Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

A cloudy day above number of buildings' walls ripped apart with building materials scattered on the ground
Penelope Norman
Penelope Norman
1st of July 2022

 

I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.

I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’

In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)

This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.

One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,

 “O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”

 

She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,

 

“his words replete with guile

Into her heart too easie entrance won:

Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold

Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound

Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d

With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”

 

Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.

In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,

 

“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of יהוה —
creating them male and female.
יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”

In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,

 

“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”

 

This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.

A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,

 

“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”

In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.

At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.

I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.

 

 

Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Climate justice panel urges student activists not to underestimate their power

Climate justice panel urges student activists not to underestimate their power

The breakdown of our planet is the farthest thing from fair, targeting those most vulnerable in our society rather than the actual culprits causing the earth’s devastation. STAND’s Student Festival hosted a panel discussion targeting this exact issue on November 7th at TUD’s Aungier Street campus, featuring five excellent speakers from a range of backgrounds and specialities.

In a typical Irish rainy, darkened evening, the climate justice panel drew a great turnout of interested students who have valid concerns about the role we can all play in steering the course of history away from more damage and destruction. The panel was excellently mediated by TU Dublin’s VP Welfare Officer Moya Browne, and welcomed experienced guests who each had something unique to offer. Niall Sargent, editor of Green News, podcaster and sustainable fashion activist Molly Parsons, Manuel Salazar of Extinction Rebellion Ireland, Clodagh Daly from Climate Case Ireland and Daniel Whooley of the Green Party provided careful analysis of the inequalities facing people in the Global South as well as reflecting on the failure of Irish politicians to tackle climate justice.  The importance of enacting legislation which will hold corporations and fossil fuel companies to account was also stressed heavily, but the panel brought positive energy and uplifting attitudes towards student activism. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. 

The panelists were quizzed on numerous topics after introducing themselves, with each guest having changed their focus towards the climate at varying stages of their lives. Niall Sargent credits his wife for enlightening him about environmental damage, and brings hard news and investigations to the Green News website. Molly Parsons described herself as a ‘self-confessed Xico Mondays PrettyLittleThing hun’ who grew up in a capitalist system with infinite materialist values. She began a podcast and took part in No Buy November, discovered the world of slow and sustainable fashion and the rest is history. Her lifestyle changes are now influencing her 13,500 Instagram followers and Depop audience, so the activist is definitely one to watch. 

Manuel Salazar grew up in Venezuela, a country polluted and essentially commanded by oil. Salazar has seen first-hand the effects of fossil fuel damage in his home country and the morally reprehensible corruption of these corporations. His work for Extinction Rebellion has helped the protesters form a movement in Ireland, which has grown in membership from about ten people to 200 within one year. Councillor Daniel Whooley described the paralysing fear he experienced after seeing IPCC reports broadcast on TV, which led him to run in local Ongar elections at the tender age of 20. 

Clodagh Daly’s work with Climate Case Ireland brings the issue of law into the environmental fray. If the campaigner was ever oblivious to climate change, she doesn’t remember that part of her life. She has always seen the crisis through the lens of government and corporate policy, and learned about migrant injustice and climate class prejudice while living in Chile. Seeing a country whose resources are relentlessly exploited and privatised inspired Clodagh to turn her focus to activism.

The topic of greenwashing, or companies appearing more eco-friendly than they really are in order to benefit their products or services, was brought up almost immediately during the event. The population are being bombarded with lies regarding the state of the planet, and what they can do to bring about positive change. So, who can we trust? 

Molly emphasises the fact that young activists may not be experts or scientists, but they bring fear and passion to the forefront of the issue. Using their eco-grief to give rise to a movement has allowed regular people of Ireland to access protests and receive information in a way that they can understand. Disseminating knowledge in a way that allows everyone to join in is crucial, according to Niall. It’s a “pathetic defence mechanism” when political leaders ask the public for answers, Molly insists. 

How can students themselves make their mark on such an abysmal crisis, when most of us are scraping together our five cent coins for a measly chicken roll? Clodagh advises to push every party to treat climate justice as a societal issue that is permanently tied to factors such as housing, gender, class, race and Direct Provision. Daniel suggests joining Extinction Rebellion or even running in the election. Molly tells the audience to “arm yourselves with information”, read widely around the topic and observe small changes in food wastage and spending habits.

Moya later poses the question of communities who are most affected by climate change, with Niall putting the spotlight on Western habits of outsourcing our problems to less developed countries to achieve short-term perceived fixes. Only recently, Bord na Móna were linked to the palm oil industry in Indonesia, importing peat but abusing the land of those communities: “Countries which are contributing the least are being affected the most by climate injustice,” Molly says. “Western society has been stuffing that hole with money, offering  charity to victims of natural disasters while actively causing more problems.” Leo Varadkar’s recent comments on climate change bringing us the “benefits” of warmer weather is a classic facepalm example of obliviousness. 

Molly posits that our education system urgently requires scientists and experts to speak to children rather than teachers. Western countries are already witnessing the effects of climate breakdown at an increasing rate. “Every single step I make, I think about my children or the world ending,” Molly continues. Young people marching now must juggle hormones, the formation of their identity and school with politics, ineffective governments and the incoming apocalypse. “How hard must that be to deal with?” she says. 

Despite the impending disaster, Manuel is determined to stay positive. He maintains that it’s the best time in history to be an activist, with children inspiring adults rather than the other way around. Resources and borders are controlling our humanity, with certain humans being regarded as worth more than others, but soon it will come to a tipping point. The panellists are confident that the next generation will continue the fight: “When hope dies, action begins,” Manuel says, smiling. “We have the people on our side.”

 

Photo by Kate Brayden

 

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Brexit: What it means for Ireland

Brexit: What it means for Ireland

Confused about what Brexit actually means and how it will impact you? This month, STAND’s Brexit Series will help you understand how we got into this situation, what the proposed deal contains, where the negotiations are at now, and how a no-deal Brexit will impact Ireland, the UK and more widely the EU. If you’re new to the series, no worries, here are the basics, the EU’s perspective and a view of what happened last week.

This fourth article will give you an insight of this week’s events and what Brexit means for Ireland. 

 

This week’s events: Where are we now? 

On Monday, the European Council consented to a Brexit extension until the 31st of January. This third delay is flexible, meaning the UK can leave before 2020 if the deal is ratified. The EU seem to have chosen the timing of this announcement quite wisely, wanting to keep pressure on the UK, instead of waiting to react to events in the House of Commons 

 And indeed, a major event occurred the very next day. For once, the British MPs massively agreed on something: holding a general election on the 12th December. It took PM Johnson four attempts to see his bill passed by the House of Commons, which in the end had 438 votes in favour for and 20 votes against. 

What had changed by the fourth vote? The granting of the extension. British Parliament shuts down for 25 working days before each election, and as such, will shut down at  midnight on November 6th. If the extension hadn’t been granted, a no-deal Brexit could have gone ahead while the Parliament was vacant, and this had to be prevented at all costs, according to the opposition.

 

Brexit outcomes: What could happen? 

Well, everything now depends on the outcome of the general election.

If the Conservative Party wins the election, with Boris Johnson at its head, and thus reinforces its majority in Parliament, we’ll most likely witness an easy implementation of the Brexit deal. If someone else ends up as PM, they might want to edit the deal. So far, this option was waived by the EU. The EU wants to be done with negotiations, including Ireland, which wishes to see Brexit dealt with at this stage. 

If the Labour Party wins, it firmly wants to renegotiate a deal with the EU, in order  to find a way for the UK and the EU to work more closely together. The prospect of a closer cooperation could make the EU change its mind about renegotiating. The Labour Party also wishes to submit this hypothetical new deal to People’s vote, inciting a new referendum. By doing so, Labour intends to also give the option to British citizens to cancel Brexit. “This time the choice will be between leaving with a sensible deal or remaining in the European Union.” But still, it’s hard to see the point of going through hours of negotiation processes again, knowing that it might all be for nothing when it comes down to it. Also, I can’t help wondering how the Party intends to lead a campaign based on a very complex Brexit deal, especially when the public are still sore about the misleading campaign that was carried out back in 2016.

For the Scottish National Party, if the results of this upcoming election lead to a new referendum, they believe it should focus solely on cancelling Brexit. Accordingly, the Liberal Democrats want to cancel Brexit full stop. 

What is clear at the moment is that every option is back again on the table. Who’ll live, will see. 

 

Ireland: what is the impact for us? 

Ireland could possibly be the most affected EU member state, due to its particular relationship with the UK. But according to Giovanni Zaccaroni from the DCU Brexit Institute, “Ireland will not be alone in this. Several other European member states will be highly impacted by Brexit because they are either importers or exporters from the UK. They will have the chance to join forces.”

The worst case scenario for Ireland would be a no-deal Brexit and a hard border. First, this could mean the rising of tensions in Northern Ireland. “The border is also psychological here. The Good Friday Agreement, when it was signed in 1998, cleared the way from a hard border. Anything that would bring back to that type of infrastructure would be damaging for people here and for relationships here” says Sinn Féin MLA for East Derry, Caoimhe Archibald. To put it another way, “the EU has always been about getting rid of borders, precisely because borders separate communities. In the specific case of the Irish border, it will divide unity after decades of public order problems” adds Zaccaroni. 

In addition, a hard border would impact the Irish economy. Let’s look at an example: the Guinness empire. The stout is brewed in Dublin, and then bottled or canned in Belfast, before coming back in the South for distribution. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this product is a recurring border-crosser. With delays and tariffs due to a hard border, the business could lose over €1.3million. So, yes, “businesses are going to be for sure impacted. But the Irish Government has been doing a very good job in preparing its businesses to Brexit. They already know what to do and they already know what to expect, which is most likely legal uncertainty for a while” says Zaccaroni. The Irish Government secured a fund of about €1million to deal with potential Brexit consequences, when voting on the 2020 budget. 

If PM Johnson’s Brexit deal wins out, the protocol’s solution “is going to be bureaucratic and complex for businesses, but it does prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland” says Archibald. “For us there is no such thing as a good Brexit, anything is only mitigating  the impact. It’s still going to cause major problems here” asserts Archibald. The deal ensures the free movement of goods on the Irish island, “at least on paper”. Many products come to Ireland through the UK, but this should not be too great a challenge for Ireland as “goods which transit through London to arrive to Dublin can also travel through Paris or Frankfurt to go to Dublin and then avoid the UK. The same cannot be told for the UK” explains Zaccaroni.

Irish citizens can rest easy for now, “the free circulation of people between the UK and Ireland should not be undermined. For people, there is not much to be worried about. I’m sure that everything will be sorted out” declares Zaccaroni. 

But in the end, “no one knows what to exactly expect from Brexit. Brexit has unpredictable parts, in particular when it comes to the implementation of what’s on paper. There is a big question mark at the end of the Brexit issue” concludes Zaccaroni. 

 

So, there was no Halloween Brexit, and yet Halloween was all about Brexit this year in the UK. More than one in two families took inspiration for their Halloween costumes from the Brexit saga. Moreover, costumes of Boris Johnson’s effigy are on the top 10 list for costume sales in the UK. So, in the end, is Brexit trick or treat? 

 

Photo by Jaime Casap on Unsplash

 

Watch below an insight of Giovanni Zaccaroni and Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald’s interviews!

Brexit: The European Union’s perspective

Brexit: The European Union’s perspective

Confused about what Brexit actually means and how it will impact you? This month, STAND’s Brexit Series will help you understand how we got in this situation, what the proposed deal contains, where the negotiations are at now, and how a no-deal will impact Ireland, the UK and more widely the EU. If you missed the first piece, no worries, it’s here.

 

This second article will give you an insight of the European Union’s perspective on Brexit.

 

A quick update: Where are we now? 

At the beginning of the month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, suggesting a new Protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland. In fact, Johnson did everything he could to keep its proposal secret. Unfortunately for him, but not for democracy, the EU wanting transparent negotiations, secrecy was off the table. Some might read this as PM Jonson’s admission of weakness.

After insisting on the “very little time left to negotiate”, he developed what he called a “fair and reasonable compromise”: the “two borders, four years” proposal. The idea is that Northern Ireland would leave the European customs union (the tariff-free trading area), but would keep following the Union’s single market rules (safety standards for all goods, including food) which are the most complex to check. It is nicknamed a “two borders” deal because there would be a border on the Irish island for customs, and another in the Irish sea to monitor single market rules. This proposal to create two borders where there is none so far is a way of multiplying the problems. The reason of existence of that proposal is clearly due to the DUP (even though the party doesn’t hold the majority in Northern Ireland).

If this proposal should be accepted by the Union, it would start to apply at the end of the transition period. But first of all, Northern Ireland’s assembly would have to give its consent, initially in 2021, then every four years. If the assembly, which has not met since early 2017, contests the deal, it would know that this would bring hard border back. Two lectures of the deal exist. On one hand, as Northern Ireland’s Assembly does not meet anymore, it won’t be able to use its veto and the proposal will be granted anyway. On the other hand, you can read into it that this proposal could be the only reason for them to meet again.

Brussels and Dublin see this offer as relying on vague promises. Indeed, PM Johnson gives no clear answer on where the checkpoints would be and how the control would be organised, putting close cooperation between British and Irish authorities forward. European countries agreed that this deal “does not provide a basis for concluding an agreement”. 

Yet, Thursday’s meeting between Taoiseach Varadkar and PM Johnson shows that negotiation may not be dead (or not as dead as we thought). This common statement stays really ambiguous, and the situation was never that uncertain. But a deal seems now possible to reach as “promising signals” have been sent according to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. Yesterday, Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay held a two-hour meeting, said to have been “constructive”. We’ll see if there is a deal on the table for the EU heads of government summit, taking place on the 17th and 18th October. If so, many European countries would be looking for the Irish approval before giving their own. If Ireland goes along with the deal, then it would most likely be voted. We could even reach unanimity. 

 

A bit of economy: How will Brexit impact the EU’s economy?

The outcome of Brexit is not yet known. Various scenarios are still plausible. So far, it’s down to a deal or a no-deal Brexit. The first scenario would imply a soft Brexit (in case of an agreement leading to a close relationship between the UK and the EU), a hard Brexit (in case of a deal leading to a distant relationship), or an in-between. In the second scenario, Brexit will definitely be hard but might be orderly. The EU-UK trade relationship would fall back on the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) regime, without any major disruptions on the markets. All member states of this global body for international trade give the organisation a list stating the trade tariffs and quotas they seek to impose on any other member state. Therefore, in a WTO scenario, the UK would have to follow the restriction list submitted by the EU. 

According to Johnson’s letter to Juncker, the UK is asking for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, very much alike the CETA, the comprehensive trade agreement between the EU and Canada. If this should happen, we would face a deal Brexit, but it’d still be a hard Brexit since the UK would be out of both the customs union and the single market. But, surely, any agreement would reduce the barriers inherent to the WTO regime and be more profitable for both parties.

The EU’s trade partners will suffer some loss on account of Brexit, but nothing in comparison to the UK itself. Actually, the EU’s main source of economic loss due to Brexit should be trade (and not the loss of the British contribution to the European budget), in the short as well as in the long term, in both deal and no-deal scenarios. On the contrary, the UK’s economy will endure some tough deprivations losing international investments (including from the Foreign Direct Investment, FDI), as banks and companies which want to operate at a European level will relocate their activity to the continent. UK will also miss high-profile workers coming from the Union. 

Post-Brexit, the Union’s GDP could be between 0,3 and 1,5% inferior than without Brexit. It doesn’t convey that the Union will face this concrete loss, but the EU’s GDP won’t be as high as if there was no Brexit. Most national European GDP should be less impacted than the EU’s. The main economic victims of Brexit are expected to be Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (due to the importance of trade from these former British colonies with the UK), the Benelux States (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg), and Denmark. Unfortunately, Ireland’s economic losses from Brexit are presumed to be worse than the UK’s, whatever Brexit option is followed, even with an FTA.

In the eventuality of a no-deal, the value of the GBP compared to the euro or US Dollar prices would drop in the short term. Yet, it is difficult to predict whether it would be bad news for the UK or EU’s economy. All we know so far is that the 8,5% depreciation suffered by the GBP in June 2016 helped the competitiveness of UK export companies but was hardly counterbalanced by the rise of import costs, affecting both import companies and consumers. 

Brexit consequences on wages and unemployment would depend on each member state’s policies. If struggling because of the Brexit, companies shouldn’t impact their misfortune directly on the wages. They’d presumably abandon raises or reduce the number of working hours of their employees. Even if employment losses are expected, no unemployment boom is likely to happen. The employment market is under the influence of many other various events, such as Trump’s protectionism policy for example. 

 

A bit of geopolitics: What will be the consequences on borders within the EU?

From a European perspective, the border issue caused by Brexit is firstly a safety issue. When talking about the Irish border, the EU is well aware of the island’s history and aspire to avoid a renewal of tensions. The Union holds the same concerns regarding the (former) dispute about Gibraltar’s sovereignty. 

Border is also synonym of trade control, meaning the great come back of checkpoints, queues, etc. Moreover, it brings restrictions on the number of products that can travel, including what you carry with you in your car. 

Even if the Eire-Ulster’s trade is not such a big deal in comparison with the UK-EU’s trade (5 billions GBP against 600 billions GBP), this should impact Northern Ireland’s economy (more than the Irish economy). As suggested by PM Johnson earlier this month, a “double border” could be implemented. This would make Northern Ireland an ideal place for (frauds in) trade. The UK would most certainly mainly trade with the EU through the North. 

The situation in Gibraltar, a British territory located in the South of Spain who voted massively to remain in the EU in 2016 (about 92%), also needs to be settled. The 1,2km Spanish-British border issue was sorted in the third Protocol of the draft agreement, but not without raising the anger of Spain first. The accord reached in 2018 should remain applicable in case of Brexit with a deal. The UK and Spain will have to reach a specific agreement on Gibraltar’s status by the end of the transition period. 

The come-back of the immaterial border of Britain will also have some repercussions. Long queues are to be expected on motorways around harbour cities, such as Dover in the UK or Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Oostende, Calais on the continent. 

 

A bit of solidarity: why is the EU behind Ireland?

The EU immediately took Ireland’s side as one man. There was kind of a “club reflex”. The UK chose to leave and create difficulties, not Ireland. The Union protects one of its own, victim of a situation it didn’t choose. That is for sure the main thing. However, the EU is also afraid that Ireland would fly solo and reach a bilateral agreement with the UK, putting the EU in difficulty. 

So basically, the Union’s support is based on two reasons: first, Ireland is one of the EU members and therefore is entitled to solidarity; second, if Ireland should be a UK’s privileged partner it would be damaging for the EU. 

 

 

Based on interviews with Patrick Bisciari, economist at the National Bank of Belgium, and Marianne Dony, professeur ordinaire at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

 

 

Photo by Dunk on Flickr.

 

 

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Brexit: the basics

Brexit: the basics

Confused about what Brexit actually means and how it will impact you? This month, STAND’s Brexit Series will help you understand how we got in this situation, what the proposed deal contains, where the negotiations are at now, and how a no-deal will impact Ireland, the UK and more widely the EU.

 

Let’s start with the basics…

 

 A bit of history: How did the UK get to vote for Leave? 

When World War II was over, many countries around the world, especially in Europe, decided it was time to cooperate to insure peace and stability for all. But in the mid 20th century, as the European Economic Community (ECC) started to take shape, the UK showed no real interest to be part of any kind of Union, even though they were at negotiation tables. Eventually, when the UK realised that the EEC was actually working well, it tried to jump on the bandwagon. 

Once within the EU, the UK objected to every reform of the fundamental Treaties the Union wanted to make. It also negotiated every possible opt-out, signifying that it has always asked for a special status when the Union legislates on a particular subject, and obtained it. Sometimes, it has brought Ireland along to the opt-out side, as in the negotiations of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997). Indeed, the UK didn’t want to join the European Customs Union as intended in the Schengen agreement, which was to be part of the Amsterdam’s Treaty. Ireland and the UK already having a customs union of their own, Ireland opted-out too. 

When it comes to understanding the relationship between the Union and the UK, the British electoral system is also of great importance. Every national campaign has been based on addressing what the outgoing Government failed to achieve. So, whenever a national issue emerged, politicians blamed the decisions made by the country’s leaders at the time. In an attempt to be re-elected, most of them would accuse the Union to be the mother of all devils. In response, the opposition would promise that this would never have happened under their governance, because they would never let the Union dictate them what decision to make. One could think this has instilled a sense of mistrust towards the EU in many British citizens.

In running for re-election in 2015, David Cameron, Prime Minister at the time, made the Brexit referendum a campaign promise. Once re-elected, he organized the election on the 23rd of June 2016. What came next was not on his agenda. The “leave” poll won by 51,9%. Forced to admit the defeat of the “remain” campaign, Cameron stepped down the very next day. A few weeks later, Theresa May swore in. The British Parliament gave the green light to trigger article 50 of the Treaty of Rome in February, and so did PM May on the 29th March of 2017. 

 

 

A bit of legal procedure: What says article 50?

The Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, also called Treaty of Rome, equipped itself with article 50 in 2007 thanks to the Treaty of Lisbon. This article gives a unilateral right to any member state which would want to leave the Union to do so, as long as it notifies the European Council and respects its national constitutional rules. Once triggered, the leaving state has two years to negotiate a “divorce” settlement. Obviously, this lapse can be extended, if the departing state asks for it and if the European Council agrees to it by unanimity. 

However, nothing is said in the treaty about revoking this notification to leave. Therefore, the Court of Justice of the European Union had to rule on this eventuality, and decided that such a revoking right exists, that it is a unilateral right such as the right to leave (understand: the EU could not go against a withdrawal). 

 

 

A closer look at the negotiations results: What is in the draft agreement negociated by the EU and PM May?

Heads up: we don’t pretend to give a complete lecture of the 585 page draft agreement here! We are just trying to give an overall view of what’s written in this draft. 

The draft agreement is divided into six parts and three protocols. 

The first part enumerates the common provisions. It lays some general rules, including the obligation for the UK to keep following the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decisions whenever European law keeps applying. Interesting when you remember the leave campaign stated that the UK would be outside the reach of the ECJ… The draft also reveals that the agreement shall have a direct effect, allowing the judges to find breaches of the agreement itself. Therefore, no need to invoke another bill that would transpose the content of the agreement into national law.

In part II, the negotiators focused on the European citizens. Every British individual that lives in another Union state, and every foreign European citizen that lives in the UK, will be granted the same rights he/she enjoys now in various matters such as rights of residence, social security rights, workers’ rights, until the end of the transition period.

Talking about the transition period, it is organized in Part IV of the draft. At the time, the parties agreed on the 31stDecember 2020 as the date of the end of the transition. An adjournment might be granted but only once and it can’t exceed two years. Being in transition would mean that the UK is officially out of the Union, so it can’t vote nor take part of the decision anymore, but has to keep following many European rules in the meantime, while the future of the British-European relationships is discussed. The purpose of the transition is to give some more time to negotiate a Treaty on future relations, once the divorce has been consummated. 

The fifth part settles the financial agreement. Both sides agreed on the maths instead of an amount. The formula is based on three principles. One, no European state should pay more to, nor receive less from the Union because of Brexit. Two, the UK has to pay for the commitments it made while being in the Union. Three, the UK should not pay more to the Union than if it had stayed within the Union. 

The first Protocol talks about Ireland and Northern Ireland. It seems clear that the negotiators did all they could to prevent the implementation of a hard border on the Irish isle, mainly to preserve the peace process in Ulster. So they came up with the “backstop”. Concretely, there would be a deeply intense cooperation between the two parties. So deep that the UK would follow most of the European customs rules, preventing the need of border controls. This solution is meant to be applicable during the transition period only, again to give the parties more time to reach a settlement on the matter post-divorce. 

At the origin, the backstop was supposed to be applicable in Ulster only and not in Great Britain. That was without thinking about the DUP, a unionist party in Northern Ireland that allowed PM May to have a majority coalition in the Parliament. The DUP refused to consider an offer that would put Northern Ireland under different rules than the rest of the UK, and additionally quite similar than those followed by Ireland. Therefore, PM May had no choice but to extend the backstop to the whole UK. 

This solution doesn’t please many Brits, and is the main reason why the draft is still a draft. On one hand, the backstop goes against the hard Brexit encouraged by some, and on the other hand, this means following some rules that you don’t get to edict anymore.

 

 

A quick update: What’s happening now? 

Since late July 2019, Boris Johnson is the head of the British state. His dearest wish is to deliver a “Halloween” Brexit no matter what, with or without a deal. But that was leaving aside the Parliament’s will. On the 4th of September 2019, the Lords voted a bill against a no-deal Brexit. If by the 19th of October PM Johnson has not reached an agreement with the Union, he will have to ask for an adjournment. 

So far, the Union was opposed to both reopening the negotiations and granting an adjournment, in regards of the PM’s declarations about Brexit and the EU. Anyway, things might be getting slightly different now. Johnson recently submitted an updated version of the draft agreement to the Union. The latter might be more open to consider an adjournment if the British PM made interesting propositions, and if elections were to be held in the country. Slight problem, the Parliament voted twice against the holding of new legislative elections… However, the Lords might change their minds if the Union gives the UK more time.

We should know a bit more about how the situation will evolve on the 4th October, as Stephen Barclay, the British Brexit Secretary, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, will meet. 

 

 

 

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

 

 

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Addiction in Ireland

Addiction in Ireland

In my hometown of Roscrea recently a man emerged from the grounds of the imposing town castle clutching a joint. After a couple of pulls he sidled up to me and said “Want a toke cuz?”. 

He looked the picture of ill health. Raggedy unwashed clothes and bony narrow face beneath greasy unkempt hair. My only concern was my own personal safety. This man was clearly a drug addict. I resented his encroachment into my personal space. I lamented the fact that he was comfortable enough to roll and light up in the middle of the day as the half-deserted town went about its daily business. 

Across the road the once famous Pathe Hotel remained closed while every second shopfront sported To Let or For Sale signs. The town has been decimated by urbanisation and globalisation and has been ranked high on the deprivation index.

In 2014, Roscrea made national headlines. A spate of drug related suicides and anti-social behaviour plagued the town while austerity saw the police station effectively closed. The locals had enough.700 of them held public meetings and raised their concern at the breakdown of decency and morality in their town.

Drug use and addiction are inextricably linked with youth unemployment and lack of opportunity. In the years since the economic crash the country appears to mirror Roscrea’s experience of socio-economic disadvantage and rising drug abuse.

Between 2004 and 2016 there have been 8207 drug related deaths recorded in Ireland. That’s an average of 683 per year or almost two a day. These figures include the full spectrum of substance abuse from alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, prescription drugs and heroin.

Research into the psychology of addiction proposes strong evidence that drug addiction risk is exacerbated by a confluence of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors. Individuals with poor inhibitory control are more vulnerable. Inhibition of negative thoughts, actions and behaviours are essential to living a decent life. Self-control is a skill that can be developed in children and young adults however many drug addicts turn to drugs due to early traumatic experiences and lack of economic opportunity, Repeated use of addictive substances disrupts the brains optimal functioning by dulling and weakening the brains executive functioning in the prefrontal cortex. This is the organ of civilisation, the area of the brain that allows us to control, direct and supervise our goal directed behaviour. Bypassing these mechanisms drug addicts behaviour is governed by increased arousal and disruption of the limbic system which is the centre of the brain responsible for reward and motivation to pursue rewards. The limbic system is disrupted by stimulant ingestion leading to automaticised addictive behaviours where the victim can feel helplessly enslaved to his or her need for drug ingestion.

To put it simply the need outweighs the rational self- control elements of the brain. Control systems become highly compromised leading to drug addicts living their lives moment to moment in a constant state of self-destructive nihilism.

Have you ever found yourself reaching for a bar of chocolate, buying a bottle of wine or dialling a fast food restaurant despite being conscious of not wanting to do so yet feeling like you deserve a reward? Multiply that feeling by a hundred and maybe you are close to what it feels like to be ensconced in the belly of the beast and full-blown drug addiction.

Just as it is simplistic and ignorant to tell a person with depression to “snap out of it” it is equally foolish to sternly advise a drug addict to “just give it up”.

Addicts are often helpless amid their maladaptive and self-destructive behavioural patterns which are often exacerbated by society’s disgust and disdain for their predicament. In Ireland the ‘junkie’ is demonised, hated and feared; he (for it is often a he) is considered a threat to personal and public safety and must be treated with contempt.

Plenty of evidence exists in the literature to support links with adverse early child and adolescent experiences, mental health difficulties and the descent into hard drug use. A strong argument can be put forward therefore for the case of diminished responsibility which then leads us to the need for more compassionate and holistic approaches to drug addiction which can mitigate the personal and public safety concerns overall.

Aodhan O Riordan of the Labour Party, the Minister for Drugs in 2015, proposed the idea of injection centres that have been used to great success in Portugal, Holland and Germany. He was quoted at the time in media outlets as saying that Ireland needs to undergo a “cultural shift” in our attitudes to drug addiction. O Riordan advocated a shift from criminalisation to harm reduction. Instead of locking up drug addicts the state should adopt a hands-on compassionate approach which will in turn alleviate the anti-social problems associated with indiscriminate drug use. Safe spaces where users can even bring their own heroin into fully serviced legal injection centres offered a novel and effective approach to our drugs problem, he suggested.

O Riordan subsequently lost his Dail seat, an electoral failure that may be in part explained by his stance as well as the Labour Party’s overall meltdown that year. The current Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, has supported O Riordan’s policy proposals. In 2017 she indicated that legislation to decriminalize heroin, cocaine and cannabis for personal use could be in place by 2019. The legislation for injection centres has been passed yet a pilot programme for the first injection centre was held up by Dublin City Council citing planning permission issues following representations by concerned community and business groups who clearly do not want to see such injection centres in their locality.

Activation of the legislation and a roll out of nationwide injection centres remains in limbo amidst cries of Nimbyism.All available evidence supports the move towards injection centres. It seems however that most Irish people support a health-based approach to drug addiction… if those centres are not on their own doorstep.

In the classic HBO television series, The Wire, an inner-city Baltimore police chief effectively decriminalises drug use by moving drug abuse to specific derelict areas of the city under the passive supervision of police officers. The result is a decrease in drug related crimes and associated anti-social problems freeing up police officers to focus on traditional police work. The War on Drugs has failed utterly because it is in effect a War on the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the oppressed and only by recognising the issue as a public health problem and not a criminal problem can the effects of drug addiction be tackled. The show’s fictional narrative-written and produced a former police officer and journalist- appears to be mirrored in real life cases. Portugal for example had an estimated 100,000 people addicted to hard drugs in 1999 with high numbers of deaths and overdoses related to addiction. A decade on the number of addicts had been halved while the number of drug overdoses had dropped to double figures after the country’s government opted to embrace the harm reduction approach and decriminalise personal drug use.

In Ireland, 72% of drug possession cases (12,201 arrests) were for personal drug use. There are approximately almost 19,000 opiate users in our country while people seeking help for cocaine use has increased by 32 per cent between 2016 and 2017 with 1500 cases recorded.

The shift from criminalisation to de-stigmatisation appears to be in effect amongst policy makers and the Irish public however progress moves at a snail’s pace. The issue is sensitive politically as O Riordan might attest. In our current binary, discordant and moronic political and ideological climate the wait for a full roll out of harm reduction policy and injection centres seems unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon especially with a general election looming as TD’s frantically attempt to shore up their base.

Fine Gael’s self-crafted PR image as the party of law and order is hardly commensurate with a truly modern mature and intelligent nationwide implantation of harm reduction drug policy. It is likely however that following the general election a stronger impetus for activation of holistic drug treatment will occur leading to reduced public safety concerns and a political success story.

The issue requires long term vision and implantation which is not conducive to the atmosphere of competition during the canvassing period.

Photo courtesy of Josh Calabrese via Unsplash

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Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Penelope Norman discusses a range of overlapping themes based in gender and conflict from the effects of the Irish housing crisis on trans life, to the ongoing settler occupation of Palestine, to the gender-driven discourses of comparative biblical interpretation across Jewish and Christian texts.

Maasai Women and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Suas intern Maximiliana Eligi Mtenga shares insights from her research on the tension between ensuring protected rights for the Maasai Women and environmental protection of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

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Meet Stecia, 16 Year Old Ugandan Gender Equality Activist

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Finishing College, Among Other Things

STAND News’s Sean Creagh takes a thoughtful look back over his time as a college student, and shares his insights on what matters most.

Gender-Based Violence: Starting, Supporting and Sustaining the Conversation

In this piece for the 10,000Students Campaign #ImagineEquality, STAND News’s Brianna Walsh talked to young men and women in Ireland about the impact of Ashling Murphy’s murder.

Cambodian Genocide

Cambodian Genocide

Genocide was officially recognised as a crime under international law in 1946. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was subsequently adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. This Convention has been ratified by 149 States (as of January 2018), though the principles enshrined in it’s doctrine are also part of general international law, which binds all countries. The word ‘genocide’ is associated, in the minds of most, with the atrocities committed by the Nazi Regime during World War II, as part of their “Final Solution.” Few are aware of the equally heinous and more recent genocide campaign led by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia.

The rise of the Khmer Rouge began during the early 1970’s when the secret bombing campaign by US troops during the Vietnam War led to widespread devastation and civil war in neighbouring Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge officially won the ensuing Civil War in 1975 and immediately began their communist re-education campaign. The aim of the Khmer Rouge was to socially engineer a classless communist society. In order to achieve this aim, the leaders of the regime believed that those of the ‘new age’ must be executed, leaving only working-class Cambodians behind to fulfil the communist manifesto.

In order to achieve this, people were rounded up and sent to concentration camps where they were sorted into groups. Cities were emptied, and anyone who represented modern ideals were sent to labour fields, in what later became known as the killing fields. Here, individuals were forced to work for no money, suffering physical abuse and starvation. Those targeted included, amongst others: Academics and intellectuals; those with a good education; those who spoke a foreign language; professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers, etc.; ‘modern’ Cambodians, i.e. those who resided in cities; ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai; wealthy Cambodians; and religious leaders and their followers.

The Genocide has become known by historians as one of the most barbaric and murderous in recent history. A total of 2 million people died, ¼ of the overall population of Cambodia. People died of malnutrition, exhaustion, disease and hundreds of thousands were executed. The most famous of these execution sites was Tuol Sleng Centre, one of 96 such ‘prisons.’ The Khmer Rouge lacked the technological advancement available to the Nazi regime and their concentration camps. For this reason, most executions were carried out using blunt everyday instruments, including hammers and pickaxes. This resulted in excruciatingly slow deaths. Perhaps the most horrific of all is the reported practice of executing small children by bludgeoning their bodies against that of a tree. The killing was widespread and indiscriminate. Little regard was given to the deceased, as the common use of mass graves clearly shows.

It is frightening to think that such a horrific genocide could occur only 35 years ago and only 30 years after that of the Nazi Regime. Tuol Sleng Centre now operates as a historical site- frequented by tourists and locals alike. This killing field allows the visitor to take a harrowing step into the not-so-distant past. Audio testimony of the handful of people who escaped tell stories of loud propaganda music on constant loop to drown out the screams of those who were being executed. They speak of families ripped apart at the seams and people targeted for reasons as trivial as possessing a pair of glasses. They speak of the death of humanity and the corruption of power, all the while sending a powerful message of warning to leaders of the future. In the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge’s reign, some of its remaining leaders were put on trial in a UN-backed Cambodian Court, resulting in the conviction of three officials. While this is a decisive win for the legal system, there is no doubt that genocide is a crime which no amount of justice can negate.

 

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Stand Back: The Great Green Wall

Stand Back: The Great Green Wall

Ellen Butler looks at how communities near the Sahara desert are fighting desertification, with the Great Green Wall.

In 2007, an initiative called The Great Green Wall of the Sahel and the Sahara was launched by the African Union and the UN. The mammoth project proposed building a wall of trees across Africa – from Senegal to 7000km east in Djibouti. It was intended to block the advancing Sahara Desert from spreading into the Sahel, the area south of the desert, and causing land degradation.

However, over ten years only 15 percent of the wall has been built. The project has faced numerous obstacles and complications, though there have been some successes.

Dr. Chris Reij is a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and a specialist in sustainable land management. He told STAND News more about the project and what life is like for African farmers.

The Great Green Wall (GGW) has been described as a ridiculous idea that was destined to fail. Why is that?
Experience in the Sahel shows that planting trees is difficult. Survival rates of planted trees are often low, which means well below 50 percent and in some cases, just 10 or 20 per cent. Planting trees in areas with 400 mm rainfall or less is exceedingly difficult and certainly planting trees at the scale originally envisioned is technically impossible.

Also, the assumption that a belt of trees would stop the Sahara is flawed. Land degradation is caused by misuse of the land. If farmers in areas with more than 400 mm rainfall expand agriculture over lands which are not suitable for agriculture and destroy the vegetation by doing so, then land degradation/desertification will occur south of the planted belt.

Some argue that the initiative did, in fact, succeed. It has evolved into a metaphorical wall of a variety of practical land-use methods, adapted by local farmers themselves?
It is true that the GGW has moved into a better direction, but it is too early to declare success. It’s almost impossible to find any hard data anywhere about what has been achieved so far.

Unfortunately, we are still losing the fight against land degradation in the Sahel. Rates of deforestation continue to greatly exceed rates of reforestation. Niger is possibly an exception because smallholder farmers in the densely populated southern parts of Niger have increased on-farm tree densities on 5 million hectares (12.5 million acres), which makes it the largest positive environmental transformation in Africa and it happened in the second poorest country in the world.

What are conditions like for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa? Is the reforestation and regeneration of land having a positive impact on local communities and economies?
Life in the Sahel is harsh for most people. The dry season lasts about seven to eight months. Temperatures and rainfall have already become more extreme. This year, rains in Niger, for instance, are abundant and it leads to floods in Northern Niger, which is usually the driest area. Farmers have difficulties planning their activities because rainfall has become even more unpredictable. Many farm households face food shortages and a large percentage of children under five years are malnourished.

This macro-level gloom does hide very positive development at the local level. The positive impact generated by investments in restoring degraded land can be best illustrated by one case: The village of Ranawa in Burkina Faso was in a very difficult situation around 1985.  All wells dried up at the end of the rainy season and drought led to crop failure. Between 1975 and 1985, 25 percent of the villagers left to settle elsewhere. In 1984/85, a project began to invest in simple soil, and water conservation techniques, which quickly led to a recharge in groundwater and soon all wells in the village had water during the entire year. The soil and water conservation techniques also helped restore the productive capacity of the land. Since 1985, not a single family has left the village.

What does the future look like for countries in the Sahel?
The future of most Sahel countries looks quite bleak. The population will double in the next 20 years. Countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger experience acts of terrorism. Young people lack economic perspectives, and many want to leave for Europe.

However, there are also positive developments. 40 years ago, there were barely any academically trained people in Sahel countries, but nowadays one can find specialists in every discipline.  Communication was difficult, but now almost every family has access to a mobile phone. Infant mortality has dropped, and access to education has improved. 40 years ago, we did not know what to do with land degradation, but now we know what to do and how to do it.

It is vital to improve food security and livelihoods in the Sahel and create economic perspectives for the young people.  Anyone visiting a big city in the Sahel will be impressed by all the shops.

 

Above image courtesy of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

Housekeeping of a nation

Housekeeping of a nation

Image: Cumann na mBan protest outside Mountjoy Prison 1921. Courtesy National Library of Ireland.

 

When we hear about Cumann na mBan in this age of commemoration, we hear a token mention about a women’s group relegated to the sidelines. If we hear about them at all.

But these female revolutionaries were so much more than that. They were the most well-known politically active group for Irish women in the early 20th Century, a group that fought for women’s education and recognised important social issues.

Who were Cumann na mBan?
They were a republican women’s organisation set up in April 1914, to support the male Irish volunteers, during the Irish Revolutionary Period (1916 – 1923). Cumann na mBan’s purpose was primarily to provide support to the male military wing – e.g. fund raising, providing medical supplies, producing newspapers, providing communications and intelligence. Most women in the organisation did everything except take up arms.

By 1923 the Irish Civil War ended and brought an end to the revolutionary period, along with its military action. The purpose for which Cumann na mBan had been set up, was completely changed – in order to continue they would need to overhaul the organisation.

The history of Cumann na mBan has focused on their ‘military phase’ or the time from 1914-23. They are remembered for being simply the female wing of the IRA after 1916. But they were so much more than that. Cumann na mBan remained very active during the 1920s and 1930s, as a group that sought to provide a social, political and recreational outlet for women.

Education
Facing a crisis of purpose in 1924, Cumann na mBan reorganised with an internal education programme for their members in the early 1930s. In 1934 class plans were sent to all branches, and each branch was expected to teach themselves, with some help from a lecture series published in the republican newspaper An Phoblacht.

Their plan was to educate women, and they wanted to do this through the subjects of history and economics. These two areas often overlapped, with economic history important, as well as the history of Irish nationalism.

The history reading list featured James Connolly’s writings in particular, and Labour in Irish History by James Connolly was “the best book from which to obtain a knowledge of the economic and social state of the country”.

Economics
However, through teaching economics, Cumann na mBan began to seriously advocate for women. Before giving any details for classes on economics, Cumann na mBan argued the reasons for women to study economics in the first place. This is something they did not feel was necessary for history.

This argument is particularly strong and really shows what Cumann na mBan were about in the 1930s. They suggest that it makes sense for women to be involved in running the economics of the country – simply because they run the home. “Political Economics merely means the housekeeping of a Nation.”

They were using the perceived ideals of women as an argument for political involvement. Although playing into the idea that women were supposed to run the household, Cumann na mBan saw this as a strength that could be used to further women’s political involvement.

But it was also apparent that Cumann na mBan were intending to educate the next generation and build a structure so that the organisation would continue. In this particular section, we see them argue for greater female involvement in government – perhaps without even realising – not just for ‘now’ but for the future.

Socialism
Education for economics would be through lectures mainly – to be given by officers in branches, and published lectures in republican newspaper An Phoblacht. A key part of their political and economic vision was socialism.

“Members will be expected to have a knowledge of (a) the causes of the present poverty and insecurity of the people; (b) the means necessary to be taken to end the present position.”

By the 1930s Cumann na mBan were developing a greater attention for socialism and politics. They began to view poverty as something that was systemic, an issue that needed to be addressed through greater education of all the issues.

This is a far cry from the image of them as simply there to support their male counterparts or that they faded away through the 1920s. They had become an organisation that really advocated for women’s education, but also for greater social change. Ireland in the 1930s is often remembered as very conservative, but Cumann na mBan proves there were strong pockets of social activists that still looked for change.

 

This is part of a STAND series on historical activist women. To read more about them, click here.

Roisin Guyett-Nicholson is Editor of STAND News and a History MA student at UCD.

Dublin DJ Calvin James talks emergency response work in Syria and how it feels to encounter ISIS

Dublin DJ Calvin James talks emergency response work in Syria and how it feels to encounter ISIS

Calvin James is a Dublin born DJ who spent 6 months in the Rojava strip in Northern Syria. There he worked for the Kuridsh Red Crescent who are a 24/7 emergency response service. He went there because he wanted to help the Yazidi population, who face mass genocide by ISIS. He is now back in Ireland and has been running Syria’s vibes for the past 15 months. Syrias Vibes is a music event which supports the innocent victims of the wars in Syria and Iraq by raising money for medical, psychological, and social services for locals in both countries. He sat down with me to tell me his fascinating story.

So how exactly did you get involved, from your Dublin apartment all the way to Northern Syria?

The situation there was always on my mind, but it was when I received an e-mail from my friend in
Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) in April 2015 that things started to happen. He was over there fighting with
the YPG – who are a Kurdish resistance group fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I had no interest in fighting,
but I told him about my social care background. Luckily the YPG were looking for healthcare workers….and before I knew it I was at the airport and making my way to the Syrian border.
So I stayed at a YPG camp for three weeks, but soon had to return to Dublin for personal reasons. At
the time I thought it was a “divine intervention” – a guardian angel telling me to cop on and get
home! But back home I just couldn’t stop thinking of the situation I left behind. So I decided to
return in February 2016.

What was it like meeting the YPG – did you have much training?

It was a good introduction, and there were many other Westerners who were there in a fighting
capacity. Actually, one of the first things I was shown was how to use basic weapons – simply for the
fact that there was always the threat of ISIS or a Turkish intervention, so it was for self-defence
reasons. Apart from that I learned the basics of the Kurdish language, and there was also a small bit
of ideological training.

On your return you started working with the Kurdish Red Crescent. Was there much of a routine
or was it more spontaneous work?

It depended on the day’s events. We were based in a city called Qamishli, which wasn’t
experiencing daily battle but there was always the ISIS threat. The first couple of months were a bit
slow as the rescue centre was being set up. But by April things were in full swing, and I was
responding to ISIS attacks or battles between the Syrian regime and the Kurds. But it was sporadic,
and there were days you spent just hanging about – I became pretty familiar with Syrian Soap
Operas!

You also came to the assistance of wounded ISIS fighters. It must have been difficult to remain
compassionate and professional at those times…

It was a bit surreal. The first time I met ISIS was in a town called Amuda. We rushed there
because we heard of a suicide bombing – it turned out it was a failed suicide bombing and the ISIS
fighter was in a local hospital. So we went over and there he was, lying unconscious with severe burns,
aged around 22. I actually touched his body for a moment, so that was a bit of a freaky experience.
And indeed, many of the Kurdish Red Crescent would have known someone who was killed or raped
by ISIS. But we always stuck to our ethos of simply helping anyone who needed it.

July 27 th 2016 was a particularly dark day out there. Can you describe what happened?

That was the day an ISIS truck bomb in Qamishli killed 50 people and left 150 others injured. I was
just chilling in my room before hearing the most crazy bang noise, and then the air conditioner in
my room just fell to the ground. There was a massive mushroom cloud outside, and it was obvious
then something serious had happened. So we arrived at the scene, trying to get as many survivors
as possible. It was the most intense heat ever that day, 50 degrees I think. We had no water, so I
ended up drinking some dirty pipe water not caring of the damage it could do with me. Everything
happened so quickly, and some dude just dropped this dead girl on my arms. We rushed to the
ambulance with her and only then realised “what are we doing bringing her to hospital, she’s already
dead” and then rushed back to try and get the survivors – that kind of hazy and panicked state of mind
sums up what it was like. It was actually my Dad’s birthday that day, but unfortunately I’ll be associating
it with something else from now on. Nothing prepares you for a day like that.

How about the local population, what was your relationship like with them?

Overall very good. There would be UN aid trucks passing through Rojava on the way to Aleppo,
and the local populations were frustrated they weren’t stopping in Rojava. I think they felt a bit
neglected by some other organisations. So they really did appreciate any humanitarian assistance
they got, and they saw us as neutral. I also think the fact I was Irish helped, because of ours and
the Kurds shared struggle– there was the occasional Bobby Sand’s reference.

And what about their daily lives – was there much of a sense of normality?

There actually was, and I think absence of normality can sometimes be a bit of a misconception
about parts of warzones. It was definitely the case here any ways – people went to school, had
weddings, socialised, played sports. Myself and some YPG friends even treated ourselves to an
occasional couple of cans, just to get our mind away from it all. Obviously things would have been
different in Aleppo due to the constant chaos. In Rojava though it was “carry on as normal” while
always been aware of the ISIS threat.

Syria’s woes are far from over, but there is a sense that the Assad regime is going to hold. What
do you think that means for the future of the Syrian Kurds and Rojava?

It really depends whether the Assad regime is willing to grant them autonomy. At the moment
I’m reading that he would be open to negotiation on the matter, and I think many of them would
find that satisfactory. But there are still a few issues here and there – for example the Arab’s in the
region don’t always have the best opinion of the Kurds. So there are interesting times ahead to see
how it all pans out. Unfortunately though the Kurds can sometimes be a bit naïve about the United
States’ role in all of this – some of them even have a positive opinion of Trump. They don’t seem to
realise the U.S. might just throw them under the bus when it’s all over, just as what happened in the
Gulf War.

Tell me a bit more about Syria’s Vibes – how did the idea come about?

I just felt there was a lack of humanitarian charities and NGO’s in the region – many of them
seemed to be helping displaced Syrian’s in nearby Lebanon and Jordan. So I wanted to leave my
own blueprint, and started raising funds back home through club nights and other events.
Initially we raised funds just for emergency work, but we started to realise that other areas weren’t
being looked after. By this I mean there were still girls in part of Syria receiving no education at all –
and it’s the polar opposite of how things are in the West, children actually want to go to school
there! There was also a severe lack of psychological support for the Yazidi’s, who have been left
traumatised from ISIS horrors. So at the moment we’re really trying to branch out to these
untapped areas and fund some important projects and services.

Your story is inspiring, but what would you say to a young Irish person considering a similar
endeavour?

Learn a language – or two! In all seriousness though, you need to do as much homework as
possible before going out. I was lucky in that I had a very strong base and team, with everyone
looking out for each other and helping each other along the way. So it’s a combination of making
sure you have as much research done as possible, while also ensuring you’re with the right company.

Head along to Syrian Vibes which is happening tonight at The Soundhouse, Eden Quay, 7pm. Check out their Facebook event for details.

 

Photo: Calvin James with Yazidis

Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field.  He currently works for Concern Worldwide. 

How can we inspire future female leaders?

How can we inspire future female leaders?

November 8th, 2016 will forever be remembered as the day America chose to elect the least qualified presidential candidate in history. While there were many reasons the American electorate turned from Hilary Clinton to Donald Trump, it is undeniable that gender played in role in Clinton’s defeat.

Although it’s easy to shake our heads and tut at America’s lack of progress, let’s examine women’s political leadership in Ireland. Like America, Ireland has never had a female Taoiseach. As it stands, 32 women were elected to the Dail in 2016, a new record. However in July 2017, out of these representatives, only three women were chosen as Ministers for a Cabinet consisting of 19.

In a world that is strikingly unequal and unfair, how do we encourage and prepare young girls to overcome the barriers and take on leadership roles?

Encouragement

From an early age, we need to encourage young girls to be confident and to not shy away from hobbies or activities that ‘are for boys’. Subjects in school like engineering, coding, and science that are historically male-dominated should be inclusive to any young girl who has a passion and interest in them. Make it clear to them that education and careers are just as important as relationships. When it comes to sport, encourage them not to give up as they enter teenage years. Partaking in sports can teach girls leadership skills, provide them with the ability to work as a team and boost their mental health. More than anything, we need to teach young women that they deserve to take up the same amount of space as men.

Embracing Feminism and Intersectionality

Feminism has gotten a bad rap the last decade. Conservatives and traditionalists label modern feminism or ‘third-wave’ feminists as ‘man-haters’ and angry women. While the message of feminism may have gotten muddled with the rise of ‘white feminism’ and ‘feminist lite’, the essence of feminism lies in its definition: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Feminism is a champion of both sexes and encourages people to eschew traditional roles and be their most authentic selves. But a valid criticism in recent years has been that feminism is exclusively for white, middle-class women who fail to recognise the discrimination of women of colour, LGBT women, working-class women and women with disabilities. To truly reach gender equality, we need to ensure everyone has a share of the pot and to do this, intersectionality must be embraced and spread far and wide. The most common definition of intersectionality is; ‘The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” We must continue to listen to voices from every background to ensure that our workplaces are not just full of women who fit the mold of ‘privilaged white girl’.

Representation

While diversity is the buzz word for the media and organisation’s, the real sign of progress is representation. In a 2016 study, Fortune report revealed that out of 1,000 companies in America, only 7% had female Chief Executives. This points to the harsh reality: women are underrepresented in levels of leadership. For example, If women do not have a say in political decisions; it means that the voices of 51% of the population are not being heard. This results in several socio-economic problems being ignored by male leaders and branded as ‘women’s issues’. To combat this; many global companies and governments have introduced gender quotas. While these quotas have been met with apprehension, from both men and women, they have proven successful in accelerating women’s progression in the corporate and political world. To enforce that women are represented at the top level, countries such as Norway have introduced sanctions for any company that doesn’t meet its quota requirements. In an article about gender quotas in the Scandinavian country, researcher Siri Terjesen explains that ‘if a company breaks the gender quota rules in Norway it will be denied registration as a business enterprise in the Brønnøysund Register Centre and be subject to forced dissolution by the courts. So far, no company has been sanctioned.’

Tackling online harassment

Statistically, females receive more abuse than males on social media. A 2016 Guardian study tracked 70 million user’s comments on its website over the course of 10 years. The results were unsurprising; out of the 10 writers who received the most abuse, eight were women. The 10 writers who received the least abuse were all men. News articles and opinion pieces aren’t the only breeding ground for online vitriol. Social media sites like Twitter have become a stomping ground for online trolls to harass women with messages of hate and threats of violence. Twitter has been slow to tackle this sort of abuse; at times they have failed to block users or ban their accounts, resulting in many female users abandoning the site altogether. One recent case acts as an example of how lawmakers did punish two online trolls who targeted a feminist campaigner. In 2014, two people were sentenced to jail for sending death and rape threats on Twitter to Caroline Criado-Perez, a writer campaigning for a woman to be featured on the £10 note, and to Labour MP Stella Creasy, who voiced her support of Criado-Perez. While it is promising to see individuals reprimanded for such acts, it’s worth noting that the pair were allowed to send multiple threats without the website suspending their accounts.

Raising Boys Differently

To inspire future female leaders, we must also change how we bring up young men. Similar to girls, we must encourage them to explore their true selves instead of forcing them into a small box of masculinity for the rest of their lives. Encourage them to see women as their equals in their personal lives and professional lives. This can start by ending gender segregation in primary and secondary school. Single-sex classrooms limit both girls and boys. In a 2011 article from Science.org, it argued that single-sex classes are ‘deeply misguided’ and that ‘There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.” Additionally, we need to raise young men to believe that sharing parenting duties is the norm so that it means that a woman does not automatically give her up a career or take a step back from a career to raise children. Even if paternity leave becomes widely available, culture and attitudes need to change towards shared parental responsibilities. Figures released by the Department of Social Protection revealed that since the introduced changes in Ireland’s paternity leave set-up, only one in fours fathers took the two-week leave. If women are expected to climb the career ladder, men should be expected to do their best to ensure it happens.

For too long women have had no role models to guide them to the top. Men have had the luxury of mentors in every possible sector to help them get to the top of their field. Going back to the 2016 US elections, it wasn’t just Hilary Clinton who lost out. This was a defeat for every woman who deserved to see a woman finally get the opportunity to smash that glass ceiling to pieces.

 

Emily is a journalism graduate from DCU. Her work has appeared in the Irish Independent, Sunday World Online and Hot Press Magazine. She is passionate about equality and a fair society for all citizens.

The Forgotten Frontlines of East Ukraine

The Forgotten Frontlines of East Ukraine

Introduction

Three years since the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and Russia find themselves at a
perpetual impasse. Daily fighting continues in the Eastern part of the country, with the
current death toll surpassing 10,000 and a further 2.5-3 million people left displaced. With
the Kremlin still denying the presence of Russian troops in the country, combined with a
growing apathetic international community, the fear is that the conflict has become a
protracted one.

 

The Political Context – Denial, Division, and Apathy

Mistrust and lack of transparency continue to define the conflict, with both sides taking part
in indiscriminate shelling and violence. The source of friction lies in the so called De Facto
states of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”, where Pro-
Russian separatists continue to seek greater autonomy from Ukraine in view of establishing
separate states. Whether this pursuit is backed by the Russian government is something
less clear. On the one hand Vladimir Putin has admitted occasional military support by
Russian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk, but denies them having a regular presence there.
Less ambiguous is the Ukrainian government’s role, whose use of force has drawn criticism
from human rights groups and international monitors. At present, the fighting between the
two groups is mainly concentrated in the cities of Avdiivka and Mariupol.

Internationally, the conflict has taken on a backstage role in light of events in Syria.
Regardless, continued United States support for Ukraine in the form of military training and
non-lethal aid, as well as the continued issuing of sanctions against Russia, means “cold
war” rhetoric remains close to the surface. This has been exacerbated further with the
ongoing debate of whether the U.S should provide Ukraine with lethal aid. Here in Europe,
a lack of political will seems to be the defining characteristic, with neither France nor
Germany offering much inspiration in terms of diplomacy. With Brexit on the horizon this
apathy is only likely to increase, as the UK’s exit may mean it will no longer be able to wield
its influence against Russian aggression.

 

Human Rights – Repression In The Name of Security

With over 2000 civilian deaths, and over 2.5 million people displaced, the consequences for
ordinary Ukrainian citizens have been devastating. For those who have survived, the highly
nationalistic nature of the conflict means that security forces have created a climate of
suspicion and fear. This was highlighted in 2017 annual reports by both Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch, which outlined how dozens of civilians were held
captive and tortured by both the Ukrainian authorities and Pro-Russian separatists, on
suspicion of collaborating with the ‘other side’ or as part of a “prisoner exchange” strategy –
often on tenuous or baseless grounds. Such developments are particularly concerning in
the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, due to a lack of checks and balances.

Away from the conflict zone, the human rights situation in the now annexed Crimea leaves
much to be concerned, where Russian authorities have targeted dissenters and minority
groups – particularly the Crimean Tatars. Ed O’Donovan works for Irish based NGO ‘Front
Line Defenders’, which seeks to protect human rights defenders at work. He explained how
human right defender’s (HRD’s) in Crimea face many challenges in the newly annexed
region. “Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the Russian authorities in the
region have consistently targeted HRD’s in an attempt to whitewash the human rights
violations taking place”, said Ed, who describes how the authorities subject HRD’s to
“physical attack, home surveillance, criminal prosecution, and unlawful detention, while
also banning public demonstration in support of minorities.” Indeed, the 2017 Frontline
Defenders award winner is Emil Kurbedinov, a Tartar human rights lawyer who has
documented violations against Tartars and assisted those who are in the firing line. Emil was
arrested by local authorities and sentenced to 10 days administrative detention for
“propagandizing for extremist organisations”. Ed says it’s vital that there is international
support for figures such as Emil “so that we can contribute to his security in a region that is
largely forgotten.”

 

The Humanitarian Response

Homes, hospitals, schools, and vital infrastructure continue to be devastated by the conflict,
and an estimated 3.8 million people in Ukraine are in need of assistance, according to the
World Health Organisation. GOAL ceased their programme in Ukraine last year, but prior to
that had been aiding families and supporting the isolated and elderly. Sebastien
Lambroschini, who was GOAL’s Country Director in Ukraine but is now working for French
NGO ‘ACTED’, feels it is important that psychosocial support is also a key priority. “You have
thousands and thousands of people who are living within shelling range, that’s obviously
going to have a traumatic effect on them and provoke stress. What makes it even more
difficult is that anything to do with mental health is highly stigmatised in Ukraine, which
means that people won’t often seek help.”

However, Sebastien feels that livelihoods can only be restored properly in Ukraine once the
government starts to look at the bigger socio-economic changes taking place. “We’re
looking at a situation where the whole socio-economic fabric of the region has been
redrawn by the conflict”, he says. “The separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were
once the economic centres for many people from small towns and areas– now they have
lost access to them. It is vital that the government firstly accepts and finds a way to map
out and deal with these new economic realities. It’s the much bigger question at stake.”

 

The Way Forward

For now the fighting and death toll looks likely to continue, with no end game in sight.
Indeed, unlike the so called “frozen” conflicts which are symptomatic of the Post-Soviet
space, Ukraine represents a conflict that is teetering along gradually without moments of
escalation but without any obvious solutions.

Long-term solutions will require reaching out to moderate factions on both sides and using
their influence to bring compromise and concessions. Nevertheless, a few positive moves
could help de-escalate tensions in the short-term while also improving the humanitarian
situation on the ground.

Suspending lethal aid proposals: Top U.S. officials continue to debate the sending of lethal
aid to Ukraine in the form of heavy weaponry. Such a move, however, would only lead to
more civilian deaths while bringing tensions with Russia to the brink. It is vital that more
moderate diplomats stand up to Neoconservatives in Washington to prevent such a move
taking place, while also ensuring Ukraine’s right to a proportionate self-defence.

Protecting NGO’s and IGO’s: Both NGO’s and Intergovernmental organisations are facing
limitations in their work, particularly in Crimea and the De Facto separatist states. One
example is monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),
who have faced intimidation and threats from separatists during their mission inspections.
Ensuring that those behind such threats and intimidation are held responsible and
accountable would go some way in helping de-normalise such developments.

Continuing Reforms: The IMF has assisted Ukraine with $17.5 billion to improve the
economy and prevent corruption. While there have been some notable changes and
improvements, many lay citizens continue to move to Poland for work. The government
must focus on using these reform packages to support small businesses and reducing
unemployment, particularly in area’s bordering the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic.

 

Photo Credit: Sasha Maksymenko 

Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field.  He currently works for Concern Worldwide.