Friday, April 07, 2006

Heathrow (II)

I remember posting about being terrorised in Heathrow the last time I was here. No terror this time. A frisking at security alright, but that's about it.

Anyway, in other news Reuters tells me Dan Brown won his High Court case. He was being sued for breach of copyright by the authors of the 1980's book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The Reuters story is here. The decision isn't exactly surprising really, it would have been incredible if the court found in favour of the 1980's book, the reprecussions for the da Vinci Code book, its film, etc, would have been huge, never mind the effect on possible future authors.

They'll all make more money from book sales too, so a (relatively) happy day for them nonetheless.

Now, time to find coffee and a glossy magazine of some sort.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Columnists

I enjoyed reading two columns these past two days: Henry Porter in The Observer and Gary Younge in this morning's The Guardian. It made me wonder what makes a good newspaper column.

Over the past two years I've grown progressively sick of reading bad columnists: I entirely gave up on the Sunday Times after the news review left me cold and I found myself barely skimming the rest of the paper, picking out highlights such as bits and pieces in the Culture, AA Gill's restarant reviews in the Style (not that I'll ever be able to afford any of them, just for the lark that is his writing), and ocassionally Clarkson on cars (though my father's quite skeptical of how accurate his reviews are, and when it comes to cars, as with many things, I trust my father).

The Times disillusionment prompted me to try the Observer in recent months, and I find it a much more pleasing read. The op-ed pieces are readable for a change, instead of dull prose and convoluted syntax. There's hints of culture and life in the pieces instead of heavy-handed analysis. I'm perfectly willing to read weighty policy arguments, though less so on a Sunday. However, they must be well written and presented. I think the page-setting in the Times lets them down on this front. But maybe I'm just getting lazy?

Friday, March 31, 2006

Refugees

Wow, over a month since I last posted. Anyway, I'm merely cross-posting a comment I made over at MM about the Rahman case. Fi pointed out that he may not fulfill the strict Convention requirements and I tend to agree.

The spirit of the Convention is that displaced persons will be granted asylum until the international community can resolve the strife in the refugee's own country. The refugee can then be safely returned.

What's happened since the time when that was drawn up (immediately post WWII) is that the international community has been either unable or unwilling to resolve these regional and internal conflicts. This has resulted in a continuous stream of persons who have legitimate fear of persecution. Furthermore, as the situation they leave doesn't get resolved, or takes far too long to resolve, it becomes necessary to allow them naturalise in the host country. This then provokes tension between the strict requirements of the Convention - which effectively keeps the refugee in a sort of limbo - and their human rights. Vindicating the latter raises concerns among host populations that immigration is going too far (I heard such an argument on British radio this morning).

I argued in a debate over four years ago (which Fi may well have judged) that the 'problem' with refugee law is the international community's continuing failure to better the lot of the developing world and resolve regional conflicts.

Which brings me to the current case: Afghanistan. The individual is fleeing religious persecution, and yet it is not persecution that the international community can easily relieve, as it deals with the domestic laws of a country (one which the int. community has messed around enough recently). That situation itself takes the case outside the four corners of the Convention.

I'm glad he's been granted asylum, and is safe, but I think he falls within a new category of 'asylum seeker': one who leaves their state for want of a better life - not socio-economically, but in human terms. Thus, they are 'humanitarian migrants'.

I'm not entirely au fait with refugee law, but I do believe there's a strong argument to recognise the limitations of the Convention to deal with persons such as this man. Perhaps clarity about the reasons that people are migrating, and a renewed commitment to hosting such persons for the third millennium might allow us transcend the Convention which was really about what to do with a bunch of Belgians lost in Germany in the middle of the (thankfully non-existent) Third World War.

Easter's coming, maybe I'll rediscover my inner blogger.

Friday, February 24, 2006

'Gitmo'

A comment I made over at M.M. has caused a bit of backlash, so I want to explain what I mean. The comment was
"I just found Helen Duffy's The 'War on Terror' and the Framework of International Law on a shelf next to Primo Levi's The Drowned and the Saved. The resonance between the photo of Guantanamo Bay on the cover of one, and Auschwitz on the other has turned me right off my lunch."


That unhappy coincidence comes as the library's catalogue has 'Genocide' and 'The War on Terrorism' next to each other. Make of that what you will. Some commentators thought I was equating what the American's were doing to the Holocaust. I'm not. That would be very silly.

What I am doing is pointing out (as Fi does in her swift and ample defence of my musing) that surely the lesson from the Holocaust is there are ways in which no person, no matter how low one's opinion of them may be, should be treated.

International law recognises the prohibitions on slavery and genocide as two such non-derogable norms. But I'm not arguing this from a legalist point of view, but one of humanity.

A terrorist (and suspected terrorist) is a human being. Full stop, period, end of sentence. There can be no disagreement with that statement, no qualification put upon it.

Human beings cannot be treated in certain ways. The introduction to the edition of The Drowned and the Saved that I was perusing calls Levi's work an explicit lesson in humanity. Levi's better-known work is If this is a Man.

If the detainees in Guantanamo Bay are men (or women), then there are certain things you can't do to them. Putting them in cages and treating them as existing purely for the purpose of extracting information is one such thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tumbleweeds...

Greetings to anyone dropping by...

As you may have noticed, things have been rather dead here the last fortnight. Mea culpa. Things in the real world have been pretty hectic: dissertations, research proposals, essays due, papers to write, and a visiting sister have all eaten up all time available. Boo hiss.

Anywho, what news? Well the Irish Blog Awards shortlist is here, and well done to those on it.

The Lords are voting on Commons amendments to the Terrorism Bill this week (either yesterday or today). The Lords had previously removed the offence of glorifying terrorism, the Commons put it back in. This shilly-shallying will go on and on until someone blinks or the Government use the Parliament Acts. My bloody dissertation hangs in the balance.

The UK is gripped with Bird Flu fever, wondering if they should lock up their chickens. London's gripped with Champions League fever, with Arsenal beating Real Madrid last night and Chelsea taking on Barca at the Bridge tonight.

I'm gripped with a cold and a lot of reading to do.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Fiona's Masterplan

Fiona's quasi-meme has taken the Irish blogosphere by storm. I haven't done it yet, but I have a suggestion for those who have: Link it in your sidebar so you and others can find the post.

Otherwise it'll be impossible for the DL boys (whose own answers I was somewhat surprised at) to coallate (sp?) the information, and the purpose will be lost.

While I recognise that some are worried about being labelled, it's self-labelling, and if you've filled it out and posted it there shouldn't be any problem. Just a thought!

The Cartoons Strike Back

Dossing Times (who, incidentally, I must link) have found the counter-cartoons - released by Arab media outlets in response to the Danish ones.

They depict, among other things, Hitler and Anne Frank in bed, Jewish investigators at a Concentration Camp, and a conversation between Spielberg and Jackson that implies the Holocaust was a fiction.

They don't offend me, but neither did the Danish ones, presumably because I'm neither Jewish nor Muslim. However I imagine Holocaust survivors, and their descendants are would be pretty hurt.

The cartoons are inspired by the view that the way to get back at Europe is to be anti-Jewish, which is an interesting insight. Europe struggled last year to decide whether or not to include a reference to Christ in its constitution, it is often depicted as the Union of the Cross (rather than the Crescent of Islam - hence the anti-Turkey stance), it is the most pro-Palestinian international body in the world, and yet the Arab world sees it as run by a Zionist conspiracy.

How can we spread the love when so much confusion and misinformation exists?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Woolf at LSE

I was at a talk last night in the LSE given by Lord Woolf, Former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and replied to by Nicola Lacey of the LSE, and Michael Smyth of Clifford Chance. The topic was "Democracy and the Rule of Law". There were some interesting points made....*

Lord Woolf intoned that it was "no longer wrong to say that judges from time to time make law" - a statement that will no doubt disappoint those who oppose judicial activism. He went on to note that the constitutional arrangements of the UK depended on a consensus between Government and the judiciary on their respective roles. He believed that "observance of the rule of law is becoming as powerful a concept as democracy".

He cited three elements of the UK constitutional order as recognisably limiting the sovereignty of Parliament: (1) the European Community Act of the 1970's, providing for accession to the EC (now EU), (2) the Human Rights Act 1998, and (3) devolution.

The first of these is unsurprising. The second two are noteworthy however: the Human Rights Act, we were told (and remain to be told) does not undermine parliamentary sovereignty. Yet this Former Lord Chief Justice, who held office as recently as last July, believes it does so. Secondly, he noted the need for a tribunal to decide if a matter is devolved or not (i.e. the role of the Federal Supreme Court in the U.S.), and must have seen some judicial capacity in this regard (my inference). Thus, he clearly views the recent developments as seriously strengthening the hand of the judiciary in the U.K. constitution.

He noted the importance of Jackson v Attorney General (the fox-hunting ban case), a "remarkable case", wherein the judiciary, he claimed, were called to define the rightful role of the House of Lords. When put in this light, the case was indeed a high point in judicial power in the U.K.

He finished by noting that the Concordat (an agreement between himself, on the part of the judiciary, and Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for the Department of Constitutional Affairs, Lord Falconer on the part of the executive, defining the role of the judiciary in Britain's evolving constitution), and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which sprung from it, represented the "new consensus" upon which Britain's Constitution was now based.

In response to a question from a BBC Website reporter on whether Blair's talk of "changing the rules of the game" meant that democracy could change the rule of law, he said the tradition of mutual repect [between Government and judiciary] was important, and judges should avoid conflict unless it was essential to do justice in the case in front of them. If it was essential however, they should do justice and risk conflict. He noted that ouster clauses (in the context of SIAC) were "an overt challenge to the rule of law".

All of this was very interesting, especially as I attended while in the middle of reading Conor Gearty's wonderful Principles of Human Rights Adjudication (2004: OUP).

* The opinions and quotes here are based on my notes from the evening. While every effort has been made to reproduce accurately and without error the words of the speaker, in the absence of an official transcript, they should not be taken as a definitive record of events. Any error will be corrected if it is brought to my attention.