The United Nations and the challenges of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Pic: UN Photo/Isaac Billy 

The problem of how to respond appropriately to gross and systematic violations of human right that happen within the territory of a sovereign country has been subject to much international debate. On one side, there is the appeal to our shared humanity and the urgency to help those who are suffering no matter where in the world. On the other side, there is the international principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of sovereign countries. Arguing that human rights are a greater principle than sovereignty, the United Nations has promoted many humanitarian interventions that use force as a means to achieve its goals, understanding that consent is not necessarily needed, especially when the government of a country is the one attacking its own population and causing the humanitarian crisis.

In 1992, in Somalia, UN forces suffered heavy human losses and found enormous resistance in the provision of humanitarian aid. Fearing a recurrence of this, the international community took three months to act in Rwanda, in 1994. In the meantime, one million Tutsis were brutally exterminated. The failure in one African country sealed the fate of another, resulting in the first case of genocide since the Holocaust.

It became evident that a new consensus on responses to massive human rights violations was needed to help the international community to respond more efficiently and avoid new genocides. In 2001, the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine was created as a solution to the problem of how to respond to gross and systematic violations of human rights that happen within sovereign states. It sets out clear criteria for humanitarian interventions and an answer to the sovereignty dilemma. It argues that, to have their right of sovereignty respected, states must be able to provide security to their people. When they fail to do so, the international community is not only legally authorised to intervene in their internal affairs, but it also has the responsibility to do so in order to prevent and protect people from violence. This new concept delegitimised the discourse of leaders who appeal to the principle of sovereignty to protect themselves from any external interference while committing crimes against their own population.

However, in spite of being endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, the R2P principles that endorse humanitarian interventions remain controversial and the doctrine is as acclaimed as it is criticised.

One of the main criticisms is that states can invoke R2P to justify any military intervention, or that they would only do so based in their national interests. In 2011, the R2P-based intervention in Libya was accused of being a pretext to carry out regime-change. This has yielded global concerns that the R2P principles were used as a political excuse to intervene in the country’s affairs. As a result, Russia and China have later vetoed several attempts of humanitarian intervention in Syria.

It is also very hard to assess the efficiency of an intervention. Even when it is considered successful, there will not be any evidence to show what would have happened without the intervention. And while the benefits of the intervention might not be visible, the costs are, and any destruction caused by it will raise questions about its legitimacy and success in preventing harm.

But, ultimately, the main weakness of the R2P doctrine is that it is not legally binding, which makes it more of an aspiration rather than a real international norm. The United Nations relies completely on its member states to provide military force for any intervention that wishes to undertake, and has therefore to deal with the fact that, in most cases, they will put their national political interests above human rights urgencies, resulting in arbitrary decisions whenever a crisis requires the application of the R2P principles.

All these difficulties show that the R2P doctrine is far from being the solution to the problems the UN faces when trying to tackle gross human rights violations. Urgent reforms are needed in the areas of international peacekeeping, Security Council and General Assembly Reforms. But how could the UN be changed to effectively deal with all of its challenges?

In our event: “UN: Peacemaker or toothless tiger? Are you interested in how to reform the United Nations and bring about a more peaceful world?”, Vijay Mehta, Author and Chair of Uniting for Peace, will explore, analyse and put forward proposals for how the UN can become a relevant organisation fit enough to tackle the huge threats and challenges of 21st Century. Come and hear him and Dr. Claire Duncanson, Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the University of Edinburgh explore how the UN can overcome these challenges.

The event is on Thursday 4 October, 6.30 – 8.30pm, at 50 George Sq Room G.06, Edinburgh EH8 9LH. Free. All welcome. Book via

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Kofi Annan: the hopeful peacemaker

Picture: (Copyright: cc by 2.0) Eric Roset/Africa Progress Panel 

The first United Nations Secretary-General from sub-Saharan Africa and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Kofi Annan, who passed away this month at the age of 80, will be mainly remembered for his successful career as an international diplomat, a humanist, and a peace-builder. But, in many ways, his legacy is also defined by his failures and the role they had in shaping his tireless efforts towards a world that would put human rights above politics.

He was Undersecretary-General in charge of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations when the genocide in Rwanda happened in 1994, with the slaughter of approximately 800,000 people. Annan accepted his share of responsibility and expressed deep regret and remorse that the United Nations failed to prevent and to take necessary action to stop this shocking humanitarian catastrophe, although acknowledging that the peace forces were neither mandated nor equipped for the required action at the time. In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the genocide, he recognized that if the UN, governments and the international media had paid more attention to the signs of disaster unfolding, and taken timely action, the massacres could have been averted. “The international community is guilty of sins of omission. I myself, as head of the UN’s peacekeeping department at the time, pressed dozens of countries for troops. I believed at that time that I was doing my best. But I realized after the genocide that there was more than I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.”[1]

In 1995, just a year after Rwanda, the UN system failed again at responding adequately to avoid and stop the genocide in Bosnia. Around 8,000 Bosnians Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serb Forces in the Srebrenica massacre, the worst on European soil since the Second World War.

These painful failures have influenced much of his thinking and many of his later actions during his role as UN’s Secretary General, from 1997 to 2006. Kofi Annan joined the many voices that questioned the role of the international community in protecting civilian populations and advocated for the right to intervene when necessary. For the world to act collectively against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, it would require a review of the traditional principle of sovereignty and noninterference in national matters. In Annan’s report “We the peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century”, in 2000, he laid out the question: “I accept that the principles of sovereignty and noninterference provide vital protection for small and weak states. But if humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable violation of sovereignty, how should we react to situations such as those we have witnessed in Rwanda or Srebrenica blatant and systematic violations of human rights that offend all the precepts on which our common condition of human beings?” [2]

The solution came with the new understanding of state sovereignty as a conditional right that cannot overlap individual rights and with the development of an international norm that allows intervention to protect civilians against gross and systematic violations of human rights perpetrated in or by a sovereign State. In 2006, following a World Summit, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the Resolution 1674, affirming the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and committing the Security Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflicts. This became known as the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine or R2P.

Along with the Millennium Development Goals which — for the first time — set global targets on issues such as poverty and child mortality, the introduction of the R2P doctrine in the international human rights framework was one of the Secretary-General’s greatest achievements. There are, unfortunately, many difficulties in implementing it and guaranteeing that its principles of protection of human rights are applied consistently. The United Nations has no military power of its own and needs to rely on its member states to deploy any peacekeeping forces into action. In 2012, Kofi Annan was appointed as a UN envoy to Syria, but resigned six months later, claiming there was an insufficient attempt by the international community to end the conflict. “At a time when we need, when the Syrian people desperately need, action, there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council”, he said. [3]

The “finger-pointing and name-calling” are emblematic of how the UN Security Council usually deals with international conflicts. Countries put their own national political interests above the human rights, resulting in arbitrary decisions whenever a crisis requires the application of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. In other words, what determines action, in each case, is the political will of the member states rather than the humanitarian urgency.

Despite the difficulties of peacemaking, Kofi Annan remained hopeful and never let reality drain away his idealism. In an interview this April, he told the BBC “I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist and will remain an optimist.” [4]During his difficult and challenging career, he managed to deeply internalize the moral rhetoric of the United Nations. As Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian author who wrote a review of Annan’s autobiography, said:“When he accepted the Nobel Prize awarded jointly to him and the UN in 2001, he seemed to many the most complete incarnation of its ideals of any secretary-general who ever lived.” [5]

May Kofi Annan rest in peace. And may we keep the humanitarian values that guided his efforts as a peacemaker alive.

[1]ANNAN, Kofi. Secretary-General’s remarks at “Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide”, organized by the governments of Canada and Rwanda.UN, New York, 2004. At:

[2]ANNAN, Kofi. We the People, the United Nations of the 21st Century.UN, New York, 2000.At:

[3]ANNAN, Kofi. Opening remarks by Kofi Annan, Joint Special Envoy for Syria. UN, Geneva, 2012. At:

[4]ANNAN, Kofi. BBC’s HARDtalk programme. BBC, April 2018. At:

[5]IGNATIEFF, Michael. The Confessions of Kofi Annan. The New York Review of Books, Dec 2012. At:


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Conscientious Objectors Memorial Competition Now Open

CO Memorial Competition Now Open
Deadline for Applications 15 December

The Peace & Justice Centre and the Conscientious Objectors Memorial Committee are pleased to announce the Design Competition for a permanent Memorial to Conscientious Objectors – and all those who oppose wars, in all times and places – to be created in Edinburgh’s Princes St Gardens.

Artists are invited to submit applications by 12 noon 15 December 2017. A shortlist of three or four artists will be engaged to create designs for the Memorial.

View and Download the Brief Here.
Queries should be directed to:


Following approval of our petition for a memorial to conscientious objectors the City of Edinburgh has committed to work with us to find a suitable location for the memorial.

Conscientious Objectors to Military Service: Dyce Quarry Work Camp 1916

Our proposal for a site in Edinburgh’s Princes St Gardens will be considered for approval when we submit a design. We aim to install the Memorial by April 2019, the centenary of the end of the First World War for COs who were released from prison in April 1919.

A World Heritage site visited by millions of people, Princes St Gardens is home to numerous war memorials and adjacent to Edinburgh Castle and the National War Memorial.

Located in the midst of eight memorials to those who fought and died in many wars, the CO Memorial will dramatically raise awareness of resistance to war and of the often overlooked fact that Britain was the first country to establish in law a right to conscientious objection to military service, a right that has since been recognised by all but one European country and the United Nations.

Opposition to the First World War and conscientious objection to conscription was a notable part of the social history across Britain, especially in Scotland, being rooted in social and political movements such as socialism, communism and nonconformist religious communities such as Quakers.

The Memorial will be as a space for public reflection on the moral implications of warfare and suggest that there is a better way, through peacebuilding and conflict resolution. It will be an enduring locus of reflection on the important role of those who resist dominant norms even in the face of ostracism, vilification and personal hardship. Such people have often led the way to changes in attitudes and social, political and cultural practices that are later recognised and accepted by the mainstream of society. The Memorial will assert the essential value of dissent, inviting reflection on the traditions of liberty, humanism, and internationalism that have shaped political and cultural norms central to democracy such as tolerance and diversity.

Across the UK there are thousands of war memorials, . Yet the fact that tens of thousands of British men and women have refused compulsory service is largely invisible. By virtue of its location in proximity to these prominent national war monuments, a memorial to COs will represent a respectful counterpoint, suggesting that there is another way to resolve conflicts than through war.

The CO Memorial Committee includes representatives from:

  • Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre
  • Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
  • Edinburgh Stop the War
  • The Iona Community
  • Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh
  • Pax Christi UK
  • Quakers in Scotland
  • Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  • St Thomas Aquins Secondary School
  • University of Edinburgh School of Social and Political Science
  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Scottish Branch

Project Partners

Workers Education Association Scotland

School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

School of Art, University of Edinburgh

Further information on the CO Memorial project including names of individual members of the CO Memorial Steering Group can be found at:

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P&J Centre Message to UK & France: Protect Unaccompanied Children

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

On Tuesday 18 October we held a vigil calling for the UK to fulfil its pledge to welcome thousands of unaccompanied refugee children to the UK, especially from Calais and for France to insure protection of the children in the Calais camp. We collected about 80 signatures on letters to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and to the French Minister of the Interior and and delivered these to the Scotland Office and the French Consul the following day.

We welcome the subsequent arrival of the first Calais children including those who are entitled to asylum here who have family in the UK and those vulnerable children without family here admitted in keeping with the Dubs amendment.

But we continue to call on the UK to honour its pledge to take in thousands of such children from across Europe and on France not to proceed with demolition of the Calais camp until all the children there have been provided with safe decent shelter.

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

After welcoming the fact that a few of these children have at last been brought to the UK the letter to Amber Rudd went on: “We are keenly aware that hundreds of others are being left behind.  These children have already undergone unimaginable hardships in fleeing mostly from war as well as natural disasters, and extreme poverty.”

Aware that 129 children went missing from Calais when the French government demolished sections of the camp earlier this month, that at least three children have died attempting to enter the UK and that the children are caught in a struggle between France and the UK over responsibility for this crisis we urged the Home Secretary to press Interior Minister Cazeneuve to delay demolition until all of the more than 1,100 unaccompanied refugee children in Calais have been appropriately accommodated.


Photo: Lauren Rooney

In writing to the Interior Minister of France we urged him to insure that all children remaining in the camp are provided with appropriate shelter and that appropriate accommodation is found for all the refugees and migrants currently living there before action is taken to demolish the camp.

We stressed that we were “particularly concerned that these children who are among the most vulnerable in the camp not be further traumatised by the imminent demolition.”

Finally we appealed to the Ministers’ “sense of humanity” saying “Please open your heart to these most vulnerable people who only seek shelter and a place to live in peace and dignity.”

save-calais-children-and-tableThe full text off the letter to Amber Rudd can be found here and to Bernard Cazeneuve can be found here.

Our banner will be hung on the railings of St Johns Church on Princes St – where it will be highly visible – for the next couple of weeks as a reminder to Edinburgh of the ongoing crisis of these refugee children.


Our vigil for Calais unaccompanied refugee children was reported in Common Space this week.

delivering-letter-to-home-secretaryThe vigil follows a meeting we organised as part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival with 6 speakers including refugees and activists from local organisations doing refugee support. A full report on that meeting can be found here.

The Peace and Justice Centre’s briefing on “Towards Adressing the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children” was sent to Theresa May as Home Secretary and relevant MPs, MSPs, civil servants and civil society actors and is available here.

Readers can write to Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP and French Interior Minister Bernad Cazeneuve using  the model letters and contact details here.


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Considering the right to Freedom from Torture

Marking UN International Day in support of Victims of Torture P&J blogger Kristee Boyd considers the uncomfortable question torture and how we might be complicit:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.  – William Pitt the Younger


This week, the United Nations observed the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26. In terms of international law, the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is utterly unacceptable in any capacity, regardless of circumstances. And yet hundreds of thousands of people around the world continue to experience various forms of torture on a daily basis. Women report being raped and brutalised by prison interrogators. Prisoners are held indefinitely without charge in inhuman conditions, subjected to a range of cruel penalties by their captors. Speaking one’s truth is, at times, met with the harshest of consequences. It is difficult not to feel emotional when we hear stories of helpless captives, enduring the unthinkable. And yet, this morning I stumbled across this powerful quote from torture survivor George Alexandros Mangakis:

I’ve seen the torturer’s face at close quarters. It was in a worse condition than my own bleeding, livid face… It is not an easy thing to torture people. It requires inner participation. The men who humiliate you must first humiliate the notion of humanity within themselves. I was simply a man who moaned because he was in great pain….I prefer that. At this moment I am deprived of the joy of seeing children going to school or playing in the park. Whereas they have to look their own children in the face.

Mangakis’s quote prompts the question: What societal elements or experiences might induce a person to “humiliate” his/her own basic notion of humanity? As we know, some of the most extreme, large scale human rights violations have been made possible by the cooperation of ordinary citizens, people like you and me (for example, read Patrick Henry’s article on the Holocaust). In the case of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, young US soldiers became progressively more sadistic in carrying out their orders to prepare Iraqi prisoners, many of whom were innocent bystanders, for interrogation (Standard Operating Procedure provides an excellent account of these events). The now-famous photos at Abu Ghraib depict smiling US soldiers posing with inmates whom they were regularly beating, humiliating and sexually assaulting. How do we dehumanise a fellow human being to the extent that we believe torture to be justifiable? As Raphael Behr states, research suggests that “A whole society can have its ethical universe reconfigured with ease.”

We hope that we would never reach a point when we would consider torture to be justified. However, since 911, counter-terrorism narratives and the notion of ‘threats to national security’ have required an ‘other,’ a division between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ Such narratives made it easy for the majority of UK citizens to advocate the deportation of Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada (aka Omar Othman) to Jordan regardless of whether or not a fair trial could be guaranteed. Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-Jordanian preacher, writer and scholar, was granted refugee status in the UK in 1994, due to the fact that he had endured religious persecution and torture while living in Jordan. However, in 1999 and 2000 Qatada was convicted in his absence of two counts of terrorism in Jordan. The only concrete evidence in both court cases was the confessions of his co-defendants. The same co-defendants later insisted that they had been tortured until they ‘confessed’ and these claims were supported by medical evidence. Despite Qatada’s convictions in Jordan, the Jordanian government did not seek his extradition and he was not arrested in the UK.

However, after the events of 9/11 and the subsequent changes to Britain’s anti-terror laws, Qatada was arrested without charge and stripped of his refugee status based on the assumption that he was considered to be a threat to national security. At that point, Qatada was vilified in the mainstream media, which supported the British government’s repeated attempts to have him deported to Jordan. Various courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, denied the UK government the right to deport Qatada to Jordan, where evidence obtained using torture would be used in his trial. As such, his deportation was considered to risk the violation of a number of Qatada’s fundamental human rights, such as the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom from torture. However, the British government persisted in their attempts to deport him until June 2013, when they finally succeeded in getting Qatada to leave ‘voluntarily’ after more than ten years in detention without charge (read the full version of this case directly through the European Court of Human Rights website. Victoria Brittain’s Shadow Lives: The forgotten women of the war on terror also provides an interesting account).

As mentioned earlier, the British public were not too interested in the fact that Qatada had already endured torture and persecution in Jordan and they were not too concerned as to whether or not he would receive a fair trial when he was returned to Jordan. Politicians found that speaking out against him earned them popularity points. The media hype made him ‘the other.’ That was all we needed to reconsider our own moral standpoints regarding Qatada’s human rights. Yes, ultimately Home Secretary Theresa May extracted a promise from the Jordanian government that it would not use evidence obtained by torture. From a government that was found to have practiced torture in his previous trial, this was not necessarily reassuring but, the point is, we didn’t really care – as long as he was deported from ‘our’ country. Indeed, hard as it may be to swallow, we are all capable of separating ourselves, who incidentally are deserving of our basic right to freedom from torture and ‘the other,’ the bad guy who is not quite so deserving of his basic rights.

The right to freedom from torture, cruel or inhuman treatment belongs to all of us, regardless of war or perceived threats to national security. We must be very careful in our attitudes towards the rights of our fellow human beings, regardless of who they are. Thomas Paine said it beautifully…

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”             

Kristee Boyd  

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Ask Your MSPs to Call on Scottish Government to Recognise International Conscientious Objectors Day

Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) has lodged a motion calling on Scottish Parliament to recognise International Conscientious Objectors’ Day 15 May.
DSC_0233The Peace and Justice Centre is urging all who share our vision of a world where conflicts are resolved without recourse to violence to contact their constituency and regional MSPs and ask them to support Motion S4M-15865. We want to thank Alison Johnstone for putting forward this motion.
The full text of the motion is as follows:
Motion S4M-15865: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 08/03/2016
Recognition of International Conscientious Objectors’ Day
support right to refuse to kill croppedThat the Parliament believes that the centenary of the First World War reminds people of the huge cost to human life on all sides of conflicts; notes the desirability of the resolution of international disputes through negotiation and peaceful means; recalls that more than 16,000 individuals refused military service in the First World War and that more than 60,000 refused in the Second World War, sometimes at great cost to themselves and their families, facing vilification in their communities, harsh conditions in prison and even death; recognises what it considers their courageous stance in refusing to take part in wars or preparations for war; recalls that conscientious objection to military service is recognised as a human right by the UN; considers that conscientious objectors and opponents of the First World War laid foundations for peace-building, the promotion of human rights and peaceful means of the resolution of conflicts; notes that the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow have granted public space to memorials to conscientious objectors, and calls on the Scottish Government to recognise International Conscientious Objectors’ Day in Scotland on 15 May, in this year and in all years, so that Scotland can be a beacon for peace and justice. The motion has so far been supported by: John Finnie, Drew Smith, Patrick Harvie and Jean Urquhart.Please contact your constituency and list MSPs and ask them to support Motion S4M-15865.To Find Your MSP please click here to visit the Scottish Parliament website Find Your MSP page where you can search by post code. There is a link for each MSP to email them as well as full contact details.The motion supplements the ongoing campaign for a memorial to conscientious objectors and people who oppose wars in Edinburgh. More information on the Edinburgh CO Memorial project can be found here.

Please note that everyone in Scotland has a Constituency MSP and seven Regional MSPs. You can then send each of them an email or letter. 

The motion will be open for signatures until the end of this Parliamentary session Wednesday 23 March. 

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Domicide in Calais – Demolition of “the Jungle”

Asylum seekers in Calais, residing in an area nicknamed “the Jungle” near the Port of Calais are being displaced from their makeshift homes. French authorities began demolition on Monday and plan to continue over the next couple weeks, sparking protests and violent demonstrations. The residents of the Jungle have risked everything, leaving their family and friends behind to escape violence and persecution. The majority of the migrants have come from the Middle East and Africa and have made vocal their desire to gain entry into the UK. The destruction of these homes is overly forceful and will have more of an impact in the lives of the these people than most realize; and therefor should be viewed as an act of domicide. Domicide, according to Harker is the “deliberate destruction of the home by human agency in pursuit of specified goals, which causes suffering to the victims” and includes “eviction, expropriation, displacement, dislocation and relocation”. To put it simply, domicide is the murder of the home and despite acts of domicide being prevalent across the globe, the term is not very well known.

The home is so important for individuals because it is an area where personal identity is stored and is full of social meaning. The destruction of the home is more significant than just damaged or destroyed objects and buildings, because a home is the physical portrait of those who live there. When it is demolished it takes a physical toll on the victims. Retrieving possessions will not bring back the cherished feelings, because the bond with security in the home has been violated. This is why people feel so shaken when their home has been burgled. It can be a huge blow to self-esteem and identity, because it is a personal portrayal of an individual. The effects on a community can be just as grave as if someone were killed.

There are a few criteria for domicide:

  1. It is a deliberate form of violence which involves victims, who are the inhabitants of the home, and the perpetrators, who destroy it. Victims are not necessarily refugees, however they may be internally displaced. In this case, they are already migrants and asylum seekers, away from their homeland and being forced out of their temporary residence. Domicide is a method of asserting power and dominance. While the resident of Calais are caught in a sort of limbo; waiting to be granted access to ordinary life in Europe, this area on the periphery of society is home for the moment, with residents forming communities, with homes, schools and places of worship.
  2. The act is justified as being for the common good and for the collective. The destruction of the home is justified for public interest and for the benefit of everyone; and usually includes urban renewal and economic development like new roads, sporting facilities or national parks. In reality these projects are usually in the interest of  a few elite (so they do not benefit everyone). The concept of “common good” is very flawed. Porteous and Smith call people displaced by these projects  “victims of the common good” , because wealth accumulated or the benefits from these projects goes to a very small group, not the masses. The promise of improved areas for the local community usually does not transpire. With regards to the common good, the Jungle is not slated for urban renewal; removing it is very much a show of power and may not be a decision made with the interest of the residents considered. Authorities claim they are concerned traffickers will take advantage of this situation and asylum seekers will enter the UK illegally. This is certainly a legitimate concern for the UK and the rest of Europe. It is also troubling to think that migrants and asylum seekers will be taken advantage of and exploited. French authorities are also offering more comfortable lodgings. However aid groups say that there is insufficient accommodation available to meet the need of the number of people displaced as a result of the demolition and these new accommodations come with a catch. Individuals will be forced to give biometric data in the form of finger and handprints to obtain access in and out of the compound and the French government is encouraging migrants to apply for asylum in France. Migrants are worried that this will ruin their chances of gaining entry to the UK. As mentioned earlier the people residing in this area are there because they want to come to the UK, many to join family.
  3. Authorities completely disregard and ignore the opinions of the victims. This creates an “otherness” through dominating and eradicating. Referring to this area of Calais as “the Jungle” produces an inhuman and uncivilized picture and creates an image of the other, someone unlike ourselves. Keeping people removed from normal everyday society is also a way of creating a special dominance over them that excludes them from participating in day-to-day life.

The lives of the people in Calais have already been disrupted; are unpredictable and chaotic. Displacing them forcefully yet again will not resolve this issue. Using violent means will only spark violent retaliation and there have already been riots and protests within the camp. There should be more support and a hand up, not a knock back down. These are extreme and unnecessarily forceful actions to take against an already disadvantaged population. Governments should be working together and with migrants and asylum seekers to ensure their rights and dignity are upheld, rather than passing the burden around to one another, with no one taking action or responsibility for the people desperate to start a new life, provide for their families, and contribute to society.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. For some reason many seem to forget that these are people we are dealing with; other human beings who deserve the same respect and dignity that we expect in the West.

Featured photo credit: malachybrowne CC BY 2.0

Sarah MacDonald

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Human Rights Torn Down In Calais ‘Jungle’ Dismantling

News has spread this morning of continued attempts by French police to dismantle what has become known as the Calais ‘Jungle’. The camp is home to hundreds of dwellings for some 3500 refugees currently inhabiting the region. The operation began on early Monday morning when a demolition team arrived with diggers. Residents were warned they had a mere hour to relocate before their shelters would be destroyed. The Guardian has reported police had fired teargas at approximately 150 people and activists who began resisting the process and that at least three of the shelters had been set on fire.

The proposed alternative from the French Government is a biometric security protected compound with room for only 1500 refugees. Supposed security measures include the scanning of hand prints upon entry into and exit from, the compound. Such measures raise fears among the refugee population that the French government may be attempting to force refugees to claim asylum within French borders. Many of the refugees hope to make a home in the UK, shedding light on the fact that Calais remains the joint responsibility of both the French and UK governments.

Irrespective of motive, the actions taken by the French police on behalf of the government appear to be a disproportionately harsh response to what is already an incredibly delicate situation. Many volunteer groups have spoken out about the inappropriateness of the proposed solution, rightfully suggesting that this will do little to solve the root cause of this issue. Certainly, taking away the little autonomy that these displaced people have left is of grave concern from a human rights perspective. Accordingly, the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre would like to publicly deplore the action taken by the French government and welcome the response of humanitarian and other such groups in working towards a peaceful solution to the current situation. As previously argued in the November edition of Peace and Justice News, the UK should work towards a considerable increase in refugee intake. Any meaningful action taken by either the French or the UK government should involve a dignified and respectful dialogue with all parties, such that the global community can be rest assured that the human rights of disenfranchised groups are being sufficiently protected. Undoubtedly, the disruption caused by bulldozers and lines of riot police is a long, long way from the European human rights standards that the rest of the world has attempted to emulate.

By Zoe Cameron and Sarah MacDonald

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Update: It’s 2016 and Sexism Still Exists

By Sarah MacDonald and Zoe Cameron

Worryingly, there seems to be an increase of men in the media recently who have not caught up to the rest of us in 2016, where men and women should be equal and partners. Even more worryingly, they have accumulated a following. One such man who is receiving a lot of publicity,  Daryush Valizadeh also known as Roosh V, is an American writer/pick-up artist. His group, ‘The Return of the Kings’ (ROK), has been causing a stir recently over meetups (being held in 43 countries this Saturday) that promote hyper masculine and male dominant views. Sadly two of these meetups had been scheduled in Scotland, one in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with counter rallies also planned at both events [UPDATE: Roosh V has announced via his website that official meetups planned for 6th February have been changed or moved, seeming to suggest that the international response has had a marked effect].

“Roosh V”

Mr. Valizadeh has written numerous books and articles on the art of picking up women and sleeping with them. His controversial views include, what Mr Valizadeh claims is a satirical piece on ending rape by making it legal on private property and that no means no, until it means yes; suggesting that when a woman says no to sex, it is still open for interpretation. Whether he fully believes in these ideas or not, we can use this opportunity to open up a wider discussion on sexist and misogynistic view that still have a hold on society in 2016.So what’s the best way to deal with a character like Roosh V? Do we fight back? Do we just ignore people like Mr. Valizadeh and other like-minded individuals in hope that with a lack of publicity they all just fade away. Because really isn’t that what they are after, especially in the case of Mr Valizadeh; publicity and attention and validation for the controversial views?

Women’s groups and men are speaking out against aggressive masculinism. Photo:

The response of most communities globally has been to promote peaceful, but powerful responses through the forming of counter-rallies and the signing of petitions. Within 2 days of creation, a petition urging the Scottish Government to ban RooshV in Scotland had amassed over 56,000 signatures. This was similarly replicated around the globe, with an Australian petition gaining 60,000 supporters in under 24 hours (ABC news). This civil society response is encouraging and has been met by equally positive responses from governments globally. Australia’s Minister for Immigration has warned that Roosh V may be denied a visa if he attempts to enter Australia (ABC news). Canada too, has publicly shamed the actions of these men, with Ottawa mayor Jim Watson tweeting “Your pro-rape, misogynistic, homophobic garbage is not welcome in Ottawa​ ​#its2016 ​​#TurnAwayReturnOfKings”.

Despite these positive responses, the actions of Roosh V and his supporters are an equally sickening and disheartening reminder of just how prevalent misogyny remains within modern society. The fact that the majority of the UK population (66%) refuses to self-identify as feminists, despite 81% agreeing that women should be treated as equal to men (News Flash: That’s what feminism is!!) is a case in point (YouGov, 2013). ROK’s calls for the legalisation of rape seems to be something the majority of the population can agree is abhorrent and crosses a metaphorical line. That line seems to become a little blurrier when discussing issues such as street harassment and workplace discrimination. This is not to say the outcry at Roosh V’s preaching is unwarranted or unwelcome. On the contrary, public outcry firmly places this issue at the forefront of people’s minds and gives an opportunity for community leaders to respond accordingly. This is an opportunity to educate the wider population on what it means to be a feminist. This is an opportunity to shed light on the daily struggles of women globally. This is an opportunity to send a clear and distinct message to RooshV and ROK supporters that society will not tolerate their views and that they are not welcome on our streets and in our communities.  

“The day will come when [all] men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation” (- Susan B. Anthony), and what a wonderful day that shall be.

Until then;  

A link to the Facebook event for the Edinburgh Counter-Rally can be found here. 

And for Glasgow here

A petition to the Scottish Government to ban RooshV can be signed here. 

Related information, resources and events can be found on the Scottish Feminist site,  

If you or somebody you know is feeling distressed as a result of these events, Samaritans UK free 24-hour helpline can be contacted on 116 123.


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Archbishop Atalla Hanna of Jerusalem Arrested – Please Write Letters of Support

Archbishop Atallah Hanna of Jerusalem was arrested on Saturday 27 June whilst taking part in a protest against the illegal seizure of church property just north of Hebron in occupied Palestine.

archbishop-atallah with eurig in edinburghArchbishop Hanna’s visit to Scotland last year was jointly sponsored by the Peace and Justice Centre with Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Church of Scotland and the Iona Community. During his visit the Archbishop spoke of the reality of life under occupation for Palestinians and of the importance of supporting the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

Soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Force arrested the Archbishop during a peaceful protest against the illegal seizure and sale of the Beit al-Baraka hospital which forms part of al-Baraka church north of Hebron.

Israeli and international activists joined a delegation from the Presbyterian church to march in protest against the sale of the hospital which provides medical services to Palestinians. As the hospital forms part of the church its sale is illegal under international and canonical law.

Archbishop Hanna is a long term critic of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and is one of the authors of the Kairos document, the call from Palestinian Christians to the world for support in bringing to an end the occupation.

The arrest of Archbishop Hanna is a clear sign of Israel’s continuing contempt for the rights of Palestinians, with land and homes being illegally seized. Access to places of worship is restricted, and the buildings themselves face regular attack by Israeli settlers. The arrest of the Archbishop during a peaceful protest exposes the treatment of Palestinians and cannot be allow to go unchallenged.

We are urging the people of Scotland to protest to their elected representatives over this latest episode and would ask that you send us a message of support which we can relay to the Archbishop. You can also do so directly by contacting him by email.

We would ask that you raise this matter with the UK Foreign Secretary and also with the Israeli Embassy.

The denial of the democratic rights of Palestinians should never be allowed to go unchallenged. In arresting Archbishop Atallah Hanna the Israeli government is acting in defiance of international standards of morality and decency and freedom of expression.

Thanks to Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign for this report.

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Safe Passage for Refugees Fleeing Wars & Persecution

Last year Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation in the Mediterranean saved 100,000 lives. But UK Home Secretary Theresa May argued that the programme encouraged “migrants” to make the perilous journey in overcrowded unseaworthy vessels and EU funding for the programme was cut.. The dramatic increase in people risking their lives this spring however proves her wrong. People make the voyage because they are desperate, not to get to Europe but to get away from the situation they are in.

By withdrawing support for Mare Nostrum the EU was responsible for the sharp increase in deaths at sea. Following the death of 900 refugees in April the EU had to be seen to act. So it tripled funding to the European border agency Frontex, decided for the first time to take military measures to destroy boats that people traffickers might use, and created a new “rapid-return programme” whereby all but 5,000 of an anticipated 200,000 “irregular migrants” who survive the journey will be sent back.

Shoring up Frontex was reported as a “search and rescue” plan. But the Frontex mission remains protecting European borders. It will continue to patrol the coastal waters off Italy and Malta while boats laden with refugees frequently get into trouble further out at sea. Indeed the Head of Frontex insisted its mission could not include search and rescue under maritime law.

Thus there remains a huge gap where more refugees are bound to lose their lives in international waters. And it is unclear how the destruction of traffickers vessels can be achieved. For a start that may require a U.N. mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.  Medecins Sans Frontieres said “Focusing on keeping people out by cutting their only existing routes is only going to push people fleeing for their lives to find other routes, potentially even more dangerous.”

Europe must urgently establish an operation, along the lines of Mare Nostrum, with a clear mandate to save lives as the first priority. High Commissioner Guterres wrote “We have an unambiguous legal obligation to protect” those fleeing conflict and persecution. Europe has a clear moral obligation to prevent the inevitable recurrence of these disasters. It must open safe legal routes and provide opportunities for people fleeing conflict and persecution a chance to request asylum where they are so they will be less likely to risk the crossing to Europe. Ultimately what is needed is long-term solutions, alleviating poverty and resolving conflict in the Middle East and Africa. But this will not be accomplished as long as UN Security Council member states, especially Russia, the US and the UK continue to provide weapons to repressive regimes and arm rebel groups.


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Sign the Petition Edinburgh for Conscientious Objectors Memorial

A petition calling on Edinburgh Council to establish a memorial in Edinburgh to Conscientious Objectors and Opponents of War is now open for signature on the City of Edinburgh Council website. Please show your support for all those, past and present, who have refused to participate in or opposed wars by signing the petition here.

The Petition states:

With respect to the life and death choices of all those who have taken part in or supported wars we the undersigned therefore call upon the City of Edinburgh Council to grant the use of a permanent public space within the precincts of Princes St Gardens and to provide material and financial support for a memorial to Conscientious Objectors and those who oppose wars.  We ask that this be facilitated by February 2016 to coincide with the centenary of the passage of the Military Service Act which led to conscription in 1916.

Photo Credit :

Photo Credit :

With the Centenary of the First World War there is a feeling that there should be a memorial in Scotland’s capital city to conscientious objectors and opponents of wars which would henceforth provide a public focus for those who wish to gather  to remember all those, past or present, refusing to participate in or opposing wars.   

Taking this stance meant considerable hardship for those who refused to participate in or support the First World War and their families, that over 300 British “Deserters” were shot, and Conscientious Objectors were subjected to harsh treatment by the military, in prison, and in their communities and 73 First World War conscientious objectors died in or following imprisonment; their courageous stance cleared the way for improved recognition of the right to oppose war and to refuse to take part in wars and helped lay the foundations for the promotion of peaceful means for the resolution of conflicts and for achieving a just peace.  

Please sign the petition here.  And please Share it. We only need 200 signatures, but let’s get 2000!

The campaign for a memorial was initiated by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and Fellowship of Reconciliation Scotland and is backed by Iona Community,  Edinburgh Stop the War, Edinburgh CND, Scottish WILPF, Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Central Friends Meeting, Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, St Mary’s Cathedral Pax Christi, St Mary’s Cathedral Justice and Peace Group and the Religious Society of Friends Scotland.

There will be a fundraising concert at the Pleasance Cafe on the 20th of June. This evening is being organised by local peace and justice singer songwriter Penny Stone and should be a great evening. Please save the date!

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P&J Exhibition of Syrian Childrens Art Moves to Glasgow

DSC_0609Light Against Darkness: An Exhibition Syrian Refugee Childrens Art was organised by the Peace and Justice Centre with the Childrens War Museum and ran from 21 October to 12 November at City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy and St John’s Church. It was launched at City Methodist with a reception attended by about fifty people which featured Syrian Classical guitarist Ayman Jarjour and an S1 class visited the exhibition.

The exhibition runs at St Marys Cathedral in Glasgow, 300 Great WEstern Rd. G4 9JB from 21 to 30 November. Mon – Friday 10am -12:30pm, Sat 10am – 12:30pm & Sunday 12:30 – 5:00pm.


We were welcomed by Deacon Belinda Letby and Rev Harriet Harris of the University Chaplaincy made an appeal for donations and Abdul Bostani from the Scottish Refugee Council gave a talk on Refugees. The exhibition was funded by grants from the Church of Scotland World Mission Council, Edinburgh City Centre Churches Together and an anonymous donor. On top costs we raised an additional £500 to send to Najda Now, the Charity which ran the therapeutic art workshops for the Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.

The P&JC aims to raise awareness of the impact of armed conflict on civilians and disproportionately on women and children, who are often killed, traumatized or forced to flee their homes. We believe that UK bombing in Iraq and possibly in Syria in the future will only make the situation worse.

This exhibition highlighted the great work done by the Syrian Humanitarian Relief Charity Najda Now to help children affected by the conflict recover from the trauma. In bringing this exhibition to Scotland we helped to raise awareness of the impact of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq on civilians and on children in particular.

It was very moving to see the progression from the earliest raw, black and white drawings of the children which depict the experience of the war. Helicopter gun ships, tanks, men shooting unarmed men, apparently the father of a child, and bodies on the ground bleeding and presumably dying.  Later, the paintings take on colour and life, pictures of home, farms, animals, and childrens self portraits some a metre tall in bright acrylic colours. So the whole thing moves from the darkness and trauma of war to the light of the return to happiness and life.

St Marys Glasgow exhibition poster-001Children from St Thomas Aquins S1 RME class visited the exhibition. Pointing to a picture of a helicpoter shooting at a family one girl asked: “Did they experience that?” They wrote letters to the kids in the Najda Now programme. One boy wrote: “I can’t imagine what you have been through”. They watched a video of the Syrian kids and one boy commented that they seemed so happy. It was a tribute to the Najda Now teachers who helped these children cope with the traumatic experience they had been through.

There are millions of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and within Syria itself. More needs to be done to help all of them. Donations can still be made on the P&J website with Syrian Kids in the Refence line. Donations will help Najda Now continue this wonderful work.

The exhibition was covered by Edinburgh Evening News and STV. Following is an exerpt from the STV report. The full story is available here:  


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