Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Prediction for 2012: Dow, Anna Hazare and an Indian Summer

Anna Hazare (c) Rajvaddhan
Republished in full from The Pryer.

As 2011 winds down and turns into 2012, my ‘mystic Mark’ crystal ball and I have been locked in deep, dark contemplation over where next for Time’s person of the year, The Protester. Next up, a move east and an Indian summer.

Many of you will be aware that the Olympics are due to take place in London next year. For India, Dow‘s sponsorship of the Olympic stadium prior to the games has been stirring up controversy and protest.

I have covered Dow’s suspect choice as London 2012 partners here, but their direct link to Union Carbide and the Bhopal disaster can not be underestimated in the current global context. Residents there continue to live with the effects of this disaster.

The tragic events in Bhopal have received international media attention and condemnation; more so recently, because of Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympics.

Dow’s international presence, and 'reputation', means that influential pressure groups are able to lobby governments and organisations in India and the UK, with greater effect. As such, the globalisation of Bhopal makes it a worthy focal point for the Indian public to register their discontent over a range of social malpractices regardless of caste or religion.

Ranjona Banerji lays the blame for the current protests against Dow at the feet of the politicians. Rather than evaluate her lacklustre criticism of Dow, she queries the whereabouts of monies received by government officials as compensation for families affected by Bhopal.

She also refers to the Lokpal bill. Authored by social activist Anna Hazare, this bill seeks to establish an independent authority with the powers to investigate politicians and government officials accused of corruption. Politicians are dragging their heels reaching a consensus on the bill, despite recent notable corruption scandals.

Lokpal bill protest (c) Pranav 21391
However, the lively and determined Hazare will not let things lie, and has gathered a young team around him to press regional governments to adopt it. Amongst the Indian people, he is recognised as a national icon in the fight against corruption. With legislative elections on the horizon, set against a backdrop of a predicted economic downturn, this makes Hazare a dangerous catalyst for protest.

Given India’s borders with the People Republic of China (PRC) and Pakistan, and the disputed regions around southern Kashmir, any protests may spark further regional uncertainty. This is especially important in light of the PRC government’s issues with the Uighur community in Xinjiang province, and reports of their deployment of troops to quell rebellions in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

So there we have it. A global protest movement, local social grievances and forthcoming elections, all filtered through a focus on the Olympics, with a charismatic campaigner ready to put his life at risk for his nation’s people.

An Arab spring will bloom into an Indian summer.  Maybe.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Luis Suarez, racist language & punishment

Luis Suarez (c) Ilya Khokhlov
Following Luiz Suarez's punishment by the Football Association (F.A.) for using “insulting words”, which included references to the colour of Patrice Evra, I am going to begin this post by setting out the following quotes and statements on this issue:

Today is a very difficult and painful day for both me and my family.
(Luiz Suarez on Twitter, 20/12/2011)

Very disappointed with today's verdict.

Liverpool Football Club is very surprised and disappointed with the decision of the Football Association Commission to find Luis Suarez guilty of the charges against him...
(Liverpool FC statement, 20/12/2011)

Suarez..told media in Uruguay that he "called him [Evra] something his team-mates at Manchester call him".
(BBC Football post, 20/12/2011)

It is quite an unbelievable statement and a harsh statement. Suarez could be suspended for 20% of the season - it's devastating for Liverpool
(Mark Lawrenson, BBC Football Sport Expert, 20/12/2011)

From what I understand from the likes of Liverpool-kop.com, the word Suarez used to abuse Patrica Evra was “negrita.” BBC Sport's, Tim Vickery, has written a good post on the use of similar words and their context in Uruguayan, and South American, football and culture.

The context of the use of “insulting words” appears to have been key in this judgment. The incident that seems to be relevant, happened when Suaraz and Evra were tussling for a ball towards the bye-line and corner flag.

From the TV cameras, it appears that Suarez was initially upset with Evra for what he thought was a dive. The crowd appear to have agreed and were baying at Evra. The two players can then be seen exchanging words, with both players appearing to be unhappy with each other.

Patrice Evra (c) Gordon Flood
After both players were called to speak to the referee, Suarez put his hand on the top of Evra's head. Evra took offence to this gesture and Suarez said something to him, which again woundd Evra up. Evra was obviously upset, as he was then booked.

Above, Suarez reckons that Evra's team-mates call him something that might be the equivalent of “negrita.” Do they? Does Glen Johnson, the only other black player I know of on Liverpool's first team get called “negrita” in training? If so, do Liverpool FC condone this, and if so, why?

Whilst arguments are made for Suarez on grounds of the cultural differences between English football and Uruguayan football, Suarez has been playing here since January 2011. Prior to this, he played for Ajax Amsterdam from 2007. The cultural differences between Holland and the UK are less wide.

The response to this punishment by Suarez, Liverpool FC and noted pundits, however, is seriously lacking in understanding being a victim of racial abuse. 

Suarez refers to it being a tough day for him, and Liverpool FC and Dalglish are very disappointed. Was it a tough day for Evra too when he was disparaged? Was he disappointed at being slurred by Suarez? Neither Suarez, nor Liverpool FC, have shown any dignity in their reactions to this decision.

Whilst Liverpool FC claim that nobody heard the remarks other than Evra, it does not mean that they did not occur. As noted above, it was very noisy in the area that these words appear to have been uttered. Besides Suarez admitted to Uruguayan media that he had said something. Perhaps he can be brave to tell us what he said to Evra.

As for Lawrenson's statement, it is nothing short of diabolical. Referring to the length of suspension, and the harm that it causes Liverpool FC in their vain quest to reach the dizzying heights of fifth place, it demonstrates what he knows about the harms associated with racial abuse.

More erudite commentary on the F.A.'s punishment comes from the likes of Rueben Hazell and Les Ferdinand, as players who have been on the receiving end of racism in football.

It was only last month that we were up in arms over the racist rant by a woman travelling on a London-Croydon tram. She has since been to court over the incident; Suarez has not. What might be the cultural context of her rant, i.e. the socio-economic reasons as to why she chose to use the awful words that she did, will not be accepted as a defence.

Whilst we regard Premiership footballers, and clubs, as celebrities, and therefore beyond reproach, neither football, nor those within it, are separate to society. Football reaches out to local communities and beyond; it is both in the community and of the community, in which we are all supposedly bound by the same laws, rules and regulations. 

However, like major corporations and other powerful institutions, the FA has special dispensation to punish the social harms caused by their members, whilst ordinary members of the public have to face an inflexible criminal justice system. 

Suarez and Liverpool FC should count themselves lucky.

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Monday, 19 December 2011

Aidan Burley & the face of crime (part 2)

Aidan Burley MP (c) altogetherfool
Further to my post on Margaret Moran and the inequalities inherent in criminal justice systems, it seems apposite to mention the (in)action of Aidan Burley, Conservative MP for Cannock Chase.

From what the papers say, the objective of those attending the party was: 
"We are trying to intimidate as many people as possible. A lot have been quite offended, especially one guy who was both Jewish and gay." 
Another member of the party allegedly toasted the ideology of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. This makes Burley an accessory to inciting to intimidation, and potentially hate crimes.

Returning to the UK riots, and those who incited them on Facebook, even though none occurred as a result of their actions, why is it that someone in political power is facing nothing more than an internal inquiry into his conduct into something that caused harm?

What took place in France is little different to what took place on the internet. The objective in both cases was to intimidate and incite. Whilst one might argue that these incidents took place in separate geographical locations (France and the UK), I would counter this. 

The incitements to riot took place online. This is a space not confined to geographical boundaries, as Brown (2003) makes clear:
"Cyberspace can not be treated as a neutral space, or as a definitvely different space, but neither can it grasped by existing notions of crime and the law."
Besides, as Wall (2007) points out we have two separate ways of policing cyberspace. Distal (offline), as in traditonal, conventional policing and proximal (online) through the likes of internet service providers and community vigilante actions. Therefore, this space is different, in that it has different crimes, bound by more than just the UK's criminal justice system.

Buchenwald disabled Jews (c) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Moreover, who is to say that the crime has stopped? As a publicly elected official, I am assuming that Burley represents constituents from diverse backgrounds, with different needs. I wonder how the Jewish, homosexual, disabled communities in Cannock Chase feel about having an M.P. representing their interests, yet one who is willing to condone intolerance against their groups. 

I understand that what happened in France is illegal, although not in the UK. Given our recent political spats, it is possible that Burley will criminal charges. If he were to, then beware the political and mainstream media fallout. 

By recreating ideas of an 'us' and 'them' and a 'right' and 'wrong', we will no doubt hear that this incident was not really a crime, just because under UK law it is not. As such, he would have people in powerful positions distancing him from being constructed as a criminal. 

Due to these unequal power relations in society, the notion of crime is no longer an adequate term for understanding the experience that victims suffer and face. Ideas of 'social harm' would seem to be more appropriate for determining what constitutes what we call a crime.

Because as things stand, this case is just another example of what the face of crime looks like. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fighting freedom or freedom fighting: Newt Gingrich & Palestine

Meagermind (c) DonkeyHotey

Originally published in full here on The Pryer.

Republican frontrunners vying for the Presidential nomination for next year's election, including Cain, Romney, Perry and Bachmann have all dined at the dunce's trough over the last few months. 

The Guardian reports that Newt Gingrich referred to Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists” last weekend. 

Originally populated by Native Americans, then European colonists, the United States of America (USA) of today has been transformed by further migrations of peoples from Latin America, Africa and elsewhere. Borders and boundaries have been redrawn, so that what constitutes the USA now looks different to how it did 200 years ago.

Each nation, and the nationals within it, is/are invented. What Gingrich says is true, but it is the way that he uses this idea that bothers me. Would he also agree that terrorism and the 'war on terror' is invented too?

The notion of a Palestinian homeland has been at the very heart of the 'war on terror' since 9/11. Osama Bin Laden refered to it in the second of his fatwas.

Gingrich's use of an “invented” people, and his association with ideas of terrorism is somehow meant to make the justification for a homeland less deserving. However, it is precisely this issue, still as yet unresolved, and rarely cited as an imperative for bringing the 'war on terror' to an end, that makes Gingrich an ignoramus.

The USA suffered a terrible loss on 9/11. This superpower and (self-appointed) arbiter of international justice since World War II, had an opportunity to reflect, re-imagine and re-construct itself and what it stood for in the 21st Century.

Why had this happened? Had the USA harmed anyone? If so who, and what steps should it take to get it right? What would be the best means of securing justice and a future security?

For many of us, it appears that the USA concluded that that this was the deed of irrational terrorists solely intent on destroying the American freedom and its way of life. The most effective means of dealing with this threat and effecting justice, it seems, was to use its military power.

The 'war on terror' began. In truth, terror was merely being exported.

Montage War on Terror (c) poxnar/US Army/Navy
According to the latest report from the National Counterrorism Center:
  • Over 11,500 terrorist attacks occurred in 72 countries in 2010, resulting in approximately 50,000 victims, including almost 13,200 deaths. Although the number of attacks rose by almost 5 percent over the previous year, the number of deaths declined for a third consecutive year, dropping 12 percent from 2009...
  • Attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq rose in 2010. Almost a quarter of worldwide attacks occurred in Iraq, a slight increase from 2009, although deaths fell for the fourth consecutive year...
  • The fewest incidents in 2010 were reported in the Western Hemisphere, where both attacks and deaths declined by roughly 25 percent. Western Hemisphere attacks fell from 444 in 2009 to 340 in 2010 and deaths fell from 377 in 2009 to 279 in 2010...
  • Muslims continued to bear the brunt of terrorism based on the fact that most terrorist attacks occurred in predominantly Muslim countries.

What is evident is that terrorist incidents are on the increase. By focusing its 'war on terrorism' in Afghanistan and Iraq, the USA has used its military power to enforce a transfer of terror on civilians who previously neither suffered from it, and are less able to withstand it.

They may have had less freedom, if you define freedom in its politico-democracy cloak, but equally, they have less freedom to walk around safely; they have less life security. A by-product of the 'war on terror' is that it has wrought more terror, not less.

Terrorism has not gone away, just because the US government has relocated it, and it will not necessarily remain relocated. Current ideas of western citizenship come with responsibilities, as well as rights. Gingrich's comments are irresponsible.

It is a shame that those in power talk about freedom so vacantly as to mock those that those do not have it. If Islamic Jihadists hate us for our freedom and our way of life, then Gingrich is adding fuel to the fire. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

Margaret Moran & the face of crime

Margaret Moran MP (c) Richard Lea Hair

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that former Labour M.P. Margaret Moran, accused of falsely claiming £80,000 in expenses, and her legal team would be making an application for a “nolle” to the attorney general. This would allow the case against her to be discontinued on exceptional grounds.

If granted, Moran would not stand trial. Instead, a jury would assess the merits of the case in her absence at a trial of issue. Jim Sturman, her Q.C., stated:
"These proceedings are a continual threat to her life, not just to her liberty, and the experts agree that she is unfit to plead."
Three pyschiatric experts have evaluated Moran and all come to the conclusion that she is unfit to plead. Sturman himself talks of his only meeting with Moran, in which she cried during the whole conference, and refers to a previous hearing at Westminster magistrates court, in which she sobbed uncontrollably in the dock.

I understand that it is considered more beneficial for defendants to attend their trial so that they can defend themselves more adequately. However, with the team that she has on board, the public display of her illness, and people's general disdain for M.P.'s expenses abuse, I wondered whether her absence would harm her case.

If not, do others with less (financial/political?) clout have access to the same recourse?

Kelly (2000), amongst others, has conducted research into links between inequality and crime. The Ministry of Justice report on the UK riots reveal the depth of the links between social exclusion, inequality, poverty and transgressions of the law.
  • 35% of adult rioters were claiming out of work benefit, almost three times the national average (12%)
  • 64% of child rioters lived in the country's most social excluded areas
  • 66% of child rioters were classified as having special education needs, again three times the national average (22%)

Social exclusion, inequality and poverty are also linked to mental health problems. Therefore, if we accept that the majority of those passing through our criminal justice system are from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, then we also have to accept that many will pass through the system with similar issues to those of Margaret Moran.

Moran is using a Q.C. Q.C.s cost a lot more than less qualified barristers. By using a more prominent, and presumably, more knowledgeable barrister, this will have enabled Moran to pursue this course of action.

Furthermore, Moran was examined by three psychiatrists over a period of two years. Again, this will have cost a lot of money. All this will be quite different to the legal (aid?) access that those living in poverty will have recourse to.

Looted Sainsburys local, Chalk Farm (c) hughepaul
Looking back at Sturman's statement regarding his client, it is difficult to find any reason why Moran should receive better treatment than the children who have been criminalised as a result of their wrongdoings during the summer riots. There is a large gulf between the alleged crimes of Moran and child rioters.

Not only will these children have had emotional needs, not dissimilar to Moran's, but arguably this is a greater threat to their life, because their criminalisation threatens their life chances; unemployment, poorer physical health, further mental health problems, and an earlier death.

Due to her influence, Moran will be able to distance, and anonymise herself, by her absence at her trial, yet children have lost their right to anonymity in the UK criminal justice system. Those in power want us to remember who 'criminals' are, regardless of their age and the protection that we should afford them.

I am minded of Reiman's 'pyrrhic defeat theory'. This maintains that the way in which the criminal justice system, and criminal justice policy, works is to perpetuate the myth that 'criminal activities' are solely associated 'with the dangerous acts of the poor' (Reiman, 1998).

In other words, a burgeoning prison population, peopled by those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, is a loss leader for governments, because it diverts the public's attention away from crimes committed by the powerful.

This case is just another example of what the face of crime looks like. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Newburgh Four: labelling and terrorism in the U.S.A.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Seal (c) United States Department of Justice

I write this in the knowledge of an attack that has just taken place in Belgium. Regardless of whether it be termed a terrorist incident, or for the reasons behind it, this post is even more relevant for it. My sympathies go to those affected by the attack.

In yesterday's Guardian, Paul Harris reported on the Newburgh Four who were convicted of a terrorist plot in June. According to the report, the four men had been entrapped by an FBI informant who had offered the men life-changing amounts of money in return for carrying out the attack. Quite apart from the rather shady way that the FBI went about their “investigation”, there was little supporting evidence that these men would ordinarily have carried out the attacks, had the FBI not acted as a catalyst for it. Judge Colleen McMahon is reported as saying:
"Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope," she said in court. She added: "I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition."
In criminological thought, entrapment, or to use a more law enforcement friendly version of this term, stings that target problem people and problem places are associated with ideas of repeat victimisation and the prevention of future crimes. Targeting problem people and problem places relies on knowing who these people are and where they congregate. In this case, the sting involved targeting prospective “terrorists” who congregate in mosques. It might be a fair assumption to make that this type of sting is an obvious means of deterring future “terrorist” attacks, based on what we read, see and hear in the mainstream media. However, to understand “terrorism”, we need to rewind.

The devastating and tragic events of 9/11 broadcast the idea that “terrorists” and “terrorism” are largely associated with extremists, notably Islamic extremists. Further attacks have taken place in Indonesia, Spain and the UK. Every now and again, we are warned of impending “terrorist” attacks. Hence, three distinct words, Islam, extremism and terrorism, seem to be harnessed together to the extent that even a prospective President of the U.S.A. can't help but label Palestinians as terrorists.

Mandela on Israeli Apartheid (c) Carlos Latuff
Consider the term “convicted terrorist.” What do they look like? Coming from the UK, I am immediately minded of the once convicted, since proven innocent, Irish “terrorists” including the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. In terms of the U.S.A., I think of John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Timothy McVeigh. Regardless of whether justice was enacted correctly, all were tried in a court of law.

In fact, McVeigh is called an “American Terrorist” in the biography of his life. Why the need to label him differently? What purpose does it serve? Surely, it matters not whether he is American, and ethnically white, yet it seems that the authors felt the need to qualify McVeigh to their audience; he is not any “terrorist”, he is different. Different to “others.”

The U.S. government chose to kill Osama Bin Laden rather than try him. It has failed to try any of those it holds responsible for the “terrorism” committed on 9/11, choosing instead to detain inmates at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely, awaiting affirmation of their label. It is difficult to see how we have come to one particular view of “terrorists” and “terrorism”, when those that have been convicted of “terrorist” attacks represent such diverse ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

As stated above, entrapment/sting operations are associated with repeat victimisation and crime prevention. Considering that the vast majority of the 9/11 pilots came from Saudi Arabia, it makes little sense in terms of repeat victimisation to target Muslim communities within the U.S.A.. Meanwhile, Muslim communities in the U.S.A. continue to be labelled and perceived as “terrorists.” They have to put up with being targeted in sting operations, and then losing family to long term prison sentences for dubiously constructed “crimes”.

By taking a hardline stance against these communities, based on little fact, the government threatens to create further division within the U.S.A. over its tactics. In turn, it may create extremist sympathisers within these communities that see the U.S.A. as Islamphobic. Far from preventing crime and “terrorism”, the U.S.A. might be fuelling internal “terrorist” acts of the future, thereby ensuring that the dominant idea of who “terrorists” are comes true.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Make it green: London 2012 and 'greenwashing'

Think green (c) Melissa Goldstein
A final post on London 2012, this time on 'greenwashing'. For those unaware of this concept, it is similar to 'whitewashing'. Greenwashing tends to take place when an organisation/enterprise makes a big deal of their green credentials, and promotes a particular aspect of their ethical commitment to the environment. Simultaneously, many organisations and enterprises continue to damage it in other ways.

Whilst LOCOG and the Commission for a Sustainable London (CSL) 2012 consider that LOCOG are well on their way to meeting their sustainability objectives, these reports and reviews are somewhat biased.  CSL are part funded by LOCOG, as well as others with a commercial interest in London 2012, and they report to the Chair of LOCOG, Lord Coe. This makes CSL's claim to independence a little far-fetched. Therefore, I am going to use the concerns raised in my last post to guide this.

As London 2012's Sustainability Plan: Towards a One Planet 2012 (hereafter called The Plan)evinces on page 23:

The unique opportunity afforded by the Games is to inspire large numbers of people to participate and actively endeavour to be more sustainable...
...and our call for people and organisations to help us make the Games more sustainable by taking their own small steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.
This is the rationale behind the Team Green Britain launched by EDF Energy, a London 2012 Sustainability Partner, in July 2009...
EDF have been advertising this project for a couple of years now. They have made a particular point of projecting their green credentials onto the British public by using a green Union Jack to symbolise its association with us and to our environment. To embed the idea even further, they offer prizes to schools that go green.

However, as Maxine Newlands points out in her well-written critique of London 2012 and its green credentials:
However, this flag was already the logo of Ecotricity, an alternative energy company providing electricity from renewables such as wind and wave. Since 1996 it had been using a green union jack to signal green power. The co-opting of an already established image opens EDF and, by proxy, the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOGOC) to accusations of greenwashing. The logic of the accusation is as follows: any organisation which borrows another’s icon may also be just borrowing its values for the sake of a strong image.
Maxine Newlands also refers to EDF's decision to pull out of using a wind turbine to power the games because of concerns over the financial benefits of using wind power. A decision that she thinks led to the ODA reducing their sustainability targets from 20% to 15%. in 2006. Perversely, given what happened next, the wind turbine contract was given to Ecotricity.

BP embarked on greenwashing their image over a decade ago. Formerly, British Petroleum, now, Beyond Petroleum, with a nice change of logo, they adopted the words used by the environmental movement in their advertisements to showcase their move into environmental sustainability. Yet Greenpeace noted that BP had only invested 6.8% of its funding on alternative energy sources in 2008, with 93% spent extracting oil, gas and other fossil fuels. BP continue to contradict their green ethos, in their efforts to dredge more of the earths's natural resources held in tar sands. The methods used in the extraction of crude oil from these sands is more harmful and dangerous to the environment than conventional forms.

Ecomagination windmill birdsnest stadium (c) kafka4prez

Without any hint of irony, GE have gone straight to the heart of environmental discourse , entitling their PR/advertising campaign, “Ecomagination.” Along with printed press advertisements depicting green leaves emanating from power plants, GE have even launched a separate ecomagination website. Yet, as the global executive director of advertising and branding at GE, Judy Hu, remarked to Brandweek (now Adweek) in 2006, just 1 year after the launch of Ecomagination:
Green is green as in the colour of money,”...
 ..“It is a business opportunity, and we believe we can increase our revenue behind these Ecomagination products and services.”
The clear motive in this statement is money and profit. Not the environment.

In 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported that on GE's relative success with its Ecomagination products. However, the report noted that the definition of the 'green' products that it was selling as part of the Ecomagination line was widening:
...Or take nuclear power. Three years ago, none of GE’s reactors were part of the “ecomagination” energy lineup; today both “Advanced Boiling Water Reactors” and “Economic Simplified Boiler Water Reactors” are part of the mix...
Moving such products under a green platform is at the least misleading. At its worst, it represents the co-opting of the nice, green, environmental ideas that you and I have for the good of the planet, but using them specifically to hide behind (Ecomagination) to generate further profits for GE.

As well as their choice of partners, I am concerned that London 2012 is 'greenwashing' from within. In their introduction to The Plan on page 5, LOCOG write:
The London 2012 sustainability story is guided by the theme of ‘Towards a one planet Olympics’. Derived from the WWF/BioRegional concept of One Planet Living®1, this recognises that as a global society, we are living beyond the regenerative capacity of our planet.
 Note that London 2012's idea of sustainability is only derived from the WWF/Bioregional concept of One Planet Living. The themes that LOCOG have chosen are used quite differently to those put forward in the WWF and Bioregional principles. LOCOG appear to be using them specifically in a local context, ignoring the global idea behind sustainability, that it ebbs and flow from the local to the global and back again. Whilst I accept that neither the WWF nor Bioregional are corporate partners, I find it odd that neither they nor London 2012 feature much on each others sites, given the supposed importance of The Plan. There are no logos, no links, few headlines. Why not?
Sebastian Coe (c) Mohan
Just because you say that you are conforming to sustainable development, does not mean that you are. LOCOG's choice of sustainable partners, in particular EDF, BP and GE, is worrying given their histories of abuse and their hijacking of environmental discourse. To make the games sustainable, LOCOG should have chosen partners who genuinely promote sustainable development. Equally, they should terminate the contracts of those companies who are granted partner status, yet continue to abuse this (one) planet.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

London 2012: sustainable partners?

Countdown to 2012 (c) Pittaya Sroilong
Following my recent post on London 2012 and Dow, I have decided to look at other partners that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) are using. As LOCOG are using ideas of sustainabilitythis article will focus on their sustainability partners. 

I am using London 2012's Sustainability Plan: Towards a One Planet 2012 (hereafter called The Plan) as the guiding framework for my analysis and comment. The plan was approved initially in June 2006 before receiving final approval in December 2009. LOCOG chose its six sustainability partners between July 2007 and November 2009 - i.e. when the plan was being finalised. As such, this makes it the most relevant document through which to assess London 2012's sustainability. The plan is based around 5 priority themes; climate change, waste, biodiversity, inclusion and healthy living. 

The six sustainability partners that were chosen are BMW, BP, BT, Cisco, EDF and GE. EDF was chosen to be the first London 2012 partner. Page 22/23  of The Plan on climate change notes the importance of influencing change in behaviours:
...This is entirely in keeping with the London 2012 vision and our call for people and organisations to help us make the Games more sustainable by taking their own small steps to reduce their own carbon footprint...
EDF have recently been fined £1.3 million by a French court, and two of its employees have been sent to jail, after hiring a company called Kargus Consultants to spy on Greenpeace over several years. I wonder whether they measured the extra energy they used, and paid for the carbon emissions as part of this fine. Akin to the ongoing hacking case with News International, I also wonder whether more people within EDF knew of this 'crime'.

EDF are a major player in the nuclear industry. In 2009, they were accused of secretly dumping uranium in Siberia. EDF are due to build the next generation of nuclear power plants in the UK. The Guardian reported that thanks to their lobbying efforts, they have now been granted what amounts to a taxpayer's subsidy for the disposal of nuclear waste. Corporate Watch also note safety issues at the Areva EPR reactor in France. This reactor is similar to the proposed new generation of reactors to be built in the UK. Perhaps there is something to this, given the explosion at an EDF owned nuclear waste plant in France two months ago. EDF fall some way short of sustainability. climate change, waste and healthy living. 

As for the most unreliable sustainable candidate and partner, BP surely has to take the biscuit. Besides their toxic mismanagement and cover-up of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP have have a long history of pollution. Prior to Deepwater, the last 2 major incidents took place at the Texas City Refinery in 2005 and Prudhoe Bay in 2006.  In both cases, BP sought to deflect the blame and cover-up evidence, yet in both cases they were found to have been trying to minimise costs at the expense of human and animal life. 

Along with other oil giants, BP have had to pay settlements to public water providers in the USA, because an additive that they used in their process contaminated the groundwater. The lawsuit alleged that BP, and others, would have known of the detrimental effects of this chemical.   

Page 47 of The Plan states:
Inclusion underpins all other sustainability themes – poorer people and minority groups are the first to feel the effects of climate change and declining biodiversity – and has a particularly close link to health. Deprivation also remains a strong determinant of ill-health. It responds to the One Planet Living® principles of health and happiness, equity and fair trade, and culture and heritage.
Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the off
shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon (c) US Coast Guard
This being the case, and with BP's less than favourable sustainability history, how did they ever get the gig? Following Deepwater, why do they remain a sustainable partner? If anyone from LOCOG happens upon this article, could you please explain how BP were chosen as a sustainability partner, and why they continue to represent London 2012. 

Polluting the earth's waterways has also been a problem for GE. Over a number of years, GE polluted the Hudson river, killing off a large number of fish in the river, although some have evolved. For humans, the primary health risk came from eating contaminated fish, as the pollutants are considered carcinogenic, and have been linked to other diseases and disorders. There have been problems with the clean up too, as GE have failed to follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines in removing sufficient volumes of the toxins.  

Referring to Page 41 of The Plan:
Biodiversity is essential to the global economy, serving a vital function in climate change mitigation and adaptation, watershed management, provision of sustainable natural resources and enhancing the quality of life that we enjoy.
This ties in with ideas of healthy living. In 2008, The New York Times reported that workers employed by GE, involved in a joint venture with Xiamen Topstar Lighting in China, were unaware that they were working with mercury. Furthermore, the report by Policy Matters Ohio indicated that Chinese labour laws were being flouted; workers were working longer than the maximum allowed, they were not being paid overtime, they were not given salary slips and had to forego a month's wages if they chose to quit without permission. Again, why were GE chosen to represent London 2012? 

Sourcewatch note that Cisco purchase their products from Tyco Electronics in China, who have also been accused of similar malpractices. BT have a partnership with Bezeq International who provide telecommunications to Israeli settlements and the West Bank. As for BMW, the last company to be granted the coveted sustainable partner status, I have found nothing that might suggest any wrongdoing on their part. 

So what does all this tell us about London 2012, sustainability and the Olympics?  
The core promise of the London 2012 Games – as expressed in the final bid presentation to the IOC in Singapore in 2005 – is to connect young people to sport and the Olympic and Paralympic values.
So write LOCOG on Page 77 of The Plan. The Olympic and Paralympic values are respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration and equality. Given that LOCOG chose EDF, BP and GE as sustainability partners, there is little to suggest that London 2012 fits in to the Olympic and Paralympic ideals of respect, friendship and equality. Nor would I call these partners excellent, courageous or inspirational, although I would acknowledge that they are determined. Determined to profit from loss, and determined to profit from London 2012. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

British Human Rights abuses in Iraq

Iraq war protest poster (c) Random McRandomhead

Reprinted in full from The Pryer

Over 100 Iraqi civilians have won their case in the UK Court of Appeal for an public inquiry to be held into alleged abuses they suffered at the hands of British military personnel. This follows an earlier decision that a public hearing was not necessary because the UK government had set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to look into these allegations. Today's ruling questions the independence of IHAT. But more than this, we should be concerned with the role of UK government, its tentacles of office and their efforts to bypass human rights legislation. In this case, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and G4S. 

Back in June, the BBC reported that IHAT had conducted interviews with just one of the alleged victims in the first 7 months of its work. Furthermore, the complainants and those representing them claim that investigators are not following agreed guidelines in gathering their evidence. Whilst the independence of IHAT has rightly been questioned, given that some of the investigators had served with a military police unit responsible for detaining Iraqi civilians, of the 83 members of staff in IHAT, 38 have been provided by G4S. 

G4S have a rather checkered history, including their handling of people of different ethnic origins. Re-branded several times over the last decade (Group 4, Group 4 Falck, Group 4 Securicor), an industrial tribunal upheld a racial discrimination claim against Group 4 submitted by a job applicant. The Prisons and Probations Ombudsman found evidence of several racist incidents involving employees of Group 4 Falck running the Yarls Wood detention centre, including one assault that they had failed to investigate properly. Only last year, 3 G4S employees were arrested in connection with the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee, who was being escorted on a flight from the UK. A year before in Australia, a coroner found that G4S security guards had contributed to the death of an Aboriginal man who had been arrested for drink driving.

Some of the Iraqi complainants have alleged rape. Any interview would require an investigator to be compassionate and culturally sensitive - not characteristics associated with G4S. This begs the question as to why the UK government, and in this case, the MoD, would contract G4S in the commission of obtaining evidence from Iraqi nationals. Are the MoD afraid of what a public inquiry might find out?

If the public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa is anything to go by, then yes. In September, The Telegraph reported:
 The inquiry, chaired by Sir William Gage, a retired judge, found the Ministry of           Defence guilty of a “corporate failure” to uphold basic standards by allowing rules to go “largely forgotten”. While clearing the soldiers’ unit, the 1st Bn Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, of having an “entrenched culture of violence”, he said it was clear the abuses were not a one-off.
Consequently, lawyers for families of victims may yet prosecute the 19 soldiers implicated by the report, despite the fact that several had already been acquitted in military tribunals. This backs up the concerns raised in today's judgement regarding the independence of such investigations.

I do not condone the actions of any military personnel who may have, or may not have, abused Iraqi civilians, but the MoD, and the UK government, should be held more accountable for these abuses. That Sir William Gage found the MoD guilty of corporate failure to uphold basic standards of engagement, implies that human rights abuses are tolerated institutionally. That being the case, and given that soldiers become institutionalised within a hierarchical atmosphere in which they have to follow the orders of their seniors, is it a surprise that some troops may have committed human right abuses? More pertinently, if human rights abuses are tolerated institutionally, is it right that they stand alone accused of human rights abuses?

The legality of the UK government's intervention in Iraq is debatable. Although this is not the space for this argument, it has implications for those who have suffered abuse and for those soldiers accused of abuse. We should not forget that the MoD has been found wanting in ensuring that troops got the resources that they needed. For families of some UK soldiers who were killed in Iraq, the MoD has been found guilty of negligence. In other words, soldiers were fighting on behalf of an UK government who failed to supply them with what they needed. 

From fighting negligence claims by nuclear test veterans who suffered ill health, including cancer, to contaminating Dalgety Bay, the MoD cares little for its troops or the British public. Perhaps the final paragraph of The Telegraph article is most telling:
Despite the criticism, Dr Fox rejected a key recommendation in the report for a blanket ban on so-called “harsh” questioning methods, warning that lives could be put at risk unless the Forces could deploy all “necessary” techniques.
Why then should soldiers stand alone accused of human rights abuses, when the UK government sponsors and tolerates abuse in the UK and elsewhere?