The Distinction

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not respond to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:42-46

I think of this passage every time I hear a politician who rhetorically claims to be a ‘Christian’ expressing hostility, rather than hospitality, towards refugees.

There are many theological issues on which there is a wide range of reasonable diverging interpretations. However, on this point there is absolute clarity and no hermeneutical wiggle room at all:

Jews and Christians who believe there is any truth in the bible at all, even if highly metaphorically expressed most of the time, must welcome strangers, foreigners, refugees and exiles, or expect eternal hellfire.

I’m prepared to interpret eternal hellfire as symbolic and metaphorical, but the intention is clear anyway. In the biblical authors’ cultural terminology, there was no stronger way possible to say: you must welcome refugees. The alternative option, which you are free to choose, means eternal alienation from the divine love, by your own choice to turn away.

Notice what’s not here in the criteria of the Final Judgement: none of the rituals and rules are mentioned, membership of the tribe or conformity with any element of religious tradition is absent, even ‘believing in God’ is absent, but only: did you feed people who were hungry, did you give water to thirsty people, did you clothe the poor and visit the sick, and did you welcome strangers, foreigners, refugees and exiles?

Passive tolerance may not be good enough, positive welcoming hospitality is required. When Abraham saw three strangers suddenly appear walking towards him through the shimmering heat haze of midday at Mamre in Lebanon his first response was to bow and kiss the ground, and then prepare foot washing water and food for his guests. Hospitality to travellers was widely considered in the ancient world, across at least the fertile crescent, Greece and India, to be a sacred moral obligation.

“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor
will himself also call and not be heard.”

Psalm 119:44

The fact most of the refugees are Muslim by religious tradition is completely immaterial to the point. Any ‘Christian’ who cannot see the Image of Christ in the face of a Muslim refugee is no Christian at all. And truly there is no god but God (la illaha il’Allah).

Fundraising appeal for urgent legal information work on Chios

I’ve been back on Lesvos a month, and not asked for anymore donations up til now because I wasn’t confident before that I’d found something really worthwhile to get stuck into this time round, but now I have:

I want to go to Chios on Friday for a couple of weeks to help Chris Trafford and Gabrielle Tan with getting the legal info tent in Vial camp setup up and running well, which they’ve been invited to do by UNHCR and NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council), so I anticipate that access won’t be a problem.

The experience will also help inform the design of the HIAS programme, to make sure it’s adapted to fit the needs across Greece. I’m hoping later to go do another few weeks field work probably in Camp Kineas in northern mainland Greece, where CK Team already have a great rapport with the Greek army camp manager, then I’ll be able to feed that experience from the ground into designing the HIAS Greece programme together with Pare Gerou, who I’m happy to call my boss now.  

Last time (Dec-Jan) I did landings response with @CK Team, built steps up the cliffs with @Sten and @Marcus and installed floodlights with @Alexandra around Korakas pinnacle and infrared heaters inside the lighthouse buildings. This time what the refugees need is less physical and more politically and legally complicated. So I’m focussing on preparing legal information materials (checking with experts before I publish) and volunteer coordination for legal aid.

Refugees in the ‘Hotspots’ (so far, Lesvos and Chios) are desperate because the asylum procedures are so rushed for them, whereas refugees in mainland Greece are desperate because the asylum procedures are so unbearably slow there.

The legal information for refugees on the Asylum Service’s own website isn’t even applicable to the current system since the EU-Tr Agreement (and other pages haven’t been updated since 2013); the information they are supposed to have all received from UNHCR – I haven’t seen it, but I can only assume it must be extremely basic, because no-one I’ve met so far knew more than just some key terms and that they’re supposed to be waiting for some interviews, no idea that they should prepare or write their statements. Currently, EASO is both writing people’s statements for them and then judging them, which seems neither fair nor efficient. None of the refugees I’ve met or heard about so far has received anything like adequate information to enable them to prepare for their asylum interviews.

There are 4-5 foreign legal aid NGOs about to arrive ‘soon’, but that probably still means they won’t be operational for a few more weeks. 3 Greek NGOs are currently providing legal aid in Lesvos, but they can only manage appeals and specially vulnerable cases. There are many more Greek legal aid NGOs for refugees in Athens. However, Chios so far only has two super-dedicated and super-exhausted Greek lawyers, who can only afford time to fight appeals, not to help everyone prepare their statements before their interviews. I’ve been communicating with Chris and Gabi for a month preparing the information materials and connecting urgent cases with local lawyers, including some who were deported to Turkey. In a few weeks while the foreign legal aid NGOs get organised and ready, another 300 or more people could be deported without really having had adequate legal information to enable them to represent their own cases fairly. The most blatant abuses of the asylum procedures in Greece I’ve heard of so far mostly came from Chios, see https://insidevial.wordpress.com for some examples.

I want to try and test in practice whether informing and enabling people to prepare themselves better for their admissibility interviews really has any effect on the outcomes. I’m not certain that however strong the evidence and reasons presented that people’s claims will be judged fairly in the ‘fast-track’ system now, or that the individual interviews really mean truly individual assessments. However, I believe we have to at least try first treating the system as though it’s bona fide and the best version of what it could be, in a pragmatically optimistic way, because that might be a good strategy to influence it to actually become a better version of what it already claims to be.

I’m spending faster than my rental income from my house in Bristol and have gone through the donations I was sent with in the last month. Those of you who know me in person will know I’m fairly frugal by nature, but I had to hire a car (18€/day), and, because of the ferry strike, had to fly rather than get the ferry to Athens for a Greek Asylum Service conference, which was hugely valuable for information which is not in the public domain elsewhere yet and contacts, but doing both has tipped me over my budget for this month. I know I’m going to be employed by HIAS soon (co-writing my job description next), and I might even officially be a HIAS person by the time I make this trip, hopefully along with the FRA and ECRE fact-finding mission to Chios and Samos, but I doubt any money will come through from NY in time for me to go to Chios on Friday.

HIAS is a refugee legal aid NGO from America, with operations in 14 countries and an implementing partner for the USA resettlement programme through UNHCR. It’s a Jewish organisation, founded in 1881 in the USA, originally was for Jews escaping persecution in Europe, but now serves any human person in the same sort of situation – http://www.hias.org/

Specifically what I plan to do in Chios next week and the week after:

  • Help physically set up the information tent – I’m not sure whether to take my power tools as well as my legal textbooks, but I have both here;
  • Try to set up a psychosocially safe, private and dignified environment in which to ask people to recall what happened to make them flee their homes and countries;
  • Discuss with them through the Guide I’ve prepared on how to prepare for asylum interviews, clarify their answers with them, and write down their statements ready for them to take in with them to their interviews (this should assist both the refugees and EASO/ the Greek Asylum Service, making the process both fairer and more efficient for everyone).
  • If there’s enough time, practice mock interviews with people.
  • Connect people whose cases I can’t deal with as a non-lawyer to the network of pro bono refugee legal aid lawyers I’m in contact with now, across NGOs.
  • Get a more detailed realistic sense of what’s needed and what works, to feed into the design of the HIAS Greece legal aid programme.

What I have already done to prepare:

  • I initially compiled and continue to develop a recommended reading list for non-EU trained lawyers and for non-legally trained volunteers to prepare themselves to to accurately inform refugees about their rights and current Greek asylum procedures legal information sources;
  • I am developing the “Information Point for Refugee Legal Support Volunteers” to become an independent coordinating forum, across NGOs and volunteers, like Information Point for Lesvos Volunteers, and like the many other independent coordinating discussion groups on Facebook which have enabled the volunteer movement to grow and gradually become more efficient in the long-term.
  • I’ve produced a guide: How to Prepare for Your Asylum Interviews
    (N.B., list of caveats: I am publishing this just as me, not as a HIAS publication, because I sincerely believe the people who need it can’t wait weeks for official checking and sign-off. I have met too many refugees now who are feeling suicidally desperate or turning to smugglers again because of lack of adequate legal information which could give them back at least some predictability and control about their own future. I am not a qualified lawyer, as most of you probably know, just a biologist. I have checked it with one professor of EU law and Human Rights, handed a paper copy to one professor of refugee law asking her to check it for accuracy, a Greek asylum expert lawyer has agreed to check it next week for completeness and accuracy about the current Greek implementation system (I can’t read Greek yet and the official translations by UNHCR into English of the new Greek legislation have not been published yet), two very experienced refugee communications volunteers, one Arabic translator, have given me many amendments to improve the readability and translate-ability, and I have integrated all their comments. Of course, any errors that remain are my responsibility.
    I am reasonably very confident now after nearly two weeks checking and editing that there are no gross legal inaccuracies, but I admit it can still be made more accessible and easier to translate, so more feedback on that aspect would be very welcome.)

 

This is definitely stretching the original scope of what CK Team was about – I leave it up to you whether you think that’s ok. If you want your donation to be earmarked for one project or area of work or another, you can leave a comment to that effect on the online donation page.

http://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/ckteam

 

First three weeks back in Lesvos

Apologies for such a long delay in writing any update!

I’ve felt most unsettled and wondering what to do next for the past three weeks. HIAS has not yet hit the ground, CK Team is in an transition phase because we used to do mainly transportation and landing response but there has only been one landing in our area in the last three weeks. What’s needed now is much more politically complicated and much less physical, so it’s been slow to get going.

I’ve been attending all the Legal Aid Coordination and UNHCR Protection meetings, which have been very interesting, preparing information materials for HIAS and discussing what form the client information database should take, some bits of guerilla legal information provision at the fence in Moria and writing down bitlinks to legal information for refugees in Kara Tepe because they really don’t get any adequate legal information otherwise but I don’t yet have official permission to do so.

At last I have found something concrete to do in between the bits of HIAS preparation work until Pare arrives and HIAS Greece is established on the ground: from tomorrow on I’ll be volunteering most daytimes in MSF Mantamados camp contributing to activities for 170 unaccompanied minors (teenagers, 14-17). I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to do some science lessons (there are proper qualified and experienced teachers designing the activities and education programme), in response to whatever the teenagers want to learn about, but I would love to break out a drawing of the electrical formulae wheel and my older brother’s visual analogy (this is how he explained it to me when I was revising for physics gcse, and it made so much sense to me suddenly at last that I’ve remembered it ever since): a drawing of a waterfall and a dam to illustrate what the four electrical quantities mean. I drew these on the wall in the childrens’ tent in Moria before when I went to go and fix their lights and worked out they’d fried their lights by mistaking charge capacity for voltage, so fixed their lights and then left them with a physics lesson on the wall too. This will be until I have enough HIAS work to do to fill my days.

I’m also hoping to go to a conference this weekend in Mytilene called: “The European Refugee Crisis: Liberal Answers to Challenges on Sea” organised by the European Liberal Forum, and then going to Athens for another conference on Monday convened by the Greek Asylum Service “The Future of Asylum in Europe” https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2Q3UFiMZDTpamw2bG4xTFRZWTg/view I didn’t expect to be going to conferences this time, but it seems like a good way to make contacts which may be useful for HIAS Greece work.

I recommend this JRS Europe policy and legal analysis of the EU-Turkey Statement – http://jrseurope.org/news_detail?TN=NEWS-20160503033549

 

Here’s a summary of the situation I wrote a few days ago:

Lack of legal information – only very basic information is presented, too briefly and infrequently, so in my experience no-one I’ve spoken to really had a clue about the legal context they’re in, and no-one is remotely adequately prepared with legal advice for their interviews.

Because first instance asylum decisions are treated as administrative decisions, there are no published verdicts, so no systematic monitoring is possible, so there could be very wide variations in quality of decision making between Examining Officers, we’ve heard of some really bad cases of misleading questioning leading to unbelievably unfair decisions, but we can’t possibly know how common those are or assess generally how realistic or fair the processes or decisions are. I believe asylum decisions are inherently a judicial matter, not an executive or administrative matter, and are only being legally treated as administrative decisions as a method of precluding any independent systematic monitoring or public transparency about how realistic and fair asylum decisions are.

Admissibility interviews before substantive interviews, as allowed by Article 33 of the APD2013, are being carried out here. Most people receiving rejection decisions in the first instance administrative decision are receiving decisions of inadmissibility, which means their claim is considered inadmissible in Greece since they could have had or did have sufficient protection in Turkey. This is usually based on presuming Turkey to be a Safe Third Country (alternatively, if someone had previously registered for Temporary Protection Status in Turkey then the authorities could apply First Country of Asylum as a basis for a decision of inadmissibility), as defined by Article 38 of the APD, which is completely implausible as Turkey does not remotely objectively meet any of the legal criteria in Article 38(1) of the APD2013 for that designation. I have heard that over 100 decisions of inadmissibility have been issued, mostly to Syrians, because Syrians can get Temporary Protection Status in Turkey, so it is marginally more plausible to claim Turkey could be a Safe Third Country for them, all have appealed, some so far have received positive decisions on appeal.

Two key requirements of the legal definition of a Safe Third Country are that there must be no risk of refoulement and that the returnees who have not had their substantive claims assessed in the second country must be guaranteed to have their substantive claims properly assessed in the third country. The EU is relying for evidence in support of the presumption of Safe Third Country status for Turkey on Turkish assurances on these two points in an unpublished letter sent on the 26th April, despite the facts Turkey has never yet actually done what it has promised specifically not to refoul anyone and to allow non-Syrians returned from Greece to have their substantive claims properly assessed and to receive Temporary Protection Status if their claims are found to be true and match the criteria for Temporary Protection Status, which should be equivalent to Refugee Status, and I have seen evidence in nine cases that Turkey has in fact continued doing the very opposite since it signed and sent that letter of assurances. Promises in an unpublished letter with no evidence of application in practice yet and a track record of doing the opposite in large numbers of cases cannot reasonably count as evidence to outweigh the evidence of actual refoulement in thousands of cases, the Turkish governor of Izmir having publicly stated that non-Syrians returned from Greece would be immediately deported to their countries of origin, that having been documented as what has actually happened by Turkish human rights organisations in hundreds of cases of Afghans refouled from Turkey, and continuing denial of access to substantive asylum claim assessment and refoulement even since (26/4) the Turkish government made assurances that it would do the opposite.

What is the constitutional legal status of the EU-Turkey Statement? The European Parliament has officially asked this question of the European Council, to explain what it thinks it has done. The EU-Turkey deal has only been published as a Press Statement, but it clearly has had legal effects, i.e. it is functioning as legislation, yet it has not gone through any constitutionally valid legislative process. If the European Council considers it not legally binding or not to have legal effects, then does Turkey know this? If it is intended to have legal effects, why did it not go through the Special Legislative Process required by Article 90 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which requires at least the consent of the European Parliament before the European Council concludes an international treaty on matters including asylum and migration policy? Additionally, if it is functioning as an international treaty, why has it not been registered with the United Nations, as required by Article 103 of the UN Charter? If the letter of assurances by Turkey that was required to make the implementation of the return of non-Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey legal is functioning as a legally binding contract between States, i.e. an international treaty, is that a secret treaty, since it remains unpublished, which would contravene Article 103 of the UN Charter in another way, as well as it being unregistered with the UN. The EU-Turkey deal has in fact directed changes in domestic legislation in multiple EU countries now, so it is clearly functioning as a Council Decision, but has not gone through any of the constitutionally valid legislative processes, so if it is an international treaty, it could be invalid because of being contracted by a State party acting ultra vires, and it could also be invalid ab initio if it in practice violates a peremptory norm of international law, namely non-refoulement, and if it is presented as a Council Decision, it could be invalid because it has not gone through any form of legislative process involving the consent of the European Parliament, as required by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

I since found this- http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.gr/2016/04/is-eu-turkey-refugee-and-migration-deal.html?m=1 which raises the same questions but better. f

Positive alternative proposals

A lot has happened the last few days. Even after the first batch of deportations this morning, it’s still not clear what the government is actually doing.

The Greek Europe Minister, Nikos Xydakis said:
“Deportations in the immediate future will be limited to those have agreed voluntarily to return to Turkey.”

in comments to the Guardian, in the best piece of investigative journalism on EU-Turkey deal since it happened.

Patrick Kingsley, EU-Turkey refugee deal: staff shortages and rights concerns pose twin threat, The Guardian, 1st April 2016.

What governments are still obfuscating about is:

  1. Voluntary deportations – if they are voluntary, why do they need one Frontex guard per deportee plus riot police? If there is nothing shameful about what they’re doing, why screen the whole operation from media with tarps? Why are lawyers being excluded, and why have EASO left the detention centres along with UNHCR?
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/04/first-moves-to-deport-refugees-from-greece-to-turkey-underway
  2. Greek and EU officials claim that the people being deported this week have not asked for or applied for international protection – but this is not what the people themselves are saying to volunteers who can still get in or who are still in contact with them by phone (despite Greek police stopping refugees from buying phone credit top-ups or new SIM cards, which has been allowed for the last year) and threatening volunteers with arrest on the mere suspicion that they even might be bringing phone credit vouchers in to give to the refugees. Volunteers on Chios reported yesterday that Greek officials had ripped down Greek Asylum Service information posters put up by UNHCR. That shows deliberate intention to prevent persons likely to be in need of international protection from being informed or enabled to access the asylum procedures, contrary to Article 6 of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013.
  3. At various points there’ve been fleeting mentions of ‘inadmissibility’, which implies presuming Turkey to be a Safe Third Country or First Country of Asylum, which is not remotely plausibly objectively true, i.e. it does not meet any of the five criteria in Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013. The Greek parliament voted last Wednesday on legislation which transposed the conditions to presumptively designate countries so according to Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013 into Greek law. We still do not know whether they intend to or have actually started rejecting claims based on presuming Turkey to be a Safe Third Country or First Country of Asylum. We hoped we’d know for definite one way or the other after the legislation last week, but Greek officials correctly said that presumptions of safe country status should be examined on an individual basis, but that means it’s even harder to know how they’re applying it in individuals cases.

Overall I think the cumulative evidence that the incoherence and un-clarity, which could have just been ineptitude at first, is really a deliberate obfuscation tactic to try to get away with establishing illegality in practice by making reassuring claims without substantiating them or allowing independent monitoring and pretending the complete opposite of what is actually happening is now overwhelming, beyond reasonable doubt.

In response to volunteers getting organised to observe and record the first deportations this morning, Greek and EU officials started at 3am instead of the pre-announced 8:30am and strung up tarps, which of course only made it even more suspicious.

There’s a lot of despair around this week. My friend Ariel Ricker described watching the boats of returned migrants arriving in Dikili in Turkey this morning:

Flipping over some memories of these past 10 months of all kinds of refugee aid and crisis, this is without a doubt the absolute shittiest I’ve felt.

This place is teeming with police, medics, locals, reporters, but everyone is silent, only an occasional newscaster speaking into his camera.

There is bright sun, stunning blue and green of the sea, and quietly expensive cafes around. It’s the frame of perfect human peace. But this is the shittiest I’ve felt in a very, very long time.

The refugees don’t resist, the guards don’t shove, the police don’t yell. No one speaks unless necessary, even the usual journalist gossip and chatter is muted.

Everyone is miserable. Everyone is devastated at this absolute failure of a system to respect human dignity, human life. And the heaviness of this failure hangs over every individual crowded here on the rocks.

I feel like I’ve failed each of these people, there’s no apology ever good enough.

God, I’ve been watching this horror for three hours and it’s the most gut wrenching, God awful three hours in my memory.

I think this is the toughest moment, to remember I have a job here – apologizing isn’t enough. This situation is not over yet. I’m a lawyer and it’s time for the best lawyering maybe I’ll ever have to do.

When policy fails, law and its adherents must step up. Apologies just aren’t enough… because tomorrow, even more ships will arrive.

There are comprehensive sets of better alternative practical proposals, but quite rightly, they’re complex, systematically radically different, meticulously researched, evidenced and reasoned, so selling them to the public is going to be a long hard slog.

EU scale solutions:

European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, report and complete alternative set of proposals, they have an 8 point summary of their proposals: www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/libe/subject-files.html?id=20151019CDT00421

Leaked probably-or-almost-final version: statewatch.org/news/2016/mar/eu-ep-libe-report-situation-in-the-mediterranean-03-16.pdf

The proposals are pp.13-31, evidence supporting the proposals pp.1-13, and pp.32-79 is comments, amendments and votes (massively in favour) by other European parliamentary committees of MEPs.

I think this set of proposals is excellent. I haven’t yet found any problem with them. The problem is getting them into the mainstream public discourse.

More detail on the proposal for a centralised Common European Asylum System run by EASO – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20160315IPR19462&language=EN&format=XML to put an end to the Tragedy of the Commons situation with some EU member states free-riding and abusing the Dublin System more than others, and to ensure better protection of refugees.

The European Parliament tends to be the best and the least powerful part of the EU political system, despite the fact it’s the directly elected legislative assembly so it really ought to be the most powerful part. It was the European Council of heads of government which decided on the ‘EU-Turkey deal’, which in my view is intrinsically more a legislative than an executive matter, so it is really an  ultra vires (acting beyond its proper role) affront to the separation of powers that the European Council did this.

Global scale solutions

Global solutions to a global refugee crisis  – https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/james-c-hathaway/global-solution-to-global-refugee-crisis which is a relatively short summary of –

Making International Refugee Law Relevant Again: A Proposal for Collectivized and Solution-Oriented Protection,  James C. Hathaway & R. Alexander Neve, 1997 http://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2621&context=articles

These proposals would provide much more effective humanitarian protection for refugees and also cost less. As far as I can see, the only major obstacle is massive public ignorance.

So far I’ve only read pp.13-31 of the LIBE proposals and the summary article on the global solution proposals, but hope to print them and take with me to read more thoroughly on the plane to Izmir and then ferry to Lesvos. I was really excited by the LIBE proposals, so I’m sure I’ll write more about them when I’ve read them again more carefully and probably discussed more with Ariel.

Prophecy of justice

Perfect justice is coming, but it is manifesting gradually, because in order to become perfect among us justice has to be realised by just means, without coercion of those who do not yet understand and consent to its end, its telos.

Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere.
He judged it better to bring goodness out of evil than not to permit evil to exist in the first place.” (Augustine of Hippo)

Justice without the freedom to err and freely to return would not be consistent with where true justice comes from, “justice is what love looks like acting in public” (Cornel West), nor would it achieve its end and purpose “when truth and mercy will kiss, justice and peace will embrace” (Ps85:10).

I believe in natural justice, but also in law posited and established by general consent. I believe the two are not really essentially incompatible theories of law, because natural justice is the source and the end, socially posited law is the means and the way, but the means and way of realising justice socially and in the world has to be consistent with its source and goal, or else it would not really be itself.

Never ever despair.

Parliamentary Q&As on Asylum by my MP

I consider myself very fortunate to have Thangam Debbonaire as my MP, and she also happens to be chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. She has asked 70 parliamentary questions so far this term, at least 16 of which related to refugees, despite having six months off work for cancer treatment: Parliamentary written Q&As by Thangam Debbonaire MP. I have started suggesting some questions and providing her with info from the frontlines of the volunteer network.

(re. previous correspondence, a suggested parliamentary question: how is the term “individual assessments” promised in the EU-Turkey deal being interpreted? Are these individual assessments examining admissibility first on the basis of a sham designation of Turkey as a Safe Third Country or an effective First Country of Asylum (terms defined in Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013) or are they really assessing individual substantive claims for protection?”)

sorry, I have since read this- http://www.tovima.gr/en/article/?aid=788133
So it seems this question will be answered publicly by the Greek parliament soon.
Time taken for those who are ultimately recognised as having refugee status to be assessed and accepted by the UK asylum system 

(re. previous correspondence: “Suggested brief wording of the question: “Can the Home Office minister please provide the statistical data to enable a proper analysis of the overall time taken in recognising asylum seekers with refugee status, including mean average time from first application to recognition and acceptance of the asylum seeker as having refugee status, the interquartile and max+min range, and as much as possible breakdown of these statistics by nationalities, genders and, if possible, which of the five reasons for persecution the asylum seeker claimed asylum on the basis of, for those whose claims were ultimately found to be valid, whether by the ministry or by the judiciary, in the years 2014 and 2015?” )

The Home Office’s published data below only show proportions recognised and rejected overall, but not the time taken for those ultimately successful cases to be recognised overall.


I also started reading some of your parliamentary Q&As and following the links to the data tables –
NATO participation in returning ‘irregular migrants’ who may in fact have refugee status when apprehended in Turkish territorial waters to Turkey and how will this not be an illegal push-back under Article 31 of the Geneva Convention 1951. 
This is a question I’m still reading up on together with Ariel Ricker: How close to the EU external border do you have to be to count as ‘at’ the border and for it to be illegal to push you back without first allowing you access to asylum procedures? Prima facie refugee status can legally be presumed positively but not negatively.
I’m quite shocked at how government ministers respond with totally irrelevant fobbing-off answers even to an MP acting as the chair of an APPG asking parliamentary written questions about the subject of the APPG. That seems like an abuse of process which the Speaker ought to intervene in.
“The choice of destination will be guided by international law and consideration for the safety of the migrants”
That’s a total non-answer! I understand that interpreting maritime law,  where the contested Greek-Turkish territorial waters boundary ‘really’ is, and combining that with fulfilling Article 31 of the Geneva Convention 1951 is complicated, it would probably require a maritime law specialist, an asylum law specialist and an international boundary disputes specialist to be able to interpret the law on that reliably, but between the FCO and the Home Office they surely already keep those lawyers in house. And as they are already applying the policy they are obliged to know whether it is legal first. If they haven’t done that due diligence of checking whether their policy proposal would be legal then that would appear to be grounds for an administrative judicial review. If they have done the legal due diligence then they should have replied with that report attached.
What is supposed to happen when ministers respond with totally irrelevant fobbing-off answers even to MPs through the parliamentary questions procedure?
Transit Visas for Syrians 
Those figures are outrageous! They know perfectly well transit visas will be used by Syrians to access the border and claim asylum at the border – as is their absolute human right, and that is the only plausible reason why they have reduced the numbers of transit visas granted while the need for access to asylum was becoming more severe. If they will not even allow people to claim asylum *at the border* legally and safely using a regular flight and paying their own way, then to effectively penalise asylum seekers for illegal entrance, which is anyway illegal under Article 31 of the Geneva Convention 1951 (http://www.unhcr.org/3bcfdf164.pdf), is also ‘a case [which] ought not to be heard from one who relies on the facts of his own guilt to accuse another’ (nemo auditur propriam turpitudinem allegans).
UK asylum claims rejected and returned to ‘Safe Third Countries’ 
Which countries are they counting as having ‘Safe Third Country’ status there? I checked the data table referred to, it doesn’t say in the data table the government’s answer referred to – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2015/asylum
For any country to be legally designated a Safe Third Country it must objectively fulfil the five criteria in Article 38(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013. If EU law, in particular the Common European Asylum System, was applied consistently, then all EU countries would automatically fulfil Article 38(1), but since that is obviously very far from being the case, it is not reasonable to presume that countries such as Bulgaria and Hungary objectively meet the conditions in Article 38(1). If, despite being designated a Third Safe Country or First Country of Asylum, the country to which an asylum seeker is returned from the UK does not objectively meet the criteria, then that would be refoulement. The law on presumptions of safety about third countries is not a matter of government fiat but of objectivity. They cannot just deem objective reality to be different because they would like it to be.
Apologies for the length of my email.

booked my return to Lesvos

My whole to-do list now has a deadline – I just booked my flight to return to Lesvos via Izmir on the 9th. If I get the MSc place I’m interviewing for on the 7th then I’ll stay volunteering in Lesvos til it’s time to return and move to Uppsala in Autumn, or if not then longer.

Flying back via Izmir is less than half the price and I get to hangout with Ariel Ricker​ and her cats for the weekend and geek out over EU Directives and UNHCR background notes together. B-)

I’ll be re-joining CK Team Lesvos Refugees​ as much as they want me, and hopefully, if the grant application I’m drafting part of now for Pare Gerou​ is successful, then when not busy with CK Team (refugees mostly arrive 1-8am and we’re usually done by midday ish), then assisting a new HIAS (www.hias.org) legal support team in Lesvos.

We have a new fundraising page thanks to Help Refugees​ which will save 26% on all donations compared to gofundme by avoiding crowdfunding fees and automatically gaining Gift Aid, and I’m working on setting up TransferWise and then a Greek bank account so we avoid almost all of the foreign bank transfer and currency exchange fees too. Saving about 30% on all donations long-term may hopefully add up to a Toyota Hilux which will then save us 1050 per month on vehicle hire costs (if that many vehicles are still needed then). https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/ckteam

My living expenses are covered because I’m renting out my house, some friends I volunteered with before have offered to sponsor me, plus friends in Kleio have offered to host me, so my living and basic working expenses (mainly my contribution to the team’s shared vehicles costs) are already covered, so this money is going to CK Team funds which mainly go on transporting refugees from rocky remote landing points in the north-east of Lesvos, between Korakas and Palios, safely up to Borderlines Europe welcome and transit centre, the ‘RefuCheese Factory’, in Kleio, or directly to MSF transit camp at Mantamados.

You can see the whole range of what CK Team has done so far here- https://www.facebook.com/theckteamrefugeeslesvos/?fref=photo

My main write-up of the month I was volunteering in Lesvos with CK Team before over Christmas is here – https://kesterratcliff.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/ten-personal-encounters-with-refugees-on-lesvos/

Why are we so persistently biased about who is really causing how many of the civilian deaths in Syria?

The leftwing has a systematic bias to misrepresent the causes of civilian deaths in Syria as much more due to US allies’ (including UK) bombing than is in fact the case (<0.2%), and the rightwing has a systematic bias to misrepresent the causes of civilian deaths as much more due to Daesh than is really the case (0.9%). In this post I examine how and why these biases persist and what consequences they have.

I could have chosen to sensationalise this topic with a headline such as “How Stop the War Coalition has indirectly caused more civilian deaths in Syria than the US Allies’ bombing”, or “How the typical Telegraph readership’s views on State sovereignty would please Mao Tse Tung,” and either way it would probably get more circulation among the opposite side. I didn’t choose such a title because:

  • neither title would get this article read by the side which its headline targeted then, because no-one likes to have their own cognitive dissonance amplified or reflected back to them,
  • it would make it harder both for me to think and write dispassionately and clearly examine the roots of our biases and for you to read it in such a way, and
  • more generally than just for this issue, I think it’s more important for us to learn about how we choose what we choose to ignore than just to be informed about particular issues, even if we learnt about as many issues in aggregate.

Of course it’s an assumption that ignorance due to bias is always a bad thing, but I think this is a realistic and fair assumption.

This is really a comment on the data graphically represented here: https://diary.thesyriacampaign.org/whats-happening-to-civilians-in-syria/ Please read that article closely first.

After six months of being deeply involved in the humanitarian volunteers and solidarity activists for refugees movement and repeating this argument with many different people, it’s so obvious I’d almost forgotten it was worth noting that the biased misrepresentations of the initial and maintaining causes of the Syrian conflict and particularly causes of civilian deaths and causes of refugees fleeing are so politically polarised in the UK.

I’ve explained that the data don’t fit the Stop the War Coalition storyline to friends in the volunteer movement repeatedly, even the same friends repeatedly, and they still carry on repeating their line that UK bombing is killing civilians in Syria as if it was a major cause of deaths or higher than could plausibly be genuinely accidental, as if I hadn’t told them that it is just plain objectively not true.

No doubt it seems like a good thing to choose, to simplify the causal explanation of violence in Syria into something which it seems more feasible for us to change, so that at least that part of the causes could change, even if it is not really a major cause. But goodness must have an element of objectivity about it, it is not just a matter of opinion, and what matters most is how it affects those who are most affected by any view’s practical consequences.

The fact is less than 0.2% of civilian deaths in Syria have been caused by US Allies’ bombing or military actions. The various Syrian human rights organisations vary slightly on the percentages for the minor actors, but they agree very closely on the percentages of civilian deaths caused by the major actors. In absolute and proportional terms the number of civilians killed by US Allies in Syria is tiny, and it is tiny enough that it is at least highly plausible that those deaths were all genuinely accidental and not culpably negligent either. Of course we can’t be certain about every individual in such circumstances, but the numbers plausibly match the claim that airstrikes on Daesh are being carefully targeted to avoid hurting civilians, and are being done in order to protect civilians from Daesh.

I have no objection to ideology or ideologies per se as long as they are reasonably explicit, objective and ethical. I think ideology is one of those human behaviours which are really un-suppressible and undeniable, such as sex and religion, so it’s better done explicitly, consciously and carefully than denied or suppressed. My problem with the ideology which e.g. Stop the War Coalition promote is that it’s not reasonably explicit, not reasonably objective and not reasonably ethical.

Intentionally misrepresenting the facts in order to bend objective reality to fit one’s own ideological narrative is not acceptable. Since it’s been explained to you before that it just isn’t factually true that a significant proportion of civilian deaths in Syria are caused by US Allies including the UK bombing and yet you keep on repeating it as if you’d never heard or read that information, then it cannot genuinely be unintentional when you are still effectively misrepresenting the facts. It is also covertly ideological while pretending to be factual, not an explicit and reasonable ideology. And it is neither ethical in its means nor its ends.

If or to the extent that police do not protect black people or apply the law to protect people effectively in majority black or minority ethnic neighbourhoods, then we rightly call that racist. If we agree that borders do not make a moral difference to the value of a human life or the rights intrinsic to being human, then how is withholding policing from people in ‘foreign’ countries really different from withholding police protection from the subaltern within our country, so why should the judgement differ?

Policing is really different from war. They have opposite functions. They do indeed look structurally similar in some ways: varying degrees of violent force are used in order to control or limit another’s behaviour. (In general, complex behaviours are difficult to categorise by structural features only and we have to include functional characteristics in order to construct definitions which sensibly and intuitively match reality.) Consider ‘play’ for a nice neutral example: how do you tell the difference between typical mammalian social play – play fighting, and ‘real’ fighting? We intuitively recognise that mammalian juvenile play-fighting is not just a quantitatively lesser form of real fighting, it is categorically different. (If you try to define ‘play’ as a category, you’ll quickly find you can’t make a category that consistently makes sense and doesn’t mislabel non-play as play or play as non-play on the structure of behaviours alone (e.g. ‘pouncing’, ‘mouthing without closing the jaw hard’) without including functional characteristics (e.g. it creates and maintains social bonds, it tends to reverse ‘real’ social dominance hierarchy during play, it develops behavioural new variants which can then be selected by social learning, i.e. analogous with the function of sex for increasing the rate of genetic variation to keep pace with the co-evolutionary antagonism with micro-parasites). I think this impossibility of defining complex social behaviours by structures alone and having to include functions to make sensible, reliable definitions is generally true, since it also applies to e.g. sex and religion.) (I did an animal behaviour biological degree.)

Take it a step closer to the relevant issue: suppose you see a typical Saturday night minor street brawl between drunken men (or any male animal) competing for social status directly or indirectly over access to mating opportunities, and then you see one or more of their friends or a bystander wade into the fight and using minimal force makes them stop. We intuitively recognise that this is called ‘breaking up a fight’ not ‘getting into a fight’. This is the natural origin of policing. You might hear them saying different things to the opponents in the fight while using or threatening force to stop them, such as ‘that’s enough, stop now’ or ‘just back off now’. If you hear ‘I’m gonna f*****g kill you’, then you don’t interpret their posture and movements in the same way at all.

Of course ‘humanitarian military intervention’ can be misinterpreted and misused, and it probably was in the Second Iraq War and to an extent in Afghanistan. The fact a concept has been misused in the past does not necessarily invalidate the concept. E.g. ‘Socialism’ – has been massively misused, it’s probably fair to say it has mostly been misused, and if so one can reasonably question whether there’re one or more unrealistic assumptions in the model which make it tend to fail to function as intended, yet the failure of a strategic model doesn’t necessarily invalidate its aims. I’m asking for the same sort of logic to be applied to the idea of intervention using force for humanitarian policing purposes. The fact the idea can and has been misused may mean that the strategic model for how to implement the idea of protection by using minimal and proportionate force is not really relevant to assessing its aims. Logically it is possible that the aims are valid and the strategy was totally mis-designed and inadequate, and I suggest that that explanation fits the case of the Second Iraq and Afghanistan military operations better than that they fundamentally invalidate the aims of protecting people beyond conventional borders from the worst kinds of human rights abuses.

I have been making this argument for years, alienating myself in the process from social groups I valued. Recently I came across a book explaining this view- Just Policing, Not War, by Gerald W. Schlabach, 2007, which was a fuller working out of an article he wrote in 2003 in the America Magazine.

Also formative in my own thinking on the ethics of forceful intervention to limit overall violence was proofreading a friend’s LLM dissertation on Just War Theory and Modern International Law. I found it excellent, so did his examiners, and I wish he would publish it. What he didn’t say in it but I thought was a theme underlying the whole thesis was that there is a tension between legal positivists (Anglo-American) and natural law theorists (continental European and Latin American) attitudes and approaches to developing international humanitarian law of conflicts, and that there are real inconsistencies in the international legal framework on just intervention by force to limit overall violence that resolve down to this tension.

Consider another implicit assumption of the stereotypically leftwing ‘anti-war’ over-simplification of the causes of civilian deaths in Syria: the idea that Syria being a different State means that we have no right to intervene to protect people there. What is the nature of a State and in what way can it rightly have sovereignty?

The concept of a State I would support is the idea that a State is an intermediating agency for society to organise itself. When societies get too big for community intermediated  indirect reciprocity to function without compartmentalisation, a similar kind of indirect reciprocity can still function if it is intermediated via a more efficiently organised State. I think a State can legitimately have a contingently derived kind of ‘sovereignty’ when it represents collectively the intrinsic dignity of every person it serves, but only if it really does so. I consider the notion of absolute, intrinsic State sovereignty in general to be an anathema. (I do know the origins of the word and I mean that exactly.)

I agree with the aims of international customary legal principle of the Responsibility to Protect. However, I think the implementation structures need to be more thoroughly designed to match its aims, which are categorically opposite to ‘war’. Community policing is a more appropriate model to start modifying to fit an international context than to start from the model of warfare and then moderate that. If humanitarian interventions using force are to really be categorically different from warfare, then the whole system of implementation has to be radically redesigned. I am not assuming this would be easy or likely to ever be perfect, but the consequences of not doing it are even harder to deal with in the long-term.

Both carrying on with inappropriately war-like dubiously or partially humanitarian interventions using force or totally avoiding getting involved in such interventions due to horror of having done it badly before are contributing to  maintaining and developing the world in a state of FUBAR-ness. Isolationalism just cannot not work any longer, if it ever really did, so if you abandon responsibility for maintaining and developing the ‘international community’ to be more real and effective and positive to those who will do it less consciously, carefully and responsibly, that does not improve the outcomes, and your individual purity by dissociation has no benefit or relevance to those who are most directly affected.

The failure of the UN Security Council member States to actually enforce UNSC Resolution 2139 or to respond to the calls from the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect for enforcement of humanitarian law to protect civilians in Syria in 2012 probably resulted partly from the popular opposition to ‘bombing Syria’ in the UK which misrepresented the aims and strategy of the proposed intervention so grossly that it can hardly be credible that it wasn’t intentional tactical obfuscation in order to win their campaign more easily. It would have been fair to question and amend the government’s proposal to make it even more thoroughly designed as a policing rather than a warfare kind of intervention, but it clearly never was the intention to start targeting Syrian civilians or even to bomb in areas where there were likely to be civilians.

The specific intervention strategy which I would support is the No Bombing Zone enforced by Retaliate and Deter – see No Fly Zone Options. That would be a fairly minimal intervention, but it would have set limits on the war crimes that were possible for the regime to continue by air strikes and barrel bombs, and it wouldn’t require direct military confrontation with Russia, which is obviously too risky.

Objectively it’s highly likely that far more civilians have now been killed by the Assad regime and its ally Putin since than would have died by violence if the UNSC member States had intervened responsibly to protect civilians and set limits on the violence by at least destroying the regime’s capacity for airstrikes and dropping barrel bombs from helicopters. I believe Stop the War Coalition’s campaign against ‘war’ in Syria actually stopped a policing kind of intervention which would have prevented far more deaths caused by Assad and Putin than were actually directly caused by US Allies bombing of Daesh so far or would have been likely to have occurred if the intervention had gone ahead. Your casually claimed ‘good’ intentions with no careful investigation or respect for real details do not change the consequences for those directly affected. If you really want to care for people then you have to care about what affects them in detail, and accept that your objectivity about what affects them matters to them more than your own social identity politics.

 

Turning to the typical Telegraph readership’s biases in causally understanding the Syrian conflict and who is causing how many civilian deaths in Syria, the typical misrepresentation on this side of the political discourse is to fixate repetitively on Daesh (ISIS) and ignore the fact Daesh has caused only about 0.9% of the civilian deaths in Syria, whereas Assad and his ally Putin have caused the vast majority of civilian deaths (>95%).

Stereotyping somewhat, the usual arguments on this side tend to be that Assad’s regime is the Syrian state, that it was elected, that it previously enforced ‘stability’ or ‘security’, and that it is the lesser of two evils, by contrast with Daesh. There are factual, logical and moral problems with this set of assumptions.

Factually first, it’s grossly unrealistic to assume that the Assad regime having done what it has done could return to its former position of even being capable of enforcing that sort of security it did before by using terror tactics to suppress political opponents and protesters. Besides being morally wrong, it just couldn’t work now, because: the starting level of insecurity is far too high, and there would be no tacit tolerance from the majority for Assad. I have many Syrian contacts now in the volunteers for refugees movement, and none of them as far as I’ve asked or heard or read their opinions supports an absolute pacifist approach to the violence in Syria, most seem to want some sort of very carefully designed intervention, and  I have not yet met or heard of one Syrian who would willingly tolerate Assad remaining in power. As soon as the recent ceasefire was one week old, there were mass protests in Aleppo calling for the same as the original protests which the regime reacted to by violently suppressing.

The Assad regime was ‘elected’ with a 99% majority, in elections only in regime held territory, where all the ballot papers were pre-marked and if you didn’t go to the polling station and post your ballot card pre-marked for Assad then you would be disappeared and probably tortured to death by the Shabiha (pro-regime militias/ death squads). It was just a sham election, for the purpose of confusing and deflecting some of the foreign criticism of the regime. No-one gets to be a State just by claiming it loudly with a gun.

I get the impression the logical lack of clarity in the typical rightwing narrative on Syria is because it is mainly secondary rationalisation and the real reason behind the claims made is that conservatives value authority and loyalty/ group cohesion more highly than universal justice or care for others. (See: Righteous Mind: why good people disagree about politics and religion, Jonathan Haidt, 2012, which summarises several decades of social psychology research.)

The kind of ‘security’ based on systematic torture, forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, murder of political opponents, is not real security, nor does it ever lead to peace. I think if people were directly affected by their own concepts of what ‘security’ and ‘peace’ mean, then they would not subscribe to or support such thin concepts. Peace is what happens when justice is established reliably, it is not the same as successfully suppressing resistance to injustice.

The idea of intrinsic and absolute State sovereignty based on actual possession of power by whatever means resolves down to “power grows out the barrel of a gun”, so Mao Tse Tung would approve. Again, if people just thought through what they’re saying more carefully and thoroughly, which they would if they were the ones directly affected, then I cannot see how they would be satisfied with such lazy, vague and careless definitions and views which lead to propping up tyrannies and creating environments in which terrorist reactions to those tyrannies are almost bound to evolve. Yes, realistically we have to acknowledge that terrorism emerges as a strategy where people have chronically experienced and suffered from tyranny, because they are functionally the same or very similar things. We just label tyranny and terrorism differently if we accept an authoritarian version of State sovereignty, but there is very little if any real difference on the receiving end. If you really want an end to terrorism, I recommend basing your strategy on this data-driven analysis How Terrorism Ends: understanding the decline and demise of terrorist campaigns, Audrey Cronin, 2010. In my opinion, if we want terrorism to end, we also have to be as strict and ruthless on tyranny as on terrorism, because they are really a causally interlinked pair, or even more strict on tyranny because it is the root cause of terrorism and more culpable because it starts from a more powerful position with more options how to behave.

You can have your cynical nihilistic Realpolitik world-view, but you cannot actually keep its consequences outside your conventional borders any longer. The world is far too interconnected and interdependent for that level of in-group morality and out-group amorality to even be functional now. The consequences of supporting oppressive regimes and tyrannies, by action or omission, include having mass influxes of refugees. If that’s unacceptable to you, then don’t carry on choosing what causes it.

The main factual problem with the biased narrative that Assad is the lesser of two evils because Daesh are so incredibly nasty is that while Assad does not perform the same spectacular, dramatised and commercially video edited atrocities, he has actually killed 95% of the civilians directly killed by bombing with barrel bombs, torture in prisons, etc., whereas Daesh has killed about 0.9%. Daesh are indeed incredibly horrible, but also really tiny comparatively. About 11.5% of the Syrian population before the conflict are estimated to have been killed now.

Assad also is not really opposed to Daesh, nor Daesh to Assad. They do not attack each other most of the time or on a big scale, and the regime still buys oil from Daesh. There are Russian engineers still working on oil wells in Daesh territory and only about 8% of Russian airstrikes were even in Daesh held areas. Assad needs Daesh for his cover story, and Daesh need Assad for their recruitment story. Of course this must be just a loony-left narrative, which is why the Telegraph explains the same view here – www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/12038032/As-long-as-there-is-an-Assad-there-will-be-an-Isil-hell-make-sure-of-it.html

The politically polarised systematic biases on both sides of political discourse in countries such as the UK, I think, both come from a sort of self-absorption that mis-associates our own society’s politics with the objective reality of the situation in Syria and what the people directly affected actually need. Both biased responses show a lack of respect for the people who are most affected. There is noticeably extremely little attempt to listen to Syrian exiles on what they think could and should be done to help bring an end to the violence. Our unconscious collective ‘racism’ (or what was underlying racism as an ideology before) has moved on from focus on race to focus on civil nationality – on both political sides of the discourse.

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Both the typically rightwing faults of not caring enough about the details of strategically designing an intervention so that it is really consistently a humanitarian policing kind of intervention or tolerating a tyrant and neglecting the international responsibility to protect and the typically leftwing faults of not really caring enough to acknowledge that refusing to accept international responsibility for collectively enforcing humanitarian protection of civilians from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement, are forms of not respecting people for being born on the other side of the planet.

 

The beauty of the preamble to the European Convention on Human Rights

This is a legal text which is beautiful, like mathematicians say of certain proofs and formulae, or like music which has just enough notes and exactly no more, with just the right balance of technical accuracy and the right flexibility and feeling of human spirit to communicate something so deeply understood that it can now be said simply. However, its depth can be overlooked by those who do not see and appreciate what is expressed.

Rome, 4.XI.1950

The Governments signatory hereto, being members of the Council
of Europe,

Considering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10th December 1948;

Considering that this Declaration aims at securing the universal and effective recognition and observance of the Rights therein declared;

Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is the achievement of greater unity between its members and that one of the methods by which that aim is to be pursued is the maintenance and further realisation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;

Reaffirming their profound belief in those fundamental freedoms which are the foundation of justice and peace in the world and are best maintained on the one hand by an effective political democracy and on the other by a common understanding and observance of the Human Rights upon which they depend;

Being resolved, as the governments of European countries which are likeminded and have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law, to take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration,

Have agreed as follows:

Click to access Convention_ENG.pdf

Every word is carefully and precisely chosen here. Even though I’m very familiar with human rights theory, since age 11 in Amnesty group in school, looking at it again in order to write this, I noticed something I hadn’t ever noticed before in paragraph 5.

The first meaningful line makes it as clear and explicit as possible in succinct enough words to have a hope of being read by those in every generation who do not yet already intuitively understand this, that human rights are not something granted or applied to persons, nor does the State have an option in binding itself to uphold and protect them, rather, it says human rights are to be ‘universally and effectively recognised and observed’, and ‘declared’, not merely conventionally posited.

One of the aims of the Council of Europe then was explicitly to achieve greater and deeper unity among the member States of what is now (approximately coterminous with) the EU.

Profound belief in fundamental freedoms, which together are the foundation of justice and peace in the world, and are maintained by effective democracy on the one hand and recognition and observance of human rights on the other hand.

Another way of saying this is that democracy is a complex idea and that it is really different from the simple idea of populism. This understanding of the full meaning of democracy is particularly lacking now.

‘Freedoms‘: Freedom means not just absence of constraint, but also positive enabling of each person’s expression of their human dignity and fulfilment through their personal responsibilities.

Either you can say democracy plus human rights are the foundations of justice and peace, or you can say that democracy means government which comprises a) popular voting, and b) common understanding and observance of human rights.

Lack of common understanding of Human Rights – not just human rights in the particular and plural, but the nature of Human Rights, the essential ideas of Human Rights in principle, is what is behind the gross lack of observance now.

‘A common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law’: What common heritage did the authors have in mind? It is likely at the time (1950) they would have had in mind such elements of European heritage as: Christianity, humanism, and liberalism.

What about considering that common heritage in its essential principles, not just in traditions?

Christianity’s teaching that all human beings are ‘made in the Image of God’ comes from Judaism, it is just a translation of B’Tselem Adonai  (בצלם אֲדֹנָי). The exact same idea is in Quran 17:70 : “We have conferred a certain dignity on all the children of Adam…” Even for those who do not recognise the presence of God among us, the idea of attributing the origin of inherent human dignity to a transcendent source can be appreciated as it means it is not conferred by any of us and cannot be taken away by anyone (i.e. inalienable). The intuition of universal and inherent human dignity is not just a matter of traditions, but it is a human universal across cultures in emotionally mature and open minded people.

States talk about Human Rights now as if they conferred them, as if they voluntarily obligated themselves to uphold them in the first place and therefore have the right to loosen themselves again from their obligations, but this is not the case. The original convention says it aims for “universal and effective recognition and observance of the Rights t/herein declared”, not granting or attributing rights to people, but recognising that they already have rights by nature of being human. This was their profound belief, which they wanted to be commonly understood and observed.

Ideals, freedom and rule of law are obviously not just European ideals, these are universal human ideals. Europe has actually been rather more inconsistent at maintaining these ideals than it could have been considering how in practice affording rights and freedoms for all citizens has tended globally to be something certain societies throughout history have done depending upon depriving people of other societies of such rights and freedoms. When we do not maintain these rights and freedoms even within our territories and jurisdictions, having gained the means to do so partly by systematically depriving others of the means to do so, it is particularly sad that we do not even use the opportunities of our privileges for greater good even within our societies, and moreover universally. At the start, the convention says it is for universal recognition and observance of rights declared in a universal declaration.

‘To take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration’:

Nowadays it seems as though the member States are falling over each other in their rush to get away from collective enforcement of human rights on States. It seems as though governments feel that Human Rights are burdensome obligations which they are nagged about and have to pretend to pay lip-service to in order to get away with doing the opposite as much as possible. It is almost as though States think of Human Rights obligations like contractual obligations which it is their duty as company Directors to minimise in order to maximise profits for their shareholders, but these are not mere contractual obligations.

Will Europe ever come again to that common understanding and observance, those profound beliefs, those ideals with which they aimed to united Europe and secure universal recognition and observance of human rights? And what will it take to get there?

Almost needless to say, in 1950, Europe came to this common realisation of the value of securing the effective and universal recognition and observance of human rights having just come through the unspeakable suffering and grief of WW2, the Nazi genocides, the Allies war crimes, the fire bombing and starvation sieges of cities, and nine million refugees on the move around Europe at the end of the war. This convention was a transformational moment of emerging from that grief.

I hope it will not take such massive suffering for us to realise again the value of what we are now in the process of throwing away and come to our senses, but I fear it will.

 

An amazingly apt reading from yesterday

Listen to me, you coastlands!

Pay attention, you people who live far away!

The Lord summoned me from birth;

he commissioned me when my mother brought me into the world.

2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword,

he hid me in the hollow of his hand;

he made me like a sharpened arrow,

he hid me in his quiver.

3 He said to me, “You are my servant,

Israel, through whom I will reveal my splendor.”

4 But I thought, “I have worked in vain;

I have expended my energy for absolutely nothing.”

But the Lord will vindicate me;

my God will reward me.

5 So now the Lord says,

the one who formed me from birth to be his servant

he did this to restore Jacob to himself,

so that Israel might be gathered to him;

and I will be honored in the Lord’s sight,

for my God is my source of strength

6 he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,

to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the remnant of Israel?

I will make you a light to the nations,

so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.”

7 This is what the Lord,

the protector of Israel, their Holy One, says

to the one who is despised and rejected by nations,

a servant of rulers:

“Kings will see and rise in respect,

princes will bow down,

because of the faithful Lord,

the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.”

8 This is what the Lord says:

“At the time I decide to show my favor, I will respond to you;

in the day of deliverance I will help you;

I will protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people,

to rebuild the land

and to reassign the desolate property.

9 You will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’

and to those who are in dark dungeons, ‘Emerge.’

They will graze beside the roads;

on all the slopes they will find pasture.

10 They will not be hungry or thirsty;

the sun’s oppressive heat will not beat down on them,

for one who has compassion on them will guide them;

he will lead them to springs of water.

11 I will make all my mountains into a road;

I will construct my roadways.”

12 Look, they come from far away!

Look, some come from the north and west,

and others from the land of Sinim!

13 Shout for joy, O sky!

Rejoice, O earth!

Let the mountains give a joyful shout!

For the Lord consoles his people

and shows compassion to the oppressed.

Isaiah 49.

Some things don’t change, I guess.

And this one almost feels like a verse biography or life plan for me.