A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

ENVIRONMENT

A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

Elizabeth Quinn

2nd July 2020

 

Human rights are a powerful tool and provide strong language to tackle the climate crisis. This can be seen in climate case Ireland. Our constitutional rights and the European convention on human rights are being used in this case to challenge Ireland’s national mitigation plan 2017. Climate cases worldwide have had symbolic value and created developments and clarifications in their own countries in several jurisdictions. Although national litigation has a role to play, it is limited in scope. In order to have a strategy effective overall to climate change, a multi-dimensional approach is also needed. We need to examine the limitations that human rights law has in its current formulation. Without being aware of these limitations we are in murky waters where the results of our efforts could be futile in the long term.

 

There are several criticisms of the human rights approach to the climate crisis. I will outline two: the limitations are useful in creative thinking of how else climate change can be dealt with, while complementing the human rights paradigm.

 

The first criticism is that there is an anthropocentric bias in climate strategies. This means that international human rights law is too focused on the individual. Climate cases argue that people’s rights will be affected if the climate is to degrade. This does not take the whole eco-system degradation into account. Thus the approach does not take into account the vulnerability of the eco-systems as a whole and the dependence that we have on the earth. Thus it is argued that human rights cannot respond efficiently to the demands and reality of the earth itself. 

 

Academics such as Kotzé have argued for a re-imagining of vulnerability theory in order to protect not only the individual but the environment itself. The author takes Fineman’s vulnerability theory which seeks to re-imagine the vulnerable subject as one who is universally created by social and political decisions. Kotzé argues that vulnerability should not be detached from environmental factors as our dependence on the earth makes us vulnerable. He states that using this theory will open space, much more than the current human rights paradigm, for a focus on the earth’s eco-system in a more comprehensive manner.

 

“The first criticism is that there is an anthropocentric bias in climate strategies. This means that international human rights law is too focused on the individual”

There is also a movement of giving legal personality to nature. Legal personality means to be capable of having rights and obligations. This provides rights for the resource itself. The idea of nature having legal personality was first written about in 1972 in the book “Should trees have standing”. In the book Stone argues that environmental interests should be recognized separately from human interests and thus nature should have legal standing. It is important to remember here that many other non-human entities have standing. For example, Companies have legal personality, so why shouldn’t nature? 

 

One recent example of this is the Whanganui River in New Zealand which has been declared to be a legal person. The river is one of New Zealand’s most important natural resources and the Maori tribe had been fighting for more than 140 years to get legal protection for the river. Based on this precedent other areas of New Zealand have also been declared to be legal persons. The river has rights and obligations. Two guardians have been appointed to act on behalf of the river- one from the crown and one from the tribe which traditionally use the river. This creates space for the river to be protected as an entity in itself, rather than being protected only when individuals are affected. 

 

This approach creates an alternative to the assumption that people have sovereignty over nature. The Paris agreement recognizes ecosystem integrity and has been argued to have a faint acknowledgement of this discourse. This argument creates an alternative to the individual-centric nature of the human rights approach.

 

The second criticism is the state-centric focus of international human rights law. Corporations have been left out of the equation. International human rights law is not directly applicable to corporations. This is problematic when fossil fuel corporations have accounted for 91% of the global industrial greenhouse emissions and 70% of all human-made emissions. An upheaval of the economic system is needed. There is a lack of political will to do so at this moment in time.

 

One asks- is there an international legal framework for business and human rights? The UN guiding principles on business and human rights are the core instrument at the international level. Although the instrument is powerful is is soft law and thus not binding. This means that corporations are not bound by it. Corporations themselves have begun initiatives, however many of them include self-reporting and are voluntary. Some of the biggest players in industries can opt-out of these initiatives. Thus there is a lack of direct obligations placed on corporations. There is a discussion now about a treaty on business and human rights, however, if it is an overarching treaty I believe it will not be supported by states and businesses alike due to their economic interests. 

 

The human rights approach does not seem to be capable of tackling the way in which the global economy operates. Without confronting this, it may not be possible to bring about the system change required. However, in tackling this, specific treaties for particular industries should be focused on. This would allow one to focus and regulate the industries which cause the most emissions and damage. It is doubtful, especially in this economy that this will happen.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by ANGELA BENITO

 

 

The Yemen Crisis: What is the Human Cost?

The Yemen Crisis: What is the Human Cost?

HUMANITARIAN

The Yemen Crisis: What is the Human Cost?

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

Emily Murphy

1st July 2020

 

The Yemenis humanitarian crisis began in 2011 when revolutionary forces saw Ali Abdullah Saleh resign as president after 33 years in power. The transition of leadership from the former authoritarian president to his deputy was supposed to signal a turning point and the new era, in the country’s history, and it did, just not in the way anyone expected.

 

When Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi became president, it was expected that he would bring stability to a country that was still recovering from the Arab Spring uprising. Yet as food insecurity, mass unemployment, and jihadists attacks were an ever-present reality, it quickly became apparent that the issues which plagued Yemen were beyond Hadi’s control. Mr Hadi was subsequently exiled from Yemen in 2014 after Houthi Shia Muslim rebels took control of Saada and later the capital city. As the conflict raged on, the citizens of Yemen paid the price and continue to suffer as the crisis worsened.

 

While mainstream media outlets have scarcely reported on the crisis over the past few years, Yemen has become a global talking point in recent weeks. As the COVID-19 virus continues to claim hundreds of lives, respecting no borders and leaving no one untouched, it seems even Yemen must share in the global tragedy. The Yemenis people have among the lowest coronavirus immunity levels, but why is that?

 

While international governments continue to try forcibly destroy and disband the rebels and form a government in the country, Yemen slips further into disarray. Since fighting broke out in 2014, more than one million people have become internally displaced. While this has some notable and immediate effects such as increased homelessness, the erection of shantytowns and mass migration to cities less impacted by the war, it is the less obvious and slightly more delayed consequences that pose the greatest danger. As slum cities grow, they quickly begin draining the resources of the local area: poor sanitation and lack of adequate drainage increase the prevalence of waterborne diseases like cholera. As medical resources and treatments are rapidly used up, widespread illness becomes inevitable. The sudden arrival of large numbers of people strains food supply chains. As food becomes more scarce and immune systems weaken, sickness escalates. It is a vicious cycle, heart-wrenching to watch, and without the help of international emergency aid, it is almost impossible to solve. These are a tiny sample of the issues facing the Yemenis people, while the UN describes the crisis as” the worst in the world”, the question of what can be done hangs heavy.

 

“The UN suggests that 20 million people are food insecure, with 250,000 at risk of starving to death”

In 2019 the UN released the’ 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen report’. Among other things, the paper estimated 3.2 million people were suffering from acute malnutrition. 360,000 of those are thought to be children under 5, and 1 million pregnant or lactating women. Data from the UN also suggests that 20 million people are food insecure, with 250,000 at risk of starving to death.

 

During such catastrophic times, it is effortless to see rights violations of those who have been displaced or who are starving. However, the violation of some children’s rights is often less visible. According to Human Rights Watch and a 2019 report from the’ UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen’, all parties involved in the conflict have used child soldiers at some point since September 2014, some of whom were under the age of 15. The secretary-general has put the number of recruited child soldiers at 3034. In 2018 the’ list of shame’ for violations against children in the armed conflict put the death toll 1185 children. While the conflict continues, this figure is unfortunately destined to rise.

 

As the rest of the world has put most of the time, money and resources into fighting COVID-19 in their home countries, donations to UN agencies are becoming scarce. As a result, it is becoming more difficult to carry out relief work. Yemen reported its first coronavirus case on 10 April. According to Abdul Rahman Al-Azraqi, a physician in Taiz,” many people are going about their lives unaware of danger”. Aid workers have had to turn people away, as they lack sufficient medical oxygen or even personal protective equipment. Reports continue to spread, suggesting that the Yemenis health system has all but collapsed, under the strain of the war and now the virus. While some figures of infections and deaths have been released, they remain on the low end of the spectrum and are not predicted to be very reliable, especially considering the reports that many mass graves have been dug.

 

The past decade has marked enormous change and turbulence for the Yemenis people. Homes and villages have been abandoned, and many in the country can barely remember a time before the conflict. The humanitarian crisis has altered the country in a way that will never be forgotten. However, as we progress into the future, new struggles face us all, those less fortunate will continue to need the help and compassion of those who are lucky enough to escape relatively unscathed. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Rod Waddington

 

 

Living in Fear: Residents of the Moria Refugee Camp

Living in Fear: Residents of the Moria Refugee Camp

HUMANITARIAN

Living in Fear: Residents of the Moria Refugee Camp

Emily Murphy

19th June 2020

 

As restrictions lift across Europe and the wider world, an atmosphere of nervous excitement and relief is rising throughout the country. After almost three months in lockdown, we are eager to get back to life in this ‘new normal’. Unfortunately, for so many, the COVID-19 virus still poses a very real concern. On the Greek island of Lesbos, residents of the Moria refugee camp live with this constant threat. An outbreak in the camp would be undoubtedly disastrous. 

 

In 2015, Camp Moria was built to house a maximum of 3000 people temporarily. In mid-May of this year, conservative estimates put the number of asylum seekers living in the camp at well over 17,000. This high volume is in part due to the 2016 migration agreement between the EU and Turkey. This requires that all, except for the most vulnerable, must submit their asylum claim in the first island in which they land. The agreement, which was an attempt to reduce the number of refugees travelling through mainland Europe, also requires that once a claim has been submitted, the applicant must remain there until it has been completed. 

 

As a whole, Greece has had a startlingly low number of COVID-19 related deaths sitting at 183 at time of publication. This is largely in part to the quick and decisive action of the government who chose to shut down traditional gatherings, schools and universities in February before any viruses had been reported. By mid-March most of the country was in lockdown, this also includes Moria. Prior to the restriction, residents were able to exit the camp while remaining on the island.  Now, however, excluding those with medical appointments, only people with one of 70 daily permits can exit the camp.

 

“Poor sanitation and lack of self-isolation facilities, would be catastrophic should there be an outbreak

On the 12th of May, two migrants who arrived at Lesbos by sea tested positive for coronavirus, despite Greek authorities being successful in preventing an outbreak in the camp so far. We know that it can take up to two weeks for those carrying COVID-19 to display symptoms. This, in conjunction with the poor sanitation and lack of self-isolation facilities, would be catastrophic should there be an outbreak.

 

According to the ‘Watershed Foundation’, a German NGO whose mission is to bring adequate water and drainage to the most vulnerable, state stagnant water remains an enormous problem in many refugee camps, including Moria. With limited water access points, people are resigned to collecting barrels of water and carrying them back to their tents. In many areas of the camp, toilets are 1 to 210 people with some showers 1 to 600 people, making access to regular basic sanitation almost impossible. 

 

The serious congestion, along with the poor sanitation facilities, and the looming threat of this global pandemic is causing increasing tensions, with intermittent fights breaking out. In mid-May, two serious fights erupted, from which a 23 year old woman died and a 21 year old man was left in a critical condition.

 

While many industries in mainland Greece are preparing to open, lockdown in the camp, which measured a little under 1 km² began to ease on the 7th of June, although strict restrictions are still in place. As the Greek government continues to call for other countries to relocate asylum seekers, to help ease overcrowding, a potential outbreak in Moria should still remain heavy on everyone’s mind.

 

 

 

Featured photo by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

 

 

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

HUMANITARIAN

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

Amyrose Forder

16th June 2020

 

While COVID-19 figures dip throughout the EU, borders are once more becoming increasingly open. However, this does not apply to the Croatian-Bosnian border, where reports of abuse by police officers against those seeking asylum within the EU have once more come to light. EU officials have also been accused of an “outrageous cover-up” after withholding evidence of a failure by Croatia’s government to supervise this police brutality. This throws a spotlight on both the Croatian government’s human rights record and the apparent willingness of the EU’s executive branch to cover for its failure.

 

Croatia, an EU member state since 2013, is home to the EU’s longest external border. Its closest neighbour is Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country continuously refused entry to the EU. The so-called Balkan Route is a popular course for both migrants and those seeking protection in the EU, arriving through Croatia via Bosnia. In one week in May alone, 2,700 people entered Croatia with 600 of these being non-EU residents. Footage of police brutality along this border, which has since been nicknamed “the game” by asylum seekers, was first reported in 2018. Each night, as asylum seekers attempt to cross the border, squadrons of patrolling police await them. Several incidents have resulted in shootings, while aid workers, border guards and UN officials have reported “systematic abuse and violence” perpetrated by Croatian police along the border, with migrants and asylum seekers beaten, robbed, and stripped of their clothes and belongings.

 

“Officials in Brussels had been fearful of a backlash when deciding against disclosing Croatia’s lack of commitment to a monitoring mechanism”

Further to this horror, the Guardian has reported that internal European Commission emails reveal officials in Brussels had been fearful of a backlash when deciding against disclosing Croatia’s lack of commitment to a monitoring mechanism. The establishment of a commitment to ensure the humane treatment of migrants at the border had been a condition of a €6.8m cash injection announced in December 2018 by the EU to strengthen Croatia’s borders with non-EU countries. Croatian ministers claimed last year that the funds had been handed over to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Croatian Law Centre to establish the supervisory mechanism. Both organisations deny receiving the money.

 

Images obtained by Border Violence Monitoring Network last month show orange crosses spray-painted on the heads of asylum seekers who have repeatedly attempted to cross the border from Bosnia into Croatia by police. Such ‘branding’ of asylum seekers is degrading behaviour, and particularly uncomfortable in light of cross symbolism targeting predominately Muslim asylum seekers. A father and son who were branded with this cross described border police telling them it was a “cure for coronavirus”. Figures from the Danish Refugee Council, who reopened their operations in Bosnia in 2018, also show the extent of recent violence inflicted on refugees and migrants pushed back to Bosnia from Croatia. In April 2020 alone, 1,641 people were reportedly pushed back. Of these, 445 people reported being denied access to asylum procedures in Croatia upon request, 871 people reported having their identity documents confiscated by border police, 891 people reported violence/physical assault, and 1,253 people reported having their belongings confiscated or set on fire.

 

“Ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk”

The European Commission ruled in October 2019 that Croatia is ready to join the Schengen travel area. Senior Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch, Lydia Gall, has said that “ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk.” 

 

Yet, Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenković has praised his country’s approach to border control in recent months, claiming that the absence of barbed wires along the border is due to the “friendliness” of neighbour Bosnia-Herzegovina. He told reporters in Zagreb: “what we shall do in preventing illegal migration is to respect our laws, international standards and conventions and all humanitarian aspects. If there are any allegations which might be problematic, everything we have heard is verified, checked and investigated.” There has yet to be a public investigation into the reported abuses along their border.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Free To Use Sounds

 

 

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

HUMANITARIAN

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Ellen McVeigh

4th June 2020

 

While the coronavirus pandemic creates chaos and trauma in communities across the globe, rather than being a ‘great equaliser’, the virus, in many cases, is causing the greatest harm to those already vulnerable. Many of those at risk throughout the world are those living in cramped conditions, those living in homes which are unsafe, those living without access to decent sanitation, and those living with chronic health conditions caused by poverty. The Rohingya Muslims are one group identified by organisations such as Oxfam and WHO as being at risk of coronavirus spreading rapidly through their community. In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh while fleeing violence in their native Myanmar. In attacks which have been described as ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the United Nations, nationalist militias torched villages and displaced thousands. The leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her years of pro-democracy resistance, has been criticised for failing to condemn this violence against an ethnic group within the state. There are now around one million Rohingya living in refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.

 

In mid-May, WHO confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 in these refugee camps. Most residents of the camps live in cramped, multi-generational huts, with four to five people living together in one small room. The sanitation, sewage facilities, and water supply are inadequate, and since 2017 there have been outbreaks of contagious diseases such as cholera and diphtheria. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, aid organisations such as Oxfam and CAFOD have been getting soap and face masks to residents, and 6000 handwashing stations have been installed. Despite these efforts, adequate personal hygiene is still out of reach for many Rohingya living in the camps.

 

“At the end of April, a group of around 500 Rohingya refugees asked for international intervention after they were stranded on cramped boats for several weeks”

 

As well as the technical difficulties in providing services to a million people living in vast camps, there are also issues of cultural dissonance which leads to many Rohingya ignoring the advice. The marginalisation which they have experienced in Myanmar often means that they have little experience of or trust in public health, with many choosing to rely instead on traditional medicines and guidance from spiritual leaders. Reaching such isolated communities is aided by a culturally sensitive delivery of information, helped by working alongside local religious leaders. While there are still only a few cases, there are fears that the conditions in the camps could lead to the virus spreading quickly throughout the population.

 

Outside of these Bangladeshi camps, other Rohingya refugees are facing obstacles created by the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of April, a group of around 500 Rohingya refugees asked for international intervention after they were stranded on cramped boats for several weeks. Fleeing the dire conditions in the Bangladesh refugee camps, they became stranded at sea after being turned away from Malaysia and then prevented from returning to Bangladesh. Both governments cited the coronavirus as an excuse to close their borders, as worries grew that lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus could be mobilised against those seeking refuge across borders. Within Malaysia, a country which does not recognise refugees, the containment of the coronavirus was used as an excuse to round up and detain hundreds of undocumented migrants. The UN has condemned campaigns such as this, which claim to be an attempt at reducing the spread of the virus, but which could, in fact, aid its spread as it pushes vulnerable communities into hiding, and make it unlikely that they will seek treatment. The ‘stay home’ messaging employed by many countries across the world means very little to those forced to flee.

 

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

ARTS + CULTURE

‘Stop Filming Us!’ – Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

Isolde MacDonagh

3rd June 2020

 

Posing questions, not answering them – Joris Postema’s Stop Filming Us wants to show us the city of Goma you don’t see in UNICEF’s pity-inducing photos of miserable children. But can he portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

 

For me, this question is answered early on. Postema, in this documentary, works closely with several African filmmakers and photographers to capture the ‘real’ Goma, a city in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In a meeting, he asks his Congolese co-workers about his Western team: “Did we do anything neo-colonial in the past few weeks?”. “Of course,” Ganza Buroko replies. He lists Postema’s mistakes. “Ah – so we start again,” says Postema. They laugh. “No, we continue.”

 

This film doesn’t try to be perfect. Postema is as much of a student as his viewer, and the documentary comes across as a work in progress. In Stop Filming Us, Postema follows the lives of three Congolese filmmakers and photographers. The first of these is Mugabo Baritegera, an artist and photographer who roams the streets looking to capture the Goma he himself experiences. Baritegera explains that when he looks at the sad Congolese faces in photos released by the media, he does not recognise himself. Happiness is a significant part, not only of the Congolese life but of the Congolese identity (already so attacked by colonialism). When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity. “We don’t even know what we have forgotten”: this is a phrase that stands out, as Postema watches the Congolese discuss their history. Baritegera is filmed building a new art gallery, where he can display his work. When the gallery is completed, at the end of the film, we see for the first time the people of Goma taking photos of one another that are not loaded with political messages – they are simply enjoying themselves.

 

“When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity”

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong feeling about photography in Goma, many seeing it as the exploitation of their faces for money. Ley Uwera, a photographer working for NGOs, takes the photos she is paid to take, knowing that they do not represent her country. We watch her photographing a refugee settlement, where she moves children aside, stages photos, and asks people to stand in awkward positions in order to capture exaggerated unhappiness. Her photos ignore the life and the happiness that is also present in the environments she photographs. 

 

Stop filming us” is a familiar cry in Postema’s 90-minute film, and every time we hear it, we are aware of Postema’s contradictory position. “Go Home”, Postema is told. But he does not. Instead, Postema films the filmmakers. He films those who have exploited the Congolese with their cameras. He films the prison-like appearances of the high-security gates to the countless NGO headquarters, in what are arguably the most powerful shots in the film. Postema’s documentary watches the people who are creating videos that shape the world’s understanding of Goma. There are two primary examples of this. Postema’s observation of Uwera’s work for the NGOs, but also an episode where Postema films Baritegera making a (beautiful) film showing the positive side of Goma but omitting a street fight and the arguments that happened during his shoot. Although this film was the aesthetic highlight of the documentary, it omitted perhaps what a Westerner would describe as the truth.

 

Photo by: Joris Postema, Stop Filming Us

 

But can a Westerner criticise the Congolese for not being truthful enough in their representations of their own cities? Westerners, naturally, have no right to define truth, but Postema’s documentary wants to understand why these more negative aspects of Baritegera’s film do not come into Baritegera’s depiction of the ‘real Goma’. Postema asks his Congolese film crew why Baritegera might have omitted what, for a Westerner, would be important details. They give varied answers – the violence is boring, normal, not something to talk about. 

 

Stop Filming Us is a discussion. Postema’s opinion is visible in the editing and what he has chosen to film, but he includes different perspectives wherever he can. This makes for the film’s strange structure: it is a film that ends several times. Twice Postema shows his latest version of Stop Filming Us to the Congolese and asks them what they think of it, and twice the ensuing discussion is included in the film. This, of course, symbolises that this discussion has in no way ended with this film. We think again of Buroko’s words, at the beginning of the documentary: “we continue”.

 

There are questions that remain by the end of this film. Should Postema have just gone home? Should the NGOs, arrogant and unwanted, go home? Or do Westerners have a responsibility to fix what they broke? A scene of Baritegera chanting “if you watch, you are complicit” targets the film’s audience: we, also, are part of this discussion. But to what extent?

 

 

Featured photo by Joris Postema