Social Justice & Social Networking

February 7th, 2014

Students, alum and faculty braved the snow Wednesday evening and gathered with anticipation to hear ‘DEIS Impact keynote address, “Africa Rising: The Mandela Legacy & the Next Generation of African Leadership.” Continuing the legacy of their grandfather, Kweku Mandela-Amuah and Ndaba Mandela spoke of Africa Rising, which seeks to publicize the positive image of Africa. Kweku and Ndaba spoke of youth empowerment, the contagious potential of ideas, and inherent risk in truly striving for social justice.

 

Prof. Chad Williams, Chair of the Afro and African American Studies Department, moderates a Q&A with 'DEIS Impact keynote speakers Ndaba Mandela and Kweku Mandela-Amuah.

Prof. Chad Williams, Chair of the Afro and African American Studies Department, moderates a Q&A with ‘DEIS Impact keynote speakers Ndaba Mandela and Kweku Mandela-Amuah.

 

Praising Brandeis student body’s unique commitment to social justice, Kweku stressed that it is our inevitable failure in the struggle for social justice that makes it such a unique and meaningful burden to undertake. He emphasized that despite the inherently elusive goal of a just society ‘DEIS Impact is the essential embodiment of intent that drives our ideas forward. In this way, ‘DEIS Impact is, “the best of who we are and are inspired to be.” Kweku concluded by reiterating that true change requires risk, fearlessness, and action.

Ndaba Mandela balanced the crushing challenges Africa faces with the enormous natural strengths it possesses as a continent. In Ndaba’s view, the diversity of Africa’s fifty-four nations does not detract from its ability and necessity to unite. The African Dream must rise above and over power the global perspective of an Africa teeming with war, dictators, and poverty. Ndaba called for Brandeis to mobilize against injustice locally by holding our own Mandela Day to celebrate public service. Ndaba left us with the words of his grandfather, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

Following the Mandela’s words of inspiration I went home and logged on to mandelaproject.com for a taste of social justice networking. I was intrigued by the unexpected combination of Brandeisians’ two favorite pastimes – Facebook and social activism. The Mandela Project seeks to be a sounding board of inspiration where global citizens share their hopes for Africa and the world. The site immediately offered to transfer my Facebook information into their platform where I then received an automated welcome message from Ndaba Mandela himself. A Facebook-meets-Tumblr coated in Nelson Mandela’s face it’s certainly a unique take on honoring Mandela’s legacy. However, this marriage of the Internet and political activism seems a natural following the integral role of social media in the Arab Spring. While I don’t anticipate transferring my communications to Mandela Project I do believe it represents an inevitable shift towards online political organizing. As Ndaba and Kweku continue to experiment at the vanguard of youth organizing I can only hope they find a way to transfer the time and mental energy poured into social media towards collective action for a better world.

‘DEIS Impact continues at Brandeis through Monday February 10. The full schedule is here, the Facebook page is here, and videos are here.

- Mia Katan ‘15


Getting To Know The Ethics Center

January 24th, 2014

What is the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life? Can you give a clear, comprehensive explanation about what the Ethics Center is? Prior to accepting a position on the Ethics Center Leadership Council last June, I sure couldn’t.

 

It’s easy to become involved with the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.  The Center is incredibly multifaceted in its programming and offers plentiful leadership opportunities for both students and professionals alike. On the other hand, however, it’s also really easy to involve one’s self with a specific program and forget to take advantage of the other areas the Center has to offer.

 

The Ethics Center is such a multifaceted organization that coming up with one, comprehensive explanation about the inner workings of the Center is really difficult.  The official mission of the Ethics Center is “to develop effective responses to conflict and injustice by offering innovative approaches to coexistence, strengthening the work of international courts, and encouraging ethical practice in civic and professional life.”

 

You can read all about the six guiding principles of the center, “an international focus,” “the public square,” “across the disciplines,” “a bridge between scholarship and practice,” “the perspective of the arts,” and “connections to communities” right here.

 

As a Politics major, the international justice programming acted as a catalyst that inspired me to become involved with the Ethics Center.  When I came to Brandeis as a midyear freshman last winter, I was immediately drawn to ‘DEIS Impact.  Judy and Eliza Dushku, who founded THRIVE Gulu—an nonprofit organization based in Gulu, Uganda that aids Ugandans in healing from various traumas by enhancing their self-sufficiency and self-esteem—gave the Keynote Address. Hearing their inspirational stories ignited a fire that ultimately led me to apply for the ECLC.

 

After learning more about the Ethics Center as an ECLC member, I became intrigued by Peacebuilding and the Arts and Campus Programming. As a Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies minor, promoting peace by means of creating art was really inspirational to learn about. And regarding campus programs, who doesn’t want a $4000 grant to carry out humanitarian work anywhere in the world?!

 

For me, the most rewarding part about being involved in the Ethics Center is having access to an incredible network of motivated students and faculty who are all working to promote justice and better the world. Whether it’s learning about student initiatives to promote peace by creating art, reading the work of international judges discussing contemporary issues in international justice, or speaking with Sorensen Fellows who just came back from a summer-long fully funded internship abroad, I am constantly in awe of the resources and programming offered through the Ethics Center.

 

Starting this February 1, the Ethics Center is sponsoring ‘DEIS Impact 2014, a weeklong festival of social justice. Rumor has it, Nelson Mandela’s grandsons will be speaking at the keynote address! Be sure to check out the schedule of events for a complete breakdown of the entire festival!

 

If you’d like to become involved in the Ethics Center, please check out our upcoming events. We’d love to see you there!

 

-Talia Lepson, ’16


International Justice 101

November 12th, 2013

Brandeis provides several avenues for undergraduates to get a taste of international law. Students have unique access to a variety of opportunities from a semester-long immersion to a three day internship. Whether living in Europe or interning in Africa is your style there are resources at Brandeis to help you get there. Check out how you can get involved below!

#1. Brandeis in The Hague

From biking cobblestone streets and shopping at farmer’s markets to tulips and canals the Netherlands is possibly the most amiable country in which to learn about crimes against humanity. The Brandeis in the Hague Program offers students the opportunity to spend their Spring semester or summer immersing themselves in international justice. Students gain hands on experience by visiting tribunals, participating in mock trials, and interning at prestigious institutions. Past internships include: the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Court, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and various defense teams for leaders convicted of war crimes. Approximately 10-15 rising First-years, Sophomores, and Juniors are accepted each year.

Several students have chosen to complement the Hague Program with a second study abroad experience in countries such as Brazil, Senegal, and Uganda. The Brandeis in the Hague Program offers an incredible opportunity for students to immerse themselves in international criminal law while living and traveling in Europe.

Here’s The Hague program website for more info: http://www.brandeis.edu/abroad/brandeisprograms/hague/index.html

Click here to learn about student internships in The Hague:

http://www.brandeis.edu/now/2013/may/internationalcourt.html

http://www.brandeis.edu/now/2013/april/hague.html

#2. Sorensen Fellowship

Have a particular project or organization you’re passionate about? Consider applying for the Sorenson Fellowship next year. Sophomores and juniors selected receive a $4000 stipend for a summer internship. ($3500 for domestic internships.) After returning to campus, students take a course to reflect and publish an article based on their experience. The Sorensen Fellowship offers an incredible opportunity to intern domestically or abroad in an area of interest and a holistic approach of both pre-departure preparation and post-internship reflection.

Learn more about the Sorensen Fellowship at:

http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/atbrandeis/sorensenfellowship/index.html

For an example of how this fellowship can lead to a future career in international law check out Daniel Koosed’s (’08) reflections on his internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania as a Sorensen Fellow:

http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/pdfs/ecsf/ecsf2007_Koosed.pdf

#3. Brandeis International Institute for Judges

Students looking to get a glimpse of how the international judiciary functions can apply through a competitive process to intern at the annual Brandeis International Institute of Judges, held every 18 months. Interns have the opportunity to document the conference and help it run smoothly. The BIIJ is attended by judges serving on international courts and tribunals from across the globe. Past interns have greatly appreciated the experience to interact with professionals in the field.

Check out this link for more information on BIIJ:

http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/internationaljustice/biij/index.html

Click here to read the BIIJ interns’ reflections on their experience:

http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/internationaljustice/biij/2013/InternThoughts.html#expandcollapse

Need more?

Subscribe to the newsletter International Justice in the News published by the Ethics Center:

http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/internationaljustice/internationaljusticeinthenews.html


Defined Terms (should) lead to Definitive Action

April 11th, 2011

Kate Alexander

This past year, the international judicial community has made huge strides in combatting terrorism and aggression of nations by finally agreeing to definitions for these terms. The difficulty and significance of nations agreeing to definitions for terrorism and aggression should not be underestimated.

These definitions, in no uncertain terms, were agreed upon by states from a variety of cultural, political and economic backgrounds, and bind the conduct of their states to definitions they agreed upon. These definitions will create more opportunities for nations to be held accountable for crimes that fall within the agreed-upon definition of these terms. I applaud the diplomats involved.

 

So, what are these definitions? Let’s take a look!

  1. Aggression, which was defined at the Rome Conference in July 2010 that reviewed the work of the International Criminal Court, is the following: the use of armed force by one State against another State without the justification of self-defense or authorization by the Security Council. The definition of the act of aggression, as well as the actions qualifying as acts of aggression contained in the amendments (for example invasion by armed forces, bombardment and blockade), are influenced by the UN General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974.

 

  1. Terrorism, which was defined clearly for the first time in a recent decision by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, is: the perpetration of a criminal act (such as murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, arson, and so on), or threatening such an act; (ii) the intent to spread fear among the population (which would generally entail the creation of public danger) or directly or indirectly coerce a national or international authority to take some action, or to refrain from taking it; (iii) when the act involves a transnational element.

 

To be fair, definitions have not always worked in the past. Genocide is the clear example, they don’t always provide an impetus for action (Sudan) or the word becomes so associated with necessary action that there is an extreme avoidance of using the word despite the fact that it is the only term to describe a given situation (Rwanda).

The benefit of these terms, however, is that it gives those who draft international covenants, conventions, treaties, and all the rest of that documentation, a clear framework for addressing key issues in international law and politics.

 


The Mad Dog of the Middle East biting his own people!

March 16th, 2011

Tenzing Yonten Sherpa

Following the successful uprisings in Tunisia and then Egypt, on February 15, 2011, protests in Libya escalated into widespread uprising and by the beginning of March, civilians and the government opposition rebels had taken control of significant parts of the country including major cities like Misurata and Benghazi. The people of Libya took this opportunity to end Muammar Gaddafi’s forty-two year tyranny and pave a new path for Libya. The anti-Gaddafi rebels also formed the National Transitional Council, which provided to be the “political face of the revolution”. Support from the international community has been expressed and on March 10th, the French government recognized the council as the official government of Libya. However, most of this support has been passive.

Since the beginning of March, forces loyal to Gaddafi have gone on an offensive against the ill equipped rebels and regained many of the cities that were under temporary rebel control. In this process, Al Jazeera has reported that there has been anywhere from 1000 – 6500 casualties, including many civilians. As a part of the Gaddafi’s offensive, he has ordered fighter jets to bomb the protestors and rebels in Tripoli! This is really shocking and shows how ruthless Gaddafi is and his complete disregard for human life. Blinded by his thirst to hold on to power and not give the people of Libya the freedom they seek, he ordered more bombings of protestors. Lately, two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots have defected and have flown their jets to Malta where they have reconfirmed to the Maltese authorities that they had been ordered to bomb the protestors, including civilians.

Military planes attacking unarmed civilians are definitely a crime against humanity. Reports from within Libya indicate that the civilians are frightened and are pleading for international help. When will this world ever learn to take the appropriate actions in the hour of need? Will we never learn from the catastrophic yet most preventable events of Rwanda and Sudan? The National Transitional Council have already made it clear to the international community that it would accept help in terms of air and sea support but without the physical military intervention on Libyan soil. My question is what are we waiting for? This indecisiveness of the international community is costing lives by the day within Libya, while the rest of the world still keeps debating as to what actions they are going to implement. One could debate about a violation of their sovereignty and self-determination, but the opposition, the National Transitional Council seems to have the majority of support from the masses and have certain parts of the country under their control. Therefore, I am bewildered as to why there is no proactive action taken by the world when the rebels, representing majority of Libyan citizens, have already pleaded for help.

I believe it is high time that we as an international community come together to strengthen the structure that is in place to respond to crimes against humanity and to protect the lives of innocent civilians from despots and regimes that have no regard for their own people. The line has to be drawn somewhere based on our moral responsibility to protect and I believe that Muammar Gaddafi and the forces loyal to him have far surpassed that line and immediate actions are in dire need.

 


Making the Connection: International Justice and Genocide

March 7th, 2011

Kate Alexander

Throughout my high school and college experiences, I’ve worked with groups that want to end rape as a weapon of war in the Congo or stop the genocide in Darfur. So why is it that only in the past year or so have I heard about international tribunals? I am fairly well versed in work being done to end genocide and promote human rights thanks to my experiences with various non-profits, but somehow the actual work being done by tribunals is largely unheard of outside of lecture halls, where even then mention of the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice is relatively rare.

In many organizations working to do things like end genocide, a goal inextricably linked to the success of international criminal tribunals, there is virtually no movement whatsoever to rally behind these tribunals. What is going on here? The legacy of “Never Again” isn’t just a phrase that was uttered to end battles, it was uttered to deter battles from ever happening again. That deterrence will be achieved when the people who might commit human rights abuses know that they will be held accountable for their actions. But being held accountable for their actions can only happen if the people who rally behind the words “Never Again” also rally behind the Genocide Convention and work being done in these tribunals to convict the guilty on charges of genocide.

Raphael Lemkin, the author of the Genocide Convention, is one of my personal heroes. He would run through the halls of the newly constructed United Nations, temporarily located in San Francisco, screaming at delegates “You and I! We’re going to change the world!” That kind of passion for ending genocide is something that I see every day in the eyes of activists, but what I don’t see is the connection to and passion for justice as a means to see the dreams of a peaceful international society achieved.

After World War II, we would never have accepted the idea that Hitler and his compatriots could walk away from the ghettos, the concentration camps, and their millions of victims without punishment. So why are so many organizations not linking war to justice now?

What I think is happening is that the work of the courts is perceived as being dry. With the victims cleaned up and the perpetrators unarmed, it seems like the battle is over and there is less humanity to relate to and rally behind. However, anyone who has ever seen a video or read a transcript from these proceedings will know differently. Stories of victims told in business attire are no less horrifying than stories gathered by reporters during the battle.

When people stop dying, the battle isn’t over or won. When people stop dying, the world might be faced with hundreds of thousands of victims and the people responsible for the war. What do these groups who seek to end genocide do when the arms are put down? In my opinion, the next action they must take is to give closure to the global society, to themselves, to the victims, and to the perpetrators of gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. This closure can be achieved through supporting the work of fair international judicial proceedings that promote the words of Lemkin and other authors of humanitarian law conventions. That closure can be achieved through international justice.


Proposed National Budget Cuts: The Fight for Foreign Aid

February 17th, 2011

Kate Alexander

Today, February 16th, marks a new level of irresponsible Congressional spending, just not in the way it is typically criticized. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a series of cuts to the National Budget that focus in on international humanitarian policies of the United States. While many Americans, and maybe their Representatives, believe that U.S. foreign aid is a high percentage of our national spending, it actually accounts for less than 1% of our budget, but that less than 1% betters the lives of millions around the world, making the world a safer place for everyone and every nation, including the United States. According to Representative Steve Rothman (D- N.J.):

“Our country would be less secure if we removed our diplomatic presence from the would be a detriment to our national security if the United States didn’t have Americans who know foreign languages, live in countries throughout the world, and understand the cultures, ways of thinking, and history of those nations.” http://www.modernizingforeignassistance.org/blog/2011/02/16/house-appropriator-warns-against-cuts-in-foreign-assistance/

Democrats are not the only ones who are skeptical of these proposed cuts. Senator John McCain (R – A.Z.), when asked if he considered diplomacy and development funding to be important pillars of American national security, replied, “Yes, I do.”

In addition to the real security benefits of fostering goodwill for the United States in an age of increased global crime, including terrorism, there very serious moral implications that have to be considered when looking at the proposed budget cuts. Global health programs, contributions to international organizations and financial institutions and disaster assistance are among the programs on the chopping block as are the development assistance and economic support fund accounts, large portions of which go to places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

There are currently more than $800 million in cuts proposed to international food aid and other global hunger programs. This would affect more than 18 million people, leading to needless suffering and deaths. These cuts include $700 million in proposed cuts to the emergency food assistance budget, which would end food assistance for 15 million people facing extreme hunger in the wake of emergencies, and $100 million in proposed cuts to the international school meals budget, which would take away school meals for 2.5 million children around the world. These cuts are happening just as food prices around the world have hit their highest levels ever. Food prices have already been causing unrest in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Without food assistance, we could see this unrest worsen and expand.

House Republicans are also proposing eliminating the United States Agency for International Development completely. USAID has programs in more than 100 countries and in sectors ranging from agriculture, infrastructure, democracy and governance, and economic growth and trade to education, environment, health and medicine and youth and gender issues. Since its founding in 1961, USAID has been the principal U.S. Agency to extend assistance to developing nations or nations in crisis. Its accomplishments are extensive, but I must name a few to give a sense of the program that takes up so little of the budget and does so much for the world. USAID considers these its five major accomplishments in Iraq alone in 2003 and 2004: http://www.usaid.gov/about_usaid/PDACG100.pdf

1. Created local and city governments in more than 600 communities

2. Restarted schools by rehabilitating 2,500 schools, providing textbooks to 8.7 million students and supplies to 3.3 million students, and training 33,000 teachers

3. Vaccinated 3 million children; equipped 600 primary-care health clinics and rehabilitated 60

4. In conjunction with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), restored electric service to eight major power plants that now deliver 2,100 megawatts of power

5. Revived the marshlands located in southern Iraq by reflooding the area

I know there is concern for the budget, and there needs to be, but humanitarian aid doesn’t have the resources to allow for the deep budget cuts that are needed, and its projects are too instrumental in the lives of too many people. For Representatives to declare that these programs are discretionary spending that should be cut is to make hundreds of millions of lives around the world scapegoats for their political careers. This budget, with these proposals, is expected to pass the House, but meet more resistance in the Senate.


Tunisia and Egypt: The Parallels of Human Rights and Democracy

February 10th, 2011

Tenzing Yonten Sherpa

With the recent protests in Tunisia and in Egypt, I was compelled to write my first blog on examining the interrelatedness of democracy and human rights.

Human rights and democracy have historically been viewed as separate concepts, but with time, the human rights framework has begun to further develop conceptions of social, economic, and cultural rights, in addition to civil and political rights, thus expanding the notion of human rights to include human security, and extending these rights to the collective as well as the individual level. Therefore, more recently with the re-conceptualizations of both ideas, we can see more interdependence between the two. Thus, citizens seeking democratic reform usually fail due to the absence of protection for human rights and likewise, human rights advocates have found it difficult to implement systematic change in the absence of legitimate democracy.

It is for such reasons that I believe Tunisia and Egypt have grabbed most of the headlines in the start of the New Year. Tunisia until a month ago had one of the most repressive governments and levels of corruption among its elite became intolerable once the economic distress that had gripped southern Europe spread to the country, sending unemployment and public resentment skyrocketing. It is a similar case in Egypt where President Hosni Mubarak has held power for over three decades and has promised its citizens economic reform, but its people still suffer from high unemployment and low standards of living. In addition, Mr. Mubarak used tyrannical methods to secure his power and showed complete neglect for human rights when he used tactics such as clamping down on the press, jailing opponents and challenging the judiciary. All of these unpopular methods were used by Mr. Mubarak to undermine the democracy of Egypt. Therefore, we can see in this day and age there are clear parallels between human rights and democracy and essentially for democracy to work, respect for human rights need to be at the forefront of the agenda. I believe it is this neglect and therefore the deterioration of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt that has led to such resentment among its citizens against their respective governments.

Among the protestors in Cairo, Egypt was Bassem Samir, a democracy activist imprisoned under Mubarak who said, “Mubarak did not know the meaning of humanity. He did not know that they have rights. He worked for 30 years to ensure that Egyptians fear democracy. He weakened the opposition, and anyone who didn’t agree with him was out, out of everything- the media, work, and even the country. Whenever Mubarak thought someone else could be liked by the people, he removed them totally.” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-02-06/egypt-protests-dissidents-on-hosni-mubaraks-human-rights-horrors/)

Time will only tell what Mr. Mubarak’s fate will be but what this incident brings up is a more interesting question, one of which looks at individuals as well as groups that come together to pursue democracy when their very human rights are in serious jeopardy. This question will be tested and followed with great interest by many more countries in our world today that still anchor governments that are repressive and that have complete neglect for fundamental human rights.


Female judges, lawyers and rights – oh my! Chipping away at the glass ceiling in international politics

February 7th, 2011

Kate Alexander

Anyone who read through the January installment of International Justice in the News (IJIN) [http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/internationaljustice/internationaljusticeinthenews.html] may have noticed a common theme: the role of women in international justice is growing in the respect these women are afforded, the opportunities that are available, and the protection of women’s rights in international tribunals. As a female interested in a career in international justice and a constant promoter of women’s rights, I cannot state clearly enough how incredible it is to bear witness to the cracks being made in this glass ceiling.

For those of you who didn’t receive the January 2011 installment of IJIN (for shame!), here’s the synopsis of what I’m talking about: Sandra Day O’Connor, Retired Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, spoke out in favor of U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and in the International Criminal Court (ICC )case Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo the judicial bench, for the first time in history, is composed entirely of women. In this IJIN, there are also links to a ton of reports regarding sexual crimes and a Gender Report if you’re interested in reading up on the topic!

As Sandra Day O’Connor pointed out, the U.S. has yet to ratify CEDAW, the definitive document of women’s rights that has been ratified by 186 nations out of 193. In not ratifying CEDAW, the U.S. is keeping company with such human right defenders (insert sarcasm here) as Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and the three small Pacific island nations of Nauru, Palau and Tonga. Admittedly, I don’t know what equality looks like in Nauru and Palau, but one of my closest friends is from Tonga and I can tell you from her stories of one of the last Kingdoms on the planet, that it isn’t exactly the picture of women’s rights that we, as a gender, are moving towards.

O’Connor’s statement about CEDAW was publicized by an incredible blog: IntLawGrrls [http://intlawgrrls.blogspot.com/]. Its contributors are women who teach and work in international law, policy and practice.  Reading the blog feels like picking the minds of some of the most interesting women you could ever hope to have coffee with. They’re carving out a voice for women in international legal theory and practice, but it’s all written in a really accessible tone. Highly recommended, especially to future U.S. policy makers who will have to reckon with this growing voice in international politics.

In conclusion: United States, you have got to get on board with the trend that is sweeping international politics. I know that it’s hard for you, because you’ll have more moral authority to point out violations of human rights in other nations, some of which may have cultural practices that at times contradict CEDAW, but I think you can balance cultural understanding and universal human rights! I believe in you!

And honestly, if you don’t know how to do this balancing act already, and you are the world’s super power, it’s about time you learned.


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