Tag Archives: justice


I won’t add much more to the reams and reams of analysis on the Paris attacks except to say:

It’s possible to mourn Paris and Beirut at the same time, while being cognisant of the fact that all around the world, hundreds are dying in events that aren’t marked by the media, let alone facebook – and to feel angry about that. I didn’t change my facebook picture to the French flag overlay but I don’t judge those that do. What do you do when the world is full of horrors? You do what you can and what your conscience demands. I don’t think self-righteously denouncing those that do change their facebook status makes a difference to the structural issues that mean a French flag is available but a Lebanese flag isn’t. Others put it best:



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“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

It starts at home

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Now we know

“At the end of the Second World War so many people said ‘if only we had known… if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces’.”

 “Well, now the international community does know… There will be no excusing of failure of action because we didn’t know. Too many times in this building there are reports and no action. Well this is a time for action.” – Michael Kirby, chairman of the independent Commission of Inquiry

Someone said recently (I can’t remember who) that the slave trade survived as long as it did because we tolerated it. On Monday, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea published its report, which concluded that the regime in North Korea is committing crimes against humanity and recommended that those responsible are held accountable, through a referral to the International Criminal Court, or a UN tribunal. 

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has long advocated for the Commission and the investigation of crimes against humanity in North Korea, the 400-page report details crimes against humanity including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”. It concludes that such crimes against humanity are continuing “because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place”.

I was privileged to attend a hearing in parliament in October last year in which North Korean defectors told their stories. One woman in her 60s, Mrs Kim, cried during her testimony about life in Yudok prison camp.

“My heart still breaks when I think of my parents and son who died in Yudok,” she said. She described piles of dead bodies, and being so consumed by hunger that she and other prisoners would eat the grains from cow dung.

“How can such an institution exist when the world is in the post Cold War peace? If you love peace, please help North Korea. As a mother, a woman I urge you all to help North Korea.”

Despite the passage of time, her grief was still raw. We owe it to Mrs Kim and thousands of North Korean citizens like her, to keep our anger at the injustice of the regime fresh. It should spur us on to do something to help. We must not accommodate, we must not tolerate this any more.

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A Lawful Killing

Lawful, adj. allowed, recognised or santioned by law, legal. 

The jury’s decision in the inquest into the killing of Mark Duggan is to be respected, of course, because the legal process has been followed. But so many don’t seem to understand the dismay and consternation this has caused in the Black community.

So many questions remain unanswered. I cannot imagine the pain of the Duggan family, who had the double blow of losing their loved one and then having misinformation put out to the media by the IPCC and the police, which was left uncorrected for weeks. And in that time, no one in the police paid them the basic courtesy of a visit to tell them that Mark had been killed.

A lot of the facts of the case have been obscured by the sense that Mark was a criminal. However, his family maintain that this has been overblown – he got into trouble, but was certainly no gangster. But even if he was, he didn’t have a gun and was shot dead. A mistake no doubt that will weigh on the conscience of the police marksman.

But with so many things unclear and so much having been messed up, doubts cloud the case. Stafford Scott, a family supporter and local activist, wrote this clear, hardhitting article for the Guardian, outlining the oustanding issues.

“It feels as if we are living in a parallel universe from mainstream society. What is seen as justice by the mainstream is experienced as injustice by the marginalised.” – Stafford Scott

And in the Independent, Yasmin Alibhai Brown points out why this matters.

“What is practised on one group, is then extended to everyone else. Remember that. In 2009, Ian Tomlinson died after being hit by a policeman. When the children of the middle classes were tyrannised by cops during student demos over fees, their parents felt what many black families regularly feel.”

It was just in December that Tory MP Charles Walker highlighted the shameful statistics on the deaths of Black people in police custody:

“We have allowed the causes of these deaths to go unaddressed… If we are to bring this community closer to us, we need to understand the hurt we have caused in this place and institutions of the state have caused.”

Mark Duggan joins a sad roll call of Black people who have died at the hands of the police (Cynthia Jarrett, Roger Sylvester and more) who have not, in the eyes of the community, received justice.

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On Renisha McBride

Last week I wrote this article for the Independent Voices on the killing of Renisha McBride.

“No justice, no peace.”

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Decision time at the AU

Today the African Union may withdraw from the International Criminal Court, which will effectively collapse it. Two days ago Desmond Tutu appealed to African nations not to do it, warning that:

“African leaders could kill off a great institution, leaving the world a more dangerous place.”

He launched a petition urging African countries not to break the ICC. The AFP news agency reported:

Tutu said the ICC was the world’s first and only court to try crimes against humanity, and accused the leaders of Sudan and Kenya, “who have inflicted terror and fear across their countries” of trying to “drag Africa out of the ICC, allowing them the freedom to kill, rape, and inspire hatred without consequences.”

This is all true. However, the ICC’s fate should not rest with Africa. There are some notable countries not party to the Rome Statute, not least America. Furthermore, the system of referrals means that some states will never appear before the court because they have signed up to it or have a defender in the Security Council protecting their interests. (SC members get to refer States and they all have to agree. See the problem?)

The reason that African countries feel persecuted by the ICC is because, well, they’re the only ones there. However, they deserve to be there. For African countries eager to shake off the shackles of the ICC, the question remains: what are you* going to do about justice? Lest we forget, the reason Kenyan politicians ended up there is because they failed to prosecute the perpetrators of the election violence in 2007 and 2008, as per the mediation agreement brokered by Kofi Annan. They handed him a sealed envelope with the names of the people responsible for inciting or facilitating violence, which was to be handed over to the ICC in the event that Kenya failed to hold these people to account on its own terms. Kenyan parliament could not agree to prosecute.

Meanwhile progress on the AU alternative to the ICC is slow and I don’t know** if it would be able to succeed where national systems have failed. Will African states club together to get Bashir et al off the hook at the ICC only to turn them over to another court, albeit an African one, eventually?***

In the midst of all this though is a tragedy, not remarked upon by the mighty AU, that illustrates why international justice matters for Africa: the hundreds of lives lost in Lampedusa recently. And not just the most recent tragedy; this has been going on for years. A lot of refugees are fleeing regimes like Eritrea, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, but the AU isn’t concerned with that. It’s worth reading Simon Allison’s take at the Daily Maverick: Lampedusa tragedy: We were all African refugees once | Daily Maverick.

These are the people a court concerned with international justice should defend. It could be an African court; but until that is a reality, and a working reality at that, I’d rather have the flawed ICC than nothing at all.

It shouldn’t rest on Africa to keep the ICC alive, maybe it’s time the rest of the world started to take ownership of it and, I don’t know, get some of the many, many other global war criminals in there. But until African states are even remotely bothered by the mistreatment of Africans by fellow Africans (or even their own people) and the imperatives of justice for the persecuted, I don’t think we should kill the one mechanism that tries to grapple with the issue.

*Call me a cynic, I just don’t think they care.

** I doubt it

***see above

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I still don’t know. I’ve watched and listened as two polarised camps  – both staunchly pro-intervention and those against – have thrashed it out in the media, especially following the vote in parliament on the issue.

When it comes to the vote, David Cameron’s government showed its usual ineptitude and depending on who you talk to, Miliband showed his opportunism/leadership, but politics aside, I’m left with more questions than answers.

1. Why now? Chemical weapons are so awful that there are international prohibitions against using them. And yet, the thousands who have died by bullet and regular bombs – innocent men, women and children – matter too. I realise that the “red line” is a useful political marker in the sand but in the face of the wholesale slaughter of innocents in Syria in the last two years it seems arbitrary. Nick Clegg claimed furthermore that chemical weapons have been used on 14 occasions previously. So, the 14 times are regrettable but 15 is just not on?

2.  What will targeted strikes achieve? Assad is not above placing his weaponry in civilian areas, it’s not possible to strike without claiming more lives. How likely is it that military strikes will make the situation worse?

3. How can a diplomatic solution be sought while all talk is of the certainty of military strikes? In this sense, I’m glad for the UK parliament’s hesitation. I don’t know if it’s possible to do both at the same time. It appears, for the moment, that the battle is finely balanced and a negotiated diplomatic and political solution is the only one that will make Assad stop.

4. Is this about assuaging our consciences or about saving people? It seems like the West suddenly wants to be seen to be doing something when it’s still questionable how this will help ordinary civilians or stop Assad in his murderous tracks.

5. If Responsibility to Protect is a UN mechanism, how can a few states circumvent the UN to intervene on their own initiative? This means any state could do the same and international governance, such as it is, will continue to crumble if we don’t work within the framework.

6. How do we make the UN better? The US is right on one thing – the UN consistently fails, and it’s about time Russia and China were challenged on their continued obstruction. I sympathise with why the US wants to go around the UN, but this isn’t a permanent solution. I don’t think the US can afford to be world policeman. Nor can Russia and China continue to claim a place at the big boy table and sit on their hands.

I am glad that I don’t have to make the tough decisions and while I don’t agree with many of the parliamentarians, I’m glad for their caution. This is a grave decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And for those positively hysterical that UK is abdicating it’s place on the world stage – that may be so, but the UK can’t police every nation. Why Syria and not North Korea? Where do you draw the line? We have to make the UN work better. Secondly, those from the Tory camp who have mouths full of human rights when it comes to Syria but who champion the repeal of the Human Rights Act and withdrawal from European Convention on Human Rights – that’s a hypocrisy too.

But at the end I’m still left thinking of Syrians. No matter which way you cut it, they continue to suffer. How do we fix this?


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The Migrant’s Manifesto

Dignity has no nationality – Musa Okwonga

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On Trayvon


This post has been buzzing around my head for a few days now, but the threads of my feelings and thoughts were too difficult to unpick.

Three articles I’ve read in that time on the trial and acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman have been among the most eloquent and perhaps the hardest to read, but thoroughly worth doing so. They’re also linked.

One. Gary Younge’s article in the Guardian: “Open Season on Black Boys after a verdict like this”  It was briefly taken down for legal reasons, but is now up on the site.

Appeals for calm in the wake of such a verdict raise the question of what calm there can possibly be in a place where such a verdict is possible.

In a nutshell, he put his finger on the feeling of dismay, disappointment, chest-constricting worry and sadness felt by so many Black people right now. While I think it’s wise to call for cooler heads to prevail, there has also been a lot of policing of Black people’s reactions to the case by commentators in the media. Some conservative commentators have pointed to the statistics of Black on Black crime and urged the community to mourn about that before they consider what happened to Travyon. The implications of the verdict for young Black men are hard enough to swallow without the community being told how they can feel about it. One issue does not negate the other and it is the privilege of those with power who seek to dictate to others how and under what circumstances they can mourn.

Two. Ta’Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic: “Trayvon Martin and the irony of American Justice” This was a hard read because Coates outlines how exactly the acquittal was possible from a legal standpoint. And no matter how unjust the verdict is, he’s right:

In trying to assess the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicting truths emerge for me. The first is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice.

Coates forensically examines Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws. Based on the criteria in the law, it would have been difficult to secure a conviction. It is a badly drafted law. Furthermore, Coates explores the historical context to this and the criminalisation of Black people by the American legal system. He concludes:

It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.

In sum: bad laws lead to bad outcomes. The law can be applied systematically and you can still have injustice. As I said in number one above, disempowerment: Black people are most affected by these laws but are historically disadvantaged to change them.

Three. Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches: ” The Zimmerman Acquittal, America’s Racist God”

When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.

Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.

When the laws were never made for people who were considered, constitutionally, to be three-fifths of a person, I have to ask: Is this just? Is it right? Is God the old white male racist looking down from white heaven, ready to bless me if I just believe the white men like Rick Perry who say the Zimmerman case has nothing to do with race?

You already know the answer: No.

Like Coates, Butler identifies the problematic laws. But she also lifts the lid on another, less talked about aspect of this case that has played out in the media since the campaign began to have Zimmerman tried for Trayvon’s murder.

As a Christian, it’s an aspect that shames and worries me deeply, but I welcome Butler’s honesty. Laws like Stand your Ground and many of the Voter ID laws are being pushed by Conservatives, a large number of whom are from the White Christian Right and who have legislated in fear of so many things (globalisation? religioius pluralism? loss of privilege?) but which finds its face in Black and Brown people. These are laws created without justice in mind and they are badly drafted and do not work.

I have seen the tweets and facebook posts. I’ve talked to friends and heard the sadness in their voices. To be honest, I don’t know what to say. I know the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards  justice.” I know the balance will be set right and that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 2 vs 14) but at times like this I feel the weight of injustice and I wonder, how long, Lord? I wrestle with the paradox of what I see and what I have reason to believe. Like Jacob, I wrestle with (my understanding of) God and discover that he doesn’t fade in and out like a faulty radio but He’s everywhere, being revealed and hidden at the same time. When He seems hidden, sometimes I lack the words and the courage to name Him.

Martin Luther King said: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.”

It is right that we don’t feel peace because justice has not been done. The justice system has run its course but the struggle continues.

“If you don’t let us sleep, we won’t let you dream.”*

We need better laws so that the system can function better. We need to have the hard conversations in our legislatures, communities and societies. We need to wrestle with racism and and injustice.

We need to secure justice and peace for Trayvon and all the others like him. And for us, too.


*There was a play at the Royal Court Theatre earlier this year or last by this name about the impact of the government cuts on young people. It has stuck with me as a phrase of resistance.

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