Last week, I listened to a podcast in NPR’s Rough Translation series that wason collecting the dead in Mosul, Iraq in 2018. The podcast is about Sroor Al-Hosayni, a 23 year old Iraqi woman who heads a team of volunteers who remove dead bodies from the rubble of Mosul, eight months after the city was liberated from its occupation by the Islamic State (IS/ISIS). Fascinated, I did more digging on the internet and found that Sroor’s work as a ‘body-collector’ has also been covered by the BBC and VICE news. In this post, I use these sources to recount the main parts of Sroor’s role as a ‘body collector’ and show how her story brings to light a set of rules in international humanitarian law (IHL) on ‘the collection of the dead’ that rarely get any attention in academic writings. Sroor’s story vividly illustrates the necessity of the rule that parties to an armed conflict should search for and collect the bodies of the dead ‘without distinction’ i.e. without taking account of their affiliation. The fact that Sroor gets into trouble with the authorities for collecting IS bodies evidences wider trends of counter-terrorism legislation impeding humanitarian action. Sroor’s story also illustrates the danger that the unsupervised removal of bodies may not only pose a health and security risk, but may also interfere with the gathering of forensic evidence needed in war crimes prosecution
The exercise of government power is increasingly automated. Modern technology makes it possible to reduce the direct human involvement in a great variety of government domains. Human involvement in domains like tax and social security is already limited to the most complex cases. One of the questions this development raises is whether artificial intelligence (AI) will also impact other branches of government, besides the executive. Last month the Estonian ministry of Justice ordered the design of a ‘Robot Judge’ to help the judiciary fight backlogs in the Estonian small claims procedure. And as futuristic as a ‘Robot Judge’ may sound, the Estonian efforts do not stand alone. Also in the Netherlands, the use of AI by the judiciary is on the political agenda. This makes sense since the use of AI by the judiciary holds many promises. Procedures are expected to be cheaper, faster, and less biased. However there are, as with the automation of executive government decisions, also concerns. In this blog we give a short introduction to the development of the Robot Judge.
(The below blog is based on a draft article presented at the conference ‘Guarantees of Non-Recurrence: Transformative Police Reform’ on 5 November 2018 in Utrecht, the Netherlands)
Countries around the world grapple with how to address excessive police violence that violates human rights. For decades, scholars and practitioners have stressed the importance of establishing better relationships between police and the communities they serve and have adopted various ways to bring about real police reform that fosters relationships of trust. Community policing, democratic policing, and problem-oriented policing are some of the ways in which police have sought to make this change. At the international level, Security Sector Reform (SSR) is the umbrella term used to describe reform programmes adopted in States where the security sector (namely the military, police, gendarmes, and militias) has become a source of insecurity. The current view of SSR is that it must be a transformative process built upon human security and democratic governance. Human security demands that the interests of the individual, rather than the State, should dictate security policy (Ball 2010). Democratic governance requires respect for human rights, rule of law and adherence to principles such as inclusiveness, transparency and accountability (OECD DAC 2005). The transformation of the security system requires all of relevant actors (police, politicians and civil society) to work together. Yet, whether in Ferguson, USA, Paris, France or Nairobi, Kenya, the gaps between the idealistic rhetoric and harsh realities of police/security practice are significant. As noted by Ball and Hendrickson, much of the work concerning police reform is ‘misleadingly optimistic about the prospects for change’ (p. 104). The consensus among scholars and practitioners is that SSR, and police reform in particular, has been extremely difficult to implement in large part because of mistrust, lack of accountability, and susceptibility to corruption. Given the slow progress on police reform initiatives, it may be useful to look to distinct but relevant fields to (re)frame police reforms. Guarantees of non-repetition (or non-recurrence as it is also referred to) from the post-conflict peacebuilding field offer a normative institutional policy framework built around human rights standards and State responsibility that could potentially shift the rhetoric to focus on State obligations that are context-driven. The language of and programming falling under guarantees of non-repetition could prove useful when addressing police reform; noting, however, that the success of any reform policy is ‘directly proportional’ to the State and communities’ enthusiasm for it (p. 35). Continue reading
If there is one issue that, as a human rights scholar, has puzzled me for years it is the continued popularity of the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Permanently referring back to the UDHR, it seems to me, is like continuing to use an old Nokia when the Iphone X has just come out. Legally, we have come so far since that first non-binding Declaration stating 30 rights and the underlying principles. A Declaration, not a Treaty. An act of engagement, but not the actual marriage contract – as our colleague Fried van Hoof liked to put it. Ever since 1948, we’ve carefully and painstakingly constructed a whole architecture of binding treaties, monitoring bodies, special rapporteurs, and regional courts. Why do we continue to dig beneath all of that to draw attention to the foundation of human rights instead of simply focusing on the whole shiny construction? Continue reading
This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This document continues to represent a landmark achievement of the international community. Since 1948, much progress has been achieved, with numerous human rights treaties and instruments adopted nationally, regionally, and internationally. Despite this momentum, human rights continue to be violated in all states around the world, revealing the gap between law and practice. The challenge of implementation – of making legal norms a lived reality – is now most pressing. How to address this challenge was the focus of my PhD research completed earlier this year. This research focused on criticisms of state-centricity in international human rights law, as well as its tendency to take a legalistic approach to implementation. Identifying the shortcomings of state-centric legalism, my research proposed involving informal social institutions the domestic implementation of human rights due to their cultural embeddeness and ability to guide human behaviour.
From 22 – 25 February, I travelled to the US to attend the 58th annual International Studies Association (ISA) conference entitled ‘Understanding Change in World Politics’. The theme could not be more relevant as we witness significant changes to the world political scene, most notably under the new Trump administration in the USA. A willingness by political leaders such as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and others to violate or be dismissive of human rights norms, underscores the important role played by civil society actors in holding leaders to account.
Having a split personality is usually not seen as a positive thing. Not for the outside world, and not for the person itself. Robert Stevenson’s novel about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde famously showed how the constant shifting between personalities can almost destroy someone. A clear and unified self-perception and image is the preferred style of identity in almost all fields of life and practice, from organizational science to marketing or psychology. Choices have to be made for the sake of clarity and efficiency, but also for the mere functioning of a person or organization it seems.
From this perspective, it is no surprise that the history of the main guardian institution of the ECHR, the European Court of Human Rights, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on the 4th of November, has been marked by an almost constant discussion about the Court’s role and focus. The text of the Convention itself seemed straightforward enough about the function of the Strasbourg Court. It states in Article 19 that the Court was created “to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the High Contracting Parties.” But the ways in which this can be done has led to deep soul-searching within the Court and a lot of debate outside of it. Should the Court focus on the role of provider of individual justice in the applications that represent the large bulk of its docket? Or should it, for principled or pragmatic reasons take an altogether different, more constitutional role, ruling on principles and structures rather than the nitty-gritty of each individual case? Continue reading
The Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI) held their 16th annual conference on 21-22 September 2015 in Serbia, hosted by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights. This blog gives a brief overview of my experiences at the conference. The theme of the conference was Human Rights and Universality, in acknowledgment of the new ways emerging to approach the universality of human rights. This theme reflected on discussions about what are common human values, and how human rights should be interpreted in the different cultural contexts. Continue reading