Friday, March 04, 2005

(Not) Debating the Index

Today we debated the Index of Govenance at the Green Party Conference in Chesterfield.

The Index of Governance (IoG) aims to install a measure of all governments' human rights abuses into UN protocols, with a view to bringing non violent pressure onto the worst abusers with the aim (a) of reducing the level of abuse world wide, and (b) of reducing the likelihood of the UN in future declaring wars on abusing states under the emergent doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

The Index of Governance motion to the Green Party (England &Wales) Conference in Chesterfield March 2004, was given the highest priority by the membership who sent in prioritisation slips, and therefore received widespread support in the Party generally, but was referred back in the debate. In that debate I was not given the right of reply to the debate - not AFAIK through any fault in the chairing, but as a result of a badly designed procedure.

This is what I would have said if I had had a chance to reply to the debate :

The objections to the motion fall into the general and the specific categories.

General objections include accusations of being
1 a "Panacea" . Not true. It does not claim to be a cure all, merely to reduce levels of human rights abuses and the number of "humanitarian" wars.
2 a "deviation" - I leave it to the objector to explain this one.
3 "pie in the sky" - ditto
4 "It is too simple". Yes, it is fairly simple, but that is its advantage . See next objection.
5 "It is too complex" See previous objection.
6 "It will lead to ill-considered intervention". This ignores the fact that the UN is heading towards “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) interventions in any case, and that the Index is designed to create a non-violent alternative to "humanitarian" wars.

Several of the objections arose from not having read the text - nor of having listened to the exposition that I gave in Conference.
1 It was objected that wars are not motivated by preserving the human rights of people. This objection ignores the dilemmas posed by in the past by Rwanda and Kosovo, and ignores the fact that the UN is moving towards the position of fighting wars under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
2 It was objected that the sanctions in Iraq hurt the people. This ignores the fact that the text in the motion referred to Targeted Sanctions - an entirely different thing.

It was objected that "Tyrants will take no notice". This is not the case. The success of Amnesty International's work rests on the fact that dictators DO take notice of public opinion - surprisingly. Installing of the Index of Governance (IoG) in the UN will be the equivalent of many thousands of Amnesty letter writers.

A related objection was that "Wily governments will find ways around the Index". This is a recipe for doing nothing at all, ever. However, the beauty of the Index' focus on human rights is that a substantial part of the data will come from relatives of prisoners.

Bizarrely, in the workshops before the debate, one influential member objected quite emphatically that "There is no point in this as the USA will stamp on it"! This again is a recipe for doing nothing at all, ever. He might as well have objected that the Index runs counter to the aims of the WTO to have a global free market, as Smart Sanctions will interfere with that.

The same member tried to argue that Green Party aspirations should be restricted to influencing UK Government policy, and that we should be asking for unilateral UK action. This contradicts the whole internationalist current in green politics.

One very influential member, a very frequent speaker at the microphone, argued that it would lead to "all UK foreign policy being based on human rights". Would that it were. Would that it were that simple. In fact the Index proposal is far more modest, and will merely offer a steer in that direction, a finite but useful diminution of human rights abuses, and a lessened risk of R2P wars. That's all. The very fact that this was solemnly put forward, and received, as an objection, is quite mystifying.

It was objected that Amnesty International (AI) was not calling for the Index. This is true, but I will be taking a motion to their Conference, so ask me again about that on April 11th.

One objection was that there was no specific reference to women's issues in the paper - only to torture and political imprisonment. It had been explained to this objector in the workshop that women's rights are included in the AI Index that is the model for the IoG. This part of the motion will be expanded so that it is made explicit next time.

The substantial objection that I have had from another quarter is that the present draft leaves out the judicial process. This is a weakness which I intend to address in the main document ,
( )
in due course.

The Index clearly attracted support from a large majority of the membership, which is why it was prioritised. The problem was that as it is a new concept, only two or three people (many thanks to those brave souls, one of whom spoke at the mike for the first time - thank you, Charlie ) had the confidence to stand up and speak in support. So, please, if you or your party support the Index, get genned up on it and be ready to defend at the microphone in the Autumn.

I publish this here in order to attract attention to the Index of Governance, and also to show how “debate” often boils down to simply not listening to what the other is saying.

La lutte continua.

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