Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Geography of Law and Religion

The end of the year is, in a sense, about borders.  A large chunk of the human community has chosen to create borders to mark the passage of time--but those divisions become borders.  they assume a spatial dimension as well as a chronological one.  Tonight marks a passage through one of the more significant borderlands of time--we move from one year to another.  That passage acquires a symbolic dimension far greater than its temporal importance.  Time, then, has a great geographic dimension.  Its borders are a basis for the construction of human reality--and is essential to its organization.  All of this is well known.

Yet perhaps less well appreciated is the centrality of borders --the spacial dimension--to other fundamental conceptions that mark human organization. The close tie between language, geography and religious conceptions of behavior norms is a case in point. 
Anyone who indulges in profanity is irreverent and sacrilegious.  This word is based on the Latin profanum, from pro, "before", "outside", and farum, "temple".  Since the profane man is outside of the temple, he is unholy.  The fanatic, however, is in and out of the fanum, or temple.  In Latin fanaticus means "of the temple," and so "inspired by divinity."  Nowadays a fanatic is one who is moved by a frenzy of enthusiasm over something.  We moderns for our convenience have whittled fanatic down to the three letter word fan--a person who works himself into a frenzy of enthusiasm over, say, baseball. 
Wilfred Funk, Word Origins and their Romantic Stories 275 (New York: Bell Publishing, 1950). The human condition appears grounded in "drawing lines in the sand."  We suggest the creation or declaration of an artificial boundary and imply that crossing it will cause trouble; yet that boundary is neither artificial nor easily avoided. 

And thus the thought for year's end:  The problem of borders remains the central issue of human organization--in all of its aspects.  These borders are all intangible, though they appear symbolically rendered on land, and in religious, space, political and legal space.  The traditional borderlands of national territory have been overwhelmed by other boundaries.  These will reshape human organization in the coming decade as each strives for both autonomy and control within an increasingly leveled polycentric global communal space.   This will make singular efforts at order increasingly difficult even as the structures of a unified global communal space appear to gain form and function.  We are moving toward the day when we will be profane fanatics--divinely inspired to stand both within and outside the temple space.  Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Theology and the Complications of Catholic-Muslim Relations: Looking to John Paul II

The last several years has witnessed a number of pointed eruptions in relations between Catholics and Islam. These have ranged from battles over the right to use the "name" of God to depictions of aspects of the faith.  I have written briefly on some of the more interesting recent points of eruption.  See, Larry Catá Backer, Who Owns the Name of God? The Malaysian Government Knows!, Law at the End of the Day, Nov. 5, 2009; Larry Catá Backer, On Benedict XVI, Islam and the Politics of Abusive Discourse, Law at the End of the Day, Sept. 16, 2006; Larry Catá Backer, Law: Benedict XVI and the Constitution of Political States,  Law at the End of the Day, June 30, 2007; Larry Catá Backer,  Fides et Ratio: Religion and Law in Legal Orders Suffused by Faith, Law at the End of the Day, July 30, 2007.

A recent re-reading of a book published during the middle period of the Papacy of John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Vittorio Messori, ed., New York: Knopf, 1994) reminds us that the tensions in the relations between Catholics and Islam has a strongly theological basis.  But it also suggests that because the tensions are fundamentally theological, there is a space for dialogue.  However, that space is quite different from those who measure those things in secular, pluralist ways.  John Paul II's brief thoughts on those issues are worth considering carefully, both because they provide a straightforward introduction to a set of complex communicative problems, and because they point forward to the Catholic position on its sense of certain aspects of Islam that, during the Papacy of Benedict XVI, produced significant popular reaction.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Other Face of Modern Warfare: The U.K. Battlefront in the Israel-Palestine War

The Americans are busy justifying military campaigns.  Barack H. Obama, Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo City Hall, Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth:  We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.  There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. . . .  I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.  For make no mistake:  Evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.  To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason." Id.
These sentiments are a luxury most safely enjoyed by the powerful.  But nearly a  decade after the start of the Afghan War, the American (and coalition) forces have yet to be able to pacify the state and secure a victory (as such things are conventionally understood).  The Americans are discovering that, the military aspects of campaigns are proving to be the least satisfying.  The war between Islam and the Jews, politely referenced as the Arab-Israeli or Palestine-Israel Wars, may provide a better marker than Mr. Obama's efforts, to show the modern face of conflict.

Two recent stories nicely show the way in which war has evolved--from military conflicts fought with weapons between armies or irregular forces, to global conflicts among lawyers and regulators. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pretext and Impiety in Iran

The torn poster of Ayatollah Khomeini shown on Iranian TV (Image from Iran opposition accused of insulting founder Khomeini, BBC News Online, Dec. 13, 2009).

The English word pretext is said to derive from the Latin word praetextum--to disguise. But pretextum is the neuter past participle of an action word--praetexere--a word suggesting a weaving as an act of disguise. Pretext thus embraces a notion of altering reality, of weaving a framework reality for a particular purpose. That objective serves both as cloak that covers another reality and also serves as its substitute. Pretext is history in action. It is the ultimate effort of humans to become the managers of their own history. And it is invariably a sloppy and badly managed affair. It is thus the ultimate hubris (ὕβρις)--both pathetic and inevitable among a certain group of people hurtling toward their own destiny. But that is a lesson that human social, political, ethnic and religious communities tend to believe is the fate of others,and not themselves. Each, in turn, weaves their own destiny (usually on the backs of their opponents) in the sure knowledge that they (unlike their predecessors) will "get it right."

But hubris also suggests an intimate connection between the managed disguising inherent in "pretext" and impiety. Where religious communities engage in pretext, it, and especially its leaders, engage in an arrogance that is also sin. There is a certain arrogance against the Divine order in pretext in this context. It serves as a manifestation of the idea that humans can substitute themselves for the Divine in the ordering of the affairs of the world. Pretext serves as a challenge to God, as understood in those communities, it is an acting out of a challenge to the Divine representation in those sects that screams: "I know better than God what is or shall be."

It is thus especially poignant when the leaders of religious communities manipulate the pious, in the name of their Divinity, through pretext to sin, to an insult to the community of believers and to the prophets whose words and lives they purport to uphold. The Iranian religious community had developed an interesting variation on constitutional government grounded in the religious principles of Shi'a Islam. See, Larry Catá Backer, Theocratic Constitutionalism: An Introduction to a New Global Legal Ordering, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2008; Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-44.

But having spent three decades perfecting an alternative to the communal constitutionalism of the world community it is now in danger of losing power to factions of the religious and pious who owe the progeny of the founders no personal loyalty. That is the essence of democracy, even theocratic democracy. But it appears that this consequence of the constitutional state the religious elite created is now unacceptable to a portion of that very elite when deployed against its own grip on power. The result was an election the legitimacy of which remains highly contested, at least within Iran, that appeared to keep one faction in power. Paul Reynolds, Iran: Where Did All the Votes Come From?, BBC News Online, June 23, 2009. This has produced a crisis pitting factions within the ruling clerical community and their adherents outside of that community against each other. Iran Opposition Protesters Clash with Security Forces, BBC News Online, Dec. 7, 2009.

But having constructed a constitutional state that incorporates the religious values hich they purport to maintain, how to retain power without appearing to overturn the constitutional order on which the legitimacy of their political authority (and thus also to some extent their religious authority) rests? Pretext and impiety provides the answer.

Iran's Supreme Leader has accused the opposition of breaking the law by insulting the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged opposition leaders to identify "those behind the insult to Imam Khomeini". The remarks centre on an alleged incident last Monday during which a poster of Imam Khomeini was torn up. Opposition leaders say the alleged incident - shown on state television - has been doctored. The opposition has been refusing to endorse the result of the presidential election in June which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power for a second term. They allege the poll was widely rigged. The election dispute is now radicalising both sides, says the BBC's Tehran correspondent, Jon Leyne. Iran opposition accused of insulting founder Khomeini, BBC News Online, Dec. 13, 2009.
The religious elite is set to use impiety against their political opponents. They would use a televised image of a ripped poster with the image of a man serve as the pretext for substantial misapplication of the constitutional structure they purported to create. They appear driven to rip the Constitutional fabric of the Islamic Republic in the same way they ripped the image of the late Ayatollah. They mean to preserve their earthly power even as they weaken the theological underpinning of the Republic created a generation ago. The Ayatollah Khamenei appears set to substitute the rule of individuals for the divine mandate he is purportedly charged with protecting. "In his remarks, broadcast on state TV on Sunday, Iran's Supreme Leader said: 'Some people created riots and encouraged people to stand against the system... paving the way for our hopeless enemies to undermine the Islamic revolution.' He urged opposition leaders to return to 'the right path'. His warning on the alleged insult to the republic's founder was echoed by a statement issued by the Revolutionary Guards." Id. He will tear the constitutional state in pieces to mirror the torn image of the late Ayatollah. There is irony here as well as impiety. This is captured nicely by Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, an opponent of the ruling religious clique, when he suggested that "The current decisions, which are being taken by the minority faction that is in power, are mainly against the interests of the country, and are not in keeping with Islamic principles and values" Edward Stourton, Ahmadinejad's Theological Foes, BBC News Online, October 19, 2009. But more importantly, it suggests that a legitimately constitutional theocratic state may not be possible, even on its own terms.

The torn image of the face of the late Ayatollah Khomeini suggests pretext, hubris, impiety and blasphemy. But whose? As the Iranian state appears ready to turn its apparatus against its own, it continues down a path that deepens the crisis of legitimacy of a 30 year old experiment in religiously based constitutional orders. And so the Iranian clerical class practices pretext, weaving together action and symbol, processed through law, to disguise a less worthy set of objectives behind a facade of lawfulness. With this praetextum, certain elements of the Iranian ruling caste have taken their destinies in their own hands. As the Greeks remind us, the hubris implicit in political pretext can only bad badly. Those who seek to control destiny through this weaving will find themselves woven into a greater design whose parameters are both beyond their control and in which their fates are in part determined by their pretexts.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Democracy Part XX: Democracy With or Without Elections in Honduras

On June 28, 2009, the sitting President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office and sent forcibly into exile at the instigation of the Honduran Supreme Court and Legislature., and through the offices of the Honduran military The actions were branded by many as a“constitutional coup” and condemned by many states. Some also condemned the aborted constitutional coup planned by Mr. Zelaya on the eve of his removal from office. Since his removal, the Honduran constitutional crisis has involved significant national and international actors, and the deployment of law—both Honduran and international law. The removal of President Zelaya is most remarkable for its importance in the development of constitutional law in an international context. This disciplining of domestic constitutional law by international standards represents an important innovation. Constitutionalism, once considered solely the province of its governmental organs and subject to the will of domestic popular sovereigns, now appears to have acquired an important international dimension. International law marks the outer boundaries of national flexibility in the internal ordering of its constitutional systems.

More importantly, perhaps, it marks the limits of legitimate interpretation and implementation of that system. To these ends, the institutionalized international order may intervene to correct inappropriate actions taken under color of the domestic constitution. The Organization of American States, and to some extent, the United Nations, has played important roles in the determination of the validity of the removal under the Honduran constitutional system. The removal of President Zelaya was condemned not merely because it might have constituted a breach of the Honduran Constitution, but because it might have constituted a breach of international standards for constitutional order, and the international commitments of Honduras. An agreement for the return of Mr. Zelaya to office was eventually brokered through the United States, after the Brazilians facilitated his secret return to the country, lodging him in their embassy. That agreement effectively internalized international standards within the Honduran constitutional order. Mr. Zelaya was returned to office because the international community,construing the international framework within which the Honduran constitutional order was bound, demanded it. This effectively overturned the constitutional choices made by the Honduran legislature and judiciary in removing Mr. Zelaya from office.

The Honduran constitutional crisis may suggest the growth and institutionalization of the power of the community of nations to intervene in the internal ordering of constitutional conflict to an extent well beyond what might have seemed possible even a generation ago. The Honduran situation, thus, suggests that constitutionalism now serves as a nexus point between traditional constitutional and international law. This amalgam is something new. On the other hand, this conflation of the international and the domestic in constitutional law may represent a means to justify interventionism under cover of law, with ramifications for the use of law as an instrument for neo-colonialism. In either case, its implications are important and extend well beyond Honduras.

The Honduran experience has thus raised complex issues ranging from constitutionalism (removal of presidents, constitutional interpretation, fundamental constitutional norms, etc.), international law (to what extent can international law interact with and project inwards to a national constitutional crisis, what is the role of regional organizations like the OAS or international organizations like the UN, etc.), indigenous law, and transnational constitutionalism (to what extent are states no longer the masters of their own constitutional frameworks). They remain essentially unexplored. Most are veiled behind the insistence of the political classes and their creatures in intellectual and media circles that either nothing new is going on or that action is being taken to preserve this or that form of some now hoary political value over which these actors presume to have some legitimating say-so.

I have been exploring the emerging implications and consequences of the Honduran constitutional crisis for international law, constitutional law and the institution, perhaps, of a more effective framework for transnational constitutionalism.
Larry Catá Backer, Honduras Between Restoration and Legitimacy, Law at the End of the Day, Nov. 27, 2009;
Larry Catá Backer, Transnational Constitutionalism Triumphant: The End of the Honduran Constitutional Crisis, Law at the End of the Day, Oct. 31, 2009;

Larry Catá Backer, The Other Shoe Drops--Brazilian Interventionism in Honduras Law at the End of the Day, Sept. 23, 2009;

Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XVIII-- Constitutional Caudillismo: End Games in Honduras, Law at the End of the Day, Sept. 22, 2009;

Larry Catá Backer, Judging the Honduran Constitutional Order Beyond the State—An Interrogation of the View From the Transnational Sector Law at the End of the Day, August 29, 2009;

Larry Catá Backer, Reflections on the Declaration of Independence: From a Crisis of U.K. Constitutionalism in the Americas to a Global Constitutional Crisis in Honduras, Law at the End of the Day, July 4, 2009.

In a prior essay I raised another of the great issues now affected by the events in Honduras--the evolving standards for determining electoral legitimacy. Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XIX: Electoral Legitimacy in Honduras and Afghanistan, Law at the End of the Day, Nov. 29, 2009. I suggested a name for this evolving standard--a false consciousness standard for determining the legitimacy of acts of popular sovereignty in an age of mass democracy. At the forefront of these efforts stand the Brazilians, or rather the Cuba-Brazil theory-politics axis that is now proving quite potent in the region. Here I explore the elaboration of that emerging standard, and consider some of its implications, if only briefly.

Let me first set the stage, if somewhat crudely: Under the terms of the Tegucigalpa/San José Accords (for the original Spanish version, click here) provided that in return for Mr. Zelaya renouncing efforts to call for constitutional changes through a National Constituent Assembly (Paragraph 2), scheduled national elections could proceed in November (Paragraph 3), the armed forces would be restrained from interfering with the elections (Paragraph 4) and the international community would restore their economic and political cooperation (Paragraph 7). In addition, the accords provided for the establishment of a truth commission (Paragraph 6), which would be administered in large part, by elements of the international community (Paragraph 7). The critical part of the bargain for the international community, though, was that Mr. Zelaya would be restored to office for the remainder of his term. But this last part of the deal was subject to the condition that the National Congress approve Mr. Zelaya's symbolic return to office (but certainly not to power). That action would represent an exercise of derivative popular will ("una expresión institucional de la soberanía popular" Accord, supra, at Paragraph 5). For that purpose the agreement permitted the National Congress to consult other actors, and particularly the national Supreme Court. A national unity government (described in article 1 of the Accord) was to be installed no later than November 5, 2009, about a month before national elections were to be held. (Id., article 9). This National Unity Government would "fill the different Secretariats, Sub-secretariats and other agencies of the State, in conformance with Article 246 and succeeding articles of the Constitution of the Republic of Honduras." (Id., Art. 1).

But immediately before the elections were to take place, the Honduran Supreme Court determined that Mr. Zelaya could not legally return to office.
Brain Jackson, Honduras High Court Rules that Zelaya Cannot Return to Power, Jurist, Nov. 26, 2009. The National Congress did nothing. The elections were then held. To nobody's surprise, the candidate of the Conservative Party won the elections. Honduras' election won by Porfirio Lobo, Telegraph (U.K.), Nov. 30, 2009. The report noted that "Mr Lobo, a rich landowner, had over 55 percent support with more than half the votes counted and his closest rival, Elvin Santos of the ruling Liberal Party, conceded defeat. . . .But while Washington commended the vote, leftist rulers of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela and other Latin American countries say the election is invalid because it was backed by the coup leaders and could end any hope of Mr Zelaya returning to power. " Id.

The ceremonial aspects of the election were highly politicized along a left-right axis. It is typical for elite elements of the international community, both representatives of international organizations and transnational civil society actors, to "participate" in small country elections, like those of Honduras, to legitimate the result as free from large scale fraud or other irregularities, This time Many elements of the international community avoided involvement with the election. International organizations declined to send observers for the most part. However, other groups sent observers. Thus while it was originally reported that
A total of 3,000 Honduran and over 300 international observers will monitor the November 29 presidential elections in Honduras, the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal has said. International monitors will include EU observers, U.S. representatives of the Democrat and Republican parties and Organization of American States officials. A government delegation from Panama is also due to monitor the polls. Over 3,000 Observers to Monitor Honduran Elections, RIA Novosti, Nov. 27, 2009.

By the time the election was held, most foreign institutions had decided to avoid sending send observers. But not all. The United States sent observers, including the National Democratic Institute. In addition, a strong contingent of observers came from right wing groups, and others opposed to the organized opposition to the elections orchestrated by institutional civil society and governmental elements.
Energized by the left-right struggle in Honduras, more than 300 South Florida observers -- from Cuban exiles to activists and academics -- are heading south to monitor national elections that seek to resolve a bitter, five-month political crisis. . . . .The Organization of American States has since suspended Honduras from its membership. Neither the OAS nor the European Union was sending monitors to Sunday's elections. "In the past, we counted on the OAS and if they decide they want to come, we welcome them,'' Denis Fernando Gómez, deputy magistrate for Honduras' Supreme Elections Tribunal, told The Miami Herald. . . . Gómez said the more than 300 observers that registered with the national electoral tribunal had to do so 15 days before the vote to obtain credentials. Many applicants were affiliated with civic organizations and academic institutions. Trenton Daniel and Laura Figueroa, South Florida election observers head for Honduras, The Miami Herald, Nov. 28, 2009.
Other traditionally left leaning organizations in the United States, heavily in the business of legitimating foreign elections, hedged. For example, it was reported that the organization directed by former American President Jimmy Carter, would not send election observers. "However, the center and like-minded colleagues are sending a trio of 'experts' to follow political developments and human-rights conditions." Id.

The elections produced few allegations of large scale voting irregularities.
But see, e.g., Honduras: Authorities must reveal identities and whereabouts of people detained today, Amnesty International, Press Release, Nov. 30, 2009. See, e.g., Preliminary Report of the National Democratic Institute International Election Assessment Mission to the Honduran General Elections of November 29, 2009 ("Election day was generally peaceful and orderly. No systematic problems in the process were reported by Honduran domestic election monitors or political contestants. . . . While many aspects of the process took place without widespread or serious flaws, some problems, which were reported by domestic monitors and witnessed by this delegation, did occur. . . . Domestic election observers made an important contribution to the transparency of the election process."). The NDI, however, was unable to verify pre-election conditions. Id., at 5. See also Friends of Honduras, Statement on the National Elections in Honduras, Nov. 29, 2009.

The electoral turnout was also in dispute, ranging between an official high of about 61% to a low slightly less than 50% of voters. See, e.g., Efren Bonilla Figueroa
, Tribunal declara ganador a 'Pepe', Tiempo, Dec. 5, 1009 ("En la presentación de los resultados se produjo una polémica porque mientras el Tribunal Supremo Electoral proclamó que el abstencionismo fue del 38. 7 por ciento, la Fundación Hagamos Democracia, que tiene un centro de cómputo similar al del organismo electoral, dijo que fue de 52. 4 por ciento."). See also Mary Beth Sheridan, Hondurans go to polls, hoping to end crisis Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2009 ("Turnout was 47.6 percent, several points less than the total in the last presidential election in 2005, according to projections released by the country's electoral tribunal."). But as the reports indicated, those numbers were generated by organizations with political axes to grind. Overall, though, the elections appeared to proceed along the lines anticipated before the June 28, 2009 events. "The election, which was scheduled before the coup, took place mostly peacefully despite a spate of home-made bomb explosions in recent days and police firing tear gas at pro-Zelaya protesters in the city of San Pedro Sula. " Honduras' election won by Porfirio Lobo, Telegraph (U.K.), Nov. 30, 2009.

The stakes were high--the election was to be held hostage to the restoration of Mr. Zelaya to office. Without that restoration, it seems, the deal would be "off" and the election declared invalid, irrespective of its validity as election or popular expression otherwise. Elements of establishment elites suggested as much. "'
If the U.S. sends election observers before President Zelaya is restored, it would prepare the ground for recognizing the coup regime and its election as legitimate, putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the hemisphere,'' wrote Robert Naiman, policy director of Just Foreign Policy, a left-leaning think tank." Trenton Daniel and Laura Figueroa, South Florida election observers head for Honduras, The Miami Herald, Nov. 28, 2009. Other elements of American civil society applauded for that very reason. See, e.g., Ray Walser, Ph.D., James M. Roberts and Israel Ortega, U.S. Should Endorse Honduras Elections Results, Heritage Foundation, Nov. 30, 2009. The National Resistance Front Against the Coup put it more bluntly:

1. Since the midnight deadline of Thursday November 5th passed without the restoration of legitimate president Manual Zelaya, we declare we will actively not recognise the electoral process of November 29 of this year.

Elections which are imposed by a de facto regime that represses and violates the human and political rights of the citizenry would only validate nationally and internationally the oligarchic dictatorship and secure the continuation of a system which marginalises and exploits popular sectors in order to guarantee the privileges of a few.

Participation in such a process would give legitimacy to the coup regime and to its successor which would be fraudulently installed on January 27, 2010.

2. The refusal to acknowledge the electoral farce will remain firm between now and the elections even if President Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. A period of 20 days is too little time to dismantle an electoral fraud conceived to ensure that one of the representatives of the coup-making oligarchy will be put in place and therefore give continuity to its repressive and anti-democratic project.

The prior statement does not mean that we have renounced our fundamental demand that constitutional order be returned to Honduras, including the return of President Zelaya to the position he was elected to fill for four years by the Honduran people.

3. Now more than ever it is clear that the exercise of participatory democracy through the installation of a Constituent Assembly is not just a non-negotiable right but also the only way to provide the Honduran people with a democratic and inclusive political system.

4. We denounce the complicit attitude of the US government, maneuvering to stall the crisis and now showing its true intention to give validity to the coup regime, thereby ensuring that the successor government will be docile in the face of the interests of transnational companies and their goal of regional control.

Therefore, we consider correct the decision made by President Zelaya to declare the failure of the Tegucigalpa Agreement, an agreement which is part of the US strategy to stall Zelaya's restoration in order to validate the electoral process.

5. We call on all organisations and candidates in the November 29 elections to act in accordance with previously stated commitments and publicly pull out of the electoral farce.

6. We call together the mobilised and as yet unorganised sectors of the population to join actions which reject the electoral farce and promote acts of civil disobedience, as supported by Article 3 of the Constitution of the Republic, which gives us the right to disobedience and popular insurrection.

7. To the friendly nations and peoples of the world, we call on you to maintain political pressure to overthrow the military dictatorship imposed by oligarchy and imperialism, as well as commit to recognise neither the illegitimate elections of November 29 nor the spurious authorities who seek to pass as representatives elected by the people.

"We resist and we will win." National Resistance Front Against the Coup, The Elections Will Not be Recognized, The Struggle Continues, Nov. 9, 2009.

Mr. Zelaya, as has been his habit, poured fuel on the fire. His statement proceeded along substantially along the same basis as the "National Resistance Front Against the Coup." He argued:
The accord has twelve points, and we had an agreement with Secretary Hillary Clinton, as well as President Obama, to move forward on that unified accord. In this sense, it is not as—it was explained by Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon and that it, the accord, goes step by step. It is an accord that needs to be seen in its entirety. We did not sign twelve accords; we signed one accord, and the main point of that is the restitution of the president of Honduras. If this reinstatement does not happen, then the accord fails. The accord had a deadline of November the 5th for the installation of the government of reconciliation and unity. Mr. Micheletti proceeded to go ahead with the accord, installing that new government without me. And when he did this, we then declared that the accord is completely null and void. It is a dead letter. Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: Talks Are Off with Coup Government After Deal Collapses (Amy Goodman, Interview With Manuel Zelaya), Nov. 9, 2009.

But Mr. Zelaya did more than that. "
Deposed Honduras President Manuel Zelaya sent a letter to divided Latin American leaders Tuesday asking them to reject elections held under the regime that backed his June 28 ouster. "I ask you not to recognize the electoral fraud and for your cooperation so that this military coup does not go unpunished," Zelaya said in a letter released from the Brazilian Embassy, where he is holed up under threat of arrest." Zelaya Calls For Latin American Leaders to Reject Polls, Google News, Dec. 12, 2009. This had become a political, rather than a constitutional issue. While Mr. Zelaya played to his potential Latin American allies, the opposition played to the United States and a minority of Latin American States.

The last of the foundational elements of the electoral drama occurred within days of the election, when the National Congress finally acted--to refuse to reinstate Mr. Zelaya to office to serve out the few weeks left to his term. Honduran Congress Votes Down Zelaya's Reinstatement, BBC News Online, Dec. 3, 2009. The vote was close--"
Of the 124 members of Congress present, 64 voted against his reinstatement." Id. It was the last of a set of empty gestures, whose valuye had been reduced to nothing in the wake of the elections. "Mr Zelaya, who was ousted in June, had told the BBC that he would refuse reinstatement because he did not want "to legitimise a coup"." Id.
Speaking to BBC Mundo from inside the Brazilian embassy where he took refuge in September, he said: "Will the elections change the military leadership that conducted the coup that ousted me? It remains the same. Will the elections change the composition of the Supreme Court that issued an arrest warrant [against me] without due cause? It remains the same," Mr Zelaya said. Id.
The real prize was the election. And the key to that prize, for Mr. Zelaya, was positioning his own people in the month leading up to the opening of the polls. Once that possibility was foreclosed by the stalling of the National Congress, the value of a mere symbolic return to power was reduced to nothingand the object changed--to attack the legitimacy of the election itself, whether or not it was fairly conducted. "Zelaya, who listened to the proceedings from his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, said even before the vote that he wouldn't return for a token two months if asked. He said he should have been reinstated before Sunday's presidential election and urged governments not to restore ties with the incoming administration of Porfirio Lobo." Honduras' Congress Rejects Restoring Zelaya, MSNBC, Dec. 3, 2009.

And thus, the stage was set for international reaction to the events. In the generation of justification for political choices, one can discern real dynamism in global consensus about elections--and the relationship between elections (even transparent and fair ones) and the principles of democratic organization and governance. These insights will likely survive this political dispute over control of the government of Honduras, which now pits the United States against Brazil in what some might be tempted to suggest is a contest for neo colonial mastery over the region. Each has sought to invoke its own version of transnational systems and rules to dominate discussion and action within Honduras. But together, the conflict has also produced, if only momentarily, a small space for the exercise of a limited sovereignty within the object of transnational activity. See, Mary Beth Sheridan, After Ousting President, Honduran Elite Defied U.S. Pressure, Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2009.

On the one side stand the United States and its allies in this affair--for the moment Perú, Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica. Theirs is a traditional position, and well known. It is a formalist process oriented standard, one that has seen refinement in the articulation of legitimating standards for the post war regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but which is also grounded in the development of non violent means of movement away from dictatorial regimes in places like Brazil, Chile, South Africa and the like through popular expressions of governmental change. The principal focus of this standard are technical and process oriented. Its focus is on preserving a space within which it is possible for the popular will to be effectuated. The traditionally most legitimating method of such expression is through voting. What must be privileged, then, is that expression of mass democratic sentiment in the form in which it is most legitimated expressed. Protection of a system of open, fair and transparent elections then becomes the key to popular expression exercised through the ballot. Process, systems, and operations of the elections themselves are all bent to the immediate legitimating task--the construction of a political space within individuals may express their preferences substantially undisturbed. The range of that expression, the choices available, the context from out of which that space is created are all incidental to the operation of the space for expression. In some curious ways, there is a parallel between these ideas, and those of the role of the state in the preservation of markets where consumers and investors might also be given a space within which to make economic choices. It is the integrity of the market place rather than the choices offered within it that serve as the foundational marker for legitimacy and values maximization.

On the other side Brazil, the ALBA states (
Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela) and their fellow travelers (principally Argentina). Theirs is a new, and somewhat interesting position. It is a functionalist and substantive oriented standard. This standard takes the position articulated by Mr. Zelaya and reconstitutes it as principle.
In the case of Honduras, "we have to be coherent: we cannot reach agreements with a supporter of the coup, pretending that nothing happened, because soon they'll start to say that everything was Zelaya's fault," said Lula.

He added that his country, Latin America's giant, with a population of 192 million people, "does not compromise with political vandalism."

In equally harsh terms, Argentine President Cristina Fernández questioned the validity of the elections and complained about "double standards" when it comes to judging leaders in the region, depending on where they stand on the ideological spectrum.

"Respect for freedom is neither of the right nor the left," said Fernández. Without naming names, she lashed out at leaders who argue that Lobo should be recognised as president-elect as a compromise solution, saying "there is no such thing as a bit more or less of democracy. It's like being pregnant: either you are, or you aren't."

With regard to democracy, "it's the same thing: either you have democracy, and all rights and guarantees are respected, or you don't have democracy," said Fernández, adding that "respect for democracy in our region has a tragic history, which means defence of democracy must be an all-out defence that makes no concessions."
Mario de Queiroz, Latin America: Summit Does not Recognise Elections in Honduras, Dec. 1, 2009.
The essence of the principle is fraud--not in the conduct of the election itself, but in the congtext in which it was held. "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the leader of a socialist bloc in Latin America and a close ally of Mr Zelaya, said the vote was 'an electoral farce.'" Honduras' election won by Porfirio Lobo, Telegraph (U.K.), Nov. 30, 2009. The ALBA position was made clear by the Nicaraguan Foreign Minister,
who presided over the United Nations General Assembly from September 2008 to September 2009, said the coup set an "appalling precedent" and described Sunday's elections as "illegitimate." "What we are seeing now is that a small group of countries, unconditional allies that are heavily dependent on Washington, decided to initiate a process of recognising the elections, but the immense majority of Iberoamerica is opposed to them," said d'Escoto, a Catholic priest. In response to a question from IPS during d'Escoto's conversation with journalists on the role played by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, the Nicaraguan diplomat accused the president of being "the main instrument of the United States in blocking the return of full democracy in Honduras." Mario de Queiroz, supra
The Cuban position added a level of subtlety. Legitimacy of elections depended on the legitimacy of the governing context in which the elections are held.

“Blessing the electoral process organized by the dictatorship in power in Honduras represents a harsh blow to the democratic values in Latin America and the Caribbean,” the document notes.

“This coup was the beginning of a neo-colonial offensive by the US Government and Latin American national oligarchies that aim at recovering ground in the region in light of the progressive and unstoppable political advancement of our peoples,” the communiqué stresses. ALBA Countries Condemn Elections in Honduras, Cuba News Agency, Dec. 5, 2009.
But Cuba had little to lose and something to gain by taking this stance. It had become clear that ALBA (and thus Cuba) would lose significant influence if the elections were to be legitimated. Even Mr. Zelaya's Liberal Party was prepared to jettison the country's connection to ALBA were they to win. Liberal Party candidate says Honduras to quit ALBA if wins presidential race, China View (Xinhua) Nov. 29, 2009 ("Santos said he does not agree that Honduras would continue to be part of that regional group until they know the real benefits it has brought to the country, because "it has brought us an enormous problem that currently has divided our people." Honduras joined ALBA in August 2008 during the administration of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who is also from the Liberal Party. "). At the time it joined ALBA, Mr. Zelaya characterized the move as anti-American (and from his perspective anti-colonialist) as well as anti-capitalist. Honduras Joins Venezuela-Led ALBA, Press TV,Aug. 28, 2008 ("'Honduras did not ask permission from any imperialist country to join ALBA,' Zelaya stressed. . . . Zelaya also hailed the agreement, which is based on complementary trade and cooperation instead of free-market competition. 'This is not for the businessmen, it's for the people, this is for the poor, for solidarity,' he said. ). The elections, whatever the result, would therefore harm ALBA's position in the region. That alone would be temptation enough to seek a principled basis for attacking its legitimacy.

Effectively, under this approach, process considerations in judging elections are secondary or incidental to a judgment of the substantive context in which the elections are held.
The principal focus of this standard are substantive and functionally oriented. Its focus is on the values context within which the electorate may freely and legitimately exercise its choices. It is grounded in the idea that the populace is incapable of honest, fair and free choice where the situation in which those choices are to be made are themselves not free. It is not enough to preserve a space within which it is possible for the popular will to be effectuated. Stalin and Hitler, after all, were masters of orchestrating such spaces. Rather, what must be privileged is the sovereign will legitimately expressed. The legitimacy of that expression cannot be measured against process or market ideals, but must instead be measured against the result. Protection of a system of open, fair and transparent elections then becomes a condition precedent to the key legitimating factor--the possible outcomes of exercising the ballot. The range of the possible expression of popular choice, the choices available, the context from out of which that space is created are fundamental to an assessment of legitimacy. Incidental to that analysis are the niceties of the operation of the space for expression. In contrast to the formalist process oriented standard's echoing of market based ideology, the functionalist and substance oriented standard parallels a more interventionist and collectivist ideology. It is the integrity of the result rather than the market place that serve as the foundational marker for legitimacy and values maximization. The collective custom of states, and the imposition of those customs as a limit on both domestic constitutionalism and its expression through formally well-constructed elections, is of the essence. Collective discipline of Honduran constitutional delinquencies might then trump precise adherence to the rules of holding valid elections; substance over process. See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, God(s) Over Constitutions: International and Religious Transnational Constitutionalism in the 21st Century. Mississippi Law Review, Vol. 27, 2008.

But there is fear tinged with theory: "
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva again condemned the election, saying that failure to oppose it could encourage other "adventurers" to stage coups in Latin America. 'If the countries that can ... make gestures do not do so, we do not know where else there could be a coup," Mr Lula said in Portugal on Sunday. His government is increasingly flexing its muscles as Latin America's emerging power and has been disappointed by Washington's response to the Honduras crisis.'" Honduras' election won by Porfirio Lobo, Telegraph (U.K.), Nov. 30, 2009.

Of course, there is a bit of hypocrisy here is slinging the charge of double standards., especially from the lips of Argentine and Brazilian leaders. While it is expedient for Mr. Lula da Silva to declare
"'we must not recognise, or even converse with,' Porfirio Lobo (Mario de Queiroz, supra) it makes it harder to defend Mr. Lula da Silva's penchant for criticizing the Americans for doing the same thing with respect to engagement with Iran, for example. Of course, the details of the two situations are different--but essentially substitute's lawyer's arguments for a set of political determinations in search of principles. This is well understood. One gets a sense of the lawyer's tightrope in this political context from a recent statement of Mr. Lula da Silva's chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff.

Dilma Rousseff, disse nesta sexta-feira durante viagem à Alemanha que o governo brasileiro terá de considerar as eleições em Honduras nas discussões sobre a crise política no país.

"Em Honduras não estávamos discutindo eleição, estávamos discutindo golpe de Estado. Há uma diferença muito grande entre uma coisa e outra", disse Dilma

"Acho que esse novo processo aí [eleitoral] vai ter que ser considerado. Houve uma eleição"

"Mas continuamos divergindo (de outros governos) em chamar o governo do [presidente interino Roberto] Micheletti de algo que não seja um golpe de Estado. Vamos ter que levar isso agora em consideração."

Ela disse que a situação em Honduras é "bastante turbulenta".

"Vamos ter que levar isso [as eleições em Honduras] em consideração. Não vou comparar com o Irã, no Irã houve uma eleição."

Dilma diz que eleiçao de Honduras terá que ser considerada, O Globo, Dec. 4, 2009. ("Dilma Rousseff said on Friday during a trip to Germany that the Brazilian government will have to consider the elections in Honduras in the discussions on the political crisis in the country. "In Honduras we were not discussing the election, we were discussing coup. There is a big difference between one thing and another," said Dilma. "I think this new process there [the election] will have to be considered. There was an election." "But we will continue disagreeing (from other governments) in calling the government of [interim president Roberto] Micheletti something other than a coup. We'll have to take that into consideration now." She said the situation in Honduras is "very troubled". "We have to take it [the elections in Honduras] into account. I will not compare with Iran, in Iran there was an election."")

Here it all comes together. In Dilma Rouseff's comments we have crystallized both the importance of the different perspectives reflected in the two emerging standards for judging electoral legitimacy, and the tensions inherent in a single minded adherence to either. A mindless insistence on process as the decisive factor in determining electoral legitimacy ignores the contextual realities that may cabin that choice. And indeed, even the strongest supporters of that position--the United States and its allies--have understood the need for substantive factors in the recently concluded Afghani elections. Yet a mindless insistence on contextual substance as the decisive factor in determining electoral legitimacy subverts the very notion of sovereign will by conflating the illegitimacy of a group of government actors with expressions of the popular will. It too easily permits a politics of false consciousness, which can be abused as effectively as a mindless adherence to process. In any case, it seems likely that the nature of elections, and electoral legitimacy, will see something of a change that will not only survive this conflict among great states for influence and control over a smaller one, but may likely begin to affect the development of theories of elections within constitutionalist democratic states.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Participate in Online Forum: Business and Human Rights

Christine Bader, Adviser to the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative on Business and Human Rights (John Ruggie) has just announced the commencement of an important participatory vehicle for individuals and organizations interested in contributing to the developing transnational framework for regulating the human rights impacting conduct of economic enterprises.

The Press Release provides details:

Today the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on business and human rights, John Ruggie, launched a global online forum, The purpose of the forum is to gather input for the SRSG as he develops guiding principles to operationalize the U.N. "Protect, Respect, Remedy" framework, as requested by the Human Rights Council.

“I’ve held consultations all over the world as part of my mandate on business and human rights, but this online forum will enable a whole new level of outreach and transparency,” said Professor Ruggie. “I hope that a wide array of stakeholders will participate in the forum to share their experiences and reflections.”

The U.N. "Protect, Respect, Remedy" framework is made up of three pillars: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to avoid infringing on the rights of others; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial.

The forum is currently focused on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, the second pillar of the framework. The forum is divided into sections, each of which contains multiple topics with space for discussion and comment. These topics will remain in place through February 2010, although the SRSG may amend them in response to how the discussion proceeds.

This site was built specifically for the SRSG's mandate; it was created and is being maintained by students at The University of Western Ontario as part of their fourth year Design Project. Anybody can register to participate in the discussion and post comments. Recognizing that there are legitimate reasons why some cannot comment publicly, private correspondence can be submitted to To date the SRSG has not had the resources to translate the forum into other languages; recommendations for high-quality pro bono translation services that might be able to do so should be sent to

The forum is not intended to be an introduction to business and human rights or to the SRSG’s mandate. For more detail and background on the mandate, including information about the extensive consultations and research that led to the U.N. "Protect, Respect, Remedy" framework, please visit the SRSG’s web portal, which is hosted by the independent Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: New Online Forum for U.N. Business and Human Rights Mandate, United Nations Peress Release, New York and Geneva, Dec. 1, 2009.

Further inquires may be made to Christine Bader via e-mail at Christine_Bader[at]hks[dot]harvard[dot]edu.

The work of the Special Representative with respect to the obligations of economic enterprises beyond the more narrow competences of traditional law systems grounded in territorially limited domestic legal orders has become an important conceptual framework for constructing emerging governance systems at the transnational level. See Larry Catá Backer, On Challenges to Operationalizing a Transnational Framework for Business and Human Rights--the View From Geneva, Law at the End of the Day, Oct. 13, 2009. It has been embraced by important elements within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in the construction of their soft law systems. See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Corporations: Using Soft Law to Operationalize a Transnational System of Corporate Governance Law at the End of the Day, March 5, 2009. It has become an important element for policy discussions within the European Union.
The European Union and its Member States should take a global lead and serve as a good example on CSR when building markets, combating corruption, safe- guarding the environment and ensuring human dignity and human rights in the workplace. The European Union is the largest economy in the world and the largest development cooperation partner. Europe hosts many of the multinational enterprises in the world. We welcome that European employers consider it an important task to promote and take a global lead on CSR. Protect, Respect, Remedy – Making the European Union take a lead in promoting Corporate Social Responsibility, Statement at a Conference organized by the Swedish EU Presidency, Nov. 11, 2009.

Sadly, interest in this work lags in the United States, whose approach might be best characterized as benign neglect. Those interested in this work should not neglect this opportunity to add your voices to the discussion.