Conversations (48)

It’s true that there are disagreements about human rights – but that’s nothing new. For many years countries argued economic and social rights should prevail over civil and political rights, and it was widely viewed as a way of negating the value of fundamental human rights altogether. Then the Soviet Union began to accept a formula citing all rights as universal, indivisible and interrelated – and deserving the same emphasis. The Western countries accepted economic and social rights fully and even began creating special experts to monitor them.

China slowly entered the UN’s human rights bodies and moved from rejection and/or ‘cherishing obscurity” to accepting seven human rights treaties and affirming universality of rights. But all this time, they tried to keep the rights field isolated in Geneva (and not permeating the Security Council or other UN work in New York), underfunded and hence, without much effect. They also tried to change the meaning of rights – turning the terms and paradigms upside-down, so to speak.

This struggle continues and it is one of the reasons why having the UK and US remain in the Human Rights Council is so important – rights would be eviscerated and emptied of their longstanding meaning if these were left to some of the deniers. They would become something like states’ rights rather than individual rights. Sovereignty would trump individual freedom, so to speak.

Slowly, case by case, human rights has been recognized as relevant or even central to the resolution of security problems the UN is dealing with. This struggle continues, mostly case by case, notwithstanding the efforts of some countries to call them by derogatory names or dilute the meaning of universality.
Thank you for the links, Felice.

Quick question – how can we place human rights at the heart of the UN’s work when many countries disagree with one another as to what constitutes a human right? Is this not just, to quote the China Ambassador, ‘another neo-colonial tool of oppression’?
Enjoy Mexico, Prof – hope the conference is engaging and stimulating, and look forward to continuing our discussions in person after you return home.
I definitely think the Tories can make deals with homophobes and misogynists. There’s no serious majority, nor even appetite, to re-open those types of issues at Westminster, and the sheer idea of re-winding the clock on them, as if the government doesn’t have enough on its plate right now, is borderline comical. By contrast, the idea that the Tories can bring in the DUP without jeopardising the peace in Northern Ireland is self-deluded even by the Tories’ recently unprecedented standards.

Off to Mexico now, and wondering the country will even be here when I return!
Tackling the root causes of forced migration has to be a key plank in EU policies. That means not only seeking resolutions to numerous conflicts creating refugee flows (Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, to name just a few) but also addressing the whole range of human rights abuses that make life in home countries—and countries of first asylum or migration—untenable. And to be clear, I am referring here not only to civil and political rights abuses that come to mind when we talk about asylum seekers and refugees. I am also including social, economic, and cultural rights violations. Many of those risking their lives in the central Mediterranean will not qualify for international protection, though many could arguably qualify for humanitarian leave to stay, either due to hardships back home or abuse experienced along their migration journey. Others started out their journeys as trafficking victims, while still others became victims of trafficking along the way. (The neat divisions traced in international and European law between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees don’t hold up very well in the light of day. A Syrian refugee also wants a decent job and education for her children; the young man from Guinea hoping for greater economic opportunities also craves more freedoms and a life lived in safety.)

Conflict resolution, improving the lives of migrants and refugees in neighboring countries, a human-rights based foreign policy – all vital, all regularly included in EU programs and press releases. As has been noted, however, the reality is quite different. The EU aid and foreign policy has pivoted decisively towards migration control objectives rather than improving respect for human rights. The Partnership Framework for relations with third countries represents a clear articulation of the EU’s goal, significantly re-energized over the past 18 months, to intensify migration cooperation with countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia with the objectives of preventing irregular migratory flows to Europe and facilitating the removal of rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants from EU territory.

In any event, improving conditions and freedoms in origin and transit countries are very long-term goals. In the meantime, EU countries need to show genuine leadership in the global displacement crisis and get serious about measures to minimize the need for dangerous migration journeys. That means refugee resettlement commensurate with EU capacity and global needs; support for the UN refugee agency UNHCR to expand its capacity to process resettlement; innovative programs for private sponsorship, employment and education visas for refugees; expanding, rather than limiting, family reunification options; increased use of humanitarian visas; and expanded legal migration opportunities for workers at all skill levels. It also means ensuring robust search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

No amount of safe and legal channels will reduce irregular migration to zero. People will continue to come, with or without life jackets but definitely with rights. Those rights cannot be sacrificed in the name of deterrence. Everyone should be treated decently, receive necessary care, and have access to information and legal advice about every procedure affecting their rights and liberties, whether they are applying for asylum, may have humanitarian or other grounds to remain in an EU country, or have been detained pending deportation.

As a human rights activist, I base my work on the belief that positive change is possible. That has become increasingly difficult as we see EU governments close Europe’s doors to refugees and make life harder for those already here. But I still have to believe that EU countries can adopt responsible and compassionate policies.
Well, when it comes to the question of resolving the Syrian war, I am not very hopeful - carefully spoken. While during the Obama administration any solution to the Syrian crisis suffered from the lack of political will in Washington (and Europe) to seriously engage, under Trump we are now even lacking the intellectual capacity.

Maria is totally right in laying out the figures that relativize the size of the European refugee crisis. But I’m not sure the numbers are of great help on the policy advocacy side. European governments have used the same numbers to argue for the need to separate those in need for international protection from those not entitled to any form of protection, the so-called “economic migrants.” They’ve argued assistance to refugees should prioritize helping them to stay near their countries of origin instead of them coming to Europe. All reasonable arguments, but as Maria has also shown on the example of the EU’s distortion of its developmental aid policy, this narrative is contradicted by the EU’s real political performance, and thus merely serves as a cover up.

The real problem is the EU’s lack of internal political will and capacity to seriously, strategically deal with a structural political problem. That’s why since March 2016, we have seen efforts by the EU to arrange a deal with the non-existing Libyan government, but no engagement in the Libyan state-failure nor any progress towards a coordinated European immigration policy that would ease the pressure of economic migration.

Regarding supporting refugees near their home countries – well, it may be worth comparing with the last refugee crisis Europe hit during the 1990s Balkan wars. I well remember how when the Bosnian war broke out, the only policy measure the German Kohl government’s took was – to introduce visas for Bosnian citizens in order to prevent them from coming to Germany. Yet back then, Bosnians could still reach the neighboring countries. Since the end of the recent European refugee crisis, Syrians in Syria basically find themselves locked up in their war-torn country, as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have de facto closed their borders with the neighboring country. This is a unique, deeply sad case in history. And it will ultimately backfire – for the EU, Europe and the West as a whole.

Many thanks Caroline --

One point of at least partial agreement.  You write that,  "before the vote, very few people kicked up a fuss about having it. Cameron, Corbyn, and Sturgeon presumably thought the British people would vote to remain, so they allowed it to go ahead."

Of course, many people did kick up a fuss.  Many pro-Remain politicians and experts signaled loudly and clearly the dangers of populist adventurism at the polling stations, given the incalculable consequences of Brexit.  You're right of course that party leaders ignored those warnings, though certainly not motivated by the country's best interests.  Cameron wanted to unify the Tory Party and Sturgeon was only ever eying independence.  As for Corbyn, would he even know how to manage the budget of your local Frisbee team? 

Also -- only partial agreement on your view about a second referendum.  First, from a legal standpoint, let's be clear.  There is absolutely no way any government can foreclose future legislation simply by tossing around brochures with the inscription "This is your last chance, folks!".   Indeed what is even meant by "generation"?  Does the present "generation" end, say, at 4:36 am on Christmas 2028?  Or 5:28 pm on St George's Day 2043?  Only in British politics could so many people take such a gesture to be anything more than empty rhetoric.  If final and definitive law could be made simply by the government in power passing around leaflets -- phrased in such open-ended terms -- Her Majesty's Stationery Office would be busy indeed.  There is no such thing as irreversible legislation, except maybe in North Korea. 

However, if your real point is about PR, namely, that the public would simply resent it -- "Keep voting until you deliver the result we want" -- then, yes, that's a plausible and a weighty objection.  I'm tempted to propose a Referendum About Having Another Referendum, simply to punish everyone for their stupidity.  

You and I do probably agree, then, on the most important point.  Ultimately, this all remains in Parliament's hands, including what I believe could be a wholly compelling and wholly dignified withdrawal of the Article 50 declaration.  That's why I continue to insist on the democratic illegitimacy of the referendum.  That point needs to be repeated as often as necessary, so that if Parliament does face an overriding case against exiting, then perhaps it can change course with greater confidence of the electorate.

Yours with trust eternal in the forces of boringly sober moderation,

Hi Eric,

A second referendum is absolutely not an option, ever since both Cameron and the opposition supported the government's leaflets to every household in Britain that stated the "The EU referendum is a once in a generation decision". It was clear that Cameron would enforce the decision and put an end to the debate. It just so happened that the decision didn't go his way. The Tories and Labour were happy to insist that this was our only chance to get out of the EU, and for democracy to say "Ok, now the deliberation stops!" if it had been a win for remain.

There must come a point when politicians make decisions on our behalf. A referendum was not necessarily the best option; as we all know, referendum reduce complex and intricate decisions down to the tick of a box. But before the vote, very few people kicked up a fuss about having it. Cameron, Corbyn, and Sturgeon presumably thought the British people would vote to remain, so they allowed it to go ahead.

Cameron's arrogance meant that he thought he could send a few propaganda leaflets out and that everyone would believe him and vote to remain. They saw through it, and voted with their heads and their hearts, not through fear of the great unknown. Yes, no one knew what would happen if we voted leave, but similarly, no one knew what would happen if we voted to stay. Merkel would have had our heads on the block before Cameron could even utter his victory speech. If the referendum was indeed a "once in a generation decision" that the EU knew we wouldn't have again, they would take us for every penny we are worth. Deep down, many leave voters knew that not only did they not like the ties to Brussels as it stood, but not one remain campaigner could say what kind of deal we would get had we stayed, and that's what sent them to the polling booths ticking leave.

The bottom line of a referendum is, there are no simple or clear solutions to a simplistic question. What May has done, is what she feels is best for her country. And if that's to call a snap election, to make the best success of Brexit that she can, then that's the best thing for the country at the moment. Of course, she is also strengthening her party in the process; taking advantage of the opposition's disorganisation and lack of unity. But Brexit is not only affected by what goes on in Brussels, but also by what goes on in the UK. The Times recently claimed that more Britons trust May to sort out the NHS than Corbyn. She is also a firm believer in bringing back Grammar Schools. This election is not only about the legal ties to the EU, but it is about taking Britain back to where the electorate wants it to be. Free education for bright yet poor pupils, a better health service that is for the working people of Britain, and freedom from the shackles of Brussels.

If that means democracy, then I'm all for it.

Thank you both again for joining us, if I may pose one final question to each of you.

Bodo, there is a notion that member countries must have domestic support and compatibility with NATO's stated goals. Yet, the latest polls out of Montenegro presenting mixed results from the general population, with roughly 40% polling each for vs. against.
Isn't there a risk of lowering standards for membership?

And to Jeffrey, you've written at length about your vision and strategy for detente - how leveraging Georgia & Ukraine present an opportunity to smooth over the rising tensions between Russia and the West. Those countries specifically are clearly the most at-risk of needing military assistance to protect their borders, and therefore couldn't the argument be made that they are actually more deserving, or in need, of NATO's backing?
In an attempt to bring back the conversation more directly to the topic of the day with the US Senate vote scheduled for Monday.

I note, we could go nary a single question without a lengthy discussion on how this decision effects Russian relations? Is Montenegro then, in this instance, just a pawn in a larger game?

Is there any room at all to parse the country out of the bigger picture where we can question, as US Senator Rand Paul suggests, what is the value Montenegro adds to the Alliance as a whole? Or is it like Sen. McCain declares, that anyone who does not support their accession is "working for Vladimir Putin?"