Monthly Archives: February 2014

Dear Minister Morrison

I’ve just emailed this to Scott Morrison’s office, having already called. I encourage other Australians to write, email or phone and register concern about the complete lack of accountability and transparency in Operation Sovereign Borders.

Email: minister@immi.gov.au
Phone:  (02) 6277 7860

Dear Minister,

I have been following the events on Manus Island with increasing alarm and have long been concerned about conditions at our offshore processing facilities. The arbitrary detention of asylum seekers is an egregious breach of international law and demonstrates a complete lack of compassion and understanding. It is even more heinous when you consider that 90% of asylum seekers are eventually found to be refugees, and have fled persecution, violence, and hunger in their homelands.

I do not ask you fling open the borders but I expect, as a citizen of this country, a reasoned political debate that doesn’t demonise or dehumanise asylum seekers, that is transparent, and that is honest with the Australian public about our responsibilities under international law and the true magnitude of the boat people “problem” (hint: the number of people arriving in this way is vanishingly small next to visa overstays).

Specifically and in the short term, I would ask that you initiate a transparent Australian-led investigation into the problems on Manus Island, as these people were in our care at the time of the incident, not that of the PNG government. Further, I would ask for a similarly transparent investigation into the report of burns to asylum seekers on boat that was turned back. Please note that to suggest one operation involving a small group of service people may have gone awry is not to indict the entire Australian Defence Force, whose work I respect.

Finally, I ask you to support Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, in her work and allow her to visit both Nauru and Manus Island. The people who are housed there are within our power, and thus under international human rights law are within our sovereignty, and the AHRC’s remit.

Australia has long been a well-respected middle power with a reputation for supporting international law and human rights around the world. Please don’t trample that reputation, and our values of mateship, compassion, and a fair go, into the dust.

Sincerely,

Camden Luxford

What I’ve Been Reading

Aid on the Edge of Chaos take a look at Philip Tetlock’s research on expert judgement and draws some compelling lessons for the development field.

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Anthony Faramelli examines the Duggan inquest in the UK and what it tells us about the politics of fear and security in the post-9/11 world:

the pre-​emptive doc­trine util­ized by state sponsored man­hunts works be­cause the non-​existence of what has not ac­tu­ally happened, but might one day happen be­comes more real than reality due to the af­fective nature of fear. The felt reality of threat le­git­im­ates pree­mptive ac­tion, once and for all.

It’s an interesting dissection of the construction of sovereignty and nationhood:

na­tional iden­tity is neg­at­ively con­struc­ted in terms of what it isn’t, or rather what it must be pro­tec­ted from. However this Other does not ne­ces­sarily have to reside out­side the na­tional bound­aries … The Manhunt Doctrine as elab­or­ated by Grégoire Chamayou ex­pli­citly ap­plies to all 21st cen­tury wars that are fought by gov­ern­ments against ex­ist­en­tial threats that do not have a na­tional al­le­gi­ance and, as such, may be loc­ated any­where and every­where around the world, in­cluding (and es­pe­cially) within the na­tional ter­ritory (the wars on drugs, crime, ter­rorism, etc.).

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Seth Kaplan’s op-ed in the New York Times, What Makes Lagos a Model City, is another addition to the growing grey literature on successful cities – Bogotá is a frequently cited example – and argues for continued devolution to local government. As globalisation continues to erode accountability at a national level there’s something to be said for new experiments in devolved governance.

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Spain’s judges have been very active in the prosecution of egregious violations of international human rights law, but it looks like their leash is going to be considerably shortened: David Bosco for Foreign Policy places the blame squarely on Chinese pressure. Kate at Wronging Rights puts it best:

With the latest change, the courts will now be limited to hearing cases in which both perpetrator and victim are Spanish nationals or residents. Which is pretty much what the Spanish courts would be doing anyway.

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I’ve been tweeting a lot of Venezuela but haven’t read much commentary in English. A pair of interesting Spanish links:

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In the hierarchy of sentiments, compassion is supreme

All languages that derive from Latin form the word “compassion” by combining the prefix meaning “with” (com-) and the root meaning “suffering” (Late Latin, passio). In other languages, Czech, Polish, German, and Swedish, for instance – this word is translated by a noun formed of an equivalent prefix combined with the word that means “feeling”.

In languages that derive from Latin, “compassion” means: we cannot look on coolly as others suffer; or, we sympathize with those who suffer. Another word with approximately the same meaning, “pity”, connotes a certain condescension towards the sufferer. “To take pity on a woman” means that we are better off than she, that we stoop to her level, lower ourselves.

That is why the word “compassion” generally inspires suspicion; it designates what is considered an inferior, second-rate sentiment that has little to do with love. To love someone out of compassion means not really to love.

In languages that form the word “compassion” not from the root “suffering but from the root “feeling”, the word is used in approximately the same way, but to contend that it designates a bad or inferior sentiment is difficult. The secret strength of its etymology floods the word with another light and gives it a broader meaning: to have compassion (co-feeling) means not only to be able to live with the other’s misfortune but also to feel with him any emotion – joy, anxiety, happiness, pain. This kind of compassion … therefore signifies the maximal capacity of affective imagination, the art of emotional telepathy. In the hierarchy of sentiments, then, it is supreme.

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

A Few Quick Links: What I’ve Been Reading

At work inside our detention centres: a guard’s story. Read it.

The End of American Exceptionalism takes a look at three trends contributing to the decline of Americans’ belief in their country’s exceptionalism: anticlericalism, non-interventionism brought on by war fatigue, and the rise of class consciousness in tandem with rising inequality.  Peter Beinhart places the blame firmly in the laps of hyper-conservatives. A tremendously interesting read.

For aid tragics, Robin Davies takes a close look at the Australian aid budget after the cuts, and Tom Paulson warns of the dangers of over-reliance on data.

Just a quick one today folks as I have two imminent deadlines.

Holding Economic Power to Account: Toward the meaningful accountability of transnational capital (ABSTRACT)

The paper I’ll be presenting at the G20 Youth Conference in May. There’s a little more on the direction I’m approaching from here(This was updated 2 March 2014 as a later draft saw me head off in a slightly different direction; below is the abstract for the paper I’ll actually be taking to the conference. Original is at end of post).

From ‘Gift’ to ‘Right’: Moving beyond corporate social responsibility to corporate accountability

Multinational enterprises stride across the international stage, rivaling states in their economic size and power but only subject to international laws via the laws of individual states. These entities have enormous capacity to affect the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities worldwide, and an international community that professes democratic values must provide mechanisms by which MNEs can be held directly accountable to the communities in which they operate.

Adequate mechanisms must provide for three stages of accountability: provision of information, discussion and explanation, and rectification. Furthermore, they must be based on clear accountability rights rather than voluntary compliance by MNEs, and significant barriers to access must not exist. Measured against these standards, existing international mechanisms for accountability are found lacking, for when we consider access, power, and the importance of accountability rights, the dominant rhetoric of corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes rather unhelpful. The challenge is to move beyond CSR to a global accountability regime that challenges existing inequalities of power.

(Following is the abstract from a previous draft, initially published here on 3 Feb 2014).

Holding Economic Power to Account:  Toward the meaningful accountability of transnational capital

Multinational enterprises stride across the international stage, rivaling states in their economic size and power but only subject to international laws via the laws of individual states. These entities have enormous capacity to affect the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities worldwide, and an international community that professes democratic values must provide mechanisms by which MNEs can be held directly accountable to the communities in which they operate.

Adequate mechanisms must provide for three stages of accountability: provision of information, discussion and explanation, and rectification. Furthermore, they must be based on clear accountability rights rather than voluntary compliance by MNEs, and significant barriers to access must not exist. Measured against these standards, existing international mechanisms for accountability are found lacking. While the G20’s embracing of the transparency agenda is commendable, more action must be taken to move from voluntary to mandatory compliance and enable meaningful access to rectification.

Human rights, patriotic press, and the wage explosion: What I’ve Been Reading

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Havana garnered a lot of attention in the Spanish-speaking twitter-verse this week and Andrés Oppenheimer [sp] forcefully presents the view I subscribe to: it beggars belief that a dictatorship should preside over a regional grouping which has as one of its objectives the promotion of democracy. Oppenheimer writes (translation mine):

… to attend a CELAC summit in Cuba without meeting with a single representative of the opposition is to give offer huge propagandistic support to a totalitarian regime, and turn their backs on the peaceful opposition of the island. Many of us, who opposed the military governments of Latin America in the 1970s, remember the way in which these visits of foreign dignitaries contributed to the legitimation of the dictatorships.

As it turns out, a small group of Costa Rican diplomats met with members of a Cuban human rights group [sp] – Costa Rica is assuming the CELAC presidency this year, but too much should not be made of a low-level meeting – and Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera met with members of the Damas de Blanco [sp]. Nevertheless, centre-left President-Elect Michelle Bachelet, also present in Cuba, did not attend the meeting.

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Speaking of human rights and their relegation to second fiddle (or no fiddle) in favour of broader political aims, Foreign Policy has an interesting recount of the ongoing effort to bring Hissène Habré, the US’ “Man in Africa” to justice in Senegal for torture and other egregious violations of human rights throughout his dictatorial rule.

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Meanwhile, Alex Oliver defends ABC’s coverage of Australian policy, broadcast abroad under the auspices of the Australia Network and criticised by PM Tony Abbott as insufficiently patriotic. She reminds us of the vital credibility-establishing role of critical reporting by national broadcasters in a public diplomacy role.

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Another fun part of this week’s Australian political “debate” was Senator Abetz’ warning of an imminent wages “explosion”. Fellow Liberal Senator (and Assistant Treasurer) Arthur Sinodinos AO obviously didn’t get the memo, stating fairly unequivocally that wage growth was low and likely to remain subdued.

On a related note, Sarah Kendzior was devastating as always on wages and workers’ rights:

The second claim is that low-wage workers are easily replaceable and offer no benefit to society. This is the argument aimed at service workers, who are on strike because they make so little they cannot afford food or rent.

Putting aside that anyone working full-time should be able to survive on their income, and that service workers deserve the same respect as any employee, this argument falls flat because educated professionals whose work offers tremendous benefit to society are also poorly paid.

Teaching, nursing, social work, childcare and other “pink collar” professions do not pay poorly because, as Slate’s Hanna Rosin argues, women “flock to less prestigious jobs”, but because jobs are considered less prestigious when they are worked by women. The jobs are not worth less – but the people who work them are supposed to be.