Author Archives: Andrea Silkoset

The Cartagena Declaration at 35 and Refugee Protection in Latin America

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This text first appeared on E-International Relations and is re-posted here. More E-IR articles can be accessed by clicking this link. Prof Liliana Lyra Jubilut is a Professor of the Post-graduate Program in Law at Universidade Católica de Santos, Dr Marcia Vera Espinoza is a Lecturer i Human Geography at Queen Mary University of London, and Dr Gabriela Mezzanotti is an Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of South-Eastern Norway. The authors are currently working on the edited book ‘Latin America and Refugee Protection: regimes, logics, and challenge’.

Photo: Peg Hunter via Flickr

On November 22nd 2019 the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (Cartagena Declaration) turns 35. It is a paramount document on refugees’ protection in Latin America, setting both normative standards and the regional tone for policies and actions in this area, thus, being a cornerstone of Refugee Law in the region. This is especially relevant as the Latin America is facing contrasting scenarios in terms of migration governance: an increasing politicization of migration and refugees’ management and anti-immigrant sentiments, as well as disrespect for human rights and refugee law, coexisting with a regional tradition of granting asylum and the ascertaining of a human-rights based (Grandi, 2017) and avant-gard protection for refugees (Freier and Acosta 2015; Jubilut and Lopes 2018).

Assessing the role of the Cartagena Declaration and its relevance on its 35th anniversary is also important in light of current regional forced displacements, as Latin America is witnessing massive flows of refugees and other migrants, as (i) in the case of Venezuela with 4,5 million displaced persons (mainly since 2016) and a prediction of reaching 6,5 million next year, also (ii) soaring numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers from the North of Central America (estimated at over 350,000 in the end of 2018), (iii) new displacements from Nicaragua due to a crisis that began in April 2018, (iv) the endurance of Haitian migration, and (v) the continued displacement of Colombians even after the peace agreements, to add to an estimated of 7 million displaced persons during the conflict. This increasing mobility in the region might be joined by new displacements resulting from the social and political strives in Chile and Bolivia.

In this context, it is relevant to present the Cartagena Declaration to a larger audience, celebrate its 35th anniversary, and assess whether the framework of protection created by it since 1984 can be a relevant tool in dealing with these competing scenarios in refugee protection in Latin America, as a way to appraise its lasting and current impacts.

The Cartagena Declaration and Its Regime

Panorama

The Cartagena Declaration was created in an academic colloquium (Colloquium on the International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Mexico, and Panama) held in Colombia in 1984, in light of the refugee situation in Central America[1], and adopted a regional approach to refugee protection.

The Cartagena Declaration set the basis for the evolution of a specific Latin-American framework of refugees’ protection, developing from the region’s long-established tradition of asylum (Fischel De Andrade, 2014, Acnur n/d). It dialogues, however, with larger frameworks (Jubilut and Lopes, 2018), such as the international refugee regime (a relation expressed both in the Document’s explicit mentions to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol[2] and in its support by the United Nations High Commissioner from the beginning[3], Human Rights and other regional schemes such as the Organization of American States (OAS) – which embraced the Declaration[4] and encompasses the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean States alongside Latin America countries. Due to its normative developments, has been listed together with the 1969 OUA Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa as examples of successful developments in regional refugee protection.

The Cartagena Declaration, initially adopted by 10 States as a soft law instrument, is divided into 3 content parts: the first one with a preamble aspect contextualizing the document and expressing its fundaments and principles; the second one linking the document to the Contadora Process for Peace and reproducing its normative result[5], and the third part with the substantive contributions of the Document, presented as conclusions.

There are 17 conclusions in the Cartagena Declaration encompassing suggestions specifically tailored to the Central America refugee situation, provisions on the betterment of refugee protection in the States of the region, and contributions to refugee protection at large in Latin America. In the latter, two aspects should be highlighted.

The first is the already mentioned dialogue between refugee protection and human rights. This is a prevalent topic in the Cartagena Declaration, and should be praised both as a pioneering effort in States’ practice in this area (in the early 1980s) and as a guideline aiming at guaranteeing integral protection for refugees, i.e. not only the rights they are entitled to due to their migratory status but also all their human rights (Jubilut, Apolinário, 2008). Furthermore, this connection opens up the possibility of refugee protection also benefiting from other institutional arrangements linked to human rights (such as the InterAmerican System of Human Rights from the OAS), and, therefore, being enlarged.

The second aspect regarding refugee protection at large in Latin America is the creation of a regional definition of refugees that goes beyond the international criteria set up by the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. This stems from the 3rd Conclusion of the Cartagena Declaration, that reads:

the definition or concept of a refugee to be recommended for use in the region is one which, in addition to containing the elements of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, includes among refugees persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order. (highlights added)

These criteria look into the objective situation of the country of origin of the refugee as the main cause for refugee status, not requiring the existence of individual persecution (Jubilut and Carneiro, 2011; 67, Reed-Hurtado, 2013) and closely links refugee status to International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Ibid; Burson and Cantor 2016).

Among the several criteria spelled out in the 3rd Conclusion, the one mentioning massive violation of human rights (or gross and generalized violation of human rights as more commonly used in the region[6]) is not only the more encompassing one[7], but also is perceived as the main conceptual contribution of the Cartagena Declaration. This is so due to the fact that albeit not applied in its entire possible width  it allows for recognizing refugee status “when internationally recognized rights are subject to widespread or large scale violations—situations of ‘gross and systematic denial of civil, political, economic and social, and cultural rights” (Reed-Hurtado, 2013: 14), encompassing, for instance, situations such as dictatorships, internal strives, humanitarian crisis, and war. In this sense, and from a normative standpoint, it is a relevant increase in protection in the region.

Legacy and Impacts

The creation of a regional concept of refugee, and the inclusion of  the possibility of refugee status due to gross and generalized violation of human rights in it, are the first two impacts of the Cartagena Declaration that need to be emphasized. They not only amplify protection in the region but also establish a Latin-American grammar in refugee protection, combining the international criteria for refugee status determination with a tailored regional definition. The latter also reinforces the dialogue between Refugee Law and Human Rights, present from the start in the regional regime as it is incorporated in the region’s refugee definition from 1984. The Cartagena Declaration concept of refugee and its peculiarities can be said to be a first pillar in the creation of a regional refugee regime in Latin America.

If one accepts regimes as the existence of rules, principles, and decision-making procedures (Krasner,1982) this perception is corroborated by the fact that the Cartagena Declaration set up a revision process, with meetings every 10 years to evaluate the region’s needs and developments in refugee protection and to adopt follow-up documents and plans of actions.

The first of these meetings was held in 1994, and resulted in the San Jose Declaration, which has as its main specific contribution the fact that, regionalizing the international momentum of the topic[8] and perceiving the region’s needs in the issue, strongly dealt with the protection of Internally Displaced Persons as a relevant Latin-America theme in refugee protection[9]. The second follow-up meeting took place in 2004 and resulted in the adoption of the Mexico Declaration and Plan of Action,[10] which embraced a responsibility-sharing optic instead of the more traditional burden-sharing approach to refugee protection, and was divided in two main components: one focusing on protection and the other on durable solutions (Jubilut and Carneiro 2011). In the latter, three regional initiatives were adopted within the solidarity[11] logic that guides all the document: 1) borders of solidarity, focusing on protection at frontiers as well as on actions for local host populations on border towns; 2) cities of solidarities, with a focus on integration in urban settings, the main scenario in Latin America; and 3) resettlement in solidarity, creating new resettlement schemes in the region, for both intra and extra regional refugees and having as its main selection criterion the need for protection (Vera Espinoza 2018a, 2018b; Jubilut and Zamur 2018).  The most recent of the meetings happened in 2014 and led to the adoption of the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action, which reinforces the initiatives previously adopted and the existence of a regional regime of refugee protection in Latin America (Jubilut and Madureira 2014), and continues the Cartagena Declaration legacy.

If the regional refuge definition is the first pillar of the Cartagena Declaration regime of refugee protection, the revisional process and its products are the second. They are also good thermometers of regional adherence to the regime, pointing out a continuous increase in commitments, as one can see that while the Cartagena Declaration was initially adopted by 10 countries and is currently incorporated nationally by 16, the San Jose Declaration was signed by 17 States, the Mexico Declaration and Plan of Action by 20, and the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action by 31 countries. Furthermore, they showcase an evolution from only declarations to declarations and plans of actions which represents concerns about both normative propositions and actual implementation and policies.

The third pillar of the regional refugee regime can be said to be the aforementioned connection with human rights, which has led the region to be praised internationally (Grandi, 2017). This is relevant as it also sheds light into a fourth pillar and key aspect of refugee protection in Latin America, as it is the coexistence of different systems and regimes (Jubilut and Lopes, 2018: 132). In relation to the former, one can point out (i) the dual nature of asylum in the region, implemented by political asylum and refugee status, (ii) the dialogues among Refugee Law and International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, and (iii) the coexistence of the regional definition with the international refugee definition (Ibid).

Regarding the coexistence of regimes of refugee protection in Latin America[12], it is relevant to first recall the previously mentioned relationship between the regime created by the Cartagena Declaration with the InterAmerican Human Rights System, which, through the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights and the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, can be said to also have created a regional protection regime for refugees and other migrants within its human rights framework.

A second regime coexistence would take place in relation to the Cartagena Declaration regime and national regimes of refugee protection. Given that, as mentioned, 16 countries have already incorporated the Cartagena Declaration into their national laws, it could be argued that this regime co-existence has not only expanded protection but also transformed, at least in the national level, a commitment transforming a soft law instrument into hard law at least nationally.

If, on the one hand, one can thus see the Cartagena Declaration Regime as having four main pillars – regional definition, revision processes, connection to human rights and the dialogue with other regimes and systems -, on the other, it is also possible to identify three elements that complement this regime, in what is called the “spirit of Cartagena”, understood in relation to: 1) a human rights approach to refugee protection, which is simultaneously a pillar of the Cartagena Declaration regime and a characteristic of the “spirit of Cartagena”, 2) an expanded humanitarian space and 3) a constant effort to assess the region’s needs and challenges in refugee protection.

The “spirit of Cartagena” can be said to be in place in the debates and adoption of the Cartagena Declaration but also in the development of the regime derived from it, and even influencing other actions regarding the protection of refugees and other migrants (such as humanitarian visas and other alternative pathways for legal stays for instance (Jubilut 2017)) in Latin America. That is to say, the ‘spirit of Cartagena’ and the Cartagena Declaration regime’s pillars can be considered to be lasting impacts and legacies of the Cartagena Declaration in the protection of refugees in Latin America.

Current Challenges in Refugee Protection in Latin America

However, and even though the regional setting showcases the existence of comprehensive regimes of refugee protection, and a regional optic of ascertaining human rights and the implementation of asylum; recent events have – as noted above – created a scenario of contrasting and competing logics, i.e. one the one hand, the Cartagena Declaration and its regime, alongside other structures of protection in the region, and, on the other, the adoption of policies, rhetorics and actions against refugees and other migrants’ protection.

This can start to be explained by the fact that Latin America remains a region that, at the same time, produces and receives refugees (UNHCR, 2019: 68 and 74), and recently has been experiencing a combination of these realities: with a record number of intra-regional refuges, originating mainly from Venezuela and the North of Central America, but also encompassing forced migration from other places (Jubilut and Jarochinski 2018; Jubilut 2016).

The increase in numbers has occurred alongside the rise of populist governments, as well as right-wing local and/or national governments, which either did not impress great significance on refugee protection or adopted a “hard line” in migration governance. The combination of these factors has led to human rights violations, restrictive migratory laws, and violations of Refugee Law (both in its international and regional standards).

Examples of that have been the preferred avenue by States to not apply the regional definition to intra-regional refugees but rather create complementary protection pathways (Jubilut and Fernandes 2018), which could be seen as an implementation of the “spirit of Cartagena” if they were being applied only to migrants other than refugees, and not as a way to diminish protection. Moreover, and in a opposite policy, some countries have not created any strategy to deal with the increased flows, leaving all migrants to apply for refugee status, thus overburdening existing systems and regimes. Furthermore, specific situations have amplified the vulnerability of some migrants, such as in the cases of statelessness persons’ protection (from Haiti in the Dominican Republic), undocumented children migration (from the North of Central America and Venezuela) and migration of indigenous persons (from Venezuela).

One can see then that competing and contrasting logics are in play in Latin America, at the time of the 35th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration. It is relevant to point out this scenario so that setbacks are not allowed, and the regime created by the document is not jeopardized. Moreover, recalling the Cartagena Declaration and the regime it has created, as well as how it is a framework of protection that dialogues with others in the region, helps to highlight that there is a grammar of protection in Latin America, with strong normative structures, and if refugees and other migrants are not being adequately protected it is more a result of lack of political will and of political choices than a lack of regimes and traditions of humanitarian action, granting of asylum and refugee protection.

Conclusion

As argued here, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration and its legacy for the protection of refugees in Latin America, which spams from the document itself to the creation of a regional regime as well as impregnates the region with the “spirit of Cartagena”, is more relevant than ever. The lasting impacts of the Document as well as the longevity of a regional commitment to refugee protection should be celebrated, especially in the occasion of its 35th anniversary. However, practical challenges remain, particularly in light of new forced displacement flows in the region that bring to light contrasting scenarios for refugee protection in Latin America.

On the one hand, the most positive characteristics of the region that create Latin America’s grammar of refugee protection, are: the long-lasting tradition of asylum; a human rights approach (that can lead to integral protection); the spirit of Cartagena; and the coexistence of the Cartagena Declaration Regime, the InterAmerican Human Rights system for the protection of refugees and other (forced) migrants, and national regimes that have adopted expanded refugee status definition as well as humanitarian policies and complementary protection alternatives. On the other, however, anti-migrants rhetorics from around the world also reverberate in Latin America, alongside discriminatory and xenophobic behavior, as well as, the adoption of practices and rules that go against international commitments, so as to escape the reach of International Refugee Law (as with non-refoulement and adequate Refugee Status Determination procedures) or International Human Rights standards (in the protection of children and against torture and detention, for instance).

It seems, thus, that even though the instruments (normative and otherwise) are in place, the main challenges arise from the lack of political will to implement them. That is why highlighting the relevance of the Cartagena Declaration by celebrating its 35th anniversary, can be an important reminder to the region of its commitments to refugee protection, asylum and human rights.

Notes

[1] See Cartagena Declaration 2ndh preambular paragraph.

[2] See, for instance, Cartagena Declaration 4th and 8th preambular paragraphs, as well as its second, third and eighth conclusions.

[3] UNHCR was represented in the Colloquium that adopted the Declaration and is mentioned throughout the document.

[4] By Resolution AG/RES. 774 (XV-O/8S) of 1985, which highlights the importance of the Declaration and recommends that all Member States apply it to refugees in their territory (paragraph 3) . Available at: <http://scm.oas.org/pdfs/agres/ag03799S01.PDF>.

[5] See Cartagena Declaration 8th preambular paragraph.

[6] For the different wordings adopted by States in incorporating this aspect of the Cartagena Declaration, see: Piovesan and Jubilut (2011)

[7] For even broader possibilities of application of this criterion see Weerasinghe (2018).

[8] For instance, with the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

[9] The topic was also present in the Cartagena Declaration (conclusion 9).

[10] All of the documents from the Cartagena Declaration regime, as well as the practices of the InterAmerican Human Rights system, national practices in the region, regional schemes for the protection of migrants that can also benefit refugees, as well as the main current displacement flows from the region, are the objects of study of upcoming volume edited by Jubilut, Vera Espinoza and Mezzanotti (forthcoming).

[11] For more on solidarity as a guiding principle of the Cartagena Declaration regime and a legacy from it (as well as the flexibility of sovereignty impose by the Document) see: Jubilut, Apolinário and Jarochinski (2014).

[12] For more on this see the upcoming volume edited by Jubilut, Vera Espinoza and Mezzanotti (forthcoming).

References

Alto Comissariado das Nações Unidas para Refugiados (ACNUR). Protección de Refugiados en América Latina: Buenas Prácticas Legislativas, n/d.

Burson, Bruce; Cantor, David J. (Eds.). Human Rights and the Refugee Definition – Comparative Legal Practice and Theory, 2016.

Cantor, David. J.; Barichello, Stefania E. The inter-American human rights system: A new model for integrating refugee and complementary protection. The International Journal of Human Rights, n. 17, 2013: 689 – 706.

Freier, Luisa Feline; Acosta, Diego. South America’s moves to liberalize irregular migration are in stark contrast to the punitive and fatal policies of the U.S. and EuropeThe LSE US Centre´s daily blog on America Politics and Policies, 2015. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2015/06/17/south-americas-moves-to-liberalize-irregular-migration-are-in-stark-contrast-to-the-punitive-and-fatal-policies-of-the-u-s-and-europe/

Fischel de Andrade, José Henrique. Forced Migration in South America. In: Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. et al. (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, 2014: 651-663.

Grandi, Filippo. Foreword: Regional solidarity and commitment to protection in Latin America and the Caribbean. Forced Migration Review, 56, 2017: 4-5.

Jarochinski Silva, João Carlos; Jubilut, Liliana L. Venezuelans in Brazil: Challenges of Protection. E-International Relations, 2018. e-ir.info/2018/07/12/venezuelans-in-brazil-challenges-of-protection/

Jubilut, Liliana L. Humanitarian Alternative Pathways for Protection for Forced Migrants in Latin America, In: McAuliffe, M. and M. Klein Solomon (Conveners). Migration Research Leaders’ Syndicate: Ideas to Inform International Cooperation on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, 2017: 117-122. https://publications.iom.int/books/humanitarian-alternative-pathways-protection-forced-migrants-latin-america.

Jubilut, Liliana L. Latin America and Refugees: a panoramic view. Völkerrechtsblog, 2016. https://voelkerrechtsblog.org/latin-america-and-refugees-a-panoramic-view/

Jubilut, Liliana L.; Apolinário, Silvia M. O. S.  A população refugiada no Brasil: em busca da proteção integral. Universitas- Relações Internacionais, 6 (2), 2008: 9-38.

Jubilut, Liliana L; Apolinário, Silvia M. O. S; Jarochinski Silva, João Carlos. In: The transformative potential of refuge: the deepening of solidarity and of limits to sovereignty as a legacy of the Cartagena Declaration and its review process In: Jubilut, Liliana Lyra. Refugee Protection in Brazil and Latin America – Selected Essays, 2018: 159-178).

Jubilut, Liliana L; Carneiro, Wellington P. Resettlement in Solidarity: a regional new approach towards a more humane durable solution. Refugee Survey Quarterly, 3, 2011: 63-86.

Jubilut, Liliana L.; Fernandes, Ananda P. A atual proteção aos deslocados forçados da Venezuela pelos países da América Latina. In: Baeninger, Rosana; Jarochinski Silva, João Carlos (Ed.). Migrações Venezuelanas, 2018: 164-177. https://www.nepo.unicamp.br/publicacoes/livros/mig_venezuelanas/migracoes_venezuelanas.pdf.

Jubilut, Liliana L.; Lopes, Rachel de O. Forced Migration and Latin America: peculiarities of a peculiar region in refugee protection. Archiv des Völkerrechts, v. 56 (2), 2018: 131 – 154. https://doi.org/10.1628/avr-2018-0008

Jubilut, Liliana L.; Vera Espinoza, Marcia; Mezzanotti, Gabriela (Eds). Latin America and Refugee Protection: regimes, logics and challenge, forthcoming.

Jubilut, Liliana L.; Zamur, Andrea C. G. Brazil’s Refugee Resettlement: Power, Humanitarianism and Regional Leadership. In: Garnier, Adèle; Jubilut, Liliana L.; Sandvik, Kristin B. (Eds.). Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics and Humanitarian Governance, 2018: 70-91.

Piovesan, Flávia; Jubilut, Liliana L.  The 1951 Convention and the Americas: Regional Developments. In: Zimmermann, Andreas (Org.). Commentary on the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, 2011: 205-224.

Reed- Hurtado, M. The Cartagena Declaration on Refugees and the Protection of People Fleeing Armed Conflict and Other Situations of Violence in Latin America. UNHCR Legal and Protection Policy Research Series, 2013. https://www.unhcr.org/protection/globalconsult/51c800fe9/32-cartagena-declaration-refugees-protection-people-fleeing-armed-conflict.html

UNHCR. Global Trends – Forced Displacement in 2018.  Geneva: UNHCR, 2019. https://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5d08d7ee7/unhcr-global-trends-2018.html

Vera Espinoza, M. The Limits and Opportunities of Regional Solidarity: Exploring Refugee Resettlement in Brazil and Chile. Global Policy, 9 (1), 2018a: 85-94. DOI:10.1111/1758-5899.12534

Vera Espinoza, M. The Politics of Resettlement: Expectations and Unfulfilled Promises in Brazil and Chile. In: Garnier, Adèle; Jubilut, Liliana L.; Sandvik, Kristin B. (Eds.). Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics and Humanitarian Governance, 2018b: 223-243.

Weerasinghe, Sanjula. In Harm’s Way International protection in the context of nexus dynamics between conflict or violence and disaster or climate change, UNHCR Legal and Protection Policy Research Series, 2018. https://www.unhcr.org/5c1ba88d4.pdf

Podcast available (in Norwegian): Rescue operations in the Mediterranean – a pull factor?

Monday 25 November the NCHS, Nordhost/UiO:Norden, and the University of Oslo Faculty of Law co-hosted an event at Litteraturhuset in Oslo on rescue operations in the Mediterranean sea, and whether there is any validity to claims that such operations act as a pull factor encouraging more migrants to take the dangerous sea route towards Europe.

Speakers at the seminar included researchers, humanitarian practitioners from Médecins Sans Frontières and the Norwegian Refugee Council, and politicians from various Norwegian political parties, all presenting their views on European migration policies in light of recent migrant deaths at sea and public debates on the issue. The Italian Ambassador to Norway attended the seminar, asked for the floor and was invited to comment towards the end.

A recording of the seminar (in Norwegian) is now available, and can be accessed here.

Antonio De Lauri to give NMBU Annual Lecture in Global Development Studies

NCHS co-Director, Antonio De Lauri, is to give the NMBU Annual Lecture in Global Development Studies Friday 6 December 2019. The lecture is an annual event in association with the university’s Master Programme in Global Development Studies. De Lauri’s lecture is titled “The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention: Militarization, Diplomacy, Compromise”, and will in particular discuss (1) the difficulty in prioritizing humanitarian principles in contingent situations, (2) the exploitative dimension of humanitarian discourses in broad international political agendas, and (3) the current professionalization of humanitarian negotiations as a key instrument of foreign policy.

To register for the event or read more about the NMBU Annual Lecture, see here.

Who are the Civilians in South Sudan?

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This text first appeared on Security Dialogue and is re-posted here. Read the full article this blog post is based on here. The article is an outcome of a larger project supported by the Research Council of Norway: “Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice“. Nicki Kindersley and Øystein Rolandsen are featured in the Security Dialogue Podcast Series where they speak about their article, and the podcast can be accessed here.

Displaced children residing at a United Nations transit site take time to play. South Sudan’s conflict has affected the lives of many of these children, who are the future of the country. Photo: United Nations/Isaac Billy

Why are local communities so often targeted in South Sudan’s civil wars? How do their attackers justify violence against people defined as civilians in international law? In our article in the current issue of Security Dialogue, we answer these questions by placing recent brutalities within a longer history of conflict logics and practices in South Sudan’s modern history of violent governance. These evolving local norms inform how armed actors engage with residents in today’s conflicts.

State governance has always been violent towards South Sudan’s populations. Since slave raiders and traders shaped the first colonial incursions in the mid-1800s, ordinary people have been strategic assets to be managed and exploited. As such populations are not just legitimate targets in conflicts, but key resources to capture and control. State power was extended over Sudan’s peripheries in the 1900-1920s through mass forced displacement and depopulation of strategic areas (such as Kafia Kingi); through collective ‘punishment’ of defensive populations (for example, the aerial bombardment of Nuer communities); and violent raiding by proxy fighters from other communities, turning residents against each other. Sudan’s civil wars in the South from the 1960s continued these practices. Communities were targeted collectively based on ethnicity and imputed loyalty, displaced, and forced into camps for ‘protection’ and control, by both government and rebel forces.

Today’s UN Protection of Civilians camps, the first UN bases in the world to be turned into protection camps for local populations, are a part of this long history of violent governance. These armed groups continue to see the population in contested areas as part of the war, where everyone is (potentially) part of the collective enemy, and where controlling desperate poor populations is also a convenient way of gaining access to external aid and cheap labour. It thus makes more sense that, since 2013, armed groups have targeted populations in forced displacements, collective ‘punishments’, violent raids and armed control of refugee camps.

The article also shows how this distinction between armed combatants and those defined as civilians in international law is further blurred by violent governance tactics since the colonial period. Successive governments have actively sought to incorporate the population into their militarised security apparatus. During colonial rule, men and women were pressed into service as enslaved or otherwise dependent servants, soldiers, and workers in fortified and militarised garrison towns. After Sudan’s independence in 1956, the government encouraged or coerced residents into acting as spies, ‘national guards’, informers and ‘local protection’ forces. This militarised security state continues, and continues to blur the South Sudanese definition of civilian.

This analysis does not excuse the massive and systematic violence against the general population of South Sudan. But without due consideration of these deeply engraved historical systems and logics of violent governance, today’s brutal conflicts become incomprehensible. Any attempt to implement protection measures for populations affected by war needs to be informed by a proper understanding of these local logics of conflict. In this logic, the UN in South Sudan is already another military-political authority managing local populations and controlling their movements. With the NGOs servicing them and the UN peacekeepers guarding them, these PoC camps are a strategic political asset to be managed and exploited.  

Podcast available: Sandvik on ‘Humanitarian wearables and digital bodies’ at University of Oxford

On Wednesday 13 November 2019, Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (PRIO/University of Oslo) spoke at a seminar hosted by The Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, titled “Humanitarian wearables and digital bodies: problems of gifts and labour”. A recording from the seminar is now available.

To access the podcast, click here.

Call for papers: Humanitarianism challenged

Four year after the Agenda for Humanity : humanitarianism challenged
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 25 March 2019
Call for papers


On May 23-24th 2016, close to 9000 representatives from humanitarian agencies, governments, academics and leaders of crisis-affected communities uniquely gathered in Istanbul to address the crisis of legitimacy and capacity of the so-called humanitarian system. This even – prompted by the unprecedented refugee flows in the Middle-East and Europe – followed a series of regional consultations supposed to overcome the Western-centric nature of humanitarian assistance. Although the event did not lead to the adoption of a clear plan for institutional reform and avoid discussing contentious issues, it led to the adoption of the Agenda for Humanity, a five-point programme aiming to “outline the changes that are needed to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale”.

The strategic areas identified build on the framing of the Sustainable Development Goals and focus on ambitious targets such as ending conflicts, upholding norms to safeguard humanity, leaving no-one behind, ending needs and investing in humanity. Four years after its adoption, this rhetorical commitment to change has made its way into the discourses and practices of humanitarian organizations. Strategies to achieve “aid localisation”, the “triple nexus” – referring to the interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actors – or “vulnerable people empowerment and resilience” abound, reflecting the fractures of the humanitarian system.

Yet, as humanitarian agencies focus on technical ways of implementing changes, structural challenges to global solidarity are left out from the analysis. Since 2016, attacks on humanitarian values have never seemed so acute. The rise of nationalistic and far right parties and their coming to power in Brazil, Italy or Hungary daily challenge the capacity to maintain humanitarian commitments, in particular towards migrant populations. Humanitarian law and norms are under siege in contemporary patterns of violence. The goal of “leaving no one behind” has evacuated debates on the use of the concept of vulnerabilities as a political tool to build hierarchies within crisis-affected populations. Lastly, the localisation agenda has seen crisis-affected governments exercise a stronger grip on humanitarian activities, aligning aid with their priorities and closing civil society independent space.

In this context, the objective of this conference jointly organized by Globalisation Studies Groningen, the Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA) and the Norwegian Network on Humanitarian Studies is to unpack the political nature of the humanitarian enterprise, using the core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity as a starting point for the analysis. The even brings together scholars and practitioners to address the following questions:

  • How do changes in international and domestic politics alter humanitarian commitments?
  • How is the Agenda for Humanity’s narrative used to further political agenda?
  • What are the implications of the Agenda’s core responsibilities on the power dynamics shaping the humanitarian field ?

We welcome paper proposals addressing these questions and fitting with four overarching key themes:

  1. Humanitarian aid and/ in conflicts and urban violence: normative framing, political uses and impacts
  2. Humanitarianism under siege: nationalism, illiberal humanitarianism and humanitarian commitments
  3. Leaving no one behind and the political construction needs and vulnerability
  4. Unpacking the localization move: actors, dynamics and impacts

Interested participants are welcome to submit a 500 word abstract proposal addressing one of the above-mentioned themes. Abstracts should address the theme of the conference through a theoretical or empirical approach. Participants are encouraged to be explicit about a) the research question or problem structuring their contribution b) the theoretical framework of their analysis and c) their methodology. Abstracts should be submitted by email to humanitarian-conference@rug.nl.

The deadline for submitting paper is on January 6th. Decisions on acceptance will be made by January 10th. Draft papers are expected by March 15th.

After the conference the best papers / presentations will be selected by the organizing team for publication in a special issue of the Journal of International Humanitarian Action.

New edited volume: Status and the Rise of Brazil

Esteves, P., et al., 2020. Status and the Rise of Brazil: Global Ambitions, Humanitarian Engagement and International Challenges. London: Palgrave Macmillan

The book is edited by Paulo Esteves, Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert and Benjamin de Carvalho, and explores the evolution of Brazilian foreign relations in the last fifteen years, with a special emphasis on its engagements in international cooperation, broadly seen. The edited volume has three thematic focus areas: diplomacy, international peace and security, and international development cooperation. Drawing on a wide range of methodologies, the book presents a combination of different approaches that seek to address how Brazil’s international ambitions can be understood in the light of shifting domestic contexts; explore Brazil’s investment in different types of foreign aid, from development aid to assistance in humanitarian emergencies; and consider Brazil’s view and approaches to foreign aid, humanitarian assistance and international peacekeeping operations.

About the editors:

Paulo Esteves is Associate Professor in the Institute of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert is Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway, where she is Research Director of the Dimensions of Security Department, and Director of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS).

Benjamin de Carvalho is Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) in Oslo, Norway. 

The edited volume is an output of the BraGS project, funded by the Research Council of Norway’s LATINAMERIKA program. The BraGS project was led by Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (PRIO), including the participation of co-editors Benjamin de Carvalho (NUPI) and Paulo Esteves (IRI PUC Rio). The book includes contributions from BraGS project members Eduarda Hamann (Igarapé Institute) and Torkjell Leira (independent), as well as several other contributors.

Read more about the book here.

Humanitarian governance and localization: What kind of world is being imagined and produced?

Written by

This text first appeared on the TheGlobal and is re-posted here. The blog post draws on the introduction to a 2019 special issue on humanitarian governance by Dennis Dijkzeul and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, ‘A world in turmoil: governing risk, establishing order in humanitarian crises’ published by Disasters.

Photo: TheGlobal

Synopsis:
While localization is high on the agenda for humanitarian actors, at present, humanitarian governance does not support the localization agenda. To understand better why, we explore three issues underpinning humanitarian governance: the problem construction, consolidation and growth of the sector, and the sorting of civilians. We conclude that the localization agenda is important, but for it to succeed a fundamental change of the humanitarian system is needed.

Introduction

Humanitarian crises conjure up a specific world of urgency and emergency populated by a set of ‘doers’: international organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), heroic humanitarian workers, the military and the private sector, as well as donors. At the same time, it is well known that affected populations primarily rescue themselves, with the assistance of local civil society and host governments. Reflecting that reality, since the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, ‘localization’ of aid has become a mantra of the sector. Yet, things appear not to be going so well. In this blog we try to provide conceptual pointers for explaining why. In line with Michael Barnett’s insight that humanitarian governance voluntarily or involuntarily produces or contributes to some kind of societal order, we ask in this blog what kind of order is being imagined and produced through humanitarian governance in relation to the localization agenda.

In general, there are two versions of humanitarian governance in circulation: the narrow version is concerned with the provision of immediate relief to human suffering. This traditional humanitarianism does not attempt to politically change the world or take a position on conflicts, but instead uses the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence to gain access to people in need and alleviate their suffering. In this sense, it operates as a stopgap measure: it only addresses needs and does not judge openly the conflict that causes the suffering. The second and more extensive interpretation signifies a broader concern for human welfare and incorporates political change to address the root causes of suffering through human rights, conflict resolution, emancipatory movements, and development cooperation.

In everyday practice and discourse, both interpretations of humanitarian governance are used in parallel, which leads to confusion or disagreement about the goals and roles of humanitarian action. This also means that what we mean by localization is essentially unclear. To illuminate the implications of this discrepancy, we consider three critical issues for the localization agenda, namely: humanitarian problem construction, the consolidation and growth of the sector, and the sorting of civilians.

The paradoxes of top-down humanitarian problem constructions

Once a humanitarian emergency is declared, it then shapes not only who is supposed to act but what is supposed to be done. Humanitarian problem construction involves the conceptualization of social and political needs, crises, and risks as ‘humanitarian problems’; it also entails new and/or expanded conceptualizations of humanitarian suffering that call on humanitarians to be present on the ground with their staff, values, and toolkits; carrying with it the assumption that humanitarians and their toolkits are relevant, useful, and welcome. Underpinning and reinforcing this emphasis on emergency is the invention and promulgation of a technical vocabulary. For example, while we have now become accustomed to the use of ‘L3’ as a way of describing the worst emergencies, it is only from the introduction of ‘L’ levels in the UN humanitarian reform of 2011 that L3 has worked as a global symbol to designate the most serious level of crisis and help humanitarians create a globally stratified map of emergencies.

So far, the localization agenda has not substantially altered the conceptualization of social and political needs, nor of crises and risk. To push the localization agenda forward, humanitarian governance should pay more attention to local definitions of crises, risks and ‘appropriate’ aid, so that humanitarian problems are no longer just defined by professionals, who then control the planning and distribution of resources.

In a similar vein, we are witnessing the persistence of a classic problem of humanitarian action, namely that the humanitarian sector legitimizes its interventions by producing higher numbers of both individuals in need and concomitant funding needs to legitimate humanitarian requests and interventions. This includes, for example, the mortality surveys in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Iraq; contestations over maternal deaths; the 2005 non-famine in Niger; exaggerated population counts in refugee camps and more recently talk about ‘unprecedented numbers of refugees. This has a paradoxical effect on the humanitarian sector.

On the one hand, the very limited funding for local NGOs is also increasingly recognized as a structural impediment to localization. Data released in the 2017 Global Humanitarian Assistance report showed that funding for local NGOs stayed very low, at 0.3 per cent of tracked funding. Even when all local stakeholders are added together, including governments, they still only accounted for two per cent of funding. On the other hand, the identification of unmet needs led to continuous expansion among international NGOs, a kind of ongoing mission creep, which is an inadvertent consequence in line with the expansive nature of risk. These categories and numbers leave the humanitarian sector in the double bind that it is not doing enough while simultaneously being too expansive. In both cases, it is falling short of its own and external normative expectations. The mortality surveys in the DRC, for instance, showed a degree of suffering that was unprecedented, but also led to debates about their validity and impact as a justification for the expansion of humanitarian aid.

Consolidation and growth: where is the local?

In general, multi-mandate organizations follow the broader interpretation of humanitarian governance and thus address a broader array of problems, including the prevention of crises and linking relief and development. The presence of different interpretations of governance has not stopped and has probably facilitated the humanitarian sector’s growth and rapid consolidation over the last three decades. Overall, the humanitarian ‘industry’ handled $27.3 billion in 2016, a six per cent increase on 2015. The largest humanitarian NGOs now have thousands of employees and annual turnover of many millions of dollars. While the consolidation and growth of the humanitarian enterprise can be seen as a success story for the humanitarian industry as such, the gap between available resources and perceived humanitarian needs is portrayed as growing continually wider. Several scholars have pointed out that this endemic and multi-faceted response ‘gap’—with respect to funding, technical capacity, material goods, humanitarian access, or political will—is the product of efforts to construct (and not discover) meaning. For example, it takes analytical labor to define and construct humanitarians as ‘becoming unprepared or ‘unfit for purpose.” Humanitarian actors are apt at describing and presenting ‘gaps’ as fundamental threats to addressing needs and/or constructing a more humane world order. Once again, local perspectives on this issue require more attention.

The sorting of civilians

A final issue which affects the meaning of localization concerns the sorting of civilians, which is currently in large part shaped by considerations of risk and security as emanating from the global war on terror and extremism. In qualitative terms, not only the language used to describe the intended recipients of aid (victims, beneficiaries, communities in crisis, clients, target groups, people in need, survivors, or customers) but also the categories of protected civilians and the calculus of suffering deployed to sort and select protectable civilians are in continuous flux. Generally, the 1990s and 2000s saw a continuous expansion of legal and political victim categories, such as internally displaced person (IDPs), and this expansion continues with a discursive broadening of sexual violence as a key mode of categorizing ‘humanitarian victims’, as it happened in Bosnia and the DRC, for example.

Importantly, a countertrend that is enabled both by the risk politics of humanitarianism and the turn to technology is the parallel turn to resilience thinking and the sorting of ‘protectable’ civilians, which increasingly represents a shrinking of the categories of civilians that receive protection. In particular, resilience thinking puts the onus of responsibility for being prepared for, or able to cope with, crises more on local actors than on international ones, which can lead to a shrinking of the categories of people that receive protection or other forms of aid. Yet, when the capacities of these local actors need to be strengthened, this nevertheless leads to an expansion of capacity-building activities by international organizations involved in humanitarian work.

Conclusion

In sum, the way that humanitarian governance orders the humanitarian field in terms of problem construction, consolidation and expansion, as well as with sorting of civilians, does not yet support the localization agenda. The localization agenda is important but if it is to be taken seriously, it needs to go hand in hand with a far more fundamental change of the humanitarian system than has happened so far.

Strenghtening competencies for humanitarian negotiations

NCHS researcher Kristoffer Lidén (PRIO) participates in a professional roundtable on the development of competencies of humanitarian organizations for negotiations at the frontlines organized by the Center for Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation (CCHN) in Berlin 26-27 November. For a detailed program, with introductions to the different topics addressed, see here.

Speakers included H.E. Dr. Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Grainne Ohara, Director of International Protection, UNHCR, Rehan Asad, Chief of Staff, World Food Programme (WFP) and Claude Bruderlein, Director of CCHN. The event also featured a launch of the 2019 version of the CCHN Field Manual on Humanitarian Negotiations, which can be read here.

Antonio De Lauri to give Jorge Dias Memorial Lecture at University of Lisbon

Antonio De Lauri, Senior Researcher at CMI and co-director of the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies, is to give the Jorge Dias Memorial Lecture on 21 November 2019 at The Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas (ISCSP), University of Lisbon. The lecture is titled “Negotiated Humanitarianism: Diplomacy, Compromise and Principles in Complex Emergencies”.

Read more here.