Tag Archives: Human Rights

Mali: Intervention, Invasion, and Invention

Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.


Mali Islamist Militants


Ten years since the West’s intervention in Iraq and in the midst of a new French and British presence in Mali, it is right to emphasise that failing to appreciate the complexities of any international conflict is always costly. Deciding whether or not to commit to military intervention requires extensive deliberation and patience. Whatever one decides, there must be no doubt as to the seriousness of the implications, no question as to the responsibilities assumed as a consequence. Interventionists are often urged to keep these warnings in mind before they choose to support a foreign military conflict, but it should be remembered that this counsel must also apply to those opposed to intervention.

Not long after the French intervention in Mali, a number of voices on the left denounced what they saw as a provocative invitation to Islamist violence and a failure to learn from the West’s intervention in Iraq ten years ago. However, it is arguably these voices that appear to be repeating past mistakes. Opposition to the Iraq War, while vociferous, never received the scrutiny and interrogation it truly deserved, and since it so frequently characterised itself solely in terms of what it was against, it is crucial to keep in mind what the anti-war movement was for.

Broadly speaking, we can infer that many of those opposed to the Iraq war would have preferred the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s rule over Western intervention. There was little and remains little to suggest that his regime could have been toppled from within the country, and in any case, this was not a hope articulated by some within the anti-war movement at the time. In particular, we should note that George Galloway, one of the most prominent members of the Stop the War Coalition, openly praised the dictator and the operations of insurgent forces in Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition’s erroneous unease around efforts to thwart fascism in Iraq and elsewhere have been disappointing, but by failing to offer a credible approach to the tangible dangers of the Islamist influence in Mali, some are perpetuating the notion that to be anti-war is to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of non-intervention. The impact of intervention is important and deserves continuous scrutiny, because this impact is severe and often bloody, but the potentially destructive impact of inaction in the face of the dangers present in Mali are not receiving the attention they deserve.

It would be in error to say that alternatives to intervention do not exist. Here at The Risky Shift, Alex Clackson has identified a number of suggestions, including the provision of development aid and increased support for domestic governments. However, a deeper misunderstanding often characterises opposition to intervention. There is a tendency among many, particularly on the left to locate intervention by the West in general and, in the case of Mali, France and Britain in particular, in a neo-imperialistic/colonialist narrative. Journalist John Pilger has gone so far as to say that ‘A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way,’ which he compares to the Scramble for Africa of the nineteenth century. This is a limited and ultimately ahistorical view of the kind of Western intervention we have seen in the region.

The sovereignty of Mali is not under threat from ‘the West’ but from several Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which demand the imposition of Islamic law throughout the country. It is also worth noting that it was Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore who requested military aid from France in January of this year to counter these groups. Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.


Photo Credit: Magharebia

Marriage Equality & The Government’s ‘Legislative Boot’

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic.


gay marriage


Responding to government proposals on the implementation of marriage equality earlier this week, Conservative MP Richard Drax stated in the House of Commons, ‘I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’ It is in an attempt to safeguard religious institutions from legislative intolerance that the government made its announcement this week that the Church of England will be prohibited from performing same-sex marriages should they be introduced.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, explained the policy in Parliament, stating, ‘European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional “quadruple legal lock”. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so.’ Despite this mention of the opt-in, one of the four parts of the ‘quadruple legal lock’ includes legislation explicitly preventing the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages. This threatens to inhibit rather than ensure religious freedom for religious institutions wishing to marry same-sex couples and risks alienating religious individuals in favour of equal marriage.

It would seem that the government has failed to distinguish the many shades of difference of opinion within the Church of England and in Wales on the issue of equal marriage. The assumption that same-sex marriage is necessarily oppressive to religious groups as though they are a monolithic whole can be dispelled by looking at both the Church of England and the Church in Wales, prominent members of which have expressed disappointment in the last week over the government’s announcement.

The Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, as well as a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, have both criticised the apparent lack of consultation regarding the ‘quadruple legal lock’. But in her address to Parliament, Maria Miller said, ‘Because the Church of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples.’

Even if prominent figures within either Church had indeed articulated this ‘explicit’ opposition to equal marriage during the consultation period, Miller’s reasoning for the plans seems too simplistic, not only in light of the variety of views on equal marriage among religious individuals but also given its many proponents within the Conservative Party itself. Just last week, the Telegraph reported on a group organised by key Conservatives including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove in support of same-sex marriage within religious institutions. Prime Minister David Cameron has also announced that he favoured equal marriage within the Church.

These complications are making it easier for outright opponents of marriage equality, such as those within the Catholic Church, to more easily undermine the government’s progress on the issue. In response to Miller’s announcement, a statement released by the the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said that the government’s approach ‘can only be described as shambolic’ and went on to complain that, ‘There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today.’ Arguably, the response among outright opponents of equal marriage was always going to be negative, but confusion over the legal impact on religious institutions widens the scope for further criticism and doubt over the government’s competence over the issue.

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic. In an attempt to prevent equal marriage from being forced upon religious institutions, the government now suggests that the Church should be forced to turn same-sex couples away. Religious believers who support equal marriage may now be inclined to ask of their government, ‘What right have they got to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’


Photo credit: renaissancechambara

The Episcopal Question: The Role Of Women In The Church

The nature of the Church’s enduring internal disagreement is the consequence of a belief, perhaps now held only among a few extremists, that an omnipotent authority has made demands of the sexes and that to ignore his will is to invite punishment.



The General Synod’s failure to grant women the right to episcopal equality in November has ensured that the long-debated issue over women bishops will remain vociferously debated among believers for years to come. The problem is considerably important, not only to the faithful but also to British politics and society, in a number of ways. Firstly, as Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society has argued, the Synod’s vote is further evidence that the Church of England is not an appropriate political mechanism with which the state should be constitutionally intertwined. Sanderson highlights that denying the privileges and opportunities associated with the Church according to gender – a public institution – is a policy incompatible with the British government and its laws. However, secularists must be cautious before rushing to criticise the Church as a whole for the failures of its evangelical minority.

The Houses of Bishops and Clergy overwhelmingly approved consecration rights for women, while the House of Laity was short of the two-thirds majority required by six votes. While there is some considerable conflict between the evangelical and moderate wings of the House of Laity, it is appropriate to say that the Church as a whole has decided to support women in their pursuit of episcopal equality. Indeed, figures in the church have grown increasingly critical of the Synod’s voting system in light of the influence such a small opposition seems to have had on the result of the vote. In this case, it would seem that the theology and faith of a minority within the church has acted as a barrier to the wishes of the majority, in detriment to the pursuit of wider well-being for the believing community. This presents a fundamental problem for religious institutions that must be dealt with honestly and soon. Secular institutions have no divine mandate to separate men from women or to promote men above women, but the minority of evangelicals opposed to episcopal equality insist on deferring to God, who has apparently decided that each gender must have ‘different roles’ in the Church as in society. It is this deference that has prevented women from enjoying the same opportunities as men within the Church.

The struggle for equal rights in the Church serves as a reminder that religious belief is no guarantee of moral superiority or social foundation, precisely because of residual traditionalism and the sway still afforded to hardliners. The suggestion by Eric Pickles that we should ‘embrace the religious character of our nation’ – both that of the Church of England and of Catholicism – cannot be taken seriously when the Church’s long struggle to grant equality to its own members is kept in mind. Moreover, the wider hypocrisy of Christianity’s claims to moral authority is reinforced whenever we hear of some or other cleric’s spiteful remarks about homosexuality and marriage equality. Some may argue that opponents of equal marriage and episcopal equality take their positions for moral or spiritually important reasons, but who can measure the pain and frustration caused by these remarks and the petulant obstructionism than accompanies them? Are we really to say that these enduring struggles are evidence of a divinely inspired belief system?

Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, expressed his dismay following the House of Laity’s decision, tweeting, ‘Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God.’ These remarks mean well, but they highlight a lack of understanding as to the fundamental conflict between secular equality and religious privilege. If those in favour of episcopal equality are to eventually triumph in this particular struggle, they must speak honestly about how the debate emerged in the first place. The nature of the Church’s enduring internal disagreement is the consequence of a belief, perhaps now held only among a few extremists, that an omnipotent authority has made demands of the sexes and that to ignore his will is to invite punishment. Secular institutions are unshackled by such beliefs and can make moral decisions based on human compassion without heavenly guidance. Given the largely male-dominated focus of religious doctrine and the kinds of authority it prescribes, it is no coincidence that religious institutions such as the Church of England are forced to grapple as they have with the prospect of powerful women.


Photo credit: Alan Stanton

The Peculiar Influence Of The Church of England

Given the influence of the Church of England and the claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, its new Archbishop has a responsibility to provide a transparent account of his views so that they can be properly scrutinised.


Big Ben and Westminster Abbey


While it is often said that the United States is politically and socially religious to a considerable extent, it is worth remembering that it is constitutionally secular. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment protects the right of every religious group to practice their faith privately, while ensuring that no one group receives advantageous treatment over others via funding or expressions of support from the state. It has also allowed for the establishment of non-religious executive, legislative and judicial branches of the US government, each free from the prejudices inherent in theocratic systems. This luxury, however, is not afforded to British citizens, who are instead expected to accept that the clergy of the Church of England, the dominant sect, will sit in the legislative house adjacent to that of the country’s elected representatives. Moreover, the monarch rather than the Prime Minister is the ultimate head of state and of the state religion, and while this intimate relationship between our democratic and royal institutions is often viewed as little more than a benign tradition, it remains a potential risk to political representation and social equality.

One of the by-products of this fusion of church and state has been the prominence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose commentary on social and political issues is often given a generous amount of coverage in the media. Dr Rowan Williams, who is now stepping down from the post, has frequently commented on issues ranging from economic justice to western foreign policy. However, while Dr Williams is entitled to express his views on these and any other issues, his responsibilities as a political as well as a religious figure mean that his opinions deserve the same critical scrutiny afforded to other political leaders.

Dr Williams’ suggestion in 2008 that elements of Islamic law should be accommodated in the UK provides a useful example of why this scrutiny is so important. While ultimately inconsequential, these comments nonetheless reflect claims about the nature and development of the judicial system. They also reflects a need among advocates of church and state cooperation to accommodate numerous religious groups, in a similar sense to the proposed inclusion of multiple faith representatives in the House of Lords. On the surface, such suggestions may seem to appeal to representation and fairness, but in reality they reinforce the exclusion of minor faiths and unbelievers while empowering major religious traditions undeservedly. Avoiding this discrimination is one of the main advantages of the US political system, which, instead of trying to cater for numerous faiths, separates all religion equally from the state. Far from constituting oppression of religious freedom, this method succeeds in preventing it. Crucially, Dr Williams’ comments on Islamic law suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not only a participant in political discourse but can also seek to influence and develop it in ways that other religious and non-religious individuals cannot.

This unique influence can also be seen in religious resistance to equal marriage. On its website, the Church of England describes ‘the enduring place of the established church in providing marriages that have full state recognition,’ and has also claimed that marriage equality could threaten religious establishment in the UK. Moreover, Dr Williams’ replacement Justin Welby has maintained his opposition to equal marriage while simultaneously offering a vague commitment to re-examining his views ‘prayerfully and carefully’. In light of this, it is clear that while religion in the UK may resemble a ceremonial oddity, the views of leading figures on the validity of marriage could have a direct impact on the civil rights of individuals in society. These individuals, as well as advocates of an equal and fair legal system, deserve better than ambiguous spiritual statements of reflection and prayer from the leadership of the Church.

The political prominence of this leadership is indicative of a constitutional framework that places one religious doctrine above all others and insists on fusing it with the operations of the state. This structure is more than a mere historical peculiarity, and exists in opposition to the ideals of a modern and inclusive democracy. Given the potentially tangible influence of the Church of England, and the bold claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, Justin Welby has a responsibility, not only to religious believers but to every citizen, to provide a clear and transparent account of his views so that they may be properly scrutinised.


Photo Credit: Better Than Bacon

Omnipotent US President?

Is the President of the United States of America as powerful a position as it is made out to be? Or is political control over Congress distinctly more desirable?



Thanks to Hollywood and “public relations” (the modern Western term for propaganda), it often seems God would have no America to bless if it weren’t for the President. When asked what role the United States played in the world at the final Presidential debate last week, Obama declared America to be ‘one indispensable nation’. Romney asserted that the US could only lead once its domestic policies were restored to good health.

The current President is axiomatically correct here, in the way that the United States, through ruthlessly efficient foreign policy and military supremacy, has been able to gain and maintain its superpower status. Foreign policy is indisputably America’s superlative strength, with no other nation yet to match it. In terms of issues close to home however, with high unemployment and an increasing deficit, military spending is generally not so relevant to the American people when they cast their vote.

The rise of social media in the twenty-first century inevitably led to a global revolution as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook became instruments that could tune and play public opinion. Four years ago, young people (and mainly Obama supporters) utilised social media to promote the potential candidates for the 2008 US Presidential election. The 2012 election has witnessed the online apparatus expand to older generations and the Republican’s – whose fan base is less young, are exploiting it just as much as Obama did in his successful 2008 campaign. So is it fair to suggest that the President of the United States is greatly limited by a “cyber-population”?

An increasingly common question is whether the Party or person who wins the election even matters; the chief limitation on the President which arguably subdues him to a mere puppet role is Congress. The past two years have consisted of petty partisan politics within government, as the Democrats and Republicans have failed to reach compromise on decisive issues such as the budget deficit. These unresolved disputes led to an automatic cut of $1.1 trillion from government spending. Ultimately how powerful can the role of the President be when he is effectively powerless in regards to domestic policy, since all decisions essentially lie in the hands of the House and Senate? More importantly, how much of a globally effective role can the US government play if it cannot even reach negotiations to resolve its own country’s issues?

China is foreseen to emerge as a highly competitive superpower in the upcoming years. Considering it isn’t a democracy, there is none of this Congressional crippling of power. Unlike the US, it doesn’t have what Romney says America does, which is ‘the responsibility and privilege to defend freedom and promote principles for world peace such as human rights’. When the Chinese government abuses human rights purely for economic growth, censorship bans the reporting of it. Without these constitutional restrictions therefore, there is a question of whether someone such as the Chinese President has more power to play with than the US President.

Overall, statistically the US government appears to be more powerful militarily and economically, but this is clearly subject to change. The question is not will, but can the winner of the 2012 US Presidential election play a role in affecting this change?


Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey

Race For Life: Chasing Racism Out of British Media

It is time for the British media to stop chasing immigrants out of this country; there is no running away from the ultimate truth that when life for humans began, we were all the same race.


Xenophobia media racism daily mail


Every individual is born in to this world a certain race, an identifiable race that will be attached to them for life.

Race may be defined as a group of humans who share the same ethnicity. Racism is intolerance of a certain ethnic group in the form of prejudice and discrimination, typically a result of one’s belief that their race is superior to another. The ultimate product of extreme race-hate is genocide, an unforgettable occurrence that has marked tragic scars in history. Merely acknowledging the immoral and damaging nature of racism however simply is not enough. What truly demands recognition is the root of racism that is so prominently embedded within British soil.

More than half a century after immigration was introduced to the United Kingdom, the nation remains insecure about the matter. Such insecurity can be justifiably argued to be the result of the media. To put it frankly, it is no secret that some aspects of the British media induce the idea that our nation is threatened by foreigners; the Daily Mail being perhaps the boldest of perpetrators, frequently splashing racist headlines on the front page such as labelling British Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah a ‘plastic Brit’. Most unfortunately, it is one of the most popular newspapers in Britain with nearly two million daily readers.

Whilst the purpose of media in theory is to broadcast and publish current affairs to the populace, what it chooses to shine light on inevitably influences public opinion. Researchers on behalf of the University of Cardiff examined 974 newspaper articles from 2000-2008, found that of all stories concerning British Muslims, 36 percent were with regard to terrorism, 26 percent considered Islam to be “dangerous” or “backward”, and “references to radical Muslims outnumber[ed] references to moderate Muslims by 17 to one”.

Furthermore, writing for The Guardian in late July of this year, Joseph Harker published a highly enlightening article  that explores the story of the ‘second big prosecution where men in Derby have preyed on teenage girls’, whilst highlighting the correlation between the race of those involved in the crime with the amount of media attention the case received:

‘Of the eight predators, seven were white, not Asian. And the story made barely a ripple in the national media’

The correlation is profoundly enhanced when Harker proceeds to note how the infamous Rochdale “Asian sex gang” ‘made the front page of every national newspaper’, which undeniably contributed to furthering the negative stereotype of the Asian community.

An unarguable conclusion can thus be made here, and it is that the British media is negatively and detrimentally dictating the definition of a Muslim to the general public. This is utmost signified by the evidence in the recent findings that, ‘75 per cent of non-Muslims now believe Islam is negative for Britain, and 63 per cent don’t disagree that “Muslims are terrorists.”’

The Leveson Inquiry did accentuate the fact that it is time for the British media to undergo change, with the most prominent outcome being the necessitation of efficacious scrutiny.  Change as such however, revolved chiefly around the media’s responsibility to respect privacy and not exploit illegitimate evidence. Writing in July of this year, Dr Nafeez Ahmed produced an article explaining why the Leveson Inquiry must also investigate anti-Muslim bigotry, and how racism within the media can be eradicated.

He first suggests the further involvement of bodies such as the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and Equality and Human Rights Commission to participate in effectively regulating the media, for instance through ‘ensuring broader impartiality and fairness in media coverage’ and being able to ‘launch independent investigations and impose fines’.

Whilst an increase in regulation may physically disable media bodies from writing racist remarks, merely stifling the perpetrators won’t actually change their attitude. This is why further research by Dr Ahmed discovered there to be a general consensus on the ‘need to reform wider media culture in general’. Whilst the fact that there are only five weekly columnists from ethnic minorities within the British media justifies Dr Ahmed’s argument that ‘the biggest challenge of all is minority underrepresentation’ , the problem that demands confrontation is the ignorance of journalists and those behind the press; only with proper training and education does understanding arise. It is lack of understanding of other cultures that has created a nation insecure of immigrants. It is poor social integration measures that have limited people’s ability to overcome ethnic differences and realise that race is irrelevant.

It is time for the British media to stop chasing immigrants out of this country, because there is no running away from the ultimate truth that when life for humans began, we were all the same race.


Photo Credit: malias

Sleepwalking Into Segregation?

As part of our series on multiculturalism, Patrick McGhee questions Trevor Phillips’ statement that we are ‘sleepwalking into segregation’. 


trevor philips. sleepwalking into segregation[dhr]

In 2005, the now outgoing Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips (pictured), responded to the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London by suggesting that Britain was ‘sleepwalking into segregation,’ adding that ‘we are becoming strangers to each other and leaving communities to be marooned outside the mainstream’. Phillips’ warnings about the dangers of segregation were met with scepticism by academics citing a lack of evidence behind his claims, but his arguments have unfortunately been more broadly undermined by the wider preferential views he has expressed towards religion over secularism.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph last year, Phillips expressed concerns about growing criticism of religion, commenting that ‘faith identity is part of what makes life richer and more meaningful for the individual. It is a fundamental part of what makes some societies better than others in my view’. He later added that religion is ‘an essential element of being a fulfilled human being’. The statements overtly suggested a superiority of faith over non-faith, not only as a means to live an individual life, but to excel as a society. These views have prompted condemnation from the British Humanist Association, and are disappointing given Phillips’ supposed commitment to equality. Crucially, the comments are also symptomatic of a wider imbalance between religion and the state. As Phillips himself has since suggested, far from facilitating improvement, the prioritisation of religion in society can often have dangerous consequences for both societies and the individuals within them.

There are numerous instances of religious interests denying important medical treatment to those most in need. Just this week, doctors have argued that faith in miraculous solutions is directly undermining efforts to ease the suffering of terminally ill children. Meanwhile in Russia, the trial of three punk band members over a protest at Moscow’s central Orthodox church has paid a disproportionate amount of attention to often farcical spiritual testimony at the expense of a fair trial. Both healthcare and the judicial process are aspects of society that have repeatedly been undermined by religious interference, frequently with the support of a close relationship between church and state. Perhaps most relevant to Britain and the debate around multiculturalism, however, is the issue of faith schools.

A piece for The Guardian by the chief executive of the British Humanist Association Andrew Copson makes the case against faith-based schools, citing exclusivity and fraudulent teachings as evidence that they are detrimental rather than conducive to human fulfillment. In this sense, educational institutions formed around religious traditions are directly and necessarily responsible for the segregation Trevor Phillips talked about. Separating young people into religious categories can promote lasting division and undermines the idea of real community. Instead, only a series of insular units are offered, and young people are often required to accept the tag they are given. More broadly, this system suggests that religion serves some special moral or intellectual function that cannot be performed adequately by schools unsupported by religious doctrine.

It is this notion of the moral superiority of religion that individuals such as Trevor Phillips have openly supported. It is claimed that societies are better or worse depending on how spiritual they can be, and that attempts to critique religion or its doctrines must be an attack on society itself. In reality, placing a protective shield around religion hinders our understanding of different faiths because it prevents open discussion around the merits of each tradition and its role in society. Institutions requiring objectivity, such as medical care, justice and education do not benefit from the intrusions of any special interest. If we are unable to make responsible judgements about how spirituality and faith affect these institutions, we risk failure in the pursuit of human well-being.

Just as political opinions should be open to scrutiny and criticism, so too should religious traditions, and while we are bold to desire diversity, we should not assume that faith is off limits to debate. If this assumption is not dispelled, we may yet become strangers to one another: Trevor Phillips’ preference for religion is contributing to our communal sleepwalk into segregation.

The Pussy Riot Trial: Russia’s Resurgent Religious Right

Crucially, the Pussy Riot trial is important not only because it carries implications for the integrity and credibility of the Russian judicial system, but also because it is evidence of the country’s resurgent religious right wing. 


Pussy Riot


The BBC Trust ruled last week that Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman’s use of the phrases ‘religious hogwash’ and ‘stupid people’ during an interview about religion ‘breached the editorial guidelines on harm and offence’ because the words may have unintentionally upset religious viewers. The ruling was the result of just one complaint, raising serious questions about the disproportionate weight of the offended individual in swaying the process of open debate, but the apparent power of religious upset in manipulating rational decision-making can have even more dangerous consequences for justice and those it should serve around the world.

In the same week, it was reported that a 23-year-old mother had been sentenced to death by stoning in Sudan after being found guilty of committing adultery. The sentence comes after the Sudanese President articulated support for an entirely Islamic constitution in July, and has been condemned by Amnesty International. In a statement, Amnesty has specifically called attention to the unfair nature of the woman’s trial, in which they say ‘she was convicted solely on the basis of her confession and did not have access to a lawyer.’

Meanwhile, three members of the punk band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina, have been detained in Russia since early March after performing an anti-Putin dance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The women have been charged with ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ by the court, facing up to seven years of imprisonment if convicted for their brief demonstration.

The trial began on 30th July and an interesting account by Pyotr Verzilov, husband of one of the accused, has described court proceedings from his perspective, detailing the court’s attitude towards the press and the conditions in which the three detainees are being tried. The Guardian reports that lawyers for the defendants have openly criticised the reportedly exhausting and unfair trial environment, with one stating: ‘this is one of the most shameful trials in modern Russia. In Soviet times, at least they followed some sort of procedure’.

Crucially, the trial is important not only because it carries implications for the integrity and credibility of the Russian judicial system, but also because it is evidence of the country’s resurgent religious right wing. As the writer Wayne K. Spear argues, it is important to note that this resurgence has been reinforced by the cosy relationship between President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Orthodox Church, reflected in early February by Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill’s description of Putin’s previous two terms in office as ‘a miracle of God’.

Despite an unconvincing call for leniency from Putin, the distinctly religious nature of the complaints made against the accused demonstrates the dangers presented by influence of religion in Russia’s legal framework. Witnesses for the prosecution have repeatedly implied a paranoid fear of the supernatural, as well as belief in literal hell, ‘black energy’ and divine judgement. Verzilov’s diary notes that one witness described the ‘devilish twitching’ of the protesters, while another complained of ‘spiritual trauma’ in the wake of their demonstration. It has also been reported that one witness deplored the role of the internet in spreading Satanism, accusing the three women of having ‘lowered themselves into hell’ with their actions. Questions from the prosecution have been no less focused on trivial expressions of offence, with the Guardian reporting that witnesses were asked about the meaning of their faith and how offended they were at the clothing worn by the protesters.

The tone of this dialogue underscores a religious sentiment that may have persisted in Russia since the Tsarist era, as the late writer and journalist Christopher Hitchens often suggested. In this sense, state support for the Orthodox Church may not be directly responsible for the faith-based fury surrounding the trial, but the overtly spiritual content of the prosecution’s case is a symptom of deterioration within Russia’s constitutional separation of church and state. As the verdict draws closer, it is clear that the increasing power and influence of the Orthodox Church is denying the Russian people a strong legal system blind to the special interests of religious tradition and uninterested in accusations of blasphemy, no matter how many claim to be offended by it.

Sexual Health & The Need For Secularism

Despite the absence of a codified constitution in the UK that explicitly separates religion from the state, it would nonetheless be heartening to see the Education Secretary take a more objective and inclusive approach to education, especially when the sexual health of young people hangs in the balance.



As the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. draws to a close, it is worth keeping in mind not only the efforts being made in the struggle against the disease but also the obstacles that have attempted to undermine these efforts. In a sense, little has changed since 2003 when the Catholic Church was discouraging people across the world from using condoms as a means of protection against HIV, with patent disregard for the scientific evidence against their claim that the infection could pass through the contraceptives.

In 2010, the Vatican was forced to vociferously reemphasise the Church’s opposition to contraception after the Pope suggested that condoms may be of benefit to male prostitutes, an offer of compromise hardly worthy of the serious conversation being had by medical professionals, scientists and coordinators about how best to tackle the epidemic. This case, in addition to Catholic opposition to the Affordable Care Act in the United States, suggests that healthcare would benefit from a secular outlook that prioritises wellbeing and safety over theological interests. It could be argued, however, that education is in need of a similar non-religious framework in order for these priorities to be realised.

Last week, it emerged that some schools in England have been not only discouraging but also actively preventing students from receiving important cervical cancer vaccinations as a direct consequence of religious belief. Explaining its decision to withhold vaccines from its students, one school said that its ‘pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practice sex outside marriage’. The news prompted criticism from numerous commentators, as well as calls for calm from others, but the debate itself should be seen as a symptom of a wider conflict inherent in the relationship between religion and education.

This conflict is perhaps best illustrated by the establishment of the Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) Council in May this year. The Council seeks to ‘promote the best possible sex and relationship education both at home and at school’ and is comprised of seven founding organisations, all of which have been found to support positions associated with the Christian right-wing and several of which have declared religious intent outright. Last week, one of the Council’s member organisations, Lovewise, was found to have given presentations containing misinformation to schoolchildren in order to discourage abortion, prompting condemnation from Labour MP Dianne Abbott.

The values of the Council in general and the actions of Lovewise in particular demonstrate the irreconcilable differences between elements of religious tradition and education, especially as it relates to sexual health. It may be true that, as the director of Lovewise Dr Chris Richards has said in defence of his organisation, young people ‘have a right to hear and discuss what might be positive about keeping sex for marriage and keeping their unborn child’, but schools have a more important obligation to deliver evidence and fact-based education to their students.

This can often mean dialogue and debate, but only in a secular environment can credible and objective conclusions be reached without the risk of unfairly promoting the beliefs of one faith above human wellbeing. Young people deserve to be educated in an environment that promotes multiple voices and a variety of ideas, but they also deserve a structure of learning that values the search for truth above all else. It would be a mistake to forgo that structure in order to facilitate the interests of particular religious traditions.

It is worth noting that the SRE Council has received the personal support of the Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has said, ‘I look forward to working with you all in ensuring that the interests of families are put at the heart of our policies’. Despite the absence of a codified constitution in the UK that explicitly separates religion from the state, it would nonetheless be heartening to see the Education Secretary take a more objective and inclusive approach to education, especially when the sexual health of young people hangs in the balance.

Corruption & Justice Reform In Uganda

There is little to no effort to educate the Ugandan people about their constitutional rights and what is contained in the many good laws that have been enacted by parliament. The end result is that many people continue to suffer silently.


justice reform uganda


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by President Yoweri Museveni took power in Uganda, significant inroads have been made in putting the country on a constitutional path. It is imperative therefore to examine how the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) – a sector wide approach that brings together 17 institutions responsible for administering justice, maintaining law and order and promoting the observance of human rights – has performed in the last 10 years.

Following the 5 year war and the accession of the NRM to power in 1986, the revolutionary body immediately suspended the existing constitution as is the case in most revolutions, and, among other things, vested the National Resistance Council (NRC) with the supreme authority of the government and the legislative powers of Parliament.

Legal Notice No. 1 – the document that established the legality of the NRM government – stipulated what kind of leadership the NRM wanted to implement. Since constitutionalism was one of the grievances that led Museveni and his fighters to the bush to wage a protracted war against what was perceived to be a dictatorial government led by the late President Milton Obote, it was planned that the country would employ a national constitution where the views of the people would be considered.

And in 1995 Ugandans came up with this constitution which effectively ended the operation of the NRM Legal Notice I. By any standards the 1995 constitution, which was promulgated after country wide consultations and fierce debate in the Constituent Assembly, was a good document. It provided for fundamental human rights, the separation of powers between the judiciary, legislature and the executive and more significantly provided for presidential term limits.

Once the constitution was in place, the government, through parliament, went ahead to enact many good laws to fight corruption, ensure public accountability and transparency, protect the environment and natural resources, ensure public order, security of persons and property and uphold the rule of law generally.

More still, the 10 ten last years have seen government implement two Strategic Investment Plans (SIP) and it’s now rolling out SIP III for the next five years 2012/13-2017, to ensure the rule of law and justice for all Ugandans irrespective of their gender, age and social status.

New innovations, some of which have won international awards, have been brought on board such as the Chain Linked Initiative to fast track justice, and community policing to prevent crime. On the whole it can be argued that great strides have been made in the realization of the rule of law and administration of justice. This is evidenced through the creation of specialised divisions of the High Court, including commercial, land, family, criminal, anti-corruption and others.

While the justice sector remains under-funded, the number of magistrates and judges on the bench has more than doubled and judicial facilities have been renovated and new ones constructed. But although government has made tremendous effort in ensuring a functioning and fair justice system in the country, there many inherent weakness and in some cases outright violations of the spirit of our national constitution: some of the subsidiary laws enacted have tended to take away some of the rights protected under the constitution .

The constitution itself has since been amended to remove term limits a decision that has been widely criticized. Since 1999 the Constitution has been amended 48 times setting a new record. Although, among other amendments to the constitution, was the establishment of a multi-party democracy. But on many occasions the presidential and local elections held under the pluralism system have been disputed for alleged lack of democratic political space, violence and voter bribery.

The government also seems weak in implementation of the many laws that have been enacted and once it has come out to apply the law it has been in many cases selectively done so.

The Inspector General of Government (IGG) report produced together with the Economic Policy Research Center of Makerere University in 2010 noted the poor implementation of laws that are supposed to ensure justice for all. It was reported that Uganda had almost 90% weak implementation of laws, especially anti-corruption legislation. There’s also poor facilitation of agencies that are supposed to provide justice and law. The police is poorly facilitated thus being ranked as one of the most corrupt institutions. In the process justice is defeated and hence denied.

The judiciary too has lamented over poor pay. The Chief Justice recently advocated an increase in the salary of judicial officers. This has affected the justice system in the country.

Last year the IGG’s report mentioned the judiciary as one of those agencies that have been hit by corruption. With poor pay of judicial officers corruption related cases have been reported against some judicial officers and yet they are supposed to be custodians of our laws. Justice cannot be delivered where the judiciary is perforated with corruption.

The IGG office was established to ensure accountability among public officials and fight the corruption vice. But the office started off on the wrong premise as it was placed under the President’s Office hence its independence was questioned. It is now a constitutional office. The Leadership Code is among the tools the IGG is meant to enforce against public servants so that none has ill gotten wealth.

It is still an uphill task to implement. Article 235A of the Constitution establishes the Leadership Code Tribunal to handle cases involving politicians that violate the Code, however 7 years later it has not been constituted. The Office of the Auditor General is now independently able to regulate its funds and recruit staff in order to monitor government expenditure. The office is still thin on the ground.

Proposals to amend the Constitution to deny the right of bail have gone a long away in threatening the justice doctrine enshrined in our constitution that a person is presumed innocent until proved guilt. Further still, there is little or no effort at all to educate the Ugandan people about their constitutional rights and what is contained in the many good laws that have been enacted by parliament. The end result is that many people continue to suffer silently.

Implementation of the enacted laws should be adhered to otherwise they cease to address the purpose for which they were enacted and end up being rendered redundant. Performance contracts should strictly be implemented and adequate funding towards JLOS institutions and their over site agencies should be revised upwards. Justice must be seen to be done.

Drones Hysteria & The Targeted Killing Programme

Much of the controversy over the American use of drones against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is completely ignorant of the realities of warfare. Critiques must acknowledge this to be convincing.




[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the dominating themes of the decade since 9/11 is the gap between laws governing conduct in wartime and the difficulties of fighting a stateless, global paramilitary force. Historically, a recruit in an enemy army who had never fired a shot in anger could be held for the duration of hostilities. Today, there is no enemy army in the traditional sense, nor can we say when hostilities might end. Yet the release of captured terrorists and insurgents – in line with outdated law – has frequently led to loss of life. In short, the law has not yet caught up to the realities of the challenge.

If the relevant laws are stuck in the past, so is much of the discourse on weapons and tactics, no more so than on Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), often referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles or, simply, drones. The United States used RPAs as early as the Vietnam War and even the venerable Predator is nearly twenty years old, but some of the comment in the U.S. has been nothing short of hysterical.

Fortunately, all we need to do to address this is recognise that there are few serious differences between unmanned and manned aircraft that need worry the layman. Of course, they can fly for longer, for less money and without putting a pilot in harm’s way. But if they did not exist, manned aircraft and satellites could – at greater cost – do the work RPAs do. Indeed, until the last decade, when RPAs were armed and deployed in large numbers, that is exactly what happened.

The targeted killing programme manages to offend many on both legal and technological grounds. The Risky Shift’s own Catherine Connolly raised both in her article “Drones & The Missing Moral Compass”. Such is her disgust that she refers to RPAs as “perhaps the greatest step backward in morality” in the last ten years.

Setting aside that RPAs have been in service almost as long as The Rolling Stones, armed aircraft – which is what an armed RPA essentially is – have been in service for a century. The use of armed RPAs is at most an advance in technology driven by necessity, but is there really a question of morality here?

Connolly errs in implying that morality is informed by legality rather than the other way around. She may be entirely correct in her assessment that targeted killing is illegal in part or in whole, but that is a reflection of the law as it stands rather than a comment on the morality of the programme. Killing al-Qaeda figures away from the battlefield makes sound strategic sense, is not in any sense immoral and certainly not indicative of a “missing moral compass”. The law simply has not caught up to reality.

There may be a debate to be had on the moral repercussions of the “individualisation” of warfare, in which identified leaders are targeted in the same way munitions factories or command centres once were. But if anything, the case to be made there is that killing leadership figures, who have in every way chosen their paths, is far more moral than killing thousands of nameless conscripts and civilians in pursuit of victory.

But an acknowledgement that war is waged in pursuit of victory is the main element missing from Connolly’s analysis. For instance, most would consider the development of weapons systems that limit or reduce the risk to its operator as entirely consistent with trying to win. Yet Connolly refers to this logic in astonishing terms:

“…it is difficult to term such a strike ‘just’ when almost all of the losses are sustained by one side, while the other remains safely ensconced in a room far away.”

The alternative – needlessly taking casualties to satisfy vague considerations of justice – not only violates a state’s duty of care to its forces but violates the basic maxim that an unfair fight is preferable to a fair one. Of course combatants seek advantage over their foes. If that is immoral in the context of targeted killings, it is immoral in the context of all warfare.

To make much the same point, it is entirely normal and proper that the intelligence-led targeting of an enemy force is secret. Transparency in covert operations would be so damaging as to make them untenable. This is so self-evident that one wonders if that is Connolly’s intent.

The assertion that other powers – in light of the American targeted killing programme – may decide to start assassinating individuals can only be made by ignoring the extensive history of this literally ancient practice.

There are a great many reasons to object to the targeted killing programme. Some even have roots in human rights law. For example, the outdated laws concerning the detention of non-state combatants make killing them a smaller political problem than capturing them. In other words, human rights law has effectively made killing these leaders preferable to taking them alive, interrogating them and trying them.

But the major problem with the programme is that it prioritises the next kill mission over gathering intelligence. When it was recently revealed that military age adults killed in RPA strikes are automatically categorised as enemy combatants, there was justifiable outrage. But it also demonstrates that, often, we don’t know who we’re killing. Moreover, they encourage the worst trait in American intelligence-gathering: emphasis on technology over human intelligence. As General (ret.) Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, put it: “I hope we don’t use them to the exclusion of teaching people [foreign] languages, [and] sending people to live in foreign countries”.

Yet the objections I have raised would all exist even if RPAs didn’t, because the targeted killing programme or something very much like it would exist even if RPAs didn’t. The newest development in warfare this past decade is not technological or legal, but organisational: a truly global, stateless insurgency. But at root, the core concept of warfare – inflicting defeat, usually violently, upon an enemy in order to secure victory – is as relevant as ever. Criticisms of American strategy and tactics that fail to acknowledge this fact are doomed to irrelevance.

Updating The Status Of Human Rights

With the rise of new media, social networking, and citizen journalists in the future we may have a generation of informed citizens aware of their human rights.


Citizen Journalism


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]deologically, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created, a utopian world of transparency was decreed. This utopian ideal was imagined to be intricately linked to our apparently universal morals. And the media is a right in and of itself, due to its abilities to hopefully help stop future atrocities. Within the last quarter of a century, the news media has changed drastically, seeing the rise of twenty four hour broadcasting, the internet and the rise in citizen journalism through the pervasive use of Twitter. This constant noise has made sure the public is now having an active participatory role in media.

When we discuss the promotion of human rights we tend to mean the awareness of, and the prompt reporting of abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Much has been written about how established media outlets should promote human rights and how their perceived dogma is compromised by interested parties, and recent case studies have proven it is only with the public taking ownership of their ‘media’ that we are seeing a real difference being made.

Media and human rights both have blurred definitions. The power behind the media lies in the significance of freedom of expression, often linked with freedom of speech. It is a vitally important right for the media, as it is the method through which the expression of views takes public form. In its most recognized modern format this is Article 19. of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 is of pivotal importance as it impinges on other articles and if not fulfilled, many feel, can curb other rights; limiting democracy. However, there are different interpretations to the way this is understood internationally; there is a common recognition that the right to hold an opinion and freedom of expression can be seen as one composite right.  The right to a freedom of opinion is recognized as an absolute right; our freedom to express them is subjected to limitations by our respective governments.

We are all part of the media, and even more so now are in a new age populated by citizen journalists who act as government watchdogs. The relative anonymity of the internet means that the public feels comfortable in their freedom of expression.  Some argue that citizen journalism curtails the prevalence of yellow journalism and ideally brings to the forefront human rights violations as they pertain to the individuals currently in question. It used to be “an old cliché that journalists wrote the first draft of history”, now it is citizens all over the world whether they be partaking in the Arab Spring or writing for The Risky Shift. This means that we the citizens are the ones demanding for human right abuses to be culled, and we have the power. Or so we would like to think. But biases still remains, have a look at your twitter feed and you’ll notice that all those you follow have a similar political agenda.

This new media can be seen to inform traditional news, not entirely eliminating the need for professional journalists, who can then inform the wider public by reporting on human rights abuses through their own access to a global forum raising awareness and prompting action from bodies with power. New media has allowed us to be engaged with the events happening around us, and as such the ‘better’ citizens we become by being more informed. This is the type of media we need when promoting human rights; an investigative media that demands that we take notice and make a difference. If we are not going to be actively taught what our inherent rights are, new media will educate us.

State-owned media is known to be biased, sometimes blatantly; more often than not denying or not reporting human rights abuses. It may even report abuses in a positive light leading to news that is no less skewed than propaganda. Private media is not necessarily better as they often pursue power, and profit; as evidenced by the Leveson Inquiry. Thus there is a tendency to report “exciting” profitable news rather than cover social justice issues. The rise of social awareness and citizen journalism is a backlash towards corporate media. The manipulation of information to bolster national interests, or military and strategic objectives, both on behalf of private and public media especially in the current climate, is a reality all journalists face. However, it is thought that journalists of a high standard from independent media outlets will renounce this, but this is not always the case even if it should be. A lack of trust has begun to permeate the media that online news and citizen journalists have started to act as a buttress against the misinformation that traditional media spurs. It has also incited public debate on a more personal level to promote human rights and their abuses. In the last five years there has been a blind acceptance of what mass media has reported and its bias, however the public is now answering back and setting the agenda. That’s not to say this new citizen journalism isn’t privy to bias, you need to look no further than the furore surrounding Kony and ‘slacktivism’.

With the rise of new media, social networking, and citizen journalists in the future we may have a generation of informed citizens aware of their human rights.  With the help of new media to diversify news content, democracy will be placed at the forefront by the fact it is operated by citizens.When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, it was dreamt that each citizen would carry a copy and promote both theirs and their neighbors’ inherent rights. Although this was never the case, citizen journalists might be manipulating the dream for the 21st century.

Kony & Justice: A View From Uganda

There is no option but for the UPDF to continue their pursuit of LRA until Kony and all his commanders are captured and have them answer charges of crimes against humanity at the ICC.


kony hitler bin laden


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter all the mayhem visited upon the people of northern Uganda by the notorious Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army (LRA), it is unfortunate that there are those in the political realm who are pushing for amnesty to be granted to Major General Caesar Acellam, one of LRA’s top commanders, who was captured by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) this month.

This group of Kony and Acellam sympathizers need to be reminded of the horrendous crimes committed by the rag-tag LRA bandits against their fellow country men. The mobile LRA gang was started by Kony and his henchmen in January 1987 and went on to wreck havoc in northern Uganda for over 20 years, killing and maiming thousands of innocent civilians and driving well over 2 million people out of their homes. One of their killing fields was at Purengo, where they executed 30 civilians in 1989 and later massacred another 400 in Lamwo county, Kitgum district. They did not even spare young children when they raided St. Mary’s college in Aboke Apac district on October 10, 1996 and abducted 139 students taking them as sex slaves and enlisting others in the LRA army.

Kony and his group of butchers have murdered an estimated 30,000 people during the execution of their two-decade, ruthless rebellion in the northern part of the country. Under Kony and the now captured Acellam’s command, the LRA used machetes and hoes to maim their victims, chopping lips and ears off their captives. They raided schools and forced students to fight and kill their own relatives. Many of the surviving victims will never recover from the trauma visited upon them by the blood-stained hands of Kony, Acellam and those under their command.

Because of this near unprecedented cruelty, Kony, Acellam, and the wider LRA deserve no sympathy in the civilised world.

It has been 12 years since the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (often referred to as the International Criminal Court Statute or the Rome Statute), the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome. The statute, which came into force on July 1, 2002 and has since been ratified by 110 countries including Uganda, has drastically changed international criminal law as we have come to know it .

The Rome Statute, and its implementing agency the International Criminal Court, has in the short period of its existence ensured that perpetrators of crimes against humanity do not escape the rule of law. And the list of indicted suspects grows by the day; the latest being those accused of perpetuating crimes against humanity during the 2007/8 post election violence in Kenya.

Kony’s deputies – Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Raska Lukwiya – have also been indicted but are yet to face trial at the ICC. They stand accused of 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the people of northern Uganda in the last 20 years. Acellam, although not indicted by the ICC, was part of the criminal acts of Kony and the LRA for all these years: Acellam must not be allowed to hide from justice under the amnesty law.

Kony and Acellam have long duped the international community and the leadership in this country, costing the Ugandan taxpayer billions of shillings in wasted spending on the joke that was the Juba peace talks. It was clear from the onset of the talks that Kony – aware of the heinous crimes he has committed against humanity – would never surrender without putting up a fight.

That’s why there is no option but for the UPDF, supported by Uganda’s regional and international allies, to continue their pursuit of LRA until Kony and all his commanders are captured and have them answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ICC either here in Kampala or at the Hague.

Once a person has committed war crimes, as spelt out in the Rome Statute, then that person should not benefit from the provisions of our amnesty law. War crimes and crimes against humanity are international in nature and suspects can be picked from anywhere in the world by any spirited individual or state to arraigned them at the ICC for trial.

The UPDF should use all its capabilities and bring all resources to bear in this new effort to find Kony and his commanders to have them answer for their criminal acts. The UPDF should earn the support of the people of Uganda and hope our brothers and sisters in northern Uganda never suffer again the vicious brutality of Kony and the LRA.

Drones & The Missing Moral Compass

The US is sending out the message that it can target whom it wants, whenever it wants, with no repercussions for themselves. Other states will undoubtedly follow their dubious moral lead.


Reaper Drone


[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the 18th June, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions called on the United States to clarify its legal justification for killing, rather than capturing, those they suspect to be terrorists. As noted in many reports, these killings are now usually achieved by the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, aka drones. Praised for their speed and supposed accuracy, drones represent the greatest advance in military technology in the past ten years, and perhaps the greatest step backward in morality.

The use of drones in killing those assumed to be terrorists is seen as causing a loss of the moral high-ground and as a failure in moral leadership by the United States. The most recent high-profile death by drone was that of Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan on the 4th June. The operation was deemed ‘inhumane’ both by al-Libi’s brother and human rights campaigners. Al-Libi, second-in-command in Al-Qaeda, was obviously a strategically important target for the US, who stated that his death brought the organisation ‘closer to its ultimate demise than ever’.  Yet his death provoked moral outrage and statements of condemnation from Pakistan and international human rights organisations.

The technology, ostensibly the most accurate and least likely to cause civilian death, while used by many States (including the UK) finds its champion in the United States, who have embraced drones for reconnaissance and strategic targeting operations. With the ability to be controlled by a person in a room thousands of miles away from the scene of the operation, the immediacy of war disappears; some have called drone operating as akin to playing a video game. Whilst the use of drones is steeped in just war rhetoric, it is difficult to term such a strike ‘just’ when almost all of the losses are sustained by one side, while the other remains safely ensconced in a room far away.

The use of drones in the context of the al-Libi killing and other killings in Pakistan and Yemen represent a transgression of international law. Drone strikes, when undertaken in an armed conflict scenario against a combatant or civilian directly participating in hostilities (such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan) are sanctioned under international law. The U.S. is not engaged an armed conflict with Pakistan or Yemen. It is not possible under international law to be in an armed conflict with a transnational non-State organisation such as Al-Qaeda – an armed conflict requires violence between two or more States. Violence between a State and a terrorist organisation is governed by international human rights law. Human rights law requires that an individual be captured rather than killed if possible. Typically referred to as the ‘capture or kill’ dilemma, it appears that “the capture part has become largely theoretical.” Recent reports revealed that President Obama personally goes over a list of those deemed a threat to the US, and more often than not chooses to kill. Another worry rests on the fact that the remote drones used in the al-Libi killing and other such strikes are operated by the CIA. CIA agents are non-combatants, and thus have no right to take part in an armed conflict, if, as the US claim, that is what the violence between the US and Al-Qaeda is. The US invokes the rhetoric of war and law of war in order to legitimise their targeting of individuals away from the battlefield.

There are serious concerns raised by the lack of transparency of the drone programme, which has expanded in the three years since Obama took office. Prior to 2008, there were 48 targets killed by drones in 5 years ; 51 were targeted and killed in 2009 alone, and the attacks continue to increase. These figures account only for publicly recognised drone strikes – the programme is top-secret, and as such it is impossible to know exactly how many drone strikes have occurred. This also makes it exceedingly difficult to ascertain how many civilians have died as a result of drone attacks. The US figure ranges from between 50 to 60 in the past eight years, and in 2011 it was stated that civilian casualties were in single figures that year from drone strikes. This contradicts other reports, such as that from the Pakistani Human Rights Committee, which places the number of Pakistani casualties at 957 in 2010 alone, and by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which places the figure in the thousands.

We have almost no knowledge of what criteria must be fulfilled in order to be put on the ‘death list’- what constitutes a militarily strategic target, under what parameters a terrorist is defined, what threat level they must hold or how imminent a threat an individual must be. For those targeted for aiding terrorist activity, we do not know what falls under ‘aiding’, be it the providing of financial funding or the storing of weapons.  If an individual is wrongly targeted, we have no knowledge as to whether there is a system of accountability or who in the chain of command might be held responsible for the death of an innocent civilian.

Drone use and strikes will continue to increase as the technology becomes more widespread. On an individual state level, the international community has remained remarkably silent on the US’ excessive drone attacks, inadvertently lending them a tacit legitimacy. This will likely encourage the use of similar tactics by other states. Based as it is on reciprocity, the blatant flouting and disregard by the US of international law weakens the law as it discourages others from abiding by it. The lack of transparency is the most damaging aspect of the programme, both for America’s standing as a moral leader (which many will argue has been in decline for years) and for morality in war. The argument that drone strikes may not be the most moral option, but that they are the best option, is not good enough- capture may not be the easiest or most practical option but it should at the very least be considered. The US is sending out the message that it can target whom it wants, whenever it wants, with no repercussions for themselves. Other states will undoubtedly follow their dubious moral lead.

Al-Libi Meets The Business End Of A Drone

Whilst the death of an al-Qaeda strategist as brilliant as al-Libi should be celebrated, it should simultaneously be mourned: he provided us with better advice than we were able to produce ourselves at the time. 



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he death of Libyan-born Abu Yahya al-Libi, the “general manager” of al-Qaeda, has provoked a new round of debate over the use of drones by the United States. Many al-Qaeda leaders have met their end after encountering the business end of a drone (credit to John Quinn for dreaming up such a brilliant phrase), proving them a useful tool in the American military toolbox for eliminating threats in territory that they do not control.

As Andy Parsons amusingly puts it:

“We went into Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan to find al-Qaeda, now it appears that they (al-Qaeda) have left Afghanistan and gone to Pakistan. But we can’t actually go and find them in Pakistan because Pakistan is our friend and they’re still helping us look for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan has described the killing of al-Libi on Pakistani soil as “unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty”. But Pakistani protests over the presence of American troops conducting assassinations on Pakistani soil would be far greater, as would the effect on anti-American sentiment (bin Laden’s departure as a case in point). If one adheres to the argument that to counter the extremist group one must destroy its leadership, drones are undoubtedly the lesser evil.

This debate is not constrained to issues of sovereignty however. Following confirmation of the success of the strike by American authorities, the dead Libyan’s brother, Abu Bakr al-Qayed, asserted that “the way the Americans killed him is heinous and inhumane”. “Regardless of my brother’s ideology, or beliefs, he was a human being and at the end of the day deserves humane treatment”. This aspect of the debate – that of human rights – is one that I shall (happily) leave to one side in the knowledge that others more capable than myself will be tackling it on these pages shortly.

Al-Libi’s fame was born out of his escape from Bagram in July 2005, subsequently proving his worth as an al-Qaeda strategist and theologian. The “explosive cocktail of youth, rage, arrogance and intellect that has made him a force” among Jihadis was demonstrated when he provided the sole remaining superpower with unsolicited advice on how to defeat the militant Sunni group (Brachman 2008).

Amusingly the neutralization of senior leaders was a key point in his suggestions: al-Libi was a self-appointed target. His further recommendations can only be regarded as brilliant. He argued that America should focus on promoting the voices of those who had renounced extremism, in much the way that certain countries use former extremists within their deradicalisation programmes: what better person to use to discredit the movement than one who has been through it and come out the other side. Further, mainstream Imams should be encouraged to issue fatwas against al-Qaeda and its followers. By using such a line of attack, al-Qaeda’s appeal to potential recruits is dramatically lessened and the West may start to win the war of ideas.

Building upon that foundation, al-Libi suggested that America make up stories about the organisation and exaggerate its mistakes. If America were to insinuate that these fictitious or embellished events were inherent to the movement, the group’s public support would undoubtedly drop significantly. He mentions the damage done to the image of the organisation by rumours that al-Qaeda had imposed a death penalty on those who renounced its violent ideology.

The most pertinent argument provided is that of encouraging and strengthening Islamic movements that favour democracy. As Brachman asserts, Jihadist thinkers are threatened by such groups (the Muslim Brotherhood as an example) as they utilize the same texts to legitimize their world-view and appeal to the same kind of person. The Muslim Brotherhood are, evidently, eminently preferable to al-Qaeda.

To close, whilst the death of an al-Qaeda strategist as brilliant as al-Libi should be celebrated, it should simultaneously be mourned: he provided us with better advice than we were able to produce ourselves at the time. Jarret M. Brachman’s 2008 work Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice should be consulted by those that wish to read more upon this subject – I strongly recommend it.