Mexico: Lady Pofeco, a return to the old PRI?
Tomislav Lendo, Visiting Professor, IDCR
© 2013 Tomislav Lendo all rights reserved.
In July 2012, when the PRI won Mexico’s Presidential election, the question that was open was whether this meant a normal transfer of power between two parties as in any democracy or if it meant a “return to the authoritarian past”. A party that had ruled Mexico for over 70 years, holding most elected positions in the country both at the national and local level, was back in the Presidency after only a 12 years leave of absence. There were plenty of reasons to be worried about it. After all, many of the institutions that had served as pillars of the “ancient regime” were still in place.
Most Mexican citizens had been born under an authoritarian system with all the cultural implications that this may have. Furthermore, in certain regions of the country, the PRI had continued to rule uninterruptedly to the extent that moving from democracy to authoritarianism or the other way round in Mexico did not imply a travel in time but in space. Political practices in places such as Veracruz, Durango, Estado de Mexico and many others had not changed much and were lagging behind the somewhat more democratic and modern practices that characterize political life at the national level.
After only five months of the PRI back in the national government we can start assessing how threatening this might be for Mexico’s still young democracy. A recent incident, silly if you like, helps to illustrate the point. The daughter of a high ranking federal officer was not offered the table she wanted in a Mexico City’s restaurant. After arguing with the restaurant owner she threatened to send authorities to close down the place. She happens to be the daughter of the head of the Federal Prosecutors Office for the Rights of Consumers (Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor).
Two hours later federal agents arrived to the premises and began procedures to close down the place with dubious arguments. The customers in the restaurant realised that it was an arbitrary action and fought back. They only needed to take out their mobile phones and record the scene for the agents to back off. Quickly, the story reached the social networks and the national press. Apologies came soon after from both the Profeco Lady, as she came to be known, and her father. An investigation was announced by the Federal Government at the highest level to see if there was wrongdoing and to take the appropriate measures.
This scene was clearly reminiscent of the old PRI times when the will of the powerful was above duties, rights and liberties. For obvious reasons the whole affair has unleashed national debate and it has been portrayed as one clear example of how the PRI is back with all its arsenal of authoritarian practices. That may or may not be truth but what is really noteworthy is what these emissaries from the past had to face up. In the past these kinds of abuses from authorities were taken for granted. They were considered part of the system. They might have been disliked, but none did anything about them. Trying to fight them was deemed, if anything, as a waste of time.
Things are different today and that is mainly because, during these last few years, citizens have become more conscious of their rights. Mexican citizens have gained power in their relationship with their authorities. A pluralistic party system, a greater freedom of press, the exercise of civil rights and a wider access to social networks has empowered citizens vis-a-vis the State and vis-a-vis the powerful ones. How this particular affair ends up remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that in this occasion citizens stood there to prevent a clear abuse of power.
It can be argued that this is about middle-class Mexico City and other Mexicans in different contexts may not be as empowered. That is truth but, in my opinion, these are steps in the right direction. Only the citizens will be able to prevent a return to the authoritarian past. There is still a lot to be done at the institutional level no doubt about it. For instance at the same time that the Lady Profeco affair was developing, opposition parties were threatening to leave the “Pacto por Mexico”, an agreement between all major political parties to carry out structural reforms, because a plan to use poverty alleviation programs to manipulate elections in Veracruz was uncovered. It is undoubtedly the duty of political parties to prevent electoral fraud and the misuse of public resources from happening. But in the end, the citizens are the ones who have the leading role in ushering out authoritarian temptations.
Dr. Tomislav Lendo is a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution. He obtained his PhD in Government from the University of Essex, and his MSc in Public Policy from the University of London QMUL. He has specialised in Political Communication. He was Chief Speechwriter for both President Vicente Fox and President Felipe Calderon. During his 12 years at Mexico’s presidential office, he wrote or supervised all Presidential messages and briefed the President for his interviews with both, the national and international media. He participated in cabinet meetings regarding all public policy sectors. He provided general guidelines for Mexico’s Federal Government messages on the most relevant current issues. Previously he served at the Mexican Ministry of Social Development (Secretaria de Desarrollo Social) as General Director of Social Studies. In the academic sector, he has taught in areas such as anthropology, politics and public policy. He has participated in conferences both in Mexico and Europe and published several papers on public policy and Latin-American politics.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its new report on measuring human rights yesterday. This report is the result of a wide ranging set of consultation with national and international stakeholders and experts that have taken place since 2005.
Professor Todd Landman, Director of the IDCR has been working on the issue of human rights measurement since his arrival at the University of Essex in 1993. He has taken part in a large number of workshops, seminars and consultations around the world on statistics and human rights and with Dr Edzia Carvalho of the University of Aberdeen is the author of Measuring Human Rights(London and Oxford: Routledge 2010).
He attended a number of sessions in Geneva at the OHCHR along with Professor Paul Hunt from the School of Law at the University of Essex, who drafted the outline framework adopted by the UN for organising its approach to human rights measurement.
The report is available by clicking HERE.
When we fall asleep, democracy suffers
Vinson Valega, Jazz Musician, Composer and Director of the Consilience Project, New York City
© 2012 Vinson Valega all rights reserved.
Jazz music, America’s true art form, has always embodied freedom through individual participation in a group setting. Within a shared framework, ideas made of sounds flow from one musician to another in a conversation that serves the greater good of the music, creating an atmosphere where the participants are free to express. But this freedom is only possible when each musician is committed to the democratic ideal, where the give and take among disparate voices makes the music blend. In this way, jazz is a direct by-product of the American experience — founded upon individual expression and freedom, honed by intense competition, and devoted through participation to the greater good.
Even though we think of America as a cauldron of individuality competing within a meritocracy, the communal aspect of jazz is an equally important American trait. Certainly, the idea that you’re supposed to “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” has contributed to the tension between this duality of the individual and the group. Overall, though, it’s worked fairly well over the past two centuries, with the one glaring exception, of course, being the American Civil War from 1861-1865, when more than 600,000 Americans killed each other. The seeds of this conflagration were planted when the forefathers decided to leave the slave issue for later generations to settle, and perhaps it was inevitable that it would lead to war. Nonetheless, without the freeing of the slaves, America would have never given birth to jazz.
It’s no coincidence that this music was born in New Orleans from 1880 onwards, when the rhythms from the African slave trade blended with the harmonies brought over from our European forefathers. The country was ripe for a new type of music, made possible by the explosion of the Civil War, which set free these two components of jazz. Lay on top of that musical cauldron in New Orleans a commitment to hard work, freedom, and excellence, and you have the birth of the American jazz movement at the end of the 19th century.
Another truly unique American cultural story that preceded jazz by a few decades was the ground breaking “Poet of Democracy,” Walt Whitman. Not only did he reinvent poetry in a completely American way, we might even call him our first jazz poet! He spent most of the last half of the 19th century riffing on the outrageous and active splendor of an American population teeming with vitality. His poetry has the power of John Coltrane, the sophistication of Charlie Parker’s rhythmic ingenuity, and the intense imagination of Duke Ellington.
While Whitman was in awe of the incredible diversity he witnessed surrounding him, he was also convinced that a participatory democracy was the only path that could realize an egalitarian society. He had witnessed first hand the destruction of the Civil War while he nursed wounded soldiers back to life, and yet was convinced that the American experiment could not and would not be snuffed out. His poetry encapsulates the optimism found throughout the history of this country, even in the face of the catastrophic destruction of the War Between the States.
Yet, the world that Whitman describes in his masterpiece, “Leaves of Grass,” appears obscured here in the 21st century. Social media distracts us from the physical contact of our fellow citizen: it’s all too easy to remain focused on the computer screen, or the next, best, bouncy, shiny object passing by. We are brainwashed to believe that nothing will change, forgetting that things got the way they are because of choices by previous citizens and therefore can be changed by those of us here and now in 2012!
Indeed, it’s all too easy these days to forget Whitman’s world of focus, vitality, and enthusiasm, and to believe that we can’t make a difference. Likewise, it’s easy to forget that jazz music is still a vital American experience, one that comes from conflict, but is still able to strike an amazing balance between individuality and group behavior while continually evolving as an art form. Although jazz used to be America’s pop music, it has become marginalized in this country much like poetry and dance. These three art forms — jazz, poetry, and dance — take time to digest, understand, and feel. The tools we have to facilitate instantaneous communication make it more and more difficult to slow down, understand, and participate.
I wonder if we’ve fallen asleep and forgotten what it means to engage in the music of our society, of our communities, of our own lives. You wonder if it’s capitalism’s last gasp, not unlike a cancer that ravages a body until it can no longer function, sputtering out into oblivion. A dark thought, perhaps, but I bet that Whitman would probably find a way to turn this situation into something positive!
Just as jazz music is made possible only through the intense participation of each musician on the bandstand, our society is only able to function when its citizens become involved – actively involved. It’s this clarion call to action that jazz trumpets out loud. I used to think that my voice was too meek to make an impact in my community, but I have found that by speaking up and engaging in the “push-back,” I have been able to effect change, if only on a small scale. If we don’t get involved, someone or some entity will, and that person or company very likely will not have our best interests in mind. In fact, I would go so far as to ask: if you’re not participating, and someone else is determining your future, how free are you?
We can still learn from jazz music if we only put down our iPads and observe how intensely involved each musician is on the bandstand, how completely free he or she is when blowing a solo that is supported by his or her fellow band mates. This story, this model of freedom and individuality and community support, is a story that can only come out of the American experience.
Plus, the music just feels so darn good!
When we fall asleep, our democracy suffers.
When we are awake, possibility and hope thrive.
Vinson Valega is a jazz drummer, composer and political activist based in New York City. He has has several CDs, including Biophilia, El Medico de Coqui, Awake, Consilience and Live @147; Consilience Productions is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, created to promote a “dialogue BEYOND music” through performance and education. Its mission is to bring fellow citizens together with music to involve them in important issues of the day, helping to create a better world for all by raising awareness & inspiring change.
con*sil”i*ence, n: from the latin, consilere, formed from con,”with,” and “salire,” to leap; an interlocking of explanations of cause and effect between disciplines. An act of concurrence; coherence; jumping together.
Democracy and Development in Nepal
Ben Britton, Mountain Trust
© 2012 Ben Britton all rights reserved.
In Nepal there is a pop song about a dam project to supply the Kathmandu Valley with drinking water. Prosaic maybe, but the story of the Melamchi Water Supply Project illustrates the problems of Nepal’s development struggle and the last two decades of democracy. The song’s upbeat melody belies the truth of the visceral disappointment that many Nepalis feel about the troubled water supply project and, more generally, of democracy in Nepal.
The saga of democracy in Nepal is not so much a tale of the ebb and flow of a tide but of a series of dramatic sea-changes interspersed with prolonged bouts of stagnation. Democracy first came to Nepal in the 1950s directly in the wake of the Indian democratic movement. It was a brief flirtation and ended with the King assuming ever greater powers unchecked by the nascent and yet undeveloped checks and balances of the effective democratic state.
The next four decades were an effort by the monarch to entrench his power and to maintain the status quo. The King was remarkably successful in cultivating stability and protecting the powerful, rich, elite of Nepal from any kind of scrutiny or change. When the political parties of Nepal, in 1990, laid aside years of infighting they were able to end the era of absolute monarchy through a people’s movement. The irony of the democratic movement of 1990 was that, riding on the crest of the global democratic wave, the incoming politicians became as much of a self-interested elite as the monarchists they worked so hard to overthrow.
In the years following the democratic movement progress was slow in delivering the promised dividends of democracy – inclusivity, reform and development. Governments were characterised by unstable coalitions, backbiting, intrigues, splits and general lack of commitment and effectiveness. The naturally paternalist inclination of most political parties was not backed up by a state able to deliver to the people the much needed and expected development and progress.
The sense of ownership of democracy and the institutions of state that many Nepalis felt after the first people’s movement was gradually eroded by the failures of the state and the political leaders. One of the biggest failures of all was The Melamchi Water Supply Project. It was dreamed up in the early 1980s as a way of providing drinking water to the Kathmandu Valley. From its inception and into the early years of democracy it became a beacon, a symbol of the promise of development and the future of Nepal.
This flagship development project of the 80s and 90s became mired in stifling bureaucracy, rampant corruption and uncomfortable controversy. The project became more than the sum of its parts politically. There were suspect contracts, indigenous peoples displaced, kickbacks, rights abuses, and deliberate obfuscation of investigators. To many, democracy and development seemed, from this prominent example, to be just another weapon of oppression for the powerful to wield, and one that promised much and delivered nothing.
During the 1990s the seeds of discontent were well and truly sown, and sown widely. In 1996 the Maoists declared their ‘people’s war’ which advocated land-reform, workers’ rights and political inclusivity, among other demands. The Maoists slowly gathered support amongst the peasants, landless and dispossessed of Nepal for their armed conflict against the state and waged an increasingly bitter war over the next decade. The successive ‘democratic’ governments in Kathmandu gradually lost control of the military situation to the point that the King took absolute executive powers upon himself and was welcomed by many in the public, the media and even politics. When the Maoists joined the mainstream political parties in opposing the King the second people’s movement, that of April 2006, successfully reclaimed the state in the name of the people.
Since 2006 Nepal has become a republic and the cycle of revolution and stagnation appears to be continuing. ‘New Nepal’, as it quickly became known, was much like the old Nepal a game with the same players, except now the rules of the game have changed. Though it still rumbles on the Melamchi Water Supply Project has come to illustrate the difficulties inherent in the ‘old ways’ – the big prestige projects, the national strategies, the mega-deals for development. In the Nepali context this appears not to work. Where does that leave us though?
The national strategies do have a place in vaccination programmes for example but the coal-face of development is not at that level. Development is most effective when it is delivered direct to the people who need it, and preferably by those selfsame people. The local level is the only one proven to work time and again in Nepal. Community is strong in Nepal. This is a real strength and one that can be exploited for good. Hydro-power doesn’t have to mean huge concrete dams, it can mean village or household electricity generating water mills. Drinking water doesn’t have to mean the half-billion dollar Melamchi project, it can mean rainwater collection and management on a local level. The best way to deliver the ends of development is locally, through investing people with a sense of ownership, responsibility and power. The lessons of Melamchi are that development and, by extension, democracy are not for the elites and vested interests, but are for the people.
The IDCR in Nepal has developed an extensive network of partner organisations, from academic institutions to NGOs to businesses, who share in this philosophy through common goals and complementary approaches. The greatest impact does not always come from the biggest aid donors or their international projects. Instead it comes from the organisations who tailor their approaches and find novel methods of fostering democratic change. The IDCR is partnered with those organisations that work to strengthen the very fabric of democracy, from the organisations working toward the equitable inclusion of the most marginalised individuals to the those working in the very highest levels of conventional political engagement.
Through its innovative internship programme in Nepal the IDCR offers some exciting opportunities for involvement, to get involved see:
Ben Britton is a graudate of Peace Studes at the University of Bradford and has an MPhil from the University of Cambridge. At the Mountain Trust, a Cambridge-based NGO working with the IDCR, he is the Development Officer, coordinates internship placements and works in Nepal on a variety of capacity building projects.
NGO mediation a useful resource? The case of Mozambique
Filippo Ballarin, Intern in the IDCR
© 2012 Filippo Ballarin all rights reserved.
The 4th October Mozambique will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rome General Peace Accords, which ended a Civil War that lasted almost 20 years. The anniversary, other than to celebrate the occasion, should also be a good reminder of the importance of third party mediation in Peace Negotiations. Since its independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique fought a long-standing conflict between FRELIMO, a Socialist party supported by the Soviet government, and RENAMO an opposition force created by the white governments of Rhodesia and South Africa to stop Mugabe’s troops incursions in the territory that later became Zimbabwe.
While the conflict was based on a struggle for power, with an ideological contribution by the involvement of major powers, the main factor which created the opportunity for a peaceful agreement was the role played by the Sant’Egidio Community. From an early engagement in the 1980s with Mozambique’s state and religious authority, initiated by the organization to support the activity of the church in the country, the leaders of the Community and the local Christian bishops started a dialogue with the official government of Mozambique, constituted by FRELIMO forces. This dialogue progressively expanded until in the early 1990s the community was able to start a series of meetings in Rome, where they operated as mediator during the talks. This choice was not casual since they were trusted by both the groups and they were able to guarantee an impartial role.
Every single conflict has peculiar historical, sociological and economic characteristics that makes it impossible to successfully design a definitive or ideal strategy. For this reason, many of the factors which created the conditions for this agreement to be successful cannot be replayed in other context. The war reached a stalemate, the end of the Cold War reduced foreign influence and the economic situation was so miserable that anything other than peace would have brought the country to collapse. The mediation style that was used on this occasion is important to comprehend what can improve the chances to stable pacification of conflict. In this case, conflict not only ended but peace, with the exception of some minor incidents has lasted until now with recurrent elections.
Among the three most common mediation strategies (communicative, formulative and manipulative), the one used by the Community was communicative. The main goals of this strategy is the creation of a channel between the conflict parties, help them to articulate their goals, provide independent information and gain the overall trust of both sides. The plan used by the mediators consisted in first making the different sides sign a letter of intent, with the key point being the creation of free elections and the end of the fighting, and then discuss issues separately. This kind of approach resulted in some early agreements: the main strategy used by the mediation party was to compel the two sides to commit every time they solved an issue so as not have early achievements undermined by later problems.
One of the main characteristics of Civil Wars is how deep wounds years of violence, fighting and human rights abuses leave on the population. The major problem is given by the mental transformation that every person involved has to pass through; especially ethnic and religious conflicts have to alter the identity of the enemy. Only in this way does it become easy to distance oneself from the idea of killing a human being. The Community canceled any chance of discussion over general terms that might have brought up resentment and desire for revenge, and focused the talks on principles. Giving the little leverage this particular mediator had, the results were remarkable but this was helped by the support the Vatican and the Italian government gave to this operation.
While the negotiations saw the intervention of Italian, American, and other African governments, the Community of Sant’Egidio was fundamental in creating the conditions for a dialogue. They gave their logistic and financial support, they pushed for an early ceasefire and they never allowed the talks to degenerate in a series of J’accuse. From the setting of the table to the choice of the rooms, every little detail was thought through in order to create a perfect balanced environment where the delegates would not have felt manipulated but rather secure and confident to have a trustful mediator. In the last 20 years, excluding UN operations, states have still been the major mediators during international conflicts. From Bosnia to North Ireland, belligerent have preferred to use mediators from countries capable of guaranteeing the respect of the agreement. Nevertheless, the lesson we learnt from Mozambique did teach us that the facilitator role which NGOs and other organizations may play, could be very important for the creation of a trustful communication channel, helping to create the necessary condition for a longstanding agreement to actually last.
Libya and the new challenge for Conflict Resolution
Filippo Ballarin, Intern in the IDCR
© 2012 Filippo Ballarin all rights reserved.
The challenge launched to all the authoritative countries during the Arab Spring changed our knowledge about the dynamics of the region, but of all the nations involved, Libya is the most relevant in order to investigate new strategies in Conflict Resolution. In the past year, the revolutions that took place in the Maghreb transformed dramatically an area of the world for long time under the control of dictators. One of the major factors that made these large scale rebellions even more symbolic was the fact that the change was driven more directly by the population than by Western countries. This was unique, especially considering how powerful these dictatorships were after decades of unchallenged power, but not totally true for Libya which saw its rebel forces receive help from a Coalition supported by UN Resolution 1973 (2011). While the violation of Human Rights was the main concern of the intervening forces, the international public opinions were much more sceptical about what was really behind this operation. In fact, not only was the intervention blocked by Russia and China, but also Germany and other democratic countries backed off from a military action.
Since the conflict ended with the death of Colonel Gaddafi the 20th October 2011, Libya made a transition of power to the newly elected Parliament, successfully ending this phase in a much more peaceful way than any observers had predicted. While the elections raised many questions about the nature of this Arab Revolution, the outcome was successful and led to a clear majority. Compared to the result of the other transitions of power, Libya’s results stick out for their moderate results, with the major Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, out of the government.
The main concern regarded the real capacity for this country so long plagued with violence to resist extremisms and widespread violence that followed the death of Gaddafi. In a country without a real leader and with a lack of external ground presence, many were worried that jihadism would have emerged as a new trend. The case for Libya’s future rests in the capacity and strength of the new government to really act independently from any groups that might undermine the stability of the State. This newly elected government has one year to formulate a new Constitution and to complete the pacification program, still difficult in a country filled with armed militias that refuse to surrend. The relatively peaceful phase that followed the end of Gaddafi’s regime was a remarkable surprise given the long period of his dictatorship, which lasted 42 years. While forgetting will not be easy, there are concrete hopes that democracy and justice will be part of a future Libya.
Some perplexities resulted from Western intervention in this conflict. While Human Rights were undoubtedly a serious concern, it’s still not clear what criteria drove NATO intervention. While in many occasions geopolitical reasons overcome the human rights factor (Syria and Iran are only the latest examples), in this case the regime had lost its international supporters creating an opportunity to stop for an intervention. But in many other occasions, as for instance in Rwanda and Congo, larger violation of human rights did not lead to any actions, leading to an important question: what does really justifies intervention and when is it really helpful? It seems to me that most of the cases take place and actually works, only when the interests of the major powers and the UN, match; otherwise, without a primary interest by the most powerful countries, interventions just give quick relief without solving the core problem.
One of the most important issues that the Arab Spring brought to international consideration was the incredible, for the circumstances, stability that these countries were able to sustain without a direct western dispatch of forces. This could be really important for a future democratization strategy to use in other countries. Even the early troubles in Egypt, after an initial resistance by the armed forces and a difficult transition of power with the victory of the internationally ostracized Muslim Brotherhood, seem now to fade away with the situation finally under control. While it is difficult to understand from an external point of view how much Western intelligence services are actually working to influence the future of these countries, from the current results its is easy to infer that a democratic transition is possible as long as the population is actively engaged into transforming the existing structures of power.
Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated that when an external invasion changes the internal balance of power and the population is included only partially, the outcome will most likely be instability and a long period of chaos and turmoil. It should be then understood by the international community that countries which are already facing difficulties and a lack of control over their territory are doomed to failure as long as local leaders are excluded. Especially in societies already divided in factions led by tribes, different religious groups and warlords, for example as in Iraq, these problems become the biggest challenge to the democratization of the country: the multiethnicity is a part of the country identity, and the solution can come only using this differences as a resource rather than an issue. While dictators use violence to keep all the groups under control, a strategy that wants to be successful has to forget typical Realist views over international balance of power and find the most sustainable solution, even if it goes against primary Western interests. Unless proper actions are taken, most of international interventions risk to become an impossible task to resolve, leading to even more violence and instability than before.
Newham and the Politics of London 2012
Professor Todd Landman, Director of the IDCR
© 2012 Todd Landman all rights reserved.
As part of Universities Week last week, the IDCR launched its innovative ‘Olympic Dream’ web resource with a lecture at the University of Essex and good coverage in the BBC. The resource provides a set of interactive maps and other tools to visualise data on the countries sending athletes to London2012. In depth analysis showed that countries with higher levels of human development tend to win more medals. Human development is combined measure of wealth, health, and education in a society. In light of these findings, it is enlightening to cast our gaze on the socio-economic conditions surrounding the development of the Olympic Site itself.
Bidding to host: Security and Finance
London won the bid to host the Olympics in 2005, one day before the 7 July terrorist attacks and three years before the financial crisis. These events have thus tied the 2012 Olympics to security and finance. The history of Olympic hosting has been one of an increase in expenditure on the event as a whole and on security in particular. For external consumption, a hosting bid includes provision of full facilities for the games, comprehensive security, and a menu of associated attractions that celebrate the ‘nation’ of the host city. For internal consumption, bids promise urban regeneration (the paradigm case is Barcelona), better infrastructure, new housing, and a ‘legacy’ of tangible benefits for the local community and the nation as a whole.
This summer the combination of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations have already yielded a dramatic influx of tourists and increased attention to London, while the events themselves will bring millions to our shores. One indicator has been the ascendancy of London as the number one city destination for tourists in the world, according to on-line ratings compiled by TripAdvisor. It is estimated that the two events will create an artificial blip in the overall economic position of the UK as it struggles during a double dip recession, according to some members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. These events of course are joined by Wimbledon 2012, making this one of the busiest summers for a very long time.
Calling at Stratford
As you ride the train into London on the Greater Anglia service from Colchester, where the University of Essex is based, you see the looming development at Stratford, with the tower for the flame, the stadium, and of course, the brand new Westfield shopping mall. The Westfield Shopping Centre is larger than the Bluewater development near Dartford and contains the UK’s first ‘super casino’. Westfield opened in late 2011 with a footfall of 250,000 on the first day of operations, has a total of 238 stores, and is the Official Shopping Centre of London 2012. Up to 70% of all attendees of the Olympics will pass through the shopping centre en route to the different competitions.
Surrounding the Olympic site is the local London borough of Newham. According to official figures, Newham has 243, 891 residents (although there is a large additional ‘hidden’ population living informally in the borough), 91, 821 households and is one of the most culturally diverse and youthful populations in the UK. The borough is 39% white, 38% Asian, 20% black, 1.6% Chinese and 2.6% from other groups. Thirty-four per cent of all people between the ages of 16 and 74 have no qualifications and the unemployment rate sits at 6.7% which is below the national average of 8.3%, which masks other indicators of deprivation.
For example, 39.2% of children live in poverty (compared to 29.2% for London), the benefits claimant rate has vacillated between just over 24% to just under 22% between 2000 and 2010 (London levels are 16% and 14% respectively), and 37% of pupils are eligible for free school meals as opposed to 26% for all of London. Overall, Newham rates as the second most socially deprived borough in the whole of the UK.
There are between 30 and 35 recorded violent criminal events per 1000 people in Newham (there are between 22 and 26 per 1000 for all of London). The recorded serious acquisitive crime rate is 42.3 per 1000 people in Newham and 25.23 in London, while actual bodily crime rates are 11.2 for Newham and 7.76 for London.
In addition to the development of the Olympic site and the Westfield Shopping Centre, this summer will also see the opening of the Pleasure Gardens development at Pontoon Dock in the famous docklands area of East London. The site promises events celebrating the cultural diversity of Britain, concerts, food and drink, all on a riverside setting near the Millennium Dome and London City Airport.
Healing the Gash
Newham thus contains the Olympic Site and Westfield developments to the North and the Pleasure Gardens development to the South. The popular ‘discursive construction’ of the development has been ‘healing the gash’, where the inward investment of £9.325 billion (although projections suggest it may rise to £11 billion) would bring new life to the East of London and the legacy would be new housing, the Olympic Park facilities for future mega-events, and an improvement in infrastructure. Overall expenditure includes £553 million for security, which is a mix of state security forces (police and military) and private security services (G4S), as well as the possible deployment of up to six batteries of surface to air missile sites in residential areas around the Olympic site. [See the Home Office report here]
As London 2012 approaches, it is clear that a sizeable investment brings with it many tangible and intangible benefits to London and the UK. The gash was known for industry relating to the noxious trade of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and the development of the brownfield site is a welcome change for the area. The nature of the investment and the related distortions that they may produce, however, do not bring long term benefits to Newham, which has been bracketed out of the investment in ways that are analogous to other urban mega-projects and the spatial exercise of power and privilege (see, Flyvbjerg, Landman and Schram’s new book Real Social Science). The case of Newham also raises fundamental questions about the nature of democracy in the UK and how publicly-financed projects interact with private capital, culture and security in ways that often do not bring benefit where it is most needed.
Shareholder return – the Nuremburg defence?
Ecocide and Restorative Justice
Liz Rivers, Mediator, Leadership Coach and Lawyer
© 2012 Liz Rivers all rights reserved.
At the Nuremburg war crimes trial after the Second World War many of the defendants put forward the defence “I was only obeying the orders of my superiors” which became known as the “Nuremburg Defence”. The tribunal decided that this was not a valid defence to war crimes as there is a higher moral duty to disobey orders which would lead to the commission of a war crime. Most of the defendants went on to be convicted and punished.
Modern company law enshrines the obligation of companies to maximise shareholder return. There are laws that restrict the means by which this can be achieved, such as health and safety. However, without a law of Ecocide there is no ultimate restriction on companies pursuing shareholder return by taking unacceptable risks with ecosystems and the people who depend upon them. We have made serving the so-called “free market” synonymous with the greater good and made the market our highest authority. At what point will shareholder return cease to be a justification for widespread social and environmental damage? At what point will it become a Nuremburg defence?
This question was put to the test in September 2011 at the Ecocide mock trial in the Supreme Court. Two fictional CEOs of oil companies were tried and convicted of the crime of Ecocide arising from oil extraction from tar sands in Canada – maximising profit was not deemed an acceptable defence for their activities. In March 2012 their sentencing took place.
We are very familiar with the courtroom drama in popular culture – The Merchant of Venice, To Kill a Mockingbird, Rumpole – the genre has entertained people over centuries. The suspense of hearing legal argument, heartfelt pleas to the jury and waiting for it to return its verdict has kept us gripped and entertained. If the defendant is convicted they are sent to prison and that is usually the last we hear of them.
The Law of Ecocide
One of the tenets of the law of Ecocide is that it is designed to be preventative – to change attitudes and behaviour so that ecocide does not happen, rather than simply punishing the perpetrators after the event. So simply sending the CEOs to prison would be of limited benefit. For this reason Polly Higgins came up with the idea of using Restorative Justice as part of the sentencing process for Ecocide convictions.
Restorative Justice has been used in the criminal justice system for many years but does not have much mainstream visibility. It involves bringing together the perpetrator of a crime with its victim(s). The participants have a dialogue in which four questions are addressed:
- What happened?
- Who has been affected by what happened?
- What needs to happen to put things right?
- Who is going to take responsibility?
The outcome is often a commitment on the part of the perpetrator to take specific steps to make good the damage which has been caused, which can then be taken into account by the judge when sentencing. It also brings home to the perpetrator the impact of their actions and is far more effective at changing mindsets and behaviour than simply locking people up. The victim(s) are also more satisfied as they have a voice in the process rather than being excluded as happens in the conventional criminal justice system.
Open source campaigning
One of the principles of the Eradicating Ecocide campaign is that it is “open source” and not owned by those working full time on the campaign. They are willing to “beta test” their ideas in the public domain, in order to see how they run in practice and “debug” and improve the proposals. The mock trial was an example of this (the jury were independently recruited and the campaign had no control over what verdict they would return) and the sentencing process has been a further example. The whole process was live streamed on the internet for anyone in the world to watch.
The process involved a collaboration between the Eradicating Ecocide campaign, The Hamilton Group, the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at Essex University, human rights lawyer Mike Mansfield QC plus Restorative Justice expert Lawrence Kershen QC. It was witnessed by an audience on the day plus a wider audience viewing the process live online.
What happened in the Restorative Justice process?
Both defendants from the original trial, Robin Bannerman and John Tench, were given the opportunity to take part in the process. Robin Bannerman agreed and John Tench declined. Also present in the process were:
- Oil Company Chief Sustainability Officer
- Pension Fund representative (representing shareholders)
- Spokesperson for the birds damaged by the ecocide
- Spokesperson for future generations
- Spokesperson for wider humanity
- Spokesperson for the Earth
- Representative of the indigenous people living in the area affected
The dialogue, skilfully facilitated by Lawrence Kershen, was an intense and dramatically gripping process to watch. I was particularly struck by the contribution from Gerald Amos representing the indigenous First Nations people of Northern British Columbia. His account of the detrimental impact of industrial activity on the way of life of his people and the land clearly had a profound effect on Robin Bannerman. He described tokenistic consultation processes his people had been subjected to where their views and concerns were blatantly disregarded and expressed himself with a palpable dignity that spoke volumes.
At times the exchanges were angry and intense and the discussion polarised into two positions:
- oil extraction from tar sands is unacceptably destructive and cannot be justified therefore must be stopped immediately, whatever the consequences
- oil extraction is simply meeting the energy needs of society, which everyone around the circle partakes in, therefore Robin Bannerman is being scapegoated for all the ills of capitalism and industrialisation
As the dialogue progressed, human connections formed between different members of the circle and attitudes started to shift. Also, as the focus of the questions shifted from the past to the future, ideas as to how the harm could be made good began to emerge. Robin Bannerman reported that all activity had been suspended on the site following his conviction. A number of innovative solutions were proposed including:
- appointing to the board a non-executive director with responsibility for sustainability, to be selected by sustainability organisation Forum for the Future
- funding a university chair to research the law of Ecocide
- setting up a working group including Robin Bannerman and Gerald Amos to decide on the future of the tar sands.
When the judge heard the outcomes of the Restorative Justice process he took this into account in his sentencing and deferred Robin Bannerman’s sentencing for 6 months to give him time to put the actions into practice. John Tench, who declined to participate, was sentenced to four years in prison.
What did we learn?
- The experiment proved that there is real potential for using Restorative Justice in conjunction with Ecocide. It enables dialogue, understanding, healing and creativity to emerge. It is about making whole again rather than reinforcing separation and fragmentation through punishment of perpetrators and exclusion from the process of victims.
- It showed that it is possible to give voice to diverse and other-than-human elements of the system e.g. birds, wider humanity, future generations and the Earth itself in a meaningful way.
The process also showed ways in which both the Restorative Justice model and the proposed law of Ecocide need to be modified in order to be truly effective.
- As the focus of the dialogue shifted to the future, a voice that seemed to be missing from the circle was that of a positive vision for the future where humanity can meet its energy needs without causing undue destruction to people and planet. An advocate for alternative forms of energy and the pathways to achieve these would be useful.
- Government were not represented in the circle, and they are clearly a key element in the wider system as the creator of the policy and regulatory framework which licences the extraction activity. An underlying theme in the dialogue was “who holds the power?” The humanity/Earth participants within the circle saw Robin Bannerman/the oil company as holding the power to prevent Ecocide and were seeking to hold him to account. His response was that they were simply acting within the confines of a permitted regulatory framework, therefore it is government who should ultimately be held accountable and be lobbied for change. Having government in the circle would make it easier to determine where power and accountability ultimately lie.
Adding these two elements would go beyond the classic Restorative Justice model and draw in principles from Stakeholder Dialogue, which is an approach where stakeholders are brought together to create solutions to complex public policy issues, using dialogue techniques. It may be that a hybrid model drawing on elements of both Restorative Justice and Stakeholder Dialogue is what is needed to fully support the implementation of the law of Ecocide.
- The process very clearly illustrated that it is not enough simply to prosecute and convict individual directors of Ecocide – the company needs to be a defendant too. The power of the Restorative Justice process in relation to Ecocide is in creating actions that the perpetrator will take to make good the harm. In most situations these need to be carried out by the company. If only the directors as individuals are prosecuted then there is a risk that the company could simply terminate their employment and avoid all future responsibility to make good the harm. Therefore the company as a separate legal entity needs to be a defendant and be accountable too.
It was only through the willingness of the campaign to “beta test” the use of Restorative Justice that these points became apparent.
Old paradigm “Newtonian” justice is about dissecting and analysing the different parts of a system, and punishing/removing the rogue elements. We are now transitioning to the realm of “quantum” justice, where the starting point is the whole system and exploring what needs to be done to restore the integrity of the whole. The combination of Ecocide and Restorative Justice is groundbreaking and innovative, where the power of each is amplified by its synergy with the other.
It may seem harsh to liken a corporate CEO to a Nazi war criminal, and of course a crucial distinction between war crimes and the law of Ecocide is that with the former it is necessary to show intention to cause harm, whereas with Ecocide it is enough to show that Ecocide happened as a consequence of the defendant’s actions. At the moment environmental destruction is seen as an unfortunate side effect of industrial activity and the pursuit of profit, yet the rules of the game powerfully incentivise the latter and do little to deter causing damage. CEOs are rewarded for obeying the orders of the market. The Restorative Justice process brings home these impacts very powerfully to both the minds and hearts of decision makers and gives a voice to the victims in boardrooms around the world. With the implementation of the law of Ecocide supported by Restorative Justice it will become much harder to say “I was only obeying orders”.
Liz Rivers is a mediator, leadership coach and former commercial litigation lawyer with global law firm Eversheds. She speaks and writes on the subject of Earth Rights and Wild Law and is one of the authors of “Exploring Wild Law: the philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence”.
SOMALIA: A Failed State with Strong People
Filippo Ballarin, IDCR Intern
©2012 Filippo Ballarin
When he left Somalia in the fall of 2009, Faisal was just a teenager of 17. His two sisters had already left the previous summer for the United States. He was living with his mother and his younger brother in Mogadishu. Faisal’s father was a police officer in the city, but he died 3 years before during one of the many Al-Shabaab attacks; shot in the head. His family was luckier than others possessing a bazaar in the centre, heritage of a wealthier past. Faisal’s grandfather was a merchant and a very well-known and respected man. Since Faisal was born in 1992, many things changed in his family life and in the whole country. First, all their possessions were taken by the militias. Second, all the older males of the family died and his friends and relatives began to emigrate. He is now living in Norway as a Norwegian citizen after his refugee status has been granted.
When I first interviewed him after his arrival in Norway, Faisal told me:
“When you are a teenager in Somalia, you have two choices: run from the militias or join then, I chose the first.”
It’s not easy to understand what the situation in Somalia is: every now and then, the central government seems to gain momentum until Al-Shabaab counter attacks send its troops back in a constant struggle that reaches this year 20 years of fighting. Even though in this last period the Somali-Ethiopian joint forces are slowly gaining ground and control of the country, violence is still widespread from the Capital to the little villages. Services are for the most absent and there are not any stable institutions or infrastructure. Only now Mogadishu is slowly coming back to normal but it still does not feel like a stable situation.
When you decide to emigrate from Somalia, you first have to know the “right people”: through underground channels, you must reach powerful men who are part of what seems to be a big international refugee market. Faisal paid $12,000 and had to walk from Mogadishu to a Kenyan village for 8 months before he was able to fly to Europe.
“I was lucky” he told me, “many people died through the travel, or they were caught by Al-Shabaab.”
They have to travel in small groups of completely stranger people, walking in the night and rationing the scarce food they have with them; if you are a woman, it’s rare you can make the travel without being raped. In case you don’t have enough money to pay the fees, you must take the longer path: 2400 miles from Somalia to Libya walking through the Sahara desert and crossing the Mediterranean Sea; violence, torture, starvation and death are all common experiences for people who made it to Europe.
“I arrived in Kenya, and here they gave me a Norwegian passport of another Somali guy who had previously got there and was looking similar to me. We don’t get to decide where we go, they just give us the first opportunity that there is and you cannot say no.”
“They put you in the plane, you arrive at your destination and then they explain you what to do once you’re there.”
The travel is only the first step for who wants to obtain the refugee status: once in Norway, you are assembled in a camp outside Oslo were you are held for a couple of months. There you have to pass through 3 interviews to confirm your identity, your story and if you have the right requirements.
Despite the effort by the Somali government, many parts of the country are still under the control of armed militias. Since the fall of the government in 1992, with the famous battle of Mogadishu, Somalia has lived in a constant climate of warfare. With the withdrawal of Americans and UN troops in the middle 1990s, the population was left alone in what soon become famous to be the perfect example of ‘failed state’. While different clans and warlords took control of their areas, the population started to move away from fighting zones entering neighboring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.
Later efforts by the International community led to some external help with the UNOSOM I-II mission and the most recent AMISOM mission, but these missions were not really able to change the conditions of the population. After a dramatic draught in the summer which saw 1,000,000 people die and many more suffer for lack of food and water, the UN Secretary Ban-Ki Moon announced in the first visit to Mogadishu by a UN high official since the 1990s that the UN mission headquarters was soon going to be transferred in the city.
While the general stability of the country seems to improve every day, the scars of 20 years of civil war will be more difficult to heal.
“When I was a kid, me and my friends were used to hide in the city in order to avoid the militias raid that would have took us to make us become one of their soldiers,” Faisal told me during one of his refugee acceptance interviews, clearly still shocked by the memories. Somalia lost most of its working force by war or migration, but the future might be brighter than what it seems.
“If the country will finally find peace, most of the Somali people I’ve met in my travel, will surely go back: after all Somalia is our home,” Faisal told me last time I saw him.
Media, Democracy and Conflict: the Case of Argentina
Tomas Garzon de la Rosa, IDCR Intern
© 2012 Tomas Garzon de la Rosa.
Mirrors and Windows
The old metaphors of the media as a mirror of or window to society have long been in decay. Although often times our behaviour follows what a newspaper states or what a TV network shows as nothing more than impartial reproductions of ‘the facts’, it is at least naive to believe this to be a scientific truth.
It can be argued – as many social scientists have– that while trying to ‘uncover the truth’ in public affairs, media organizations also behave themselves like political actors: they act strategically, either for ideological or economic reasons.
Acknowledging this, however, does not contradict the idea that a well-developed and independent media system is fundamental for democracy.
Media is accountable to its audience for much the same reasons that it can be regarded as biased, which is to say, readerships also have ideological preferences they want to see reflected in their media of choice. Thus self-interested media still have the ability or potential to capture public discussion and reproduce different voices with respect to public affairs – provided that it is not controlled fiercely by one particular group. In short, freedom of speech (which for the Inter American Press Association comprises 10 basic principles, as defined in the 1994 Declaration of Chapultepec) is indisputably a necessary condition for democracy.
Nonetheless, and much like democracy, it is one that comes in different doses.
Unfortunately, journalists are still personally harassed or threatened in many regions worldwide. According to Wan-Infra’s 2011 World Press Freedom review, 41 journalists were killed last year, with Pakistan (8), Iraq (6), Libya (5) and Mexico (4) at the top of the list.
Apart from these more egregious examples, a number of issues typically lead to tensions between public officials and the media:
- Does the right to freedom of speech justify any kind of media practices?
- Are individual media outlets supposed to be balanced in their views of the government?
- Should media organizations be limited by business regulations, just like any other industry?
Many governments around the world have been accused of giving the wrong answers to these questions. For example, in the UK, the Leveson Inquiry, which followed the News of the World phone-hacking scandals, is supposed to bring some answers by examining ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the press’. In Latin America governments are not performing well. For example, the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan governments have taken measures that are said to be endangering the right to freedom of speech by some observers and press associations. These measures include new legal frameworks to curb dissident media, refusal to renew broadcasting licences to unfriendly networks, and the prosecution of individual journalists.
These skirmishes are not new to the current hyper-mediated societies, and have in been around for centuries. Professor Fernando Ruiz from Austral University in Buenos Aires is currently studying what he calls ‘media wars’ in Argentinian history, and sheds some light over their definition and underlying characteristics. For a media war to occur there has to be manifest or at least latent ideological polarization in society. Media wars are attempts to manipulate public opinion through propaganda, and therefore, credibility and plausibility are more important than truthfulness. Since the media are embedded into different contending parties, their role is to draw the line between friends and enemies, to recruit new allies and to justify a faction’s standpoint.*
The case of Argentina
The incumbent Argentinean administration is engaged in what has been called an ‘all-out war’ with the press and with the Clarin group in particular. Clarin controls the most widely read newspaper in the country and the confrontation with the government began shortly after President Fernandez de Kirchner succeeded her late husband in the Casa Rosada.
In 2008, during a four-month stand-off between the government and the farming associations over grain export taxes (which included route barricades, massive demonstrations and some episodes of street violence) Mrs. Fernandez started the war on Clarin through making a parallel between the military generals that fomented the 1976 coup d’état and the ‘media generals’ who had promoted opposition to government policy. Prior to this conflict, according to a newspaper monitoring group, Clarin had held generally ‘neutral-to-positive’ views of the Kirchner’s governments, only to take a ‘u-turn’ from then onwards.
The government accuses Clarin of following monopolistic practices, as well as of deliberately (and excessively) opposing the government and all its policies without regard for the truth. A new media regulation act was passed in 2009, replacing the one sanctioned by the military dictatorship in 1980 and only amended once in 1983, following the return to democracy. Its aims are to democratize media, to foster fair competition, to avoid the concentration of ownership and to promote diversity. Even though this law was well-received by press associations like Reporters without Borders, it has remained quite controversial domestically. Doubts remain over the real intentions behind it: does it conform to the old saying ‘for my friends, anything – for my enemies, the law’? Is it specifically designed to hit at Clarin?
Further moves by the government have included declaring paperback production ‘of national interest’ in order to have a bigger say in how this basic input in newspaper production is managed, creating numerous new media outlets, and substantially changing its advertising expenditure allegedly to favour more congruent media. To this last respect, the Supreme Court recently ruled against the government after Perfil newspaper claimed to be indirectly censored by being stripped off from government advertising.
Incumbent Vice-president Amado Boudou staged yet another spectacular attack on Clarin by wearing a t-shirt with the inscription ‘Clarin lies’ while playing along with the rock band La Mancha de Rolando in a concert during the first week of February, 2012.
In spite of these episodes and discussions, Reporters without Borders place Argentina 47 out of 179 in their latest Press Freedom Index, and call the situation satisfactory. They do point out that tensions prevail between a section of the privately-owned press and President Fernandez. In all, in spite of a somewhat heightened sense of conflict, which in many ways conforms to the outlined features of a ‘media war’, the situation in Argentina substantially differs from that of totalitarian regimes in terms of freedom of speech.
The case of Argentina is not unique but does raise a series of important questions about the role of media in a democracy, the potential to become politicised, and the possible conflict between democratic governments and media organisations. In the UK, the current phone hacking scandal and Leveson Inquiry has revealed how close government, law enforcement and the media had become during the New Labour Government.
Freedom of speech is the hallmark of modern democracy, but the Argentine case shows how such freedom can easily become compromised.