology of what is right, of what is correct. Fiscal pressure was imperative for a country which was on the verge of being financially rescued by the European Union. The European Economic Adjustment program, which Spain was advocated to, was averted; it was replaced, nevertheless, with harsh austerity measures which were, nonetheless, necessary, for by 2014, after five years of economic depression, Spain’s GDP rose again.

As Rajoy left power in June 2017, the PP began the search for a new leader. Sáenz de Santamaría was the natural successor and many thought she would indeed succeeded her political father after the Party’s XIX Congress. Yet Santamaría’s non-ideological technocracy had earned her several opponents within the Party, opponents which, despite being loyal to Rajoy, did not hesitate to support a “non-natural heir”. She lost to Pablo Casado, a young member of the Party’s Executive Committee who won the hearts and minds of the members of the XIX Congress by appealing to the ideology which had been forsaken during the period of Rajoyismo . Mr Casado has gone back to a period in which the PP could be identified with the values of life, family, morals, territorial unity and expansionary fiscal policy. It isn’t that Rajoyismo relinquished these values, on the contrary. Rajoyismo was always based on the values of the PP but yet wasn’t over dependent on them and it didn’t consent party dogmas to influence the governing of Spain. Ideology makes politics; technocracy makes government.

Over this summer, Spain has been speculating about Santamaría’s future after her defeat in the XIX Congress: would she integrate Mr Casado’s team in a reformed party? Or would she leave? She finally put an end to the incognita: yesterday, she left her seat in the Congress of Deputies and the Party. Indeed it was difficult to imagine Santamaría continuing her political career as a mere MP after having been Spain’s most powerful stateswoman in recent history. Her withdrawal from politics signals the end of Rajoyismo. The PP will no relive a period of its history in which it aimed to represent the solidity of conservative thought. Let’s see if it manages to do so. In the last elections, the PP has been losing votes from its “left wing”, to the centrist Liberal party Ciudadanos (C’s). It would therefore need a more liberal, moderate approximation to the Centre rather than to the Right, where the right-wing party VOX barely constitutes a threat to its electorate.

Rajoyismo will never come back for it was very dependent on Mr Rajoy’s persona. Sáenz de Santamaría was the only realist heir of Rajoy. This form of right-wing governing has been unprecedented in Spanish history. In the History of the Spanish Right-wing Rajoyismo has certainly been extremely important for it has been an attempt to serenely reconfigure the Right in times of global political exaltation. The renouncement of Sáenz de Santamaría is sad news for Spanish politics, for the Spanish Right and for all of us who sympathised with the principles of Rajoyismo. She was an extremely prepared and hard-working politician who represented the continuation of a political movement which separated itself from the embryo of the party ideology in order to achieve its goal: the technocratic, and hence correct, administration of the state.

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Negotiating with the Taliban: As Ghazni burns is an end to the conflict in sight?

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Will Marshall is a 2nd year International Relations undergraduate student at King’s College London and MENA Editor for International Relations Today.

Reflecting on the tumultuous events of recent weeks in the world of international politics, it is easy to understand the lack of airtime being given to yet another fierce battle which continues to rage on the dusty streets of Central Asia’s most war-torn country. Whilst the eyes of journalists have been diverted by the what has been quoted as the worst week so far in Donald Trump’s already turbulent presidency amid allegations of financial fraud and election interference, Turkey’s ongoing economic crisis and the British Government’s shambolic preparations for a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit, the battle for the Afghan city of Ghazni, a strategically crucial city of 150,000 located on the main road between Kabul and Kandahar, passed relatively unnoticed by the majority of mainstream media outlets[1].

This apathy is reflective of the growing indifference of the international community towards Afghanistan, 17 long years after the 2001 US invasion of the country and with no end in sight. Despite the withdrawal of the NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in 2014, the anticipated transition of full responsibility for Afghan internal affairs to local security forces has yet to occur. The withdrawal of NATO Forces was hardly expected to occur overnight, with the Obama administration adopting a gradualist approach calling for a 50% reduction in US troops by the end of 2015 and a full withdrawal of combat forces by late 2016 as Western troops adopted a strictly advisory role.[2] Unsurprisingly, given the history of foreign intervention in Afghanistan, this withdrawal has corresponded with a remarkable resurgence in the capacities of the Taliban. Following an estimated trebling of the groups strength from 20,000 to 60,000 in the four years since the NATO withdrawal, the Taliban are now thought to be active in 70% of the country’s provinces with militants in full control of 14%, the highest proportion of the nation’s territory since the 2001 invasion[3][4].

President Trump’s new strategy on Afghanistan, adopted over a year ago and designed to reflect this new reality has similarly failed to stem the insurgent tide. In an abrupt reversal of his previous promise to get out of Afghanistan Trump has significantly increased the US presence in the country with total troop numbers now in excess of 14,000 along with a significant escalation of counterterrorism and aerial operations. Despite this increase in capacity, US strategists have all but given up attempting to regain full control of the country as US Forces increasingly focus on the defence of major population centres such as Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif whilst leaving more remote outposts in the hands of poorly-trained and equipped local police. In all practical terms, this strategy means Kabul and its Western Allies have effectively conceded much of rural Afghanistan to the militants, giving them free rein over vast swathes of the nation’s territory.[5]

It is precisely such a strategy, the abandonment of vast hinterlands to militants in which they can operate relatively undisturbed that allows them to coordinate major offensives on urban centres, such as Ghazni, with impunity. Coupled with repeated attacks in recent months against symbols of Afghanistan’s fragile institutional and democratic capacities – such as Islamic State’s attacks on a Kabul military hospital this March resulting in the deaths of over 100 civilians and, later this May against a voting centre, again in Kabul, with 69 confirmed fatalities which further serve to undermine the authority of President Ghani’s already tenuous authority. Thus, it is increasingly apparent that for neither Kabul nor Washington there is no clear endgame for what a post-conflict Afghanistan might look like, never mind a clear strategy to bring such an outcome about. As the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall concisely puts it, in the absence of a ‘fight to win’ strategy, ‘the US is in a triple bind: it cannot win the war, it cannot halt the war and it cannot leave’.[6]

However hard it may be to swallow for those who have dedicated the best part of two decades to fighting militancy in the country, a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and Ghani’s National Unity Government seems to be the only hope for America if it is to have any chance of a full withdrawal from Afghanistan at any time in the next decade. Even the usually tough-talking Trump Administration has recognised the necessity of finding a workable, long-term settlement in the war-torn country with its agreement to begin secret talks with the Taliban last month in Qatar. Despite the distinct possibility of a breakthrough deal on the table, one which could transform the country’s political landscape, there remain immense obstacles to peace in Afghanistan after four decades of almost continuous conflict.

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Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/13/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-ghazni.html

Firstly, there is the issue of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in the first place. In spite of Washington’s desire to play the role of facilitator for an ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned’ peace process, the Taliban refuse to entertain the prospect of face to face talks with Kabul, rather insisting on negotiating indirectly via the US.[7] This is because the Taliban leadership continue to frame their struggle in the language of Pashtun Nationalism as much as religious extremism and thus see their as one against foreign interference. Through such a lens the US remains their principal adversary, even though the vast majority the insurgency is now conducted against local security forces loyal to President Ghani’s Regime, which in the eyes of the Taliban remains little more than an American puppet and therefore not a legitimate foe.[8]

Though signs of Taliban cooperation are increasingly encouraging, with local commanders generally respecting a three-day ceasefire with Government Forces over the Islamic holiday of Eid in May, the thorny issue of what exactly the militants may demand as part of a comprehensive settlement remains.[9] The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban-controlled regime which controlled the country from 1996 to 2001 became infamous for its draconian rule over the country, implementing strict sharia law with public executions and amputations for acts deemed ‘un-Islamic’, the banning of television, music and cinema and the expulsion of women from public life in their extreme interpretation of the local Deobandi sect of Islam. Whilst the Taliban have so far been unclear about the extent to which they are willing to compromise in their strict imposition of Islamic law in any negotiated settlement, recent reports from inside Taliban-controlled territory suggest the militant group has come to recognise the importance of moderating their harsh rule and even cooperating with local government authorities.

Last year, a BBC report from Taliban territory in Helmand province reported an uneasy accord, with the militants allowing authorities to provide government-run health and educational services relatively free from interference. Meanwhile, the Taliban’s swift and effective, albeit harsh legal system has won them a degree of support from the local population, exasperated by the corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy of central government system of justice.[10] However, such encouraging signs should be taken with a pinch of salt. The Taliban hold over much of their territory remains tenuous compared to what it was under the Islamic Emirate and the group are likely keen to consolidate their base of support in areas under their control by moderating their approach. There is little to suggest the militant groups ultimate objective of establishing a state ruled under strict sharia law in Afghanistan have shifted. Nevertheless, their newfound flexibility implies the group may be able to adapt and come to a workable and mutually satisfactory compromise with the government when it comes to establishing a future settlement.

Another issue is the Taliban’s professed commitment to Pashtun Nationalism. In fact, in many ways the group are just as much a nationalist as a religious movement. Despite being the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, concentrated in the south and east of the country, represent just over 40% of the total population. Taliban rule enshrined Pashtunwali, the traditional tribal code of the Pashtun people across Afghanistan, a move which did much to antagonise the country’s other minority groups including Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Hazara who regarded such a policy of Pashtunisation as a form of ‘internal colonisation’.[11] The discrimination against Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities under Taliban rule was not limited merely to the imposition of alien social norms such as the mandatory wearing of the burqa and blatant favouritism towards Pashtuns when appointing officials and administrators, but at times spilled over into outright genocide, including the infamous three-day long massacre of the Hazara population in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif during August 1998. Given such bitter experiences it is unsurprising that the prospect of the Taliban returning to take a stake in Afghanistan’s governance is regarded with trepidation by the country’s non-Pashtun population. It goes without saying that any such agreement between the Taliban and Kabul would require stringent legislation to ensure all Afghanistan’s minorities feel invested in and represented by a new administration as well as sufficient checks and balances in place to keep the Taliban’s inherently expansionist tendencies in check. Nevertheless, in practice implementing policies to ensure all of the country’s diverse population feel invested in the system is easier said than done, a fact illustrated by the experiences of the current Ghani Administration.

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Source: https://afghanhindsight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/to-what-extent-do-the-taliban-control-afghanistan/

For any negotiated settlement between Kabul and the Taliban to be effective a fundamental prerequisite is the existence of a strong and united central Afghan Government, something which has been sorely lacking in successive administrations following the US invasion of 2001. The current National Unity Government led by President Ashraf Ghani is a case in point. The administration has been riven by internal turmoil ever since its inception by disputes between Ghani and his senior officials, notably Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah over the governance of the country. Again, ethnicity and ethnic favouritism is a major point of contention with Ghani, one of the few senior Pashtun politicians to side with the US and its Allies against the Taliban standing accused of ‘extreme Pashtun Nationalism’ and Abdullah suffering similar accusations of a pro-Tajik bias.[12] Whilst this may or may not be an exaggeration (certainly the degree of discrimination is far from the policy of ethnic cleansing endorsed by the Taliban) the fact remains that ethnic favouritism remains rife under Ghani. For example, of all officials appointed to the President’s Office of Administrative Affairs in September 2015, 75% were Pashtuns compared to just 14% Tajiks who represent Afghanistan’s second largest minority. Meanwhile, in September 2017 the Government was subsumed by scandal following the leaking of a confidential memo stating ‘Tajiks and Uzbeks, who work completely under us [Pashtuns], should be appointed symbolically so that people think every ethnicity is represented here’, further legitimising accusations of systematic discrimination.[13]

 A further bone of contention is ongoing debate over the core nature of governance. Ghani, on one hand advocates for a more centralised form of government with increased power in the hands of Kabul. Abdullah, on the other continues to advocate for further decentralisation, perhaps realising Afghanistan’s minorities may feel more investment in a system of governance which provides them considerable autonomy over their own affairs. Moreover, the drive for increased centralisation has generated further friction between Ghani’s government and Afghan elites, with the President accused of being an ‘arrogant micromanager’, having ‘no close friends, no feel for politics’ and being ‘the leader of a country that only exists in his own mind’.[14] These considerable fissions among the country’s political class suggest Afghanistan’s government remains far from being capable putting forward a strong, unified front in negotiations with the Taliban.

Perhaps the greatest issue plaguing Kabul however, is the inability of the regime to provide basic services, infrastructure and security for its population. As we have seen repeatedly in other so-called ‘failed states’ in the region such as Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen the single biggest factor facilitating the spread of extremism is the inability of a state to fulfil basic obligations to its citizens which grant the state its legitimacy. When a regime is unable to provide effective security to its population from mass shootings and suicide bombings, when key public services such as healthcare and education are chronically underfunded and public sector wages six months in arrears, when the justice system is slow, corrupt and ineffective, these are the conditions which lead a state such as Afghanistan into a crisis of legitimacy such as that which it has faced the past 17 years. Despite the hostility the majority of Afghans hold towards the Taliban and its ideology, with a recent Asia foundation poll revealing 80% of the population have no sympathy towards the Taliban at all, it is easy to understand how the degree of security life under the militants provides and its swift, though harsh form of justice proves an attractive alternative to those let down by the failings of the central government.[15]

Thus, the resolution of Afghanistan’s multiple issues of governance is a fundamental prerequisite to engaging in negotiations with Taliban. Failure to resolve these issues and provide a credible alternative and counterbalance to the organised and highly motivated militants is merely setting the Kabul regime up for failure. The Taliban are likely to drive a hard bargain and will take any opportunity to undermine Kabul along the way. If the central government is unwilling or unable to present a united front, reduce corruption and provide the basic services its citizens expect from it, opening into negotiations may do more harm than good for Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy.

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Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/saad-mohseni-new-afghan-government-check-now-get-the-economy-going-1412118823

Finally, there is the issue of continuing foreign interference in Afghanistan and the challenges this provides to negotiators striving for a workable settlement. Afghanistan has long been the epicentre of regional clashes of interest, a fact reflective of its strategic geopolitical location between Central Asia, the Islamic world and the Indian subcontinent. This fact of life for policymakers dealing with Afghanistan has long been a source of trouble when dealing with the Taliban. Ever since the Soviet invasion in the 1980s the Pakistani Government has more or less openly supported fundamentalist militant groups in Afghanistan, keen to limit Indian influence in the country and build strategic depth. This has taken the form of providing military hardware, training and logistical support as well as providing a safe haven for Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border.[16] Seeing the Taliban as Pakistan’s proxy there is a high probability the Pakistani Government will do its best to sabotage the formation of a stable Afghanistan in which the Taliban are represented but with firm limits to the extent of their power. The support Pakistan provides to militant groups has been one of the key factors limiting the success of the US-led coalition. There are however, signs that Washington is finally hardening its stance with President Trump suspending military aid to Islamabad this January accusing the Pakistani Government of ‘nothing but lies and deceit’ in response to US military aid.[17]

Whilst the US may be making progress regarding Pakistan, other regional and global players are increasingly taking advantage of Afghanistan’s instability to further their own agenda. Russia, ironically given their historic enmity, has maintained covert links with the Taliban for several years.[18] Like the US, Russia sees the threat from international terrorism as one if its major security concerns. However, the Taliban have been keen to affirm that their strategic concerns do not extend beyond Afghanistan. It is on these assumptions that Russia has come to an uneasy accord with the militants, recognising the reality on the ground that the Taliban will not be defeated militarily and are more or less a permanent feature of the Afghan political landscape. Moreover, the emergence of Islamic State’s Khorasan Province in Afghanistan during early 2015 has given a common cause for concern for both countries. Moscow, on one hand fears the groups expansion in Central Asia and into Russia’s sphere of influence which in turn could provoke unrest among Russia’s large Muslim population. Meanwhile, The Taliban have long been viewed with contempt by the Islamic State who despise the Taliban’s parochial and nationalistic goals, seeing the Pashtun tribal influences on Taliban rule as deviating from true Islamic law. Perhaps most significantly, building bridges with the Taliban will aid Moscow in its bid to undermine NATO in Afghanistan. This is linked to Russian efforts to destabilise the West and its allies across the globe, as is the case in Ukraine and Syria.

Further meddling by foreign powers for strategic purposes places yet more strain on the fragile Afghan peace process. In July, Russia’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kubalov announced his intention to invite the Taliban to engage in Russian brokered peace talks in Moscow alongside the Afghan Government.[19] Whilst the negotiations have been postponed for the time being, owing to the demands of the Afghan Government that the peace process be ‘Afghan-led’, the emergence of a parallel peace process to that spearheaded by the US suggests that Afghanistan is increasingly becoming drawn into the strategic conflicts of regional and global powers. Such a development can only be bad news for the Afghan Government and their Western partners as they strive to achieve the stability necessary for a negotiated settlement to be put into practice.

Whilst the fires of Ghazni die down Afghanistan, after 17 years of war finds itself at a crossroads. On one hand, both the Taliban and the Afghan Government appear to be ready and willing to come to the negotiating table, though each only on their own terms. On the other, there remain formidable obstacles to negotiators seeking an inclusive, workable and long-term peace. Continuing Taliban obstinance, the division and corruption of the Afghan Government and meddling by foreign powers pushing their own strategic objectives all serve to undermine the fragile prospects for peace. Nevertheless, for the first time in 17 long years the prospect of Afghanistan’s major political players coming to an accord appears a realistic possibility. We can only hope that the Afghan political class and international community take advantage of this opportunity to put aside their differences and make the peace that Afghanistan deserves a reality.

[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/08/heavy-fighting-ghazni-afghan-forces-battle-taliban-180812140216396.html

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40451960

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/numbers-afghanistan-are-not-good-n842651

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42863116

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/28/world/asia/trump-afghanistan-strategy-retreat.html

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/01/the-us-and-afghanistan-cant-win-the-war-cant-stop-it-cant-leave

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-direct-negotiations.html

[8] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-44313474

[9] https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-afghanistan-security-usa/unacceptable-for-taliban-to-refuse-peace-talks-u-s-official-says-idUKKBN1JR1O8

[10] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-40171379

[11] http://www.hazarapeople.com/2016/11/23/afghanistan-here-the-power-is-called-pashtun/

[12] https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/beyond-pakistan-afghanistans-most-serious-problem-is-governance/

[13] https://www.tolonews.com/index.php/afghanistan/leaked-memo-reveals-alleged-discrimination-president%25E2%2580%2599s-office

[14] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/04/ashraf-ghani-afghanistans-theorist-in-chief

[15] https://asiafoundation.org/2018/04/25/is-peace-with-the-taliban-possible/

[16] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/01/05/why-pakistan-supports-terrorist-groups-and-why-the-us-finds-it-so-hard-to-induce-change/

[17] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-pakistan-aid-latest-suspended-frozen-state-dept-news-a8142691.html

[18] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41842285

[19] https://thediplomat.com/2018/07/why-has-russia-invited-the-taliban-to-moscow/

Another week, another antisemitism scandal in the Labour Party: Why Labour was wrong to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism

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By Flaminia Luck, a first year History and International Relations King’s College London undergraduate.

As a self-confessed Corbynista, it’s hard to swallow the news that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has had yet another scandal over antisemitism only in the last week.

Last Tuesday, the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee ruled against adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s official definition of antisemitism. For many, this was the final straw. The IHRA definition has been adopted by 31 countries in Europe and beyond including the British Government, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Crown Prosecution service, the National Union of Students and 124 local authorities but most importantly by the majority of Jews in Britain and across the world. According to Dr Noam Schimmel of Kellogg College, Oxford, “The IHRA definition of anti-Jewish racism provides the most comprehensive, accurate, and protective definition that respects and reflects the lived experience and concerns of Jews in Britain and globally”. But rather than choosing to embrace this well-established definition of antisemitism, instead, the party decided to adopt its own modified version. 

It is incredibly disappointing to hear that the Labour Party, a party with a proud history of promoting racial equality has suddenly turned its back on its progressive values and no longer champions the principles it once stood for. Its irrefutable record, with the passage of acts such as the Race Relations Act in 1976, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act in 2000 and the Equality Act of 2010, is a testament to how far the mighty have fallen.

Many Labour MPs, both with and without Jewish heritage, have openly condemned the move including former leader Ed Miliband who went on to state that “Labour should adopt the full IHRA definition. The argument that it is somehow incompatible with criticising the actions of the Israeli government is wrong. The views of the vast majority of the Jewish community are very clear. I would urge the NEC to get on with this at speed.” Miliband, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, is no stranger to antisemitism and how hatred for Jewish people manifests itself in the modern age.

Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Jews, stated that “The decision of the Labour party’s NEC and the message it sends to Britain’s Jewish community is utterly contemptible. The damage it will inflict on our credibility as an anti-racist political party is the leadership’s responsibility – and theirs alone.” 

The direction of blame towards Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is nothing new nor surprising. After Corbyn’s election in September 2015, Labour has seen countless similar incidents such as comments made my MP Naz Shah, the controversy over the removal of an antisemitic mural and the resignation rather than suspension of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone. 

Electorally, Corbyn’s lack of a crackdown on prevalent antisemitism has meant the loss of seats such as Barnet in North London which is home to large Jewish communities in places like Golders Green, Mill Hill and Finchley. Voters en masse rejected Labour’s lenience towards internal antisemitism and were reported to have slammed doors in the faces of Labour activist’s in the run-up to the 2018 Local Elections.  

So why is it that under Corbyn’s control, race relations with Britain’s Jewish community have turned so sour? For so many Labour voters it’s hard to accept the fact that a party with such a historically progressive stance is in the midst of a crisis surrounding a religious and ethnic minority. The discrepancy in Labour’s attitude towards Jewish people in comparison to other minorities in this country exposes an ingrained lack of understanding into the needs of Jewish communities as well as complete disregard for how this ignorance is affecting them in the polls.

Jeremy’s straight-talking, honest politics which promises to serve the many and not the few has created a movement of people with a reinvigorated passion for politics and a genuine interest in voting once they had finally recognised themselves in a political figure. Many young people, like myself, are drawn to the idea of Jeremy Corbyn who represents hope in increasingly unstable and volatile times. In a country where leading political figures have lied to the public, executed U-turns or forgotten their morals for the sake of their career, Corbyn smacks of something completely different. Trustworthy and unbending on his fundamental ideas, Jeremy Corbyn is something new and exciting, a man of principle who is infallible in his commitment to social justice.

He is particularly known amongst young people for his enduring opposition to racism when a photograph of him protesting against apartheid in South Africa from 1984 went viral and proved to many that he has almost always been on the right side of history.

So why is a man who is renowned for his consistent and ruthless stance on racism and all forms of inequality ignoring the voices from the Jewish community and all those who speak in solidarity with them?

Even when hundreds of protestors demonstrated outside Parliament to tell Jeremy that ‘Enough is Enough’; they are ignored. Even when 68 rabbis from across the country, ranging from liberal to Ultra-Orthodox, unite to sign a letter to condemn antisemitism within Labour; they are ignored. Even when valuable electoral wards fall like dominoes to the Conservative Party as a result of scandal after scandal; Jewish voices are ignored. 

His systematic failure to properly stamp out antisemitism is simply not good enough. Corbyn’s lack of action is completely unacceptable and a hideous contradiction of his otherwise irreproachable values. 

Politicians are as unpopular as ever and for so many, Corbyn was something distinctly different in a scary world. I find myself losing faith in the man I wanted to be Prime Minister and can only hope (and vote) that something will change.

Berber struggles in Morocco and Algeria: Using Global Actors to Make Local Differences?

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This article is by Julien Chatel, a 2nd year student at King’s College London studying International Relations.

This article analyses how the Berber identity has been legitimized and protected with regard to its intentional appeal to global actors – such as the United Nations (U.N.) or non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In other words, how effective have Berber groups, specfically in Morocco and Algeria been at advancing their agenda by making their identity an international human rights issue? This article will argue that the Berber strategy has not been effective in this regard. Despite the legitimacy the Berbers have gained on the international stage, they have failed at manipulating global actors to successfully implement cultural and political policies in phase with their agenda.

The Berbers are an ethno-linguistic group spread across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (Hoffman, 2008), speaking dialects deriving from Tamazight, the institutionalised language of the Berber people. Berbers, as a cultural group have been particularly influential in the North African states of Morocco and Algeria. They refer to themselves as Amazighs, which stands for free or noble men and will be mentioned henceforth as such.

In order to measure the success of a strategy, this article takes two elements into account: legitimacy and public policies. Drawing on post-structural concepts of identity, discourse analysis and performativity, legitimacy is analysed hereafter with regard to political recognition in public discourses. The ‘effectiveness’ of public policies is studied in comparison with the Berber Manifesto (Morocco) given the similarity of claims from Berber movements in Morocco and Algeria. While calling for protection of human rights, the manifesto makes nine requests:

  1. Integration of Amazigh issues in the public debate
  2. Recognition in the constitution of Tamazight as a national language
  3. Economic support for Amazigh majority regions
  4. The teaching of Tamazight at school and institutional codifying of the language
  5. Recognition of the historical role of the Amazigh people
  6. Use of Tamazight in public service
  7. Rehabilitation of Amazigh art
  8. End Arabization of toponyms
  9. Financial assistance for Amazigh cultural associations.

 These demands will henceforth be used as indicators to assess the advancement of the Amazigh agenda.

Furthermore, this article only addresses the international development of the movement since the independence of both Morocco and Algeria in 1956 and 1962 respectively, though it is important to note Amazigh movements began as far back as the 1930s. However, it was only in the 1980s that the Amazigh turned to global actors  to break out of their postcolonial situation.

This article will analyse how Amazigh questions were successfully politicized and gained legitimacy, contrasting this case with the use of global narratives in identity construction. This leads to exposing the set of deceiving domestic cultural policies undertaken by both Moroccan and Algerian governments in an effort to co-opt the movement. Together with underlying Amazigh nationalism, this contributes to the isolation of the movement from the international scene.

*

A Successful Politicization of the Amazigh Question.

            Amazigh groups have suffered from under-representation ever since independence. In Morocco, post-colonial state-building favoured the Northern Arab identity of the country. This resulted in tensions between the government and the southern Amazigh community, with state violence used to uphold national unity in a colonial-like which ultimately culminated in a three-month rebellion in the Rif Mountains in December 1985. However, the insurgent Amazigh movements failed to reverse the Arabization policy. Nevertheless, the memory of the insurgency continues to shape the country’s political identity, fuelling an “ethnic fragmentation” (Silverstein, p. 93) that will be addressed further in this article.

 In an attempt to subsume the Amazigh movement, until the 1980s, the Moroccan government applied a centralized policy of Arabization through media and schooling. Rejection of the Amazigh identity was the norm. The notion of ‘Berber’ was dubbed a colonial invention and was a taboo in Moroccan society. Hence, in Morocco, post-colonial structures remained tainted with colonial-like repressive behaviour. The Amazigh movement grew in this context of ethnic, political, and economic disparity.

In Algeria, it is significant that the nationalist movement was born in France with the creation of L’Etoile Nord Africaine in 1926. The movement arrived in Algeria in 1936. But in the meantime, it had been structured around the ideas of Arabhood and Islam – that of the Algerian Arab workers. Following independence the Algerian uprisings of the Kabyle Amazighs were repressed by the newly formed government. Two elements reveal the pervasiveness of colonial structures following Algerian independence. Firstly, the colonial state apparatus was used for state violence against minorities. For instance, the 1980 riots that led to the famous trial of 1985 were heavily repressed, resulting in the perpetuation of the policy of making political prisoners. Secondly, uti possedetis, the principle that “successor states are entitled to the international boundaries of the predecessors” (Joffé, 1987, p. 34) was upheld by Algeria to keep access to large reserves of oil in Amazigh areas. Hence, in the case of Algeria, the construction of a homogenous Arab nationalism and state-building led to the application of ethnic double standards towards the Kabyle Amazighs.

In this context, the Amazigh movement began to frame its identity in Human Rights terms in order to produce discourse aimed at a global audience. The objective was to gain the protection of the U.N. and thus advance the Amazigh agenda. To understand this requires discourse analysis, with a special emphasis on the 1985 Algerian trial. In December 1985, a trial of 23 political prisoners was held by the Court of State Security. This rare tribune was used by the prisoners to reconstitute the Amazigh identity while criticizing the Algerian government. The latter underestimated the highly public dimension the trial was going to have. Between April and June 1980, Amazigh activists were jailed after violent protests.

In turn, the Imedyazen collective, a Paris-based organization advocating for the preservation of Amazigh culture and language mobilized the international press and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Federation of Human Rights. Simultaneously, Amazigh associations released in February 1985 a flyer calling on the state to uphold “respect for human rights” and “freedom of expression”. Significantly, when the Algerian League for Human Rights was created in December 1984, the role of Amazigh culture was minimized: the focus was on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

This tactic succeeded in grabbing international attention, with both Amnesty International and the International Federation of Human Rights beginning inquires on the motives for detention of the prisoners. Under pressure, the regime accepted foreign observers to witness the trial. Hence, when the trial started, the situation had already been under heavy international scrutiny. During the trial, prisoners spoke of their experiences as Amazighs in Algeria. For instance, Ali-Fewzi Rebaine finished his speech saying “I was born a free man in the fullest sense of the term. I will always remain that way” (Goodman., p. 113) His use of ‘free man’ embodies the strategy at stake during the trial: ‘Free man’ connotes as much his human rights-based discourse as his Amazigh roots. Amrane Ait Hammouda narrated his story as a folkloric Amazigh tale, often repeating ‘Once upon a time’ and traditional Kabyle proverbs. Only at the end did he briefly mention Human Rights, as a conclusion to his tale – or as an interpretative framework for the Amazigh condition. Others tried to demonstrate the legal non-conformity of the government’s actions with the U.N. Charter, the Bandung Conference Resolution, and the African Charter of 1981 (ibid.). Under international pressure, despite condemning the prisoners, the Algerian regime dropped some of these symbolic charges. Finally, in 1987 it allowed the creation of associations without state permission, thus retrospectively somewhat recognising the legitimacy of Amazigh actions. This trial was the first time Human Rights and the Amazigh condition were specifically linked in discourse highlighting the role of the U.N. and of NGOs in the promotion of the Amazigh agenda. The U.N. has given a tribune to Amazigh issues, thus granting them legitimacy.

In 1991, the Moroccan association Tamayut translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into Tamazight. In turn, in 1993, it was invited by the U.N. to participate in an international human rights conference. Before attending, some Amazigh organizations drafted a document arguing that Amazighs corresponded to the U.N. definition of “indigenous minority populations”. Hence, under international law, their rights had to be protected. Idbelkassem, a member of Tamaynut, became a central figure of the movement, being appointed a  member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Like in Algeria in 1985, appealing to the U.N. also meant criticizing governments for their failure to abide by U.N. laws. In 1990, Amazigh associations denounced the failure to implement the “International Year of Indigenous Peoples”. The U.N. acknowledged their struggle, establishing the “International Decade of Indigenous Peoples” in 1994, complete with a committee in charge of protecting and implementing Amazigh rights. Tamaynut was also attributed an observer’s status at the Human Rights Commission.

In Algeria, the radical Kabyle Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) has expressed stronger demands. Their 2001 manifesto demands an autonomous status, similar to the Spanish Autonomous Region of Cataluña. The document was sent to the U.N., the European Union (E.U.), the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme, Human Rights Watch and to Nelson Mandela. Despite remaining marginal, this occurrence reinforces the importance of the U.N., and more broadly global actors, in advancing the agenda and giving legitimacy to repressed minority groups on a domestic scale.

This international legitimacy has led to a shift in domestic political discourses since the 1990s. There is a political will address the Amazigh identity in both Morocco and Algeria. In Morocco, under Hassan II, in August 1994 the monarchy acknowledged the role of Amazighs in the history of the country. Hassan II went even further in July 1995 during Trône Day, Morocco’s national day of celebration.

His speech opposed the policies of systematic Arabization by upholding the notions of individual and collective liberties. In 1999, Mohammed VI succeeded to his father and the recognition of Amazigh issues has continued to increase in public discourse. In his Discours du Trône in July 2001, he put the emphasis on the pluralistic nature of Morocco in which Tamazight would contribute to the democratization of the country. Amazigh issues are also referred to in the political sphere. In 1998 the opposition arrived in power. Despite being Arab centred, it assured the “Berber dimension” would be taken into account (Feliu, 2004, p. 409).

In Algeria, in 1994, following a long school strike in Kabylie, the government announced that “Islam, Arabism, Tamazight (…) should have their place and should be strengthened in the institutions, without any exclusion or marginalization” (Maddy-Weitzman, 2011, p. 46). It also announced the creation of an executive body in charge with the rehabilitation of the Tamazight culture. More generally, all political parties, even the FLN, have had to clarify and moderate their posture on the Kabyle question. Thus, in both Morocco and Algeria, the Amazigh movement has gained in legitimacy in recent years.

In light of this first analysis, one can conclude Amazighs’ strategy of appealing to global actors with regard to Human Rights has been successful in breaking out of their post-colonial situation to gain legitimacy.

The Role of Global Identities

Drawing on de Orellana’s work (2015), one can argue that the Amazigh movement has sought to redefine itself in relation to global identities. The discursive strategy of Amazighs has been similar to that of the Moroccan government with regard to the Western Sahara. In his paper, de Orellana explains how Moroccan diplomacy framed the Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro as a terrorist threat to give international legitimacy to its occupation of the Western Sahara. Diplomatic communication channels were parasitized with counterterrorist concerns, allowing this local issue to become globalised as an international security issue.

Similarly, the Amazigh strategy can be read as an attempt to align itself with global identity polarizations: Human Rights vs Repressive Regimes. In the same way ‘Communism’ or ‘terrorism’ elevates local issues to the global security agenda, ‘human rights’ is a powerful label to be associated with. However, ‘terrorism’ and ‘human rights’ entail a very different set of consequences. ‘Terrorism’ often leads to breaches of sovereignty by regional organizations or states, as exemplified by the ‘War on Terror’. But ‘human rights’ actions tend to focus on shaming policies by NGOs. This is an element in explaining the deceiving cultural policies implemented by the governments addressed hereafter.

The domestic nature of the Amazigh agenda makes it hard for NGOs and the U.N. to influence policy-making beyond the limits of sovereignty. However, identity-construction within global narratives remains key. Post-structuralism and critical theory thus highlight the performative aspect of discourse in gaining legitimacy.

A Set of Deceiving Cultural Policies

Despite the recognition Amazigh movements have gained on the international stage political legitimacy has not translated into strict application of the Amazigh agenda.

In Morocco, the Discours du Trône of Mohammed VI in July 2001 announced the creation of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) under the pressure of the international community. In turn, Morocco was praised for its progressive stance. However, within the Amazigh community, activists feared this would be used as a tactic for dividing the movement. More precisely, they had concerns the National Institutes would reinforce the power by co-opting the Amazigh agenda. These fears are evidenced by two policies: schooling policies and script debates. In Morocco, after Mohammed VI’s Discours du Trône, Tamazight started to be taught at school. However, associations complained about the poor implementation of the policy: teachers only had a two-week training and poorly designed textbooks. Furthermore, Tamazight was taught merely as a springboard for learning Arabic.

In Algeria, Tamazight had been implemented in schools since 1995 but teachers were similarly under-prepared, lacked material and a unified script for the language. Moreover, coverage is patchy. In 2006 for example, Tamazight was only taught in 11 Kabyle counties over 48 (Maddy-Weitzman, 2011). Furthermore, Tamazight was only officially recognised in 2011 in an attempt to quell dissent during the Arab Spring demonstrations. Hence, Tamazight is not effectively recognised or taught. One can argue that the intention of the government is merely to ‘calm’ Kabyle resentment. On the debates surrounding the adoption of a script for Tamazight, Moroccan and Algerian governments tried to contain the Amazigh movement within an Arab culture and symbolic framework. Amazigh language was previously merely oral. Hence, to teach it and perpetuate it, a script had to be chosen between Latin, Arab, or Tifinagh.

In Algeria, the government heavily tried to implement the use of the Arabic script to subsume Kabyle culture within an Arab identity. However, most Amazigh Kabyle academics use the Latin script. The confusion spreads to the school system and is a factor contributing to a significant drop from 34% to 28% in Amazigh speakers between 2001 and 2011 (ibid.). In Morocco, the tifinagh script was adopted under government pressures. Associations were displeased as they saw this as an attempt to divide them from their Kabyle counterparts in Algeria, thus making transnational communication between different Amazigh communities more difficult (Silverstein, 2010).

In many ways, it may be argued governments continue pursue the policy of Arabization they officially adopted until the 1980s, merely in a different form. This is in evidence of the toponyms given and of birth names policies. Moroccan Amazigh associations have been complaining about the ongoing Arabization of Amazigh toponyms: Ifni becomes Sidi Ifni, Askourene becomes Sekkoura, and Tazagourt becomes Zagoura (Silverstein, 2010). In Morocco, Amazigh names such as Illy or Dihya were added in 2009 to a list of forbidden names because they were deemed ‘un-Moroccan’. This has again caught the attention of  NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch which wrote to the Interior Minister asking for explanations, following which the Moroccan government backed down and declared that all Amazigh names were Moroccan names (Human Rights Watch, 2010).

However, for the most part, global actors such as the U.N. or the E.U. continue to praise Morocco and Algeria for the pluralistic turn their discourses towards the Amazigh minority have taken rather than engaging more closely with the biased cultural policies implemented by the governments. Ironically, one could say that both governments have adopted a strategy remarkably similar to that of the Amazigh movement. Echoing post-structural notions of performative discourses in identity-making, Morocco and Algeria have aligned their rhetoric to that of the U.N. and of global NGOs, giving enough signs of good faith for their policies to be overlooked. In this sense, discursive framing works both ways. For governments, as for minorities, it is a way to gain legitimacy in the international commnity. But it does not necessarily translate into policies that respect the spirit of Amazigh demands.

Given how the Moroccan and Algerian governments have co-opted such tactics, it must be recognised that appealing to global actors has its limits. Legitimacy does not always equal sincere policy implementation.

A Looming International Isolation

            The ineffectiveness of the Amazigh strategy on a global scale is exemplified by two discursive tensions. First, the movement has not endorsed some key issues of the international Human Rights agenda. Second, its political objectives remain ambiguous. These two factors contribute to an international indifference which highlights that legitimacy needs constant performance to be preserved; or as Campbell puts it, a “stylized repetition of acts” (Campbell, 1998, p. 10).

            A key difficulty with the deployment of Human Rights values by the Amazigh movement has is its failure to accept entirely the Human Rights agenda of international organisations on a global scale. For instance, the nationalist trend of the movement does not support the Palestinian cause. But it supports Morocco’s claims on the Western Sahara. For Silverstein, this is due to a form of underlying racism within the movement. Indeed, Amazigh organisations have seen in the Palestinian cause a form of Arab hegemony. This perceived “Arabo-Islamic Imperialism” has led many to identify with the struggles of Israel (Silverstein and Crawford, 2004), an issue reinforced by the lack of legitimacy of co-opted Cultural Institutes. On the Western Sahara, the movement has allied with the regime against the claims of self-determination of the Sahrawi in order to gain domestic legitimacy. For instance, in 1975 the Amazigh movement followed Hassan II in his crossing into Western Sahara territories, thus recognising the nationalistic claims of reun36985512_2110772375915070_338782927204646912_n.jpgification (de Orellana 2009).

More generally in the South of Morocco, Amazighs have clashed with the ‘black’ Iqblyin minorities who have been increasingly occupying political offices in the region. As Silverstein puts it, this “ethnic fragmentation” (2010, pp. 90-93) shows how the conflict for land and the international agenda has become racialized. Hence, one could argue that despite having been second-class citizens, Amazighs tend to consider themselves a first-class ethnicity. These underlying nationalistic dynamics are a factor in explaining the refusal to endorse Palestine and support Moroccan claims on the Western Sahara. Thus, the movement is prevented from fully capitalizing on its Human Rights rhetoric as Amazigh discourses turn away from the rhetoric that made it legitimate in the first place.

The ambiguity of the Amazigh political project also contributes to its possible distance from global actors. The model for Amazigh recognition is the Catalan region in Spain. Political demands are especially vivid in Algeria where a Kabyle minority asks for autonomy. Their representatives argue that building an autonomous Kabylie is to “build a modern, pluralistic and democratic Algeria” (Maddy-Weitzman, 2011, p. 189). They explicitly link their project of “flexible regionalisation” with the functioning of the E.U.

 Despite its global discourse, the main opponents of the Amazigh movement remain national governments. This is reflected in the ambivalent relationship Amazigh organisations have with globalisation: even though they reach to global actors for legitimacy, they still frame theirs as a struggle against globalisation, presenting the latter as “a movement that is in essence against cultural identities” (ibid., p. 132).

This has led to contradictory discourses, as Rollinde and Feliu argue. On the one hand, there is a mainstream inclusive cultural discourse that is framed in Human Rights terms. It asks for rights to be implemented in education and media and argues that all Moroccans have Amazigh roots. On the other hand, this discourse cohabits with a more negative approach which believes that Amazigh and Arab identities are incompatible, reflecting the nationalist trend of the movement. The negativist approach is more political than cultural. But it is growing due to the governments’ unwillingness to sincerely address Amazigh demands.

Social dynamics have tended to reinforce this trend. For instance, in December 2003, Amazigh militants were knifed at the University of Errachadia by Marxist students for refusing to take part in an exam strike in support of the Palestinian intifada (Silverstein, 2010). In Algeria, in 2001 the ‘Black Spring’ revolts were severely repressed by the regime. Following the death of a Kabyle high school student in a gendarmerie, riots erupted against the pro-Arab Police, leading to approximatively 200 deaths (Amrouche, 2009).

The ‘ethnic fragmentation’ lens is useful in explaining the contradictory set of discourses produced by the Amazigh movement. At the domestic level, it has supported the Moroccan government in the Western Sahara, while criticizing it for its non-respect of Human Rights against Amazighs. At the international level, it has tended not to support the Palestinian cause, while advocating for Human Rights. The movement has increasingly been developing in ways that contradict its original Human Rights rhetoric – which the referenced literature does not address.

Underlying forms of nationalism have led to a coexistence of very different discourses that challenge the original global legitimacy Amazighs gained.

*

In conclusion, this article shows the Amazigh strategy has not been effective in using global actors to advance its domestic agenda. Indeed, despite having gained domestic political legitimacy by appealing to global actors, the Amazigh movement has to a large extent been co-opted by governments which implement a distorted Arabized version of their Manifesto. Issues such as teaching or integration in the public debate and in the Constitution have suffered from this. It shows the limits of “global identities” in giving agency to ethnic minorities. The approach of the Moroccan and Algerian governments fuels Amazigh nationalism. This has somewhat shifted Amazigh discourse away from the Human Rights agenda of global actors. In other words, it has forced Amazighs out of the discourse that gave them legitimacy in the first place. In light of this, it can be argued that the movement might be internationally isolated. Failure to re-align with international Human Rights discourses could lead to a further loss of their already limited legitimacy on the international stage.

References:

  1. Amrouche, N. 2009. From Kabyle to Amazighe: from local challenge to global vindication. L’Année du Maghreb V: 145-161.
  2. Campbell, D. 1998. Writing Security. United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  3. Chaker, S. 2001. Berber Challenge in Algeria: The State of the Question. Race, Gender and Class 8 (3): 135-156.
  4. de Orellana, P. 2009. Remember the Western Sahara? Conflict, Irredentism, Nationalism and International Intervention. E-International Relations.
  5. de Orellana, P. 2015. Struggles of identity in diplomacy: ‘Commie terrorists’ contra ‘imperialists’ in Western Sahara. International Relations 29 (4): 477-499.
  6. Ennaji, M. 2014. Multiculturalism and Democracy in North Africa: Aftermath of the Arab Spring. New York: Routledge.
  7. Feliu, L. 2004. El Jardín Secreto. Los Defensores de los Derechos Humanos en Marruecos. Madrid: Los Libros de la Catarata.
  8. Feliu, L. 2006. Le Mouvement Culturel Amazigh (MCA) au Maroc. L’Année du Maghreb I: 274-285.
  9. Goodman, J. 2010. Imazighen on Trial: Human Rights and Berber Identity in Algeria, 1985. Chapter 5 in Hoffman, K., Miller, S. eds. Berbers and others. Beyond the Tribe and Nation in the Maghrib. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
  10. Hoffman, K. 2008. We Share Walls: Language, Land and Gender in Berber Morocco. London: John Wiley and Sons.Human Rights Watch. 2010. Morocco/Western Sahara: More Freedom to Name their Children. December 14, 2010. https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/12/14/morocco/western-sahara-more-freedom-name-their-children
  11. Ilahiane, H. 2017. Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen). London: Rowman & Littlefield.
  12. Joffé, G. 1987. Frontiers in North Africa. Chapter 2 in Blake, G., Schofield, R. eds. Borders and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa. Wisbech: Menas Press.
  13. Maddy-Weitzman, B. 1999. The Berber Question in Algeria: Nationalism in the Making? Chapter 2 in Bengio, O., Ben-Dor, G., eds., Minorities and the State in the Arab World. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
  14. Maddy-Weitzman, B. 2011. The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  15. Memri. 2009. Berbers, Where Do You Stand on Palestine?. Special Dispatch n° 2262. March 19, 2009. https://www.memri.org/reports/berbers-where-do-you-stand-palestine
  16. Rollinde, M. 1999. Le Mouvement Amazigh au Maroc: défense d’une identité culturelle, revendication du droit des minorités ou alternative politique? Insanivat 8: 63-70.
  17. Silverstein, P. 2010. The Local Dimension of Transnational Berberism: Racial Politics, Land Rights, Southeastern Morocco. Chapter 4 in Hoffman, K., Miller, S. eds. Berbers and others. Beyond the Tribe and Nation in the Maghrib. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
  18. Silverstein, P., Crawford, D. 2004. Amazigh Activism and the Moroccan State. Middle East Report 34 (233). http://www.merip.org/mer/mer233/amazigh-activism-moroccan-state
  19. Sivan, E. 1978. L’Etoile Nord Africaine and the Genesis of Algerian Nationalism. Maghreb Review 3 (5-6): 17-22.
  20. United Nations. 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. December 10, 1948.
  21. Willis, M. 2014. Politics and Power in the Maghreb. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The politicization of justice: The current state of the International Criminal Court

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This article is written by Ari Salazar, a second year student studying International Relations at King’s College London. 

The 1990’s were characterized by a cumulative revolution of universal human rights norms, which catalyzed the formation of several ad hoc courts (De Hoon, 2017 ). As part of this normative effort, on July 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in The Hague as the first permanent international judicial body. Its inauguration marked an ambitious collective effort to secure global justice and end impunity for large-scale atrocities such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (ICC, 2018). But it also changed the dynamics between states and their own sovereign jurisdiction: the absolute power the Rome Statute bestowed on the supranational judges allowed the Court to hold state leaders accountable for their crimes (De Hoon, 2017). Currently, the Court is facing immense scrutiny, most notably around its decisions to prosecute heads of state. In particular, its overriding focus on Africa is heralding accusations of an anti-African bias and the general structural incompetence of its investigatory and prosecutorial strategies. The African Union has called for a ‘mass regional withdrawal’ of member states participating in the Rome Statute (Dickinson, 2009). The tensions between states under investigation, the African Union and the Court have led to a lack of co-operation between both sides, which is currently bearing a heavy weight on several of the Court’s operations. Over the past few years, the international community has witnessed the collapse of its most high-profile cases, based on lack of evidence and witness withdrawals. Furthermore, cases like Uganda, have raised alarm over the Court serving external political ends – or seeing its prosecutorial strategy impeded by national governments (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Additionally, the strong regional backlash risks eroding the Court’s international legitimacy and prevents it from fulfilling its obligations as an external legislative body. Justice mechanisms rely on their widespread acceptance to fulfill their responsibilities (De Hoon, 2017). A most worrisome outcome is the window of opportunity this provides for impunity. For example, Sudanese president Al Bashir continues to evade prosecution due to the African Union’s non-compliance (LSE, 2007). Hence, the very task the ICC was set out to do, administering international justice, has become increasingly obstructed by aggressive local and regional politics (Roach, 2011).

This article seeks to investigate the political underpinnings of the Court’s deteriorating reputation through a case-by-case analysis, all the while observing how the political sphere overlaps with the ICC’s judicial agenda and vice versa. It demonstrates how the Court’s effectiveness is being hampered by both internally and externally vested political interests. The enquiry will first provide a brief theoretical overview on the intersections between law and politics, which aims to impart the reader with a lens of analysis. Second, it will delve into the local and international political dimensions of the Court’s activity to date in Uganda and Sudan. 

  1. Law and Politics: The ICC and the ‘Friend-Enemy’ Dichotomy

Before we delve into the intricacies of the controversy surrounding the Court’s jurisprudence, we must first and foremost understand it in context of a larger discussion addressing the intersections between law and politics. Rodman (2009) separates the debate into to schools of thought: Legal Traditionalists and Legal Pragmatists. On the one hand, Legal Traditionalists draw clear lines between international law and international politics. They emphasize the need for separation as quintessential in legitimizing the rule of law and building ethical legal precedents. By their definition, law must be apolitical to function. On the other hand, Legal Pragmatists, move away from such rigid legalism. They maintain that long-term stability can only be achieved through more lenient jurisprudence, and hence, must take political considerations into account (Rodman, 2009)

Considering, that judicial bodies justify their indictments largely on their apolitical integrity to defend their legal decisions – the debate on the distinction and definition between the two concepts is particularly relevant to the ICC (Tiemessen, 2014). For the purpose of this article, we will begin with Cerar’s general definitions of law and politics, before examining their functional nuances. According to Cerar (2009), politics is part of a process-related dimension: in which the political will is implemented as per the ‘social power and authority’ and constructed through ‘conflict and consensus’. On the other hand, law is the ‘binding value-normative system’ under the operational control of the state and international institutions – which aims to maintain justice and order by preventing domestic and international conflict. Cerar (2009) draws a comparison between politics and law based on their functionalities: as progressive and safe-guarding mechanisms. Although, he recognizes the autonomy of law – he insists that all judicial institutions are nevertheless a ‘partial reflection of individual or collective political decisions…which have assumed a legal form and nature.’ Expanding on this notion of pragmatist law,  Kircheimer warns us of the danger of institutions that legitimize their decisions based on their alleged ‘neutrality’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). In a recent interview, the ICC president defended the Court on the premise of its independence, ‘[t]here’s not a shred of evidence after three-and-a-half years that the court has done anything political. The court is operating purely judicially’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010 ). Similarly, the Prosecutor emphasized ‘I apply the law without political considerations. But the other actors have to adjust to the law’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010).  Based on this reasoning, the Court implies politics exists entirely separate to law and must be subordinated to the rules and principles of justice. Hence, the entirety of the Court’s existence rests on the assumption of it upholding its apolitical integrity (Roach, 2011). Building on these claims, Struett (2012) provides a helpful insight by elaborating on the inherently politicized nature of the Prosecutor’s role: considering that he or she is at the forefront of the conflict and an ‘unaccountable actor’, any action or inaction of the Prosecutor will have political consequences. Hence, it is important for the Court to acknowledge the political dimensions of its cases and be as transparent as possible, in order to avoid its practices becoming symptoms of lawfare (De Hoon, 2017).

Moreover, the Court’s public denial poses a structural problem, as it deflects discussions on the (intended or unintended) overlap of its verdicts with the political realm. As a result, the Court completely overlooks its own considerations of social power, legislative choice, prosecutorial discretion and judicial intervention – which all entail political dimensions (De Hoon, 2017). Furthermore, it bypasses the importance the highly contentious environment the Court operates in plays in determining all the relevant facts to the case.  The very selection of certain facts over others, along with whom it chooses to trial, inadvertently confronts the Court with a political stance (Koskenniemi, 2002). Hence, the autonomy of the law seemingly becomes infiltrated by politics when it circumscribes to the differentiation of adversaries (Cerar, 2009).

The risks of ‘polarized branding’ in Law and its darker undertones are delineated in Carl Schmitt’s ‘Concept of the Political’. Schmitt directs his focus on the functions of the political as a state-led mechanism of lawfare, that aims to distinguish ‘friends from enemies’ (Odysseos and Petito, 2006).  According to Schmitt, the constant threat of armed confrontation reinforces the friend-enemy classification process invoked by the polity – which uses the oppositional terms to justify its legitimacy. Collectivities have allies, ‘friends’, which secure their hard and soft power. The other, ‘enemy’, embodies the ‘constant threat’ to the order of the polity (Odysseos and Petito, 2006). He applies the friend-enemy dichotomy to humanitarian law: in which the ‘othering’ of a state’s adversary in the name of ‘justice, humanity, order or peace’ and charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ become a potent political weapon. By invoking a struggle on behalf of ‘humanity’, the ‘enemy of the state’ is simultaneously degraded to an ‘inhuman’ category – which exempts the state from any moral obligations (Luban, 2011). Nouwen and Werner (2010) refer to Schmitt’s lawfare critique, in their enquiry on the differentiation process of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ in the ICC’s investigations and judicial proceedings. In doing so, they hold the Court accountable for having sacrificed the fundamental guiding principle of law, namely, justice, to the political criteria of parties to conflict. This article will partially draw on their analysis in its assessment of the political factors relevant to both case studies.

  1. The Ugandan State referral: Victor’s Justice?

The International Criminal Courts involvement vis-a-vis Uganda has been consistently subject to contention since its initial referral by the Ugandan government. The most immediate concerns address the accountability vacuum created by the unswerving bias of the investigation in favor of the Ugandan government (Langer, 2015). The conflict began in 2002, when the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) launched an insurgency against the Ugandan government. By 2003, the escalation in fighting led to a refugee crisis – with over 1.6 million displaced peoples falling victim to the war (Tearfund, 2007). The increasingly unstable conditions and shortage of aid attracted international attention and branded the crisis a ‘humanitarian emergency’. The failures of the Ugandan army to deter the threat and pursue possibilities for peace, along with President Musevini’s questionable domestic policies and allegations of corruption; subjected the state to sharpened criticism and external pressure (Tearfund, 2007). In 2003, much to the astonishment of the international community, Uganda sent an application to the Court calling attention to the large scale atrocities conducted by the LRA against the Acholi population (Dickinson, 2009). The self-referral was unanticipated, considering that the Rome Conference had primarily contemplated issues of sovereignty and state legitimacy, few had expected a member party to voluntarily invite the Court into its own territory and claim jurisdiction over its populace (Nouwen and Werner, 2010).  Conversely, if we operate under Schmitt’s assumption that “whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat”, it sheds some light on the Ugandan government’s readiness to abdicate its sovereignty to the Court (Odysseos and Petito, 2006). As previously mentioned, Schmitt is wary of any state using a ‘humanitarian argument’ to justify its military position (Luban, 2011). The Ugandan government was acutely aware that it was far from resolving the crisis, however,  the increased international scrutiny in conjunction with the falling contributions of international donors (which compromised 35-50% of Uganda’s income) pushed for a new security strategy. Nouwen and Werner (2010) separate the Ugandan government’s referral into two main tactical components: as an international rebranding campaign and a potent military strategy.

In a clever maneuver, the Ugandan government appropriated the Court’s determination to prove its practical efficiency as the safeguarding body of international justice, by using the self-referral as an opportunity for a rebranding campaign. By accusing the LRA of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Uganda invoked a humanitarian argument, which effectively put Schmitt’s friend-enemy hypothesis into action. The LRA transitioned from enemies of Uganda into enemies of ‘mankind’ and Uganda repainted itself as the ‘defender of humanity’ (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). In stark contrast to the previous criticism it had received for its domestic politics and UPDF operations, Uganda was now met with congratulatory remarks by the international community, praised for its philanthropic initiative (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). As Nettelfield (2010) rightly points out, war crime trials are meant to delegitimize acts of violence as acceptable political strategies, moreover, justice is put at risk if the war crime trials themselves become a political weapon. Allowing for the Prosecutor to openly favor the actions of one party, undermines notions of neutrality and the long-term legitimacy of the Court (Tiemessen, 2014) .

In addition to the self-referral facilitating a ‘rebranding campaign’, it also provided a potent security strategy. By inferring the LRA of ‘war crimes’ and ‘grave crimes against humanity’ the Ugandan government secured new means of defeating the rebel movement, as per the ICC indictment of high-profile LRA leadership and international assistance in the forms of economic and military aid (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Likewise, the ICC provided Uganda with a significant regional leverage. The underlying power-politics were clear: any states seeking tensions with Uganda were synchronously challenging the hegemons of the international community. At the time, this balancing act was especially useful in providing Uganda with an alternative to declaring war on the Sudanese government, which had been supplying arms to the LRA –  and had, incidentally, recently made it onto the USA’s international terrorist list (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Conjointly, Uganda applied its bargaining power to secure permission from both Sudanese and Congolese governments for cross-border operations against rebel fighters (BBC, 2004).

Insofar as the Ugandan government is accountable for abusing the instruments of justice for its political and military agenda, the Court is equally guilty of succumbing to such a political trap in the first place.  Since the official inauguration of the investigation, the ICC has through a series of diplomatic blunders, reinforced the friend-enemy dichotomy in service of Uganda’s security strategy and international reputation campaign (Tiemessen, 2014). A poor public relations strategy on part of the Court not only made it vulnerable to accusations of political bias – but also severely limited the development of an impartial prosecutorial strategy.  Upon receiving Uganda’s application, the Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, immediately released a joint-press statement, in which he underlined the international communities support in combating the LRA leadership alongside President Yoweri Musevini (Tearfund, 2007). In essence, the press-release was a formal establishment of the friend-enemy dichotomy: securing the LRA’s status as hostis humani generis: enemies of mankind, its initial introduction as a cooperative bystander arguably aiding its exemption from prosecution (International Criminal Court, 2004) . The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) took great care to cultivate a positive public image: proudly flaunting its relationship with the Ugandan government by organizing lavish parties and boat trips (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). Unsurprisingly, Moreno-Ocampo put himself in a tightly-knit diplomatic position, in wake of the Courts lack of police force, the investigation became highly dependent on the cooperation of the Ugandan government to secure necessary evidence (The Hague Institute for Global Justice, 2013).

To this date, the Court has at no point attempted to amend the double-standards: with a disproportionate ratio of five arrest warrants of LRA commanders shining in stark contrast to the absence of accusations targeting the UPDF. The Court defends its lack of examination on crimes perpetuated by the Ugandan leadership on the basis of their not fitting the ‘gravity’ threshold’ outlined in Article 17 (1) which would justify culpability (The Hague Institute for Global Justice, 2013).Moreover, the Courts blind acceptance of the oppositional terms set by the referral without assessing factors relevant to its admissibility, not only formed a potent scapegoat, but also prevented the Prosecutor from conducting an enquiry into Uganda. In view of it immediately being equated to supporting the LRA’s mission of thwarting the government (Nouwen, 2013 ). In the Rome Statute, Article 17 and 20 (3) stipulate that a case is only admissible if it is not being (has not been) properly investigated or prosecuted by the state in question (International Criminal Court, 2004). In the case of Uganda, the OTP disregarded the governments previous arrest warrants for Joseph Kony – which could have contributed to a discussion of inadmissibility in the Pre-Trial Chamber (Nouwen and Werner, 2010).

To summarize, by not critically engaging with the criteria of complementarity in Uganda’s referral, the investigation became vulnerable to political incentives and self-imposed limits on the adjudication of comprehensive justice by effectively vindicating the impunity of the Ugandan leadership (Tiemessen, 2014)

  1. The UNSC Referral: Power Politics in Darfur, Sudan

While the Court’s cases in Uganda demonstrates the impact of domestic political pressures on its effectiveness, the backlash in response to the UNSC referral inter alia Sudan reveals the internal structural politicization of the mandate itself: implying a framework monopolized by great power politics (Hassan, 2010 ). Using Sudan, this article will contest the ‘impartiality’ of the Court’s referral – by examining its inherent link to the Security Council. For over a decade, Darfur has been subjected to systematic violence as a result of the armed confrontation between the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese government (International Criminal Court, 2005). In February 2003, armed rebel groups staged attacks against the government in response to its coercion of Darfur’s non-Arab population, the government reacted with a vicious ethnic cleansing campaign. The fighting escalated into a proxy war, with various militia groups such as the government-funded Janjaweed wreaking havoc in local villages: conducting mass slaughter, rape and torture (Dickinson,  2009). The situation in Sudan drew many comparisons to the Second World War, in which the international passivity that enabled the Nazi regime’s abuse of power was equated to the inaction in (Hassan, 2010). The US Secretary of State testament to the Security Council thrust all accountability upon the Sudanese government – describing their judicial system as ‘corrupt, deficient, non-transparent and unable to deal with Darfur’, emphasizing a discourse focused predominantly on the government’s ethnic cleansing campaign, rather than accounting for the intricacies of the crisis, such as the international rivalries in the region and the scars of imperialism (Hassan, 2010). In response to international pressure amidst the rising death toll and refugee crisis, the UNSC invoked its jurisdiction under Article 16 of the Rome Statute and Chapter 7 of the Charter, following US-led Security Council Resolution 1593 (Roach, 2011). It referred the situation to the ICC for investigation in March, 2005 – opening the first case against a State not party to the Rome statute (International Criminal Court, 2005)

A large-part of contention towards the referral is directed against the Court’s ruling against Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir: the first head of state to be charged with the crime of genocide (Williams and Sherif, 2009). The indictment of Bashir proved a crucial obstacle in the development of the investigation: leading to a political deadlock between the ICC and Khartoum, with the Sudanese government refusing to cooperate in any form – denying the OTP entry into Darfur and access to state-held information (Tiemessen, 2014). Furthermore, Sudanese officials criticize the OTP’s negligence under Article 17 of the Rome Statute’s complementarity principle, which maintains that the ICC can only intervene when national institutions are unwilling or unable to meet their obligations (LSE, 2007).Considering Sudan was instigating its own domestic proceedings on conflict-related crimes, what right did the ICC have to impose its external jurisdiction? (Nouwen and Werner, 2010). In response, Nouwen (2013) points out that the Sudanese accusations are due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the complementarity principle. The UNSC, whom the case was referred by, has no legal obligation to consider matters of complementarity. Accordingly, the ICC is not meant to fill a gap (or replace) domestic judicial proceedings, rendering the Sudanese qualms of the ICC undermining its domestic courts inadmissible to the case. However, it is important to note Sudan’s insistence on its sovereignty rights was neither unjustified nor irrational. The belief that the UNSC operates under complementarity was even encouraged by the UN Secretary General ‘The Sudanese government should start its own reasonable and credible judicial process before seeking to defer Al-Bashir’s prosecution by the ICC’ (Nouwen, 2013). As a result, the presidential arrest warrants are considered a vengeful reaction against Sudan’s refusal to ‘hand over Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb’ for their alleged violence in Abyei. These claims were seemingly confirmed by a passing remark made by Luis Moreno Ocampo to an African Union official ‘if Sudan had handed over these two guys, it would not have had the problem of the President’ (Nouwen, 2013). In contrast, the OTP insists that it had consistently attempted to avoid confrontation with the Sudanese government prior to issuing the indictment. In the eyes of the Prosecutor, such compromises implied certain conditions, such as, handing over less powerful figure like Harun and Kushayb (Nouwen, 2013). Upon reflection, the cumulative decline of relations between the two parties can, in part,  be attributed to miscommunication. The initial bias the Sudanese government held towards the ICC and vice versa, led to a self-destructive offensive campaign on both parts. Both saw the other’s actions in purely oppositional terms, which prevented any form of cooperation or long-standing compromise (De Hoon, 2017). The ICC was perceived as ‘interventionist’ and the Sudanese as ‘irrational and corrupt’.  These villainizing conclusions reduced the situation in Darfur into a two dimensional conflict: of criminals and of heroic rebels (Hassan, 2010).

Moreover, Sudan’s concerns were not unwarranted, considering Sudan’s plentitude in oil resources, it has a historical account of global powers engaging in proxy wars to win over the geopolitical hotspot (Hassan, 2010). A fact the Sudanese officials have not shied away from pronouncing, pointing out the American administration repeated unilateral attempts at exploiting Sudan’s wealth over the years (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016 ). Hassan (2010) claims that Washington’s foreign policy in the region is specifically geared towards containing Chinese influence and mitigating the remnants of France’s colonial influence. Specifically, Khartoum’s close economic relations with Beijing have threatened Washington’s vested interests. If the oil in Darfur was primarily under Sudan’s authority, China would become the chief benefactor in exploiting the regions oil (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016).  In respect to Sudanese national security, the United States bid for South-Sudan’s self-determination and their close relations with the Chadian government directly impact Sudan’s counter-terror efforts (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016).  Considering the Chadian government is openly at war with Omar al-Bashir’s regime and has supplied many of the Sudanese rebel forces with military provisions, the Sudanese government holds the United States complicit to such subversive activities (Tafotie and Idahosa, 2016). The close reminder of Washington’s interventionist rhetoric and its public declarations of ‘firm political oversight’ of the ICC proceedings reinforced Sudanese concerns, with officials pointing towards the politicized nature of the referral. Insofar as it conveniently rebranded Sudan an ‘enemy’ of the international community, in favor of broader power politics and the liberation movements they indirectly support (Tiemessen, 2014). It is impossible to ignore the hypocrisy of the United States suddenly asserting its fully-fledged support to the ICC, considering it refused to ratify the Rome Statute. In fact, the administration has worked exceedingly hard to ensure its own impunity through several international treaties and other bilateral agreements (Global Research, 2009). The Court’s acceptance of such a display of double-standards, merely catalyzes suspicions of it serving as an apparatus to foster UNSC members self-interest.

Furthermore, the mounting regional controversy surrounding Al-Bashir’s indictment has impeded the Court’s ability to fulfill the arrest. The proceedings inherently became synonymous with a politicized presence and an uninvited interventionist agenda. On 3 July 2009 the African Union called for all states to reject the ICC’s indictment and grant Al Bashir diplomatic immunity. As a result, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda all made no move to apprehend the President upon his incursions to their own territory (Tladi, 2009). The Prosecutor accused the latter members of the Rome Statute of non-compliance and in violation of international law, based on their binding obligations to the Rome Statute’s provisions and customary international law (Nouwen and Werner, 2010  ). However, such verbal accusations have done little to sway the situation and Al Bashir remains outside of the Court’s custody (Williams and Sherif, 2009). Given that the strongest support at the Rome Conference came from African nations, this decision marked an unsettling turn of events. The Court’s effectiveness hinges on the prerequisite of state cooperation and recognition of its ‘legitimacy’ as an impartial judicial institution (Tiemessen, 2014 ). The African Union’s denunciations of the politicization of the Court threaten its very existence by putting into question whether it is fit to arbitrate independently from to externally vested interests of international and regional actors (Tladi, 2009). The fact that Al Bashir has managed to evade prosecution is a stab to the Court fulfilling its primary duty: ending impunity (Williams and Sherif, 2009).

Fundamentally, a referral by the UNSC cannot be separated from international politics, based on the absolute power distribution between the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom, all of whom have vested interests in the region (Hassan, 2010). As such, the ICC’s claims of neutrality are forfeited to each member’s ability to direct the cases up for selection, based on their own political priorities (Tiemessen, 2014).

  1. Final Remarks

To conclude, the Court’s activities in Uganda and Sudan are a pertinent reminder of how easily a culture of politicized justice can infringe on judicial proceedings. As discussed, the initial prosecutorial miscalculations and diplomatic blunders in Uganda allowed the Ugandan government to appropriate the ICC apparatus, in order to fit its personal strategic interests and ensure its impunity. In addition, the investigation prompted by Security Council in Sudan serves as a persistent reminder of the broader power politics at play and the Court’s omnipresent structural fallacies in mitigating such suspicions. Clearly, the Court is subject to the influence of external actors and makes political choices in its rulings. However, this deduction should not necessarily hamper its effectiveness. Realistically, the ICC will have to compromise following a grander justice framework in order to maintain a flexible approach. This should come as no surprise, as every case it accepts is unique and requires different points of attention in its judicial adjudication. I would like to stress that the issue at hand is not the intersection between law and politics, but rather, the Court’s denial and lack of transparency in accepting  politics as part of its structure (De Hoon, 2017). Under these conditions, it risks confusion over the nature of its decisions and invites criticism – which in turn restricts its effectiveness.

Perhaps, this article was exceedingly critical of the ICC, considering it is a relatively youthful body – there has to be space for it to learn from its case record. If we look at its current practices, the Court is noticeably attempting to amend points of tension made in the African Union’s proposal. For example, it is addressing the denunciation of its primarily ‘African case record’, by broadening its investigations into Afghanistan to scrutinize U.S detention and interrogation malpractices. With further preliminary investigations on their way in Georgia, Colombia, Honduras and South Korea. In addition, the ICC has requested for the AU to submit an outline of recommendations for reform (Reuters, 2013). Such inclusive measures are a step forward towards reconciling the gap between the Court’s grander judicial framework and the more pragmatic reality of its case-by-case advances. The African Union’s threats of withdrawal should not be seen as the erosion of the Court, but rather, an opportunity for reflection. The ICC’s ability to respond and communicate with its most ardent critiques, will be pertinent to its development as an autonomous international judicial institution. Indisputably, the ICC is integral in allowing for victims all over the world to receive justice amidst unimaginable atrocities. In wake of the lack of credible alternatives, for better or worse, the ICC’s staff and critiques should settle their attention to a comprehensive adjustment of the Court’s existing mechanisms.

How did Women Link Worldwide contribute towards the inclusion of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2006?

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On May 10th 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled 5-3 in favor of the decriminalization of abortion. The groundbreaking decision guaranteed a woman’s exemption from prosecution under three conditions:

(1) pregnancy by rape, incest or unwanted insemination

(2) severe fetal malformation or

(3) risks to life and health

Prior to 2006, Colombia had stood in solidarity with El Salvador and Chile – all of whom were adamant on reinforcing the blanket ban on abortion. Moreover, the penal code merely subverted abortion into clandestine spheres, with the government perpetuating a ‘double discourse’ on the matter by condemning it in public but allowing it in private. Such legal laxity created a public health crisis, with an annual number of 300,000 illicit abortions performed by unregulated providers, contributing to a third of all maternal deaths. As such, the judicial ruling came as a huge success to human rights activists – who for several years had been engaged in a fervent pursuit for social justice in the wake of the country’s harsh abortion laws infringing on women’s reproductive health. The trigger for the legal revision, came in April 2005, when the case (C-355) was brought to Court by attorney Monica Roa on part of the international organization Women’s Link Worldwide.

Despite the increased presence of human rights lobbies in Colombian politics, there had not been any substantial changes to Colombia’s Penal Code. The legal stalemate can mostly be attributed to the mobilization of the Catholic church in crucial policy and legislative areas. Over the years, the Church cultivated a vast network within the state administration and institutions, which granted it an influential oversight on any political or legal developments law. In addition, it subsidized many of the pro-life movements in disseminating their cause amongst the local communities. By casting the criminalization of abortion as both a religious duty and a state’s legal obligation, the Catholic Church reframed the political narrative into a deeply personal narrative. Hence, the boundaries between right and wrong were demarcated to fit overridingly patriarchal terms. Addressing the topic of abortion in such a discourse, becomes especially relevant if put in context of whom the ban affected – namely the urban poor and rural women. Considering the state’s legal laxity on the matter, the middle and upper class could easily access abortion without losing religious face – in contrast to the poor, who underwent incredibly dangerous and life-threatening medical procedures.

In order to challenge the Constitutional Court, Women’s Link convened in a collective effort on 14 March 2005 and developed a High Impact Litigation Strategy (LAICIA), which was separated into three focal points: creating a legal case for gender equality, securing national, regional and international alliances and a media-based public outreach scheme. Women’s Link opted for a constitutional case, over filing for a criminal complaint to the National Assembly. Even amongst women’s rights activists, this marked an unprecedented move, considering that most ‘rights activist [did] not use the courts as a means for advocacy’. By shifting abortion away from its previously politicized agenda, Women’s Link litigation strategy thus secured the case a legitimate site, from which to bypass the national government’s authority

In part, the triumph of Women’s Link was based on a favorable legal climate. First, the Constitutional Committee, which approved the application consisted of several liberal-minded judges who were sympathetic to the liberalization of abortion. Second, the official revision of the Constitution of Rights (1991) in 2005 re-emphasized Colombia’s commitments to international law and human rights treaties. Finally, the Court’s case history demonstrated a clear precedent of the Court using human rights law to resolve policy disputes. According to Bocse’s (2011) reasoning, the combination of the aforementioned factors, presented a political opportunity structure open to the claims set forth by the interest group.

Drawing on the Constitution of Rights (1991), Women’s Link reaffirmed Colombia’s commitments as a secular institution towards upholding pluralist values and the fundamental rights of the individual. The case pointed out the tension in-between the criminalization of abortion and the Constitution’s existing articles. These included: the right to dignity (Constitutional Preamble, Article 1), the right to bodily integrity (Article 12), the right to equality (Article 13), the right to free, individual development (Article 16), the right to reproductive autonomy (Article 42) and the right to health (Article 49).  Furthermore, Article 93 of the Constitution of Rights included Colombia’s obligations under international human rights law, established in multi-lateral treaties such as CEDAW (ratified in 1982), the Cairo Consensus (1994), and the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995). The case argued that the government’s blanket ban was an infringement of a woman’s equal right to life, health, reproductive self-determination, and privacy. Furthermore, Women’s Link noted the Human Rights Committee’s authoritative ruling in K.L v. Peru as an exemplary regional precedent for the Court to follow.

Women’s Link communication strategy untangled a narrative previously monopolized by religious actors and framed it as an issue of public health and equal rights. Aiding in the fight for public opinion, were the transnational actors network alliances with popular media and newspapers. For example, in between February and May 2006 alone, El Tiempo featured 150 articles, editorials and opinion pieces discussing the development of C-355. The liberal newspaper’s circulation of “real-life stories”, which described the horrors of women’s experiences under the strict ban, took an emotional toll on its audiences and increased public sympathy.  In particular, the story of the 34-year-old mother of four, Marta Zulay Gonzalez, also made headlines in Revista Semana, Hoy Diario and El Universal. At the time, Marta was suffering under acute ovarian cancer and was in desperate need of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. When she found out she was three weeks pregnant, she pleaded with a public hospital for her right to abortion, which was denied. Monica Roa mentioned Marta’s case, as a blatant example of the need for legal and accessible abortion to protect a woman’s health and the well-being of her family. With the combined advocacy efforts of Women’s Link and popular newspapers, Marta’s story evolved into a national symbol of the state’s duty to decriminalize abortion under certain circumstances.

Yet, despite the liberalization of the blanket ban, clandestine abortion rates remain at large over a decade later. Although the country’s constitutional and legal protections for women’s rights are amongst the strongest in the region, women continue to face many obstacles to legal abortion, indicating a practical gap in between the law and its implementation. Public health providers have performed 50,000 legal abortions since 2006, which pales in comparison to the yearly estimates of 400,000 women who suffer via illegal abortions. Although the Ministry of Social Protection issued a series of guidelines for the population and public health services to follow, there continues to be a lack of education on the ethical, legal and medical requirements of the Court’s ruling. Additionally, inadequate public knowledge on the correct application of abortion methods, primarily misoprostol, has led to high rates of complications at higher-level health facilities. Half of the women residing in rural areas are unaware of misoprostol’s existence and continue to perform hazardous self-induced abortions. The medical treatment of these complications costs the government large sums of money: approximately $14.4 million invested into by post-abortion care. However, there continues to exist a lack of political incentive amongst government officials to support policies that mandate institutional improvements to the provision of and access to contraceptive care and legal abortion services.

On average, only 11% of all public health institutions offer treatment. Given Colombia’s unstable conditions of inter-communal violence and poverty, travelling from rural villages to larger cities is not only costly, but also a highly dangerous endeavor, especially for a pregnant woman. Many women fall victim to rape, sexual assault or other attacks in transit. A combination of such violent prospects and lack of financial resources disincentivize women to leave their local communities in the first place.  Upon arrival at health care centers, the protracted bureaucratic process involved in acquiring a legal termination of pregnancy unnecessarily delays abortion services and is extremely intimidating for women. In between May 2006 and April 2008, La Mesa por La Vida documented a series of cases, in which health care professionals issued unjustified requests for medical or legal referrals. On top of these demands, women were urged and even pressured to continue their pregnancy, causing psychological strain.

However, it is not only the managerial inefficiencies, which are curtailing women’s reproductive rights, but the verdict itself. At the time, the Court declared that it did not have the professional expertise to rule over the technicalities of abortion, and hence left such decisions to health care professionals. Consequently, the Court’s ruling contains a crucial loophole, namely, a doctor’s right to ‘conscientious objection’, which is routinely appropriated by health care professionals as a means to deny women the right to termination. Furthermore, the absence of scientifically demarcated instructions in the judgement created confusion amongst doctors who operate on a case-by-case basis. For example, cases containing patients with mental health or rape are particularly susceptible to rejection. Most doctors will only factor in the physical component of a women’s health or when there is a clear threat to her life. The Court failed to legally resolve the ethical tension between a women’s and medical autonomy. As such, the lack of clarity in the verdict renders women vulnerable to the personal prejudices of individual doctors.

Consequently, the NGO’s advocacy network must continue its agenda-setting in Colombia’s social and political landscape. This includes increased public awareness, facilitating the capacity building and training of local groups and reinforcing international accountability measures. First, increased efforts must be directed towards ensuring that women, especially in rural areas, are informed on the availability of abortion services and their respective legal rights. Second, attention should be directed towards the legal mobilization of national actors, which aid in the proliferation of local-level knowledge of human rights and ensure no woman is unrightfully exempted from the treatment. Third, Women’s Link must continue to wield its credibility within the international community to cast a spotlight on government impunity. This includes remitting the contemporary infringements on gender rights to International Human Rights Committees, which in turn, can pressure the Colombian state to uphold its treaty obligations. Simultaneously, the framing of abortion as part of Colombia’s value structure should run parallel to Women’s Link agenda-setting, in order to combat conservative biases and secure social cohesion on the issue. Thus, despite Women’s Link having been able to provide the legal framework for change, there still exists a practical gap between women’s rights and national recognition of the gender policy reform.

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