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The (Conditional) Effectiveness of International Human Rights Courts

Guest post by Jillienne Haglund

A sign at the entrance to the International Criminal Court. By Alkan Boudewijn de Beaumont Chaglar.

A sign at the entrance to the International Criminal Court. By Alkan Boudewijn de Beaumont Chaglar.

On March 10th, the International Peace Institute (IPI), along with the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, cohosted a panel bringing together scholars, legal practitioners, diplomats and representatives from human rights organizations to discuss whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) deters atrocities, or more generally, whether the ICC is an effective institution. As the only global forum for individual criminal prosecution, the ICC represents an institution of critical importance in international relations. To date, 122 states have ratified the Rome Statute and accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. The ICC aims to end impunity for the perpetrators of large-scale human rights abuses by prosecuting individuals responsible for atrocities. Twenty-two cases in 9 situations have been brought before the ICC and in 2012, the ICC issued its first conviction, finding Thomas Lubanga, a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, guilty of war crimes and enlisting and conscripting children into armed conflict. Most recently, the ICC is examining crimes against humanity in Kenya.

While the ICC aims to hold individuals criminally accountable for perpetrating mass human rights abuses, the broader goal of the institution entails contributing to the prevention of these types of abuses. As such, the ICC joins the efforts of various other international human rights courts in promoting respect for rights by holding states accountable for human rights abuses. These courts include the European Court of Human Rights, which delivered 891 judgments alone in 2014, as well as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which examined 19 contentious cases in 2014, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which receives around 1,500 petitions concerning alleged violations of rights every year.

The growth in activity of these courts raises questions regarding the effectiveness and impact of international human rights legal bodies in promoting respect for rights, or their influence on human rights practices. The effectiveness of international human rights legal mechanisms has been met with widespread skepticism among scholars and policymakers alike.[1] International human rights courts face substantial challenges in achieving their goals, most notably, enforcing international human rights law and holding perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable in an international system in which they wield little independent authority. In addition, the state often faces costs for adhering to the demands made by international human rights courts, including material costs, reputational costs (for accepting responsibility for human rights violations), and political costs (i.e. implicating governmental actors responsible for human rights abuses). Why would any state agree to adhere to the decisions, recommendations, and demands of a (presumably weak) international human rights legal body? Further, do international human rights courts influence respect for rights?

These questions motivated the IPI to bring together various individuals to assess the role of the ICC in deterring human rights abuses. Among the scholars present at the IPI panel, Beth Simmons presented the findings from her recent study (co-authored with Hyeran Jo) on the deterrent effect of the ICC. In this study, Simmons and Jo present the first systematic assessment of the effect of the ICC on deterring atrocities (intentional killing of civilians).[2] Simmons and Jo identify two different types of ICC deterrence, including prosecutorial deterrence (the threat of consequences for violating the law) as well as social deterrence (extra-legal consequences, such as damage to reputation).[3]

Simmons and Jo argue that the deterrent effect of the ICC is conditional, finding that there is some evidence of direct prosecutorial deterrence (ratification of ICC statutes is associated with reduced government violence against civilians). However, the indirect effect of the ICC is stronger, meaning that ratification of ICC statutes has a greater effect on the reduction of intentional killing by government forces when states implement ICC-consistent domestic criminal statutes.

Exploring the indirect influence of the international court (the domestic conditions under which international human rights courts are effective) allows us to step back from the persistent skepticism that has dogged these international legal bodies since their creation. Given the substantial challenges faced by international human rights courts, they are unlikely to directly influence state human rights practices. Instead, international courts’ influence is likely indirect, that is, international human rights courts, in conjunction with domestic political institutions, influence state human rights practices. In fact, while Simmons and Jo find that domestic criminal statutes are important for the effectiveness of the ICC, I find in my dissertation research that the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights are more likely to be effective when the domestic judiciary is relatively powerful. Domestic judicial power 1) generates public support for the domestic court to adhere to an international court, 2) helps domestic judges overcome procedural difficulties associated with implementation, and 3) increases the shaming costs for evading international human rights court decisions. As a result, strong domestic courts increase the likelihood that the domestic court adheres to adverse international court decisions. In turn, where the domestic judiciary is strong, the executive expects to observe adherence to adverse international court decisions by the domestic judiciary, and the executive is more likely to follow-up domestic judicial efforts by adopting rights-respecting policy.

In addition to the prosecutorial effectiveness of the ICC, Simmons and Jo find that the ICC has a conditional social effect as well. When the state has pre-committed to being receptive to human rights demands by ratifying ICC statues, the state is deterred from committing international crimes, but this effect is much stronger in the presence of an established network of human rights organizations. As the “users and consumers” of judicial rulings, civil society plays an important role in generating mobilization and pressure on government to respect rights. In my dissertation research, I also find evidence of an indirect social effect of international human rights courts on respect for rights. That is, adverse judgments by both the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights are associated with improvements in respect for rights when there are freedom of expression guarantees in place. These findings indicate that international human rights courts can also influence respect for rights indirectly by generating social pressure on the government to improve respect for rights. While international human rights courts continue to face various challenges in an international system dominated by states, we should not reduce them to another ineffective international institution. There is room for optimism, as evidence continues to suggest that, conditionally, international human rights courts display great potential in improving human rights practices.

Jillienne Haglund is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis, and will be an Assistant Professor at University of Kentucky this fall.

[1] Further, existing evidence on the effectiveness of domestic and international human rights prosecutions is mixed. Kathryn Sikkink (2011) finds evidence that domestic human rights prosecutions are associated with improvements in respect for rights and Meernik, Nichols, and King (2010) find evidence that domestic human rights trials and international tribunals do not appear to contribute to reducing the likelihood of civil war recurrence or improving human rights practices.

[2] Simmons and Jo also examine the deterrent effect of the ICC on rebel group violence.

[3] Kathryn Sikkink similarly notes two ways that human rights prosecutions can influence state behavior, deterrence and socialization.

Want to Eradicate Poverty in the 21st Century? Pursue Peace

By Timothy D. Sisk for Denver Dialogues

United Nations General Assembly Hall in the UN Headquarters, New York, NY. April 23, 2011.  By Basil D. Soufi.

United Nations General Assembly Hall in the UN Headquarters, New York, NY. April 23, 2011. By Basil D. Soufi.

This year at the United Nations a new development agenda is being negotiated by member states to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to focus the development agenda on the next horizon (2030). The inclusion of a proposed forward-looking Sustainable Development Goal to promote “peaceful and inclusive societies” by the General Assembly’s Open Working Group is a major achievement.[1]

The Group’s August 2014 decision to include such a goal – so-called SDG16 – as an essential part the future of development is grounded in an important fact: there is now longstanding recognition, and empirical evidence, that peace is a necessary condition for sustainably reducing poverty going forward. By September 2015, the UN’s General Assembly is slated to adopt a new set of targets for reducing poverty worldwide.

Does the scholarly evidence support inclusion of the proposed SDG16, namely in support of a causal pathway between peaceful and inclusive societies and long-term development outcomes? It does: the conclusion is clear that if you want development in the 21st century, then pursuing peace is essentially a prerequisite.

Poverty Is Concentrated in Conflict-Affected Countries

In the short term, the 2010’s have been unambiguously bad for peace… from the Central African Republic to Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan and Ukraine, new escalations have yielded complex humanitarian emergencies, and the appetite and capacities of major powers and international organizations to intervene in such crises and stem the fighting is perennially insufficient. One could easily be pessimistic: unspeakable terror, new ethnic and sectarian extremism, modern genocide, and crimes against women unfold in crisis after crisis, while the UN Security Council remains gridlocked and feeble in its own anachronism. Armed conflict appears to be on the rise: conflict onsets increased beginning in 2006-2007, after an overall downward decline since the 1990s, with more new onsets of armed conflict than concomitant war terminations through peace agreements or, in some cases, military victories.[2]

In the long term, however, since the 1990s the world has become a more peaceful place, which is a trend ostensibly driven in large part by consistently expanding education, health, and income (it is also then possible to argue that if you want peace, pursue development). For now, it is war that stands in the way of an even more prosperous and perhaps environmentally sustainable planet. Recent research points to the concentration of poverty in countries that are considered fragile or conflict-affected, and progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is, in general, impeded in such countries.[3] Development gains are most severely impeded in countries experiencing sustained or cyclical violence. Some 40-60 countries globally have underlying vulnerabilities to recurring cycles of conflict and crisis.[4] In fragile countries with restricted citizen participation and a lack of accountability, progress toward the MDGs was stagnant or reversing. Kenneth Hartgen and Stephan Klassen report that there is a direct correlation between the conditions of fragility (conflict-affectedness) and lack of progress toward the MDGs.[5] Increasingly, global poverty is concentrated in such war-torn countries: over 50% of the world’s poor live in conflict-affected countries and with anticipated gains in development in more stable countries likely in the decade ahead, by 2025 more than two-thirds of the world’s poor are projected to live in the so-called “fragile” states.[6]

Among the most consistently cited drivers of conflict across a wide range of conflict contexts are socio-economic inequalities that overlap group identity (horizontal inequalities), lack of access to essential social services and weak systems of governance that enable education, health, and livelihoods, demographic instabilities and low or menial employment prospects, poor natural resource management, political exclusion of historically disadvantaged groups and the absence of inclusivity in governance, and social and gender norms that reinforce a “culture of violence.”[7]

War’s Effects on Poverty: Immediate and Enduring

The evidence for the deleterious effects of both “armed conflict” and interpersonal and criminal violence on development is strong.[8] Fragile and conflict-affected countries are characterized by the inability of state institutions and processes to legitimately wield authority and protect the social contract. These states also experience a high degree of social fragmentation, unequal development and, at times, poverty fault lines coincident with ethnicity or other forms of identity.[9] War and violence are indeed “development in reverse.”[10] In terms of causal pathways, violence presents long-lasting, direct and indirect, multidimensional consequences, making them difficult to fully or accurately quantify. At the same time, research suggests the greatest development-inhibiting effects are on food security, educational attainment [11], infrastructure, life expectancy, loss of human capital, infant mortality rates, maternal mortality, and on governance capacities.[12]

The nature of violence has changed significantly in recent decades: beyond “armed conflict,” today violence is manifested in various forms to include intrastate conflict, armed groups and organized crime, political and ethnic community-level violence, and interpersonal, sexual, and gender-based violence.[13] Moreover, the Syria/Iraq imbroglio has significantly affected the overall downward trend in violence, especially in terms of increases in the total number of global refugees and IDPs. Consequently, scholars and practitioners are questioning the ways in which volatile political transitions, even in middle-income countries, will constitute newly emergent threats to peace in the 21st century. Contemporary analysis suggests a number of countries–including large, middle-income countries–may be vulnerable to widespread social violence (including “sub-national” fragility), as in Nigeria.[14]

Despite the short-term trends and prognosis, longer-term projections tend to show reductions in violence in the coming years, as underlying deep drivers of development (education, health, income) continue to improve. Thus, the problem of concentration of poverty in the fragile states will likely be exacerbated in years to come, as the strongest predictor of armed conflict and violence is a prior experience of civil war or violent instability. Such a trend is not automatic, however, and it will rest upon addressing some contemporary factors that have led to new conflict onsets: resource competition, radicalization, the effects of climate change[15], and corruption.

Inclusive Societies Are More Peaceful Societies

What about the use of “inclusive societies” language in the SDGs? Research on development patterns associates progress in the human experience with key attributes of inclusive, democratic governance.[16] And, given historical evidence, the converse proposition is also expected: advances in development increase demands for democratic participation. However, scholarly research suggests, unlike the problem of violence, the promise of democratic inclusivity directly contributing to the compatible aims of peace and development is less clear—the effects of democracy on development may be longer term. Democracy and “inclusive governance” may not provide for near-term development, but over time the accumulated “stock” of democracy produces distal benefits for development.[17]

Governance may also have several internal dimensions that are differentially salutary for development: among them are access to justice and sanctity of contract, women’s empowerment[18], inclusivity and vertical and the lessening of “horizontal inequalities,” social safety nets and service delivery by the state, accountability over corruption, clientelism, and patronage; effective state-society relations and “complementarity” between civil society and the state.[19]

The pivotal factor for inclusivity is its relationship to accountability: democracy serves to introduce a culture of equality that empowers historically marginalized elements of the population. Citizenship rights for former “outgroups” leads to inclusion in the “selectorate,” yielding corresponding responses by the state in economic and social spheres. The key to democracy’s contribution to development historically has been in its initial provision of safety as a first-order priority, and subsequently, to the extension and improvement of state capacities to provide services over time.

Few scholars today refute the essential finding that the women’s rights, inclusion, and development are essential to peace and security. Gender equality is closely associated with advances in democratic governance, rule of law, and peace, through which participation in public, political, economic and social life is enabled.[20] The most critical factors are access to employment, banking, and credit, equal property rights, participation in public decision-making, and access to justice for interpersonal violence. Countries with greater female participation in public and economic spheres see lower levels of corruption and lower vulnerability to internal and international conflict.[21]

Managing Turbulent Transitions

Many agree that democracy is, in the long term, good for development, but that the pathways of democratization are often unstable and conflict-ridden. Recent evidence from every “case” in the Arab Spring reinforces these findings: democratization seems to induce violence as much as ameliorate it. Elite predation and mobilization may contribute as well, especially given an elite imperative to gain electoral advantage as quickly as possible during democratic transitions. For this reason, much of development policy today continues to wrestle with the political economy dimensions of state capacity-building, especially in conditions of high socio-economic inequality.[22]

Consequently, the emphasis has shifted to innovative ways to promote both horizontal (institution-to-institution or state-based) accountability, and vertical (citizen-state) accountability in governance, including the new and novel harnessing of information and communication technologies to empower people to monitor state performance and development outcomes.[23] Equally, scholars have turned to more sophisticated and detailed approaches to measuring the extent and quality of democracy, acknowledging that all democracies need constant scrutiny and improvement, as transitions do not always yield fully democratic outcomes.[24]

Peace and Inclusivity in the Post-2015 SDGs

There is rare consensus in the scholarly literature about the injurious effects of conflict on development, and the articulation of a global norm toward more peaceful and inclusive societies in the SDGs seems based on sound scholarly evidence.  With perhaps less, but still strong, consensus, scholarship also supports the premise that political inclusion–or, in less vague language, democratic governance–is equally a prerequisite to development.

What are the priorities for pursuing peace going forward?

The first priority is reducing violence and continuing to mitigate the root-cause drivers associated with armed conflict and with armed or interpersonal violence. The most critical factors in terms of reducing armed conflict are improvements in the global peacekeeping and peacebuilding architectures and capacities, expanding aid effectiveness in conflict-affected countries, introducing “infrastructures for peace,” and countering violent extremism.  This means addressing the multiple layers and integrated causal dynamics of fragility, and monitoring and evaluating trends over time in underlying conflict drivers.  Today’s capacities for international and regional action to stem violent conflict are insufficient to meet the exigent need for more robust international responses.

Second, expanding access to justice, proliferating institutions and processes for accountability and curtailing corruption remain essential for a minimal condition of “good governance,” at national and local levels especially. This suggests both further development of institutions for “horizontal” accountability and expanding social accountability, especially in contexts where natural resource or commodity-export dependency create vulnerabilities for endemic corruption. The move toward direct citizen social accountability mechanisms is especially promising insofar as these methods circumvent institutional, legal, and administrative barriers that prevent access to justice and to improve transparency, predictability, and accountability in governance.

The third priority is continuing and expanding assistance for state capacity development, including the “permanent state” of public administrators and governance professionals, particularly in conflict-affected countries where governance functions have been disabled in the course of conflict. Inclusive democratic governance – especially at the local level – is required for expanding service delivery for fundamental human needs. Such expansion of state capacities to deliver essential services, however, is often predicated on process legitimacy for governing administrators, in addition to other potential sources of state legitimacy.[25]

A fourth priority is realizing greater inclusivity by direct and indirect efforts to expand voice and participation in governance.  A first-order concern in many contexts is improving the integrity of electoral processes, to include election-related violence prevention and improving professionalism and world-class standards in electoral administration.[26] As well, when transitions or constitution-making processes offer opportunities for expanded women’s participation, such opportunities need to be institutionalized to be stable in the long term.[27]

Given the current set of global crises unfolding while the UN debates the SDGs, it is important to keep in mind that development will be hampered unless peace can be more effectively pursued. Over the coming decades, therefore, broad progress toward human development will be predicated in large part on reversing the present short-term trend of newly erupting conflicts and returning to the post-Cold War pathway of steady reductions in global political violence. Reifying peace and inclusivity as essential elements of the future of human development seems a modest step in the right direction.

[1] Report of the Open Working Group proposal for Sustainable Development Goals, A/68/L.61, available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html. See also Jenna Slotin and Molly Elgin-Cossart, “Why Would Peace be Controversial at the United Nations? Negotiations toward a Post-2015 Development Framework,” (New York University: Center for International Cooperation, December 2013), for background analysis on the negotiation of proposed goal.

[2] Lotta Themnér and Peter Wallensteen. 2014. “Armed Conflicts, 1946-2013.” Journal of Peace Research 54 (4): 509-523.

[3] Jeet Bahadu Sapkota and Sakiko Shairatoi, “Achieving the Millennium Development Goals: Lessons for the Post-2015 New Development Strategies.” JICA-RI Working Paper, No. 62. Tokyo: JICA Research Institute.

[4] Monty G. Marshall and Benjamin R. Cole, 2009. “Global Report 2009: Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility,” Center for Systemic Peace, George Mason University, available at http://www.systemicpeace.org/Global%20Report%202009%20Executive%20Summary.pdf.

[5] See their essay “Fragility and the MDG Process: How useful is the Fragility Concept?” European University Working Papers RSCAS 2010/20, at http://cadmus.eui.eu/dspace/bitstream/1814/13585/1/RSCAS_2010_20.pdf, p. 12.

[6] Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Geertz. Poverty in Numbers: The Changing State of Global Poverty from 2005 to 2015 (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution), available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/01/global-poverty-chandy.

[7] Cynthia J. Arnson and I. William Zartman. 2005. Rethinking the Economics of War: The Intersection of Need, Creed, and Greed. Washington: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press: pp. 1-23 and 256-284.

[8] Armed Violence Prevention and Reduction: A Challenge for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” by Keith Krause and Robert Muggah, (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2008).

[9] Alexandre Marc, et al. 2013. Social Dynamics and Fragility: Engaging Societies in Responding to Fragile Situations. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

[10] Scott Gates, Håvard Hegre, Håvard Mokleive Nygård, and Håvard Strand, “Development Consequences of Armed Conflict, World Development 40 (9) (2012): 1713-1722.

[11] Robin Shields and Julia Paulson, “’Development in Reverse’? A Longitudinal Analysis of Armed Conflict, Fragility, and School Enrollment,” University of Bath Education and International Development Working Paper No, 20, 2014.  Published online in Comparative Education (September 2014).

[12] For a statistical test of the salience of these variables, see Scott Gates, Håvard Hegre, Håvard Mokleiv Nygård, and Håvard Strand, “Consequences of Civil Conflict,” January 22, 2010, Peace Research Institute Oslo.

[13] Global Status Report on Violence Prevention 2014. Geneva. World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/status_report/2014/en/.

[14] Monty Marshall and Benjamin R. Cole. Global Report 2014: Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility. Center for Systemic Peace. Available at: http://www.systemicpeace.org/vlibrary/GlobalReport2014.pdf.

[15] Ole Magnus Theisen, Nils Petter Gleditsch and Halvard Buhaug. 2013. “Is Climate Change a Driver of Armed Conflict?” Climatic Change 117, no. 3: 613-625.

[16] See the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs summary report “Governance for the Millennium Development Goals: Core Issues and Good Practices,” 7th Global Forum on Reinventing Government Building Trust in Government, 26-29 June 2007, Vienna, Austria, at http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/unpan025110.pdf.

[17] John Gerring, Strom C. Thacker, and Rodrigo Alfaro, “Democracy and Human Development,” The Journal of Politics 74 (1) (2012): 1-17.

[18] Patrick M. Regan and Aida Paskeviciute. 2003. “Women’s Access to Politics and Peaceful States.” Journal of Peace Research 40 (3): 287–302. doi:10.1177/0022343303040003003.

[19] For an overview of these issues, see the report “Governance and Development: Thematic Think Piece,” UNDESA, UNDP, and UNESCO, May 2012, available at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/Think%20Pieces/7_governance.pdf. See also Brian Levy and Francis Fukuyama, “Development Strategies: Integrating Governance and Growth,” Policy Research Working Paper 5196, Washington, DC: The World Bank, January 2010, available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-. 1286395629347/Levy_and_Fukuyama_WPS5196.pdf.

[20] Anda Adams and Rebecca Winthrop. 2011. “The Role of Education in the Arab World Revolutions.” Brookings: Global Compact on Learning, June 10. http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/06/10-arab-world-education-winthrop#

[21] Valerie Hudson et al., “The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States” International Security 33 (3): 7-45.

[22] For an overview of the debates on inequality and development outcomes, see Charles Boix. 2009. “The Conditional Relationship between Inequality and Development.” PS: Political Science & Politics 42 (04): 645–49. doi:10.1017/S1049096509990072.

[23] UNDP, Reflections on Social Accountability, (Oslo: UNDP Oslo Governance Center, 2013).

[24] Michael Coppedge, et al. 2011. “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: A New Approach.” Perspectives on Politics 9, no. 2: 247-267.

[25] OECD-DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility. 2010. The State’s Legitimacy in Fragile Situations. Available at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/45/6/44794487.pdf.

[26] See Pippa Norris, “The New Research Agenda Studying Electoral Integrity,” Electoral Studies 32 (4) (2013): 563-575.

[27] Lisa Baldez, “Women’s Movements and Democratic Transitions in Chile, Brazil, East Germany, and Poland.” Comparative Politics 35 (3) (2003): 253-272.

On the Importance of Humanitarian Healthcare Ethics: Fear, Ebola, and Security

Guest post by Larissa Fast

Health care workers in Guinea prepare to treat Ebola patients. By the European Commission DG ECHO.

Health care workers in Guinea prepare to treat Ebola patients. By the European Commission DG ECHO.

Last week marked the first anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of an Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa. A healthcare worker infected with Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone arrived in the US earlier this month. Another ten of this unnamed health worker’s colleagues were also evacuated to the US for monitoring after exposure to the virus.

The muted media reaction to this latest Ebola case is vastly different than last fall, when the outbreak was at its peak and the first case of Ebola arrived on North American shores. Hysteria mounted, tweets mentioning Ebola skyrocketed, and pictures of people in clinics and in western airports wearing various types of protective gear appeared in the media. Fear of Ebola was prominent and, somewhat like the disease itself, seemingly contagious. Many, notably politicians, spread disinformation while others pleaded for common sense. Fear spreads, and it sells, particularly in relation to a disease that spreads by human contact and bodily fluids. Until the present outbreak reached North American shores, the disease was confined to rural parts of Africa.

EbolaTweets (1)

Ebola preys upon our darkest imaginations. Why? First, Ebola evokes otherness and its close companion, fear. Apart from infectious disease experts, some aid workers, and those who watched the movie Contagion, Ebola was unknown locally, in the affected countries, and globally. It was an “African disease.” Its symptoms, which include excessive bleeding, are frightening. Its high fatality rate suggested that contracting Ebola was equivalent to being handed a death sentence. Those suffering from Ebola and those who have recovered from it are often stigmatized. Commentators have compared the fearful reaction to Ebola to the early days of the AIDS epidemic (see here and here), and analyzed Ebola in relation to its status as a “global security threat.”

Paradoxically, fear of Ebola is also linked to its mundaneness. Ebola can be transmitted via the ordinary, daily actions offering affection or even by brief contact that involves the transmission of bodily fluids. Direct touch escalates the risk of transmission. To avoid contagion, those caring for people with Ebola wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Dressed in PPE, health workers resemble aliens, with goggles masking their faces and gloves preventing direct contact. PPE separates the caregiver from the patient and lowers the risk. Yet touch is fundamental to our interactions and connection as human beings.

It is precisely the inability to physically and directly touch and care for those suffering from Ebola that makes it one of the most challenging diseases for family members and healthcare workers, and what renders it so devastating to families and communities. Reports from the worst Ebola-affected countries have highlighted changes in the ways people relate. Where once people greeted each other with enthusiastic kisses and embraces, now they bow, bump elbows, or show respect by placing their hands over their hearts.

Paradoxically, direct human connection both spreads the disease and is essential to its containment. The short- and long-term response to Ebola must include controlling the outbreak, strengthening health systems, and restoring communities’ trust in government institutions. Yet the less visible implications of Ebola, related to fear and the physical separation necessary to prevent its spread, deserve attention as well. They suggest parallels to the dominant approaches to managing security for aid workers. By security, I refer to the (physical) protection of humanitarian and health workers responding to armed conflict, natural disasters, or other emergencies around the globe.

As I’ve written in my book, Aid in Danger: The Perils and Promise of Humanitarianism, the number of attacks against aid workers and aid delivery has increased over time, prompting aid agencies to withdraw staff members, remotely manage, or suspend programs in the most dangerous places. In others, aid workers and agencies have adopted measures that confine humanitarian workers in secure spaces behind walls of concrete or barbed wire. Equally, some measures are built on invisible walls of expertise, walls that muffle and silence the voices and perspectives of affected communities. While sometimes necessary or unavoidable, barriers and walls also make human connection more difficult and can perpetuate fear.

Violence and insecurity, together with the corresponding strategies to manage these risks, are clear risks for humanitarians, whether related to the Ebola outbreak or not. The death toll from Ebola includes far too many healthcare workers and caregivers. The toll comprises not only those who have died from Ebola itself, but also those killed, injured, or stymied while trying to educate communities about the disease and prevent its spread. Ensuring adequate protection and support for aid workers and the health workers, friends and neighbors caring for Ebola patients is crucial. The lack of trust and connection that enables such violence to occur suggests that security measures must be balanced by human connections and presence that build trust in ways both small and large. Perhaps one of the most important lessons of the Ebola crisis is the absolute importance of human connection for security and as part of humanitarian response

Larissa Fast is a faculty member at the Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame and an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow. She tweets as @aidindanger. This article was originally published at Human Connections.

Friday Puzzler: Obama’s Public Displeasure With Israel Seems Like a Good Thing. Why Do People Think It Isn’t?

By Barbara F. Walter

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraces Speaker of the House John Boehner. By Speaker John Boehner.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraces Speaker of the House John Boehner. By Speaker John Boehner.

The Obama administration is clearly unhappy with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign antics over the last few weeks. The Prime Minister’s decision to speak directly to the U.S. Congress on April 2nd clearly violated diplomatic protocol. It was also an insult to the President. Netanyahu’s more recent racist and fear-mongering statements about Arabs and his public rejection of a two-state solution were incendiary and potentially destabilizing. The President had every right to speak out about this bad behavior.

A public reproach by the U.S. seems long over-due given the multiple ways in which the Netanyahu government has misbehaved in the service of domestic politics. In fact, public condemnation of bad policies would seem like a good thing, not a bad. At least this way the U.S. might make Bibi think twice before he pursues policies that are directly contrary to U.S. interests.

The reaction to Obama’s public censure of Netanyahu, however, has been less than positive. Rather than congratulating the President for finally standing up to bad behavior, critics have warned that it could serve to increase sympathy for Netanyahu. The implicit message is that there are no circumstances under which the U.S. should criticize Israel – all outcomes are bad.

So today’s puzzler is this: Why would anyone think that giving an ally unconditional support – no matter how they behave – is a good thing? What benefit does the U.S. gain from keeping its mouth shut no matter what?

Waiting for Barry-O: Divining Abbas’ Next Move

By Allison Beth Hodgkins

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, on a visit to England. Via the Catholic Church of England and Wales.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, on a visit to England. Via the Catholic Church of England and Wales.

Elections, like fighting, are a pretty good way of resolving information problems. I spent a few rounds with this handy, Haaretz “build your own coalition widget” last week and quickly found the same 67 seat configuration that Israeli President Reuven Rivilin recognized when he tapped Netanyahu to form the next Israeli government on Wednesday night. Although there is still some horse-trading around who get’s which ministry (which hard line small party will get the defense portfolio, which religious party will get education), it is all but certain that the next Knesset will have a distinct “national” and “religious” with Kulanu for populist cover. More importantly, if you drill down into the particular agendas of the six parties haggling over their stake in the coalition it becomes evident that security and settlements are the glue that holds them together. In fact, this is the first coalition in a while that is likely to govern for a four full years.

Post election back-peddling notwithstanding, there is no way that the next Israeli government can credibly commit to a negotiations process that ends in the creation of a territorially contagious, economically viable Palestinian state. And with that clarity,

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority must decide their next move. With Palestinians from Jenin to Jericho projecting the same coalition calculus onto their own futures, there is simply no way for Abbas to stay the course of negotiations and survive.

By most accounts, the temperature in the West Bank is already at the boiling point. While he has gotten some breathing space by carrying through with his treat to join the International Criminal Court, Abbas will be hard pressed to explain the value in maintaining “quiet” on the street and conducting joint raids with Israeli forces if there is no credible political horizon. With the door to a bilateral solution slammed on his foot, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must quickly present his constituents with a new strategy for ending the occupation or be swept aside.

Realistically, Abbas has two options: suspend security cooperation or double down on diplomacy. While the situation in the territories is ripe for a new uprising, all indicators suggest that Abbas’ is leery of releasing the tidal wave of pent up Palestinian frustration. First, he has steadfastly upheld the PA’s security commitments, even during the bloodbath in Gaza last summer. Second, he has nothing to gain and everything to lose should the street return to armed struggle. Unlike his predecessor, Abbas is the father of Oslo and not the struggle. A third intifada will be an ignominious ending to his effort to lead the Palestinians on a peaceful path to self-determination.

Unfortunately, he is running out of time. Not only are the Palestinians fed up with the peace-process, the Israelis are too. It is likely that the new Israeli government will attempt preempt the possibility of the PA dissolving itself and handing in the keys to the West Bank cities and towns by announcing a unilateral disengagement from the West Bank akin to Sharon’s 2005 departure from Gaza. They are also likely to file their own counter-claim in the ICC. Such moves may keep a shaky stasis like the one that exists with the Gaza Strip, but the cycle of violence will certainly expand in scale and tighten in frequency. Thus, if Abbas is going to survive this round, he has to play the few cards left in his hands. And while his preferred option is unilateral diplomacy, it will ultimately be President Obama who decides which path he takes.

To illustrate his dilemma (and my feeble grasp of game theory) let’s diagram Abbas’ options using a crude decision tree. Option 1: ceasing security cooperation is suboptimal as it will certainly precipitate a vote in congress to end all funding to the PA and bring about the PA’s swift collapse. While Fatah will get points for choosing resistance over collaboration, Hamas will also join the fight. Given Fatah’s weakness, they will gain little by fighting Hamas at the outset and the situation will turn ugly fast. Abbas is unlikely to survive politically and will probably seek refuge in Jordan while his rivals duke it out for the next chance to lead the losing battle. Not a happy outcome to say the least.

However, the problem is that option 2 isn’t viable without US support of a resolution – overt or tacit. If the United States continues its policy of providing Israel cover in the UN, Abbas will leave the UN with egg on his face. In fact, it is unlikely he will try. Instead, he would most likely redouble his efforts to mend fences with the Palestinian factions and let security cooperation lapse with the rest of Oslo’s power-sharing institutions. If he is going to die in comfortable exile in Amman, he will do so of his own accord and not because he allowed himself one final humiliation at the UN.

At this moment, signals from the White House may give Abbas some hope but they are far from unambiguous. There is also no question that the Iran deal means far more to Obama than Palestine. If Kerry succeeds in getting a deal with the Iranians that has the backing of the Europeans, Obama will need every democratic Senator and congressman behind him. You don’t need calculus to figure the difference between the number of US Senators and Congressman who “skipped the speech” and the numbers needed to block a veto over-ride. If Obama will validate his Nobel Prize via an agreement with Iran he will need the support of historically pro-Israel members of his congress. However, if Israel continues to apply the pressure needed to scuttle the Iran deal deal, he may feel emboldened to support a Jordanian sponsored resolution on ending the occupation at the UN.

Either way, the next few weeks will be very telling.

How Did Guerrilla Violence Shape the 2014 Presidential Election in Colombia?

Guest post by Michael Weintraub, Thomas Flores, and Juan Vargas

An anti-FARC protest in Bogota, Colombia. By flickr account equinoXio20080720.

An anti-FARC protest in Bogota, Colombia. By flickr account equinoXio20080720.

Violence sadly has become a regular feature of 21st century elections. Elections often take place soon after civil war ends, as was the case with Sri Lanka’s 2010 presidential election, held only months after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Yet elections also take place while armed conflict rages on in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Ukraine, Colombia, and Israel.

The frequent juxtaposition of civil conflict and electoral competition has prompted scholars to ask how bloodshed outside the voting booth alters voters’ choices within it. Definitive answers to this question remain beyond our reach, but scholars have treated this question in innovative ways. Scholars disagree, for example, whether violence emboldens voters to choose hawkish candidates or parties or deepens their support for accommodating armed groups. Evidence from Turkey and Israel finds that violence by extremist groups hardened civilian attitudes towards extremist causes and resulted in votes for more hawkish political parties. Yet other scholars find that the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain turned voters against the more hawkish People’s Party. A different line of thinking suggests that voters punish incumbents for terrorist attacks.

We explore this question further in an article forthcoming in Research & Politics. In it, we ask whether violence by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the main insurgent group facing the Colombian state, affected voters’ support for the peace process in last summer’s presidential elections.

Colombia’s 2014 presidential election is a perfect laboratory to study this question. President Juan Manuel Santos staked his re-election campaign on seeking peace with the FARC – a surprising turn of events given that, as Defense Minister, he was an architect of former President Álvaro Uribe’s mano dura (“firm hand”) policies between 2002 and 2010. His opponent – Óscar Iván Zuluaga, himself a former cabinet official during Uribe’s presidency – took nearly the opposite position, threatening to suspend peace talks if he captured the presidency. The peace process – initiated by Santos and underway for a year and a half at the time of the election – remained the only salient issue in the campaign. A vote for Santos, then, was a vote for the peace process, while a vote for Zuluaga was a vote against.

How did insurgent violence affect Colombians’ support for peace – and hence their choice for president? To answer this question, we assess how FARC violence affected municipal-level vote shares for each of the candidates in the second round of the presidential election. To do so, we collected from the Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil, Colombia’s national election commission, data on the proportion of voters in each town or city opting for Santos versus Zuluaga in the second round of the election. We then use data from the Human Rights Observatory Database and regression analysis to assess whether municipalities with more FARC attacks between 1988 and 2010 were more likely to vote for Santos or Zuluaga.

A careful analysis of these data – we won’t include all the details here, but see the article for a summary – suggests three main patterns. First, Santos generally did better in places with higher violence, while Zuluaga performed better in places with low violence. The impact is rather large. Only 11 more FARC attacks between 1988 and 2010 – or one additional attack every other year – was correlated with a 3% in Santos’ vote share. Second, we also find evidence of a non-linear impact of violence on the vote: Santos generally did best in places with middling levels of violence and not as well in places with either no or very high levels of violence. The reverse pattern held for Zuluaga. Third, the legacy of the FARC’s violent origins still reverberates today: municipalities that witnessed FARC attacks while it was in its infancy (1964-1970) were more likely to vote for Santos than Zuluaga.

Our findings are far from the last word on these issues, of course. Two of the characteristics that make this election an ideal case – the centrality of the conflict in voters’ minds and the diametrically opposed positions of the candidates on the peace process – call into question whether these patterns will hold in other contexts. Many questions remain. Does civil war affect vote choice when the conflict is not as salient to a given election? How do voters weigh the importance of, for example, economic development versus ending violence? And do armed groups use violence to coerce voters to choose their preferred candidates, or punish voters who do not obey their preferred policies?

All the same, our research suggests strongly that Colombia’s long legacy of insurgent violence can be seen in Colombians’ votes in 2014. Civil war, it would seem, conditions the practice of democracy for years to come.

Michael Weintraub is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Binghamton Univeristy, Thomas Flores is an Assistant Professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, and Juan Vargas is a Professor of Economics at the Universidad del Rosario.

The Power of Die-in Protests

By Oliver Kaplan for Denver Dialogues

Die-in Protest in Apartadó, Colombia, 2007. By Oliver Kaplan.

Die-in Protest in Apartadó, Colombia, 2007. By Oliver Kaplan.

A group of people gather together in a town square. Suddenly, they all drop dead.

With recent prominent acts of police and extra-judicial killings (in Ferguson, New York, Mexico, and elsewhere), this past year has seen a surge in what are known as “die-in” protests. In regular “sit-in” protests, activists occupy a space and chant slogans. In “die-ins,” activists dramatically (re-)enact scenes of violence in their quest for accountability and an end to violence. These mobilizations are clearly attention-grabbing, yet we know relatively little about their nature and impact. I briefly explore how die-ins work and why they are potentially so powerful.

There are different types of die-ins, but they usually share the common elements of being dramatic and creative (re-)enactments of past or likely future harms where the participants figuratively “drop dead” on cue. They can be part of scheduled protests or can be spontaneous flashmobs. In variants, protestors may shout messages or use signs to add context to the physical scenes being acted out. They can also involve pictures of victims (as well as images or effigies of the dead), coordinated dress, outlining bodies in chalk on the pavement, and simulations of killings, such as mock execution lines or firing squads (the tactic of self-immolations by Tibetan monks and others could be considered an extreme form of die-in protests). They are especially designed to take events that are hidden and occur out of sight—such as secretive massacres or disappearances—and bring them into the public eye.

The power of die-ins comes from the ability to mobilize them quickly and with few resources yet still have an outsized effect on public attention. They are relatively easy to do since they don’t require many people and just need coordination and a shocking plotline. And, given their heightened drama relative to regular protests, when combined with a camera or phone and an internet connection they make prime content to share on social media and Youtube (after all, what good is a flashmob if it doesn’t live on the internet for posterity?). Whether watching die-ins in person or on video, it’s hard not to have an emotional reaction. They make the violence seem more real and the coordinated and unexpected action by the protestors communicates the deep solidarity they have with the victims and their families. The message is also not dependent on slogans or bounded by a particular language since the imagery of dying is universal and transcends culture.

Die-ins are often aimed at several target audiences. The first target is the perpetrators or killers (or other would-be killers). The defiant die-in helps break the fear among the population and calls these perpetrators out as cowards. Second, they are targeted at officials in positions to take action—those who might hold perpetrators accountable and work toward systemic change. Third are the bystanders (national or international) who could be mobilized to help press the cause and pressure the first two categories of actors. With these commonplace targets, many die-ins may resemble other protests. But the irony invoked by the die-in—taking the original harmful action and turning it into a symbol of solidarity and criticism—works like a rhetorical trap to amplify the message. It holds a mirror up to the perpetrators and to society to underline the depth of the wrong committed and the massive scale of outrage over it.

Many die-ins have been visible over the past year, but the tactic has earlier origins. Die-ins were first used in the 1960s and 1970s against the Vietnam War and as part of the campaign against nuclear weapons and energy (see this RAND study). The following news report describes a die-in from Scotland in 1983:

“The protest follows a mass ‘die in’ by more than 3000 people in the centre of Glasgow yesterday. When amplifiers in a city square broadcast the sound of sirens and a mock bomb blast, the participants fell to the ground. Many wore paper bags over their faces to mock the nuclear survival techniques advocated by the British Civil Defence authorities.”

Die-ins have subsequently been adapted to diverse causes, including environmental movements, just access to AIDS pharmaceuticals, and ending the Iraq War.

In the past decade, there has been a revival of die-ins. In some instances, they have been used by communities in armed conflict settings as a nonviolent strategy to seek autonomy from the warring parties and demand accountability. Like fighting fire with fire, the protestors counter the terrorists’ tactic of instilling public fear by mobilizing the public against them. I was a participant-observer at one such die-in in Colombia in 2007 as part of the 10-year anniversary of the founding of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community. The community ran a mock funeral procession with mock coffins and photos of the victims—their killed relatives—to protest ongoing violence primarily by paramilitary forces, but also by guerrilla and state forces. These more recent die-in protests differ from the anti-nuclear die-ins in that they are usually focused on specific aggressors and specific victims of past events, as opposed to the future and more diffuse threat of nuclear attacks or disasters.

Die-ins have also been similarly used against other forms of repression and injustice, including police brutality and extrajudicial killings by non-state actors. In the U.S., die-ins have been staged around the country in recent months in response to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO (and subsequent failure by the grand jury to convict the officer involved) and Eric Garner’s death in New York, both at the hands of police officers. In addition to protestors falling to the floor dead, they have invoked sardonic slogans such as “Hands up, don’t shoot” and #BlackLivesMatter (or wearing hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin as yet another example). The reporting on these die-ins in mainstream news outlets suggests at least some success in gaining broader attention.

I also reviewed the videos of die-in protests posted on the 43 “normalistas” (students) of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero state, Mexico, that disappeared last September (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). Although the mystery behind the case persists, evidence points to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel and the mayor of Iguala and his wife as the likely perpetrators and accomplices. While little action has been taken so far, with tens if not hundreds of die-ins in response, the breadth of actions precisely against this indifference is noteworthy. In one, a protestor shouts “Open your eyes!” to an on-looking public, while another features an extremely realistic (yet fake) killing of a young male in the street in broad-daylight (where the initial indifference of bystanders is also shocking). Yet it is not clear to what effect. Though poignant, most of these videos have relatively few hits—from hundreds to almost 50,000, but still not the millions the organizers probably hoped for. And while Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently dismissed the Minster of Justice, he has largely been able to wait out the public backlash and the die-ins without having to institute major policy changes.

This cursory overview of die-ins suggests they can have multiplicative potential in contexts of violence and injustice. Yet there are still many unanswered questions and a large agenda to explore. Are they ever effective, or can they end up being provocative and lead to retaliation? Can their paths of influence be traced to specific target actors? Are they more effective at drawing attention and generating responses than regular protests? Are their effects enduring? Hopefully die-ins will become scarcer in the future because there will be fewer acts of injustice, but something tells me we will only be seeing more of them.

Amnesty, the ICC and Complications with the Dominic Ongwen Case

Guest post by Cyanne E. Loyle

LRA soldiers pose for a picture. Via wikimedia.

LRA soldiers pose for a picture. Via wikimedia.

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander, Dominic Ongwen, surrendered to U.S. forces in the Central African Republic in early January 2015. Ongwen has been wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2005 on seven charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. While the evidence against him is strong, his case raises many serious questions about the role of the ICC in ongoing conflict, the potential benefits of amnesty and the impact of international law on post-conflict reconciliation.

The LRA conflict in Northern Uganda is characterized by its extreme violations of human rights including the forced abduction of children, mutilation, sexual violence and massive population displacement. The Internet popularity of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video (receiving nearly 100 million views on YouTube) and U.S. military support [1] for efforts to locate and arrest LRA leader, Joseph Kony, has kept the conflict in the international news. Yet now it is the ICC and international law which are coming under fire.

As part of the war effort in 2004 the Government of Uganda referred the case of the LRA to the ICC and indictments were issued for five top LRA commanders, including Kony himself, in 2005. Despite the clear, widespread and systematic violations of human rights on the part of the LRA, this has always been a tricky case for the ICC. For one, critics highlight the atrocities committed on the part of the Uganda government and call-out the ICC for its seeming pro-state bias as indictments have focused solely on LRA crimes. Furthermore, outstanding indictments by the ICC are largely credited with stymieing the 2006 Juba Peace talks as Joseph Kony was unwilling to surrender or disarm while an arrest warrant was outstanding. This drew attention to the potentially harmful role that the ICC plays when it gets involved in ongoing armed conflicts. And finally, the Uganda case presents a challenge to the ICC’s notion of complementarity—the principal that the ICC will intervene only when a domestic justice system is unable or unwilling to prosecute certain crimes. Since the original arrest warrants were issued, the Uganda government has created and implemented the International Crimes Division, a branch of the judiciary dedicated specifically to the prosecution of violations of international law.

A further complication to the Ongwen case and challenge to the ICC has been the 2000 Amnesty Act. In 2000, the Uganda government implemented a broad-based amnesty law which gives blanket amnesty to all rebels (including LRA members) who willingly surrender and renounce their participation in armed rebellion against the state. By many accounts Ongwen should be eligible for amnesty under the Amnesty Act as he has willingly surrendered. Yet, the Act has been controversial in Uganda. It denies an investigation or more systematic form of justice to victims by merely providing a pardon for rebels without accountability. The Act provides a start up package for returning rebels which includes a minimal amount of monetary compensation and farming supplies while support for victims remains marginal. And the Act has been inconsistently applied, as in the case of Thomas Kwoyelo who has been detained and released on multiple occasions pending a final ruling on his eligibility for amnesty from the Ugandan High Court. This inconsistency has lead to claims that amnesty is merely a tool of the Uganda government used to weaken the LRA rather than to genuinely reconcile with returning soldiers, a point I make in my own work on the use of judicial processes during ongoing armed conflict in Uganda. Broader patterns from my ongoing collaborative work on government judicial behavior during conflict support this finding. [2]

Probably no issue complicates the Ongwen case more than Ongwen himself. Ongwen was a child soldier. By most accounts he was kidnapped by the LRA on his walk to school when he was 10 years old. Yet during his time with the LRA he rose through the ranks to become a brigadier commander, the highest rank below Kony himself, and he is accused of being one of the organizers behind a massacre of civilians in an IDP camp in Northern Uganda in 2004. Based on his history, to what extent is he responsible for his actions and how should be he held to account? This is an issue of great political and social importance for Uganda today.

Ongwen’s complicated relationship with the LRA has added further steam to tensions between supporters of international law versus domestic accountability. Recent surveys in the Acholi region of Northern Uganda find that victims of LRA violence favor bringing Ongwen back to Uganda to face more traditional forms of justice such as Mato Oput—a local ceremony which focuses on forgiveness and reconciliation over punishment. These victims argue that international justice does not address local legacies of violence and potentially puts unjust blame on child soldiers. Many residents of Northern Uganda still anxiously await the potential return of their own children from the LRA. The Uganda government has been inconsistent in its support for the Ongwen case at the ICC, but recently has agreed to support the case as it progresses.

Moving forward, the ICC, its international backers and the Uganda government will have to make some difficult choices, setting a precedent for future LRA arrests and surrenders as well as the other ethical challenges that international accountability will face in years to come.

[1] Jeffrey Gettleman “In Vast Jungle, U.S. Troops Aid in Search for Kony”. New York Times. April 29, 2012. And Helene Cooper. “More U.S. Troops to Aid Uganda Search for Kony”. New York Times. March 23, 2014

[2] A new data collection project with Helga Malmin Binningsbø, Scott Gates and myself looks at the use of different justice options while armed conflict is ongoing. http://www.justice-data.com These processes have important implications for peace and rule-of-law once the conflict has ended.

Cyanne E. Loyle is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at West Virginia University.

Do Tunisians Perceive a Democracy/Security Tradeoff?

By Sarah Bush and Lauren Prather

The Bardo National Museum in Tunis, which was the site of an attack on tourists by armed men. By Hsen Bergaoui.

The Bardo National Museum in Tunis, which was the site of an attack on tourists by armed men. By Hsen Bergaoui.

Earlier this week, armed men opened fire on tourists getting off buses to visit the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. By the end of their assault three hours later, they had killed at least 23 people, including at least 20 international tourists and two Tunisians. At the time of writing, various extremist groups, including the Islamic State, have claimed responsibility for the attack, although uncertainty about who was involved remains.

If you listen to the news, the tragic attack spells trouble for Tunisian democracy. Just a few months ago, Tunisia was declared “country of the year” by The Economist and “free” by Freedom House. However, in the aftermath of the attack, one of the main worries expressed by commentators is whether popular support for democracy has been undermined and whether anti-democratic elites will be empowered. Implicitly, their assumption is that the Tunisian people believe authoritarian governments are better equipped to provide order and stability when faced with threats to security, including terrorism. At the moment, these worries are mostly speculation. A survey we fielded to a diverse, national sample of Tunisians in January 2015 – just after the end of the 2014 Tunisian election cycle – can help shed some light.

In the survey, we asked Tunisians how much they agreed with the following statement: “Democratic systems are not effective at maintaining order and stability”. Of the 1,100 people surveyed, 38% agreed with the statement, 53% disagreed, and 9% weren’t quite sure. These responses suggest that Tunisian society was rather split before the attacks over whether democracies can meet the security challenges they face today, even though a majority seemed to think that they can.

Despite Tunisians’ varied beliefs, however, about the relationship between democracy and stability, they still overwhelmingly expressed support for democracy as a form of government. 87% of respondents agreed that, although democracy has its problems, it is better than other forms of government.

One key question is whether the perceived democracy/security tradeoff varied by partisanship. It would be easy to assume that the two main parties – Ennahda, the largest Islamist party, and Nidaa Tounes, the largest secularist party – might diverge. Observers have been particularly worried about how Nidaa Tounes, which won both the legislative and presidential elections and contains members of the former authoritarian regime, might roll back freedoms achieved by the revolution.

Among the public at least, attitudes about democracy and security are relatively consistent across parties. 51% of Nidaa Tounes supporters and 56% of Ennahda supporters disagreed with the statement that democracies are not effective at maintaining order and stability. In other words, majorities in both parties felt that democratic systems can effectively manage the security environment. The pattern is similar when we compare people who do and do not support President Beji Caid Essebsi of Nidaa Tounes. Thus, although some Tunisians are skeptical that democracies can provide security, these views are not particular to the supporters of one party or candidate.

It is difficult to say just what Tunisia’s future holds. One particular area of concern is the economy, which has been in the doldrums and will suffer another blow when tourists stay away post-attack. Another is whether the attack might encourage the passage of an anti-terror law that human rights activists have criticized. Writing about the Bardo attack earlier this week, Mischa Benoit-Lavelle had the following to say:

The attack yesterday came—perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not—on a day when hearings were scheduled for a new anti-terror statute intended to replace the 2003 law. The proposed bill was originally intended as a reform but instead preserves many of the current law’s worst features. According to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch, “It includes provisions that would open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism, give judges overly broad powers, and curtail lawyers’ ability to provide an effective defense.” After Wednesday’s attack, politicians from multiple parties announced their desire to expedite the process of signing the bill into law… At a spontaneous rally on the steps of the National Theater in the hours after the attack, a woman held a sign saying, “No human rights for terrorists.”

But the evidence from our survey suggests that people may be rushing too quickly to write off Tunisian democracy’s chances. Tunisians overwhelmingly support democracy, even though some of them perceive tradeoffs between democracy and security. That the potential democracy/security tradeoff isn’t a clearly partisan issue may also be a promising sign since it suggests that a rolling back of human rights and other freedoms by Nidaa Tounes may not be welcomed with open arms by the party’s supporters. In other words, let’s mourn the victims of this tragic act of terrorism – not the end of Tunisian democracy.

Lauren Prather is a Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Stanford.

Weekly Links

By Sarah Bakhtiari

Woodrow Wilson accepts the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. President, 1916. Via Wikimedia.

Woodrow Wilson accepts the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. President, 1916. Via Wikimedia.

Rather than allow Wilsonian ideals to guide U.S. objectives, Stephen Krasner suggests we aim for “good enough” governance abroad. In this brand of governance, the U.S. enables the provision of basic order and services but doesn’t aim for costly institutional reform that ignores elites’ proclivity for corruption.

James Fearon says it’s useful to think of failed states as those that cannot provide public order within territorial boundaries, vice providing public goods. Some failed states might not pose a big threat to the United States’ national security in the traditional sense, but rather in a modern sense by undermining the allies’ stability and posing contagion risk. Other failed or failing states—like nuclear powers—may indeed pose a more direct traditional threat to U.S. security.

Is there a parallel to negotiations with Russia over Ukraine and the Munich Agreement of 1938? Peter Kolar and Juraj Mesik believe so, and think the West is abdicating its duties to protect Ukraine’s independence and territorial sovereignty, as outlined in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Is supplying Ukraine with arms a way honor that agreement? The top U.S. Army commander in Europe says arming Ukraine is not a strategy.

Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance (or bayat) to the Islamic State seems give the organization a greater gravitational pull for extremists looking to join the cause. But is it possible Boko Haram’s new affiliation threatens to disrupt al Qaeda’s campaign on the continent? Or will the organization’s allegiance to the Islamic State subject it to more intensive responses from foreign governments?

In the fight against the Islamic State, allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses by U.S.-backed forces in Iraq abound this week, with plenty of multimedia evidence from the ‘Dirty Brigades’: here, here, and here. The Islamic State is not as novel as many think, given a long history of insurgencies that behave like proto-states, control territory, and use extreme, public violence. But that doesn’t mean the Islamic State isn’t formidable; trends in combating jihadist ideology aren’t promising.

How might we better evaluate anti-terrorism programs’ efficacy? Increased use of randomized controlled trials may be one way, but is not a silver bullet method. Although these trials are employed more frequently in studies about political violence, broadly speaking, they still pose significant practical and ethical challenges to research.

Students in Burma took to the streets to protest the government’s new curb on academic freedom, which prompted a violent governmental crackdown. Surprisingly, even the government’s opposition party, the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, considers the students an impediment to its agenda, and cautions the students to refocus on constitutional reform.

Kinshasa is consumed with political fervor in anticipation of elections over the next two years, while the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is looking ahead to its exit strategy and force reduction instead of formulating plans for supporting a peaceful election process and increasing political engagement.

Nigeria is also looking ahead to elections; national elections are scheduled for March 28th and state elections for April 11th of this year. Beyond the security challenge posed by Boko Haram, Nigeria faces deeply entrenched corruption, unemployment, and insecurity.

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