Tag: advocacy campaigns

Money Talks: Giving Women a Voice on U.S. Currency

The grassroots advocacy campaign, Women on 20s, had a simple request: put a woman on the $20 bill by 2020 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the United States. Starting with a list of 15 women candidates, on-line voters cast an electronic ballot in the primary round and chose four finalists: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller. One month later, voters elected Harriet Tubman as their choice for the portrait on the twenty dollar bill. As the final votes were pouring in, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced S.925 Women on the Twenty Act, which is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

The momentum of the campaign came to a halt when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that a woman would appear on the redesigned $10 bill, but she would share the honor with Alexander Hamilton who is currently on the bill. Continue reading


War Law, the “Public Conscience” and Autonomous Weapons

In the Guardian this morning, Christof Heyns very neatly articulates  some of the legal arguments with allowing machines the ability to target human beings autonomously – whether they can distinguish civilians and combatants, make qualitative judgments, be held responsible for war crimes. But after going through this back and forth, Heyns then appears to reframe the debate entirely away from the law and into the realm of morality:

The overriding question of principle, however, is whether machines should be permitted to decide whether human beings live or die.

But this “question of principle” is actually a legal argument itself, as Human Rights Watch pointed out last November in its report Losing Humanity (p. 34): that the entire idea of out-sourcing killing decisions to machine is morally offensive, frightening, even repulsive, to many people, regardless of utilitarian arguments to the contrary: Continue reading


How to Survive a Plague

I am putting the finishing touches on a new book manuscript on social movements and market transformations with my co-author Ethan Kapstein. In the process of researching that book which focuses on the global AIDS treatment advocacy movement, we tried to get our hands on any relevant material. We became aware of two important documentaries that have just been released, one is David France’s How to Survive a Plague which captures ACT UP’s mobilization for AIDS treatment in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. The other is Dylan Mohan Gray’s Fire in the Blood, which covers the global movement for AIDS treatment access of the early 2000s. I had an opportunity to screen both films, and here is my review of How to Survive a Plague.

ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) emerged on the scene in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis in the United States and other rich countries. ACT UP embraced an anti-establishment ethos, staging occupations of governments offices, hospitals, drug companies, even church services with aggressive in your face tactics that drew in the media and brought gay rights and the AIDS epidemic front and center to the nation’s attention. But as much as ACT UP relied on shock tactics, they also took it upon themselves to learn the biology of the virus and how the process of drug testing and development worked.

At the time, the gay community, one of those most affected by this disease, was deeply stigmatized and faced widespread discrimination. Partners of those living with and dying of HIV and AIDS lacked visitation rights at hospitals and often were kicked out of housing if their lover died. Until the realization in the mid 1980s that AZT, a drug once meant to fight cancer, could slow the progress of the disease, HIV was a death sentence accompanied by a variety of horrific opportunistic infections as the disease moved inexorably forward to its bitter end, with lesions and cancers that would gradually rob the body of its mass and vigor as those afflicted with it wasted away to skeletal figures.

Peter Staley
In the face of this trauma that would kill hundreds of thousands, a shell-shocked gay community and supporters mobilized with the movement that began in New York, spreading to other cities and internationally. “Act Up Fight Back” became the movement’s rallying cry and helped provide purpose for those fighting the AIDS epidemic as they sought greater attention, resources, and swifter delivery of drugs to treat the disease.

How to Survive a Plague vividly captures a period in American history just long enough ago that people in their early forties and younger might not have an appreciation for what it was like for a community to face both systemic discrimination and a devastating disease. I was struck by how self-aware the community of activists who fought the AIDS crisis were in documenting their struggle through video. Many if not all actions were accompanied by videographers, whether it be Catholic church services where activists disrupted Mass or the wrapping of Senator Jesse Helms’ Washington house with a gigantic condom.

The director David France’s achievement is to make that material, collected over the past two decades, accessible to an audience too young or unaware to have known the scene. For those who lived through it and know the players or the wider arc of the disease, the film surely has a different poignant resonance as they look back on lost loves and their own past (Andrew Sullivan’s remembrance is one of my favorites).

Beyond the archive material of public protest, there are private moments and footage of a number of key figures in ACT UP like Peter Staley, Marc Harrington, Ray Navarro, David Barr, Jim Eigo, Bob Rafsky, Ann Northrop, many of whom have gone on to do other things and others who are now dead. For those who do not know at the outset who is still alive today, the film purposefully builds a dramatic narrative, holding back contemporary interviews with a number of players in the back half of the film, revealing their disparate fates. That reveal is cathartic both for the viewer and those interviewed.

When we first see these men and women, the architects of ACT UP, most of them are in their twenties and thirties with the flush of youthful good looks and energy about them. By the time we arrive at the end of the film, we have witnessed in some cases footage of the physical and psychological toll the disease has taken. Or we see the activists now middle aged, craggy with the enormity of what they experienced visible in their demeanor. In those interviews, the activists have a chance to look back on their past, and the weight of memory is profound for them and us as audience.

ACT UP by the early to mid 1990s began to come apart amidst internal conflict over its direction. The film does not shy away from this moment and shows some of the footage of meetings in which these tensions are manifest. Larry Kramer, the playwright and ACT UP founder, witnessing this conflict is aghast and shouts down the back and forth in a meeting, “We are in the middle of a fucking plague.” “Until we get our act together we are as good as dead.”

The nature of the disputes that rent ACT UP have much to do with the mainstreaming and taming of the movement as it grappled with a system initially deemed hostile to it but ultimately one that could gradually accommodate them. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and to some extent drug companies like Merck became more willing partners to move the scientific process of drug discovery and testing along to get therapies available faster as ACT UP demanded.

This increasing coziness of some in the movement, especially the T&D Committee (or Treatment and Data), to government and business ultimately became a strong enough rift for some of them to break off and form their own organization, the Treatment Action Group (TAG). Other divisions, that perhaps get less coverage here than they have in academic circles, is the fault line between those HIV positive, many of them white gay men, and allies, some of them lesbians, who tried to bring attention to wider sets of social issues facing the community of those living with HIV. For those living with HIV, the emphasis was largely on getting drugs into bodies. For others, issues like discrimination, both gender and racial, demanded more attention.

The film, with its focus on those who sought an accommodation with CDC and NIH, perhaps implicitly sides with that group and they are an incredibly sympathetic bunch. That said, there are important stories to be told about how advocacy for women also brought attention to how both the science and the movement focused on the needs of men, until women helped bring attention to a variety of symptoms and ailments that were AIDS-related but were not initially classified as such.

I was struck by the change in activists’ tactics as those who had been among the most vigorous supporters of swift roll-out and clinical trials of drugs began, after initial failures of some early drugs like ddI, to encourage more caution and time as the drugs that would ultimately offer a breakthrough, protease inhibitors, started to be developed. I still wonder what the activists think now about their early efforts and whether they were useful, looking back on that earlier period.

The opponents of action like arch-conservative Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina are captured in all their vitriol. Helms is observed decrying those suffering from AIDS from having brought the disease upon themselves for engaging in unnatural acts. While this early ugly legacy is there, Helms’ later embrace of AIDS treatment globally is not, given the emphasis on the American epidemic. 

The footage in this film is understandably largely New York-centric, and there were other cities with vibrant ACT UP scenes, both in the United States and abroad. The ACT UP Oral Archive has interviews with many other figures from the scene, and another film on the subject, United in Anger, is also set to be released this fall.

These minor reservations aside, I found How to Survive a Plague emotionally resonant and evocative. I was in my early teens at the time, living in Texas, scarcely aware of ACT UP and the wider AIDS crisis. My interest in the subject came about in the late 1990s, just as the global scope of the AIDS crisis became apparent. While I had heard of ACT UP, the film makes you feel present in the vibrancy and sorrow of the period that only a video medium can. The film is going in to wider release this fall, and I encourage you to see it.


KONY 2012: Bandwagon Empowerment

Invisible Children‘s “Kony 2012” campaign provides many of us professors with a unique opportunity to address and learn how students respond to such campaigns and engage with human rights issues. College is an opportunity for students to feel empowered by activism and knowledge that we partly provide, shape and encourage. We do have a responsibility to course correct this empowerment when the knowledge is incomplete or skewed and the call to action may be ineffective or counter-productive.

Invisible Children, founded and directed by youth inspired to help war-weary Northern Uganda, has made their advocacy bread and butter with young college students who donate to and participate in their campaign. “Kony 2012” encourage its supporters to buy an “action kit” of bracelets and posters to pressure primarily the U.S. government to further support efforts to arrest Joseph Kony, war criminal and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, with the assumption that he is the main impediment to peace in Northern Uganda. Putting aside IC’s flawed presentation of the conflict and its solutions, and the self-involved campaign film that profiles their own success at the expense of presenting the voices of Ugandans themselves, there is a fundamentally disturbing bandwagoning effect of empowerment taking hold. Among the stinging comments on this development is from the Wronging Rights bloggers, Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub, writing for The Atlantic:

“Invisible Children has turned the myopic worldview of the adolescent — ‘if I don’t know about it, then it doesn’t exist, but if I care about it, then it is the most important thing int he world’ –into a foreign policy prescription.”

If one were to course correct the bandwagoning empowerment, the following critiques of “Kony 2012” are most instructive.

First, advocacy can be ineffective or counter-productive. In this vein, many reference Rebecca Hamilton’s research in Fighting for Darfur as evidence of how celebrity and youth activism does not necessarily translate into solutions for complex political and humanitarian crises. Moreover, the assumption of “Kony 2012” is that if only the world knew it would not stand for such atrocities and impunity. Well, those that can affect change do know. The Ugandan government, in loose coordination with other central African governments, are militarily seeking to end the LRA, the U.S. has sent Special Forces assistance, and the ICC has issued arrest warrants for top LRA leaders. The policy change that IC advocates is no more precise than that these actors should worker hard at what they’re already doing.

Second, the campaign is rightly criticized for encouraging the “white savior” complex  – arrogantly empowering outsiders at the expense of acknowledging that those affected by violence have agency in peacemaking. Despite their good intentions, IC’s film is about them, not Uganda. Thankfully some media recognize the wave of criticism from Ugandan voices that see “Kony 2012” as poorly reflecting their lived reality and expectations for justice.

Finally, does the prescribed solution of taking out Kony achieve the outcome – wait – what is the expected outcome? Technically, Northern Uganda is relatively stable as the LRA and Kony have not been active there for six years. Is the outcome “justice” or “reconciliation” for Kony’s victims? The extent of the LRA’s perpetration of atrocities runs much deeper in Acholi communities than Kony himself and some even suggest that his further stigmatization or removal will hinder reconciliation. Notable Uganda scholar, Adam Branch, also argues that the “serious problems (Ugandans) face today have little to do with Kony.”

Back to the classroom. I addressed the issue in both of my classes, one of which is The Politics of International Justice so the students in this class already have a good understanding of the justice and peace issues in Northern Uganda. Most expressed the view that awareness raising is fundamentally good and well intentioned, but that they also had a uneasiness with the film’s presentation of the conflict and were skeptical of the advocacy approach and public response. Several students said that it was frustrating for them to see friends distributing it by social media, “liking” and “sharing,” when they doubted that their friends watched the whole film or truly understand the issue. Another said that he found the bandwagon effect to be as irritating as the self-righteousness of those who opposed it. Another said that she hoped it would at least encourage students to learn more about the conflict on their own, using “Kony 2012” as a starting point.

All of this points to the cynical conclusion that “Kony 2012” accomplishes little more than raising awareness, albeit of a narrow view, of the issue and gives a false sense of empowerment to those participating in the activism of social media, emailing politicians and celebrities, and buying action kits can change can affect the future of Northern Uganda. But as posters and bracelets begin to dot campuses it’s worth encouraging, not disempowering, student’s knowledge and activism with some humility.


Invisible Children – Pretty Dang Visible

KONY, WE GON’ FIND YOU – as soon as I buy my bracelet!

Anyone who has been on Facebook and Twitter over the past 24 hours has probably seen impassioned pleas to watch a high-production video by Invisible Children, an American NGO (whose Board of Directors just happens to be entirely white American males). And anyone who is following many of the IR tweeters out there, you have also probably began to see the backlash.

For those of you who do not know what is going on, the video produced by Invisible Children discusses the conflict in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and in particular the crimes of the movement’s leader Joseph Kony – calling upon the world (particularly the United States) to act by signing a petition and, apparently, buying bracelets.

There is no doubt that Kony is – to put it mildly – a gigantic AAA asshole of the highest order, responsible for crimes that would make anyone’s stomach sick. And it is great that this video is spreading awareness of these crimes.

However, the solutions that Invisible Children (and other organisations, such as Human Rights Watch – now getting in on the #KONY2012 action) advocates are problematic. Others (see this article in Foreign Affairs) have pointed out that military humanitarian intervention in Uganda has been tried and tried again – always ultimately failing and managing to make matters a lot worse for civilians on the ground. Worse, in advocating for these policies, organisations such as Invisible Children, are giving a misleading and simplistic impression of what is actually happening on the ground:

In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.

 Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict writes along similar lines:

It is hard to respect any documentary on northern Uganda where a five year-old white boy features more prominently than any northern Ugandan victim or survivor. Incredibly, with the exception of the adolescent northern Ugandan victim, Jacob, the voices of northern Ugandans go almost completely unheard.
It isn’t hard to imagine why the views of northern Ugandans wouldn’t be considered: they don’t fit with the narrative produced and reproduced in the insulated echo chamber that produced the ‘Kony 2012′ film.
‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves. Some reports suggest that the majority of Acholi people continue to support the amnesty process whereby LRA combatants – including senior officials – return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of ‘traditional justice’. Many continue to support the Ugandan Amnesty law because of the reality that it is their own children who constitute the LRA. Once again, this issue is barely touched upon in the film. Yet the LRA poses a stark dilemma to the people of northern Uganda: it is now composed primarily of child soldiers, most of whom were abducted and forced to join the rebel ranks and commit atrocities. Labeling them “victims” or “perpetrators” becomes particularly problematic as they are often both.
Furthermore, the crisis in northern Ugandan is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the LRA. Yes, you read that right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one wherein both the Government of Uganda and the LRA, as well as their regional supporters (primarily South Sudan and Khartoum, respectively) have perpetrated and benefited from nearly twenty-five years of systemic and structural violence and displacement. This pattern is what Chris Dolan has eloquently and persuasively termed ‘social torture‘ wherein both the Ugandan Government and the LRA’s treatment of the population has resulted in symptoms of collective torture and the blurring of the perpetrator-victim binary.

Beyond this, I find the entire nature of the campaign to be problematic. As this excellent post at King’s of War argues:

Will simplistic explanations of long-running wars, delivered in a Facebook-friendly manner become the future of foreign policy? If the opinion of Rihanna and George Clooney is going to dislodge ‘technocrats’ who do things like read the Military Balance, then what’s to stop intervention in Syria? Pretty much everyone with a passing interest in military affairs says “that is a very bad idea and lots of people will die” but I’m pretty sure that a bright person with access to youtube can come up with a better argument for a brighter world in which taking Assad down is an expression of democratic empowerment. The point about war and military affairs is that at some point, it requires restraint. That restraint is entirely arbitrary (and unfair) but it stops people getting killed. If Angelina Jolie in combination with Condoleeza Rice are to dictate American strategy, then restraints to force will disappear into a blur of “Let’s go get the bad guy” activism that is almost entirely ignorant of the second and third order effects of those decisions.

Last year I wrote a post that was critical of those who are concerned about the use of media which re-emphasizes the idea of “Africans as victims”. I argued that in times of famine, pictures of said famine are useful for generating much needed donations for use by reputable organisations who are combating famine in, say, the Horn of Africa. But this is something altogether different. Invisible Children has been accused of manipulating numbers in order to generate money for its cause. Worse, the vast majority of the money is not actually put towards victims of the conflict, but for advocating military intervention in Western countries. This is basically Save Darfur 2.0.

To put it simply, the situation on the ground in Uganda is complex. Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences. Ham-fistedly intervening in a conflict of which few have a nuanced understanding of the conditions on the ground, where local actors are already engaged in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution, is not going to help and may in fact serve to make a difficult situation worse. Buying a bracelet from an American run NGO will not change this.

I am increasingly getting the feeling that if this is the future of international politics and humanitarian intervention, there are high-definition troubled waters ahead.

Other interesting  posts on Invisible Children from around the web:

How Matters


Visible Children – a no doubt hastily constructed Tumblr, but one that effectively critiques the Invisible Children video.

Washington Post’s slightly less critical take of the issue that highlights the different sides of the debate.

Edit: The very darkly humoured Kony 2012 drinking game! (via Alana Tiemessen)


Is Occupy Wall Street a Flash in the Pan?

Occupy Austin
Source: Austin American Statesman

With New York City police and cities around the country cracking down on Occupy Wall Street encampments, it seems like the nascent movement might dissipate even before winter sets in. While a full assessment is obviously premature, it is fair to ask whether or not OWS possesses characteristics that have made past movements successful. At this point, will OWS’ legacy be more significant than getting Bank of America to waive its $5 fee on its debit card?
One of the main criticisms of OWS that emerged quickly, perhaps too quickly, is that it was unclear what the movement wanted. End capitalism? Higher taxes on the wealthy? Ending corporate privilege?

One of the emergent lessons of social movement theory is that campaigns that lack an overarching goal are likely to fail. My work with Ethan Kapstein suggests that the AIDS advocacy movement was largely successful because it coalesced around treatment. Jeremy Shiffman, now at American University, has argued that advocates for addressing maternal mortality lacked such consensus. A similar analysis has been offered by UVA’s Jeff Legro with respect to grand strategy in foreign policy. While crisis, he argued, may delegitimate an old grand strategy, for a new grand strategy to take root, there must be a single dominant idea to replace the old one.

Others have critiqued the movement for its non-hierarchical organizational structure, which seems like it would work okay for small groups but likely to become cumbersome the more people get involved. Almost two weeks ago, The New York Times provided ample anecdotal evidence of the creaky mechanics of such horizontal consensus-based decision-making.

In that piece, the Times interviewed a number of scholars of social movements who offered similar criticisms. Marshall L. Ganz, a senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard, whether a similar question to the title of this blog post: “Is it a moment or is it a movement?” Jeff Goodwin, a sociology professor at New York University, sees the NYC movement’s park-based focus as a distraction. Ultimately, he says, OWS has to focus on political change to make a difference: It’s inconceivable that the movement can get what it wants without engaging legislatures.”

Another scholar, David S. Meyer, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of California at Irvine, is also quoted in the piece, his emphasis on the absence of leadership. Thinking about past U.S. movements like the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he said it either “falls apart, or it gets seized by disciplined factions from within.”

It is relatively early days in the movement, and other scholars of social movements are more sanguine about the prospects for OWS to succeed, based on past campaigns. Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, had a more positive view of leaderless campaigns. While Mayor Bloomberg may be able to snuff out NYC OWS, the movement may live on elsewhere. As McAdam said, “Successful movements start out as expressions of anger, and then quickly move beyond that. It’s very difficult for opponents to control or repress a movement that has many heads.”

Zuccotti Park being cleaned 11/15/11
Source: New York Times

I want to be sympathetic to the movement and am willing to put aside my snarkiness about drum circles and the like. I understand the source of OWS anger. I am angry too, both by deepening inequality and an unwillingness by some politicians in this country, particularly on the right, to ask the privileged to pay their fair share.

I credit OWS for changing the conversation, for agenda-setting and creating political space so that Republicans are having to countenance new revenue sources as part of any broader deficit reduction package. However, when I think about successful advocacy movements, like the Jubilee 2000 campaign for developing country debt relief or the AIDS treatment advocacy campaign, they had clear targets for advocacy and a clear “ask.” As William Galston of the Brookings Institution said this week, “What do you do for an encore when you’ve gotten people’s attention?”

If the movement does nothing else, it may create space for President Obama’s deficit agenda to succeed, which may look more moderate by comparison. However, the movement itself could play a role in making that happen, not by explicitly endorsing that plan but getting the disparate pieces of OWS to coalesce around a common platform rooted in the possible. The non-hierarchical nature of the Occupy Wall Street movement allowed it to go viral and spread to many cities, but lacking central direction or a common platform, OWS can become a chapter or footnote.


Book Review: “The Possibilities of Transnational Activism”

Among the books I’m digesting this month as I work on my manuscript is this gem from Thomas Richard Davies – a case study of the transnational disarmament movement in the interwar period. I especially like two things about this book. First, it deals with a case of campaign failure, as the movement clearly did not meet its goals of general disarmament. This sets Davies’ book apart from most of the transnational advocacy literature that focuses on successful campaign. But secondly, he uses his case very self-consciously as a lever to explore the merit of extant hypotheses about campaign success and failure.

Davies begins by culling a set of hypotheses from the earlier case literature on TANs, detailing factors said to facilitate and impede campaign success, and dividing these analytically between characteristics of the international environment, the national environment, the activists and the issues (not so different from the typology I’m developing in my book, except that he doesn’t examine the impact of network structure on campaigns). He then asks whether any of these both help to explain the outcome in the disarmament case and are not refuted by the wider case literature.

Simply making the effort to test these hypotheses is a contribution – as he rightly points out, the correlates of campaigns success are often asserted but rarely demonstrated by comparison to unsuccessful campaigns. He concludes that of all the variables suggested by scholars, only one that is both constant across the case literature and sensible in the context of his case study: the promotion of a consistent/coherent framework for action:

Essentially, the interwar disarmament campaigners faced a dielmma to which all activists have to respond if achievement of their goals requires a change in public attitudes to an issue: without international public support activists cannot persuade governments to adopt their goals; but if these goals require a change in public attitudes the support will not be forthcoming.

When faced with this problem, activists have a choice between two options: i) conducting a programme of education until public support for their goals reaches critical mass; or ii) fudging their propaganda in order to give the impression of mass public support for their objectives which in fact does not exist. The interwar disarmament campaigners made the fundamental mistake of choosing the second option.

Exactly how this panned out in the disarmament case I’ll let you read the book to find out, but I find the narrative quite compelling and can see analogues in contemporary efforts like the small arms campaign, in which advocates have disagreed over the nature of the problem and the nature of the solution and are thus particularly vulnerable to being undermined by counter-campaigns, as Cliff’s new book will show.

I do have to say I think Davies may overstate his case a bit: while it is extremely useful to apply extant theory to a specific case as rigorously as he’s done, I don’t think you can confirm or refute a general argument on the basis of one data point. It’s true that he also draws on a wider array of cases, but he doesn’t study or code them systematically in the way that he studied his single case. I also wonder whether interwar campaigns are really comparable with the type of transnational organizing that has gone on since 1990, with the benefit of the Internet and a significantly altered normative environment.

But the book is an excellent read on a case that’s been neglected by TAN scholars, many of whom have focused on post-Cold War campaigns. And the practical implications of Davies’ findings bear overstating, as they imply the single most important indicators of campaign success is completely within the norm entrepreneurs’ control.
This is in stark contrast to the perceptions of practitioners with whom I have spoken for my book project, many of whom tend to see themselves as highly constrained by their political opportunity structure. Davies book by contrast provides a simple and powerful recipe for “getting it right,” and shows that whether or not campaigners do this can make all the difference.


Why Isn’t Access to Pain Medicine a Global Public Health Priority?

The more I think about it, the more atrocious it is that a three year old burn victim in Pakistan or Libya cannot automatically access morphine.

Imagine being such a child’s parent, watching her suffer without pain relief. Imagine being a “collateral damage” victim undergoing surgery for shrapnel removal without anesthetic. Or imagine being an earthquake survivor like the Haitian 10-year-old above, having your mangled limb amputated and then trying to recover with no means to manage your pain.

Recently I spent some time talking to Jason Nickerson, a PhD candidate in population health at the University of Ottawa with a background in anesthesiology and years of field experience in Ghana. That conversation was peppered with horrific anecdotes from his days in Africa: watching children undergo surgery without morphine, watching trauma victims of routine road accidents dying in agony from their untreatable injuries.

This is a simply grievous situation, particularly because it’s so preventable. Yet until recently, I had always imagined that the major travesty in such cases was the absence of rehabilitative care – 60 Minutes’ expose of the Global Medical Relief Fund a few weeks back, for example, emphasized inequities in orthopedic or reconstructive surgery for child trauma victims in developing countries, but didn’t mention the simple fact that these children also lack basic anesthesia to cope with their trauma – even when undergoing surgery.

Since I’m writing a book about why some social conditions get constructed as global policy problems and others don’t, I’m primed to wonder why this issue has so little traction on the global agenda, why it’s not front and center in more people’s understanding of global public health. Based on my research about global agenda-setting dynamics, I have two answers and one policy recommendation for the campaign:

Explanations: Issue Complexity and UN Complacence. These two factors are strongly correlated with how likely it is that a global social problem will get attention by global policymakers. They’re also correlated with each other.

1) “The Complexity of the Problem.” Typically, neglected global social problems have garnered attention from policy “gatekeepers” (like donors or powerful NGOs and UN agencies) when they have been repackaged as significant, solvable problems by issue entrepreneurs. It’s easier to do that with some problems than it is with others. In their landmark book on advocacy campaigns, Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink argue that problems with a short causal chain to a specific perpetrator, whose behavior (if changed) can quickly solve the problem, are better advocacy candidates than problems whose sources are complex or “irredeemably structural.” And unfortunately, inequities in pain medicine are the result of myriad factors: culture, bureaucratic practice in developing countries, international governance of the drug trade, antiquated preferential trade agreements. These inequities are solvable through a series of steps that could easily be taken with appropriate political will. But because the steps need to occur in tandem, it becomes harder for an advocacy movement to package the solution as a single concrete policy proposal. [Though they’re trying.]

2) Inattention From Advocacy “Gatekeepers.” Clifford Bob has noted that the most important nodes in transnational issue networks are the organizations most visibly associated with the relevant issue area (Amnesty International plays this role for the human rights issue area, Greenpeace for the environment, the International Committee for the Red Cross for humanitarian affairs, etc). My work on weapons norms confirms Cliff’s insight: such organizations can propel an issue to the global stage simply by paying attention to it; or they can consign it to the margins of the issue area by ignoring it. In the global health arena, the key gatekeeper is the World Health Organization. WHO has nominally “adopted” the issue of pain relief, with a press release and a “Global Day Against Pain.” But unlike its vast efforts in the area of HIV-AIDS, it has not thrown resources behind this issue. If it did – if a donor like the US earmarked $10 million toward pain relief advocacy and the WHO exercised its authority to initiate a Framework Convention, for example – the issue could take off on the global agenda and important changes could result.

So how to get donors to make this happen? By simplifying the issue – focusing on just a piece of it – and let that piece be the one that resonates with the widest swath of citizens in donor countries.

Recommendation: Shift the Frame. Currently, the global pain relief issue has been framed around access for terminally ill patients. Much of the noise is coming from the palliative care health community. Many of the anecdotes provided in news coverage refer to cancer and HIV-AIDS victims. The WHO’s engagement with the issue is directly related to its work on cancer pain relief. Certainly this is a huge segment of the population who would stand to benefit from wider availability of pain meds. Suffering from cancer is (I have heard) no less painful than suffering from lacerations or burns. And the ability to die with dignity instead of in agonizing pain is certainly an important human right and a noble cause. But as a cause that resonates with a mass audience and policymakers (in a donor culture where the right to die itself remains a controversial topic) I suspect this angle is going to be less resonant than images of child burn and wound victims – experiences most people can relate to. Bottom line: the movement needs to focus on the absence of anesthetic for surgery and trauma care in the developing world, using landmine and road traffic accident victims as poster children, and move away from arguments about palliative care… for now.

This argument may seem heartless. But note that this type of strategy has been used by most successful advocacy campaigns of the past. Complex issues can be and have been turned into successful campaigns (think of efforts to stop “violence against women” and “global poverty”). But the campaigners that do so frame their issues not necessarily to reflect the complete, “irredeemably structural” picture but so as to resonate with their target audience and attract the greatest sympathy possible.

Landmines campaigners, for example, didn’t focus on the complete picture of landmines – how in some cases they’re probably more humane than the alternatives, or how the biggest victims of landmines are military age men. Instead they stressed the collateral damage of mines to children and women because this would resonate with publics and policymakers. The child soldiers campaign didn’t focus on the complexity of the child soldiers issue – how these children are some of the least vulnerable in conflict zones, and often choose to join armed groups as a rational response to poverty, family violence, or political engagement. Instead they focused on the most heinous cases of child abduction into groups and used this frame to galvanize a movement. In both cases, their efforts resulted in a treaty.

Once analgesics are more generally available in the global south, palliative care victims will also benefit. To make that happen however, history suggests spot-lighting trauma victims rather than chronic, end-of-life pain sufferers could make for a more high-profile campaign.

Commenters, please leave your ideas on how global health advocates can campaign more effectively to draw resources toward solving this pressing global social problem.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


Congo Rape Study: Systematic or Simplistic?

I have not yet read the new report on rape in the Congo, but judging from the news coverage of its reported findings, I have three thoughts:

1) I am not as concerned as some critics about the methods used (a population sample of household interviews) or the staggering results: 400,000 women assaulted in a single year. I am concerned about the comparisons to the US (or other countries) since unless the same methods are replicated in the US (or other countries) there is no way to compare rape rates or to accurately call Congo the “rape capital of the world.”

2) Though the emphasis is on the number of rapes committed by soldiers, the report also shows that nearly a quarter of the rapes recorded were perpetrated by the women’s husbands or domestic partners. This is consistent with earlier Oxfam data that demonstrated the majority of rapes in the Congo between 2004 and 2008 were perpetrated by civilians, not soldiers.

3) Since patterns of sexual violence against men in the Congo are better documented than in many other conflicts, it is particularly surprising that this study focuses only on women, and only on women “of reproductive age.” This promotes a troubling stereotype about rape and rape victimization.

Jason Stearns, who has been writing and blogging up a storm about Congo this past week, is the first to point out that the social construction of the rape angle has been as much about selling the Congo story to Western grassroots constituencies as about reporting the conflict accurately.

It’s hard to know from his various op-eds and articles where Stearns actually stands on this. At Foreign Policy, he argues that it was only when John Prendergast‘s Enough Project stopped trying to explain the conflict and started focusing on “rape and conflict minerals” that they were able to get Western publics interested in putting pressure on their elected officials. But at CSM, he points out “Congo is More Than Rape and Minerals” proposes a point by point list of pitfalls journalists should avoid in writing about the Congo, not least is simplistic protrayals of rape:

Some Congolese are unscrupulous and vicious, but they usually have reasons for what they do. If we can understand why officials rape (and it’s not always just as a “weapon of war”) and why they steal money (it’s not just because they are greedy) we might get a bit better at calibrating solutions. Of course, it’s much harder to interview a rapist or a gun-runner than their victims. But don’t just shock us; make us understand. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame when we react to a rape epidemic by just building hospitals and not trying to get at the root causes.

So it sounds like the most important report on rape in the Congo is one that hasn’t been written yet: in which perpetrators themselves are systematically interviewed. Actually, political scientists have already blazed a trail here: in this study, authors Maria Erikkson Baaz and Maria Stern find among other things that Congolese soldiers see ethical distinctions between different types of rapes.

That kind of insight might not be so useful for advocacy purposes in the West, but it might help aid workers, peace-keepers and protection specialists in the Congo in their prevention efforts – at least vis a vis military perpetrators. (As Laura Seay details, advocacy attention to a problem doesn’t by itself ensure the policy outcome you want – for that, you need to understand the situational context.)

But ultimately Stearns would like to see a wider repertoire of stories about the Congo in the Western press

Who are the Chinese companies working in the Congo and what have their experiences been? Did you know that Congo was one of the first countries to experiment with mobile cash-transfers to pay for demobilized soldiers? Have you checked out the famous artist studios in Kinshasa of Cheri Samba or Roger Botembe? The country’s tax revenues have doubled over the past several years – how does that square with its corrupt reputation? What are Dan Gertler’s financial relations with the Israeli right-wing? The Kivus apparently produce 40 percent of the world supply of quinine – might be a story there.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


Explosive Arguments

Recently, Stephanie made “the case against the case against blast weapons,” – that is, “explosive weapons” as described by Landmine Action’s recent report:

“The short version is that it is calling for a ban on so-called ‘blast-weapons’ as a method of warfare… I think that 1) the report is problematic; 2) that there may actually be a case for not banning such weapons – possibly even humanitarian ones. Instead, states AND humanitarians should look to regulation as a more effective alternative.

I have written a longer riposte to this argument at Lawyers, Guns and Money. But let me just say here that as I understand it, Landmine Action is not calling for a complete ban on the weapons. The report only calls on states and global civil society to “strengthen further an underlying presumption that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is unacceptable” (p. 14). I recently spoke with Director of Policy and Research Richard Moyes and he confirmed that Landmine Action is not proposing an outright ban such as a codified rule in an Additional Protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Rather, he said simply, “I’d like to see us establish a terrain in which there is a general concern rather than acceptance about the use of explosives in populated areas.”

In other words, Moyes and Stephanie seem to be on the same page with respect to regulating conventional explosives. Stephanie doesn’t elaborate what regulations she has in mind or why they would be more humanitarian than Moyes’, but some of the organization’s specific proposals include establishing a mechanism to accurately count civilian casualties from explosive violence so some determination can be empirically made about whether these weapons can or cannot be used in a controlled manner; and in particular to reduce their use in specific areas where civilian casualties are likely to be highest.

Stephanie does have two deeper critiques about the report that bear further engagement. I think both may have some validity but in my view, the first doesn’t actually undermine Moyes’ moral point, and the second merely ducks that point (no pun intended). Read my entire response here.


Moral Movements and IR Theory

Joshua Busby has a new book out on transnational campaigns that might be the best new contribution to the advocacy networks literature since Keck and Sikkink’s original Activists Beyond Borders. In Moral Movements and Foreign Policy, Busby proposes a theory of the conditions under which such movements succeed at securing commitments from states:

Whether states accept commitments made by principled advocacy movements depends primarily on how three factors conjoin: 1) the balance of material incentives facing states, 2) the cultural resonance of the messages and 3) the number and preferences of policy gatekeepers. States will support moderately costly actions against their material self-interest when the issue is framed to fit with the country’s values and when policy gatekeepers personally consider these attributes important.

The story Busby tells about the sources of such frame resonance are perhaps most interesting. Drawing on a variety of older literature as well as his casework (climate change, HIV-AIDS, the ICC and debt relief), Busby emphasizes not only ideational messages themselves but also the attributes of messengers as a constituent part of a successful or unsuccessful frame. This is borne out as well by preliminary findings from my focus group research in the human security area: practitioners often argue that the attributes of the entities pitching new ideas impact the likelihood of those ideas being “picked up” in global civil society.

Besides the argument and the cases, another contribution of the book is the conceptual precision Busby brings to bear – distinguishing political from policy successes, state interests v. the micro-motives of individual politicians, issues v. campaigns. But he leaves a few questions open – such as how “policy gatekeepers,” targets of advocacy influence within governments – are analytically distinct from “advocacy gatekeepers” such as those outlined by Clifford Bob and his collaborators in their study of how ideas flow through advocacy networks. Are these two distinct forms of gate-keeping power or simply differently positioned actors at different points in the advocacy chain?

Also, one small quibble: in focusing only on “principled advocacy networks” rather than wider forms of contentious politics, Busby’s framework refies an old and somewhat suspect distinction between “strategic” v. “principled” activity. But Susan Sell and Aseem Prakash’s research on intellectual property rights shows that firms and NGOs are not so unalike in either their motivations or their strategies: all organizations need to survive and surely some of the dynamics that occur between advocates and policy gatekeepers reflect the political economy of resources as well as ideas between states and NGOs.


Is It Time to Ban Explosive Weapons in War?

UK-based NGO Landmine Action says yes. In a recent report, the organization points out that we do not consider explosive bombs an acceptable tool in police operations, and proposes they be stigmatized as tools of counter-insurgency and military operations other than war as well – at least when used in populated areas.

The report cites evidence of the civilian consequences of explosive violence used in populated areas, an argument with which it’s easy to agree from a human security perspective. Whether the percentage of civilian deaths from explosives are on average 83% as the report concludes or marginally lower, it is clear that when you drop 500 lb bombs in urban areas, collateral damage levels will be unacceptably high.

One of the great strengths of the report, however, is that it doesn’t limit itself to direct civilian casualties but also documents the long-term developmental consequences of destroying civilian infrastructure with explosives.

Explosive weapons have a high capacity to damage the social and economic infrastructure on which civilian populations rely. The destruction of housing, power supplies, water and sanitation systems, health facilities, schools, markets, roads and transport links, and energy infrastructure present direct humanitarian problems, deplete local and national capacity for production and growth, and necessitate high levels of reconstruction expenditure, diverting scarce resources from investments necessary to achieving developmental targets.”

Finally, the report also suggests that the appropriation of such violence by non-state actors gives governments an incentive to seize the moral high ground in order to better distinguish themselves from their illegitimate foes:

A stigma against the
use of explosive weapons in populated areas would provide a basis for better
differentiation between those acting on their common responsibility to protect
civilians and those subordinating civilian protection in the pursuit of other goals.

This is an intriguing argument because it counters the conventional wisdom among some scholars and policy-makers – that states must increasingly use heavy-handed means to counter enemies who themselves have little respect for civilians. So I’ll be interested to see how this argument plays as Landmine Action presses its claims. But it sure is good to see members of the NGO community – as well as the United Nations Secretary General – framing explosive weapons as the humanitarian travesty they are.

In analytical terms, this report constitutes an example of “problem definition” – what scholars of agenda-setting would consider an early step toward the development of a global prohibition regime. Yet it’s interesting that Executive Director Richard Moyes, who authored the report and also maintains a blogsabout explosive violence – isn’t calling for an outright ban on the state use of explosive weapons. Instead what is suggested here are baby-steps: states should more clearly articulate the circumstances under which they would be allowable, develop better mechanisms for determining the consequences of their use, and compensate civilians who are harmed by explosions.

What do readers think? Should explosive weapons go the way of landmines in global “civil” society?

Type your summary hereType rest of the post here


The Next Big Human Security Campaign?

Blogging will be light over the next few days as I’m traveling to conduct focus groups with global civil servants drawn from the network of organizations working broadly in the area of human security, to figure out why some issues resonate and others fall through the cracks in these networks. Before I disappear, I thought I’d draw readers’ attention to a new human security campaign just taking off, to get your hunches as to whether it has what it takes to gain traction on the global agenda.

The Oxford Research Group has launched a Recording Casualties of Armed Conflict (RCAC) Project, that is both attempting to more systematically aggregate casualty counts worldwide, and calling on human security NGOs and governments to standardize measures:

The long-term aim of this human security project is to build the technical and institutional capacity, as well as the political will, to record details of every single victim of violent conflict, worldwide. This represents the next step beyond existing estimation and other aggregate ‘measurement’ of human losses (such as numerical totals) to the identification and documentation of each and every individual who is killed or injured in armed conflicts. Among other benefits, such recording acts as a memorial for posterity and a recognition of our common humanity across the world. Most importantly, it will ensure that the full cost of conflict is known and can be understood to the greatest extent achievable, and become an immediately applicable component, and resource for, conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery and reconciliation.

Achieving the aims of this project will require the active participation of states and inter-state bodies (up to and including the United Nations), and such activity may eventually become codified in formal and binding agreements on parties to conflicts. State support will be hastened by strong civil society advocacy, highlighting the moral and practical advantages.

The group’s Joint Communique issued earlier this week details their goals and is below the fold.

Since I’ve been writing lately about how important decent casualty data in in making policy, and how frustratingly little is available, I’m delighted to learn of their efforts. I hope they will include disaggregation of civilian casualty data into intentional, unintentional, direct and indirect deaths, and I hope they’ll collect data on injuries and property losses as well as deaths.

In short, on ethical grounds, I hope they will succeed. As an analyst, though, I’m interested in the determinants of success of such new ideas that challenge existing practice – since some like the landmines campaign take off and result in new global norms, while many others fall flat. What do you think of this one, dear readers? Is the RCACP a candidate for the next global norm campaign? Or one of many great ideas doomed to fizzle and die before it hits the global stage? (My two cents – they definitely need a catchier name…)


“The organisations listed below [the fold] announce the formation of the first international network of organisations who publicly record the victims of armed conflict as individuals, which has now begun its activities.

We believe that documenting the details of every human killed in war is a moral act based on recognising the value of every human life. We also believe that it is necessary for justice, holding the prosecutors of war to account, as a means to overcome uncertainties about deaths which are only recorded as numbers, and as a way of constructing a lasting historical memory of the dead.

Failure to comprehensively record every individual casualty of war can only bring greater pain and suffering. This suffering ranges from the denial of the experience of victims’ families, all the way through to community grievances which stimulate the renewal or escalation of violent conflict through politically motivated claims. The only long term answer to these problems is the establishment of detailed and certain truth.

We will collaborate to raise our capacity, visibility and collective strength, thereby enhancing casualty recording activities worldwide. Together we will be better able to overcome the problems we face every day in our work. Our final goal is that the world recognise the need to record every casualty of every conflict wherever it happens.

We call on governments and intergovernmental agencies to support the activity of casualty recording worldwide.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)
Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC)
Darfur Peace and Development
Elman Peace Centre
Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation
The Human Rights Center
The Humanitarian Law Centre
The Institute for Conflict Management
Iraq Body Count
Kaah Foundation
National Society for Human Right
Organisation for Human Rights Activists (OHURA)
Organization for Somalis Protection and Development (OSPAD)
Palestinian Center for Human Rights
The Research and Documentation Center of Sarajevo
Rift Valley Institute
Somali Human Rights Association (SOHRA)
Sri Lankan War Victims Registry


Scott Pelley to Wal-Mart: Stop Using Congo Gold in Your Jewelry

60 Minutes ran an excellent expose on conflict minerals in the Congo last night. You can see some of it here:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Good coverage of an under-reported area of the world. It left me with two thoughts:

First, via Facebook, my colleague Virginia Haufler suggests this story shows that corporations rather than states are running the show in issue areas such as conflict minerals – both as trouble-makers and potential governors. (Haufler makes this argument at greater length in a chapter of a forthcoming book, Who Governs the Globe) And I thought the same thing when I first watched the segment. Certainly as Scott Pelley framed it, corporations should be the targets of influence for consumer campaigns aimed at stemming the flow of conflict minerals. Still, I’m not sure that means states don’t have a role to play in enforcing such codes of conduct. I think it may mean not that corporations rule but that issue areas like conflict minerals are cases where multi-level, multi-stakeholder governance would be required to create solutions. The Kimberley Process for conflict diamonds exemplified this approach (though it is not without its drawbacks, as this new report suggests). Certainly the segment suggested that we need an advocacy movement for “conflict gold” like the one for “conflict diamonds” in order to bring corporations and source countries to heel in the service of a more humane trading system.

But in that regard, I was left with another question. The role of the gold trade in fueling conflicts may have previously been overshadowed by the earlier success story of the conflict diamonds campaign, in a classic case of “permissive norm effects.” By highlighting a small piece of a bigger problem, campaigns risk legitimizing or at least rendering less visible the other pieces of the problem. But DRC is the source of many minerals critical to Northern industries, not just gold. In the same way that diamonds from African mines were regulated to the exclusion of gold, does the narrow focus on gold now risk coming at the expense of attention to other lucrative minerals, such as coltan?

Notably, organizations working in the area of DRC conflict resources, such as Global Witness and the Enough Project, are taking a broad view, so the focus on gold may be the media’s rather than the campaign’s.

UPDATE: I was able to reach John Prendergast, who appeared in the segment, to verify whether 60 Minutes’ characterization of the issue maps onto the Enough Project’s campaign. He told me that though Pelley locked onto gold early on and retained that focus throughout, advocacy groups such as Enough are actually focusing on consumer electronics – not just coltan but:

“the three T’s: tin, tungsten and tantalum… we’re focusing on cell phones, laptops and other electronic products because everyone uses them and if we demand conflict free electronic products the supply and demand logic will help do the job.”

A wise strategy, in my mind. What do readers think?


Representing Children of Genocide

This week I served on a panel discussion for Jonathan Torgovnik’s photo exhibit on the Rwandan genocide at the Woodrow Wilson School Bernstein Galley at Princeton University. The exhibit contained extraordinary photographs of female genocide survivors and their children born as a result of genocidal rape.

There is also a extremely evocative video available here.

I was asked to comment critically on the exhibit and the accompanying book, Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape. The review I presented was mixed.

On the one hand the exhibit is very much needed. Children like these are growing up in conflict zones wherever sexual violence has been endemic, and there is a dearth of attention to their needs by the international community. Torgovnik’s images and accompanying narratives urge us never to forget the horrific events of 1994, and never to under-estimate the intergenerational consequences of such violence.

On the other hand I worried that the photos and accompanying texts reproduce two narratives about children of genocidal rape that draw attention away from their own human rights – something I’ve written about recently in a Millennium article. Though references to the lives of the children are sprinkled through Torgovnik’s book, the majority of the testimonies are about the rapes themselves (situating children as products of genocide rather than as children who need help) and the struggles of the mothers in the aftermath (situating children as the source of these struggles rather than the victims of their mother’s neglect, abuse and stigma from the community).

The women’s needs and the earlier question of genocide prevention are extremely important and neglected topics in their own right. But conflating them with the topic of the children diverts our attention, I fear, from the child rights dimension of the issue. The book should perhaps have been titled “Intended Consequences: Rwandan Women Raising Children Born of Rape,” if the focus was to be on the mothers.

A child rights view of this issue would begin from a different starting point, I argued. It would:

1) Make the children’s present lives, not their mother’s traumas, the frame of reference. Rather than regurgitating the troubles from which they resulted, explore how the social stigma around their origins affects their everyday social, psychological and political worlds and what this means for their human rights and healthy development. As I spoke to Torgovnik afterward, it was obvious that his interviews with the mothers had allowed him to glean considerable data on precisely these factors; I would have liked to see them more front and center in the materials that resulted from his project – or to see other projects that do take this perspective.

2) Include children born of rape as a diverse category. This project focused only on children kept by their mothers, but research has shown that many of these kids end up with other caregivers facing a different range of issues. (Admittedly, following the larger category of children born of genocidal rape is a much taller order, and as Torgovnik rightly told me afterward, you must start somewhere.)

3) To the extent possible, allow children to tell their own stories. Of course this often isn’t possible for very small children, but these Rwandan kids are teenagers now and surely have thoughts about the genocide, about school, about bullying, about discrimination, about relationships with their parents and siblings that could be a basis for understanding how they are doing relative to other kids growing up after a genocide – even without raising sensitive questions about things they may or may not understand. I worry when I see adults speaking about children, with children’s voices absent. Admittedly it can be extremely difficult to secure access to interviews with such children. Still, finding a way to let these children have a voice is going to be very important to really assessing their needs and strengths as we gradually move beyond treating them as an invisible population.

4) Represent children only in ways consistent with their view of themselves and not in ways that will contribute to their marginalization, and protect them from the harms that can come from participation in research studies about sensitive topics. Here my view of Torgovnik’s work is mixed. His choice not to interview the children as such, while it prevented them from exercising participation rights, was meant as a form of protection. He also took efforts to make certain the photos would not be distributed in Africa, so the hope is that the images will do some good in drawing donor and humanitarian attention to the issue without contributing to further stigma within local communities. But I wonder about whether video disseminated on the Internet can be controlled in this way, and I worry about the psycho-social impacts on a Rwandan teenager who gains access to images of him or herself online, now or later in life, next to text of his mother’s disparaging comments. Torgovnik’s answer to this is a thoughtful one – you have to weigh the very small likelihood of that happening despite your best efforts against the good that can come to the children as a population from advocacy attention to the problem.

Which brings me to:

5) Projects such as these should serve the goal of improving protective measures for children. On this point, Torgovnik is to be strongly commended. He has used the publicity from his work to create an NGO, “Foundation Rwanda” which channels money from Northern donors to pay for school fees for these children, who otherwise cannot access free schooling through the Rwandan government’s survivors’ program. So his project has made a concrete positive difference in many children’s lives. The money for the initiative is a direct result of donations received after the publication of his photos in the British and German press. The program is implemented confidentially, so it doesn’t mark the kids as recipients of such aid in a way that might risk a backlash. As such, it also provides an example of “best practice” that bigger child protection organizations could use if they chose, to counter their claim that it’s impossible to do programming for this population without doing them harm. I have written more about this path-breaking initiative here.

Ultimately, I think this project raises an important question in human rights advocacy: how to balance the dignity and participation rights of vulnerable or stigmatized populations with the desire to generate resources with which to promote their betterment. Thoughts?


No Torture, No Excuses.

Anthony Arend at Georgetown University reports on a new campaign that many of us will want to support. Its promotional video, culled from the film Taxi to the Dark Side:

Unlike many anti-torture activists who base their arguments on consequentialism (e.g., we shouldn’t torture because it’s ineffective, we shouldn’t torture because it puts our troops at risk), this campaign reminds us that human rights law forbids torture even if – perhaps especially if – it costs us nothing and we have everything to gain. To quote Senator McCain, who in the olden days put his money where his mouth was, “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”

Get involved here.

Another useful website.


Human Wrongs

This month I am teaching (for the first time) an intensive summer course. Since the topic is the “Politics of International Human Rights,” and since I’m forcing my students to blog, all my blog posts for this month will concern human rights in one way or another.

Let’s begin with news from the American Political Science Association. APSA, which had contracted with New Orleans for its 2012 convention, is under pressure from a number of APSA sections to boycott the city because the state of Louisiana amended its Constitution to ban gay marriage or the recognition of “marriage-like incidents.” Although international human rights instruments do not explicitly refer to sexual orientation rights, many human rights organizations interpret discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the U.S. is a party.

The APSA Council is now inviting member comment on the issue until May 30, and heated discussion is also taking place on several APSA listservs and this blog. APSA’s notice on its homepage reads:

“The APSA Council is considering policy about selecting sites for our Annual Meeting and other conferences related to state laws about rights afforded same-sex unions legally recognized in other states. We are also considering the situation of the 2012 Annual Meeting already contracted for New Orleans, Louisiana. The Council welcomes member feedback on these issues. “

The logic behind this deliberation: APSA siting rules include a clause intended to insure that all its members are welcome in any conference venue, which allows it to terminate contracts if “the city in which the hotel is located establishes or enforces laws that, in the estimation of APSA, abridge the civil rights of any APSA member on the basis of gender, race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, physical handicap, disability, or religion.”

The law in question is a state law, not a city ordinance, but the APSA Committee on the Status of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and the Transgendered in the Profession (LGBT Committee) proposed in July of last year that the APSA Council alter the rules to include state laws prohibiting gay marriage; and this is what is now being considered. Were the Council to change its rules, Louisiana (including New Orleans) would qualify as a target for such APSA guidelines; such rules if generalized would govern similar site decisions in the future.

Is this appropriate? One argument I’ve heard is that APSA should seize the opportunity to take a principled stance as an organization in favor of sexual orientation rights. But there is no consensus on this within APSA. Even within the Human Rights section, where most including myself share the values the boycott would represent, significant dissent exists as to whether this action is the measured response.

One argument against is that it would unfairly penalize New Orleans for a measure undertaken at the state level. The city is home to the largest GLBT population in the state, and was actually voted #2 for Gay-Friendliness in “Travel and Leisure’s” 2007 readers’ poll. While the amendment was supported 55-45 in Orleans Parish, this was by far the closest margin in the state, and occurred in the context of significant voter irregularies that may have disenfranchised as many as 58,000 residents .

There may also be significant rights conflicts here. In a letter to the section, Anthony Pereira of Tulane University pointed out:

“New Orleans is a beleaguered city trying to rebuild after Katrina. There are an estimated 12,000 homeless. Dozens of people live in a tent city in the middle of the downtown area – a sight reminiscent of the “Hoovervilles” of the Great Depression. The working poor of New Orleans have suffered a massive violation of their human rights because many of them lost their homes and have been basically abandoned by the government. APSA 2012 would inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy and give work to taxi drivers, maids, waitresses, bartenders, parking lot attendants, dishwashers, and other low-paid workers. If we care about human rights we should care about these people. This is why APSA’s Committee on the Status of Blacks in the Profession supports the siting of the conference in New Orleans because, among other reasons, “the black and poor communities of the City of New Orleans are still in the process of rebuilding their neighbourhoods after the devastating Hurricane Katrina” [and] “the APSA Annual Meeting would contribute to the economic recovery of the city”.

To this, Michael Goodhart offers a dissenting view at Human Rights and Human Welfare.

Irrespective of rights conflicts, or how much consensus may eventually develop among the membership, it seems to me there may be an important procedural problem: APSA rules, outlined in Article II(2) of its Constitution, prohibit it from taking general policy positions as an organization. However, it must be noted that APSA has sometimes done precisely this in the past.

Even if the organization could and should do so, why single out anti-same-sex-marriage laws in revisions to the site rules? Why not boycott cities in any jurisdiction where any human right is violated in law? Even if APSA limited itself to cases of pure legal discrimination, as opposed to the myriad of other “progressively realizable” human rights such as the right to health care, this still leaves things like state-sanctioned beating of children in America’s public schools (Louisiana is one of 26 US states that permits this punishment). As a child right advocate, I’d boycott the state on this basis – but how many of my colleagues would join me? Or why not boycott the 50 states entirely on account of Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, and our racist death penalty, and move the conference on up to Canada?

Perhaps for this reason: the goal of APSA is to promote the study of political science, not human rights per se. It seems justifiable to limit its attention to issues that genuinely affect its members.

In this vein, however, there may still be a case for a boycott of Lousisiana, on behalf of GLBT APSA members who reside in or are citizens of that state. But then, why would APSA not make similar stands against any number of other laws in the US that affect political scientists as well as the general public and fall short of human rights standards? So then child-spanking wouldn’t count as there are no under-18 APSA members to my knowledge, but GLBT rights is only one of ten issue areas in which Human Rights Watch considers the US to fall well short of its global human rights commitments, and this potentially affects adults in the country including all US-based APSA members, if not always in our capacity as political scientists. For example, APSA members are as likely as any other US citizens to fall victim to violations of privacy rights associated with national security policies, to various forms of racial or gender profiling, or to be detained arbitrarily under the PATRIOT act.

Probably, this too would be a Pandora’s Box. Free speech violations generally might fairly be viewed as less of an APSA priority than the very important issue of academic freedom per se. But APSA is on much firmer ground with respect to New Orleans if the case can be made that GLBT persons in the profession would genuinely be discriminated against in connection with the conference. After all, the law doesn’t just refuse marriage licenses in the state of Louisiana, it refuses to recognize “incidents of marriage” as legally valid. As one APSA member has put it:

“If a gay APSA member becomes ill and has to go to a hospital, will his partner in New York be allowed to make medical decisions for him? If a lesbian graduate student who has insurance benefits through her partner’s job has an accident, will the hospital recognize her coverage? If a non-married couple’s child travels with them to the meetings and has an emergency, will city officials respect both parents’ legal relationship as a form of parental authority?”

This fear may be overblown: there is legal precedent in the state of Louisiana suggesting the amendment would not be interpreted to override pre-existing legal arrangements of this type. Still, this shifts the burden to GLBT couples to make such legal arrangements, which are taken for granted by heterosexual couples. Since this increases the costs of attending the conference at all, a strong argument can be ade that this does in fact discriminate against our GLBT colleagues as professionals and provide APSA with a rationale for acting.

I agree with this. In that case, however, APSA should be prepared to be far more proactive in other respects besides sexual orientation discrimination. APSA does not have nor is it considering a policy, for example, of boycotting states with laws allowing employers to ask job candidates whether they are married at all – another discriminatory practice that negatively affects all couples, but particularly women in the profession. Nor has it taken actions to address the IRS’ non-recognition of childcare costs as reimbursable business expenses, which drastically increases the logistical and financial costs for families to attend professional conferences, another practice that disproportionately harms women. If siting policies are to be based on states’ laws affecting APSA members’ professional lives – and I support this in princple – the criteria considered should go far beyond sexual orientation, and APSA should be prepared to respond consistently across a range of concerns.

Is it? Consider: if even the sexual orientation rule were generalized, and applied to states with statutory rules against gay marriage as well as constitutional amendments (and why shouldn’t it be?) it would limit future APSA sitings to Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and as of today California. To add many other types of discrimination into the mix would vastly complicate our ability to meet as an Association in the US. To not do so would itself represent a marginalization of a host of equally valid human rights concerns.

Even if this were feasible, there is a question of how effective it would be. Are the human rights of Louisiana’s citizens really best served by a boycott, or by thousands of social-justice-minded scholars showing up and bringing their perspectives with them?

I’m willing to be convinced, and I’m interested in hearing others’ ideas before I submit my comment to the APSA Council. But I’m leaning toward the view that while this cause is noble, the benefits of an organizational boycott are negligible, the slope slippery, the implications uncertain and the approach generally inconsistent.

Perhaps we should act as citizens here, and choose to boycott the state ourselves by not attending APSA 2012, or Mardi Gras, or by writing the appropriate policymakers and generally getting involved in advocacy on this and many other important civil rights issues in our country today. These forms of activism might be more meaningful, effective and just.


An Interesting New Case of Global Norm Entrepreneurship

A DC-based NGO is promulgating a novel idea: that states should compensate civilians that they legally harm during combat operations.

The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict(CIVIC) has launched a “You Harm You Help” campaign. Having succeeded in convincing the US Government to create a trust fund for victims of collateral damage in Afghanistan and Iraq, the organization is now trying to figure out how to turn this practice into a global norm.

The idea is important because the existing laws of war don’t require governments to compensate war victims.Governments are often required to pay reparations for war crimes, but hitting civilians by accident is perfectly lawful. And a right to humanitarian assistance is widely recognized for all civilians, but the architecture for it constitutes little more than organized charity.

CIVIC wants to make compensation for deaths and maimings an obligation of warring governments, rather than a charity act by random donors and NGOs. And because the focus is on the outcome not the intention, CIVIC argues states should pay up whether they mean to hit civilians or not.

“In the past century, we’ve seen marked improvements in how we treat each other. Nations have made legally binding commitments to respect women’s and children’s rights, to abolish torture, and protect free expression. Through the Geneva Conventions and treaties banning weapons like landmines, nations have also promised to protect civilians when they go to war. But no treaty, custom or norm requires nations to help those they fail to protect. No matter how many civilians are killed in a war, no matter how many are left homeless, no matter how much property is destroyed, those who do the damage have no legal duty to help.

We hear time after time “war is war” – the standard explanation for overlooking harm to innocent people. It’s time for a change.”

I see CIVIC as a fascinating example of norm entrepreneurship. Fascinating in particular for my new book on advocacy campaigns because CIVIC hasn’t got very far yet, unlike most of the norm entrepreneurs identified in the advocacy networks literature who got attention because their campaigns succeeded.

What remains to be seen is whether CIVIC will become a failed campaign – whether its issue will fizzle, die or end up coopted by others’ issue agendas, or whether we are witnessing the first stages in a future global norm. Stay tuned.


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