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Citizenship Law as the Foundation for Political Participation in Africa  

Bronwen Manby

The question of membership and belonging is widely recognized to have been at the root of many political crises in Africa since independence. The legal frameworks for citizenship were largely inherited from the colonial powers and still show strong affinities across colonial legal traditions. However, most African states have enacted significant amendments to citizenship laws since independence, as they have grappled with issues of membership, aiming to include or exclude certain groups. Substantive provisions have diverged significantly in several countries from the original template. African states have shared global trends toward gender equality and acceptance of dual citizenship. In relation to acquisition of citizenship based on birth in the territory (jus soli) or based on descent (jus sanguinis), there has been less convergence. In all countries, naturalization is inaccessible to all but a few. Manipulation of citizenship law for political purposes has been common, as political opponents have at times been accused of being non-citizens as a way of excluding them from office, or groups of people have been denied recognition of citizenship as a means of disenfranchisement. Moreover, even in states where a substantial proportion of residents lack identity documents, it seems that the rules on citizenship established by law have themselves had an impact on political developments. The citizenship status of many thousands of people living in different countries across Africa remains unclear, in a context where many citizens and non-citizens lack any identity documentation that records their citizenship. The content of the law is arguably therefore less influential than in some other regions. A rapid development in identification systems and the increasing requirement to show identity documents to access services, however, is likely to increase the importance of citizenship law. In response to these challenges, the African continental institutions have developed, through standard setting and in decisions on individual cases, a continental normative framework that both borrows from and leads international law in the same field.

Article

The International Criminal Court in Africa and the Politics of International Justice  

Phil Clark

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has generated considerable controversy since it came into force in 2002, principally because of its overriding focus on African conflict situations and suspects. This has led to accusations that the ICC is a neocolonial meddler in African affairs, wielding undue and unaccountable influence over the domestic political arena. Drawing on the author’s field research in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2006 this article contends that the neocolonialism critique of the ICC exaggerates the power of the Court while underestimating the capacity of African states to use the ICC to their own ends. Delivering distanced justice from The Hague with limited expertise on African societies and spending scant time in the field, the ICC has failed to grapple sufficiently with complex political dynamics “on the ground.” Combined with the Court’s heavy reliance on state cooperation, these factors have enabled African governments to use the ICC to target their political and military enemies while protecting themselves from prosecution. This has also emboldened African states in continuing to commit atrocity crimes against civilians, especially during periods of mass conflict and fraught national elections. While claiming to hover above the political fray, the ICC has become heavily politicized and instrumentalized by African states, with lasting and damaging consequences for the practice of national politics across Africa. To avoid being willfully used by African governments, the ICC must bolster its political expertise and become politically savvier. Rather than claiming to be neutral while hovering above the domestic terrain, the ICC must embrace its inherently political nature and deliver justice in a way that improves rather than undermines the practice of national and community-level politics across Africa.

Article

Land-Related Conflict and Electoral Politics in Africa  

Catherine Boone

Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.

Article

Political Contempt and Religion  

Nathan C. Walker

A society’s political and legal treatment of religion is a distinct indicator of the health of a democracy. Consequently, high levels of political and legal contempt for religion in the United States can be an indicator that partners in American democracy may be going through a divorce. By drawing upon studies that measure voter attitudes and behaviors, as well as research that tracks the levels of social hostilities and violence toward religion, students of democracy see into two of society’s most revealing mirrors: political rhetoric and the nation’s laws. These reflections can unveil powerful questions about the true character of a nation: will democracy rule from a place of contempt for the religious other, or from a state of passive political tolerance, or from a constitutional commitment to actively protect the rights of those with whom we disagree? Theories of political tolerance and psychological studies of contempt prove helpful in examining contemporary levels of religious animosity in politics and law. The Religious Contempt Scale, as introduced in this essay, gauges a society’s willingness to tolerate the religious other. When special attention is given to the frequency and degrees of severity of expressions of contempt, it becomes clear that contempt has political utility: to motivate the intolerant to gain access to power and, in turn, to motivate those who are intolerant of intolerance to remove them.

Article

The Politics of Prosecuting Genocide and War Crimes in Asia  

John Ciorciari

Delivering justice for genocide, war crimes, and other mass atrocities inevitably presents steep political challenges. That has certainly been true in Asia, where relatively few such international crimes have been prosecuted. Many Japanese were tried for war crimes following the Second World War, but for decades thereafter, the region saw only a few ill-fated efforts to advance justice for mass crimes. Some political space for accountability opened after the Cold War, enabling the creation of tribunals in Timor-Leste, Cambodia, and Bangladesh to address some of the many instances of impunity in Asia. Some observers have welcomed these trials as important efforts to advance accountability in a region rife with impunity. Still, the design and performance of these tribunals have reflected the difficulty of subjecting politically empowered or protected actors to justice. In each instance, trials have focused on suspects defeated at the ballot box or on the battlefield, prompting charges of victor’s justice. In other cases, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, even mounting an accountability process has proven a formidable challenge. In a region where Westphalian sovereignty and the norm of noninterference are strong, the will of incumbent domestic authorities remains the political linchpin for accountability efforts. In Asia as elsewhere, prosecuting international crimes requires exploiting windows of political possibility, although typically at the cost of accepting highly selective justice.

Article

Revolutions and Constitutional Crisis  

Johannes Vüllers

Revolutionary actions and constitutional crises are closely linked. However, research mainly looks at the two phenomena as distinct from each other. While studies on revolutionary actions are interested in the agency and the impact of the actions on the country’s institutions, legal research focuses on the constitution itself. The separation of the two strands leads to a limited understanding of their dynamics and complexity. What do we know about the relationship between revolutionary actions and constitutional crisis, and vice versa? The first question is how revolutionary actions trigger constitutional crisis, defined as a moment in which decision makers are unwilling or unable to manage the societal conflicts within the confinement of the constitutionally provided boundaries. Different types of revolutionary behavior—such as elite-led military coups, civil wars, and nonviolent resistance movements—trigger constitutional crises in many cases. They can lead to a new constitution with diverse implications for the political system. Whether the opposition or the old regime prevails in the constitutional crisis is a question of the power resources of both parties to the conflict. In some cases, the opposition movements succeed in making the political system more democratic. However, there are also cases where the constitutional crisis ultimately leads to more power for the ruling class. The relationship also works vice versa: a constitutional crisis can trigger revolutionary actions. Constitutional coups, and processes of democratic backsliding and constitutional rot, can trigger violent and nonviolent revolutionary actions. Political elites can try to change constitutional norms for their own benefit, such as extending the presidential term of office. This often leads to a storm of public protest and can become a real threat to the regime’s survival. A constitution can enter a crisis phase for a long time if it no longer serves the needs of parts of society. The injustices that thus arise within society can be a strong motive for revolutions. The combination of agency and constitutional processes is a promising avenue for future research that could help analyze the complex relationship between constitutional crises and revolutionary actions. In addition to innovative theoretical approaches, new empirical data is needed to examine the process of constitutional negotiation in more detail.

Article

Suriname: The National Army in Politics  

Dirk Kruijt

Suriname is a multiethnic society (from African, Asian, and European countries, and smaller contingents of the original indigenous peoples) formed in colonial times. After 1863, a small colonial army detachment with conscript Dutch soldiers was stationed in Suriname. The colony was provided autonomy in 1954, except for defense and foreign affairs. The same army detachment was now open for Surinamese noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Independence was obtained in 1975; the Dutch transferred all infrastructure of the colonial detachment. Suriname’s political culture was (and partially still is) based on ethnic belonging and clientelism. After independence, the government started spending big money and rumors of corruption arose. The NCOs, headed by Sergeant-Major Bouterse, staged a coup in 1980. They appointed a new civilian government but remained in control though a Military Council overseeing government. After two and a half years it generated a strong civilian opposition, supported by the students, the middle classes, and the trade unions. In December 1982, the military arrested the leaders and tortured and killed them. Between 1980 and 1987, Bouterse, now a colonel, was the de facto president as leader of the Military Council. The generally leftist but zig-zagging military government disrupted the economy. “Colombian entrepreneurs” assisted with financial support. Economic and political bankruptcy prompted the government to organize elections. The “old ethnic parties” won the election in 1987, but the army leadership remained in power. A second coup, in December 1991, was settled by general elections six months thereafter; the same ethnic parties returned to power. Armed opposition had emerged in the Maroon region. The Army, backed by paramilitary forces, organized a counterinsurgency campaign during several years of civil war. The civilian government brokered a preliminary peace agreement, but Army Chief Bouterse continued the war. Eventually the Organisation of American States mediated, resulting in a formal peace. Bouterse and his staff were discharged and became businessmen and politicians. Consecutive civilian government strongly curtailed military budgets, personnel, and equipment. Instead, they strengthened the police. In 2005, Bouterse participated in the elections with a pluriethnic political platform. His party became the largest one in parliament. He won the presidential elections in 2010 and was reelected in 2015. A Military Tribunal initiated a process against the actors of the December 1982 murders. In November 2019, the Tribunal convicted him of murder and sentenced him to 20 years in prison, without ordering his immediate arrest. The National Army, after decades of neglect, was reorganized. It is in fact an infantry battalion equipped with Brazilian armored vehicles. Brazil, Venezuela, and India supplied some assistance and training. The Coast Guard is part of the Army, as well as the Air Force which has a couple of Indian helicopters. Of the 137 countries ranked in military strength by Global Firepower (2019), Suriname is positioned at place 135. On the other hand, the country has no external enemies, although there exists a dormant frontier dispute with Guyana since the late 1960s.

Article

Transitional Justice During Armed Conflict  

Cyanne E. Loyle

Armed conflict is ultimately about the violent confrontation between two or more groups; however, there is a range of behaviors, both violent and nonviolent, pursued by governments and rebel groups while conflict is ongoing that impacts the course and outcomes of that violence. The use of judicial or quasi-judicial institutions during armed conflict is one such behavior. While there is a well-developed body of literature that examines the conditions under which governments engage with the legacies of violence following armed conflict, we know comparatively little about these same institutions used while conflict is ongoing. Similar to the use of transitional justice following armed conflict or post-conflict justice, during-conflict transitional justice (DCJ) refers to “a judicial or quasi-judicial process initiated during an armed conflict that attempts to address wrongdoings that have taken or are taking place as part of that conflict” (according to Loyle and Binningsbø). DCJ includes a variety of institutional forms pursued by both governments and rebel groups such as human rights trials, truth commissions or commissions of inquiry, amnesty offers, reparations, purges, or exiles. As our current understanding of transitional justice has focused exclusively on these processes following a political transition or the termination of an armed conflict, we have a limited understanding of how and why these processes are used during conflict. Extant work has assumed, either implicitly or explicitly, that transitional justice is offered and put in place once violence has ended, but this is not the case. New data on this topic from the During-Conflict Justice dataset by Loyle and Binningsbø suggests that the use of transitional justice during conflict is a widespread and systematic policy across multiple actor groups. In 2017, Loyle and Binningsbø found that DCJ processes were used during over 60% of armed conflicts from 1946 through 2011; and of these processes 10% were put in place by rebel groups (i.e., the group challenging the government rather than the government in power). Three main questions arise from this new finding: Under what conditions are justice processes implemented during conflict, why are these processes put in place, and what is the likely effect of their implementation on the conflict itself? Answering these questions has important implications for understanding patterns of government and rebel behavior while conflict is ongoing and the impacts of those behaviors. Furthermore, this work helps us to broaden our understanding of the use of judicial and quasi-judicial processes to those periods where no power shift has taken place.