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Friday, November 4, 2016


Gambian President Yahyah Jammeh declares Gambia to Leave ICC

In the wake of recent news that Burundi, South Africa and now Gambia are to withdraw from the Rome statute of the ICC, there are, justifiably, tense moments among the legal and wider fraternity that constitutes the so called international criminal justice project: are the steps taken by these nations the beginnings of a mass walk-out by African states (which constitute the single largest continental membership bloc), and can the ICC survive an event of such proportions, or would such a walk-out even matter? The OTP’s Fatou Bensouda, herself a Gambian has already provided an answer to the latter question. In a typically dismissive fashion, she has noted that the ICC will march on regardless. However, a more politically grounded president of the ASP, Sidiki Kaba, has signaled that dialogue should be embraced by all parties to avert a potential disaster, and this is as it should be.

The prevailing narrative on the intended withdrawals and any further potential cases from Africa is the much repeated and equally robustly rebutted notion that the ICC is unfairly targeting African nations in its fight against global impunity, the so called African bias. Both sides of this argument have been so exhaustively prosecuted in contemporary legal and political discourse that any further pronouncements on the argument here would be rather futile. What I propose here is that the problem between the ICC and the disaffected African states lies quite outside of this oft repeated premise, and any attempts to understand it must look both to the attitude of the ICC and to the internal political dynamics of the states concerned.

SA. President Zuma Recently Implicated in State Capture Report
Accordingly, South Africa’s notification of its intention to withdraw has been linked by some to the difficulties surrounding the government after its own courts embarrassed it by declaring its reception of Al Bashir, the ICC’s most wanted fugitive, a breach of the law. The government’s own protestation that it had to choose between loyalty to the AU and pandering to the ICC rings hollow. However, the decision comes at a time when the composition and integrity of the current ANC leadership faces a mounting political existential threat: the prospect of damaging corruption revelations in a report on state capture by the outgoing public protector has sent Zuma’s government clutching for straws. Further, an apparently politically motivated and ill advised decision by the SA National Prosecuting Authority to go after the current finance minister has, as widely expected, ended in fiasco and reinforced perceptions of a Zuma government engaging in a witch-hunt. I venture to suggest that SA’s decision will eventually unravel as a poor attempt at political diversion with little if anything to do with the government’s official position and everything to do with Zuma and the ANC’s political calculus, and the SA opposition and civil society are likely to successfully petition the courts to declare it null and void on administrative procedural and constitutional grounds. Similarly, the Burundi and Gambia decisions must be understood within the context of their internal political dynamics. This does however not absolve the ICC from its role in building up the perception of bias towards African states. The ICC and in particular the OTP has by its attitude and political stance provided ammunition for local political players and given them enough reasons to legitimize their actions in front of their local supporters.

The ICC claims to be non-political (and only legal) when the opposite is clearly the case. More than anything else, it is its claim to being a purely legal entity that does not engage in any politics that exposes the ICC to claims of dishonesty and bias. A quick look at the actions of the ICC in Kenya, Uganda, and Ivory Coast for example reveals its political hand in at least three ways: overtly as when it engages in direct negotiations with Uganda in obtaining its self-referral; the ICC was thus effectively co-opted by Museveni in his personal pursuit of Kony et al, and bringing  the ICC dimension into the equation was meant to up the stakes against Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army ; covertly when it gets itself inserted into and manipulated by local politics as we saw in the Ivory Coast situation where some political contestants sought to tip the balance of power in their favor by ‘accepting’ the sovereignty of the court while in actual fact putting their opponents away; and indirectly when its inaction and/or inefficiency with regards to prosecutorial decisions and case turnover creates cause for concern with serious ramifications on its legitimacy and universal acceptance. Thus, insisting that it is an institution concerned solely with the law while overtly making political considerations and allowing itself to be manipulated by politicians in furthering local political interests only serves to legitimize the anti-ICC crusade. This stance has simply straight-jacketed the ICC into a self-defeating legal formalism and held it back from engaging with the AU in a politically viable manner.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Child Terrorists and Child Foreign Fighters in Europe

Ine van Giessen
On 13 November 2015, bombings and shootings in six different locations in Paris killed over 130 people and injured over 100 others. Five months later, bomb attacks in the departure hall of Zaventem Airport and at Maalbeek Metro station in Brussels, killed 31 people and injured 220 more on 22 March 2016.  These attacks on European territory share common denominators, namely, the Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for both attacks. Furthermore, Belgian nationals committed the attacks in Paris and Brussels. According to research by the International Centre of Counter-terrorism (ICCT) at least seven of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks had allegedly previously fought for ISIL. Of those seven perpetrators, intelligence suggests that three traveled to Syria at some point before the attacks. This raises questions  legal classifications, and obligations or possibilities to prosecute under domestic and/or international (criminal) law.

On 1 April 2016, the ICCT published a report on the phenomenon of Foreign Fighters (FF) in the European Union. The research shows that the total of FF from the European Union lies between 3922 and 4294 people of which 30 percent have returned to Europe and 14 percent is confirmed dead. The ICCT research states that amongst those FF are minors. ISIL grooms children and educates them on its ideology to create a new generation of supporters of the caliphate. These young children (known as ashbal al-khilafacubs of the caliphate” are used on the battlefield as well as featured in promotional videos. Many of the videos show these young children in different capacities acting on behalf of the caliphate.
Scholars such as Capone argue that there are two main categories of child FF. The first category consists of those who are motivated to leave their home in pursuit of their own personal identity, and the second category consists of those who want to live in a true Islamic Community. Furthermore, the families of children could have forced these children to join the caliphate as a Dutch mother did, in March 2015, who brought their two Dutch children to join ISIL in Syria. Moreover, Watts’ research indicates that recruitment of FF by family members forms a high percentage of means of recruitment.

Interpretation of international law indicates that the three who travelled to Syria could be classified as FF whilst the others who did not travel abroad prior to the attacks would most likely be classified as terrorists. Since there does not exist an universally accepted definition of terrorist or FF under public international law (PIL), the UN leaves the door open for the interpretation of the definition of terrorism on a domestic level. Pursuant to States’ discretion to define terrorism under their domestic legislation, differences occur between domestic systems leading to different legal consequences. Similarly, there does not exist a universal definition of a FF. The commonly used definition is that of the UNSC, which intrinsically links FF to terrorists groups. The UNSC does refer to children in Resolution 2178, calling upon the Member States to prevent the radicalization to terrorism and the recruitment of FF, including children. However, the PIL system lacks possibilities to prosecute those children for terrorist acts on an international level. PIL such as IHRL, IHL and ICL makes no distinction between adult perpetrators and children with respect to terrorist acts. Children are not excluded as perpetrators of terrorist acts by virtue of childhood. Consequently, children can be the violators of international rights and provisions governing terrorist acts. On itself, PIL does not prohibit the prosecution of children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child merely urges states to set the limit of criminal liability not below the age of 12. There exists no international juvenile court, which, in theory, would mean that children would face prosecution before the ICC since IHRL, IHL and ICL mostly rely on the ICC for the prosecution of individual perpetrators. However, under PIL there exists no de facto possibility to prosecute children on an international level, as the ICC excludes prosecution of persons below the age of 18. De jure, prosecution is possible before other institutions such as special tribunals; however, these are not (yet) in place. Consequently, PIL leaves the prosecution of child terrorists and child FF to the municipal courts. Whether child terrorists and child FF will f before domestic courts under international law or domestic law consequently depends on the state that will undertake the prosecution. Since the definition of terrorism and FF and the criminalization of these acts is left to the discretion of states, differences in legal consequences will occur.

A vast framework of IHRL instruments is set up to protect the rights of children, with the key international instrument being the Convention on the Rights of the Child which awards children special protection with respect to fair treatment and fair trial in case of prosecutions under article 40(2). However, the lack of consistency on the international level with respect to child terrorists and child FF does, in my opinion, does not coincide with children’s need for special protection.

The international community made a first step in acknowledging that children can be the perpetrators of terrorist acts but has failed to take the second step and create a better protection framework. The international legal system, as it is now, is not yet ready to prosecute children for gruesome acts on an international level, leaving the prosecution to the discretion of states. If the international legal system is not ready to prosecute child perpetrators, to what extend will it be ready, in its current state, to protect the rights of these children when they face prosecution by states on a domestic level. Children need extra protection at all times, even in the capacity of terrorists and FF, and in my view, it is of utmost importance that the international community strengthens the protection framework in a timely manner.

Guest Post By Ine van Giessen (Ine holds an LL.M in Public International Law from Utrecht University and specialises in issues of human rights and terrorism)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Trial of Hissene Habre: An Analysis of the Rights of the Accused

Hissene Habre Dragged into Court at the Start of His Trial : Photo Courtesy EPA

On 30 May 2016, the African Extraordinary Chambers (AEC) delivered a judgment finding Hissène Habré guilty of crimes against humanity committed during his presidency in Chad between 1982 and 1990. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Many commentators have lauded the trial of Habré by the AEC and considered it a significant step towards the promotion of international criminal justice on the African continent. This may well be the case. However, the treatment of Habré during his trial, in my view, amounted to a violation of his rights as an accused person, which is a fundamental component of a fair trial. The violation of Habré’s rights during the trial is like the proverbial rotten apple that spoils the barrel and is therefore a subject worthy of discussion.

From the outset, I will begin by appreciating the fact that the crimes committed in Chad during the reign of Hissène Habré were horrific, brutal and affected thousands of victims. Indeed, the attempt to try Habré took too long, and was characterized by convoluted legal battles in Senegal, Belgium and before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The establishment of the AEC, a special hybrid court, was a compromise, which provided a solution to a stalemate. The AEC’s pro-victim stance is also understandable because it is in line with the new trend in international law where the place of  victims in international criminal trials is given more and more recognition. The AEC was charged with the difficult duty, as with all international tribunals, of balancing the need to deliver justice to victims of horrible crimes and to protect the rights of the person accused of perpetrating such crimes. This was exacerbated by the moral outrage of the victims and general public when confronted with the crimes committed during the Habré regime. In my view, the AEC gave in to the moral outrage and violated at least two fundamental rights of the accused.

The first, and the most flagrant violation, was the issuance of the order for Hissène Habré to be forcefully dragged into court kicking and screaming, by masked men.  This, probably arose from the AEC’s  misinterpretation of the right to be present at trial, which misinterpretation violated  the accused's right to personal integrity. The right to be present at trial is provided for in most international and regional human rights instruments, for example article 14 (3) (d) of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 6 (3) (c) the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Similarly, article 21 (4) (d) of the Statute of the Extraordinary African Chambers (AEC Statute) also provides for the same right. However, this right is not absolute. The Human Rights Committee, the independent body of experts in charge of monitoring the interpretation and implementation of the ICCPR, has found that trials in absentia may be held exceptionally and for justified reasons. For example, in the case of Mbenge v Zaire, while the Committee emphasized that the right of an accused person to be present at trial is fundamental, it also recognized that there are circumstances where trials in absentia are permissible for the proper administration of justice. According to the Committee, one such circumstance is "for instance, when the accused person, although informed of the proceedings sufficiently in advance, declines to exercise his right to be present."

Monday, August 8, 2016

Exploring the Concept of Plea Bargaining as a Potential Solution at the International Criminal Court: The Kenyan cases

Phoebe Oyugi, Case Manager, Ble Goude Defence Team
The International Criminal Court (ICC) faces tremendous challenges with regard to collection of evidence to be used at trial, language barrier, lengthy trials, long physical distance between the scene of crimes and the seat of the ICC, lack of state cooperation, and witness interference, among others. This is well illustrated, for example, by the challenges faced by the ICC during the prosecution of the Kenyan cases, that is, the cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenyatta) and Deputy President William Ruto (Ruto), both charged with crimes against humanity. These cases were among the most high profile cases at the ICC for many reasons among them being that it was the first time that a sitting head of state and his deputy appeared before an international tribunal. They therefore generated a lot of interest in the international community. Yet, both cases were terminated prematurely due to insufficient evidence.

In December 2014, the Prosecutor of the ICC having been ordered by the Chamber to either withdraw the charges against Kenyatta or commence trial, chose the former cause of action because she had insufficient evidence. Similarly, the charges against Ruto were vacated in April 2016 because the judges could not decide whether the insufficiency of evidence was due to the fact that there was simply no evidence to be found; or whether it was a result of witness interference. In both instances the Prosecutor blamed the insufficiency of evidence on the Kenyan Government, headed by the two accused persons, accusing it of failure to cooperate with her in obtaining evidence and of making deliberate attempts to frustrate the cases.

Because the Prosecutor was not able to present sufficient evidence, the Kenyan cases ended in a lose-lose situation. The ICC was unable to establish the truth or enforce international justice in fulfilment of its mandate; the accused persons still have the suspicion of crimes against humanity hanging over their heads and the possibility of being prosecuted afresh; and the victims received neither closure nor reparations. This lose-lose situation raises the question of whether such a situation could have been remedied through compromise.

This brings to mind the Anglo-American concept of plea bargaining, a compromise, which in its simplest form involves an agreement between the Prosecutor and the accused person where a guilty plea from the latter is obtained in exchange for a reduced sentence and/or the accused person’s cooperation in the investigations. This practise is not a novelty before international criminal institutions. International tribunals such as the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) have resorted to plea bargaining by, for instance, reducing sentences in exchange of guilty pleas and cooperation by accused persons. This was used in several cases, for example, the Prosecutor v Todorovic and the Prosecutor v Sikirica at the ICTY, as well as the Prosecutor v Serushago and the Prosecutor v Ruggiu at the ICTR. This eventually led to the inclusion of Rule 62 ter of the ICTY Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE) which regulates plea agreements at the ICTY.

However, the concept of plea bargaining is not used at the ICC. The main obstacle to the introduction of the practice of plea bargaining before the ICC is that it seems to negate the principles upon which the Court is founded. A similar concern led the ICTY judges to reject, at first, the suggestion to introduce this practice at the ICTY.  However, due to the particularities of international criminal proceedings, such as lengthy, complex and costly proceedings, plea bargaining was eventually introduced, and a number of cases were settled in this manner at both the ICTY and ICTR. The ICC has experienced and continues to face similar challenges as those faced by the ICTY and ICTR, which necessitated the introduction of plea bargaining in these two Courts. This, therefore, necessitates an exploration of plea bargaining as a potential solution to some of the challenges bedevilling the ICC.

If plea bargaining were permitted at the ICC, it might have been employed in the Kenyan cases, mentioned above, to result into a potential win-win situation. The Kenyatta and Ruto cases, just like all cases at the ICC, had three participants namely the Prosecutor, the Defence and the victims of the Kenyan Post-election Violence (PEV), all who had conflicting interests. These conflicting interests may be summarised as follows: on one hand, the Prosecutor’s duty was to prove the charges against the two accused beyond reasonable doubt with a view to obtaining a conviction against the two; but she was unable to secure sufficient evidence partly due to the power and influence of the two accused within the situation country. She, however, enjoyed the support of the ICC and most of the international community, except the African Union (AU).On the other hand, both Kenyatta and Ruto wanted to be acquitted of all the charges against them and for their names to be cleared. Being the President and Deputy President of Kenya respectively, they had the power to potentially hinder the investigations, influence witnesses and influence the AU and most African states against the ICC. They seemed willing to do all it took to prevent the cases from proceeding at the ICC. Lastly, the victims of PEV wanted someone to take responsibility for the horrible crimes which were committed against them and to receive reparations.

The fact is that the two accused persons literally held the keys to Kenya, the one place which contained all the evidence the Prosecutor needed to establish the cases against them. It was not realistic for the Prosecutor to expect them to cooperate in helping her gather evidence against them. The accused persons also held the fate of the victims in their hands and had the power to put in place a national system of reparations if they so wished. For this reason, I think it would have been prudent to enter into discussions with them with a view to reaching a plea agreement. As part of the plea deal, perhaps Kenyatta and Ruto would have been required to take responsibility for some of the crimes that were committed during the PEV. As Kenyan leaders who enjoy massive support of the members of their respective political constituencies, even if they did not incite people to violence, I believe that they had it in their power to stop the violence or to reduce the effects thereof. In return, the Prosecutor would have offered to reduce or withdraw the charges against them. Alternatively an agreement would have been reached whereby upon conviction, the sentences would not include imprisonment. Furthermore, it would also have been prudent for the Victims’ Representative to enter into negotiations with the two accused persons with a view to setting up a reparation system to the benefit of all the PEV victims. The Kenyan government would have been required to, for example, ensure the resettlement of all the victims, some of who still live in camps as internally displaced persons to date.

Admittedly, this situation seems like a bargain of justice. However, in my view it seems like a practical solution in that it would have ensured that someone took some responsibility for the crimes committed and it would also have resulted in the victims’ reparation. As a result of the plea deal, Kenyatta and Ruto may also have had their names cleared and the ICC would have been unable to recommence cases against them in future. This to me seems like a win-win situation compared to what actually occurred.

Plea bargains are used all over the world especially in the United States where over 90% of federal convictions are achieved through guilty pleas. Furthermore, as shown above, plea bargaining has been used by other international tribunals, namely the ICTY and the ICTR, to settle cases. By not considering this potential solution, the ICC was unable to deliver the promise of international justice to the Kenyan people, the Prosecutor was deeply embarrassed by her inability to close these two high profile cases, Kenyatta and Ruto still have suspicion hanging over their heads and the possibility of future prosecution, and the victims did not receive any reparation. This is a very undesirable lose-lose situation which, in my opinion, ought to have been avoided by resorting to plea bargaining as described above.

Guest Post by Phoebe Oyugi (Phoebe Oyugi is a Kenyan lawyer who specialises in International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian law. She currently works as a case manager and consultant in the Defence team of Charles Blé Goudé at the International Criminal Court)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Why the Tribunal Dealing with the South China Sea Dispute Should Step Aside to Make Way for a Negotiated Settlement

Ruikun Sun
Prof. Tom Zwart

Increasingly, in the West, in the class rooms of law schools and offices of foreign ministries, international law is being associated exclusively with courts and tribunals. The idea seems to be that something can only be regarded as law if it emanates from an international court. This judicialization of international law overlooks the fact that these international bodies owe their existence to treaties, which are concluded by states, which still are the main actors in international law.  

These international courts and tribunals are not the success story law professors and legal advisers would like us to believe. Thus, over time support for the International Court of Justice has been eroding. This is a consequence of the fact that weaker states use the Court to put pressure on more powerful states, which then renounce the jurisdiction of the Court if they lose. The International Criminal Court has been hailed as the global criminal court, but many of the big players, including three out of the five permanent members of the Security Council, have refused to sign up. Furthermore, the Court and its Prosecutor have managed to alienate the African states parties to such an extent that a mass exodus has almost become inevitable.

Political science teaches us that the support courts enjoy is not unlimited. To retain their legitimacy, they should stick to applying neutral and objective legal principles to facts in a technical fashion. Therefore, they ought to refrain from deciding cases which are unfit for adjudication. The South China Sea dispute, which is currently pending before an Arbitral Tribunal set up under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is such an unsuitable case for three reasons.

First of all, the case is a typical example of what Lon Fuller has called 'polycentricity'. The case involves so many actors and affects so many interests, that the binary format of a court case between opposing parties can never do justice to all. Six states and Taiwan have declared a stake in this matter, but the case only relates to the Philippines and China, while the latter does not even accept the authority of the Tribunal. Because of the remit of the Tribunal under UNCLOS, it is only able to deal with some lesser aspects of the dispute, but it will have to forgo on others, like the crucial issues of maritime boundaries and sovereignty. This means that an award on the merits will only settle part of the issues between some of the interested actors at best, while leaving out other affected parties and points of contention.

In addition, the Tribunal deals with the case on the basis of adversarial court proceedings which pit one party against another on the basis of polarising positions. Such an approach is alien to East Asia's culture of harmony, which relies on a willingness to invest in reconciling conflicts and differences. Consequently, in the region the award will be widely regarded as the fruit of a poisonous tree, and it will fail, therefore, to garner the necessary support.

Finally, the South China Sea, which serves as the passageway for half of the world's goods, is of vital geopolitical importance. Consequently, the dispute should be decided at the political level and not by a judicial tribunal. China has decided not to appear before the Tribunal because it contests its jurisdiction. It is an illusion to think that a legal award in a matter of high politics is going to gain any traction when one of the parties, which also happens to be a permanent member of the Security Council, refuses to take part in the proceedings.

The South China Sea dispute is ideally suited for what is called 'integrative negotiation', which favours cooperation over competition. Rather than opting for a win-lose outcome, where one party prevails at the expense of the others, the parties involved look for a win-win solution, which does justice to the interests of all. Considering the importance attached to harmony in the region, such an integrative approach has a high chance of being successful in this case.

One could rightly claim that thus far attempts to deal with the matter amicably through negotiations have not been successful. This is where something good may come out of the involvement of the Tribunal. In its decision it could appoint a Special Master, who will be entrusted with the responsibility to bring all directly affected parties to the table as part of integrative negotiations. The Tribunal will refrain from pronouncing itself on the merits of the case until a comprehensive settlement will have been reached, or, alternatively, until the Special Master reports that achieving such a settlement is unlikely. This will stimulate all parties involved to invest in the negotiations.

In the past reputable courts have decided to refrain from granting relief if the long term interest of justice so required. Thus, the legendary Chief Justice John Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiff's petition for a writ of mandamus in Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Chief Justice Marshall felt that issuing a mandamus would irreparably harm the relations between the Court and the executive branch headed by President Thomas Jefferson. The decision in Marbury v. Madison is widely regarded as a defining moment in the history of the Supreme Court, which went on to become to most highly respected judicial body in the world. Therefore, the members of the Arbitral Tribunal should draw inspiration from this very sound judgment.       

Guest post by Prof. Tom Zwart, Professor of Law, Utrecht University, and Director of the Cross-Cultural Human Rights Centre and  Ruikun Sun, Fellow at the Netherlands School of Human Rights Research

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Quest for Cross Cultural Perspectives to Human Rights

Receptor Meeting with Prof. Abdullahi An-Naim
On the 8thof March 2016, the Receptor Group had the opportunity of meeting with Professor Abdullahi An-Na’im, one of the most ardent and talented supporters of cross cultural views to human rights. An-Na'im, a Sudanese born scholar is currently  the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law, Associate Professor in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion of Emory University. He is a recognized scholar of Islam and human rights and human rights in cross-cultural perspectives. An -Na'im’s work is of particular importance and relevance at this particular juncture in time, especially in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, including the radicalization of terrorist groups such as ISIS. He has recently written an opinion piece on this issue for The Conversation 

At the meeting that took place on the 8th An-Na'im shared some of his insights with the Receptor Team, mainly on his view on human rights, attaining  its effective implementation and cultural legitimacy, its monopolization by powerful states and the effective relationship it can share with Islam.

An-Na'im  is mainly concerned with questions of  legitimacy of internationally recognized human rights standards in different cultural and contextual settings, which he believes, is not solely the responsibility of states per se but also depends on the broader efforts of individuals and groups that come into contact with human rights issues. He takes the view that states are not the sole protector of human rights especially because they are prone and susceptible to promoting their own competing interests and goals. Furthermore, the state as an entity cannot effectively be held accountable by the international  system for its failure to adequately protect human rights, essentially because the human rights treaties that they sign up to, are without any without any real 'teeth' and therefore cannot  effectively guarantee a state’s commitment and resolve to upholding such rights. Many states as a result, end up taking these obligations lightly and in some cases start showing an indifferent attitude as a result.  

Relatedly another reason as An-Na'im puts, is that in almost every instance the state is hijacked by the market mainly because trade or business treaties carry more weight than human rights treaties do. Thus, he concludes, the state is essentially “a-moral” and that those who act on behalf of it mostly do so with their own interests in mind.  He therefore believes that human rights can be best achieved through moving away from a “state centered system to a more people centered system," one in which people or groups of people might be in the best position to promote and defend human rights.  Some of these actors would include civil society organizations, social scientists, lawyers and judges, as well as community leaders who are regularly in contact with human rights and are therefore in the best position to do so.

Specifically in this regard, An-Na'im has emphasized the value and need for dialogue. For example, he suggests that there should be more internal discourse and cross cultural dialogue to encourage goodwill, mutual respect and equality with other cultural traditions.  Internal discourse would naturally feature at a national level and would include scholarly works as well as political action. An-Na'im has stressed the importance of cross cultural dialogue and internal dialogue in order to reach consensus on a “body of beliefs” within the human rights framework. This, according to him is only achievable through dialogue and respect, and a common form of reciprocity between various cultures, which he suggests, is treating others in the same way as one would like to be treated. An-Na’im, therefore takes the position that human rights can only gain legitimacy and subsequently can only be observed if it is sanctioned through a person’s own cultural identity. This is what he believes is necessary and crucial for the cultural legitimacy of human rights.

On the relationship between the North and South and their prevailing power relations, An-Naim has observed that this is another area disenfranchising the effective spread and legitimacy of human rights. Here he spoke of the role of the international donor system and northern type NGO’s that continuously criticize the South and create a type of human rights dependency system indicative of neo-colonialism . Initially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a treaty owned by all states but later subsequently became  hijacked by more powerful states to the detriment of weaker states, in his view. As a result, this created a top down system of human rights where a type of imperialism and domination is the resultant order of the day and where human rights are imposed rather than shared, agreed upon and genuinely believed in. This same ‘colonizer and colonized’ mentality which was internalized in the past by Africa through colonialism, continues to be internalized through the conduit of human rights nowadays, indicative of the current North South divide.

An-Na'im, as a result calls for agency and self-determination of disempowered groups that do not equally participate in human rights dialogue and debate. In his view “agency of the subject of human rights” is critical and necessary. Each society must struggle for their rights because transformation and liberation can only take place if there is struggle within and without one’s society for change to occur. In his view change is inevitable and will in each society, come with time, but it is necessary that people themselves lead it. It is therefore essential internally that people engage with their own communities as well as with other individuals and communities across cultures, so as to find common ground and consensus.

Lastly on the issue of human rights and Islam, An-Na'im observes that secularization and religion are currently part and parcel of Islamic tradition. This, in his opinion should not be the case as it creates friction. Rather, it is necessary to separate the state and Islam but only to the degree that the state allows an individual freedom enough to practice his/her faith without fetter. While it is essential is that this type of model of separation, should allow for neutral decision-making by the state, it should not resemble the French model of laicity, where religion is accorded lower rights than for instance freedom of speech. So, while An-Na'im believes that separation of state and religion is necessary, it is necessary that it be done is a culturally and religiously sensitive way. This is because rights are not absolute and therefore need to be properly balanced for the good of the society concerned. On the adjacent  issue of terrorism and radicalization and the rise of ISIS, An-Na'im suggests that the roots of Islamic violence needs to be re-traced in order to understand the emergence of radical terrorism. In his opinion only Muslims can defeat ISIS, by exposing the fallacy of their religious claims. So Islamic dialogue is not only necessary, it is essential in combatting terrorism. On a personal level and from the side of his activist fervor and passion for the effective spread of human rights An-Na'im  eventually hopes to see Islam become a catalyst for social justice, equality and human rights.

Posted by Ingrid Roestenburg-Morgan

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Religion, Culture and Radicalization

Zaineb Somra
There is a big difference between radicalization paired with violence and radicalization in general. Being a radical does not necessarily mean that you will have to bear any legal consequences. In a democratic society or country an individual is allowed to live as he wants, but of course within the boundaries of law. Every citizen belonging to a democratic society, has a right of freedom of expression. If a person is of the opinion, that only those Muslims who pray five times a day, are ‘true Muslims, then there is nothing wrong with such a statement or such a belief. As long as such radical thoughts and opinions do not lead to violence. For millions of people around the world, religion plays an important part in their daily lives, but due to such over zealous involvement such persons might sometimes forget the rational line between the moral and immoral, and that is what essentially leads to violence and radicalization. This is exactly what is happening in current day Europe, as well as many other countries, where people are using violence in the name of their religion as an unfortunate outcome.

Several academics, such as Frey (2004) and Gupta (2008) (Volintiru, 2010), have researched on the acts and beliefs of terrorists from a rational perspective. They state that the actions of terrorists are based on the well-being and economic status of their families. But other researchers have come to different conclusions, namely that the process of radicalization, is caused by a combination of several factors. Bakker and Veldhuizen (Veldhuizen ; Bakker, 2007) have divided the most common factors for radicalization, into three different categories. These three categories are, individual, social and external factors. Individual factors are related to psychological health and personal experiences, which play a significant role in the radicalization process. Some people experience a situation where they, including those that they love are being mistreated, marginalized or discriminated against by a dominant group within society, and thus perceive such a group to be their enemies. For example, for many radicalized individuals, the western world is seen as their enemy. As a consequence they believe that by becoming a member of a powerful group that is fighting against such an enemy, one is able to speak out and take revenge. The psychological health of that particular person determines how far he is willing to go, to seek revenge.  Another factor that contributes to the process of radicalization, is social surroundings, where some individuals prioritize their entire life in such a way so as to obtain a particular identity. They are, in other words, willing to accept any consequences, as long as they obtain their end goal and thus see joining the Jihad as one of the ways to achieve these goals. The last category of common factors is, external factors namely, politics, economics and culture. These factors can also play a role and increase the chances of radicalization, especially for vulnerable persons who might be economically, politically or culturally disadvantaged in each of their particular societies.

Picture Courtesy of Finn Church Aid
As was reiterated earlier, there are many existing factors at play, that influences the process of radicalization in general. This happens to be the case with regard to the Muslim community in the Netherlands as well. Many young Muslims in the Netherlands are unemployed and feel discriminated against. In addition, they grow up in a hybrid world of two separate cultures, namely the Dutch culture, which is the dominant and the most accepted culture, in opposition to their minority culture, which is the practiced culture at home and which has been taught and inculcated by their parents. This makes many young Muslims uncertain and confused about their identity in Dutch society, especially because they owe allegiance to two separate cultures both of which have entirely different norms and values and thereby making allegiance to one or the other a very difficult decision. Next to this, many young Muslims feel that they are second-class citizens in Dutch society. Amongst the Muslim population in The Netherlands, it is also striking to note that generally speaking the poverty level is high, whilst the educational level low, which is quite visible through deficiencies prevalent in the spoken language of Dutch. All these problems coupled together leads to frustration and disappointment within Muslim communities in The Netherlands, thereby increasing the chances of radicalization.

Radical groups, give an opportunity to disappointed and disengaged young Muslim- Dutch men, to obtain recognition and a desired identity. Furthermore, exacerbating the problem is that in certain cases, young men learning about the Muslim faith, are not properly educated by good Islamic scholars, which inevitably leads to incomplete and fragmented knowledge about Islam. The opportunity to deepen knowledge and awareness about the true Islamic faith is often scarce or lacking. Radical groups therefore take advantage and influence such individuals easily. They promise paradise in the after life, and such a martyr identity is well respected in radical surroundings.

In sum, it will certainly not be easy to solve the problem of radicalization, simply because of the numerous factors that influence this problem. It is important however, that Dutch society while professing tolerance, genuinely become more accepting of its own citizens who happen to practice the Muslim faith by assisting minorities like its Muslim youth with the problem of their divided identities and uncertain futures. It’s imperative that an atmosphere develops, where Muslim youth receive a fair chance in both social and professional spaces to improve their shortcomings, and hence become more accepted as part of Dutch society. This will help erase doubts and give more clarity on their role and identity in Dutch society and is bound to speed up the integration process, which in turn will decrease the chances of radicalization.  Currently, young Muslims are of the opinion that many people within The Netherlands, despise their religion and culture. This train of thought can only be stopped, if everyone feels at home and accepted in The Netherlands, regardless of his or her religion or background.

Guest Post by Zaineb Somra (Zaineb is a Dutch Scholar at the Hague University of Applied Sciences where she studies Public Management as well as a Member of the Receptor Team. She has also written a related piece in Dutch for the NRC Newspaper on Integration and Freedom of Speech in The Netherlands.  To access the piece follow the link below)