Knowledge and practice of rights 'in' and 'through' the inviolable spaces of learning

Third of a series of four postings, courtesy of IntLawGrrls (May 5, 2016).

‘I felt that humanity has ended. I mean, a place of learning, to be hit in this way, without warning… where is humanity? …It is supposed to be illegal in any war to strike such places…’  Director of al-Shaymeh School, Hodeidah, Yemen (as cited in ‘Our kids are bombed’ Schools under attack in Yemen (Amnesty International, 11th December 2015), 17).

 

Held there is a widely held supposition: the multifarious spaces of lower and higher learningare supposedly inviolable from acts of violence. Such spaces are, after all, holders of embodied rights-bearers, principally learners, and their multidimensional right to education. Thus viewed inviolability is three-dimensional: spatial, bodily and inner. So too is the right as expressed in international law: the human rights treaty and Charter bodies (and eminent scholars) have illuminated the right as multi-dimensional, encompassing multiple composite rights ‘to’, ‘in’ and ‘through’ education. And it is of continuing applicability at the shift from ordinary to extraordinary ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm. The right has been invoked by those same bodies within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international and peace and security and non/international armed conflicts. Too often attacks on spaces of learning (and the embodied rights-holders within) form part of this vulnerability shift.

Of course it is the egregious acts of violence that capture attention—the bodily hurt and harm. Yet some attacks on spaces of learning may be viewed as less about incursions of spatial and bodily inviolability and more about incursions of inner inviolability: the creative (thinking, feeling) embodied self. The attack is targeted. And the target of the attack is education itself: the containment of thought part of the targeted hurt and harm. Or more accurately, the containment of thought by distinctionon the basis of protected aspects of our innermost identity. In other words it is specific (and age-old) form of violence: gender, race, or belief based or a composite amalgam. It, therefore, violates the rights to bodily integrity and security of the person among others, in conjunction with the right to non-discrimination, individually and as constituent elements of rights ‘in’ and ‘through’ education.

Geneva (III), politicking and possibility for Syria’s invisible 43%

 

Updated and revised version of the original, cross-posted courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (February 17, 2016). 

2015 faded into the new year with a glimmer of hope for the people of Syria. A hope propelled by renewed international engagement, as expressed within the Vienna Statements of October 30, 2015 and November 14, 2015 — and underwritten by Security Council Resolution 2254.  Two years since the dissolution of Geneva II, the UN Special Envoy for Syria reconvened formal negotiations between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition for January 25, 2016. In the face of continuing egregious violations of international humanitarian law, the proximity talks began a week late and were suspended — three days later.

Neither this, the time gap since Geneva II, nor the escalation of the conflict are unusual: peace trajectories recurrently stall, fracture and reconfigure, sometimes escalating and de-escalating over decades. More unusual is the form and intensity of that escalation: the ever increasing parties to the (increasingly internationalised) non-international armed conflict  and the layers of international lawlessness — the exponential rise in international crimes layer on the violations of international human rights law that sparked the protests and internal disturbances of March 2011.

Converging law, equivocation and delimits on the supposed inviolability of spaces of learning

Second of a series of four postings, published, courtesy of IntLawGrrls , as a mini two-part series (20th and 22nd January). 

The recent violations of spaces (of lower and higher) learning have evoked near universal condemnation. Held there are ‘the dictates of public conscience’. Undergirding, if not sparking, this collective sense of injustice is a supposition: the spaces of learning are supposedly inviolable from attacks /acts of violence. From this, a supposition of law might follow: ipso facto the spaces are protected as inviolable as a matter of international law.  But is this so? 

Of course, the multifarious spaces of learning, as holders of embodied subjects of rights, principally learners, and their rights to, in and through educationare necessarily accorded protection under international human rights law. The concomitant duo dimensional obligation to protect the embodied rights holder within the space from acts of violence, and the space as a safe space of learning continues within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international and peace and security and non/international armed conflictsIndeed the latter triggers the international humanitarian law—and principles of distinction between civilians and combatants and civilian objects and military objectives, or in other words the humanitarian obligation to refrain from attacking learning spaces as civilian objects, and embodied persons in relation to the space, as civilians. The international legal protection, then, may be viewed as doubling itself: the human rights and humanitarian obligations are—complementary and mutually reinforcing. Of course, either way the—supposed—inviolability of the space is a partial international legal actuality; under both bodies of law the space may be lawfully delimited. 

Converging law, four points of vulnerability and the supposed inviolability of spaces of learning

First of a series of four postings, published Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, University College Cork, Ireland (29th January 2016).

Chibok. Rafah. Peshawar. Garassa. Donetsk. Aleppo. Sana’a.

Disparate places, among others, bound by attacks—acts of violence—on the supposed inviolable spaces of lower and higher learning, schools and universities, among others. The attacks and their impact—the hurt and harm—on children and adults’ embodied selves resonate far beyond their geographical axis. Or, to invoke the Martens Clause, they may be supposed as violating ‘[…] the laws of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.’ And, in doing so, they undergird the continuing juristic shift of the past century towards the international legal protection of our ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm of all forms.* Like other serious violations of international law, then, the attacks transcend the—sometime—distance between us.  But is the clarity of our collective sense of justice reflected in the law?

To an extent, the answer lies in the space: the spark to condemnation relates less to the violated spaces of learning and more to violated bodies within—the incursions of bodily and inner inviolability or violations of the rights to life, bodily integrity and security of the person, among others.  Thus viewed, the spaces of learning are less the object and more the holders of the object of protection: they are holders for embodied subjects of rights, principally learners, and their multidimensional right to education. There lies one source of international legal protection: international human rights law. Or viewed another way, there is a duo dimensional obligation to protect the embodied rights holder within the space from acts of violence and the space as a safe space of learning. And these continue within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international and peace and security and non/international armed conflicts. Indeed the latter triggers a second source: international humanitarian law. There is thus an international humanitarian obligation to respect and ensure respect for the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants and civilian objects and military objectives—or in other words to refrain from attacking learning spaces as civilian objects, and embodied persons in relation to the space, as civilians (persons not directly participating in hostilities). Indeed transgressions of these humanitarian rules may, infamously, be subject to domestic or international criminal investigations as war crimes. 

 

 

Converging law, Security Council resolutions and (un)intended international legal effects

Courtesy of IntLawGrrls (12th November 2015).

As opined elsewhere,* international human rights law may be viewed as the juristic holder of our ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm. And, as such, it transcends time and space; it continues to be seized, shaped and expressed by those made vulnerable. However it is also in flux: its legal expression is partial and ‘embodied vulnerability’ itself is fluid. Consider treaty law: layered beneath the content and framing of substantive treaty provisions is the treaty making process; constructive ambiguity may be co-opted as a tool to promote agreement; notable absences may signify an agreement shortfall—or alternatively unexpressed or as yet unfelt/imagined vulnerability. Viewed in this way, the imperative of deepening the connection between ‘embodied vulnerability’ and its legal expression is ongoing. And this is evidenced by the adoption of multiple thematic human rights treaties in the past quarter of a century. However, two conflicting dynamics undergird the prima facie certainty of the law: the ever present forces of progression and regression. The Security Council is an extraordinary source of those forces; and the thematic resolutions on children a particular expression of their sometimes progressive, other times regressive effects. 

This, the Council’s law effecting potentiality, is heightened by a confluence of legal dynamics flowing from its primary responsibility. These flow principally from the depths of the relations between that responsibility and egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law: the latter may, after all, if not provoke, exacerbate, threats to international peace and security. Thus the Council increasingly, if non-consistently, seizes its discretion to escalate conduced compliance with applicable international legal obligations, as exemplified by the aforementioned thematic resolutions. In so engaging, the Council necessarily interprets and expresses applicable international law ‘in’ and ‘through’ its resolutions including international law relating to children. However international legal equivocation frames the extent to which it is bound within its decision-making processes by broader international law, beyond the Charter of its birth. Yet these resolutions if not legal acts have legal effects: the resolutions (or selected provisions thereof) may inform subsequent practice (by guiding the interpretation and implementation of applicable treaty law) or be cited, themselves, as evidence of subsequent practice

Converging law, (un)intended vulnerability and international peace and security

Courtesy of IntLawGrrls (22nd October 2015).

The Security Council may be viewed as the juristic holder of ‘international peace and security’. Yet this is largely undefined in the Charter of its birth. And so too is its relationship with broader international law. Legal arguments abound: some view the Council unbound; others view it bound with discretion to depart for its primary responsibility (and of course there is a spectrum in between). In the search for certainty, international legal equivocation rules. Ipso facto, the Council is a holder of extraordinary power. Yet threats to international peace and security often have a legal expression—egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights, some of which may be international crimes. Thus viewed, undergirding the Council’s engagement is a shift from ordinary to extraordinary ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm. And it, therefore, may be supposed retracting these vulnerability shifts—by conducing compliance with applicable international legal obligations—lies at the core of its decision-making about maintaining international peace and security. And increasingly, if non-consistently, the Council so acts. It, then, is an extraordinary expression of the omnipresent interrelations between power and ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm—and its thematic resolutions on children a particular embodiment of those same interrelations. 

Prima facie, they are expressive of a rights-protecting relationship. In seizing itself of the subject the Council frames serious violations of international law relating to children as threats to international peace and security. And thereby connects conducing compliance–with those same international legal obligations–to its primary responsibility. Thus the engagement itself may be viewed as a vital dignifying act: the repeated condemnations of serious violations of international law connect ‘embodied vulnerability’ to its international legal expression—and, in doing so, the law itself is reaffirmed and safeguarded. And, so too, are its multifarious acts to conduce compliance: its sui generis monitoring and reporting mechanism and repeated reiterations of its readiness to consider targeted and graduated measures for non-compliance. Through these resolutions the Council, therefore, may escalate conduced compliance, as exemplified by the actions plans prepared by listed parties.

Malala and the post-postcolonial child

Courtesy of the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, University College Cork, Ireland.

‘Malala is not alone’ said the deliverer of the 2014 Annual Grotius Lecture of the American Society of International Law — Radhika Coomaraswamy. Held within these four simple words are children’s indivisible worlds, where embodied vulnerability lives in continuous, dynamic juxtaposition with their evolving capacities. So too, are ‘the interrelations of subjugation and independence’ of the distinguished discussant’s response — Diane Marie Amann. Subjugated, Malala seized, shaped, and expressed her right to education. And for this act of subversion she was silenced; or at least the ultimate silencer was triggered and failed. Herein the depth of the connection between aspects of those interrelations (those of subjugation and self-determination) is held within the individual of Malala. However those four words (‘Malala is not alone’) also illumine their broader dimensions.

In her word-selection, Radhika, evokes both presence and absence (the presence of Malala and absence of others). And, in so doing, she provokes reflection, illumining the subjugation in presence and self-determination in absence. Of the two, the invocation of absence is perhaps the most powerful. In suggesting the unseen it conjures those intimate relations of subjugation: invisibility, exclusion and above all silencing. However this absence subsists also within the presence of Malala: less the individual and more her celebrated status. Viewed another way, the latter, lives, at least partially, because of absence: the perception of absence; the perceived exceptionality of Malala’s status as child, her gender identity and position as a child human rights defender. However the former Special Representative only evokes absence: she speaks of presence — the presence of other child-human rights defenders.

Dignifying the most vulnerable 'in' and 'through' Security Council Resolution 2139

Courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

Conflict — perhaps like no other happening — illuminates our shared vulnerability to hurt and harm of unimaginable form and depth. The legal protection of rights was born of such suffered injustice. To an extent then, it may be viewed as juristic response to our embodied vulnerability. Therein lies one of the enduring paradoxes of international human rights law; the most vulnerable frequently have the least access to justice.

Consider the hundreds of thousands of besieged in Syria: over a thousand days since the conflict began rights violations cascade; violations of the rights to life, freedom from hunger and of movement layer upon violations of the rights transformers beneath — the rights to legal remedies, take part in public affairs, freedom of expression and association, amongst others. And, the sole possibility of redress is conditional on one of the most precarious of all political processes — decision-making towards peace agreements.

Geneva II, politicking and possibility for Syria's invisible 43%

Courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

The possibility of peace in Syria may seem more like an international force (pun intended) than a beacon of hope. History though tells us to ‘believe…’.* The form of the conflict’s resolution is simply unimagined — as yet. Dig deeper though and history also tells us another story: the transformation of conflict is likely to be partial — children, particularly, are likely to be invisible within decision-making towards peace agreements. To date, the Syrian peace process substantiates this: there is no reference to children — 43% of the population — within Geneva Communiqué I and just one reference within the Communiqué of the London 11.

And herein lies the paradox. From the Central African Republic to Syria (and beyond), no one can be unaware of the impact of conflict on children. Though politicians recurrently invoke this — the children hurt and harmed by conflict — as a call to action (whether towards military action or advancing peace), they seldom raise the subject of children and their rights within decision-making towards agreements. A cynic might reason the confluence of interests is missing; without any broader political gain, principled commitments to children are insufficient to ensure the child question is raised and prioritised. Certainly there is some truth to this reasoning. However, it is also likely the politicking towards — and subsequently within — the peace trajectory spaces subsumes consideration of children.

14 days until Geneva II: who will represent Syria’s invisible 43%?

 

Original version of '13 days until Geneva II: who will represent Syria's invisible 43%?' Human Rights in Ireland, 9th January 2014.

Over 1,000 days of conflict in Syria, the impact on Syria’s nine million children continues to deepen.

View the impact of the conflict on Syria’s nine million children on any terms and it reduces us all.

Scan a selection of media headlines: those focusing attention on the deliberate targeting of children by all sides, or the conflict’s domino effect on children's broader rights — their rights to family life, healthcare, education and freedom of violence, among many others.

Review some of the statistics: the eleven thousand plus children dead, the one million child refugees or the unknown numbers detained. Or simply read the findings of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

What are, these, if not a call to action? Why, then, are children — 43 per cent population —invisible within the peace agreements to date? There is no reference to children within Geneva Communiqué I and just one reference within the Communiqué of the London 11.