Our article is a re-reading of the German anthropologist Gerd Spittler’s article “Dispute settlement in the shadow of Leviathan” (Streitschlichtung im Schatten des Leviathan) which was published in the journal in 1980 as part of the inaugural issue. In this article, Gerd Spittler strives to integrate the existence of state courts (the eponymous Leviathan’s shadow) in (post-)colonial Africa into the analysis on non-state court legal practices.
We walk the reader through his text (which has only been published in German) and then ask how has the situation he describes for (post-)colonial Africa in the early 1980s has changed in the last four decades. We relate his findings to contemporary debates in legal anthropology that investigate the relationship between disputing, law and the state. We also show through our own work in Africa and Asia, particularly in Southern Ethiopia and Kyrgyzstan in what ways Spittler’s by now classical contribution to the field of legal anthropology in 1980 can be made fruitful for a contemporary anthropology of the state at a time when not only (legal) anthropology has changed, but especially the way states deal with putatively “customary” forms of dispute settlement.
Zusammen mit Felix Girke habe ich einen neuen Artikel zum Thema “Staatsterror in Myanmar” für Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik verfasst.
Darin diskutieren wir wer die zivile Widerstandsbewegung Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) trägt, was deren Ziele sind und warum sie auch angesichts des zunehmenen Terrors seitens des Militärs nicht aufgibt.
Wir setzen die aktuelle soziale Bewegung in Bezug zu früheren Protest- und Widerstandsbewegungen und gehen bis in die Kolonialzeit des Landes zurück. Neben der zentralen Bedeutung von Aung San für die Unabhängigkeitsbewegung der 1920ger und 1930ger Jahre machen wir deutlich, dass in allen Jahrzehnten die Bewegungen vor allem von Studierenden getragen wurden.
Der Verfassung von 2008 widmen wir besondere Aufmerksamkeit, denn nur über sie konnte das Militär auch in den vergangenen Jahren in einer zunehmend demokratischen und offenen Gesellschaft weiterhin die Macht auf sich zentrieren und letztendlich durch ein Uminterpretieren einer Ausnahmeklausel, wieder an sich reissen.
Wir sehen die gesetzten Ziele der CDM als Herkulesaufgabe an, die vor allem von den Menschen im Land zu stemmen sein wird, da die internationalen Organe wie die Vereinten Nationen zunehmend lethargisch reagieren, vor allem mit China und Russland als Vetomächten. Angesichts des zunehmenden Terrors, der sich nicht nur gegen Demonstrierende, sondern auch Unbeteiligte wie Frauen und Kinder richtet, werden die Rufe der Bevölkerung nach Intervention aus dem Ausland immer lauter.
Rund acht Wochen nach dem Militärputsch findet der zivile Widerstand auf den Straßen von Myanmar vor allem in der Nacht statt – und auch in den sozialen Medien. Ich habe mit SR-Politikredakteurin und Moderatorin Katrin Aue über die Lage vor Ort gesprochen. Das Interview findet sich unter dem Titel “Die Menschen wollen nicht in einer Militärdiktatur leben“.
This morning I was interviewed for the German radio station rbb/inforadio on the ongoing state of exception in Myanmar. In the feature “Vom Militär verhängter Ausnahmezustand in Myanmar” I was asked to talk about how the crisis affects me personally as a scholar, but I tried to emphasize what I find most striking in the way the population deals with the emergency: I continue to be deeply impressed by their determination to remain on the streets and to fight the military regime despite the increase in violence. I have clearly stated that all military operations are most likely mounting to crimes against humanity and go against international humanitarian law.
The reporter asked about the possibility for mediation and I stated very clearly that the population of Myanmar would consider this a betrayal to their cause as none of them is willing to enter into negotiations with the military regime. Instead, it is of utmost importance for Germany, for the EU and the UN to not legitimize the military-imposed “State Administration Council” (SAC). Instead, I emphasized that Germany should grant political asylum to individuals who are in danger of persecution, that communication should be established with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), that the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) should be supported as well as local journalists who are currently risking their lives in reporting the atrocities.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
”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.
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.
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.
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.