Threads of Art by Yaw Obuobi

The best thing about London is its wealth of art galleries, museums, and cultural events. The Gallery of African Art is currently displaying “Threads of Art” by Ghanaian-British artist Yaw Obuobi. Upon entrance, the pieces catch the spectator’s eye. They are colourful and evocative. Upon closer inspection – and this can only be completely appreciated in person – one sees that the medium of choice is not paint but yarn.

The works of Obuobi speak about many of the most salient issues in the African continent and among the “Afropolitan” community. His works discuss the role of the diaspora and the self, the sense of identity and the perception that one has of the world once s/he has set roots in different parts of the world. Yet his pieces do not speak only to this particular community, the themes are connected to social justice issues that are a product of the global context which we inhabit.

“Our individual perception of the world is dependent on our life’s themes which consist of sub-themes woven together with our life’s script thread.”

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Fragmented, 2015. The restorative power of creating a home within the body, of (re) imagining our existence, making peace with the fragmented pieces of our being. […] decolonial imaginaries. Fragmented, but whole.

Artists like Obuobi create a type of art that trascends the innovative technique and the topics represented directly in the artworks or written about in the captions. Obuobi connects the present and the past, the tradition with the current reality of many human beings. He opens up a window for discussion of a global system – a way of interacting between powers, humans, and with the colonial past – that needs to be examined in its own context and over the long durée.

 

 

 

 

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The Death of the “Non-Refoulement”. How the European Union Sentenced Itself and Refugee Law 

On Friday 18th, 2016, European and Turkish leaders reached an agreement to tackle the refugee crisis. The deal contains a series of provisions. Most notably, refugees arriving to Greece will be returned to Turkey. For every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, one Syrian in Turkey will be resettled in the EU. This deal, that commodifies humans and violates international law, relies on fictions and assumptions that are easily debunked. With its signing, European leaders are also signing the death certificate of a European Union that for years has prided itself as being a defender of human rights.

The deal starts by introducing a fiction in the way individuals trying to reach the EU are treated. They are now considered “irregular migrants” as opposed to refugees or asylum seekers. There has been a lot of debate on how we categorize these individuals. Are they refugees? Are they asylum-seekers? Are they migrants? Are they economic migrants? According to the 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, a person is a refugee not because it is recognized as such, but because he or she fulfils the criteria to be considered a refugee. One can dispute if women, men, and children arriving from Syria are refugees or asylum-seekers, but what they are definitely not is economic migrants, i.e. individuals leaving their country to improve their economic conditions. Being a refugee or asylum-seeker, up until now, had some consequences.

The cornerstone of refugee law is the principle of non-refoulement, which bans states from expelling or returning refugees or asylum-seekers. The deal does the exact opposite to what this principle – that obliges all member states of the EU –  envisions. Without upholding this principle of no-return, all refugee law is rendered useless. The European Union, that has longed championed international law, now incurs in outright violations of it. The deal also runs counter to the Dublin regulation (that establishes that every single asylum application must be examined) and the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment in article 3. This agreement turns humans into numbers, negates the refugees’ agency, and can lead to an entrenched situation in which a life at the refugee camp goes from temporary to protracted and all hope of a better, safer life is destroyed.

Leaving moral and legal considerations aside, what does the deal specifically do? The European Union will give 6 billion euros to Turkey to help migrants, an amount that will be provided in two installments. It is difficult to even imagine how the money will reach those in need. According to UNHCR data, there are more than two million refugees in Turkey, but the vast majority of refugees in Turkey are not in refugee camps. How will Turkey and Greece, with its crippled economies and infrastructure, manage to help the refugees who, contrary to popular belief, are not all (not even half) concentrated in refugee camps?

The deal also brings about the opening of conversations about Turkey joining the EU; an accession that is unlikely going to happen unless under fraudulent circumstances (à la Greek fiasco). To become a member of the EU, a state has to have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities. The authoritarian tendencies of the Turkish government make the fulfilment of this conditions in the near-future unthinkable, but the opening of the negotiations also conceals the reality of why Turkey’s accession has been stalled for years. The European Union is still based in Judeo-Christian values that many Europeans – as ironically evinced by the popular backlash in the face of the refugee crisis – are not ready to give up. A Turkish accession would reshape the configuration European institutions to an extent that many Europeans are not likely to tolerate.

The deal has been presented as a European victory to regain control of the situation. Well, guess what. It does none of that. The “success” of the plan relies entirely on the good will of Turkey, Greece, desperate individuals, and smugglers. The logic of the deal is inherently flawed. The deal is expected to have a “double-deterrence” effect of sorts. One of the stated goals of the policy is to deter refugees from attempting to escape to EU states. This would imply that these individuals have an option or that are not fleeing from life-threatening conditions. Fleeing to an unwelcoming and harsh Europe was probably their last resource. The masterminds of the accord also expect to influence smugglers (let’s remember that the crisis has also had enormous consequences for human-trafficking). The idea is that because migrants will be returned to Turkey, smugglers will lose business. Given the nature of human-trafficking, what the deal can potentially increase is profits while deteriorating already dire conditions for those smuggled and increasing the likelihood of death. If the dangers posed by the journey, for the refugees, and by the involvement in illegal activities, for the smugglers, have not deterred them so far, it is difficult to imagine why the threat of return to Turkey will, especially, given the lack of infrastructure that both Greece and Turkey are suffering.

Euro-skepticism has been in vogue among right wing parties for years now, but there was still a segment of the European population that had a tiny bit of faith of one day heading in the direction of a greater, human-rights and rule of law based, European Union. The deal with Turkey feels like a stab in the back for those, particularly left-leaning Europeans, who have had such a hard time defending the value of having the union.

Nothing excuses treating humans – and particularly humans fleeing from war – as commodities. In the short-term, the deal is not likely to accomplish its goals. If anything, it will simply deteriorate the refugee laws that were among the most solid and long-standing of public international law (if still ambiguous) and increase the numbers of lives lost. In the medium to long-term, this puts the European Union at an even greater identity crisis and erodes the imagery, the legal system, and the institutions that have taken so much effort to construct.

Among the darkness there is still some light. Last week, a much smaller deal was also signed. Three cities, Barcelona, Lesbos, and Lampedusa agreed to collaborate to tackle the refugee crisis in a more human way. One can only hope that if member states and Turkey continue adrift, local governments will take action and provide a better solution.

Peace negotiations in tatters: key elements to understanding the talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP 

 

For the outsider, most days can look the same in Bogotá. It will rain at some point in the day, and inevitably a trancón (as the horrible traffic jams are known in local vernacular) will stop the city before and after the workday. Despite the fact that common criminality is rife in the city, commerce is booming, and during the weekends, citizens of Bogotá can be found wandering down the streets, eating in restaurants that have nothing to envy to those that can be found in Manhattan, or shopping in one of the many malls that populate the city. Just by visiting Bogotá, one would hardly ascertain that the country has been immersed in an armed conflict for more than fifty years. But the capital’s detachment from the rest of the country belies a conflict that is very much alive and a peace process that will likely have limited impact.

The Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) have been engaged in peace negotiations since 2012. In what seems to be the most promising peace process to date, the parties have steadily reached agreements in more than half of the points in the agenda that was set three years ago.  However, many challenges lie ahead.

Both parts in the negotiating table have continued armed attacks against each other. Recent ominous actions by the FARC have raised the alarm on the guerrilla’s commitment to achieving peace, but it must be noted that the decision to conduct negotiations without a ceasefire was a deliberate one, especially on the part of the government. In late 2014, the FARC decided on a unilateral ceasefire, which also unilaterally decided to end. These events, regardless of how despicable, respond to the normal logic of peace negotiations being carried out during an armed conflict. However, former president Uribe and his allies have jumped at the opportunity to discredit the negotiations. His ongoing efforts to delegitimize the peace talks are ceaseless, and given the support that he still musters, the upcoming local elections could complicate the government’s efforts to continue the negotiations. Pressures to reach a peace agreement have intensified, and the debate on the ceasefire is now at the forefront of the discussions. Once again, the FARC has decided on a unilateral ceasefire, and the government has responded with “de-escalation.” At no other state in the ongoing negotiations have the talks been closer to failure, this issue will be key in the continuation or complete cessation of the talks.

In June 4th, 2015, the FARC and the government announced that they had reached an agreement to create a Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition, which will be established once an agreement is reached. This agreement is certainly a welcome development in a country where the conflict has affected about 6.8 million citizens. However, the text of the announcement already raises some concerns on the future of the commission. The statement is not specific on how the truth commission will work, but most disconcerting is the repetition of the assignment of establishing “the origins and multiple causes of the conflict, the principle factors that have facilitated or contributed to the persistence of the conflict, and the effects and most notable impacts of the conflict on the population.” This was already the goal of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims (also created in la Habana) that failed miserably at producing agreement among the twelve experts and two rapporteurs that were in charge of examining these issues. In June 22, in an event with members of the European left, the FARC insisted again on the need of establishing “the root causes of the war.” While historical revision is of utmost importance, focusing on these elements in the Truth Commission rather than on the victimizing events and reparation will likely stall the implementation of the peace process in detriment of the victims. Hopefully, the Truth Commission will not mimic the inner workings of the Historical Commission and will truly focus on the victims who seek their truth and reparation.

Finally, emerging from one of the longest conflicts in the world will likely present Colombians with innumerable opportunities, but the government has to be very cautious in managing expectations. Even if a peace agreement is reached in the following months, criminality and poverty are likely to remain high in Colombia. Colombians need to be aware that the agreement will not solve the country’s problems. With a gini coefficient well above the alarm boundary set by the world bank, regional disparity and poverty takes its toll on a big segment of the population that live under scarcity and insecurity. The presence of the state remains residual in some regions, with provision of public services ranging from little to non-existent in some areas. The peace agreement is not going to change any of that.