Human Rights Protection & The Game of Thrones

2012 Laura Rhodes 100x150 bLaura Rhodes

One of the cultural differences I notice, is that when Americans speak about whether Obama should intervene militarily in Syria, there is a certain heft to their consideration. As a Canadian, my impulse is toward diplomatic solutions, perhaps reflective of my status as a citizen of a middle power and realistic in terms of the action I might expect of my government. It also leaves me with less responsibility for the tough decisions. After all, Canada would only ever be a member of the “coalition of the willing”, not the spearhead. Does the relative effectiveness of our national strategies to enact global political change impact the depth and tenor of our respective cultural dialogues and moral deliberations ?

 

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At the Canada Day party thrown by our American colleagues

 

We sat down to discuss different options in Syria as part of our reading club. Syria is starting to be seen by some as as a failure of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) resolve to intervene to protect civilians from war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide (Stewart M Patrick, online: <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/06/does-syria-mean-the-end-of-the-responsibility-to-protect/276866>). As recently as 2011, RtoP was invoked by the Security Council to authorize “all necessary measures to protect civilians” from widespread and systematic attacks by the Qadhafi regime in Libya.

Our group agreed at least on the minimization of Syrian civilian deaths as a moral good. Yet, we totally disagreed on the strategies, and I noticed my naïveté and discomfort with the language of geopolitics. Over the course of an hour, an initial position advocating for intervention in support of the Free Syrian Army’s just cause had been substantially counter-weighted with an empirical argument in support of al-Assad as the most likely candidate to end the conflict first, thus minimizing the number of deaths. The consensus in the room had started to converge toward the option of the US doing nothing, although really no conclusion had been reached. Of course, we all seemed to agree that everything that could be done from a humanitarian perspective should be immediately deployed, just short of intervening in the civil war. When asked for our Canadian perspectives, I said something about Canada as a peace broker to resolve the larger political tensions in Syria, convening Russia and the US, the new Iranian president and the Saudi Arabian leadership.

 

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Mass Protest in Syria

It was a deeply uncomfortable human rights conversation in a conference room in Broomfield, CO, about the lives of people in Aleppo, Homs, Qusair, Khalidiya and other Syrian communities. The vision of the One Earth Future Foundation, “an Earth beyond war”, started to seem remote, as did the the RtoP principle of “respond(ing) to situations of compelling human need” (ICISS, “The Responsibility to Protect: Core Principles”).

Overall, looking forward to resolving some of the ambiguity I feel, and perhaps accessing better tools for deliberation in human rights, especially for discussion of the jus cogens crimes / human rights violations covered under RtoP.

And, appreciative of the opportunity to have my deeply Canadian peace-keeping assumptions thrown into sharp (geopolitical) relief.

Business’ Role in Atrocity Prevention

2012 Laura Rhodes 100x150The voracious appetite for minerals, fossil fuels of all description, and capacity for energy production continues to grow. The activities associated with extracting, harnessing, processing and transporting all of these valued resources can compromise other goods in society, such as essential resources like agricultural capacity, fisheries, water and forests.

In this already tense context, some researchers have shown that existing divisions within global society can widen due to increasing perceptions of resource scarcity. If tensions escalate, civil conflicts and war may occur.

 

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“I tell you, if man continues to destroy the earth, these winds will return with even more force … not once … but many times … sooner or later. These winds will destroy us all.

We all breathe one only air, we all drink one only water, we all live on one only earth. We must all protect it. 

Home invasions began again. Woodcutters and gold diggers do not respect the reserve. We do not have the means to protect this vast forest which we are guardians for all of you.”

— Chief Raoni on the hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River in Brasil

 

The One Earth Future Foundation (OEF) seeks to disrupt such inevitabilities. “Peace through Governance” is the byline on staff members’ email signature. In the first week of the internship, the Director of Research and Development of this fairly young non-profit organization sat us down to review and give feedback on OEF’s iteratively developing “internal logic framework”, which includes the organization’s belief that humans engage in cooperative behaviour because cooperation provides specific benefits at the individual or group level. OEF relies on game theory, as well as such recent books as Winning the War on War by Joshua S Goldstein and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker to support this somewhat optimistic belief.

As a result of this inspiring organizational logic perhaps, the office is filled with colleagues lit up about the work we are doing together. Its a wonderful positive work environment and an ideal learning environment for human rights interns.

Digging further into the logic, OEF believes that violent conflicts arise in the absence of governance systems and is thus interested in the promotion of “good governance”, which is not synonymous with democracy per se but does include governance that is perceived as legitimate (Keohane, Robert (2000) “Governance in a Partially Globalized World” (Presidential Addess, American Political Science Association, 2000) and governance which protects a “thin list” of human rights including security, subsistence and liberty (Buchanan, Allen and Keohane, Robert (2006) “The Legitimacy of Global Governance Institutions” Ethics and International Affairs 20:4 at 405).

OEF remains somewhat agnostic about the UN and does not pursue global governance on all matters, just those truly global matters which affect a significant proportion of the world’s inhabitants. Indeed, regional multi-level working groups convened on an ad hoc basis, such as the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), appear to be a better fit to achieve good governance of regional matters. Notably, the participation of  business entities in CGPCS, such as the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), Bimco, Intercargo, Intertanko and the International Chamber of Shipping, working alongside states on five CGPCS working groups, has been “indispensable” (Carl P Salicath, Senior Advisor, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), allowing actors with well-defined interests in countering piracy to participate in largely de-politicized and pragmatic discussions (Danielle A Zach, D Conor Seyle and Jens Vestergaard Madsen, “Burden-sharing Multi-level Governance: The Case of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia”). CGPCS appears to have achieved results, although the attribution is somewhat uncertain, but as of 2012, Somali pirate attacks dropped by almost 80 percent from a year earlier, with 851 seafarers fired upon in 2012, compared with 3,863 in 2011.

Overall, the role of business in achieving peace through governance is prominent at OEF. The founder of the organization is a very successful business entrepreneur who seeks to invest in a better world. He believes that his wealth is a blessing and that he, and other successful entrepreneurs, have a responsibility to do something positive with that wealth. It is easy to see how an organizational ethic placing business in a stewardship role could emerge at OEF.

It’s a bit of a paradigm shift for me, as the emphasis in most traditional human rights classes and conversations falls on the responsibility of states. We did spend one class on the responsibility of corporations in the context of human rights in Professor Mégret’s class last term, yet it was the last class and somewhat preempted by discussion of the upcoming exam. In addition, the disappointing new limitation on the availability of human rights claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act in the United States in the US Supreme Court’s recent judgment in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum appears to point away from corporate liability for human rights abuses.

Even so, my first task has been to comprehensively report on the potential for both criminal and civil corporate liability for either complicity or participation in the gravest of human rights abuses, including war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. At the outset, this should be an easier link to draw, as these crimes are largely jus cogens and moral consensus is strong around their prevention. Further, my team in the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) program is wrapping up its research phase, and moving on to implementation, which will likely involve making the “business case for atrocity prevention” (as strange a concept as that might appear to be) to business leaders, particularly in those resources industries which operate in so-called “conflict prone zones”.

Overall, I am using my background in sustainable development to bring what I see as the reality of climate change and declining resources to every conversation, and also relying on the organization’s optimism about human cooperation to buoy my perspective and maintain an open mind about what business leaders could possibly contribute to good governance and prevention of atrocities in areas where the race for resources is heating up and society is fractured by pre-existing (and manipulated) tensions over group difference. I understand that business is often well-placed with information and capabilities on the ground to “protect, respect and remedy” human rights (Ruggie Report on Business and Human Rights, 2010) and from my experience of working in Rwanda in 2010, I have also seen how people can be more willing to see themselves in the context of “we’re all Rwandans” if good work and career opportunities seem to be available to all through increasing national prosperity, driven by business investment.

Overall, Colorado is welcoming and warm. Luckily, I have remained out of the path of tornados and forest fires so far. Looking forward to the rest of the summer and future blog reflections. To all my colleagues across the globe, enjoy this learning opportunity and see you in the fall.

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