Tears for Fears



By Dr Steve Wright

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 19.40.08

What a week it has been after the PAGE Festival.  Yesterday students from my Theories of Peace class shared their excellent presentations on the various speakers with me and our new staff member, Dr Jess Gifkins.

What was startling is that even a week later the politics had changed.

All the hand-wringing about ‘to bomb or not to bomb’ had been decided by a parliamentary vote for the UK to get busy. The vote which was preceded by a ten hour debate in which one of last week’s key note speakers, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, spoke with such eloquence in favour of bombing, that he drew Tory cheers. I wonder what his father would have said? Was the case so compelling? Did the attacks on Paris bounce it in favour? Was the £12 billion re-armament and security expenditure decision already made? For sure there was enough confidence this was a done deal for the UK’s bomb dropping mission to leave an hour later.  Ready and prepared in advance then.

In a week which saw the Security Expenditure Review authorize the purchase of new planes, there must have been a huge sigh of relief since we had new aircraft carriers ordered but no planes. So now despite the austerity, there will be bombers aplenty. We are also going to have two 5000 strong rapid Strike brigades, but only in 2025, such is the urgency. Does it all make sense in making us all feel more secure? I doubt anyone of us now believes that.

The headlines today warn of years of war to come in Syria. The sessions we heard on human rights at PAGEfest come into sharper focus as we take in the reality of bombing of targets where ISIS is hiding amongst 9780745336961all those civilians with faces like those refugees now on the run at our borders. I remember what Ben Hayes said whilst promoting his new book on the Secure and the Dispossessed and the Securitization of Climate Change…And the Climate Change demonstrations long planned in Paris are banned because of the security clamp down. The students yesterday also covered Dr Michael Crowley and Alistair Hayes talks on Chemical Control. It had seemed theoretical but then now we have news that European police forces are tear gassing the Syrian refugees in Calais and on the Serbian/Greek Border.

As I write this, the wind is howling in and for the most part the plight of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in a new version of Exodus, have left our headlines. But they are there tonight shivering in the streets and borderscapes of an ever more paranoid Europe. How will this be dealt with in the months and years which now lie ahead, of war without end. Dr Crowley sent me another paper yesterday which gave a clue – its on remote control mass teargassing and you can read it here.


Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 19.35.04

Courtesy of the University of Bradford, 2015.

Click to access Tear-Gassing-By-Remote-Control-Report.pdf

None of us knows what the long term fall out of this weeks decision to bomb will be. I remember previous times when government spokespersons with weasel words reassured us of the wisdom of bombing, at UN microphones placed in front of a copy of Picasso’s magnificent Guernica. They had to ask for the image to be covered up since its capacity to break through the spell was too powerful -600,000 corpses later, we know who was more accurately telling the truth.

Another group of our students reported on Rex Bloomstein’s lecture, Does Anyone care about human rights? Rex had very powerful clips. Previously unseen footage of Nazi court cases before executions; in another, torturers who recanted when asked to torture children. There are echoes today somehow, like we know we are entering a darker time. If barely 20 guys bearing guns supplied by member states of the UN Security Council can facilitate the lockdown of one of Europe’s capital cities, we know that none of the military solutions proferred, will make a long term solution. More such swarm attacks are inevitable. The counter attacks are likely to kill many more.

But our students eloquently answer Rex’s question – they do care about Human rights……passionately so.


Dr Steve Wright is a Reader in Politics and Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett University.

Practising Human Rights? Global Inequalities Research Seminar

Wednesday 2nd December will see Dr Robin Redhead give the next seminar in the Global Inequalities Seminar Series at Leeds Beckett University. The paper she will present extends her existing research on the practicalities of human rights and will report on the initial findings from work supported by Leeds Beckett University’s Early Career Researcher Scheme.

Click here to book.

Dr Redhead said:

“This working paper summarises my initial findings of a study into the politics of human rights practice looking specifically at how legal practitioners shape the human rights field. Through a series of interviews with lawyers, I have mapped the ‘work’ that takes place within the field of human rights and analysed how this ‘work’ shapes what Nash (2009) refers to as the cultural politics of human rights. Within the national and international arenas, human rights practices are cultural capital that practitioners trade for political gains. In order to assure the future of the human rights movement we need to understand how people become involved and what motivation keeps them there. As such I have asked interviewees to comment on how they see the field of human rights, how their ‘work’ fits within the field and their own career trajectories.

The study is an investigation into the field of human rights as a social field in the UK. Using field theory, I show how through the conscious and unconscious aspects of their practice, practitioners exercise considerable agency in adapting human rights discourse to their own concerns while also being critical of it. The professionalization of ‘work’ undertaken in the human rights field and the discomfort expressed by some practitioners about having made a career from their human rights activism, because the goal was to put themselves out of work, raises ethical and moral implications for practitioners whose original passions and motivations may get lost within the contours of building a viable career.”

Robin’s research interests centre around practices of human rights. She has explored Amnesty International’s ‘Stop Violence Against Women’ Campaign and looked at how indigenous peoples in Canada use human rights legislation to conduct land claim disputes. Particularly, Robin looks at questions of empowerment and how mobilizing human rights does or does not empower those at risk. She approaches her research from a socio-polical rather than legal base. Her current work is on human rights practitioners and the ‘business’ of human rights work.

Exercising Human Rights by Robin Redhead

Robin’s recent book Exercising Human Rights: Gender, Agency and Practice was published by Routledge this year.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015 from 15:00 to 16:30 (GMT) Add to Calendar
Calverley Building (Room 311) – Leeds Beckett University. Portland Way. Leeds LS1 3HE GB – View Map

Human Rights – Act Now!

Here Dr Robin Redhead, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and BA (Hons) Politics Course Leader, reports on a talk about the role, importance and future of Human Rights in our week long Politics and Applied Global Ethics Festival (see #PAGEfest on Twitter or Eventbrite to book).

Day Two of the Leeds Beckett Politics Festival 2015 closed with Sanchita Hosali, the Deputy Director of the British Institute of Human Rights informative and illuminating talk Magna Carta to the Modern Day: The Journey of Universal Human Rights Protections.

Explaining how the Magna Carta was a key piece of early legislation in the effort for citizens to hold those in power to account, she traced the trajectory of accountablity from Magna Carta to the modern day UK Human Rights Act. She shared examples of the work BiHR do and noted that these stories never make it to the newspapers because the media are reluctant to publish positive human rights pieces.

She spoke of how when empowered by knowledge of their human rights, citizens were able to advocate for proper care in the health system, proper treatment within social services and from the police. Invoking the Human Rights Act has ensured protection of the right to life (Article 2), the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8), and the right to liberty (Article 5) to name a few.

She stated clearly that the threat to the Human Rights Act is a terrible blow to the people of the UK. It is paramount that we maintain the ability to hold the state accountable to its citizens.

In essence the Human Rights Act is about government, the state, power and people. Governments often struggle with the protection of human rights precisely because human rights protect people from the government.

However, Sanchita urged that the UK has a long history of involvement in the drafting, implementing and protection of human rights. It seems incongruous for the UK to now decide to withdraw that commitment to its own people.

Sanchita left the audience with one final thought: If we were to hear of another state that was withdrawing human rights from its citizens, we would be up in arms.

Why should our reaction be any different when it is our own rights at stake?


Robin’s recent book Exercising Human Rights: Gender, Agency and Practice was published by Routledge this year.