All in Int'l Humanitarian Law

The bare knuckled fight for rights

 Courtesy of IntLawGrrls (March 10, 2017)

The past year has been the bleakest of years. At least, for those of us, who believe we are stronger together.  And in invoking that particular slogan, I speak more broadly than the US election.  Today many of those acts of international and regional solidarity born and crystallised by war are under threat, or seem so. Under threat by seemingly disregard for their ‘founding impulse’ and the laws they constituted. Therein, I invoke, the micro aggressions unleashed by transatlantic electoral processes, and the macro aggressions enacted in the town lands of constituent members of the UN, most luminously Syria, but not exclusively. Held there are acts of international lawlessness: violations of the laws international human rights and armed conflict, as documented by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, among others. Those acts, then, have laid bare the omnipresent forces of regression, and in doing so, exposed previously supposed certitudes about international law and its protective capacity as tenuous. 

Eight reasons why the Safe Schools Declaration matters

Courtesy of The Right to Education Project (November 27, 2016), summarising a mini series of four postings on the international legal protection of education.

The testimonies of these two teachers, one Yemeni, one Syrian, evoke the egregious hurt and harm of attacks on schools. These attacks, among others, illume the imperative of conducing compliance with foundational rules of international humanitarian law, in particular, as recalled recently by the Security Council in relation tothe Syrian attack above, the obligation to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives, and the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks. Undergirding this is an another imperative of respecting the civilian character of schools.  The two are deeply interconnected. The international legal protection accorded schools from attack is necessarily contingent on their civilian character. It is of these dual imperatives that the Safe Schools Declaration was born. Led by the Governments of Norway and Argentina, 56 states have thus far signed the Declaration and committed to implementing the associated Guidelines.  And this matters.

Meta-engagement with international law, understated effects and engagers

Fourth of a series of four postings, courtesy of IntLawGrrls (September 15, 2016)

Images of violated spaces of learning — untouched since the moment of flight — have a visceral luminosity that belies the absence within. Latent there are the attacks or acts of violence of the recent past: the incursions of spatial and bodily inviolability, or as opined in postings one and two, violations of the duo dimensional international legal obligations to protect embodied learners, and their spaces of learning from attack. Lesser stated (if there is no rapid recovery response or alternative) is the multi-dimensional hurt and harm that lies beyond: the violations of the rights to, in and through education (as documented in posting three of this series). And the hurt and harm beneath: domestic embodiment of those rights may be partial and/or access to public affairs or remedies limited. Or in other words, the vulnerability shift from ordinary to extraordinary embodied vulnerability may precede, undergird and be exacerbated by the attack. The sole form of redress, then, may be international law. 

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.

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

Second of a series of four postings, courtesy of IntLawGrrls , as a mini two-part series (January 20 and 22, 2016). 

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, courtesy of Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights Blog, University College Cork, Ireland (January 29, 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?

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

Courtesy of IntLawGrrls (November 12, 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. 

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

Courtesy of IntLawGrrls (October 22, 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. 

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

Courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (March 22, 2014).

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.