Vanishing Human Rights: Mexico’s migration policies

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For decades, Mexico and the United States have discussed migration policies. A long history of mutual convenience triggered the creation of public and private institutions that aimed to regulate migration. The protection of human rights was by far at the top of the agenda on the Mexican side. Anyhow, things have changed. Mexico’s demands to protect illegal migrants in the U.S seem now odd. Political instability and insecurity in most of the Central American countries have exhibited the incapacity of the Mexican government to handle a humanitarian crisis.

United Nations reported that Mexico and the United States hold the biggest amount of international migrant populations with 15 million Mexicans living in the United States.  This migratory corridor is so immense in terms of mobility that not even Asian countries have reported similar numbers even though they have larger populations. Despite international reports and suggestions about the current humanitarian challenges in the Mexican southern border, the Mexican government seems to disclaim the relevance of protecting Human Rights and their binding elements under international law to avoid human trafficking and other abusive practices against migrants.

Since 2018 when president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected, transitory migration in Mexico has escalated up to 232% compared to previous administrations. There is no doubt that rhetorics and ideological stands played a paramount role during AMLO’s electoral campaign. In theory, left-wing progressive regimes would have a favorable view of human rights and to some extent be committed to respect basic human rights.  Before holding office, AMLO was determined to de-militarized domestic affairs by the creation of a national civil policy. However, and despite the actual creation of a the National Guard, migration policies are still using extreme cohesive methods. Contrary to what many believe, Chiapas and the Southern border have become areas were the military and the national guard have organized massive detention centers.

During 2019, the number of migrants that attempted to get into Mexico reached nearly 450,000. According to the Mexican National Migration Institute, 71,000 were deported and the rest were dispersed in Mexican territory. Nongovernmental organizations and charity groups have reported abusive practices and racism from police forces and other border patrol offices. International media has been able to get in touch with some of the migrants whose families were separated and even kidnapped by local authorities in Mexican territory. The BBC interviewed Fernanda, originally from Honduras. Her tragic story ended up by sending her 7-year-old son alone to the U.S – Mexican border after she suffered hunger, segregation and insecurity in northern Mexico.

Stories like the one Fernanda shared with the BBC are rapidly increasing across the Mexican territory. Yet, since January 2020 larger migrants groups have been systematically targeted by the Mexican authorities. Pepper spray, detention camps, and deportation are now the priority in the agenda of AMLO’s foreign office. While the Mexican Human Rights Commission remains silent. It seems like overall, Human Rights are not a priority and that  inclusive policies towards migration are far from being an option for the current administration.

Minorities change the world – but how?

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Minorities all around the world are often faced with various problems. The Rohingya are being displaced from Myanmar, the indigenous peoples are being systematically discriminated, Uyghurs are being held in concentration camps in the very 2019, in Bosnia only people coming from certain ethnic backgrounds can become members of the Presidency, and in Saudi Arabia women were allowed to drive only in 2018. There certainly are examples of good practices, e.g. in the European Union; however, systems need to be changed in order to be able to integrate minorities without depriving their rights. Also, political and activist minorities demanding changes sometimes fail and sometimes succeed in their fight.

Minorities can indeed change the views of majorities, thus provoking a change in the system. If it were otherwise, women would still not be able to vote (in some countries even drive a car, obviously), benefits of nuclear proliferation would still be in the forefront, and the Earth would be yet another dump. It is minority influence that enabled for some radical changes throughout human history. But why do some minorities succeed and some don’t in this quest for better societies?

Several factors are responsible for success of minority influence (and when talking about minority, we don’t only think of numerical, but rather status minorities). A minority aims at producing social change by creating, drawing attention to or bringing a conflict to the spotlight. The single most important factor is consistency. Moscovici identified following effects of a consistent minority:

  • It produces uncertainty and doubt about the majority norms.
  • It draws attention to itself as an entity.
  • It demonstrates that there are alternative coherent points of view.
  • It is committed to and certain about its point of view.
  • It demonstrates the only solution to be the adoption of minority viewpoint.

Other important characteristics of successful minorities are showing a consensus, being distinct from the majority, being unmotivated by self-interest and external pressures, and flexible in style. They need to offer something different, that is appropriately backed up, and be persevering. Also, conformity to the majority social norms decreases if there are other people that are rising against them.

If you want to make a change, offer something creative, be true to yourselves, dare to be role models for those in doubt and be consistent. There will certainly be backfire since the majority will try to maintain the norms that are in their favour. Find inspiration in others’ examples and stay strong. Difference doesn’t come over night. Create a critical mass and persist.

Don’t Jinx It! Guterres, Multilateralism, and the Lesson Being Learnt from 2019

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New Year’s speeches of state leaders are dollars to doughnuts. And so are teasing statements within them kicking off controversial debates. This year Turkey’s strongman Erdoğan with his claims on Libya, and Little Rocket Man Kim Jong Un, who decided to cancel the annual address upstaged Xi Jinping. He was expected to make clearer statements on the hot Hong Kong issue but stayed diplomatic in sticking to broader economic claims instead.

Likewise appeared the speech of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His address did not make it to the headlines. His very humble call for the youth to keep its political action appears to be of utmost importance. Yet, no TV channel in the world would interrupt its program for breaking news because of this insight. Now, why then having a look at it?

The interesting part is in what Guterres left unsaid. A year ago, the leader of THE world organization was speaking of “proving our worth through action”. Obviously, it does not appear convenient at the stage of world politics to publicly admit that the own state or organization, respectively, did not achieve its announced goals. And, sadly enough, this holds for most of the high expectations Guterres fueled back then. Powering ahead with the Sustainable Development Goals? After a fashion, if we turn one blind eye to it. Diplomatically overcoming the deadlocks in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan? Failed, even when turning both blind eyes to it.

Though, naysaying the entire year of the United Nation’s work would be unfair. The speech of 2020 alone tells us a lot about what the organization’s head seemingly learned.

Without giving up on multilateralism and diplomacy, Guterres cleverly shifted the attention from political summits to the world society with the youth being its spearhead. This is very smart in many ways. Firstly, he does not pass the buck to young people, as critics might say. On the contrary, young engaged people all over the globe fight for political action that is way overdue anyway. Secondly, by encouraging them he  got other parts of the society on board, too. Thirdly, in not addressing the state leaders, he did not hold the diplomatic gun to their head; and fourthly, he released the UN itself from renewed expectations it could not meet.

It might become true now what has been said about Guterres when entering office three years ago. He is an honest broker, well-known for deal making. If it was his objective to step back from unattainable goals without putting feasible ideas that might not suit the political zeitgeist in those days out of his mind, one should congratulate him to his puristic New Year’s speech. At a later (hopefully not too late!) stage the UN now can be taken more serious as a broker than it could when repeatedly failing its self-defined tests.

Guterres shifted and invited to share responsibility instead of shuffling it off. He thereby learned from both, his own mistakes and the ones of the neo-authoritarian anti-multilateralists crowding the conference rooms and presidential palaces. Kicking off controversial debates is up to them; it is not the UN Secretary-General’s cup of tea.

Organ Donation Postponed: A Bright Outlook for NATO and EU (?)

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“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO“, French president Emmanuel Macron said in an interview which thereafter spread like wildfire. A provoking statement, though Monsieur le Président obviously aimed at nothing but triggering his fellow state leaders. Now, after this emergency call with which NATO – as a proxy of most international organizations in those days – was hospitalized, the international community was curios what would be next up. Would the brain-dead patient donate his organs?

Admittedly, the organs of a 70-year-old might be hard to sell. But to most observer’s surprise, none of the brothers in unpredictability, Erdoğan, Johnson, Trump, and the like, blew up or hacked up the anniversary summit in London. There have been some minor issues, with Trudeau, Rutte, Johnson, and Macron accidently mocking the real Donald on camera. Yet, one of the negotiators rightly puts it when stating that “we were expecting worse”.

Whether North Macedonia, as stated in the final declaration, is soon to be the newest ally  has to be questioned to the same extent as the statement that NATO denotes “the strongest and most successful alliance in history”. Same holds for the claim that the alliance is “making good progress”.

But this is exactly where to draw on. In those days it is maybe not about making progress, setting new agendas, and speaking highly of multilateralism and one another. Perhaps it is a state leader like Boris Johnson realizing that indeed there is far more that unites the allies than what divides them. Perhaps it is to let Trump claim that no president would have ever achieved so much in so little time when at the same time he is willing to sign the final declaration and even mentions tremendous things being achieved. Perhaps it is seeing the state leaders mocking each other like at the play ground as long as they do not transfer the childish behavior to actual policy making.

If this is what Macron wanted to achieve, reinforcing awareness within the alliance of its importance, then he succeeded. If, on the contrary, he really aimed at questioning the organization or at least radically reforming it, then there is still a long way to go. And there is reason to doubt the success of this objective.

Yet, also taking into consideration the handover of the European Commission’s presidency Juncker to Ursula von der Leyen, it shows that the two most important international organizations for Europe, seemingly, are released from intensive care. vdL, as the new president is often referred to, proposed and outlined a very ambitious agenda for the upcoming five years.

She now has to meet the high hopes she awoke, of course. But, just as NATO, EU seems to be back on its feet. Trust in the long-lasting peace project is as high as it has not been in years. The first actions taken by vdL furthermore seem promising.

So, the two sick men of Europe, as one might still have labelled them a month ago, appear to recover now that it comes to the end of the year. It has to be proven in reality whether or not this is enough for a bright outlook. Notwithstanding the patient’s age, there remain to be plenty of prospects panting for the patient’s organs. Hence: Full recovery welcome.

A new wave of Arab uprisings: are lessons being learnt?

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A new wave of Arab uprisings began in December last year in Sudan and has expanded to Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria. But this time protesters have learnt not to make the same mistakes that were made in the Arab Spring almost ten years ago, which is relatively bringing more legitimacy, however still slowly, to the popular movements.

Protesters now understand that a leader resigning or being toppled does not always mean that the political regime they oppose has fallen. Moreover, protesters have learnt that rushed and forced elections are a trap to renew an old regime with a different name to it. These popular movements have also shown that resorting to violence and polarisation go in opposite directions with democratic transitions and change. The case of Syria showed us that taking up arms is an opportunity for the regime to relabel a popular uprising into a deadly civil war. Although demonstrations in the cases of Iraq and Sudan have been faced with brutal repression and violence, protesters have stood firm with their non-violent approaches. And this is exactly what we have seen in the case of Algeria.

Former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika had been in power for 20 years and had plans to run for a fifth term. His plans to stay in power sparked mass demonstrations nicknamed as the ‘smile revolution’ or the ‘Hirak’ (movement) which resulted in Bouteflika’s resignation in April this year. But this was not enough, people wanted the whole system dissolved and rushed elections before any deep political reforms were not the solution either.

However, after being postponed twice, the military authorities held a presidential vote last 12th December, going against the protesters’ claims. The vote was boycotted by millions of Algerians and saw an extremely low voter turnout, less than 40%. The election of the former prime minister and the military establishment preferred candidate Abdelmadjid Tebboune, widely rejected by the Algerian public, calling it a sham.

Given the popular boycott, the low turnout and the continuation of mass demonstrations, the election of Mr Tebboune shows very little legitimacy and will put him under pressure of ever-growing popular demands. Unrest will continue, but where should all this go?

The Algerian political and especially military authorities have a huge amount of power in the country. There are three options as to what could be their next move. The first is they keep ignoring the demands of the popular movement and wait for the exhaustion of the protests, the second is relying on coercive measures and the third is compromise and negotiation.

But protesters have learnt their lesson. They will not cease to fight until they see deep reforms in the regime, and they will continue to insist on their non-violent methods. Therefore, what is left is to come down to negotiations. And for this, there needs to be a minimum of institutionalisation of the Algerian popular movement where leaders are appointed to represent the protesters´ claims and to negotiate with the political and military leadership.

Lessons have been learnt, and therefore popular movements and their demands will be gaining more and more legitimacy, which is in itself a positive outcome already.

Securitizing Catalonia (I): the Copenhagen School in the Spanish context

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The ‘rupture of Spain’ and ‘the Spanish unity’ have been one of the most repeated tropes following the events that took place in Spain from 2017, until today. Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain, announced and celebrated a referendum contra legem in order to gain independence. The Spanish government at the time responded by using a type of discourse that legitimized it for taking a wide range of measures that went from suspending the autonomy of the region to the incarceration of Catalan political leaders, the latter confirmed on October 14th by the Spanish Supreme Court. Is it possible to understand the handling of the process of independence of Catalonia from the frame of the securitization theory from the Copenhagen School (CS)?

Following the linguistic turn, the theory draws on the premise that securitization occurs when actors label certain events as threats and relevant audiences accept such designation. Approaching from constructivism the CS understands that the most important feature is that the word security doesn’t need to be uttered. What is relevant is the use of particular logics that define security, logics enrooted in the speech act (mostly political discourses) that provoke the rupture of the logic of normal politics to enter the realm of security.

The moment of entering the security realm would be the 6th of September 2017, the day in which the Catalan Parliament passed the laws that would allow Catalonia to become independent after the celebration of a referendum, set for the 1st of October. The day after, the Spanish government led by Mariano Rajoy activated the security logic. On the 7th of September, he gave a speech in which he depicted independency as ‘the end of Spain’, creating the need for survival.

Despite Rajoy’s emergency measures to avoid the vote from taking place by transferring National Police officers from all over Spain into Catalonia with the order of confiscating –even by force—ballots and boxes, the vote did take place on the 1st of October. Two days after, the security logic entered a new post-referendum phase: the King of Spain—Felipe VI—gave, symbolically, his first institutional speech following the independence vote.

To explain securitization logic, the process has to be taken as gradual and incremental, from Rajoy’s speech to the Kings one, in different moments, pre-referendum and post, enabling the adoption of emergency measures  in 2017-2018 such as the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution that suspended Catalonia’s autonomy and led to new elections in the region.

Notwithstanding the government effort in securitizing Catalonia, the issue remains unsolved. Emergency measures and particularly the role of the judiciary within the process have not helped in approaching the situation.  Can the judiciary of a country be a securitization actor? How does the realm of security interact with the legal frameworks? One thing is clear: legal frames without political dialogue have proved to be inadequate to solve the situation.

Why is America afraid of children’s rights?

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All the members of the United Nations have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but one. The United States. What may be the reason behind this opposition, given that the US actively contributed to the creation of the CRC and even suggested original text for several articles?

The UNCRC is the fastest ratified convention in the history of the UN. In the process of its creation, several articles were originally proposed by the US and were based on existing US law. However, for 30 years has the US failed to ratify it. Interestingly, the very articles proposed by the US are the ones that inspire the strongest opposition. One wave of opposition stems from religious-right and some other conservative organisations, whose slogan ‘The UN Wants Your Children’ is more than enough to portray their line of acting.

Another wave is grounded in fear that the Convention threatens the sovereignty of the US. The Convention threatens national security, it is said. A State Department legal advisor clearly explained: ‘In our constitutional form of government, we view basic rights as limitations of the power of government to do things to the individual, rather than requirements that the government do things for people’.

Although it is not very clear how ratifying the CRC would hinder American sovereignty since enforcement mechanisms by the UN are not foreseen, there are several possible explanations (there have been quite a few experts dealing with this issue). One is that the ratification could lead to necessary public reports on the negative state of American children. Well, there is no help there. Another explanation is the fear that the CRC would supersede the Constitution. Except it does not work that way. The UN can publish facts and give suggestions, but there is no legal way to influence the American law.

Another explanation is that the Convention might empower the congress to act in areas that are normally handled by the state. Here too has the UN no mechanism to mandate action at the national level, but rather to oversee whether the obligations are fulfilled.

Is failure to ratify the UNCRC reflection of the US paranoia or their need to act as a superpower, even at the cost of children’s rights? This question remains to be answered.

Until then, the US will remain the only country in the world with yet another glooming role: allowing juveniles to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Iraq´s rocky road to stability

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After years of war and occupation, the security scene in Iraq appeared to be somewhat better than it was in the post-2003 conflict period. The territorial (but not complete) defeat of Daesh in 2017 also brought some sort of optimism to the country. However looking closely, Iraq continues to be a war-torn country where a majority of the population lives in aggravating conditions and reconstruction of infrastructure and a harmonized society remains far-sighted. Iraqis have grown tired of a widely believed culture of corruption, weak governance, and a fragmented political arena. These once again, have sparked public anger.

Protests have erupted across Iraq over government corruption, shortage of basic services, increasing rates of unemployment and general discontent with the political system. The most striking features of these protests are their magnitude – they are the biggest protests since the fall of Saddam Hussein – and the brutality employed by the Iraqi security forces against those opposing the status quo – as of today, leaving 319 dead and 15,000 injured. These protests are the clear proof and example of the loss of trust in the Iraqi political system and instability in the country, putting Iraq in a direction difficult to pull back from.

So what is interfering in Iraq’s road to stability?

Iraq suffers from a heavily fragmented political system where different factions are competing against one another for power and influence and ultimately applying contradictory measures and working at cross purposes. This fragmented political arena is coupled with the integration of various factions of paramilitary groups within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) with differing purposes, into the security forces. This can only lead to the absence of coherent control over the security situation and therefore more escalation of the conflict. Iraq has consequently become an open political space for contestation between weak and divided political and security figures and the Iraqi population.

Now, will the protesters’ claims be heard? Iraq is trying to get onto a path of stability but protests will not end while the root cause of the problem – unwanted and fragmented government and security forces – is still in place. There needs to be a strengthened and more unified national movement that removes the current political system and re-builds one that truly responds to the Iraqis´ basic needs. Although this will be a long process, it is not impossible and has to be urgently pushed for.

The Wall has fallen

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The Wall has fallen.

The Wall has fallen. Of course, it is very well known which wall is the Wall. On this day thirty years ago, people started crossing the Wall without getting shot to death. O tempora, o mores! What a victory.

But it actually was a sort of victory. Building a physical wall to represent the ideological and mental division of people had not happened so often in history. Although with no obvious reason at the time the GDR leader Walter Ulbricht declared that ‘No one has the intention to build a wall’, two months later the Wall was – built. And it lasted for almost 30 years. For three decades the Wall was a symbol and a means of a regime that did not value (or allow for) freedom. It was sold to people as protection against the Nazi west. It was Mikhail Gorbachev, pressed by the people and his own visions of the future, who enabled the Wall to be demolished. As the Wall fell, Gorbachev’s Common European home was supposed to start.

Berlin, 10th November 1989

However, it was not easy to unite Ossis and Wessis. New Germany needed a factor that could unify culturally different populations of East and West Germany. They found it in the provisions of constitutional patriotism. Constitutional patriotism was developed in after-war West Germany in order to be able to accept the Nazi past and move forward to a society that condemns this part of its history. A ‘simple’ national identity would not allow for the collective acceptance of guilt and shame, hence a supranational level of identity was to be invented.

It is considered to be a post-national concept that could be applied in order to unify the parties previously involved in the cold war. Patriotism, as understood by this concept, is considered not to be built on national grounds, but rather on norms and values of liberal democracy. In this sense, it functions in a way different than national identity. The culture is not projected onto a concept, but rather the concept provides norms and values that are projected onto society. The universalism of the norms and values is considered to be especially suitable in post-conflict societies.

Originally, the norms and values provided by constitutional patriotism were grounded in Kohlberg’s post-conventional level of moral development. That is why Habermas named it post-conventional identity. At post-conventional level of morality, individuals are considered to follow the ethical principles of justice, liberty, and life, even if they oppose the official laws of the country. A better case is that the whole systems be arranged according to these principles, and democracies are theoretically based on Social-Contract Orientation stage of Kohlberg’s theory. Constitutional patriotism is supposed to be based on the highest level of morality, the Universal-Ethical-Principal Orientation. And that is what Germany tried to do with its constitution in order to reconcile different cultural groups within its boundaries.

Photo: Tijana Karić

Although at first it was seen as a substitute for ‘proper’ national identity, it soon became a concept that was considered to be applicable to Europe as a whole. There are other countries that can be referred to as based on constitutional patriotism, such as Switzerland or the USA. The concept is not without its critique. However, it seems to have worked in Germany and led the country to integrate its brutal past and developing a society of acceptance. In times of globalization, could this be the model for the future?

Exhumation of the Spanish Dictator: What’s The Controversy?

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Last Thursday, the 24th of October, the Spanish government with the Supreme Court’s approval carried out its promise to exhume Francisco Franco’s remains from El Valle de lo Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen). Many international media outlets have echoed and applauded this so-called controversial decision.

Despite the democratic intentions in fulfillment of the Historical Memory Law, some have criticized the government’s action as an “electoral move”, others have claimed its uselessness after 44 years, and many others have labeled the exhumation as “profanation” and an insult to Spain’s history.

What could be so controversial about removing a dictator from a National Public Heritage monument? The fact is that the exhumation has revealed Spain’s unresolved recent history, to be sure: the dictatorship following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and its consequences even in the democratic moment.

Unlike other countries with a dictatorial regime, Spain only passed its Historical Memory Law in 2007, almost 30 years after the transition to democracy and the approval of the 1978  Constitution. Still today, Spain remains the second country in the world with more mass graves, only after Cambodia,  and particularly in El Valle de los Caídos, there are more than 33.000 unidentified people laying underneath.

The exhumation of Franco is a perfect example to reveal how sociological Francoism is still alive and present today in Spanish society. In 1977, when Spain was transitioning to democracy, the Amnesty Law was approved, impeding to judge the dictatorship crimes that are imprescriptible according to International Law, something that has been remarked by the UN Human Rights Office, even calling for Spain to repeal the Law. 

While the transition has been repeated to be “exemplary”, there was no depuration of responsibilities or any Commission for Truth and Reconciliation to shed light on the crimes of the dictatorship. In this regard, the only current open cause investigating and persecuting Franco’s repression and crimes is in Argentina.

The transition thus proved to be a reform of the political regime rather than a complete rupture. Institutions in Spain such as the Catholic Church or right-wing political parties have not yet condemned the dictatorship. Without a political consensus on the issue, Francoism rests surrounded by an aura of veneration or an image of a time that was not that bad.

Let’s not forget that democracy is incompatible with the defense of a dictatorship; and that it is never too late to improve the democratic quality of a country by removing a dictator from a National Heritage Monument. The past always requires to be dealt with, symbolically and substantially.