Category Archives: law

Myanmar — das Ende der Demokratie? Interview für ARD alpha-Demokratie

Am 02. März 2021 war Myanmar das Thema der Sendung ARD alpha-Demokratie. Ich war als Expertin zugeschaltet und habe Fragen zur aktuellen zivilen Widerstandsbewegung (CDM) beantwortet, aber auch zu ökonomischen, sozialen und (geo-)politischen Hintergründen, sowie zur Rolle der Staatsrätin Aung San Suu Kyi.

Die Sendung “Myanmar — das Ende der Demokratie?” ist online.

On atrocities committed by the Myanmar military on Feb 28. For Al Jazeera English.

I spoke to Al Jazeera again after what turned out to be the deadliest day in Myanmar since the coup d’êtat on Feb 1st, 2021. They wanted to know how activists in Myanmar coordinate with others in the region and I explained what the “Milk Tea Alliance” is.

I was also very clear about the need for action beyond statements of “grave concern” from the international community and that people in the streets in Myanmar expect more from the outside world.

For more updates on the situation in Myanmar, please follow my twitter threads.

Article for OpenDemocracy: On intergenerational solidarity and intergenerational trauma in Myanmar

In this post I highlight a special dynamic linking the different generations within the ongoing protest movement in Myanmar: The current protests combine the experiences the older generation has had under decades of military rule with the digital know-how of the younger generation that grew up during a decade of partial democratic freedom.

copyright: Kuecool.

For many years, resistance to the military regime centred around the iconic figure of General Aung San and his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under arrest. This is now changing. The form of resistance is no longer just a “family affair”, I argue. The organization of protests is decentralized, without clear leaders. It involves all generations and brings together very different groups. The rallying cry now resounding on Myanmar’s streets is ‘You messed with the wrong generation.’

Interview with Al Jazeera on statelessness, human rights, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan

Why are human rights defenders being targeted?” asked Al Jazeera Rajat Khosala from Amnesty International, a specialist for advocacy and policy, Tobi Cadman an International Human Rights Lawyer and myself. Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story” draws a bleak picture of the human rights situation worldwide with repression in authoritarian states increasing. Human rights defenders are particularly being targeted. I reported about the current situation of human rights activism in Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar where we have just witnessed a military coup. I also spoke about the situation of the 10-15 million de-facto stateless people worldwide who cannot even claim human rights as they lack a nationality.

“Why are human rights defenders being targeted?” Al Jazeera, February 5, 2021.

I explained the difference between de jure and de facto statelessness and emphasized that the roles of the state system and that of the United Nations need to be rethought when it comes to statelessness in particular and how we can all ensure the adherence to human rights in general. We also touched upon the importance of staying connected digitally as activism is increasingly being carried out online.

In the name of stability. On the coup in Myanmar

Myanmar’s immediate neighbours have reacted very reluctantly in regard to the military coup that began on February 1 2021. Whereas ASEAN member-states have largely declared the coup an “internal affair” into which they would rather not get involved, China said it had “noted” the events and urged the country to uphold “stability”.

Stability, however, is not a neutral or entirely positive concept I argue in this German-language article for the daily newspaper TAZ: it is possible to justify not only repression and coups in Myanmar with it, but even the recent genocide of the ethnic Rohingya.

Stability has been a key metaphor during previous military dictatorships as well: Until 2010, for example, the second out of four so-called “national causes” that the military government under General Than Swe promoted under the title “The People’s Desires” read “Oppose those trying to jeopardize the stability of the state and the progress of the nation.”

It had also been Aung San Suu Kyi herself who, in December 2019 in her role as a member of her country’s delegation at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) left the more legalistic arguments to the specialists for international law, and challenged the legitimacy of the case on the basis of harmony ideology.

In the name of stability,she argued that the principal judicial organ of the United Nations should refrain from interfering in Myanmar’s domestic affairs.

In my recent article, I thus hold that invoking ‘stability’ is more in line with what the military government is advocating than it it is supportive of the civil resistance that is currently beginning to form.

Read the full post in TAZ.

Webinar on legal pluralism in honour of Sally Engle Merry

Sally Merry was an active participant in the work of the project group “Legal Pluralism” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology over many years of which I was a part from 2004 until 2010. In this conversation, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, my former PhD supervisor, who co-headed the project group at the MPI from 2000 until 2012, and I talked about Sally’s role at the MPI, the importance of her work for legal pluralism in particular, and for legal anthropology in general.

We reviewed some of Sally’s theoretical ideas about the concept of legal pluralism: What was so provocative about it that Sally referred to its history as ‘an intellectual odyssey’? How did she explore it in her own ethnographic work? We also discussed the possibility to think through her more recent themes of research on indicators and quantification in regard to the concept of legal pluralism. To expand the conversation, we invited the audience to contemplate the potential of revisiting the numerous debates Sally has initiated with the concept of legal pluralism in mind.

Here is the full schedule of the webinar series that began on December 11 2020 and runs until May 21 2021.

“Deutsch” in Gänsefüßchen – Artikel in der TAZ

In Deutschland hat jede/r vierte Deutsche Migrationshintergrund. Wenn die Polizei bei Tatverdächtigen denselbigen gesondert erforscht, lohnt es sich zu fragen, wozu diese Information eigentlich dient. Wenn daran konkrete Präventions- und Integrationsmaßnahmen geknüpft sein sollen, wie dies im Fall von Stuttgart und auch Frankfurt von Polizei und Regierung artikuliert wurde, nachdem es in den Innenstädten zu gewalttätigen Ausschreitungen gekommen war, dann kann man weiter fragen warum diese Maßnahmen bereits als Argument in die Debatte gebracht werden bevor die “Hintergründe” der meist jugendlichen Tatverdächtigen überhaupt ermittelt sind. Wenn dann die Polizei Videoüberwachung und Alkoholkonsumverbot im öffentlichen Raum ins Spiel bringt, muss man sogar fragen, ob das Einschränken von Rechten eine sinnvolle Integrationsmaßnahme ist.

Für die TAZ habe ich einen kritischen Gastkommentar verfasst, in dem ich argumentiere, dass “Präventions- und Integrationsarbeit […] auch in den politischen Institutionen selbst stattfinden [muß]. Das Gewaltmonopol eines demokratischen ­Staates kann nur dann nach­haltig von allen respektiert werden, wenn Prävention und Integration mehr sind als Kontrollinstrumente des Staates.” Wenn jedoch der Eindruck entsteht, “dass dem Migrationshintergrund ein besonderes oder isoliertes Interesse entgegengebracht wird, so ist nachvollziehbar, warum in den Medien seither über „Stammbaumforschung“ debattiert und der Polizei struktureller Rassismus vorgeworfen wird, auch wenn die Ermittlung ja erst im Nachgang der Tat erfolgte.”

Hier geht es zum Volltext aus der TAZ.

Towards an anthropology of statelessness

As part of my tenure-track evaluation I held a public lecture at the end of April 2020 at the University of Konstanz on the topic of statelessness. I am currently in the process of drafting a funding application that would enable me to work towards developing how an anthropology of statelessness could look like.

I’d like to mention a couple of thoughts here to help me think through this potential new subdiscipline and to raise awareness of what I think is a structural lack at two different levels:

1) within the very concept of the nation-state and

2) within the anthropology of the state.

While the first concerns the prime object of analysis of the anthropology of the state, the second concerns a structural lack within how we have up to date researched that prime object.

I argue that statelessness has so far been approached as something ‘lacking’ in the constitution of those who do not have a nationality — for whatever reason (and there are many). Thus, activists, practitioners, (I)NGOs and other global actors have focussed their attention on ‘fixing’ the lack of the stateless by trying to make sure they, too, receive nationality (or citizenship; I won’t go into details here as to where these concepts overlap and where they don’t). In doing so, statelessness has remained an ‘anomaly’ — something that needs ‘fixing’. But we have neglected (almost entirely) in our scholarly analyses (these are mostly legal, political and almost none anthropological up to date) that it might not be the stateless who need ‘fixing’, but the nation-state itself. This argument has been made by the political theorist Phil Cole (2017), for example,  but needs to be taken seriously and thought through in legal and political anthropology as well for it might provide novel insights into the anthropology of the state.

Understanding statelessness as a structural lack of nation-states

In my tenure lecture, I have argued that statelessness cannot be researched at the ‘heart of the state’ (Fassin) or at its ‘margins’ (Das and Poole) where anthropology has so far located its objects of inquiry when studying the state in a transversal or tangential (Harvey) manner. It rather points to what I – with Lacan – would define as a structural lack in how nation-states are set up and operate. As such, this type of lack is not meant to be ‘filled’. As much as statelessness is not a mode of being that could be ‘fixed’, the structural lack that statelessness opens up statelessnesswithin the concept of the nation-state is not meant to be ‘filled’. It is there on purpose, I argue. Treating statelessness not as anomaly, but as an intentional product in the way the state operates allows for new insights into the state as much as it will move our engagement with the phenomenon of statelessness beyond appeals of ‘fixing’.

As much as statelessness is not a mode of being that could be ‘fixed’, the structural lack that statelessness opens up within the concept of the nation-state is not meant to be ‘filled’.

Despite the fact that we have international conventions in place since the mid 1950s, and despite the fact that more and more states have ratified these conventions and are closing legal loopholes: statelessness continues to exist and in many parts of the world, including Europe, its numbers are increasing. It remains one of the most overlooked human rights violations and it won’t go away, no matter how much the UN wants it to. The project I am currently drafting would bring legal scholars, anthropologists and practitioners together and study the structural lack of statelessness as an intrinsic component of the nation-state.

From stateless societies to stateless individuals

Anthropologists have historically dealt with stateless societies as part of Europe’s (and America’s) colonial politics of expansion and exploitation. Most ethnographic monographs centred on ‘acephalous’ ethnic groups or tried to grapple with understanding how groups organized and interacted with one another without a clear leadership or someone ‘in power’. After the demise of colonialism, such work has almost completely come to a halt; the state has come to tighten its grip on ethnic groups to such an extent that there is, by now, no place on earth that would not feel its eery presence. This includes hunter-gatherer societies (Sapignoli 2018) and sedentary tribes (Girke 2018) in rural Africa as much as agrarian groups in Southeast Asia (Scott 2010). However, statelessness has remained an immanent phenomenon worth anthropological attention. My argument is, however, that nowadays we need to focus on stateless individuals (in the sense of an anthropo-logy) more than on stateless societies (in the sense of an ethno-logy). While many groups are de facto stateless (e.g. Rohingya), the de jure status of statelessness is granted to individuals only. In line with an existential anthropology (Jackson and Piette 2015), my aim is to research statelessness not as a historical leftover of group encounters with the (colonial) state, but as an existential human condition that allows us to understands a structural lack of the contemporary nation-state.

Stay tuned …

 

 

Harmony Ideology at The Hague. New Blog Post for Public Anthropologist

Together with Felix Girke, I have just published another op-ed piece on the genocide case currently pending at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. There, The Republic of The Gambia has filed a case against Myanmar, accusing the country’s army of having committed genocide of Muslim Rohingya. We have published on this issue also at OpenDemocracy, focusing on the figure of Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who has decided to act as the “Agent” of a high-profile team of lawyers. While her status as an ‘icon of democracy’ is unbroken within the country, especially in Western countries, commentators are grappeling with what they perceive to be a sudden and unexpected shift in her personality since she became “state counsellor”. However, as I have argued in 2017 already, this is in line with how she has always been doing politics.

Yangon, 10. Dec 2019. © B. Mette-Starke

In our blog post for Public Anthropologist, we take a look at Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech at the ICJ on December 11 2019. We argue  that she employs “harmony ideology,” a concept coined by the legal anthropologist Laura Nader in the 1990s, based on her work among the Talean Zapotec in southern Mexico in the 1960s. Later, Nader applied her new terminology to so-called alternative dispute resolution (ADR)-cases in the United States of America.

“Harmony ideology”, so Nader, needs to be understood as a counterhegemonic force with which her Zapotec villagers tried to keep the Mexican state at bay. By pretending that they are a harmonious people and capable of dealing with their disputes internally, they tried to fend off any outside interference. In ADR-cases, Nader showed how “harmony ideology” was used to “outsource” dispute cases that judges thought to be too irrelevant for to be decided in state courts. In the case of Myanmar at the ICJ, however, Felix Girke and I argue that

Aung San Suu Kyi acted as if her country were a southern Mexican village, needing protection from illegitimate legal governance that interfered with its internal affairs, while at the same time embodying the very state apparatus that is now internationally accused of having committed genocide against its own population.

While the Talean Zapotec might have had effective measures for local dispute resolution and good reasons to keep the state courts at bay, the atrocities committed against the Rohingya and the poor record of Myanmar to police itself suggest that Suu Kyi’s harmony ideology at the ICJ is sorely misplaced, we argue. Read the full post over at Public Anthropologist.

Aung San Suu Kyi goes to court

On December 8 2019, Open Democracy’s Transformation-series published an op-ed written by Felix Girke and me on the upcoming court hearing between The Republic of The Gambia and Myanmar in The Hague at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) from December 10-12 2019.

Flickr/Jason. CC BY-NC 2.0.

No other than Aung San Suu Kyi, the “State Counsellor” of Myanmar will be travelling to the Netherlands to personally respond to an international case that has been put forward by The Gambia on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The case concerns atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims since 2016 by the Myanmar army.

Felix Girke and I argue  — contrary to much current reporting in Western news — that it is not surprising but in line with how Aung San Suu Kyi has been doing politics ever since she returned from the UK in 1988, that she personally wants to attend and respond to this case.

What counts as political in Myanmar is deeply personal: “the focus of her personal engagement is not the world, but her own country. She shoulders the burden … but at the same time avoids the hard task of changing Myanmar’s trajectory” we argue.

Read the full article over at Open Democracy.