“You always become the thing you fight the most…”

Two car bombs exploded in Karbala, a centre of Shia worship south of Baghdad, killing 13 people and injuring 50 in a shopping area … A similar double bombing took place in Kirkuk, a city in the north of the country at the centre of several sectarian and ethnic divides, also killing 13 people …

The double car bomb is a standard tactic of al-Qaeda and linked to Sunni militant groups in Iraq, with an initial explosion attracting the attention of police and other emergency services and a second bomb exploding when they arrive.

– From the Daily Telegraph, 20 March 2012

There is now significant evidence that the US has repeatedly engaged in a practice sometimes referred to as “double tap,” in which a targeted strike site is hit multiple times in relatively quick succession. Evidence also indicates that such secondary strikes have killed and maimed first responders coming to the rescue of those injured in the first strike …

Those interviewed for this report were acutely aware of reports of the practice of followup strikes, and explained that the secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.

The lone survivor of the Obama administration’s first strike in North Waziristan, Faheem Qureshi, stated that  “[u]sually, when a drone strikes and people die, nobody comes near the bodies for half an hour because they fear another missile will strike.” …

One interviewee told us that a strike at the home of his in-laws hit first responders: “Other people came to check what had happened; they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people.”

– From Living Under Drones, a report from New York University Law School, 2012

“Whoever fights monsters”, warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

Over and over we have failed to recognise this truth. In its resistance to Hitler, the United States became a militarised society. In its opposition to communism, the US was as willing to incinerate the world as its opponents. To keep communism from spreading in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, the US felt it had to move in with its troops, or manipulate elections, or unseat legitimately elected regimes, or assassinate leftist leaders. To fend off revolution in client states, the US beefed up and trained local police and soldiers, only to watch the military itself becomes the gravest threat to democracy in one country after another. To counter Soviet espionage, the US created a spy network; to make sure that no one cooperated with the enemy, it spied on its own citizens.

“You always become the thing you fight the most,” wrote Carl Jung, and the United States has done everything in its power to prove him right.

– From The Powers That Be by Walter Wink (credited by Neal Stephenson with developing an “epidemiology of power disorders”)

Are gay rights a development issue?

Next week I am speaking at an event jointly organised by LGBT groups and development campaigners to consider whether legal reform drives social change. While there is patchy evidence from India that decriminalisation can spark some changes in social attitudes, the activist who filed the original legal challenge with the Delhi High Court thinks her victory has done little to shift social norms and reports suggest that over 70% of Indians would like to see it overturned. In Brazil the 2011 Supreme Court victory on partnership rights took place the year after 260 LGBT people were murdered in the country while South Africa, which boasts some of the most comprehensive gay equality laws in the world, has become globally famous for the “corrective rape” of lesbians.

Meanwhile Britain’s laws are so progressive that the UK has been recognised as the best place in Europe to be gay, but researchers put the huge shifts in British social attitudes down more to pop culture than hard fought legislative change. Public opinion in the United States is slowly (but not smoothly) heading in the right direction, but the marriage amendment battles across the country are opening up new fronts in the culture war, like the viral hit “two lesbians raised a baby and this is what they got”.

So the big question for international campaigners is this: if the national law-makers of a country can’t reliably bend its public opinion, do any of us have much hope of winning hearts and minds from afar? One approach has been the mobilisation of a global transnational movement, modelled on Avaaz.org.  All Out is a global campaign supported by over a million people (half of them straight) who have organised online to highlight everything from ‘gay cure’ church services in Europe to the arrest of a gay man for sending a romantic text in Cameroon. Another new initiative is The Kaleidoscope Trust which focuses on providing funding and practical support to organisations on the ground, while The Human Dignity Trust connects multi-national law firms with lawyers bringing human rights cases against their own governments.

But perhaps of greatest interest to the development campaigners in the room will be the role that donor governments can play. A recent spate of high profile anti-gay initiatives in Africa caused Prime Minister Cameron to use a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year to draw explicit links between continued British aid and respect for gay rights while President Obama instructed USAID to factor a country’s gay rights record into its allocations.

That raises all sorts of difficult questions. Is aid a ‘reward’ for good human rights behaviour, or solely an instrument of poverty reduction? If it is the former, how and why would we measure gay rights performance compared to, say, protection of ethnic minorities or the disabled? And if it is the latter, how do we manage the transition from direct budget support if the evidence suggests that it has the greatest impact on poverty in the country concerned? There is a question too about whether perceptions of outside ‘interference’ do more harm than good and encourage some governments to increase persecution of gay people as an assertion of independence.

Notwithstanding the great work being done by all the organisations above, I haven’t been able to find much analysis of how these competing justice claims can be reconciled, nor very comprehensive evidence about when external pressure has been the decisive factor in a gay rights victory. I’d love reading and watching suggestions if you have them, so please leave in the comments below.

And they’re off….

The focus of the post-2015 world today is New York where the High-Level Panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General to provide him with advice on the post-2015 agenda has its first meeting this afternoon.  It’s the first meeting and the 26 panel members will probably spend most of the time going round the table and introducing themselves.  But should they be looking for advice, there’s no shortage of it around.

Maybe too much.  We’re still very much in ‘Christmas Tree’ territory, and it’s not clear how the long agenda that is emerging is going to be whittled down.  Essentially, the panel’s job is to prioritise between the 101 good ideas that are out there, and to tell a story explaining the decisions they have made which is convincing enough to persuade others that it’s the right way to go.

One way to do that might be to go back to thinking about what a new agreement might be for.  I wrote about this here a while ago, but the conversation has changed a bit since then.  There seem to be three (why is it always three?) ideas around:

  • The  first is closest to the current MDGs and is focused on how a post-2015 agenda can be used to push resources (both from aid and from domestic sources), innovation and political attention towards specific improvements in people’s lives.  To the existing health, education and income agenda that is central to the MDGs could be added energy provision and infrastructure, to bring the goals more into sustainable development goals territory, but the central idea is of using goals to drive extra resources to specific people, places and things.
  • The second is more ambitious, hoping to use the post-2015 agenda to solve some tricky problems in global governance - around, for example, migration, trade or even environmental agreements.  This agenda is less focused on using resources as the lever of change and more concerned about changes to rich country policies which have an impact on all of ust.  This is the ‘universal’ agenda – ambitious, necessary, but much more politically challenging.
  • The third is equally ambitious, but focused on a different target.  An emphasis on goals to deliver high-quality jobs, or to make societies more equal, both put the onus on domestic policies of developing countries (or all countries, if the goals are universal), and on tricky domestic choices and trade offs between different constituencies.  Politically, this may prove to be the hardest of all.

It’s still far from clear where we’ll end up with this.  But the panel will meet at least four more times before the final report comes out, so be assured – we can all keep talking about this for months to come.

Pigs in crisis!

Global food scarcity is approaching a catastrophic tipping-point:

Might want to get your fill of ham this year, because “a world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable,” according to an industry trade group.

Blame the drought conditions that blazed through the corn and soybean crop this year. Less feed led to herds declining across the European Union “at a significant rate,” according to the National Pig Assn. in Britain.

And the trend “is being mirrored around the world,” according to a release (hat tip to the Financial Times).

In the second half of next year, the number of slaughtered pigs could fall 10%, doubling the price of European pork, according to the release.

The trade group urged supermarkets to pay pig farmers a fair price for the meat to help cover the drought-related losses.

In U.S. warehouses, pork supply soared to a record last month, rising 31% to 580.8 million pounds at the end of August from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The surge came as farmers scaled down their herds as feeding the animals became increasingly expensive.

The problems with economists: they don’t understand development

Economists Cannot Do Development

Economists dominate the development field, but politics is more important to promoting it. This contradiction explains why the policies often recommended by international institutions (such as the World Bank) do not sufficiently take into account the local political, social, and institutional context.

The problem is echoed in other fields, with some blaming the inability of economists to understand institutions and politics as a contributing factor to the 2008 financial crisis. Continue reading

The five kinds of people you encounter on High Level Panels

With the UN’s new High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda due to hold its first meeting next week, the big question is which Panel members will emerge as the most influential in setting agendas and framing how the Panel thinks about development.

Having been involved in a few previous UN Panels like this one, including last year’s one on Global Sustainability, my guess is that Panel members will fall in to one of five categories:

  • Visionaries, who have a clear, and probably very strong, sense of what the overall argument of the Panel should be. This kind of Panellist can get everyone’s backs up if they approach it like a bull in a china shop (which is a risk – I know of Panel members in two previous Panels who turned up to meetings with full drafts of their own). But when they get it right, they’re the ones who really make Panels work. Typically you’ll only get four or five such people on any Panel.
  •  Experts and problem solvers. Panel members who know a lot about the issues, and can engage seriously on pretty much any subject anyone raises – even if they’re not trying to set out the overall storyline. This kind of Panellist can be extremely helpful in brokering language, spotting gaps, challenging silly or lazy thinking and so on.
  •  Single issue evangelists. Inevitably, there will be four or five Panellists who go on, and on, and on, and on about a particular issue. On the Global Sustainability Panel, if one particular Panellists raised his flag, you knew he was about to hold forth on the subject of oceans and the ‘blue economy’. These kinds of Panellist will soon elicit quiet rolling of the eyes from other Panel members, but need to be managed and kept on board.
  • Blockers. Particularly in Panels composed largely of serving members of government, some Panellists will bring major red lines with them. The co-chairs will need to evaluate rapidly what those red lines will be this time, and what the best handling strategy will be (e.g. proactive engagement to win them over / marshalling a coalition of other Panel members to get them to back down / accepting that it won’t be a unanimous report).
  • Dead wood. About a third of the Panel will fall into this category, if previous such exercises are anything to go by. The Panel will be doing well if it’s under a quarter. It will be clear which ones they are because they’ll have the heavy eyelids at about 3pm. Always kind of amazing that Panels on major global issues manage to get so many people in this category, but there we are…
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