On the patron saint of libraries

Came across this today while reading Paul Lendvai’s The Hungarians (2003)

“Three chronicles report different versions, written between 970 and 1075, of an attack on the monistary of St Gallen and its surroundings (today in Switzerland). “The heathen barbarians” advanced like lightening through Bavaria and Swabia along Lake Constance, and inflicted heavy damage on the monastery, killing in the process Wiborada, an Aleman noblewoman, who had herself immured in a cell there ten years earlier. The anchoress was axed to death, and in 1047 Pope Clement II canonized her. Already that spring, she had warned the abbot of the exact time of her hostile hoards’’ incursion from the East, urging him to move the monks, the treasury and the priceless library to safety in time. Rumors recounts the Vita Sanctae Wiboradae; “nonetheless, they were taken seriously only when the barbarians with drawn swords pushed the neighborhood of Lake Constance to the brink of disaster, killing countless people and burning all the villagers and houses.” Only then was the seer heeded. Many people and irreplaceable books could still be saved, but Wiborada was unwilling to escape.

The life and death of St Wiborada (also honored as the patron saint of libraries), as well as the chronicles of the monks Ekkehart I, Ekkehart IV and Herimannus, continually fascinated later generations, inspiring writers, including poets, until the very recent past” (p.7-8; emphasis added).


On past as prologue [5]

Leon Gordenker, Refugees in International Politics (1987) —

The misery of refugees thus dulls the glitter of unilateral, short-term campaigning by governments. The homeless, persecuted, hungry, confused people who turn up at border posts and distant airports signify the costs of conflict within and among societies and states. They are living monuments to war, disorder, long-term social collapse, government failure, prejudice and sheer malice. They pay directly for the militaristic swaggering of their leaders, for the intolerance of political and religious orthodoxy and for the short-term successes of mindless power-seekers (p. 6).

Even more fundamental limitations were inherent in the new regime as a result of both national policies and the nature of international politics. No government has ever shown itself eager to surrender authority over immigration. Some governments, such as those of the United States and the United Kingdom, have had to deal with immigration policies as leading issues in national political life. The experience with refugees and displaced persons after the Second World War demonstrated the expediency of resettlement as a means of coping with accumulations of refugees. But resettlement means that refugees become immigrants. Granting general rights to refugees or allowing a large number of people to formally become refugees could thus diminish national control over immigration policies. Therefore, governments approached refugee matters with some tentativeness and showed a clear resistance to handing over even minor decisions to an international agency [UNHCR]. As s a result the [Refugee] Convention enables a person outside his own country to enter a claim to a government for asylum but gives him no right to it. The rights of refugees are based in the first instance on protection from being sent into danger or persecution, either in their original homes or in a third country. Thus, the doctrine of non-refoulement to protect refugees may promote the granting of long-term asylum but does not ensure it. Governments acceding to the Convention maintain their authority over immigration and nationality (p. 30; emphasis added).

On interview techniques

After being found guilty and sentenced to 40 years by the ICTY today, David A. Graham over at The Atlantic’s Notes highlights a 1993 interview conducted with Radovan Karadzic —

In January 1993, still relatively early in the Bosnian war, [CBC’s] As It Happens scored an interview with Karadzic. In a retrospective segment years ago, former host Michael Enright reminisced about preparing for the interview and his plan to ask standard questions. But he decided that wasn’t going to cut it, so he took a more direct approach when the tape started rolling:

“Mr. Karadzic, generally how—in your view, how is the ethnic cleansing going?” Enright deadpanned.

Karadzic was unsurprisingly annoyed.

“Ethnic cleansing was not part of our policy any time,” he fumed. “Ethnic cleansing was on all sides, and it was sort of ethnic shifting of the people, because Serbs have escaped from Muslim surroundings and the Bosnians have escaped from Serbian surroundings.”

Enright kept rolling, maintaining a studiously detached tone.

[…] It’s a remarkable interview: A reporter asking extremely tough questions of a leader, with great authority and command of facts, about a faraway conflict. You don’t hear this sort of exchange often. For one, few war criminals will talk to the media. For another, few reporters have the chops to pull it off live like this. They might worry about losing access, too—although when the interview ended, Karadzic signed off with a cheery, “Welcome, any time!”

[links in original; click through for further transcript and audio]

On past as prologue [4]

Jean-Pierre Hocke, “Beyond Humanitarianism: The Need for Political Will to Resolve Today’s Refugee Problem,” p. 40-1, in G. Loescher and L. Monahan (eds.), Refugees in International Relations (1989).

I am particularly concerned about the growing negative public opinion in the west vis-a-vis refugees and asylum-seekers from the Third World. Many governments in the West have responded to the recent influxes of refugees by adopting restrictive practices, a reaction that has tended to prove contagious. Humanitarian principles, so carefully nurtured in the West over the past few decades, are under threat. Basic standards of refugee protection are being lowered. Refugees are being used as political tools in domestic party politics. In this process the basic human values which served as the reference point for all humanitarian activities are being devalued. This erosion of values must be checked, and I am sure it can be done, provided states exercise their political judgement and will to do so, bearing in mind the immeasurably serious consequences of acting otherwise.

Given both the size and the complexity of the world refugee problem, it is time that the international community took a fresh look at the legal instruments available, and identified a political means to address the problem more effectively.

On past as prologue [3]

From: Gil Loescher, “Refugees as grounds for international action” p. 36-37 in Edward Newman and Joanne van Selm (eds.) Refugees and Forced Displacement: International Security, Human Vulnerability, and the State (2003) —
There has been increasing recognition that massive refugee flows do in fact constitute a threat to international peace and security, and that they therefore invoke the enforcement powers of the United Nations. As a threat to peace and security, the imposition of refugees on other states falls under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and therefore legitimizes enforcement action not subject to limits of purely humanitarian action. This link has been recognized for at least the past 15 years. As early as 1986, the report of a Group of Governmental Experts on International Cooperation to Avert New Flows of Refugees recognized the “great political, economic and social burdens [of massive flows of refugees] upon the international community as a whole, with dire effects on developing countries, particularly those with limited resources of their own.” Accordingly, it recommended intervention by the international community through the good offices of the Secretary-General, refugee prevention actions by appropriate UN bodies (including the Security Council), and better use of aid programmes to deter massive displacements. The report was subsequently endorsed by the UN General Assembly, which explicitly defined such flows as a threat to peace and security, thus opening the door to action by the Security Council under Chapter VII several years later. It should be pointed out that Article 2(7) of the UN Charter, protecting the domestic jurisdiction of member states, specifically exempts from this protection enforcement actions taken under Chapter VII. In short, a country that forces its people to flee or to take actions that compel them to leave in a manner that threatens regional peace and security has in effect internationalized internal affairs, and provides a cogent justification for policy makers elsewhere to act directly upon the source of the threat.

This argument was also made over six decades ago by James G. McDonald, the League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, when he resigned in frustration at the lack of international action to halt the persecution in Germany, which was causing refugee flows to neighbouring countries. In his dramatic letter of resignation of 27 December 1935, McDonald write that “it will not be enough to continue the activities on the behalf of those who flee from the Reich. Efforts must be made to remove or mitigate the causes which create German refugees.” Such efforts, declared McDonald, fell under the League’s authority to deal with any matter affecting the peace of the world, since “the protection of the individual from racial or religious intolerance is a vital condition of international peace and security.” The argument is also made by contemporary analysts of refugee issues: “When there is aggression by a state against its own minority such that the domestic issue becomes an international one and is perceived to threaten peace and security because the minority begin a mass flight, then defensive military intervention is justified.” Others point out that, if refugee flows constitute an “internationally wrongful act” or “international crime” under the principles of state responsibility, this is also a violation of the Charter and therefore responses to it are not intervention in a state’s domestic affairs.

[notes 13-16 not transcribed]

On past as prologue [2]

Arthur C. Helton, The Price of Indifference: Refugees and Humanitarian Action in the New Century (2002), p. 23:

The common thread, then, is fear: fear that gives rise to refugee flight, fear that but for good fortune one could be a refugee oneself, and fear that keeps people from offering haven to those in need. The combinations and permutations of insecurity that emerge in particular situations shape fundamentally the policy responses, whether generous or grudging. In the new century, ordinary people, intellectuals, and decision makers will increasingly grapple with this personification of fear, instability, and failure.

On past as prologue

As I barrel through a ton of older literature, I’ll be posting quotes that read like they were written today —

From: Alte Grahl-Madsen, Chapter 21: “Identifying the World’s Refugees” (1983), in Peter Macalister-Smith and Gudmundur Alfredsson (eds.), The Land Beyond: Collected Essays on Refugee Law and Policy by Alte Grahl-Madsen (2001), p. 259.

Stemming the Tide

It is part of the tragedy of our times that several states by various methods are seeking to prevent or at least to discourage refugees from reaching their shores to seek sanctuary. Military security zones may be established along frontiers and coastlines, making penetration hazardous, to say the least; or vessels carrying would-be refugees may be intercepted at sea and ordered to return with their human cargo. Visa exemption agreements between certain states may be abrogated, simply in order to prevent an uncontrollable inflow of asylum seekers by air, sea or land.

Just as there may be collective decisions of eligibility, some governments have of late adopted policies that virtually amount to collective non-eligibility for members of certain ethnic and other groups, which means that members of these groups may be returned to their homeland without ado, immediately upon arrival. Others may be returned to a country through which they have passed en route, on the pretext that that country is their country of first asylum, very likely adding to the number of refugees in orbit.

In order to reduce further the pull factor, or in other words to make refugee life as unattractive as possible, asylum seekers may be denied the right to work and may be restricted in their movements, even confined to a camp. There has also emerged the concept of humane deterrent, the idea being to make living conditions in camps as miserable as possible so as to deter others from considering flight as a viable alternative to there fear, anguish, and misery at home.

In May 1979 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by UNHCR and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam concerning the “ordinary departure” of persons from Vietnam, the purpose being to eliminate at least one “push factor”.

The United Nations has now initiated an attempt to find ways and means to avert future flows of refugees. It is not intended to abridge the human right to leave any country, including one’s own. Instead, the General Assembly of the United Nations has turned its attention to the root causes of refugee problems, condemning “all policies and practices of oppressive regimes as well as aggression, alien domination and foreign occupation, which are primarily responsible for the massive flows of refugees throughout the world and which results in inhuman suffering.”

If anything shall result from this initiative, action will be necessary on many factors, ranging from penetrating studies of the limits of international law to practical and economic measures that can help states to solve their internal problems without recourse to oppressive policies of the kind that may cause mass flows of refugees.

Do we glimpse the contours of a brave new world?

footnotes removed. Originally published as “Identifying the World’s Refugees” in The Global Refugee Problem: US and World Response, Gilburt D. Loescher and John A. Scanlan (eds.), The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 467 (1983) 11-23.