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

Monday, 30 May 2011

Climate change and a last smoke behind the bike sheds

Cigarettes © Alina Zienowicz 

This may be slightly old news, given that bigger crime and justice issues have taken place since this story first emerged, but I want to add my two-penneth to the debate. I admit to being an ex-smoker, but this is not really a post on smoking. 

The idea of banning smoking from public spaces is faintly ridiculous. Not only because it is unenforceable but because governments don’t really want to ban smoking. In terms of tax, governments earn a significant amount of revenue from taxing tobacco. In the UKsmoking constitutes a decent incomeeven amongst other forms of official tax revenue, it has risen steadily over the last decade

In China, things are worse. The Chinese government profits directly from smoking. They are directly involved in the manufacturing and production of tobacco. So whilst Chinese citizens are told that the smoking ban is for their (health) benefit, many are even unaware of the harmful effects of tobacco. Again, there is little effort being made to monitor, control and regulate the smoking ban. So why is the Chinese government banning smoking in public places? Is it because its rising economic and political profile means that it has to look as though it is a more responsible, caring government?

Governments don’t want to lose this revenue. Governments don’t want you to stop smoking. Governments want to appear as though they care. If governments truly believed in public welfare, they would ban it altogether. This is state hypocrisy.

Of course, they could make smoking more dangerous. Instead of banning smoking outside, why not secrete all packs of cigarettes under a flap of skin in the flanks of Pit bulls. Anyone wishing to smoke would have to approach said dog crawling along on one’s belly, wearing a kimono, whilst effecting the bark of a Chihuahua.

In the meantime, governments around the world are more than happy for our factories and heavy industries to belch out their toxic fumes. Carbon emissions are at their worst despite a global recession. If we fail to stop the earth’s temperature rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, the effects could have massive implications for climate change and all of our futures.

According to The Guardian,  Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA said:
"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," (…) "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”
Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics added:
"Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce."
Climate change is something that affects us globally, not just those in our immediate vicinity. It is worrying that something that is a lot less harmful to public health, such as passive smoking, receives more media attention and public discourse, than something that affects more of us to a greater degree. 
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The 'benefits' cheats

Another quick soundbite before the bed bugs put me on their tow truck and drop me off on the M62.

I was quite disturbed to see that the government are naming and shaming benefits cheats in this mannerWe all know that this type of thing goes on. We read about it a lot. However, by publicising just one form of 'benefit' cheats, the UK government is guilty of hiding who the real 'benefit' cheats are.

Lincoln job centre on Christmas day © Richard Croft
Given the times that we are told that we live in, we could all 'benefit' from extra funds being paid into the state coffers. Extra funds, such as corporate tax, that the likes of Barclays  and Vodafone would rather not pay.

So are the figures lost through cheating the 'benefits' system in any way compatible to those 'benefits' lost through cheating the corporate tax system? I find it surprising that our government, who are so fond of quoting statistics and figures, are not telling us how much revenue is lost as a result of comparable 'benefits' cheats.
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Justice for Mladic?

This is a short post on the arrest of Ratko Mladic, mainly because it has been covered by the mainstream media in great detail over the last few days. If you want an alternative take on the arrest, I suggest that you read this.

Srebrenica massacre memorial gravestones © Michael Büker 
Obviously, this is a significant event with massive political ramifications, locally, in Serbia, and globally, for the International Criminal Court (ICC). If the ICC is to be seen as a legitimate and influential court of human rights, then not only does it have to take the Mladic case seriously, but it has to look at prosecuting cases of war crimes committed by the more powerful nations.
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Friday, 20 May 2011

Evolutionary thinking

As yesterday’s international news events piped through my google reader, a recurring notion and old friend appeared in amongst them; power.

The No. 1 story du jour, at least this morning, was the Dominique Strauss-Khan (DSK) bail hearing application. Without wishing to going into any further detail on this matter (Catherine Tsalikis covered it eloquently on The Pryer a few days ago), I have noticed how the media make a particular point of mentioning the alleged victim’s nationality. As a Guinean, we are led to assume that, racially and ethnically, she is a black African.  Why does this matter?

A story on a Dr Satoshi Kanazawa caught my eye next. In his blog on Psychology Today, since removed, Kanazawa proclaimed black women were less physically attractive, and intelligent, than women of other ethnicities. If you really want to read the rather odd treatise, a copy of it can be found here. Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics (LSE). No mention of Kanazawa’s race here. Why not?

Speaking to The Guardian, Amena Amer, the incoming LSE students' union education officer, stated:

"We support free speech and academic freedom, but Kanazawa's research fuels hate against ethnic and religious minorities promoted by neo-Nazi groups. Not only does he use the LSE's credentials to legitimise his 'research' but this jeopardises the academic credibility of the LSE."

Although somewhat tarnished given recent events, LSE’s status and Kanazawa’s attachment to it add lustre to his academic status. It makes him appear more eminent. This is a dangerous position for him to hold.

Amena Amer’s words resonate with the DSK story. Both stories are about power, and the power to abuse. But equally, they are about the power of the media to inform, and not inform, and the effect that this has on racial stereotyping. 
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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

War crime or state crime

At the tail end of last week, John Demjanjuk was found guilty of Nazi war crimes. Faced with a 5-year prison sentence, Demjanjuk’s team appealed, thereby, prolonging any sense of justice for those that feel that he has something to answer for. It also prolongs his own sense of injustice. Demjanjuk has spent almost 10  years in jail, including 7 years that he spent falsely imprisoned following his conviction for being ‘Ivan the Terrible’. This sentence was later quashed on grounds of mistaken identity.
Demjanjuk is said to have been a prison guard at the concentration camp in Sobibor. The prosecution’s case against him relied on an SS identity card and other written records as evidence of his presence there. However, he was not accused of perpetrating any specific war crimes. Instead, he was accused of being present at the time that atrocities were being committed, and therefore, an accessory to mass murder.

Nazi war crimes expert, Professor Christiaan Rüter, is reported in The Guardian as describing Demjanjuk as "the littlest of the little fishes". Demjanjuk was formerly a Red Army soldier, who was later allegedly captured and taken as a prisoner of war by the Wehrmacht, before being trained as a prison guard. His defence claimed that he worked as a prison guard rather than face the consequences. In other words, he did what anyone else in his situation would have done to survive. It is important to note that the Nazis killed hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish, ethnic minority Ukrainians living in Poland. Sobibor is a Polish village that borders Ukraine.

In Crime: Local and Global, Green and Ward state that it is important to recognise that:

State violence needs to be understood both as an expression of state power, and as comprising individual acts of aggression with complex social and psychological relations to other forms of interpersonal violence’.

Is what Demjanjuk alleged to have done an act of individual malice? Or can it be understood within a framework of state violence and power, and therefore, a state crime?

In the UK, Demjanjuk has garnered more attention than other cases involving alleged war criminals. In Germany once again, they are prosecuting  2 Rwandan Hutu leaders accused of organising atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why has this media story received less exposure when the UK is said to be the home of hundreds of suspected war criminals?

The UK Border Agency considers that there are 383 suspected war criminals resident in the UK, with 47 being thought of as worth further investigation by the Metropolitan police (The Met). Between February 1992 and January 2011, a total of 41 cases, that might be thought of as war crimes or crimes against humanity, have been referred to The Crown Prosecution Service. According to Michael McCann MP, who is Labour chair of the parliamentary group for the prevention of genocide and other crimes against humanity, few have been investigated because:

"The biggest problem is the lack of resources dedicated to investigating these serious cases and that we often don't know where these individuals are. It means that if an arrest warrant is issued there is little likelihood it can be served."

Hold on. Enough resources are available for the Met to review the Madeleine McCann case. And, are suspects normally at their registered address when the Met come knocking? Or if they are not, do they telephone The Met like a loyal partner, and explain where they are and when they will come home? The UK’s supposed inability to investigate war criminals lacks credibility.

We obviously still remain interested in the pursuit of Nazi war crimes; hence the media coverage. This imbalanced approach to reporting of what is a war crime, and who war criminals, are got me thinking. I theorise that, had the Holocaust that was perpetrated in Rwanda been committed in Europe, that the UK government would have ensured that war criminals were charged and tried in the UK. The public would have cried out for justice to be done.  The press and online media would have been providing regular updates on the trials and would have added their significant voices to calls for justice.

It is enshrined in human rights legislation that each person be given a fair trial. Equally, each victim should have the right to justice following any fair trial. The UK government’s disinterested approach implies that they are unwilling to proffer such trials to those accused of war crimes. If they are the principle suspects of mass murder, let alone accomplices or accessories (like Demjanjuk), the state’s wilful ignorance of such injustices causes harm to their victims from the likes of Rwanda, Iraq and Sri Lanka. For me, this disregard of their juridical rights is a state crime. 

Article first published on the-pryer.co.uk.
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Friday, 13 May 2011

Slutwalking: Empowering women?

Thanks to Canadian policeman, Michael Sanguinetti, women across the globe are taking to slutwalking. In February, he advised students at Osgoode Hall Law School "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised." Since then,  thousands of women have got together, via Facebook and Twitter, to organise walks designed to alter the public perception that women are at fault for their rape if they dress in a revealing manner. Foucault's vision of power borne out by social media, as women empower themselves to take a stand and address the injustices that rape victims face.  

Yet it is vitally important to remember that victims are not always raped because of the way they dress. Rape happens domestically. According to Walby and Allen (2004), of women who reported being raped, over half claimed that they were raped by a current or former partner.  Other studies support this finding (e.g. Coleman, 2007).  Children are also rape victims, although this tends to be covered using other labels, such as paedophilia, thereby subtracting notions of innocence away from perceptions of rape. We should remember that men, too, are raped. 

Rape victims are also considered at fault in other ways. An Amnesty International (UK) report (2005) found that 34% of people thought a woman responsible if she acts in a flirtatious manner, 30% of people thought a woman responsible if she had had too much to drink, and 22% of people thought a woman responsible if she had had many sexual partners. A further 37% of people consider it a woman's responsibility if she had failed to say "no" clearly. 

Whilst legitimate concern has been made of the policeman's quote, it has focussed on the second part. "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this" also concerns me. Why would there be a need to keep it quiet? This implies that, institutionally, the police hold similar views about the victim's blameworthiness for their rape. Such a stance can not be good for the pursuit of justice.  This reminds me of the institutional racism that was found endemic within the Met Police following the Stephen Lawrence enquiry. 

Changing public perceptions of crime can only be a good thing for the achievement of justice. Slutwalking may reach an audience otherwise ignorant of the fact that rape is about the rapist, not the victim. But, if one were to apply a similar form of social action in highlighting the injustices of racial crimes, it would not work; the victims are already "dressed". They are not just seen for the way that they appear, but for what they represent. For men who rape, it is often associated with feelings of power and control. Thus, women represent more than just someone who is easy to have sex with.   

It is society's and institutions' underlying perceptions of rape victims that needs challenging. Rape has different constituents, as identified above, and is constructed through discourse.  With the conviction rate for rape as low as approximately 5% in the UK, this only fuels current public thinking that victims are somehow to blame. As well as educating the general public about rape, we need to educate those on the bench, the bar and the jury, during trials,  to raise convictions rates in order to change public perceptions. In this way, justice for victims might finally be achieved. 
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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCo) set for smack on the wrist

In amongst the bin Laden news this week, are reports about the latest efforts to do a cool shutdown of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. However, before TEPCo go head and cool the reactor, they need to vent the building of radioactive air so that operators can go down and deal with the cold shutdown. American and British scientists are concerned by this proposal, in light of TEPCo's inability to deal this disaster thus far, and because there are increasing concerns of an undiscovered radiation leak from a damaged reactor. Readings indicate that there are 100-1000 times the usual amount of radiation in the ocean close to the plant.

I am surprised that TEPCO are still leading this effort, given their incompetent handling of events thus far. One can forgive them the circumstances in which this came about. They can not be blamed for the earthquake or the tsunami. Those in charge of TEPCo now have little to do with the design flaws inherent in the plant that made it incapable of withstanding the earthquake/tsunami. However, from other reports, it does appear clear that TEPCo are guilty of not maintaining the plant as rigorously as they ought to have.

However, my particular concern with TEPCo is not necessarily in their handling of the recovery effort, but more to do with what appears to have been a campaign of misinformation/disinformation to the public. Right from the very start, TEPCo seem to have operated a propagandist approach to dealing with the situation. Every day, they told the public of their ability to handle to situation, and every day they reassured people of the dangers. Yet each of their reassurances were found to be lacking in any form of veracity. The Japanese government, the IAEA and other institutions have failed to support each of TEPCOs statements. In this last week, TEPCo have blocked Greenpeace from taking radiation measurements from the bottom of the ocean floor. Only in the last couple of days, have TEPCO allowed Greenpeace within a few miles of their plant.

Surely if things were as they claim to be, this would not be a problem. I note that TEPCo's offer of financial compensation for the victims of this disaster has been castigated by the Japanese government.  If this form of harm had been committed by an individual then governments around the world would be seeking some form of penal justice. TEPCo should be held responsible for the leaks, but more importantly, they should be held responsible for any harms that they have caused as a result of their campaign of misinformation/disinformation.

Any physical pain suffered by citizens, nationally and internationally, any harms suffered by those that earn their living from the sea and land, as a result of TEPCo's misguidance, ought to be dealt with in a more equitable manner.  The law does not allow for this at present. It should.
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Friday, 6 May 2011

Obama and bin-Laden: in whose name do you wish justice to be done?

The following article has been republished in full from The Pryer as the original has been archived on an old server and is no longer available. 

President Obama speaking at Camp Lejeune (c) Lance Cpl. Michael J. Ayotte
Following the death of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama proclaimed that “justice had been done”. Whilst many have good reason to celebrate the death of this mass murderer, Obama’s references to notions of justice raises questions about the type of justice he is referring to, and whose justice he is talking about. These different ideas of justice are at the heart of the issues that originally led to 9/11.
Reading through Obama’s statement, it seems that Obama discusses justice (i.e. bin Laden’s death) in terms of it being a fair outcome for the crimes that he committed. Justice is uttered several times towards the end of his statement, and always towards the end of each paragraph, emphasising ideas of a sense of closure. Justice is also articulated through western notions of security and risk.
However, Obama uses contradictory repertoires to explain how Western justice has been served. In terms of justice for the families of those killed on 9/11, he states “We will be true to the values that make us who we are”. Obama later asserts that the USA is, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. Yet, many have been detained at Guantanamo Bay without trial. 

Recent wikileaks files reveal that about 20% of those detained at Guantanamo Bay were innocent. Regardless of this, human rights are not the sole preserve of the innocent or the good. All detainees were actively denied their liberties during their renditions, their incarcerations and their treatment, without recourse to a legal-political form of justice. This contradiction undermines western concepts of justice, and ultimately harms ideas of democracy and the USA’s standing as its moral authority.
Obama’s statement should also be read in conjunction with his statement on Srebrenica. In it, he demanded that those who perpetrated the massacre be arrested and prosecuted, including the man thought to be responsible for the killings, Ratko Mladic. Whilst bin Laden was supposedly killed in a gunfight, it was always clear that the USA government wanted him dead or alive. Why advocate a different form of justice for another mass murderer?
Stencil of bin Laden, Bucharest, Romania (c) bixentro
Initial delight and rejoicing at bin Laden's death has since been replaced by fear. Justice in its retributive legal form seeks to punish the criminal in a proportionate manner. In national cases involving mass murderers, as effected through western penal systems, being found guilty means either life imprisonment, or in some USA states , death. Families and friends of victims feel secure knowing that the perpetrator won’t harm them again. 

In contrast, the death of bin Laden has heightened security concerns in the UK and USA. The 'truth' surrounding his alleged burial at sea has been challenged and the religious manner of his burial has stoked further controversy. Bin Laden was merely a figurehead for his movement, and although he helped perpetrate atrocities, he has followers who may harm those same families and friends of victims again. The international justice enacted on bin Laden may have immediately sated its diners, but it is the (just) desserts of fear and insecurity that we need to consume to  feel truly content. 
Nobel prize-winning economist and philosopher, Amartya Sen, contends that there is no single, concrete and definitive justice; we each have our own philosophy of justice. Sen argues for a ‘global justice’, in which we understand that we have a sense of duty to each other as human beings at all times, no matter the circumstances . He advances a global human rights agenda to resolve injustices, rather than an international justice system, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC); the USA has never ratified the Rome statute of the ICC, and does not intend to. Any notion of justice requires dialogue between an ‘us’ and ‘them’. We need to understand the reasons for such attacks, and we need to respect and address these issues in order to make our own lives safer and more secure. 
Whilst such ideas sound fanciful and utopian in the current climate, it is a better option than foresaking values of democracy and freedom and living in fear of a terrorist attack. 

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Tales of the online: who perpetrates cybercrimes?

There have been a number of reports relating to the online theft and/or security of personal data.

The Guardian report that electronics giant, Sony, had been subjected to a cyber-attack from a "hacktivist" group called Anonymous. Sony allege that Anonymous stole names, email addresses and phone numbers of 25 million of its gamers, and that debit card details of customers in Western Europe were compromised during the attack. They claim that they are the victims of a cybercrime.

Criminologist, David Wall, classes hacking as a true cybercrime, as it only takes place within cyberspace; it could not ordinarily exist in the real world, were it not for the technology.  I can see how Sony might feel upset and disturbed by this attack. Perhaps it might explain why it took them 2 days to inform the US authorities of the breach and a further 4 days to tell their customers about it. It might also explain why they failed to attend a House of Representatives hearing on potential legislation for notifying the authorities of cyber-attacks that risk the loss of sensitive information. Now, the cynic in me might ask whether there might be other financial reasons why they failed to disclose this information, but, no, I can see that they were still in shock and loss, and that they were afraid to go out in case they were mugged and lost data all over again...hmmmm.

The real world victims are those customers who have had their data compromised. With Sony's track record of coming forward, there may be more than they have admitted to. Returning to Wall's typology of cybercrime, the theft of online details would be described as a hybrid cybercrime; identity theft and stolen debit/credit cards are a part of the everyday, real world crimes that people fall victim too. However, technology makes it easier for these types of crime to occur, as there is more scope for these types of crimes to take place.

The alleged perpetrators, Anonymous, are said to have conducted a separate, denial-of-service attack a couple of weeks earlier, in response to a civil hearing that Sony are taking against another hacker. Members of Anonymous are also thought to have been behind bringing down Mastercard, Visa and Paypal after pulling their services from Wikileaks. If Anonymous are responsible for the data theft as claimed by Sony, then there seems to have been a significant shift in their normal MO.

Many questions remain. Why might only customers from Western European countries be at risk of having their debit card details stolen? Why did Sony fail to disclose these attacks earlier? Why is it taking so long to implement cyber security legislation?

Away from this story, more general questions arise. What happens to the data that we provide online? Who receives my data?Where is my data stored? Why do companies need as much information as they do? Why do I need to register with them?

Perhaps one answer lies in the close relationship that commerce and government have. Big Brother Watch report that Tom Tom have sold location gathering data to the Dutch authorities for a significant profit. Effectively, each Tom Tom has a GPS unit that tracks each person's road use. Customers were told that the tracking system was an integral part of navigating through traffic. Every single Tom Tom user's information was then aggregated to provide a detailed plan of road use in the Netherlands. The Dutch Authorities have now passed this on to the Police, who have now set targeted speed traps, thereby increasing their revenue stream. Tom Tom deny any prior knowledge of how this information would be used. Apple, too, have recently been accused of keeping track of their customer's whereabouts.

Therefore, it seems that what is important in discussing cybercrime is the power to define it. True cybercrimes, such as hacking, only normally affect powerful state and commercial technologies. Governments and business are  therefore better placed to say what cybercrime is and who perpetrates it. Of course, governments will ensure that citizens take other cybercrimes, such as paedophilia, seriously, as this is a traditional cybercrime that everyone knows of. However, the misalignment in power relations between consumers, and the corporations and the state, means that they divert consumers' attention away from their cybercrimes. Passing on consumers' personal details, without asking, is theft. That, too, is a cybercrime.
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