International intervention and the politics of building peace: ‘liberal imperialism’ or somewhat irrelevant?

International intervention in war-affected regions is the subject of much academic attention. Scholars and policymakers alike have been keen to understand the impacts, positive and negative, that international actors have when striving for peace in foreign countries. More often than not, the continuation of violence in areas that have been subject to heavy intervention, from Sudan to DRC, has generated staunch critique of the potential of such programmes to achieve their stated aim of ‘peace’. Africanist scholars in particular have identified efforts geared towards the increasingly linked aims of development and security as not merely ineffective, but exacerbating dysfunctional politics, insecurity and poverty across the continent. Following the wider critique of the liberal peace, interveners from UN peacekeepers to human rights NGOs are interpreted as enacting a ‘liberal imperialism’ that reinforces ‘western’ interests in the region, whilst promoting the superiority of ‘liberal’ values and conditioning new subjects into following them.

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A Magna Carta for learning disabled people

800 years of Magna Carta but learning disabled people remain ‘villeins’, denied rights against arbitrary power. What would a Magna Carta for learning disabled people look like?

Although Magna Carta is widely believed to have been the first ‘Human Rights Act’, it actually excluded most of the population. It did not apply to ‘villeins’, the ordinary people, sometimes called ‘serfs’ or ‘peasants’. The Lords, Barons and ‘free men’ were granted the right to be judged by their own peers. Most people however were villeins, and outside this new law. They were peasants who were bound to their lords by ties they were not free to break – they had to work for their Lord, they could not leave his land without permission, they did not own their goods or possessions and did not have access to the Royal Courts as the Lords, Barons and Freemen did.

Are people with learning disabilities our modern day villeins? The rights and positions of people with learning disabilities are not judged by juries of their peers but by systems where power is held by ‘lords’ – commissioners, social workers, service providers, psychiatrists, judges and politicians.

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The saddest Greek tragedy of all

Ending what has been a tumultuous six-month long negotiation process, last week the Greek Parliament approved the first package of austerity measures required by Greece’s creditors as part of the “Greekment” reached in the early morning hours of 13 July 2015 in order to initiate talks on a Third Fiscal Adjustment Programme (or “Memorandum”) and avoid Greece’s expulsion from the Eurozone. According to early reports, this Memorandum cover the Greece’s financing needs for the next three years, but will require the harshest set of austerity measures of the three fiscal adjustment programmes to date. In this first package alone, the Greek government is obliged to implement tax increases and pension cuts totalling approximately 2% of GDP, while future austerity measures are expected to include, among others:

Privatization of €50 billion of public funds;

Increase in VAT on most goods and services to 23%;

Elimination of lower VAT rate for Aegean islands;

Defense cuts of €300 million;

Increase of retirement age to 67 years old.

As US economist Paul Krugman notes, Greece’s creditors (IMF, EU Commission, ECB) continue to insist on the effectiveness of such austerity measures in spite of the fact the implementation of the First and Second Fiscal Adjustment Programmes, equivilant to the US cutting $3 trillion from its balance sheet, has only led Greece’s Debt-to-GDP ratio rising from 148.3% (2010) to 180.2% (2015).

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Law, Legitimacy and Morality of Warfare: A Conversation about ‘Legitimate Targets? Social Construction, International Law and US Bombing’

In the following conversation concerning her recent publication, Dr. Janina Dill, Departmental Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Oxford, navigates a clear-cut path through concepts of International Law (IL), legitimacy and morality in warfare. From a theoretical perspective, she explains the relationship between constructivism, IL and international relations and highlights how our understanding of this relationship may be better informed through new concepts such as ”behavioural relevance” and “normative success”. From a practical perspective, she examines the historical shift in the conduct of warfare and the use of drone warfare by the United States. In response to Brett Rosenberg’s questions, Dr. Dill contemplates whether there are in fact legitimate targets in war.

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‘English Votes for English Laws’ — a viable answer to the English Question?

Last week the government published its detailed proposals for introducing English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) into the House of Commons. This is a significant moment in our constitutional history primarily because these changes reflect the acceptance of the need to institutionalise a collective English interest in the legislature, and the conviction that there is a growing and legitimate sense of grievance concerning England’s position within the UK.

The primary rationale offered for introducing EVEL is to bring Westminster up to date with the implications of devolution elsewhere within the UK. In a context where further devolution is anticipated for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is becoming harder to ignore demands that English interests be given greater consideration in parliament. The independentMcKay Commission, which was appointed by the Coalition government and reported in March 2013, suggested that there was now a clear imperative for England’s voices to be heard within the post-devolution constitutional settlement. There is significant support for the principle of EVEL: the 2014 Future of England Survey found that 62% of people in England agreed that Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on England-only legislation. The criticisms that the government’s proposals have so far elicited, reprise a number of standard objections to EVEL. But, while these are far from irrefutable, there is good reason to think that EVEL is unlikely to represent a sufficient answer to the English question.

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Rebuilding democracy in Iceland: an interview with Birgitta Jonsdottir

In the first of a series of interviews by Phil England examining the situation in Iceland and the possible relevance of developments there to the UK, Phil talks to Pirate Party MP Birgitta Jonsdottir.

Birgitta Jonsdottir is a co-founder of the Icelandic Pirate Party and one of three Pirate Party MPs in the Icelandic government. Since March the Pirates have been polling as the most popular party in Iceland. Their core policies focus on direct democracy, civil rights and access to information. A former Wikileaks volunteer, Jonsdottir describes herself as an anarchist and a poetician. She is also founder and Chair of the International Modern Media Inititative (IMMI) which aims to strengthen democracy through transparency of information.

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Digital Rights and Pornography – A child protection catch-22 or lazy policy solutions?

“Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years…. “But we need our lawyers and our politicians to understand programming, to understand what can be done with a computer.” – Sir Tim Berners-Lee

The above quote should come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in digital rights. In recent times there has been growing interest by governments in how to respond to the sort of modern social problems that some might argue are facilitated by digital technology. Calls to control social media in times of civil unrest, monitor citizens’ communications in order to catch terrorists and paedophiles and prevent citizens from using encrypted communications just in case they are saying something illegal[4] are all examples of government trying to respond to issues they are challenged on. All of these very clearly highlight an issue raised in Sir Berners-Lee’s quote above – that policy makers and legislators struggle to understand how the web works and how it can be “controlled”, while reflecting very little about whether the outcomes will infringe on the civil rights of citizens.

However, one policy debate that I have been very close to over the last few years, and one that illustrates how digital technology has changed our society and also how it creates new social contexts related to rights based issues, is that of access to pornography and sexual content online. This debate becomes particularly contentious when we explore the growing issue of young people accessing such material online.

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Is Water a New Flashpoint for Asia’s Rising Giants?

In the past, India and China have disputed numerous issues, from trade to territory. Notably, in 1962, disputes over their Himalayan border regions sparked the brief Sino-Indian War. In the 21st century, a new issue has the potential to become a flashpoint between the world’s most populous nations: their shared rivers.

China has planned, and in some cases begun construction on, major hydropower and water diversion projects in its southern regions, including Tibet, which is making the water security of its downstream neighbors more fragile. The glacial Tibetan Plateau, largely controlled by China, is the source of rivers that supply water to approximately 1.5 billion people. Many of Asia’s major rivers—including the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, and Salween Rivers—begin in the Tibetan Plateau, and supply water to people living in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and mainland Southeast Asia. Thus, China exerts powerful hegemony over Asia’s water resources.

China views the development of rivers originating within its borders as a matter of national sovereignty, not international cooperation. According to one telling Chinese proverb, “Upstream doesn’t suffer.” China does not have river treaties with other nations, making downstream countries vulnerable to water supply disruptions and other environmental damages. In the absence of treaties, downstream nations have no forums for formally resolving water disputes with China, and cannot use international legal institutions to ensure they receive their fair share of water.

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