The cost of inaction has been, quite simply, death. Heartbreaking images of drowned bodies – including of children have disturbed many around the world. Perhaps though, it is more shocking that it has taken the publication of these very images to jolt the public’s consciousness to the horrific reality facing those who are forced to flee for their lives.
The stories of those who are forced to flee start differently -including in many countries other than Syria- but too many now have a tragically common thread: in their hour of need, they found not sanctuary in Europe but an avoidable death, failed by a community seemingly indifferent to their suffering.
In taking these utterly selfish and shameful positions, our leaders have failed us. Instead of ethically leading, guided by compassion and decency, they have weakly retreated their perceived ‘safe ground’, turning their backs not only on children like Aylan – but on the common values that bind us all – compassion, empathy and hope.
As politicians seemingly clamour to outdo each other in sprouting anti-migrant rhetoric, they seem to be no closer to offering any meaningful solutions to remedy the “migrant crisis” currently consuming Europe’s attention.
Only by opening up accessible, legal channels of migration (and of course addressing the root causes of displacement in the longer term (be they instability, violence, war, poverty, or even climate change) will the flow of desperate refugees (and migrants searching for a better life) be stemmed.
In the absence of a coordinated and compassionate response, some fences and dogs have been proudly deployed as the fix to this summer’s ‘crisis’. This has been accompanied by a slew of announcements of crackdowns on illegal migrants. But knee-jerk responses dressed up as “sensible, adequate solutions” are merely just sticking plasters for a problem “way upstream”- and should be called out as such.
Tim Farron recently said:
“We must not lose sight of how desperate someone has to be to cling to the bottom of a lorry in a bid to get a better life.”
Of course, given the choice of realistic legal migration routes, who would rationally opt for a perilous cross-sea journey, followed by an overland trek and the prospect of jumping aboard the back of a lorry or walking through an undersea train tunnel? It’s a no-brainer, yet our elected leaders continually ignore this seemingly basic, undeniable logic.
It is also troubling that the UK Home Secretary has only recently seemed to notice that a ‘global migration crisis‘ is occurring. Was this an opportunistic ‘realisation’ to deflect criticisms or simply a clumsy attempt to justify calling for a global response?
It is unclear. Especially as this is the same UK Government minister who just three months ago, rejected an EU resettlement plan to share the responsibility of taking in asylum seekers. This government’s indifference seems also to enable the (ongoing) national disgrace that is Yarls Wood – where vulnerable women are punished with detention, simply for claiming asylum.
If David Cameron’s “swarm” comment dehumanised migrants, Phillip Hammond’s “marauding” slur vilifies and simply stokes fear.
We must reject this downward spiral of demonisation and vilification of fellow human beings who are simply trying to survive. Equally our leaders must avoid the urge to pander to the scaremongering right-wing press and remember that there is nothing admirable about dehumanising people – whether in words or policies.
Last night, I attended a fascinating event at London’s Frontline Club, to mark the launch of Freedom From Torture’s latest report, entitled “Rape as Torture in the DRC: sexual violence beyond the conflict zone” and to draw attention to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which will begin in London next week.
The chilling report, based on forensic evidence, detailed sexual violence and rape which occurs hundreds of miles beyond the zones of conflict, often in detention facilities. It also highlighted a problem in trying to draw clear dividing lines between conflict, non-conflict and post-conflict situations when deciding to tackle sexual violence.
The panel and audience raised many salient issues but perhaps the one which resonated the most was a point raised by Sarah Cotton of the ICRC, who reminded the audience that ‘rape isn’t accidental, but a calculated act’.
Audience member Victoria of the It Must Stop campaign emphasised in relation to the focus on the DRC, the importance of tackling the root causes of the conflict, in particular the private sector interests which fuels the hostilities. It remains to be seen whether the Global Summit next week will consider that it is #TimeToAct on this issue.
Finally, I couldn’t help but be moved by the Survivors Speak OUT! network, a torture survivor-led activist network, whose participation both in the Report and the forthcoming Summit collectively encapsulates the much needed shift from the “testimony-giving victim”, to empowered survivors seeking and being involved in finding durable and effective solutions. Such is the value of taking a survivor-centred approach.
It is perhaps fitting that the Official Memorial for Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela falls on December 10th, Human Rights Day.
Whilst this individual flame of peace, reconciliation and human rights has been extinguished, may the fire of passion for his legacy be honoured, not only in the actions of world leaders who must strive to follow through on their lofty speeches; but in the actions of the grassroots who must continue to advocate and raise awareness of the oppressed and hold their representatives to account.
After months of obfuscation, the Obama administration, rightly wary of prior military misadventures, has determined that it must act on the horrific events in Syria, specifically that chemical weapons were used against civilians and that it’s future use must be deterred.
However, several questions remain:
1) For what reason was the Obama administration rushing after such prolonged lethargy?
Why was the US, after waiting for so excruciatingly long despite the spiralling death toll, (estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands), so impatient and seemingly unable to afford the UN inspectors adequate time to complete their investigations before taking action?
It is regrettable that such a tight timeframe (combined with both the depressingly frequent occurrence of No.10 incompetence and the spectre of Iraq lurking in the public conscious) resulted in the UK Government losing a key vote in Parliament authorising military action.
2) Why has it taken specifically chemical weapons deaths to trigger action? Are deaths resulting from conventional weapons somehow more acceptable?
This particular focus on specifically punishing the use of chemical weapons, as opposed to addressing the huge numbers of civilians who have perished so far in this conflict in conventional weapons attacks (including the recently reported incendiary attack on an Allepo playground) is extremely troubling.
Surely this signals the green light to Assad and other leaders who are contemplating conventional military operations that huge civilian fatalities aside, as long as chemical weapons are avoided, the International Community will most likely just “monitor” the situation carefully from afar, and express “regret” from time to time.
3) What purpose will a “limited and discreet” strike serve?
If only for the symbolism in being able to claim in future (thereby serving the collective conscience) that punitive action was taken when chemical weapons were used, then a strike should be dismissed as being both insignificant and counter productive in preventing the ongoing cycle of suffering and death that has befallen the civilians of Syria.
4) In the absence of any meaningful action to stop the bloodshed or any attempts to hold the perpetrators to account, what is the virtue of a deterrence argument?
Whilst the wider deterrence argument remains a worthy goal, for many in Syria, such an argument is quite simply ‘too little, too late’. Prior action – (even the appearance of the will to act) much earlier in this conflict could have prevented this recent horrific escalation and grave violation of IHL.
5) How credible is the “inaction = complicity” / duty to protect argument when inactivity and indifference in the face of some immense human suffering has been the default position, whereas swift action has been the response in others?
‘Doing nothing’ is supposedly “not an option” this time around. However, that very option has been repeatedly and tragically over-used in recent times for a myriad of reasons, even where war crimes and IHL violations have occurred. To selectively invoke the UN’s Responsibility to Protect doctrine to protect civilians in some conflicts but not others hugely devalues its universality, prioritising certain humans over others.
Whilst I agree with the overall premise of the article, – that Britain should stand up for human rights and demand the relocation of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) due to be held in Sri Lanka later this year, I feel that David Miliband’s credibility on issues of human rights are rather damaged by his previous tenure in government.
Regarding Sri Lanka, it is his less than altruistic motivations in visiting the country back in 2009, and his attempts to address the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, that causes me to question his current interest in this very important issue.
Moreover, regarding respect for human rights more generally, his half hearted attempt at scoring political points fails epically given his tenure as Foreign Secretary in a government known to have be complicit in countless human rights abuses whilst prosecuting the war on terror. Such an unfortunate legacy also casts a dark cloud over his ability to credibly champion human rights.
That being said, his argument that CHOGM 2013 should be moved from Sri Lanka has significant merit given Sri Lanka’s:
- continued lack of accountability & justice for UN documented war crimes;
- lack of progress on reconciliation;
- deterioration of the rule of law; and
- intimidation and elimination of critical/dissenting opinions & press
Regardless of the outcome of the Falkland Island vote on whether to remain a British Overseas Territory, this exercise of democracy is greatly devalued by Britain’s refusal to grant a similar vote to the former residents of another overseas territory, the Chagos Islands.
It is a sad paradox to denounce Argentinian declarations of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands whilst simultaneously exercising unilateral sovereignty over the Chagos Islands – in doing so, ignoring the wishes of those who were expelled from their lands to return.
Moreover, in defending the historic expulsion of natives from their lands and continuing their disenfranchisement over successive administrations, the British Government clearly shows double standards and hypocrisy in choosing to uphold self-determination rights only when it is convenient to its own strategic interests.
Victory in the vote will undoubtedly be trumpeted by the British Government as “the people deciding their future” but in reality it is sadly nothing but a rubber stamping of London’s flawed and inconsistent foreign policy.
Human rights – including the right to self-determination, are universal.