violence

sotu2014Despite the best efforts of pundits and D.C. PR, the State of the Union address this year seemed, well, small.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t watch the speech this year – 1st time in a long time. Just wasn’t up for TV anchors’ “this is Washington’s Oscars” spin as the government’s still-mostly-men file in. (credit for video screengrab) Nor for the up-close-and-personal vignettes that pepper SOTU no less than they soon will Sochi.

As for the text of the speech itself – except for the well-deserved celebration of an end to certain health care injustices – it paled in the gloss of my high-def tablet screen.

President Barack Obama put impressive force into his demand for higher wages for Americans at the bottom of the income rung, to a reverse in the trend of growing economic inequality, to a guarantee of a good job. Impressive, that is, absent the deflating reality revealed on one’s calculator. Obama’s centerpiece solution was a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. That would bring the annual income of a person who works full-time and gets paid vacation (both unlikely, at this wage scale) to a grand total of $21,008.00. (Note that this is higher than the current income floor.) Given the high cost of living in the United States, one could almost hear the low-wage earner mutter,

‘That and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card will get me a cup of coffee.’

As the President noted, the mutterer well may be a woman. He said:

‘Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.’

Well, yes, it is, and the focus on this issue was inspiring. Or would have been, if Obama’s stated solutions – “equal sbapay for equal work,” “a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent” – weren’t as old as the women’s movement itself. (image credit) Consider this web account:

Susan B. Anthony‘s paper The Revolution, first published in 1868, advocated an eight-hour day and equal pay for equal work.’

In his speech Obama sounded an alarm about “the lives that gun violence steals from us each day,” as he has many times before. (Prior posts here, here, and here) His promise “to keep trying, with or without Congress,” served as a reminder of the difficulty of change.

“Diplomacy” was the SOTU foreign policy buzzword. That is welcome, but did not fully settle the mind given the tense nature of most of the situations mentioned – Iran, the Middle East, Afghanistan. One was struck, too, by the geographic lumping-together of our globe. Joining Africa as an apparently single-country? “The Americas.”

Let’s hope the President’s assertions of optimism prove better founded than this take on yesterday’s address.

panzaToday Catherine Samba-Panza, a businesswoman turned politician, became President of the Central African Republic. The 1st woman head of state in that country, Samba-Panza joins 2 others in Africa: President Joyce Banda of Malawi and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

The 135-member National Transitional Council chose Samba-Panza in a runoff held because none of 8 original candidates obtained a majority in the 1st round of voting. The Council voted in the wake of the January 10 resignation of Michel Djotodia, who had seized power in March 2013 and ruled as President for just under a year. In that same time frame, Samba-Panza has served as mayor of Bangui, the capital. (credit for photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP)

The new President faces immense challenges. The Séléka rebellion that brought her predecessor to power eventually morphed into protracted armed violence, between former rebels in that Muslim-led faction and Christian, “anti-Balaka” militias. These armed groups are said to have recruited upwards of 6,000 child soldiers, notwithstanding the international ban on child-soldiering. A fifth of the population – nearly a million persons – has been displaced.

The new President, described as a politically neutral Christian, addressed these troubles in her election speech:

‘I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings.’

Whether violence will abate in the Central African Republic – a situation-country of the International Criminal Court, to which thousands of U.N. Security Council-authorized international troops are now being deployed – remains to be seen.

Classroom-destroyed-300x225Percolating into global consciousness is the armed conflict that’s ravaged the Central African Republic this past year. Fighting began last December, and in March rebels entered the capital, Bangui, and ousted the President who’d ruled for 10 years, François Bozizé. A transitional government eventually was put into place. But that has not eased fighting. Just yesterday, fighting was reported in the capital following the assassination of a judge and his aide.

Estimates that “more than 1.6 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance” – nearly a third of the country’s entire population – prompted  Louise Arbour, President of the International Crisis Group and formerly the top U.N. human rights official, last week to urge the Security Council to “take decisive action.”

As in many conflicts, the months of violence have taken a severe toll on children. Underscoring this is the image with which Foreign Policy‘s Peter Bouckaert began a recent report:

‘In the schoolrooms of the northern Central African Republic (CAR), the blackboards still show dates from late March — when Seleka rebels seized power in the country and a nightmare began.’

The statement jibed with an October report by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund:

‘Seven out of 10 primary school students in the Central African Republic (CAR) have not returned to school since the conflict started in December 2012 …’

Blocking the return of children and their teachers to school: attacks, destruction, and occupation by armed groups. (credit for photo by Save the Children) Many families remain in camps like those that drew attention because of a visit by Mia Farrow, the actor who serves as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. (See the child’s drawing that Farrow posted here.)

Among the many offenses that Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, denounced in an August statement was the recruitment of child soldiers – a crime that’s reportedly doubled in the last year.

And last week, concern focused on allegations of stepped-up killings of civilians, particularly children.

Much to be discussed during the Security Council’s scheduled consideration, later this month, of the crises in the country.

john-paul-stevens2Margaret Mitchell got the Reconstruction Era all wrong. So said Justice John Paul Stevens in an address to the University of Georgia School of Law, the highlight of today’s Georgia Law Review symposium. Stevens, who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, at age 93, spoke here in Athens at the university’s Chapel, used during the Civil War as a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers – and afterward, as quarters for “Federal occupation troops.”

Stevens recalled a day in December 1939 when, as a junior in college, he and his family of Chicagoans watched the newly released adaptation of Mitchell’s epic “Gone With the Wind” from the balcony of an Atlanta theater. It was, as is well known, a Civil War story told from the perspective of a petulant, pampered, proslavery heroine, Scarlett O’Hara (below). (photo credits here and here) Stevens said that when the movie screen depicted Atlanta ablaze as a result of Union General William T. Sherman’s onslaught, the emotion of the assembled Georgians was intense. He reported:

scarlett‘I was afraid even to whisper a comment lest my accent reveal the fact that Yankees were in the audience.’

Stevens used the anecdote to introduce “Originalism and History,” the theme of his address. Resuming a refutation of originalism he had launched in 1985, in  response to a speech by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese (as I wrote in a Northwestern University Law Review article last year), Stevens stressed that “history is at best an inexact field of study, particularly when applied by judges.” For this reason, “the doctrine of original intent may identify a floor that includes some of the rule’s coverage, but it is never a sufficient basis for defining the ceiling.”

Atlanta-born Margaret Mitchell‘s version of the Civil War and its aftermath – a version that “influenced the thinking of millions of readers” – evinced sympathy for the antebellum South and hostility toward Reconstruction, Stevens said. Mitchell called the Reconstruction Republicans who controlled Georgia immediately after the war “incompetent and corrupt.” Stevens offered contrary evidence: the Reconstructionist governor reviled by Mitchell was acquitted of such charges and went on to become one of Atlanta’s leading figures, while the gubernatorial opponent whom Mitchell extolled is now believed to have been a leader in the state’s Ku Klux Klan. Uncertainty regarding that allegation served to underscore Stevens’ concern respecting judicial overuse of history:

‘The fact that the Klan’s activities were shrouded in so much secrecy has not only prevented historians from positively confirming that identification, but also explains why ambiguity characterizes so many important historical events.’

Another such event was the 1876 Presidential contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. As he had in an August essay that the New York Review of Books titled “The Court & the Right to Vote: A Dissent,” Stevens pointed to the post-election withdrawal from the South of federal troops as a pivotal moment in American history. That moment might not have occurred, or might be viewed quite differently, absent a “‘reign of terror'” that suppressed the Southern Republican electorate, white and black alike. (Stevens drew the quoted phrase from a dispatch reprinted by his former colleague, William H. Rehnquist, in Centennial Crisis (2005).)

Today’s talk then moved beyond the Reconstruction Era, encompassing jurisprudential topics as varied as the Constitution’s religion clauses, the incorporation doctrine, the desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and political gerrymandering. Discussed was the 2d Amendment right announced not long ago by a majority of the Court, as well as a same-sex sexual harassment judgment written by Stevens’ longtime sparring partner, Justice Antonin Scalia. Each example was deployed to drive home Stevens’ central point, regarding what he calls the sovereign’s duty to govern impartially: History is relevant but not dispositive. No less important to a judge construing terms like “equal protection” and “due process of law” is the contemporary social meaning of those constitutional phrases.

girlchildlogoEfforts to put an end to attacks on education receive high marks this week – especially today, the 2d annual International Day of the Girl Child, the theme for which is “Innovating for Girls’ Education.”

Just yesterday, in Resolution 2120 on Afghanistan, the U.N. Security Council focused on threats to education amid armed conflict:

Expressing its serious concern with the high number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, in particular women and children, the increasingly large majority of which are caused by Taliban, Al-Qaida and other afgviolent and extremist groups and illegal armed groups, condemning in the strongest terms the high number of attacks targeting schools, including their burning and forced closure, their use by armed groups, and the intimidation, abduction and killing of education personnel, particularly those attacks targeting girls’ education by armed groups including the Taliban ….’

It reiterated that concern in a later paragraph devoted to the harms children endure in armed conflict – a child-protection paragraph that is both welcome and new to the Council’s Afghanistan resolutions. (h/t David Koller of WatchList; credit for 2009 AP photo, above, of Afghan schoolgirl) Addressing matters outlined in the U.N. report on which I previously posted, the inclusion reflects a concerted effort by multiple U.N. entities – including the Council’s own Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict – and nongovernmental organizations – including those that form the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

fbThe education of children, particularly girls, is a goal that the International Criminal Court Prosecutor underscored in a statement she issued last year, on the 1st Day of the Girl Child. (photo credit) Speaking of her intention to continue to consider the experiences of children in and affected by armed conflict (since December, the mandate on which I have the honor of advising her), ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said:

‘The women of the future, the young girls of the world, should not be deprived of their fundamental human right to play and learn and enjoy being children.’

Giving eloquent voice to that thought earlier this week was 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, victim of an assassination attempt a year ago, in her home region in Pakistan – an attempt made because she had blogged and spoken out in favor of girls’ education. She survived and has thrived as a forceful, global advocate for this worthy cause, as recognized by her new book and her receipt yesterday of the European Union’s Sakharov Prize malalafor Freedom of Thought. In a Daily Show interview Tuesday, she spoke of some of the world’s ills – war, repression, child labor – and then concluded:

‘Issues and problems are enormous. But the solution is one. And that is education.’

child-silhouette‘There is a mile of distance between grieving for dead children and avenging those deaths through military force.
‘Furthermore, one can simultaneously express sorrow for the dead, particularly the children, and resist direct United States military intervention. This is a false choice that uses the dead children as a mask for America’s militaristic instinct, and one that I find repugnant.’

The New York Times’ Charles Blow, in an op-ed that criticizes governmental officials for singular invocations of the suffering of Syrian children as a casus belli (prior posts), even as those same officials maintain resounding silence about the suffering of other children at home and abroad – a host of ills that include malnutrition and gun violence.

unamaThe cover photo of a new U.N. report speaks a thousand words: more and more, the protracted conflict in Afghanistan is claiming children as its victims. A reader hears these running children’s screams viscerally – much as she felt viscerally the life of a photographed 8-year-old child soldier in Syria.

Sadly, this visceral impression is confirmed by the text of the 94-page Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, issued yesterday by UNAMA, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The report begins with a boy’s account of his mother’s killing in a Kabul suicide attack, then sets out grim statistics:

‘Escalating deaths and injuries to Afghan children, women and men led to a 23 percent resurgence in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. UNAMA documented 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 injuries (3,852 casualties) from January to June 2013 ….’

This growth, the report continued,

‘reverses the decline recorded in 2012, and marks a return to the high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries documented in 2011.’

Increasingly, killings caused by improvised explosive devices and gunfights affect children (up 30%) and women (up 61%). The UNAMA report stated that international forces’ handover of security responsibility to national forces had “met with increased attacks by Anti-Government Elements” –  elements to whom 3/4 of the deaths were attributed.

Other documented offenses against children included:

► Attacks on education; that is, attacks on students and their teachers, destruction or occupation for military use of school buildings

► Recruitment and use of children into the government’s armed forces and into armed anti-government groups

► Attacks on hospitals, other health-care facilities, and medical personnel

► Displacement, within or without the country

Recommended to stem this tide? Compliance by all parties with the law, including international humanitarian and human rights treaties aimed at protecting children. A simple answer, difficult to implement.

Given my interest in law and the value of peace, I read with interest the call for papers to be presented at a conference entitled “Law, Peace, and Violence: Jurisprudence and the Possibilities of Peace.”

It’ll be hosted by Seattle Journal of Social Justice on March 14, 2014, at the Seattle University School of Law in Washington state. Invoking thinkers like Thoreau and Fanon and Gandhi and King as well as scholarly colleagues like Mark Drumbl and Mary Dudziak, organizers ask a variety of intriguing questions:

► Can the law help forge a more peaceful world?books

► Do peaceful protest and rhetoric pose special hazards to vulnerable groups?

► Can we incorporate peace activism and theory into our practices and jurisprudence? Or is peaceful resistance – and even the concept of peace – anti-law?

► Is peace activism a luxury of the privileged?

Welcomed are abstracts of up to 500 words describing “traditional academic paper topics,”  as well as “abstract proposals for fiction, non-fiction, or visual art,” addressing issues related to inter alia poverty, violence, law, peace, war. Abstract deadline is September 2, 2013. Details in the full call for papers.

(hat tip to Faculty Lounge blog, with thanks to Ed Gordon)

The Section on Children and the Law of the American Association of Law Schools seeks a paper to fill out a panel on “Guns, Violence, and Children,” to be held as part of the AALS 2014 Annual Meeting, to be held January 2-5, 2014, in New York City. Organizers write:

letter‘Gun violence is a leading cause of death and injury to children, and continues to be a major risk factor to many children nationwide, whether at home or in their community. Twenty years separate the Columbine and Newtown tragedies, yet we are no closer to addressing the root causes of gun violence, particularly as it affects children. And potential causes, such as the impact of violent media and the accessibility of weapons, are hotly contested as illustrated by the recent Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchant’s Ass’n and current Congressional debates over gun regulation. Nor do we adequately understand the impact on children of witnessing gun violence. This is particularly significant in the family violence context, where children too frequently experience trauma by witnessing violence between their parents or other intimate partners, and by being harmed themselves. Topics to be addressed include the potential causes and ways to prevent gun violence by and against children, as well as the impact on children of witnessing violence.’

Section Chair Jonathan Todres of Georgia State Law will moderate. Already confirmed are the following speakers: Sarah Buel, Arizona State Law; Martin Guggenheim, New York University Law; and Ronald Sullivan, Harvard Law. An additional speaker will be selected from among those who submit in response to the call for papers.

Deadline for submissions is August 15, 2013. E-mail Section Chair-Elect Cynthia Godsoe, Brooklyn Law, at cynthia.godsoe[at]brooklaw.edu, with “CFP submission” in the subject line.

(credit for detail for 13-year-old girl’s letter to President Barack Obama)

shipsAMSTERDAM – Newly reopened following a 10-year renovation, the Rijksmuseum now tells tales of globalization. It is thus far different and more provocative than the art-house of old.

A gallery named “The Netherlands Overseas” confronts visitors with the reach of the Dutch, who established the multinational Dutch East India Co. in 1602 and ranged widely for centuries thereafter. Adorning the gallery’s walls are portraits of Dutch ambassadors. One rides horses with a pasha in Persia. Another poses in Jakarta with his half-Japanese wife. In showcases below, an array of artifacts – the blue and white porcelain renowned in China and Delft alike, woolen caps worn by Dutch whalers, silverware that once held coffee, tobacco, spices, and spirits.

Throughout the museum Java and Molucca, India and Australia, Suriname and Brazil, North and West Africa, even Norway and Sweden, are invoked. Colonization is evident, not the least in the depictions of servants, some named, some not, beside the Lowlands envoys. Also present is international law, with major treaties marked by medals and epic paintings. Marked by the rijks_camp2013roomful of model ships above, moreover, is the warfare once conducted in the name of commerce and colonialism.

It is in the 20th C. gallery atop the museum that visitors encounter another sobering aspect of world events. The striped jacket at right once was worn by Isabel Wachenheimer, a 16-year-old German whose Jewish family had sought refuge in Rotterdam from the Nazis. After the Netherlands was occupied, all  were deported to Auschwitz, where her parents perished. She would be liberated at Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria where a fifth of the inmates were teenagers. Isabel, who became a U.S. citizen in the ’60s, kept her Mauthausen jacket. It’s described in museumspeak as “Germany, after 1938. Rags printed with blue ink, plastic.”