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Haifa Fragments: Q&A with the Author

khulud khamis is the author of Haifa Fragments, a soon-to-be released title for New Internationalist. In her debut novel, which has already gained positive coverage and reviews, the Palestinian feminist, activist and writer covers a wide range of deep, running issues revolving around culture, religion, politics, feminism and sexuality.

You wrote Haifa Fragments in English. Why was that?

I took up English as my writing language because it fits in with my purpose. I think there is a considerable lack of knowledge about the issues Palestinian citizens of Israel deal with. When reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, mainstream media around the world usually focus on Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza, while Palestinians who live inside Israel are largely ignored, and our issues not brought to light. And this is what I wish to do with my writing – bring out these voices, and the issues we deal with as a national minority.

Your mother is Slovakian and your father Palestinian. You grew up in Haifa, Israel, where you currently live. Can you tell us a little of what it was like to grow up there and the influences that your parents have had on you?

Actually I spent my childhood in former Czechoslovakia, and arrived in Haifa at the age of eight, so you can say I’ve absorbed both cultures. It wasn’t easy growing up, as I always felt that I don’t really wholly belong to either.

Today, I see myself as and I feel like a Palestinian, but I think I am still perceived by some as an outsider. But I take my complex identity as an opportunity – always on the margins, or floating in between. It allows me to play around with themes and concepts, and I feel it is a much more interesting place to be. Sometimes I look at things from the inside, while at other times from the outside. It’s constant movement.

In Haifa Fragments, Maisoon is frustrated by the limitations and dangers of life as a national minority in Israel. Growing up, did you share her sense of frustration and how have you been able to work through them yourself?

Yes, of course. The issues Maisoon deals with are issues we, Palestinian citizens of Israel, deal with on a daily basis. I am not saying that her experiences are mine, because she is a complete character in her own right. But the themes and issues – yes, they are common. And each of us deals with them differently.

Yes, it is frustrating to constantly being reminded that I am a second-class citizen – in so many ways. But at the same time, I refuse to be seen as a ‘victim’ and to act like one. I am an activist, and I use my writing as a tool to resist. In my writing, I wish to bring the silenced stories and the marginalized voices to the forefront of public discourse – to present the stories of strong women, and not those of victims.

You are a member of the feminist organization – Isha L’Isha. Can you tell us what your work there involves and what impact it has it had on your novel?

I must say that I found my political voice while working at Isha L’Isha. I’ve been writing since I was a child, but there was always something lacking, and that was the connection between the personal and the political. You can say that I found my own writing voice when I discovered feminism and when I finally made that connection between the personal and the political.

That’s when things kind of fell into place for me in terms of my writing. Isha L’Isha is a tight community of radical feminist activists – both Jewish and Palestinian, who work and act together to bring about social change.

One of the main issues we deal with is of course the conflict and how it impacts women in a unique way. During military attacks and wars, it is the only place where I literally feel safe. Together, we brainstorm and come up with actions to protest war and military action in creative ways.

The characters in Haifa Fragments perceive and respond to what is going on around them in very different ways. How do you deal with the conflicting views of others in your life?

It was important for me to show – through different characters – these different views because although we are one people, we have differing opinions, and different ways of coping with issues. It’s not always easy to deal with in real life; sometimes it gets confusing, sometimes angering. We each find our own ways of how to deal with this, but politics is a daily ongoing discourse here. The issues I deal with in Haifa Fragments – racism, discrimination, the occupation, dispossession, identity, violence – permeate our lives in so many ways. It’s an inseparable conversation of almost every encounter.

What are your hopes for Haifa Fragments and what would you most like readers to take away with them from reading the book?

I must say that I am still in a daze that I was able to fulfill this lifelong dream of publishing a novel. There were so many times along the way when I wanted to give up, but I kept going. Something deep in my stomach kept urging me on, telling me that this story is important to be heard. I do hope it reaches a wide readership. I like to think that, through the different characters in the novel I succeeded in opening up the issues for questioning, rather than providing answers.

What I would like readers to take away with them?

I think the fact that there are so many unheard stories, stories of individuals, stories of strong women who resist, stories that you don’t hear in mainstream media. I would like them to actively seek those stories rather than passively accept what they’re being fed by mainstream media. With today’s technology, these stories are easily accessible. All you have to do is look for them.


Haifa Fragments will be available for purchase July 2015 from New Internationalist. Interview by the Oxford Publicity Partnership.

Special: The Frack Files Downloadable PDF

This month New Internationalist has decided to put the entire main story of the current issue online for everyone to read and share for free. Like many of you, we are concerned that the industries behind fracking are putting our countryside, water and health at risk. We would like the facts and information that we have put together to play their part in the resistance. It’s time that we sort the myths from the reality.

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Does the government have the right to monitor private emails?

Robin

A defining element of the kinds of abusive, totalitarian regimes seen in our lifetimes has been all-pervasive surveillance – be it in East Germany, J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, or Qadafi’s Libya – including the routine steaming open of people’s letters, tapping phone calls, or sifting through their emails.

But Western governments have passed law after law, ranging from the UK’s new bid to monitor all our online usage, to the US Patriot Act, the US’s impending Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, and the EU’s Data Retention Directive, all supposedly protecting us from terrorism and crime in the age of global communications, but really demolishing our rights to privacy and to live free of this blanket, state-directed paranoia in which people’s lives are shut down on suspicion alone. These are freedoms that previous generations paid mightily to protect, but which governments are now casually destroying.

Sifting through private emails and phone calls only obscures the genuine threats and throws up false leads, while laws allowing such practices to become warped by function creep. The UK’s Regulation of Investigative Powers Act was brought in to guard against terrorism and serious crime, but is mostly used to monitor fly-tipping or to see whose children live in a school’s catchment area.

If we lose the right to privacy and allow all-pervasive monitoring then people will fear becoming a target for greater state scrutiny and curtail their own political, creative and social engagement: all while the state remains unaccountable and democracy silently dies.

This lack of transparency leads to corruption – the state becomes the one with something to hide – while regimes increasingly use surveillance to crush the growing dissent. Ultimately, the seeds of oppression reap revolution – see the Communist Bloc, the Arab Spring, even News Corp – but only after countless innocent lives have been lost or compromised and blood has been spilled on the streets.

Beatrice

Rather than dramatizing the cumulative effect of privacy and surveillance failures – which still do not amount to the level of repression exercised by regimes in East Germany or Syria – experts should be much more vocal on the lack of effect of these monitoring efforts and on the real reasons why they are used.

First of all, we cannot make a case for the rise of a bloodstained Big Brother state (yet) in Western democracies. Yes, there have been numerous insults, wrongdoings and police failures in Britain, France or other European countries, let alone in the US. But these do not compare to intentional killings by Syrian secret police, or to the psychological warfare communist countries once waged against their populations.

Second, the general views about repressive surveillance will be swept away with one single terrorist attack, or even thwarted attack.

Third, leaving security out of the equation exposes a black hole of uncertainty and fear that cannot be filled by human rights or freedom principles alone, however noble they may be. It just does not work that way in populist politics any more.

Being too dependent on monitoring is the real problem. In a world of economic cutbacks, the danger of over-reliance on privatized and computerized security looms large. Israeli airports have exchanged detectors for highly trained, schooled and professional human officers – because they produce better results.

If experts are not able to educate and inform the public about the real costs of security, the side-effects of monitoring and the lack of real effects in terms of preventing attacks, we will keep collecting haystacks with small chances of actually finding the needle. Thus, rather than presenting monitoring as either a catch-all solution or an Orwellian nightmare, let’s present it as it is: at best a second-tier, expensive and ambivalent assistance to real-life security personnel that sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails in the struggle against terrorism and crime.

Robin

Citizens don’t have to justify their need for privacy; the state has to justify its need to subject everybody to wholesale suspicion. No-one would accept having a police officer or bureaucrat sit alongside as they wrote an email or text, so why should they endure such surveillance if it’s done remotely by unknown persons for reasons unknown?

Nor are people so stupid or weak simply to allow governments to demolish their ‘noble’ rights following terror attacks. While the US Patriot Act was passed before the dust of 9/11 had even settled, enough people persistently and emphatically rejected and eventually killed off the following Total Information Awareness program that would have collated all real-time communications and databases everywhere. Opposition to ID cards in Britain strengthened even after 7/7, because people knew these tracking devices couldn’t stop terrorism but would create a mother lode of personal data for the government, hackers and criminals to trawl through and sell.

Guantánamo Bay, confessions extracted by waterboarding, executions by drones, extraordinary rendition and torture in ex-Soviet gulags, and the lies that led to the Iraq War, as well as enterprises set up or colluded in by the CIA, MI6 and elected governments in the US, Britain and Europe – all these show how very violent and repressive Western states actually are.

This is not to mention that anyone foreign-looking may be subject to stop searches, deportations, shootings in underground stations or house-arrests for non-existent plots involving ricin or [the Manchester United stadium] Old Trafford. And apparently we can forestall the inevitable blowback by ever more irrelevant surveillance measures, such as governments reading our emails. To which I will not say ‘go right ahead, I’m sure it’s all for my own good’.

Beatrice

Zigazou under a CC Licence

Blatant injustices and torture speak for themselves. Hardly anyone would want to justify the gross violations of human rights that happened in Iraq, Afghanistan or in the extra-rendition prisons in some remote countries. However, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo are really 2004’s problems. What we are facing now is a much more complex, stealthy and pervasive threat: that of all kinds of data-retention programs, vetting and profiling attempts – not so much initiated by governments, but by commercial enterprises, operating without boundaries, borders or oversight mechanisms.

Thus, again, rather than pointing to supposedly oppressive regimes, we should be aware of the ‘security as enterprise’ approach that is pervading our industrialized world. Security nowadays is nothing much to worry about for most people. Current worries are presented by the monetary and economic crises, not by invisible data collection programs. But this ‘security as enterprise’, or even ‘security as comfort’ approach creates victims by the thousands: it divides whole populations into risk-free citizens on the one hand and risk-bearers on the other. People with double passports, travellers to the Middle East, even people with diabetes, if profiled as bearing a risk to the commercial enterprise of an airport, or as otherwise deviating from purported safe standards, will be tracked, endlessly vetted, and discriminated against in all kinds of ways.

In short, rather than remaining entrenched in last year’s battles, let’s concentrate on the techniques of profiling and collecting data. And let’s not point fingers at governments alone, but challenge private companies to come clean about how they sell false security promises for their own benefits, creating new divisions in societies in their wake.

Robin

It seems we agree that endemic surveillance is hell on wheels and is being implemented with the illusion of being done in all good faith by governments and private companies, although it’s palpably not true to say that Guantánamo etc is ‘2004’s problem’.

They illustrate the extremes of abuses that governments of all hues and their privatized partners readily undertake while demanding from us that the price of freedom is to stand naked at all times before the state under all-pervasive suspicion, where threat is based not on realities, but on what might be.

This has been enabled by the pernicious concept of ‘risk’, taken up by governments working with no open oversight or scrutiny, providing entirely venal solutions to non-existent problems, leading to schoolchildren having to surrender their fingerprints to take books out, or mothers needing criminal record bureau checks to taxi their chronically ill children to hospital.

The surveillance industry is a growing business that provides profits, employment and sponsorship for politicians pushing a world where it’s not about who you are or what you know but what you can prove you’re not.

Beatrice

‘Risk’ is indeed the new buzzword; it is not just a new way of perceiving security issues, but has become a mode of governance. The concept of risk not only tackles historical and actual threats (by using them as calculation models for future ones), but also suggests a taming of an uncertain future. By means of risk assessments, apocalyptic horrors are invoked on a daily basis, based on worst-case scenario thinking, stress testing or premeditation.

We see it in courts, where what-if arguments replace habeas corpus considerations, such as in the numerous convictions of terrorism suspects that were apprehended on little more than rumours, or ambiguous taped conversations. Securitization of justice is well under way.

Risk has also become the new dividing principle throughout society, whether you’ll be profiled as a risk while queuing at an airport, or as an uninsurable citizen, forced to pay outrageous insurance premiums.

Therefore, rather than focusing on the obvious and blatant transgressions of democratic rule of law or human rights alone, we should demonstrate how the new politics of risk and prevention work, and how they are increasingly overturning considerations of prudence, accountability and civil rights.

There is enough work to be done for all of us, experts, academics and human rights activists alike. The new ideology of risk and security management is simply too expensive, too ineffective and plain unjust.

Robin Tudge is the author of the No-Nonsense Guide to Global Surveillance, inspired by his campaigning for NO2ID. He also wrote the pioneering Bradt Guide to North Korea and is now based in Newcastle where he works as a freelance journalist and actor.

Beatrice de Graaf is Professor for Conflict and Security History at Leiden University, the Netherlands and the author of Evaluating Counterterrorist Performance: A Comparative Study. Visit her research site at: http://hum.leiden.edu/history/enemies-of-the-state

Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing

....David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years published by Melville House.

New Internationalist author, Tim Gee, was shortlisted for the inaugural prize for his book Counterpower but in the end it came down to a tussle between David Graeber and Nicholas Shaxson’s Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the men who stole the world. 

Many thanks to the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and everyone else who helped organise the award. We hope that the prize will bring important books to a wider audience and New Internationalist looks forward to supporting the prize in future.

Should India still receive foreign aid?

Jamal

At the outset, I would like to state that I work for an NGO in India that receives foreign funding.1

My opposition to foreign funds for India is neither based on rightwing nationalist claims that such aid will undermine internal security, nor on a typical leftwing argument that foreign funding is an imperialist/capitalist conspiracy.

I begin by offering two political – not moral – reasons why I believe that Indian civil society organizations/NGOs should not accept foreign funding.

Firstly, Indian NGOs should focus on generating resources from the people whom they claim to represent. This will make them more politically rooted as well as more accountable to the people they claim to represent. Accountability to foreign donors, on the other hand, is limited to relatively formal documentation such as audited financial and programme reports.

Secondly, many of the programmes that Indian NGOs conduct with foreign aid should be implemented by the government. These programmes typically belong to the sectors of livelihood, education, health and disaster management. They impact the everyday life of people and therefore have deep political implications. But both the Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) of the Government of India and foreign donors only allow aid for such programmes if NGOs agree that they will use these funds for non-political purposes. Such conditions do not allow NGOs to raise weighty issues, such as social and political discrimination against certain marginalized groups, as well as the adverse impact of neo-liberalism and globalization.

Praful

I think you focus excessively on NGOs and international funding. This isn’t unimportant. But the brief asks, ‘Should India still receive foreign aid?’ and thus primarily focuses on official development assistance (ODA). Such North-South transfers were recommended by the United Nations in the 1970s, with a target of one per cent of the developed countries’ GDP, later pruned to 0.7 per cent. Only a handful of Northern countries meet the target, even today.

ODA’s rationale is based, among other things, on acknowledging and redressing the horrible injustice of colonial exploitation, which has continued in different forms, such as in the adverse trade terms for primary commodities (the Global South’s main exports) vis-à-vis manufactured goods, in trade imbalances, in various restrictive practices imposed on the South, and in a skewing of its economic policies to favour free flows of global capital.

Disparities and structural imbalances between the North and the bulk of the South have worsened over the past three decades despite recent power shifts between states and the growing clout of the emerging economies. Much of the South is asked to compete as the North’s equals, when it’s manifestly unequally placed to do so. ODA should and can redress some of these disparities if it’s untied, well-designed and targeted.

Much of the debate over aid arises from confusion over its nature. Aid is about poor people, not poor countries. Many countries with abysmal human development indices neglect their dispossessed, and refuse aid. But so long as it fails to look after its own poor, the Indian government has no moral right to do so. Poor Indians deserve aid.

Jamal

Several ‘poor’ countries in the South, like India, which have a large number of people living below the poverty line, have the following characteristics: they have a significant number of very rich people, relatively high GDP but also huge disparities in income between the rich and the poor. Those of us who are part of movements fighting for a more egalitarian and democratic India must focus on challenging the primarily neoliberal paradigm being followed by governments. By seeking foreign aid, these struggles are distorted. This happens for several reasons.

First, almost all the foreign aid these days comes with conditions that reinforce and strengthen neoliberal policies and which also assist large transnational corporations which have successfully subverted public spending on social sectors.

Secondly, these are times when the ‘War on Terror’ is one of the biggest priorities of Western donors, who are the biggest source of foreign aid. The Indian state has, on the one hand, strategically allied with these donors to suppress people’s movements against displacement caused by mining, nuclear plants and other large infrastructure projects; and on the other, collaborated with highly repressive and communal states like Israel. This goes completely against the grain of the progressive values of non-alignment initiated by India.

And finally, a large amount of foreign aid received by India goes into social development areas like HIV/AIDS, education, tribal and Dalit empowerment and water and sanitation. The donors dictate strategies for implementing these projects which are completely out of tune with social and political realities and most of the time do more harm than good.

Praful

Sikh women receive food from a roadside charitable community kitchen, on the outskirts of Jammu, India.

Mukesh Gupta / Reuters

I have no quarrel with your view that our topmost domestic priorities are to defend people’s livelihoods and their right to humane living standards, to fight predatory ‘development’ projects, sharply reduce inequalities, and mobilize opinion against neoliberal policies. Where I disagree with you is in assuming that we are condemned to follow neoliberal policies simply because India accepts aid, and that Indian NGOs and people’s movements – which you continue to overemphasize – will remain bound forever by the conditions that donors tend to impose.

Within my perspective, demanding appropriate forms of aid which don’t tie us down to neoliberalism and allow greater public spending on social services is itself part of the larger agenda we are fighting for. Take two examples. India’s primary education programme has for decades been funded partly by Japanese and British aid. We could demand its continuation with greater accountability and an independent audit. Secondly, I think modest foreign assistance has, on balance and despite some distortions, helped our fight against communalism, environmental destruction and climate change, and for egalitarian policies.

Most Indians want and deserve substantially stepped-up entitlements to food security, drinking water, healthcare, sanitation and education at affordable prices. These are all areas where well-targeted aid can help. Great struggles are underway on these issues, and on land rights, universal food distribution and employment guarantee schemes, which have the potential to reshape India in an inclusive, participatory, egalitarian direction. It’s far more important to oppose foreign corporate investment in destructive projects, over which we can have no control, than to oppose aid, whose direction can at least be negotiated.

Jamal

I agree with you that India is not condemned to follow neoliberal policies because it receives foreign aid. What I am arguing is that any foreign aid, irrespective of where it comes from, has a tendency to dictate what is good or bad development for Indian society.

In the era of the Cold War, the Soviet Union donated generously to India. That aid, on the one hand, allowed India to stay away from being economically dependent on capitalist countries and, on the other, encouraged public institutions to adopt the liberal values of secularism and equality. In hindsight, even that aid did more harm than good. For example, it promoted political discrimination against individuals and ideas that were perceived as going against the grain of the Soviet brand of Left ideologies, as well as other, more liberal, world views. But, more importantly, it created rifts and factions among progressive Left movements. The present crisis in the Left movement and mainstream Left political parties has a lot to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its patronage of the former.

India now has a large affluent middle class. It provides massive donations for religious charitable purposes. We need to convince and encourage the middle classes to give some of this aid for liberal-progressive causes. This will benefit India in several ways. There will be a far greater participation of the people in development work, and such participation will not only create ownership but also make people demand accountability for funds spent on development projects.

Praful

I don’t share your faith in converting our affluent middle class – let alone the 50-odd billionaires who control one-seventh of India’s wealth – to a liberal or humane viewpoint. Minor philanthropic initiatives notwithstanding, they are among the most cynical rightwing, predatory people in the world, who have psychologically seceded from the country’s poor, and regard them as a drag on their own growth. Our kleptocratic, casteist élite has never shared anything with the underprivileged. It has always evaded accountability and doesn’t even pay taxes, although our income-tax rates are among the world’s lowest.

It would be fatally wrong to look towards the top 10-15 per cent of the Indian population as a source of support for progressive causes. They need to perpetuate the present maldistribution of wealth and political power – because it benefits them. Indeed, they have further skewed it over the last two decades, the highest GDP-growth period in recent history, which hasn’t seen a significant reduction in poverty, hunger, malnutrition or mass-scale social bondage and economic servitude.

In absolute numbers, aid may not deliver much to India’s social spending programmes. But its contribution must not be trivialized so long as the Indian state fails in public services provision. I would hate to see a world in which the rich feel they have no obligation to the dispossessed in whose continuing deprivation they, and the power structures they control, play a decisive role. The psychological impact of this will result in a terrifyingly misanthropic society. Aid, as part of a worldwide redistribution programme, must be integrated into the larger agenda of global democratization, which enjoys legitimacy.

Jamal Kidwai is Director of the AMAN Trust in India which works on issues related to violence and conflict. He was earlier associated with Oxfam’s Violence Mitigation and Amelioration Programme and is a regular commentator on Indian political and social issues.
Praful Bidwai is a political analyst, and an activist on issues of peace, global justice, human rights and environmental protection. He is one of South Asia’s most widely read columnists and the author of The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future.

  • The arguments expressed in this debate are Jamal’s and in no way reflect the opinion of his employer.
  • Slideshow photo: Arian Zwegers under a CC License.

    Should donor nations give aid to countries with poor human rights records?

    Jonathan

    We should not cut aid to countries with poor human rights records. For two reasons – first, it shines a light on the donor country’s own record, and that of its major allies and trading partners. For example, people elsewhere tend to have longer memories than most British people and remember the horrific abuses committed in the name of Empire. Those with shorter memories will remember the thousands of innocent lives lost as a consequence of the illegal Iraq war and the subsequent silence in the face of US torture and extraordinary rendition.

    Furthermore, we trade with China and Saudi Arabia and other countries with terrible human rights records. The sight of donors getting on to their moral high horses would be amusing if it weren’t so serious. The second problem is that cutting off aid may lead to much more suffering. If aid is working as it should, it will save lives and help put children through school. And it is far from likely that a threat to cut aid will have the desired effect – continuing to engage is often the best way forward, except when things get so heinous that multilateral action is required via the UN.

    Errol

    We should first ask: what is effective foreign aid according to the best research? Many experts and thinktanks have concluded that governance reform is critical. Part of that reform must include promotion and protection of human rights, anti-corruption measures and implementation of the rule of law. For aid recipients who accept this, I have no problem continuing aid that assists them in these areas – in addition to the alleviation of poverty and other traditional areas. My concern is when we give foreign aid to countries like Ethiopia, which has been accused of serious human rights abuses, shows no desire to improve its human rights record and is undermining all aspects of the rule of law. To use aid as a form of leverage in such countries is not neo-colonialism or ‘getting on a high horse’ but demonstrating a commitment to legal obligations to promote and protect universally accepted human rights. Indeed, China shows what happens if there is no intention to use such leverage: complicity in the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and other countries. Recent reforms in Burma indicate that using economic and foreign aid leverage can produce dramatic democratic and human rights results.

    Jonathan

    In most circumstances it’s better to recognize that almost all countries engage in some sort of human rights abuse, including the so-called ‘developed’ countries, and that engagement rather than grandstanding is the best way forward

    I agree that better governance is critical for achieving better health and education, and as a good in itself – accountable decision-makers treating people with respect is as important as material wellbeing. And I agree that external actors, donors and others, should seek to defend human rights when they intervene in a country, despite the mixed evidence on whether aid helps or hinders the development of better governance. We should use aid to leverage human rights improvements, just as we should to push for improvements in health and education. Having worked in Colombia, I know how important it can be for donors to invest in the judiciary, or in countering human rights abuses by the military. But these are long-term and complex aims which require careful interaction with relevant constituencies. The threat of ceasing aid or trade with a country seldom works unless it is part of a united approach co-ordinated by the UN in particularly heinous circumstances – think Zimbabwe or Syria.

    Are things so bad in Ethiopia that co-ordinated sanctions are called for? That is for the UN or a sub-group of donors to decide and depends crucially on the views of Ethiopians. In most circumstances it’s better to recognize that almost all countries engage in some sort of human rights abuse, including the so-called ‘developed’ countries, and that engagement rather than grandstanding is the best way forward.

    Errol

    A woman listens to democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a rally in Burma. But are recent reforms in the country due to foreign aid leverage?

    Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

    Things are indeed bad enough in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch in their World Report 2012 gave the following description of human rights conditions there:

    ‘Ethiopian authorities continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Hundreds of Ethiopians in 2011 were arbitrarily arrested and detained and remain at risk of torture and ill-treatment. Attacks on political opposition and dissent persisted throughout 2011, with mass arrests of ethnic Oromo, including members of the Oromo political opposition in March, and a wider crackdown with arrests of journalists and opposition politicians from June to September 2011.’

    The impotence of the UN Security Council on Syria should cast aside any hope that the UN can be relied on to provide co-ordinated leverage on countries that see the most violent human rights abuses. Zimbabwe is exactly another example of not ‘waiting in hope for the UN’ given the Chinese veto that hovers around any possibility of UN action there.

    Human Rights Watch rightly puts the focus on the aid-giving countries:

    ‘International donor assistance continues to pour into Ethiopia, one of the world’s largest recipients of aid, but this has not resulted in greater international influence in ensuring government compliance with its human rights obligations. Conversely, donors appear to be reluctant to criticize the Ethiopian government’s human rights record so as not to endanger the continuity of their assistance programmes.

    Nonetheless, government spending remains hugely reliant (between 30 and 40 per cent) on foreign assistance, and donors retain significant leverage that they could use to greater effect to insist on basic measures...’

    Jonathan

    While there is no doubt that the human rights situation in many countries, including Ethiopia, is critical, it doesn’t follow that withdrawing aid is the best way to support humanitarian and development objectives in those countries. Aid is one element of the relationship between countries – others include trade relations and more general diplomatic pressure. The withdrawal of aid, as well as trade sanctions, should be considered when the political situation in a country reaches a critical point. But both should be used cautiously, given the likely impacts such decisions will have on the poorest and most vulnerable. Such policies by no means guarantee change for the better – they frequently imply a turn for the worse in the short term, something decision-makers have to weigh very carefully.

    A careful analysis of the views of opposition groups must count heavily on whether aid should continue. The evidence that donors can influence deep political and/or economic currents in recipient countries is limited – and what evidence does exist implies that such influence is brought to bear as much through engagement as estrangement. Given the range of other financing options now available to Ethiopia, it is even less certain that withdrawal will be the best way to support change. I am not arguing that extreme measures should not be part of the armoury of the international community. I am arguing that withdrawal of aid money should in no way be an automatic response to the degeneration of human rights. There are many other options, including using aid in a different way.

    Errol

    When a despotic government has no intention of curtailing or stopping significant abuses, when all other major levers fail, or when human rights abuses actually increase, then the withdrawal of aid must be considered

    No experienced human rights or development expert is suggesting in all situations that foreign aid should be curtailed or cut off immediately on evidence of human rights abuses. Indeed, as we see now in several countries in Central America (and in Colombia) the first reaction could be to use trade, business, military, security co-operation and other levers to encourage governments to stop human rights abuses.

    Other options must be considered when it becomes clear that in the short and medium term a despotic government has no intention of curtailing or stopping significant abuses. When all other major levers fail, or when human rights abuses actually increase, then the withdrawal of aid must be considered. This could be especially effective in a country that relies on aid for a significant part of its budget, like Ethiopia. This is what Human Rights Watch is advocating there.

    Zimbabwe shows there may be little other alternative. The fact that China may step in when others withdraw their aid is not a reason to throw up one’s hands and say that the aid lever should not be considered. Take Burma: China did compensate for the withdrawal of foreign aid there. But eventually, even the ruling junta realized that such self-interested substitution was not in its best interest. Hence the recent opening-up of democratic space and invitations to the democratic world to re-engage.

    Jonathan

    Perhaps predictably, we are not that far apart. We basically agree that withdrawing aid should be a possible course of action in extreme circumstances – where people who know a country well determine that its positive effects will outweigh its negative impacts. My main concern is that we resist the easy tabloid logic (so tempting to politicians) that aid as a rule should not go to countries which abuse human rights, even gravely. There is no such rule. Aid to such countries may be just as important and effective as it is in countries where the situation is much more stable. It depends on a wide range of factors that go well beneath the headlines.

    Errol

    Indeed we should at all times avoid the tabloid logic of politicians. However, in certain circumstances, immediate leverage should take place. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example: if the new government that ousted former President Gbagbo were to be just as abusive of its citizens, if not worse, then foreign donors could legitimately use aid as a powerful lever. Along with other economic, trade and business levers, aid can be used to warn off the imminent threat to fundamental human rights. In each country the devil is always in the details. But as Edmund Burke wrote: ‘All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.’

    Jonathan Glennie is a research fellow in the Centre for aid and Public expenditure (CaPe) at the overseas Development Institute (oDI) and a regular blogger for The Guardian. he is the author of The Trouble with Aid: Why less could mean more for Africa (Zed Books, 2008).

    Errol Mendes specializes in international business law and ethics, constitutional law and human rights law. He edits Canada’s National Journal of Constitutional Law and teaches at the University of Ottawa. His latest book is Peace and Justice at the International Criminal Court, A Court of Last Resort (Edward Elgar Publications, 2010).

    Should assisted suicide be legalized?

    Debbie

    The current situation in Britain, that forbids assisted dying yet permits it if the act is motivated by love and compassion without providing safeguards and opportunity for full discussion on the issue, is surely not the best we can come up with.

    I agree with your letter in The Times last summer that palliative care is not a blanket panacea, and therefore believe that we must be prepared to open up a discussion about what we expect and want at the end of life. This is especially true given that the current situation is leading to early assisted deaths abroad and people living their final months full of suffering and extreme desperation due to a lack of choice.

    A properly considered law with safeguards would enable doctors, social workers, families and even the clergy better to support the patient, and ensure they have considered every alternative.

    I see it as I do voting: I despise people who put their cross next to the BNP but I wholeheartedly defend their right to do so. We don’t have to agree with the choices people make, but if we don’t like their choices our duty is to ensure that the alternatives are appealing. We should not prohibit choices just because we wouldn’t make them.

    Ilora

    It’s not a question of agreeing or disagreeing with the choices that people express. I fully understand the argument that there could be highly exceptional circumstances where it might be acceptable to accede to a request to hasten someone’s death. But I would not legalize such acts any more than I would legalize other potentially understandable breaches of the law that might be committed in extreme circumstances – such as stealing food for your hungry child.

    Legalization produces normalization. Look at the US State of Oregon. Since physician-assisted suicide (PAS) was legalized in 1997, such deaths have quadrupled. Oregon’s current PAS death rate would produce more than 1,000 assisted suicides in England and Wales every year. Yet with our law as it stands, fewer than 20 cases of assisted suicide cross the desk of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) each year.

    It’s easy to talk of choices, but decisions need accurate information, correctly understood. Safeguards for ‘assisted dying’ can help, but only if they provide a challenging process to screen out less-than-serious applicants. The safeguards so far proposed seem to be designed primarily to facilitate ‘assisted dying’ for a small minority of highly determined and strong-minded people rather than protect the vulnerable – from themselves and from others. Don’t forget that the law exists first and foremost to protect the weak and the vulnerable. It manages to do that while dealing sensitively with cases where genuinely compassionate circumstances have been present.

    Debbie

    I’m glad you see some circumstances that would render assistance to die acceptable. How can society find solutions or even alternatives if it doesn’t talk about the situation? Surely a full, frank and honest discussion is needed to explore people’s needs in the 21st century.

    The ‘20 cases that cross the DPP’s desk’ are, as you know, all patients who have travelled to Switzerland, but many don’t. Each year in Britain hundreds of people attempt suicide because they cannot cope with the pain or indignity of a medical condition. Some succeed, others result in further problems. Either way, I don’t believe this is a situation that people are prepared to brush under the carpet, much as parents being forced to steal to feed their children was one of the building bricks of our union movement and later the welfare state.

    Your suggestion that PAS deaths in Oregon have increased uncontrollably is misleading. The Death with Dignity Law was passed in 1997. Ten years later, in 2007, 85 people received the medication to end their lives, 49 used it.

    About 10 per cent of patients accessing palliative care (that’s approximately 1,500 people), had initially contacted their doctor about assisted death. The patients using PAS have remained at about 0.2 per cent of deaths (65 in 2010) but as their concerns have become more ‘public’ through complying with Death with Dignity laws, palliative care has become more accessible and Oregon has leapt up the table of quality providers in the last decade (it’s now second). Far from being an alternative to the provision of good-quality palliative care, the legal framework for assisted death has been a huge motivation for its improvement. If ‘normalization’ means we improve quality of end of life care and better communication between carers, patients and their family, I welcome it.

    Ilora

    No-one is suggesting that we shouldn’t discuss how to relieve the suffering of terminally ill people. That is precisely what modern palliative care does, supporting people and working to maximize quality of life. But based on my experience of caring for thousands of dying people over 25 years, I don’t think helping them to kill themselves is the right way to deal with their suffering.

    The cases that cross the DPP’s desk are not just those of people who have gone to Switzerland for assisted suicide (take the recent Gilderdale case, for example). They are cases where there is evidence that a suicide has been assisted, contrary to the law. You seem to imply that some seriously ill people commit suicide because assisted suicide is prohibited, but what evidence do you have for this linkage? We are not discussing suicide, but whether the law should be changed to allow some suicides to be assisted.

    It’s unclear what point you are making about the number of physician-assisted suicides in Oregon. What I am saying is that the number of such suicides in 2010 was four times the number in 1998 and that the current death rate from PAS in Oregon would produce more than 1,000 such deaths in England and Wales every year.

    Of course, palliative care has improved in Oregon: it has improved in most parts of the world, as a result of advances in care of the dying. Much of this progress has been spearheaded by Britain, which – unlike Oregon – recognizes palliative medicine as a clinical speciality. It is spurious to attribute Oregon’s improvement in palliative care to its legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

    Debbie

    A room rented by euthanasia organization Dignitas, where those who have decided to die spend their last moments.

    Gaeten Bally / PA Images

    I understand your point of view but thousands of people in Britain are discussing assisted dying and politicians need to catch up. Twenty-two Britons went to Dignitas last year, and 10 per cent of the 5,000 annual suicides are people with terminal or chronic illnesses – the link between illness and suicide needs to be explored. Kay Gilderdale had to face a charge of attempted murder (she was acquitted), and pleaded guilty to assisted suicide. That a compassionate mother who spent 17 years helping her daughter live – and when her daughter decided to end her life, supported her – found herself facing life imprisonment, is a clear signal that the law is not working.

    If I had lost my legal case, I would have gone to Dignitas in 2009. So I strongly believe that if society had more open, honest discussion prior to a patient’s death, lives would be improved and saved.

    I would campaign against legalization of assisted dying if I saw any evidence that people would suffer or be pressured into early deaths. Residents of Washington voted for assisted dying in greater numbers than those of their neighbour state of Oregon because they’d seen the decade-long positive experience of Oregon, with improving palliative care, high numbers taking comfort from the law and low numbers using it. There are fewer lawful assisted deaths in Oregon than unlawful ones in unregulated states. Legalization shines a light on end of life decision-making, allows doctors and patients to be safer and, more importantly, feel safer. Patients know they have a choice if their suffering is unbearable, without having to resort to suicide or overseas travel for assistance.

    Your use of the word ‘killing’ in relation to dying people controlling the timing of their death suggests you have a personal objection. Campaigners for assisted dying want conscientious objection clauses ensuring the choices of healthcare professionals are respected. And patients’ wishes should also be respected.

    Ilora

    Oregon’s population is small; if 1,500 patients asked for assisted suicide to access palliative care, that perhaps calls into question their referral systems.

    Parliament discussed ‘assisted dying’ in considerable depth on at least five occasions in recent years and rejected the proposal as unsafe, and I agree. As a palliative care physician I see requests vanish when suffering people get the support they need; many are glad to be living well months or years longer than they believed possible. Listening to patients is core to care. There is nothing to prevent ‘open, honest discussion prior to a patient’s death’ – indeed, exploring patients’ feelings, fears and wishes at the end of life is a major feature of good palliative care. What the law prohibits is encouraging or assisting suicide.

    You say you’d change your mind about legalizing assisted suicide if you saw evidence that society would suffer. But what sort of evidence would you accept? There is plenty of it: it’s just that it is interpreted in different ways by people with different views of the issue. I know of no evidence that supports your statement that legalization of assisted suicide ‘shines a light on end of life decision-making, making doctors and patients safer’.

    It’s all very well to talk about choice. But let me suggest a parallel. Some youngsters say they would like to carry knives because it makes them feel safer. But the law doesn’t allow that. Why? Because letting them have their choice would not be safe for the rest of us. One person’s choice can easily become another person’s risk.

    Debbie Purdy is an activist with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. In 2009 she won a ruling from the Law Lords (now the Supreme Court) requiring the Director of Public Prosecutions to publish his policy on the prosecution of cases of assisted suicide. Ilora Finlay is a professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University and a member of the British House of Lords. She chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well.

    The Euro debt crisis: bailout or default?

    Stergios

    At the beginning of 2010 it became clear that Greek public debt was becoming unsustainable. Greece could no longer borrow from the international bond markets.

    If, at the time, Greece had defaulted with a 30 per cent or greater ‘haircut’ (loss) imposed on bondholders, Greek debt would have become sustainable in the long run. The country would have had to borrow internally, perhaps issue IOUs (as it has done already) and impose a few modest cuts. The effect of such a policy would have been mildly recessionary.

    What was done instead by the EU/IMF/ECB ‘troika’ was to provide Greece with loans so as to cover its budget deficit without default, in exchange for increasingly draconian budget cuts, tax increases and institutional changes of dubious value. Existing bondholders continued to have their interest and maturing principal fully paid.

    The effect of this policy has been a fast downward spiral of the economy. Since debt keeps increasing and the country keeps getting poorer fast, debt is becoming ever less sustainable. The debt-to-GDP ratio went from 115 to 160 per cent in less than two years.

    Even the German Chancellor recognized that this charade cannot continue.

    David

    Greece cannot be allowed to default. There is no such thing as an ‘orderly’ Greek default, as some have called for. All the banks would collapse, an incredible hardship on everyday Greeks, whose current social upheaval would intensify. Future Greek debt would find no buyers globally except at usurious rates. Effectively, Greece would no longer be able to borrow the funds that sustain anything remotely like its people’s current way of life.

    Arguably worse, leading banks elsewhere, notably in Germany, London and New York, would suffer huge losses on their holdings of sovereign euro debt that would destabilize state finances for governments across the continent and in Britain obliged to bail out these ‘systemically critical’ lenders.

    The German Chancellor isn’t exaggerating about the ‘Lehman effect’ of a Greek default, a reference to the global financial meltdown following the September 2008 collapse of New York investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. To invoke a hoary Cold War term, there is a domino effect to consider here: if the eurozone allows one country to default, what confidence can global bond buyers have in the debt of other troubled euro-economies?

    The argument that last year’s first effort at a Greek bailout was bungled is valid. So was the Irish bailout. In each case, the bailout loans bore unmanageably high interest rates; and Greece was implored to engage in harsh austerity at impractical speed. But then, euro leaders repeatedly accused of sloth in responding to the crisis have been dealing with an unprecedented event. The eurozone is just a dozen years old, and its architects made no plans for coping with defaults they did not anticipate.

    Thus the rescue has been a work in progress. The larger European Union’s survival without a eurozone is doubtful. The biggest losers in that event would be the major economies, whose robust trade with their neighbours has seen Europe eclipse the US in economic size. Not coincidentally, the EU’s tenure has marked the longest period of uninterrupted peace in European history. There is too much at stake to allow any eurozone member nation to default.

    Stergios

    Anti-austerity rally in Athens’ Syntagma Square.

    Yiorgos Karahalis / Reuters

    If default of a small country in the eurozone, amounting to 2.7 per cent of its GDP, threatens to blow up the world’s financial system along with the eurozone, then there is something seriously wrong with both the financial system and the eurozone

    I recognize that the blow-up scenario is serious. In that case, if trillions of losses can be expected, giving 180 billion euros in grants to Greece to pay off half of its debt would solve the problem. This will not be done, not because it can’t be done but because, even if Greece did not exist, there would be Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy and other countries that pose the same threat, with only a time difference.

    The problem is dual: the financial system was not fixed after 2008 and the eurozone has no hope of functioning without political unification. Thus an orderly break-up of the eurozone and fixing the financial system should be urgent tasks now.

    We cannot continue having the bankers threaten to blow up the world unless everybody does what the bankers demand.

    David

    Protesters set up camp outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt to show their anger at bankers and politicians.

    Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

    How could default by a small country bring Europe to its knees, and how could the ‘Balkan powder-keg’ explode with the loss of an unprecedented eight million lives in the First World War? Big problems start small. It’s the history of our species.

    Yes, the global financial system remains in disrepair after its faultlines were so dramatically revealed in 2008-09. And the eurozone needs greater political and fiscal unity. Indeed, the latter is a centrepiece of the latest ‘comprehensive strategy’ for eurozone reinvention.

    But first things first. As a practical matter, Germany still relies on its eurozone peers for 40 per cent of its export revenues. Confidence, that precious commodity, must be restored among global investors – individual, corporate and institutional. The place to start is Greece, ground zero of the panic. But Europeans from Sheffield to Poland’s eastern frontier must be relieved of the uncertainty of a wider economic implosion for want of the liquidity injection required now to ensure the functioning of all sovereigns.

    Stergios

    Some big problems may start small but small problems rarely lead to big ones. When they do, they are often just a symptom, not a cause. From Greece to Ireland, from the Bank of America to French banks or to some obscure special investment vehicle in the Caymans, there are problems everywhere. They are all symptoms of a sick financial system and a problematic eurozone.

    Even if Greece were to disappear tomorrow, the world’s confidence is unlikely to recover as long as the two big problems are left festering. I have yet to see a realistic proposal for Greece that does not involve some form of default. The 26 October agreement included a 50 per cent haircut to bondholders – an example of ‘orderly’ default.

    If not an orderly default then a disorderly one becomes highly likely. Only an outright grant to Greece could prevent the need for a default but I don’t see how it could occur.

    All parties would better prepare for a default then. Unforeseen events will take place but it will also likely force longer-term solutions for finance and the eurozone.

    David

    If sovereign bondholders aren’t a tad sanguine about taking a sizeable ‘haircut’ in a renegotiation of Greek debt, they should be. Indeed, investors are getting a hard lesson on the new euro-economics, in which for political reasons they will have to share in the sacrifice required to keep the eurozone fiscally whole. That the lesson has been absorbed is clear from the sudden (relatively speaking) ill repute of Italian and Spanish debt, and the shocking run on French obligations. This is not a Greek crisis, but a systemic one. And indeed, the opportunity cannot be missed to use the upheaval as a catalyst for sweeping fiscal reforms across the eurozone. Those will be made more palatable by an Italian taking charge of an ECB widely regarded as the former German central bank with a new name.

    Stergios Skaperdas is Professor of Economics at the University of California, Irvine. Born in Greece, Skaperdas has worked with the Center for the Study of Democracy and is a Research Fellow of the Center for the Study of Civil Wars at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway.

    David Olive is the Business and Current Affairs Columnist for the Toronto Star and the author most recently of An American Story: The Speeches of Barack Obama: A Primer (2008).

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