Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesdays Around the World: Democracy (mostly) Triumphs

In the past few weeks certain parties in various jurisdictions around the globe have taken actions to try to set aside, wholly or in part, the logical results of democratic processes, but in each case the attempts failed.

We will begin our tour in the U.K., where in the wake of the Brexit vote, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to resign. In parliamentary systems, losing a major vote is often viewed as a constructive vote of no confidence, so Cameron's announcement was not a surprise. What was a surprise was how Justice Secretary Michael Gove stabbed Boris Johnson, who was the face of the Leave campaign and who probably rightly expected to benefit from the leave vote, in the back. Gove, who had previously told Johnson that he would help line up MP votes on Johnson's behalf, instead entered the race himself and made comments tantamount to a political character assassination, thereby destroying Johnson's shot at 10 Downing Street. However, no one likes a snake, and so Gove was subsequently thrashed in the party election. Furthermore, upon becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May promptly sacked Gove from the Government and announced that she would follow the results of the Brexit vote despite having campaigned for Remain. So, democracy in the U.K. won, mostly. (Note that in Britain if a PM steps down as head of his party, the person who wins the subsequent party election becomes PM without an actual general election.)

From the U.K., let us turn our attention to Turkey, where an actual coup attempt occurred last Friday and Saturday. Elements in the Turkish military, which has a history of intervening in Turkish politics, attempted to overthrow the democratically-elected President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Much of the Turkish military remained loyal to the government, and so the coup was put down, and democracy once again triumphed, albeit not without cost. (Also, reports seem to indicate that Erdoğan may be reacting to the uprising by purging the military and other segments of government to strengthen his own position, which may be problematic for democracy down the road...)

Finally, we turn our attention to Cleveland, Ohio, where the G.O.P. has been convening to nominate a candidate to run for President of the United States. As the convention opened, a not-insignificant camp of delegates attempted to change the rules to thwart the nomination of Donald Trump, despite Trump having actually won enough delegates through the democratic primary process to clinch the nomination. The agitators were not successful, and so the will of the Republican people was followed as the G.O.P. officially nominated Trump yesterday. (Of course, some of the convention's rhetoric may not have been totally in line with democratic principles as one of the speakers may have told a bunch of donors that they were going to change the laws so they could fire everybody hired during the Obama administration, and then the same speaker employed a rhetorical approach that led the audience to chant for the imprisonment of the opposition candidate. However, while neither practice is really viewed as democratic, it should be pointed out that both purging government employees and imprisoning presidential candidates have already actually occurred at various points in our democracy's history.)

Thus, in the past few weeks democracy has (mostly) triumphed over challenges to the Will of the People in the U.K., Turkey, and the U.S.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesdays Around the World: More Trouble in the South China Sea

Yesterday, a tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued an award in favor of the Philippines over China in regards to Chinese actions in the South China Sea. China claims historical dominion over large swathes of the South China Sea and has been building artificial islands in portions of the sea that are recognized as part of the "exclusive economic zone" of the Philippines under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China is a party to UNCLOS but has nonetheless indicated that it will not acknowledge any claim brought on the arbitration award.

Ironically, the United States seems to be willing to help assert the rights to the claim of its ally (and former colony) the Philippines, despite the fact that the United States is not a party to UNCLOS due to lack of ratification.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wednesdays Around the World: U.N. Pushes for a Systematic Approach to Suppressing Global Terror

Last week, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for all member states and regional organizations to implement an integrated plan to combat global terrorism. The resolution followed last week's bombings at the Istanbul airport, and was issued shortly before further terror attacks in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.

The counter-terrorism plan referenced by the resolution was actually adopted a decade ago, but implementation has been less than complete. While some see a coordinated terror campaign by the Islamic State as a sign of weakness, it does seem that current efforts to prevent terrorism have been only partially-effective at best. Perhaps calling for implementation and calling for state responsibility for said implementation will have a greater effect.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wednesdays Around the World: England Crashes Out of Europe in More Ways than One

Last week, voters in England and Wales carried the Leave campaign to victory in the "Brexit" referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union. As predicted, the decision to cut ties with Europe led to negative financial consequences, political chaos for both the ruling Tories and opposition Labour Party, and renewed calls for both Scottish independence, and Irish reunification. (Both Scotland and Northern Island voted overwhelmingly to remain in the United Kingdom, though the regions possess only a fraction of the population that England does.)

In other news, the English national team, which hails from the country that purports to have invented the sport (or at least codified it), was eliminated from the Euro Cup soccer tournament by Iceland, a country with a total population of about the size of Lexington. While Wales, which like England voted to leave the EU, remains alive in the tournament, the Welsh play Belgium on Friday in a game that has taken on new significance, what with most central E.U. bodies residing in Brussels.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wednesdays Around the World: Are the British Isles Part of Europe?

Are the British Isles part of Europe? That is the question that will be partially answered by tomorrow's "Brexit" vote in a popular referendum on continued E.U. membership. I say partially answered because the Republic of Ireland is also an E.U. member state. Furthermore, there has been some talk that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (and maybe even the City of London) would possibly choose staying in the E.U. over staying in the U.K.

Polls show that the referendum is remarkably close. Both sides have their share of British celebrity support, and both sides were recently able to field their own fleets. Given that an English-angst-fueled Brexit would have dire consequences for the global economy, the eyes of the world will be on the British polls tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesdays Around the World: Epic Fails in State Responsibility to Prevent Violence Against Women

In 1993 the United Nations General Assembly issued the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. While the Declaration itself is not binding, General Assembly declarations are often pointed to as evidence that a certain principle amounts to a peremptory norm of international law, a jus cogens, which all states are supposed to follow. Significantly, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women explicitly calls for state responsibility for the suppression of violence against women. Tragically, a number of states recently have failed miserably in shouldering this responsibility.

In Pakistan over the past two weeks, two separate women died after being beaten and set on fire. The first murder occurred after a young woman rejected a marriage proposal. Heinously, the perpetrators of the second murder were the mother and brother of the victim who had incurred their wrath by marrying without permission. (Note that an even stronger piece of international law, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, specifically calls for states to ensure that women may marry or not marry as they choose. Pakistan became a party to the Convention in 1996.) In fairness to Pakistan, the state is prosecuting the alleged murderers of the women that have been caught and is searching for those at large. However, earlier this year, a law designed to crack down on violence against women met large scale protests upon passage. Pakistan seems to be trying to meet its state responsibility but clearly has a long way to go in protecting its women from violence.

Unfortunately, recent events in the United States suggest that we also are failing in our responsibility to prevent violence against women. The highest profile example of this occurred when a California state judge handed down a ludicrously light sentence after a collegiate athlete was convicted by a jury of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. A juror in the case has gone so far as to suggest that the judge did not truly accept the jury's findings. Of course, the California case is not the only example of campus violence against women. For instance, Baylor University recently fired its football coach and reassigned its President because of catastrophic shielding of football players accused of sexual violence. Alarmingly, however, there are now reports that Baylor may be reconsidering after pressure from donors. Lack of serious consequences for those in positions of authority who fail to prevent violence against women devastatingly undermines attempts at meeting state responsibility. While the federal government has attempted to meet its state responsibility to curb campus violence against women via Title IX mechanisms, there are 243 open Title IX investigations into American universities' handling of sexual assault. It seems to me that the state has a responsibility to prevent violence against women, not just to try to prevent violence against women or to investigate after the fact, so I do not think Title IX can really be considered a success. Then again, obviously neither can state prosecutions of campus rapists.

As deplorable and alarming as recent events in Pakistan and the U.S. are, the worst recent epic fail in state responsibility to prevent violence against women probably comes from Qatar. Earlier this week, reports surfaced that a Dutch woman who had reported being drugged and raped to Qatari police was herself arrested for having sex out of wedlock. The victim was detained for three months before having her sentence "suspended." Qatar plans to deport her, just as soon as she pays an $824 fine . After being raped. And jailed for three months. It's hard to see how Qatar will meet its state responsibility to prevent violence against women if it actively disincentivizes women from reporting sexual assaults in this way.

While states do bear responsibility for preventing violence against women, it will be hard for many states to meet their burdens without widespread cultural changes. Thus, it is also incumbent upon individuals to shoulder responsibility for preventing violence against women. As noted by Vice President Biden, cultural change begins at the individual level, and failure to speak out or stand up against rape or rape culture makes us implicit in its perpetuation. For more information on how to answer the Vice President's call and how to contribute to a local violence-free culture, please visit U.K.'s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Wednesdays Around the World: Looming EU Membership Clash Causes Voter Registration Crash

In just over two weeks, British voters will head to the polls to determine whether the U.K. should stay or should it go in terms of E.U. membership. The deadline to register to vote in the referendum was supposed to have been last night, but a surge of applicants who want to participate in the hotly-contested decision caused the registration website to crash. Thus, the U.K. has extended the registration deadline by 48 hours.

The vote is seen as a key moment in either furthering the trend of globalization or possibly reversing it. (The political shift and upcoming presidential election here in the U.S. is another.) While the E.U. has undoubtedly accomplished its primary objective of preventing continent-spanning wars (such as this one, or this one, or these, or this one, or these, or this one...) by tying European nations together through trade, other evidence points to the fact that European nationalism is alive and well.