Executive Editor, Conectas
Guest Editor for the Sur File
THE SUR FILE ON ARMS AND HUMAN RIGHTS. It is hard to imagine anything more tangible, more corporeal than the human cost of arms. Firearms used in police killings, bombs dropped in populated areas, killer drones that strike villages, or tear gas thrown inside houses. This violence demands our collective courage to confront its power. And so – in the following pages – we present the 22nd issue of Sur Journal. It features a Sur File focused on how human rights language, institutions and practitioners can defy the power of arms. A human rights perspective – in particular one embedded in the reality of the Global South – can be fruitfully used to tackle the proliferation, misuse and ensuing violence of many weapons. Furthermore, greater attention to arms-related political and legal dynamics can assist in reducing instances of human rights violations.
With this Sur File, the Journal helps to fill a gap in the global human rights debate. While the question of arms is indeed prominent in many conceptual, legal and diplomatic frameworks – such as armed violence, security (national, international and human), disarmament, and International Humanitarian Law – in the context of human rights, arms are often an afterthought or an asterisk. In fact, dealing with arms control and disarmament is far from the everyday work of most human rights organisations.
The Sur File unpacks some of those pressing issues in relation to arms and human rights. It starts by asking, “who sits at the negotiation table” in national and international forums where arms-related decisions are taken? In this section, composed of three articles, authors explore the politics that mold negotiations and decisions regarding international arms control. Brian Wood (UK) and Rasha Abdul-Rahim (Palestine) show how the unlikely dream by civil society actors and certain states of an international legally binding treaty on arms transfers led to the birth of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The launch of the 22nd issue of Sur marks the one-year anniversary of the entry into force of the ATT. This offers the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at the heart of the treaty by those who were directly involved in its making.
This first section also features the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams (US). With the unique experience of being one of the founders of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Williams shows how the international community has so far failed to fully include women as equals in negotiations on peace and security. Camila Asano and Jefferson Nascimento (Brazil) question the lack of transparency in arms-related foreign policy and demand that Brazilian authorities acknowledge the proper place of civil society at the negotiation table whenever arms are used as foreign policy instruments.
The second group of articles, “Everyday Harm”, takes a closer look at specific kinds of weapons often overlooked in this field. Daniel Mack (Brazil) and Maya Brehm (Switzerland) analyse the world’s two most common and impactful weapons (small arms and explosive weapons, respectively). Each argues that for both these weapons, urgent international attention and restraint is required, since both are major culprits in death and destruction worldwide, both in conflict and “peace”.
Recognising the prominent role that police and riot control agents play in relation to violating human rights, the third section, “Policing”, focuses on the technologies and institutions that are meant to diminish and prevent harm, but in reality often have the opposite effect. In addition to Guy Lamb’s (South Africa) piece on South Africa’s highly militarised police (which fights fire with an inferno in his words), Anna Feigenbaum (UK) makes the case for the regulation of “less lethal weapons” offering a case study on the Brazilian company Condor, a giant in this industry.
Lastly, authors tackle the political, technological and moral battles being waged today and how they will define the impact and dynamics of armed violence in the coming decades. Kicking off “Designing the Future”, Thomas Nash (New Zealand) discusses the international community’s relative ineptitude in reviewing (and precluding) new technologies of violence, as well as the power asymmetries embedded in arms control processes – and their negative consequences.
By telling the stories of three drone attack victims Mirza Shahzad Akbar and Umer Gilani (Pakistan) demonstrate the human impact of drone warfare in Pakistan, reminding us of the horrible consequences to human rights when weaponry is used in a secret and cavalier fashion. Finally, Héctor Guerra (Mexico) and Maria Pia Devoto (Argentina) look forward and suggest the synergies between two recent diplomatic developments: the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
CONVERSATIONS. Complementing the Sur File on Arms and Human Rights, we are proud to feature an interview with the activist Maryam al-Khawaja (Bahrain), about how the Bahraini government makes deadly use of less lethal weapons to control protests. She recalls the successful #stoptheshipment campaign – a partnership between Bahraini and South Korean activists – which successfully halted a large scale shipment of tear gas destined for Bahrain. We hope that her interview will inspire activists from other countries to design similar initiatives in their own regions.
IMAGES. Words are not enough to capture the reality of the impact of arms on civilian populations. For this, Sur Journal is honoured to partner with The Magnum Foundation, the non-profit founded by members of Magnum Photos, home to some of the world’s leading photographers. This section presents an inspiring photo essay by five of their human rights fellows. As noted in Magnum’s introduction the 10 pictures presented here – along with phrases from the photographers themselves – demonstrate “the devastating effects of weapons and warfare on civilian populations through the eyes of documentary photographers for whom ‘out in the field’ means being home.” The photo essay includes pictures taken between 2008-2015 in conflict situations in places as diverse as Sri Lanka, Syria, Kenya, Ukraine and Egypt. Additionally, in this issue, we showcase for the first time a set of infographics which offer an overview of the impact of arms on civilians to help our readers navigate through this complex issue.
ESSAYS. In this section, reserved for in-depth analyses on contemporary human rights issues, Sur Journal presents three contributions, all looking at traditional questions in the human rights debate from an often overlooked angle. By addressing the issue of responsibility of multinational corporations in promoting or impeding the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights, Bonita Meyersfeld (South Africa) and David Kinley (Australia) redirect our focus to the role of banks who finance the operations of such corporations. The authors take as a starting point the ground-breaking Draft Johannesburg Principles, adopted in 2011 as a new framework for understanding the relationship between financial Institutions and human rights. Kathryn Sikkink (US), one of the leading voices in human rights academia, revisits the history of the origin of human rights norms at the international level. She takes a closer look at Latin America’s protagonism in defining the norms that founded our movement even before the Universal Declaration was adopted. Finally, this section concludes with the evidence-based account of maternity in women’s prisons in Brazil, by Bruna Angotti and Ana Gabriela Mendes Braga (Brazil). After spending months interviewing detainees, prison directors and employees, the researchers reflect upon the excess of discipline with regard to maternity and the harm of the dichotomy between the “excess of maternity” right after birth in prisons and the subsequent abrupt separation between mother and child.
INSTITUTIONAL OUTLOOK. The INGO Accountability Charter is the result of an ever expanding group of international NGOs that seek to instil greater “accountability, transparency and effectiveness” into the workings of the nonprofit sector. Karenina Schröder (Germany), the Executive Officer of the Charter’s Secretariat, spoke exclusively to Sur Journal to shed more light on the increasing importance of accountability for human rights organisations. She also explains the invaluable role of those Global South NGOs that are signatories to the Charter, particularly in terms of helping to establish international accountability standards.
EXPERIENCES. In this section, Sur Journal brings a case study from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai (Kenya), discussing his office’s innovative work supporting human rights litigation at national level. Born out of the belief that current processes of shrinking and even closure of civic space require more creativity and multiplicity of approaches, through this project the Rapporteur has already participated in litigation in Mexico and Bolivia, and now invites human rights defenders to suggest other potential legal battles in need of support.
VOICES. We conclude the Journal with two provoking op-eds. Kavita Krishnan (India), one of the leading voices in her country’s Communist Party and a feminist activist, details how politics, economics and caste ideology shape women’s rights in India. Taking as a starting point the 2014 BBC documentary on a gang rape of a woman in Delhi, the author unpacks the complex contemporary forces in play that maintain women’s subordinate role in society. In addition, the Journal features a contribution from one of the most outspoken UK civil liberties activists, Shami Chakrabarti (UK), on the British government’s plans to abolish the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. She points out how the government’s arguments are a dangerous precedent not only in the UK but also abroad.
Finally, we would like to emphasise that this issue of Sur Journal was made possible by the support of the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, the Oak Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), as well as some anonymous donors.
We are also extremely thankful to the following people for assisting with this issue: Adele Kirsten, Adriana Guimarães, Akemi Kamimura, Alankaar Sharma, Allison Pytlak, An Vranckx, Barbara Frey, Barney Whiteoak, Ben Leather, Carolina Fairstein, Cate Buchanan, Celina Lagrutta, David Atwood; Denise Garcia, Evandro Lisboa Freire, Fernando Campos Leza, Fernando Scire, Jefferson Nascimento, Josefina Cicconetti, Karen Lang, Kenneth Epps, Maité Llanos, Marcello Baird, Matthew Bolton, Matthias Nowak, Marcela Vieira, Murphy McMahon, Oliver Lewis, Oliver Sprague, Renato Barreto, Sarah Han, Sebastián Porrua Schiess, Tamaryn Nelson. Additionally, we are especially grateful for the collaboration of the authors and the hard work of the Journal’s editorial team and executive board, in particular our assistant editor, Oliver Hudson. Special thanks to the Center for Human Rights and Justice, University of Texas, Austin for our constant partnership.
This issue is the first one without the valuable work of Luz González as our assistant editor. On behalf of the entire staff, we thank her for the many years of dedication to making this Journal possible.