Newer Entries »

A Chance For Change

2013 Jim Burman 100x150After more than two decades of war, there are glimmers of hope in Somalia.  Gains by UN-backed troops against the Al-Shabaab rebel group and the selection of a former human rights activist as the new president last year have created a sense that there may be a window of opportunity to move the country towards a more peaceful and prosperous future.
Since the nation’s dictator fell from power in 1991, the country has been without a central government.   In the vacuum that followed, fighting between warlords left vast swaths of the country’s people displaced and impoverished while a privileged few profited from the war economy.  With a semblance of security returning, it seems possible that a new order might begin to prevail and bring benefits to a widening circle of Somalis.
A key to any sustained recovery will be increasing opportunities for all Somalis to participate in the rebuilding of their country through paid employment.  Among those seeking to generate jobs and increase prosperity in Somalia is an organization based outside of Denver, Colorado, called Shuraako.  The group, whose name means partnerships in Somali, aims to boost employment-generating investments in the nation.
While the Somali people have shown remarkable economic resilience and ingenuity during the last two decades, there are significant challenges as the country seeks to re-integrate economically with the world.  The informal, often innovative, arrangements that have served the people during these times of turmoil may need to be modified if Somalia hopes to attract investment and increase trade.
Among its different activities, Shuraako hopes to serve as a resource for those seeking to navigate this transition towards international economic norms.  In support of this work, I have been researching land tenure practices in Somalia as well as international financial regulations and their impact on the country.   These first few weeks have been intellectually very engaging and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my cosmopolitan group of colleagues.  Overall, I hope my work this summer will contribute in some small way to helping Somalia seize this chance to head in a new direction.

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.



“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.

Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Somali Situation

2013 Andrew Hidgon 100x150Andrew Higdon, Oceans Beyond Piracy, Colorado USA.

Far from an 18th or 19th Century problem, maritime piracy continues to exact a humanitarian toll on seafarers and an economic toll on the global economy. While dangers exist in the vicinity of the Malacca Strait and the Gulf of Guinea, the waters near Somalia form the seas most well known for their pirates. Somali piracy has achieved greater notoriety than piracy elsewhere largely as a result of a massive spike in activity that began in 2008 – 2009. Several large vessels were taken hostage by pirates, and the world media began to pay attention.

Somalia is unfortunately an ideal environment for pirates. As a failed state, there is little law enforcement capacity or interest in establishing rule of law. Further, the crushing poverty in Somalia drives some to crime. Finally, Somalia is located by the Gulf of Aden, through which the vast majority of European trade with Asia passes. The confluence of factors makes a career as a pirate all too tempting for some Somali men. The problem began to escalate quickly. In 2011 more than 3,500 seafarers suffered attacks by pirates, and more than 500 were taken hostage.

Since it is difficult to acquire sophisticated equipment in Somalia, pirates use small boats with outboard motors to attack. Pirates attempt to manoeuver alongside “deep-sea” ships unnoticed and then scale ropes or ladders to get on deck. Once aboard, they seize the bridge of the ship, take the crew hostage, and re-route the ship to an anchorage near the shores of Somalia. Since these pirate anchorages lack the facilities to unload large ships, the pirates do not steal cargo. Instead, they ransom the ship and the seafarers back to the shipping company and owners. This attack-and-ransom profile is different from pirate attacks elsewhere in the world and puts additional stress on seafarers, who are often held for long periods of time while they wait to be ransomed. Some of these mariners do not survive, and some are very clearly tortured during their captivity. Since the crews of merchant ships are disproportionately chosen from the poorer nations of the world and are paid only modestly, it seems an additional affront that they must endure the greatest share of the burden.

Fortunately the international community has responded. Many countries sent naval forces to protect World Food Program vessels and merchant traffic. The Royal Canadian Navy continues to participate in Operation Ocean Shield, the NATO contribution. International organizations set up “sharing centres” where merchant ships could share their planned route and coordinate with available military assets.  Perhaps most significantly, sharing centres began to promulgate Best Management Practices (BMPs) to merchant ships to help teach mariners ways to decrease the likelihood of attack. Some of these practices are as simple as speeding up through High Risk Areas (HRAs). Pirates in small boats have a tremendously difficult time boarding fast moving targets. However, the shipping industry runs on razor thin profit margins, and increasing the speed of ships is inefficient and very costly. In 2012, shipping companies paid more than $1.5 billion in extra fuel costs associated with the faster speeds recommended in BMPs.

Thankfully, these measures have made a difference. It has been more than a year since a ship was reported to be successfully hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. However, shipping companies continue to spend billions of dollars re-routing ships away from the HRA and buying additional fuel to achieve faster speeds. The international community also expends billions of dollars keeping a naval presence in the area. Another major expense is the placement of Private Military Security Company (PMSC) personnel aboard merchant ships. These armed guards used to be hired from among retired Special Forces personnel from Western militaries, but increasingly are being chosen from less reputable armed forces at more affordable rates. While PMSC personnel generate a very effective deterrent (no ship has been successfully hijacked off the coast of Somalia with PMSC personnel embarked) they potentially add a new facet to the problem. On the high seas, where criminal jurisdiction is hard to enforce, there is little to restrain a “shoot first, ask questions later” fire policy. Unfortunately, there are already cases where PMSC personnel appear to have misidentified fishermen with fatal consequences. These cases will prove to be exceptionally difficult to prosecute.

Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), where I am doing my internship, is part of a larger project called the One Earth Future Foundation (OEF). OBP pursues long-term solutions to the many issues surrounding piracy worldwide. In Somalia, this means bringing shareholders from industry, government and third parties together with sound research and analysis. So far I have been asked to conduct research on points of international law, especially questions about criminal jurisdiction at sea. The people who work here are knowledgeable and dedicated, and it’s been very exciting to work with them. I’m looking forward to the next few months immensely!

Newer Entries »
Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.