Category Archives: Archives

Giving Visibility to the Issue of Girls in Armed Conflict

by Eduardo Sánchez

In recent decades the international community has recognized the increasing need to tackle the issues pertaining to women in war as well as those of child soldiers. However, the linkage between both issues seems to be distant at the present time. The reality is that girls participate and have participated directly or indirectly in armed conflicts, but their specific plight has not received the visibility it deserves.

Distinction must be made between those who actively participate in the frontlines of armed conflict and those who remain in the “backstage” of war. In either sense, young girls formally incorporated into the structures of warring parties as child soldiers have generally been kidnapped, forcefully recruited or coerced into joining armed groups.

Probably one of the most serious effects of being inside a conflict scenario is sexual violence, systematic and tolerated practices that mainly involve rape, forced marriages, and prostitution, among others. Forced marriages have been used to perpetuate and justify sexual violence. Young girls are also socialized and integrated into the structures of armed groups through this practice in an effort to secure their allegiance to the group’s cause and to other combatants, as well as to provide for the so-called “needs” of their male counterparts.

For those who are allowed to participate as combatants, their position will almost always be relegated to the lower ranks and will be subject to overt discrimination. However, this does not mean that they will no longer be subject to rape and harassment; the very nature of being female is almost a guarantee of suffering from sexual violence.

Nonetheless, not all impacts on these girls happen directly in the midst of the frontlines. Many of them will become part of the support structure of armed groups, performing a wide range of activities, mostly under conditions similar to forced labor.

If these girls are not killed during wartime or as a result of the abuse they are subjected to, they still must endure continued exploitation and violence inside an environment of utmost impunity.

Regrettably, these negative issues do not always end with their escape or release. By itself, reintegration of armed group members back into society can be a complicated process. Furthermore, girls who have been subjected to these forms of violence will have an even more difficult time adapting to a normal life and are usually ostracized by their families and society.

How can we overcome this problematic and redirect efforts to address the plight of young girls in armed conflict? Isolated efforts in the field of child soldiers must recognize the specific situation of females in war. Addressing the issue also means actions that recognize that girls have further needs in the strategies to avoid their recruitment as child soldiers, secure their prompt release, and aid them after they are no longer inside the ranks. Each stage requires different forms of intervention, but still with a holistic and interconnected approach.

Cruel Discrimination: No Justice for Miscarrying Salvadoran Women

by Joy Mulhollan

Pregnant women and girls in El Salvador don’t stand a chance if they’re at risk for a miscarriage or stillbirth. Especially in rural areas, women who are already in a precarious physical situation run the risk of being imprisoned due to no fault of their own. The cause is the extremely strict anti-abortion law that persists throughout the country. All abortion is illegal, regardless of the health of the mother, viability of the fetus, rape, or incest. Hospitals are no help, either. When women arrive at the public medical centers in severe pain and in the midst of a miscarriage, neither the benefit of the doubt nor even the woman’s truthful cries of exasperation are considered. The hospitals do not provide any sense of privacy for their patients and immediately alert the police. This makes seeking medical treatment during an at-risk pregnancy nothing short of a gamble. The question, “Is medical assistance worth the risk of potentially being sent to prison?” comes into play, when it really shouldn’t be a proposition on the table. Not only is the law unjust, but according to Esther Major, Amnesty International’s El Salvador expert, it is also “cruel and discriminatory.”

The first problem is with the law itself, but even setting that aside, a second problem arises when it comes to the implementation and execution of the law. The criminal justice system in El Salvador assumes the guilt of these women, whether or not they had an abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth. There is no attention paid to either the testimony of the woman or medical evidence. Major also says, “Women and girls end up in prison for being…simply tragically unable to carry the pregnancy to term.” Out of an effort to save face and prove a hardline stance on abortion, these women are being unjustly imprisoned by El Salvador’s criminal justice system.

For example, Glenda Xiomara Cruz entered a hospital for treatment for a miscarriage. Four days later she was charged with aggravated murder, implying that she intentionally caused harm to the fetus. Although the prosecution wanted to sentence her with forty years, the judge only mandated ten years, stating that she should have done something to save the baby’s life. A woman known by her first name, Beatriz, presents another interesting case. Pregnant and suffering from lupus, she petitioned the government to allow her to have an abortion seeing as her health was rapidly deteriorating and that the fetus suffered severe malformations and would not survive outside the womb. Twenty-two years old, Beatriz gave birth at 27 weeks. The baby survived for but a few hours. When the justice system assumes guilt, it does not provide for the women who are indeed telling the truth regarding the terminations of their pregnancies. Innocent women are caught in the crossfire, injustice indiscriminately thrown down by the courts.

There is one lawyer, however, who has chosen to represent 29 out of the 49 women convicted of abortion in 2011. Of Dennis Munoz Estanley’s 29 clients, 28 miscarried and have been run over by the justice system. Even though the international community attempted to intervene and condemned the judge’s actions during the case of Beatriz, it appears that justice for women who miscarry in El Salvador will not be a reality until the anti-abortion law is amended.

Justice: Blind or Blindered?

by Amy Clark

“The moral arc of the universe,” opined Martin Luther King, Jr., “bends at the elbow of justice.” His words evoke a powerful image, reflective of an imperative that has shaped the interrelationships of humans throughout the course of history. Philosophers and statesmen from Plato, Aristotle, and Mahatma Gandhi to Washington, Jefferson, and Churchill have waxed poetic about the concept. Its impulse and aspired-to equality of application are foundational to many national and international constitutions and charters.

Symbols of justice, often in the form of Lady Justice (Justicia, Iusticia, or predecessor goddesses), adorn public spaces and courthouses around the world. The Lady stands regal, scale in hand in demonstration of a fair balancing of interests. She wields a double-edged sword, indicative of the equal enforcement of her rulings, often wearing a blindfold, representative of her impartiality or lack of prejudice.

Though much of the timeless discourse and symbolism relate to justice as a matter of state, to be meted out by government, it is inextricably linked to societal norms, dictated and administered by individuals and groups at the grassroots level as well. As Plato observed: “Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.” It would seem irrefutable, therefore, that justice is a pivotal moral construct upon which every aspect of society and its governance must hinge.

And yet, as with so many humanitarian aspirations, justice is hardly universal in its definition and application. What is it? For whom is it? By whom is it to be delivered? Is it simply a matter of constitutional, statutory, common or tribal law; produced and enforced by those who are not always clothed, as our dear Lady, in the raiment of due process and impartiality? Is it relative, situational, and subjective, as evidenced when people are detained outside of the protections of due process by reason of inopportune geographic migration; when subsistence farmers are left withering on the vine of transitional justice, awaiting court settlements in land grabbing disputes; when one social group retaliates in
eye-for-an-eye kind against another, for the oppression and ravage visited upon its people?

By what logic can we be expected to navigate according to the natural law of justice, then, if the needle of its moral compass fails to fix upon a single guiding principle? For those of us who toil in its worthy traces, we should ask: “Just how broad is the arc of our moral vision?” Are we blindered, as the plow horse, to that which lies beyond the periphery of our own perceptions, or are we able to envision the broader expanse between relative and universal justice, understanding that objective and effort must sometimes be transitory? Perhaps with de Montesquieu’s admonition in mind, we may be compelled to see past our own blind spots, striving to avoid imposition of a cruel tyranny, which too often is “perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”

Transformation of the Culture of Justice in Russia: The Pussy Riot Case

By Kirill Prudnikov

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a jailed member of the punk band Pussy Riot, has launched a hunger strike to protest against dehumanizing living conditions in the prison where she is serving her two-year sentence. It has been a year since Tolokonnikova was convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for Pussy Riot’s performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February of last year. The group, wearing balaclavas, sang a song calling on the Virgin Mary to “kick out Putin,” and three of them were arrested and later convicted. The conviction of Pussy Riot raises a question of the current state and understanding of justice in Russia.

In order to understand the transformation of the notion of justice in Russian society we need to introduce the concept of culture of justice, that overcomes the dichotomy between Rawls’ “Threefold Reflective Equilibrium of Justice,” and Hayek’s critique formulated as “The ‘Mirage’ of Social Justice.” The culture of justice is a complex of facts, which formulates a set of factors by which a specific community formulates the idea of ​​justice, or better how a community makes meaning of justice. This combination of factors allows us to say that there is no universal principle of justice, and that the notion of justice is always instantiated in certain cultural communities. Among these factors we can list literature, religion, philosophy and science: These are all symbolic systems in which members of the cultural community form their notions of justice and considerations of fairness. However, it does not mean that these cultures exist separately; they are permeable to each other.

So how we can formulate the current culture of justice in Russian society? For the first time in history Russians constitute a majority of the country in which they live. This ethnic domination caused the reinterpretation of the historical role of Russians, and as a result it led to a nationalization of Russian society, and returning to the “traditional cultural values.” These traditional values are highly based on the synergy of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Government. This synergy leads to a creation of a new quasi culture of justice that combines religious justice with criminal justice. Here we have to say that an Orthodox concept of justice is different from a Catholic and a Protestant one. For Catholicism, and to a greater extent for the Protestant, a concept of justice emerges as the concept of a fair penalty for certain sins. The concept of justice has a clear legal context. The Orthodox theology’s idea of sin and deliverance from sin is rather similar to the notion of recovery, or a process of healing and overcoming the disease; it is not a punishment, not a legal case. Therefore the synergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Government created a culture of justice where a sin is equal to a crime, and it can be punished through legal structures.

We can see this synergic culture of justice in the case of Pussy Riot. The case of Tolokonnikova has nothing to do with a legal justice; it is rather a recovery through suffering and self-cleaning. The question is what kind of sin have they committed (it is obvious that the “punk prayer” is not a crime, but a sin)? The answer lies in the symbolic meaning of the “punk prayer.” The girl’s band entered a metaphysical, sacred space dominated by men. Lionel Tiger in his Men in Groups (1969) said that social inequality and social injustice lies in men’s nature to create secret societies, and exercise power through them by monopolizing the information. Thus, Pussy Riot’s sin is that they challenged the culture of social inequality and social injustice dominated by the synergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Government. They committed a sin-crime against the information monopoly of the Church-Government, and were punished by men both on the legal and religious levels.

The Pussy Riot example illustrates a new trend in the culture of justice in Russia that combines both religious and criminal justice, and equalizes a sin and a crime on metaphysical, religious, and cultural levels.

After the Election is Before the Election: Cambodia’s Election and the Legacy of the Khmer Rouge

By Alexandra Amling

Justice has come a long way in Cambodia. Whether one is a victim of the Khmer Rouge, land grabbing, forced eviction or arbitrary detention and violence by police forces, it all lead’s to  Cambodia’s troubled past which resulted in the one-party rule of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) which leaves no room for greater civil society participation and open discourse. His total disregard for the opposition’s complaints and frustration and his willingness to rule without consent has culminated in widespread violence in post-election Cambodia in the past couple of weeks.

In fact, Cambodia has all the ingredients for a toxic cocktail of instability and fragmentation: Capital flight, no middle class with purchasing power, fragmentation within its party, aid dependency, disenfranchised youth in desperate need of higher wages and job prospects, a growing number of HIV/AIDS orphans, land grabbing, a growing sex industry in which poverty feeds the human-trafficking machine, an ever-growing garment industry whose only incentive is to perpetuate cheap low-skilled labor, and international condemnation for post-election violence, corruption, and an apparent lack of support for the war crimes tribunal display the reciprocal relationship between direct and structural violence which has been a reality for Cambodian society for decades.

What is worrisome is that some aspects of the current situation are reminiscent of Cambodia’s violent past. Societal, economic, and political disenfranchisement was pivotal for the rise of the Khmer Rouge. This is not to downplay the role of the U.S. in Cambodia but to this day, power relations are defined along the lines of patron-client mechanisms, which has made nepotism a systemic problem and (again) allows for a small elite to rule and benefit from the economy. Cambodia has become entrapped in a vicious downward spiral of foreign aid dependency and labor market demands which ostensibly promote structural adjustments for the betterment of Cambodia but societal cohesion is limited to the extent that the government feels responsible for its citizens. The vertical fragmentation has gradually led to a horizontal fragmentation, eroding the base for a social equilibrium in which civil society can gain back public spaces. The social fabric has to succumb to a network of government officials and private capital affiliated with Hun Sen, who is determined to stay in power until he turns 74.

The narrow but common view of elections as an all-time remedy for post-war reconstruction neglects the fact that social injustice does not end with the end of physical violence. Conflicts of interests are still prevalent in modern Cambodia and the dominance and almighty power of Hun Sen and his entourage is proof of that. His gloomy evocation of a return to Khmer Rouge-like violence and civil war demonstrates ignorance of Cambodia’s economic hardship and problematic coming to terms with the past which he himself has tried to torpedo in the past. A chronically underfunded tribunal and elections alone will not bring justice to Cambodia.

How a Group of Women Successfully Led to Military Reform in Russia

By Kirill Prudnikov

Private Andrey Sychyov, a 19 year old soldier, was forced to squat for four hours with his hands tied behind his back while his fellow colleagues brutally raped and beat him. As a result, he suffered leg fractures, which subsequently led to amputation. The Sychov case was one of many in the Russian military that has been brought to public attention by the women-led NGO Union of Soldiers Mothers Committees of Russia (CSMR).

The Russian military system is in urgent need of reform as it has become dangerous for soldiers’ health and lives to defend their own country. Gen. Alexander Sorochkin, head of the Military Investigation Department at Russia’s Investigation Committee, reported that more than 5000 crimes related to subjection of juniors in Russian army were committed by soldiers in the first half of 2012. In addition, the Defense Ministry reported a total of 149 Russian soldiers committed suicide from January to November of 2009. According to the Rossiyskaya Gazeta [Russian Newspaper] most of the suicides were committed because of a spectrum of subordinating and humiliating activities and legally defined as “incitement to commit suicide.” However, the official statistics do not reflect the real numbers because military officers are threatening soldiers and ordering doctors to keep silent in order to hide most of the cases from the Military Investigation Department. Young soldiers defending the country are constantly threatened by violence coming from their fellow peers. Russia’s military needs reform, but making it happen won’t be easy.

It is women, and particularly CSMR, who should lead the Russian military reform. The only role the Russian government saw for women’s participation in war was the sacrifice of their husbands, boyfriends and sons. Women were frustrated with an exclusive role of soldiers’ mothers, “producing” children in order to replace the soldiers killed in Chechnya. In order to empower themselves these mothers created an NGO that focused on peace-building efforts and used a bottom-up approach in ceasefire negotiations and prisoner exchanges. CSMR’s volunteers – mostly elderly women, entered rebel-controlled areas and established contacts with village elders and rebel commanders. Their “straightforward” approach helped to organize massive prisoner exchanges and secured release of captured Federal soldiers and officers. Moreover, their efforts during the Chechen war helped them to gain the trust and support from all levels of Russian society.

I believe that CSMR has enough experience and support to end the humiliating activities performed by the senior ranks, address the militarizing of the justice system, and assist civil control over the military and legislation. If CSMR changed their agenda to lobbying for military reform, they would not just stop the violence in the military but also empower themselves through political participation. The Soldiers Mothers Committees of Russia has pushed Russians to confront their armed services on the democratic basis of military law – an action utterly unthinkable a few years ago.

EU: The Board Room Should Stay a Boy’s Club

By Omar Salem

On September 17, 2012, nine EU member-states signed a letter to the European Commission in opposition to a proposed law that would mandate that women occupy 40% of seats on corporate supervisory boards by 2020. Proponents of the law say the mandate is a necessary change and that there is no time like the present. The opposition argues that the European Commission vowed not to increase economic regulation following the recession in 2008 and that the mandate would constitute a burdensome regulation. Others argue the law tarnishes the merits of those (women or men) that have progressed to such positions without a mandate and the new regulation would lead to “tokenism.”

I have always been an advocate of increasing the amount of women in leadership roles in both public and private sectors—especially in the “progressive” countries of the West. Apparently some in the EU feel the same; Viviane Reding, the vice president of the European Commission, has been the main proponent of the law which would apply to all companies with over 250 employees and annual sales of $63 million or higher. After years of attempting to increase the amount of women in leadership roles through giving voluntary incentives to corporations, the EU has had little success in doing so. The U.K., one of the law’s main opponents, has touted its two percent increase in women executives this year—now at 15.6—as a monumental success. I find that laughable, at best.

There is a need for women at the top of the business world, and those arguing that the mandate would create greater “burdensome regulation” for European companies in a time of recession are the same men who, in many ways, created the circumstances for the recession to occur. Increasing women’s roles as corporate executives should be seen as a welcome change, not a burden.

The argument that most upset me was that mandating companies to hire women executives would diminish the merits of other executives. A female writer infuriated me, saying “if we are taking these seats for anything other than merit, it subtracts any pride that the promotion to that position should have.” Her argument invokes imagery of EU politicians swooping uneducated women out their kitchens, slapping the name “CEO” on them and tossing them in the back of the board room to stay quiet. The fact that one (man or woman) is considered for an executive position should be a source of pride by itself. In a world where women have the odds stacked against them, the women who comprise the mandated 40% will have been educated, successful and hardworking before even being considered for the position. I say it’s time to stack the odds just a little more in the favor of women.

Although no one is arguing that there is not a need for more female executives—at least publicly—the ardent opposition to the law, coupled with bad arguments against it, makes me think that the boy’s club that leads these countries’ corporations wants its board rooms to stay just that, a boy’s club.

Outrage over violence in Syria

By Raymond Aycock

This morning I read the news of the Houla massacre in Syria while surrounded by shoppers taking advantage of Memorial Day sales at vintage clothing stores. It was a bit surreal, but not all that surprising given the news that frequently comes out of Syria these days. Then I saw the pictures of children, with the caveat that the content might be a bit graphic. Children with their throats cut, with obvious signs that they had urinated on themselves. Perhaps most shocking, the pictures were accompanied by the accusations that they had been systematically slaughtered by armed militias loyal to the Assad regime.

For the next few hours I was consumed by the story and could not stay away from Twitter and Google news feeds. I was brought to tears by some accounts of the horrific attack on innocent children, and outraged by the seemingly benign and broad statements made by the UN and other voices in the international community regarding this tragedy. However, by the time dinner was ready to be served I had re-tweeted enough to soothe the anger enough so that I could enjoy a meal with friends and family on this holiday weekend. I did not forget the incident and I vented to several people throughout the course of the evening, but there were other topics, ideas, and conversations that also captured my attention as the hour grew later. It is in the silence and solitude after a long day that the massacre at Houla refuses to let me sleep.

I wonder how long it will be before I move on to something else? It is no longer a trending topic on the news feeds, so even at this moment I have to make a little more effort to search for new reports about what is happening on the ground in Syria. When I wake up tomorrow and some other story is featured on Twitter will I make any effort to ensure that those silent bodies lined up in rows on the ground in Houla will still be noticed? I am reminded of a brief but brilliant flash of activism for a campaign known as Kony2012. It has all but disappeared from the media platforms that it overwhelmed earlier this year. A brief moment of outrage, then it faded into archives and academic discussions. I feel like those murdered children in Syria deserve more than passing recognition, but I admit I am unsure how to sustain my observation of this situation.

At this moment, at this hour, awake and still very deeply disturbed, I feel strongly that I will follow the news and will watch and listen, with critical thinking, to what is being said and done with regards to the killing of innocents in Syria. I hope that in a few days this moment will still be strong enough to pull me back to the injustice that I am angry about. and that no matter the trending news I will still be searching for accountability and answers to the massacre of innocents that occurred today in Houla, Syria.

As Nations, we are NOT United

By Pushpa Iyer

The news out of Syria yesterday has been too much for me to take. It is not possible to see pictures of dead children, babies really, and not have my core belief in humanity badly shaken.

Reports say that of those killed, in what is now known as the Houla massacre, over 30 were children. They were stabbed, shot or bludgeoned to death with blunt objects. One must pity the human beings that actually stabbed, shot or bludgeoned a child to death. Really, they have to be past redemption, so twisted that they deserve nothing else but our pity.

My condemnation is reserved for the powers that are: especially the members of the security council of the UN; for the slow response of countries in the Middle East and the US in taking a stand against the violence in Syria. Seriously, this level of violence has been going on for over a year in the country! I condemn countries like Russia and China who vetoed any UN intervention in Syria because they felt the proposals did not balance out and penalise the opposition forces in Syria for using brutal force. They are right and maybe even more justified in fearing any kind of ‘humanitarian’ intervention given the tragedies of the ongoing ‘intervention’ in Iraq. However, what do they propose as a solution? Why do nation states not give a thought to what happens to the mandate of the UN every time we have one country oppose a UN led action or worse, when member countries pursue their own agenda in spite of UN principles? Is this not ‘our’ world and do we not all have a responsibility in ensuring the world is a more peaceful place?

The UN is based on a principle of collaboration. But, collaboration is not something nation states value today unless it economically benefits the collaborators. The UN, I am sure, was a wonderful idea post World War II. A league of newly formed nation states all of whom went through the horrors of war and depression. Today, that shared horror of experiencing violence is gone and somehow some nations have ‘become’ superior to others. Is not collaborating with member states of the UN the best way to show hegemonic power?

When nation states fail to put on a united front through the UN, it simply means we have to accept that each nation knows best how to deal with their internal problems. Obviously, we know the consequences of such an approach. Maybe it is not the right mechanism or maybe it needs total revamping to deal with established nation states; states that have developed ‘histories’ since their formation post World War II. They are no longer fledgling states that require UN guidance. Maybe we need some other mechanism to empower all states enough so that communication amongst them can happen without anyone feeling threatened; maybe we need to focus on mechanisms through which hegemonic powers are curtailed. We need to start thinking what these institutions might be and what they might look like. Hopefully we create or transform existing institutions into ones that seek mitigation and management of violence and are not so arrogant as to aim for resolution of ‘other’ people’s conflicts.

I am outraged by the news from Syria. The UN and the international community has failed us so many times. How many more babies need to die for us to respond collectively seeking an end to violence?

Women in the Military: A Minority within a Minority

By Lynn Slaughter-Naves

Women in the U.S. military are a minority within a minority. Less than 1% of Americans are in the military, and of the 21.9 million U.S. military veterans a mere 1.5 million are women.That means under 7% of veterans are female. In my opinion, women are missing a great opportunity by foregoing the option of military service. Society as a whole could benefit from more women in the military ranks.

It goes without saying that the military has always been a male-dominated profession.This leads to a skewed perspective of the military by civilian women because no one talks about what the military is like for them and why they join. While war is traditionally seen as the realm of men, peace is seen as the domain of women; yet women in the military turn this idea upside down. It is not that women in the military are unfeminine: they are just as varied as they are elsewhere. Yet the stereotype is that females in the military must be “masculine”. While the military is still very much a “boy’s club”, it has become much more open to women in the past few decades.

For some, joining the military is about patriotism, for others it is mercenary, but for many it is a little of both. Many people join the military because it provides them with a decently paying job, health coverage, guaranteed food and housing, and educational benefits. For economically disadvantaged women, it provides stability and a chance to go to school, something that in this day and age is more of a necessity than an option if you want to be able to support yourself.This opportunity for independence has a steep price, though, since the military essentially owns you, and you can get sent to a war zone if your unit is called up. For women in the military, especially those with children, it can be difficult to maintain a balance between their professional careers and personal lives. When you are in the military, the mission comes first and your personal life must be second. For women who stay in the military long-term, personal sacrifice is inevitable.

Many people are not entirely comfortable with the idea of a woman in uniform, and fear that women will “get hurt”. The irony is that while the military is a tough place, women in society face similar (or worse) challenges. Women in the military, while not immune to mistreatment, are trained to withstand intimidation.These experiences are trying, but they come out of it much tougher and less likely to allow themselves to be bullied. Women are so often forced into a passive role, forced to play the “damsels in distress” waiting for someone to come along and make our lives better. But real life is not like that, and we must take every opportunity we can. Women in the military, as a minority within American society, owe it to themselves and to women in general to share their experiences and bring recognition to their share in serving this country.