LGBTI vote at the UN shows battle for human rights is far from won

by Professor Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Research Fellow and Extraordinary Professor, University of Pretoria

image: Reuters

image: Reuters

The world has edged closer to placing the same value on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people as it does on human rights. Sadly, not all states, including many African countries, are on the same page.

Continue reading

Human Rights are Never Domestic

By Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Fellow

ONCE upon a time, anti-colonial movements were fighting for human rights against oppression and injustice. Representatives of these agencies claimed a moral high ground.

As the “Wretched of the Earth” they expected and demanded international support for their legitimate goals and appealed to a global consciousness, which translated into international solidarity.

Many of the transitions toward self-determination were supported by such acts of solidarity. Considered as a “trust betrayed”, Namibia was a special case.

swapo

SWAPO

The United Nations General Assembly declared Swapo the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people”. Numerous campaigns exercised practical support, collected money, offered humanitarian assistance, took care of needs. Namibian independence was a triumph of collective responsibility based on moral principles.

International solidarity in our and many other cases was based on intervention. How else was apartheid declared a crime against humanity and those fighting the system supported it [through many forms], including sanctions?

Some forms of such solidarity have survived. The position of the Namibian government as regards the people of the Western Sahara and Palestine are prominent cases in point. Morocco and Israel surely consider this as an undue intervention into what they claim to be domestic affairs.

They are, of course, wrong. It is indeed a matter of international solidarity, siding with the oppressed, advocating their rights and thereby also promoting fundamental human rights universally.

673px-International_Criminal_Court_logo_svg

ICC- International Criminal Court

So how about the announcement that Namibia withdraws from the International Criminal Court (ICC) because it has become, according to President Geingob, an “abomination”? Namibia was – like more than 30 other African states – a signatory to the Rome Treaty and ratified early this century the ICC with its jurisdiction. Unfortunately (though not surprisingly), the most powerful countries did not do so.

The ICC subsequently implemented its mandate (with numerous Africans holding crucial positions as prosecutors and judges) with regard to investigating cases of mass violence, war crimes and crimes against humanity bordering on genocide. These cases were mainly (but not exclusively) in Africa, where most states had actively supported and signed the international treaties.

Most interventions of the ICC were initiated upon direct request from African states. In two cases (Kenya and Sudan), however, sitting presidents were implicated in acts of mass violence, which required ICC investigations.

Let us recall what we can more or less safely establish as facts in both cases: in Sudan at least an estimated 300 000 people died as a direct result of what can be qualified as state terror and war against minorities. In Kenya, investigations wanted to establish who was responsible and accountable for the deaths of several thousand people as part of election campaigns turning abhorrently violent. Notably, this was an initiative confined to a hearing.

If there is anything abominable, that is surely what happened in both countries, [against weak and most vulnerable fellow Africans]. And if there is something like international solidarity, then one could assume it demands from others not to be bystanders, which amounts to tolerating and thus endorsing state terror.

Is this what Namibia identifies with? Are we proud of abandoning an obligation to jealously guard human rights? And our only defence is that these were not committed by “imperialists” but “friends” or that powerful countries have not signed up to support the ICC?

Indeed, the ICC has no mandate to prosecute citizens of countries that have not signed up to or ratified the treaty (for example the United States, China, Russia, North Korea, India and Iran). But would that not be reason to embark on a worldwide campaign to name and shame and increase the pressure on these states? Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are so-called all-weather friends of Namibia. What about our principled respect for international human rights standards?

We should take a stance in favour of international solidarity with the oppressed, with the tortured and the maimed as others did in our own case. It would indeed share the understanding that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.

It would give practical meaning to what the Legal Assistance Centre rightly so responded in a press release to the allegation that the ICC would interfere into domestic affairs: “Human rights abuses are never a domestic affair. The words say it all – human rights belong to all humans – whatever their nationality and geographical location.”

We claimed that much, that apartheid could not be reduced to a domestic affair. It was a matter of international law and solidarity. Similarly, we should fight for anyone subjected to state terror and violence everywhere, instead of abandoning the moral high ground because a few friends have no moral compass. One cannot protect injustices by protecting and promoting other injustices. Two wrongs do not make a right.

A true abomination is being in the cosy company of rogue states and leaders, who have all reason to avoid being taken to task for atrocities they commit.

-Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974.

Originally published by The Namibian

 

Baroness Patricia Scotland: The Sixth Secretary General of the Commonwealth

By Dr Eva Namusoke, Postdoctoral Research Officer, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

After months of campaigning in the quiet corners of diplomatic offices, online on social media and in speeches from Gaborone to Valletta, the Commonwealth heads of government voted on the 27th November, and Baroness Patricia Scotland will be the next Commonwealth Secretary General. Baroness Scotland, born in Dominica and raised in the UK, will be the first woman to take on the position in a historic moment that has dominated press on her election. The election – held in a closed session – was particularly close, ran over an hour late, and required three rounds of voting before the unanimous decision in favour of Baroness Scotland was made.

L-R: Outgoing Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, Baroness Patricia Scotland, Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat. Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

In the days before the 2015 CHOGM began in Malta, four summits showcased the work of increasingly vocal groups within the Commonwealth. While the Commonwealth Business Forum focused on promoting trade between member states and beyond, it was the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF), the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), and the Commonwealth Women’s Forum (CWF) where boundaries were pushed and the potential for the 65 year old organisation was clearest. At the CPF one key theme was the promotion of LGBTI rights with the forum hosting the first LGBTI session at a Commonwealth summit. This is a particularly pressing issue for a Commonwealth where 40 of the 54 member states criminalise same-sex sexual behaviour; these 40 states make up more than half of the total number of countries globally where same-sex sexual behaviour is illegal.[1] While the Commonwealth Heads of Government Leaders’ Statement on the conclusion of the CHOGM mentioned the leaders’ commitments to addressing issues including terrorism, sustainable development, migration and climate change, the advancement of rights for LGBTI individuals was conspicuously – though perhaps unsurprisingly – absent. Soon after her election, Baroness Scotland stated that this would be one of her priorities in her first two years in leadership.

Ahead of the Secretary General election, the CPF was granted a dialogue with the 3 candidates, allowing leaders in civil society to engage with candidates for the first time in Commonwealth history. In a development that surely signalled an understanding of the calls for greater transparency in the election, the event was live-streamed. The three candidates presented their visions for the Commonwealth and were asked questions by individuals representing a range of civil society organisations across the member states. Masire-Mwamba, Sir Ronald and Baroness Scotland fielded questions on the pressing issues of the day, specifically climate change, gender equality, LGBTI rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. Masire-Mwamba emphasised the important role that can be played by civil society, Baroness Scotland referred to her work in UK government and Sir Ronald described his efforts in the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.

The fact that the summit included a Commonwealth Women’s Forum this year is another new development. The CWF provided an opportunity for female leaders in the Commonwealth to express their frustrations and hopes for the organisation with the keynote given by UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, and supported by Head of Gender at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Amelia Kinahoi-Siamomua. In a document presented to the CHOGM, the CWF called for legally enforced quotas and reserved seats for women, part of a bid to increase representation, with one key declaration: “no decision should be made at any political level without women in the room.” This was a particularly pointed comment addressed at an overwhelmingly male CHOGM where only 3 of the 53 individuals eligible to vote for the next Secretary General were women. With the election of Baroness Scotland, it appears that there will – at the very highest level – be at least one woman in the room.

So what next for the incoming leader of an organisation that has been struggling to maintain its relevance in a world increasingly made up of powerful regional and international organisations? The first task for Baroness Scotland, as with previous secretary generals, will be to take stock, learn from her predecessor and possibly hire new personnel. One of Sir Sonny’s (Secretary General 1975-1990) earliest decisions was following on from his predecessor Arnold Smith’s work and sending a team – including future Secretary General Chief Emeka – to Mozambique to discuss Commonwealth assistance to the country’s move towards independence. For Chief Emeka Anyaoku (1990-2000), his term was preceded by a 6 month retreat, and one of his earliest tasks was encouraging African states to honour the 1991 Harare Declaration. In contrast, his successor Sir Don McKinnon (2000-2008) had an uncomfortable start to his term with Chief Emeka deciding to vacate his office months after the termination of his contract. Chief Emeka and Sir Don did, however, spend the week before Sir Don took office meeting every day to discuss the role of Secretary General. Eighteen months into his term, in the aftermath of September 11th, Sir Don was forced to cancel the upcoming CHOGM and react to the pressures of the international ‘War on Terror’. The impression from these three former secretary generals is that each leader approached the position with ideas about the future of the organisation, that each had to first build or build on personal relationships with Commonwealth leaders, and that their work was driven by the particular historical moment in which they lived.

One important issue for Baroness Scotland will be balancing her Dominican and British identity. As The Independent noted, Baroness Scotland is the first UK citizen to hold the post of Secretary General. While Baroness Scotland stressed her Dominican, Antiguan and African heritage and called herself ‘a child of the Commonwealth,’ her life spent in the UK, and work in the British government spanning almost 20 years will likely affect how she approaches her role as leader of the Commonwealth. The Minister of Foreign Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda, Charles Fernandez, discussed the voting process at the 2015 CHOGM with Antigua’s Observer media. Sir Ronald apparently had the lowest number of votes after the first round, leaving Baroness Scotland and Masire-Mwamba in the running. According to Fernandez, Antigua backed the Caribbean candidate in the second round: ‘We went up against Africa on one hand, and the other (voting) bloc of the Europeans. As you know, Baroness Scotland is a member of the English Parliament. They openly lobbied very heavily for her.’ Furthermore, according to Fernandez, Baroness Scotland had the support of the Pacific nations and Australia and this, combined with Malta and Cyprus’ support, secured her victory. The most salient point of Fernandez’ statement is the reference to Baroness Scotland’s position in the British Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron had not publically shown support for her, and Baroness Scotland herself had emphasised her Caribbean roots in her campaign; however the contention of the Antiguan minister is that it was ultimately her European, specifically British, political connections that led to her election.

Baroness Scotland’s election  doesn’t mean a return to the “British Commonwealth” as one particularly incensed Caribbean media source reported, but her ties to Great Britain may come into question if she takes a stand on the issues where there is strong disagreement between member states, none more so than LGBTI rights. Baroness Scotland is clearly aware of these difficulties, and stated in her first press conference: “Human rights and development go hand in hand. We will walk with and work with our partners to help everyone appreciate human dignity.” Whatever her first move as Secretary General, her stance on polemic issues or her legacy as a leader, Baroness Scotland is keen to recognise the important moment of her election; her final words immediately after her election: “I am incredibly proud to be the first woman Secretary General.”

[1] Corinne Lennox and Matthew Waites ,‘Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity in the Commonwealth: from history and law to developing activism and transnational dialogues’ in Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change,  Corinne Lennox and Matthew Waites (eds.), (London, 2013) p. 1-6. http://commonwealth.sas.ac.uk/publications/house-publications/lgbt-rights-commonwealth

Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

Copyright – Shane P. Watts Photography

Thatcher’s top secret plan to destabilise the Ethiopian government

by Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Newly-released documents show that in 1985, the PM wrote to the Foreign Office seeking action on the Marxist and pro-Soviet regime in Ethiopia. Towards the end of 1985, at the height of the worst famine in modern Ethiopian history, Margaret Thatcher contemplated helping to topple the Ethiopian government. The documents – marked Top Secret and Personal – have now been placed in the National Archive.

Margaret_Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

The British prime minister had long made no bones about how much she disliked the military regime led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The British government was among the most generous donors to the Ethiopian famine appeal, but the regime itself – Marxist and pro-Soviet – was exactly the kind of authority Thatcher loathed.

By late 1985 the prime minister’s patience was wearing thin. Charles Powell, her private secretary, wrote to the Foreign Office asking what steps might be taken. The FCO, taking is normal, cautious approach wrote back on 27 November saying that: “Barring an assassin’s bullet, Mengistu looks secure, and the opposition movements inside and outside Ethiopia remain deeply divided. The choice is between seeking to influence the present regime, and a policy of containment.”

This did not satisfy Thatcher at all.

“The Prime Minister continues to believe that it is not enough just to jog along in our relations with the distasteful regime in Ethiopia,” came the reply from her private office, just two days later. “If the conclusion is that our present relations offer no serious scope for exercising beneficial and positive influence, she would like serious thought given to ways in which we could make life harder for the Ethiopian regime. These might, as examples, include:”

The letter then lists four options – the first two of which were explosive.

“i) support for the rebels in Eritrea and Tigray;

ii) a more active effort in conjunction with the Americans to identify and perhaps encourage opponents of Mengistu within Ethiopia”

The other two options were more conventional: asking other western powers to criticise the Ethiopian government and taking a “more robust line” when examples emerge of the abuse of aid.

The Foreign Office – and Geoffrey Howe as foreign secretary – must have found these suggestions very hard to digest. Certainly it took some more than a month for a suitable response to be drafted. “The Foreign Secretary agrees that jogging along with the Ethiopian regime would not be right,” came the reply on 10 January 1986.

But, noting that some progress was being made, the Foreign Office urged caution. Backing the rebels would – Sir Geoffrey believed – not work, driving Mengistu further into the arms of the Soviets and (a killer argument with Mrs T) it was also noted that the Eritrean and Tigrayan rebel leaders were “…as extreme in their broadly Marxist political attitudes as the Derg [the Ethiopian government].”

The letter concludes: “We do not believe that support for the rebels would work to our advantage.”

What is interesting to note is that the British government was – if this correspondence is to be believed – unaware that aid that international charities were providing through the Sudan based rebel movements was already being diverted to purchase weapons. A programme I produced for the BBC in 2010  detailed this evidence.

Bob Geldof objected – saying that none of Band Aid’s money had gone astray (a suggestion the programme never made). The BBC Trust apologised to Geldof for the apparent mistake.

I was subsequently contacted by the head of a major British aid agency who substantiated the claims that aid had gone astray, without commenting on which agency’s resources had been used to buy arms and ammunition.

Originally published by the New Statesman 

International migration and asylum – an opportunity for the Commonwealth to show leadership

by Richard Bourne, ICWS Senior Research Fellowship 

The meeting of Commonwealth Heads in Malta is likely to be dominated by three issues – the election of a Secretary-General to run the Secretariat from 2016, positions for the Commonwealth to take at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris (COP21), and how to handle the strains caused by international migration. The third issue is the most intractable. Malta itself is a destination for migrants and asylum seekers, crossing the Mediterranean in leaky boats from Libya. Commonwealth states have radically different national strategies – from the culture of welcome in an immigrant country like Canada, to the caution of the UK, the worries about Bangladeshis in India (where India has erected a concrete and barbed wire wall), and fences separating Botswana and Zimbabwe, and South Africa from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Australia, of course, has been running an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers in the tiny Commonwealth state of Nauru.

Border fence between South Africa and Mozambique. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Border fence between South Africa and Mozambique. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The most comprehensive study of migration trends in the Commonwealth was conducted by the Ramphal Institute in 2009-2011. Conducted by a commission chaired by P J Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica, it was assisted by high level academics from Oxford, the University of the West Indies, and Adelaide.

Alan Gamlen, the New Zealander who drafted the first of the commission’s three reports, which took Singapore, South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh as case studies, urged the Commonwealth to reconnect with the issue. He argued for the building of capacity to manage migration, streamlined policies to encourage brain circulation and mitigate brain drain, encouragement for migrants to share their success with both origin and destination states, and stronger international cooperation.

Recent events have shown the weakness of international cooperation, especially at a European level, and spotlighted the impact of war, insecurity and human rights abuse in stimulating refugee flows. Humanitarian conventions and the right to asylum have been put aside by some of the richer states, worried that economic migrants who might not gain entry, under the kind of points-based system developed in Australia, pretend to be refugees seeking asylum. There have been hints in the London press that the UK prime minister, David Cameron, may approach Commonwealth African leaders to fund overseas processing centres which might cope with, for example, those fleeing Eritrea; he may also speak to President Buhari of Nigeria about the Nigerians who have been attempting to get to Europe after crossing the Sahara, escaping the mayhem of Boko Haram.

"Malta-halfar-tents-nov2009" by Myriam ThyesLicensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A refugee camp in Malta. “Malta-halfar-tents-nov2009” by Myriam Thyes. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Following the Ramphal Institute report, acknowledged in the Perth summit communique, the Commonwealth Secretariat held a meeting in Jamaica to review the extent to which small states suffering brain drain could facilitate investment from and return by their migrating citizens. It also asked the Institute to investigate how visa rules, affecting movement between Commonwealth states, could be simplified. This was a question that had also been raised by the Eminent Persons Group, which was worried that the Commonwealth seemed so remote from and of little help to its two billion plus citizens.
Partly because of security worries and the diverse national perspectives, this Ramphal exercise – which involved a tour of 15 capitals by Farooq Sobhan, Michael Frendo and James Jonah – did not result in immediate acceptance of the recommendations to the summit at Colombo in 2015. The inquiry had proposed easing travel for legitimate tourists, and a business card similar to the APEC business card, heavily used by Australian and Chinese business people. The Ramphal Institute indicated that, with a number of regional bodies like CARICOM committed to free movement, it would in theory be possible for different regional blocs to exchange visa reduction. But Colombo did have one positive result. A working party on visas, formed of High Commission reps in London and chaired by Gary Dunn from the Secretariat, has been meeting in 2014-5. It is expected to recommend to the Valletta summit that all states should commit to a “Commonwealth advantage” in revising their visa policies, so that for example Commonwealth citizens in transit through London, Johannesburg or Sydney, would not be charged.

The Queen will attend CHOGM this year. By Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence [OGL 3], via Wikimedia Commons

The Queen will attend CHOGM this year. By Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence [OGL 3], via Wikimedia Commons

What else might the Commonwealth leaders do in Malta? Many journalists, in the developed and developing world, love to attack the body as “a club”, “a talk-fest”, and “a colonial hangover” but it is likely that the decline in attendance by heads will reverse in Valletta, partly because of the S-G election and partly because the Queen, in her capacity as Head of the Commonwealth, has said she will come. The leaders must take this chance to make a real contribution, which can be noted by media and publics.

Two specifics: first, a declaration to assist the international community, and the countries from which countries are coming; this would bundle together a commitment to development and better life chances, democracy and rights and better security for citizens. Peacemaking in Syria would help. This would need to be followed up by Joseph Muscat, Malta’s energetic prime minister who will shortly chair the European Council, in talks with Brussels and specially affected Commonwealth countries like South Africa, India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Australia.

The second would be to arrange a meeting of police chiefs from states particularly affected by people smuggling – such as Malta, Cyprus, South Africa, UK and Australia – to coordinate a crackdown on the smugglers.

Migration and asylum do not need to be no-win topics for the Commonwealth. The association, benefiting from its diversity, can show leadership here.

A historic trial and justice denied

by Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

The principle in dubio pro reo (“in doubt for the accused”) is that one is innocent until proven guilty are fundamental principles of justice.

But another motto suggests that justice delayed is justice denied. The long-awaited conclusion of the Caprivi high treason trial is a painful reminder of this.

Let us remember: over 140 people were arrested after the failed secessionist attempt on 2 August 1999 in and around Katima Mulilo. The murderous attack on the territorial integrity of the Republic of Namibia killed eight innocent people. Those arrested were accused and detained for up to 278 charges related to the act.

Map of the Caprivi Strip, via Wikipedia

Map of the Caprivi Strip, via Wikipedia

In the course of identifying suspects, the security organs of the state violated laws too. When a lawyer of the Legal Assistance Centre disclosed the torture of prisoners to enforce confessions, these human rights violations were defended.

In early September 1999 Prime Minister Hage Geingob complained in the National Assembly that the brute force against suspects became the main issue.

He argued: “Because of provocation by the separatists, some unfortunate excesses had resulted in the effort of our security forces to zealously protect their motherland.” And he claimed: “We value upholding our Constitution.”

President Hage Geinob via Wikimedia Commons

President Hage Geingob via Wikimedia Commons

Article 12 (“Fair Trial”) of this Constitution stipulates under section 1(b) that a trial “shall take place within a reasonable time, failing which the accused shall be released.” And 1(d) confirms that all accused “shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.” Articles 24 (“Derogation”) and 25 (“Enforcement of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms”) offer additional food for thought. They illustrate the disparities between the codified rule of law and the failures to live up to its defined minimum standards.

In early August 2003, Amnesty International (AI) – erstwhile respected as a relevant and credible supporter of the liberation struggle through publicly condemning the human rights violations under apartheid, the illegal South African occupation of the country and the treatment of political prisoners – published a critical report.

AI expressed deep concern about the violation of pre-trial rights of the accused, which might undermine their right to a fair hearing based on international standards as defined in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). It criticised the failure of the authorities to investigate and prosecute allegations of torture.

AI also cast doubt over the official versions concerning the deaths of 12 defendants in detention and suggested that unsanitary prison conditions and medical neglect were contributing factors.

shutterstock_322563224

In a press release AI finally called on the Namibian authorities “to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and ensure that the remaining defendants are tried in a fair manner.”

This resulted in accusations that AI is unduly interfering in domestic affairs. Since then, the number of those who died in custody without being found guilty exceeded more than 20. How many among these would have now been released as innocent?

In February 2013 the first 43 of the accused were released for lack of evidence. Now, with Judge Elton Hoff presenting his final judgement, another 35 of the accused were found not guilty during the last few days. From the more than 140 initially arrested, only 30 have been found guilty.

While Judge Hoff’s findings underline once again the relative autonomy of the judiciary, the justice system in general has failed. Despite numerous appeals by concerned members of civil society and human rights advocates, the authorities maintained an iron fist resembling features of the inhuman apartheid system, which also locked away and tortured people for political reasons.

A constitutional democracy or state under the rule of law (in German aptly called Rechtsstaat) should act differently. Policy makers, including the head of state, who delivered his maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly in late September, have no reason to be proud.

Namibia has, not for the first time, failed its national and international obligations. The so-called ex-detainees, as much as those who mourn the loss of Frieda Ndatipo, should find it not difficult to relate to the plight of those detained innocently for 16 years and the harm also done to their families.

Injustice cannot be reversed. But an apology and related signs of regret and remorse might be a humble way to document insights into failures. Such abandonment of self-righteousness would underline the claim that the much-used metaphor of the Namibian house is indeed to be understood as a house, which is built for all.

Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974. He is director emeritus of The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala/Sweden, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein and a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies/University of London. His book Understanding Namibia. The trials of Independence was published 2014 with Jacana.

A version of this article was originally published in The Namibian.

Cosmetic trade bans and Western paternalism will not end poaching in Africa – community-based conservation will

by Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies*

One of the major announcements by President Obama during his brief but highly symbolic visit to Kenya this weekend was that he would implement “urgently needed steps” to restrict the sale of ivory from African elephants. He used his high-profile trip to jump once more on the ivory ban bandwagon with a measure that will get headlines, the keen approbation of Western animal welfare and conservation NGOs, but have little real effect and, like many of the well-intention but ill-conceived and patronising policies pushed on African elephant range state by the West and its NGOs, have practically no effect on the conservation of elephants and combating of the scourge of poaching.

Confiscated ivory carvings. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Confiscated ivory carvings. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Obama’s lofty aim of eliminating the illegal market for ivory in America is based on restricting the domestic commercial trade, still legal in many states and legal for antique or pre-ban ivory or trophy ivory brought back by American hunters, and stopping inter-state trade in most forms of ivory.  But this is a very small proportion of the global trade and where it involves illegal, smuggled ivory it just targets what is already illegal and so is nothing startlingly new. It is also worth noting that the extra restrictions on the legal trade may well be struck down by a Republican congress viscerally opposed to almost anything Obama proposes – but it is the effect of the headline announcement rather than the final effect that often really matters in the  ivory PR struggle.

But whatever the chances of becoming law or the localised effects on the ivory trade, this represents another example of Western paternalism towards the issues of ivory trading, poaching and conservation in Africa. This paternalism developed under colonialism when British game department officials declared all Africans to be potential poachers and hunting by Kenyan communities was banned, but trophy and commercial hunting by whites was encouraged. The conservation movement developed a new form of environmental colonialism with communities moved from land to make way for national parks and reserves. The very game wardens who launched militarised anti-poaching campaigns against African communities banned from traditional hunting for subsistence themselves benefited materially from the system as they could buy elephant hunting licences and then sell the ivory at a profit. Some, like the venerable George Adamson, David Sheldrick and Bill Woodley, were avid elephant hunters when it suited their pockets – yet they fiercely pursued hunters among traditional hunting communities like the Waliangulu and Dorobo.

Continue reading

The Commonwealth in troubling times

by Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG AM

In this Inaugural Lecture marking the 100th Anniversary of the Charter of the Bristol  Commonwealth Society, Sir Ronald Sanders [1] argues that the inter-governmental Commonwealth is a diverse group that is now plagued by mistrust and loss of confidence.  If the Summit in Sri Lanka is to be meaningful, Heads of Government must set up machinery to address this issue urgently and credibly.   It will call for careful diplomatic stage-managing by the Secretary-General, and transparent and open chairmanship by the Sri Lankan President.  Whether this can be achieved is left to be seen.  But, if this matter is not tackled with urgency and credibility, the Commonwealth may well go over the cliff to disintegration on which it is now dangerously perched.  Continue reading

Time to listen to the Commonwealth’s First Nations

By Richard Bourne and Helena Whall

The Commonwealth’s First Nations: Rights, Status and Struggles in the run up to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 2014 – Conference Programme

Photo: Toronto Sun

Not since Idi Amin’s threat to attend the London Commonwealth summit in 1977, which led to the first statement by leaders denouncing human rights abuse in a member state, has there been such a focus on rights issues in advance of a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government. But the forthcoming Sri Lankan summit will also be a chance for governments to comment on the human rights of an often invisible group of Commonwealth citizens – its indigenous peoples.

Continue reading

Reparations for Slavery: Can a claim be sustained?

By Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG AM, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and a former Caribbean diplomat

In 1838, British slave owners in the English-Speaking Caribbean received £11.6 billion in today’s value as compensation for the emancipation of their “property” – 655,780 human beings of African descent that they had enslaved and exploited, and, in many cases, brutalised. The freed slaves, by comparison, received nothing in recompense for their dehumanisation, their cruel treatment, the abuse of their labour and the plain injustice of their enslavement.

This is the basis on which 14 governments of the member-states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have decided to approach the UK law firm, Leigh Day, “to consider a legal challenge to seek compensation from three European nations for what they claim is the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade”.

Continue reading