Politics and Plastic Surgery: Eugenics, Race and Social Mobility in Brazil

Photo by Olga Guryanova on Usplash

By Charlotte Lang

While the Brazilian butt lift has supplanted itself into popular celebrity culture, oft-neglected is Brazil’s unique relationship with plastic surgery. It is the second-largest consumer of plastic surgery in the world and since the 1960s, free and low-cost plastic surgery has been available through the public healthcare system. Under the backing of president Juscelino Kubitschek, surgeon Ivo Pitanguy tied ugliness with societal ill, arguing for the ‘right to beauty’ in rhetoric borrowed from Eugenics. Opening a clinic for the poor, which doubled as a plastic surgery institute, he promoted the image of surgeons as humanitarians correcting the racialised pathologies of the population.

While plastic surgery encompasses congenital deformities and burns, most surgeries performed are cosmetic. It has been democratized in the private sector too. The 1994 plano real expanded access to consumer credit such that plástica financing plans became available. Companies targeted women in the service sector, and consumers formed lottery associations (plástica consórcios) to fund surgery. As with most nations with universal healthcare, Brazil operates on a two-tier system where private healthcare is luxurious and efficient while public hospitals are severely underfunded but provide basic services. It is thus striking that a crumbling public healthcare system provides this plástica, a factor that Brazil’s increased economic prosperity cannot account for. In truth, the democratization of plástica aligned with the rising economic inequality in the 1980s and 90s and the savage capitalism which eroded the middle class. Most of the procedures performed at public hospitals are carried out by medical residents with a vested interest in learning aesthetic techniques to bring to private practice. Brazilian plastic surgery is innovative precisely because of the masses of low-income bodies surgeons have at their disposal, circumventing the typical legal and institutional barriers.

Eugenics gained traction in Latin America following European indictment of widespread racial miscegenation, which imagined a population destined to degeneration. As until the 1850s more than half of the Brazilian population was enslaved, much of the population was mixed race. In the following decades, the intelligentsia would vindicate miscegenation. It was deemed beneficial as a force that would purify non-white populations. The central tenet of this neo-Lamarckian form of Eugenics was the view that populations were not bound by a hereditary destiny and could be perfected through social and environmental factors. Public health was a primary means of accomplishing this goal through vaccination, sanitation and hygienic education. This saw the rural population of Northeastern Brazil classified as an ethnic subcategory. Beauty was moralised such that ugliness connoted disease while beauty was seen as the teleological destiny of the nation.

One of the leaders of the Eugenics movement in the 1920s, Renato Kehl, saw plastic surgery as the natural continuation of the movement. This focus reflected a broader anxiety within elite families over non-European features, allowing the eugenic process to be undertaken on a individual scale. While such an overt eugenics movement disappeared, its tenets arguably took on new, subtler forms. From the 1930’s onwards, Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre advanced the idea of a ‘racial democracy’ where the nation was imagined as an interracial, intercultural melting pot. Brazilians were described as a cultural hybrid of African, Amerindian and European. This was consolidated by activists, intellectuals and writers from highly segregated societies, to whom Brazil appeared as a paradigm of harmony. The reality was a society beset by the legacy of slavery, where racial prejudice was entrenched in education, life expectancy, income and incarceration.

Modern plastic surgery borrows from these Freyrean notions of hybridity, Brazilian surgeons explain its popularity with miscegenation. White women desire the buttocks and breasts of the eroticised Black body, and Black women desire European noses that diminish their visibility as migrants and outsiders. This ideal of whiteness tinged with erotic blackness is not merely an aesthetic ideal that exists in a vacuum, but one which particularly affects working-class women. Service work places a unique emphasis on appearance, such that beauty, youth, and sexual allure carry a particular curency. Many surgeries are also carried out on children and teenagers at the request of their family, who fear certain characters will lower them on the aesthetic hierarchy, linking them with poverty and blackness in a way that would limit future job opportunities. 

When in 1951 job advertisements were forbidden from expressing a preference for white applicants, this was euphemistically replaced with boa aparência (good appearance) and traços finos (fine features). That racialised preferences act as a barrier to entry for high paying jobs suggests the ways in which beauty extends far beyond questions of vanity. It also has a kind of a kind of democratic appeal in an age when social mobility has dwindled and access to education is limited, the body thus replaces the mind as a basis for power and identity. This is a theme familiar to Latin American melodrama, where a poor girl’s beauty is enough to threaten class barriers. One could also argue that this is not unique to Brazil, the commodification of beauty is perhaps ubiquitous to neoliberalism with cosmetic surgery worth an estimated 66 billion dollars globally. A hybrid aesthetic ideal has been popularised digitally with ‘Instagram face’, the surgically crafted face which Jia Tolentino describes as ‘a look of rootless exotocism’ on white women. While this bears resonance to Brazilian ideals, in Brazil it directly reflects and maintains racialised heircharchies, those of colonialism and eugenics. 

Out of the Closet and Across the Border: LGBT+ Refugees Fleeing Afghanistan

Image by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

By Brigid Rawdon

Content warning: Homophobia, death penalty, sexual assault 

In August of 2021, the Taliban, an extremist armed militant group regained control of the nation of Afghanistan. The group had been driven out of power following the invasion by the American military in 2001. However, after American troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban quickly seized control, striking fear within the nation’s LGBT+ community. In response, LGBT+ refugees have fled Afghanistan in search of safety. The UK government has stated that LGBT+ refugees are welcome. However, the process is complicated and LGBT+ refugees from other countries are often overlooked. 

Life in Afghanistan as an LGBT+ person was dangerous even before the Taliban came to power. The Afghan government criminalized homosexual acts, meaning that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Afghans could be imprisoned for prolonged periods of time if they were open about their sexuality, even to trusted friends and family members. In addition, gay men often experienced other forms of harassment my police such as assault and robbery. As the Taliban set up the new government, spokespeople claimed that the group would rule differently than in the past, such as by giving women more opportunities. However, many are sceptical about the truth of these statements and there is no expectation that the Taliban will change its laws against homosexuality. Similar to the previous government, the Taliban criminalizes homosexuality but imposes significantly harsher punishments on those who are found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts. According to a statement from a Taliban judge, gay men will be put to death either by stoning or by crushing. Media reports have suggested that gay men are experiencing similar levels of harassment and sexual assault by police compared to the previous Afghan government.

Consequently, since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, many LGBT+ Afghans have decided to flee the country for reasons of personal safety. They know that if they stay, it will be difficult to avoid being captured by the Taliban and subjected to the brutal treatment that the groups have claimed it will enact against gay Afghans. In order to flee, Afghans have been using a variety of methods to leave the country. Some were able to board evacuation flights out of the capital city of Kabul in summer. While most of the refugees fleeing Afghanistan headed to Pakistan or Iran, others sought refuge in the United States, United Kingdom, and other nations. 

In late October of 2021, the government of the United Kingdom helped 29 Afghan refugees who are members of the LGBT+ community to make their way to the UK. Here, the refugees filed asylum applications and began the process of resettling without fear of government persecution. The UK government, which has relatively progressive laws concerning the LGBT+ community, has welcomed these refugees and stated that they hoped to welcome more in the future. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities stated ‘We played a key role getting these people out and will continue to do all we can to help at-risk Afghans leave the country.’ In addition, various charities such as Rainbow Road, an organisation that helps LGBT+ people escape state-sponsored persecution, aided in the process of resettling these LGBTQ+ Afghan people in the United Kingdom. 

However, it would be naive to claim that LGBT+ people who seek asylum in the United Kingdom always have the eager support of the UK government. This process is often long, complicated, and dangerous for people fleeing nations with less widely-publicised persecution of their LGBT+ citizens. Like many other nations, the United Kingdom utilises the definition of a refugee set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which is ‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.’ While this definition does not specifically mention persecution based on sexual orientation or gender, the UK accepts that being LGBT+ makes a person part of a persecuted social group. 

As such, once these LGBT+ refugees entered the United Kingdom, they were able to submit asylum claims at their port of entry. In order for an LGBT+ asylum seeker’s claim to be considered valid by the UK government, said asylum seeker must prove well-founded fear of persecution on account of their actual or perceived sexual orientation that is deemed not to conform to prevailing political, social or cultural norms in their home nation. In addition, the asylum seeker must be expected to be able to return to their home nation and conceal their sexual orientation. This is relatively simple for those fleeing Afghanistan because of the aforementioned well-documented persecution of LGBT+ people by the ruling Taliban government. However, it is important to note that if these LGBT+ Afghans are granted asylum, their claims only last for five years until they must reapply. 

These Afghan refugees are far from alone in their struggle to escape state-sponsored persecution of LGBT+ people. Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces on February 24th, 2022, countless LGBT+ Ukrainians began to flee their home nation in fear of persecution by the Russian government. While LGBT+ people in Ukraine are protected from discrimination and are able to live openly, LGBT+ Russians are not protected from employment or housing discrimination and are subjected to fines if they speak out about anti-LGBT+ laws or are reported for discussing their life experiences as LGBT+ people. Many Ukrainians believe that if Russia gains control over the Ukrainian government, they will be subjected to the same censorship and discrimination that LGBT+ Russians face. If this happens, many of these Ukrainians will be forced to flee to more accepting nations. As a nation with aforementioned progressive laws concerning LGBT+ rights, there is a strong possibility that these refugees fleeing Ukraine will attempt to relocate to the UK. As a result, the government of the United Kingdom has the same obligation to these Ukrainians as it did to LGBT+ Afghan refugees. The UK government must continue to not only welcome LGBT+ refugees but also to expedite the process of granting their asylum claims and allowing them to resettle in the United Kingdom.

Economic Sanctions Hurt People, not Governments

Image by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

By Kathy Dimaya

In response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, sanctions on Russia have been a heated topic for several weeks. A closer look at the agenda, history, and context of these sanctions will demonstrate that regardless of the hopes and intentions of the US, UK, and EU governments, sanctions will not deter the Russian government and will only hurt its people.

A brief history

Imagined as a deterrent after World War I, sanctions in the modern sense were purposefully designed to threaten harm on civilians. As Nicholas Mulder, an expert on sanctions, discusses, the League of Nations intended to use sanctions as a pure threat that would not need to be implemented, as governments would have recently recalled the suffering of the Great War. But, in order to make the threat of sanctions credible, the threat needed to be total, severe, and thus, implicate not only the lives of military personnel but also of innocent people. A troubling reality given the purpose of sanctions as a method to preserve peace.

In recent years, Iran has experienced harsh sanctions from the West, yet, as noted in The Economist, sanctions imposed by the US “neither dislodged the mullahs who run [Iran] nor stopped its meddling in the region.” In Venezuela and Cuba, sanctions have also failed to change their regimes as intended. The reality is that when sanctions work, they should work quickly. If not, sanctions only worsen the conflict. In addition, “the more powerful sanctions are, the greater the risk of collateral damage, particularly when targeted regimes are indifferent to the suffering of citizens.” A vital detail to remember when assessing the Russian government’s response to sanctions in relation to its people.

Fortress Russia

To protect Russia against additional sanctions after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin has created a “fortress” to build “financial and economic sandbags around the economy.” Russia focused on reducing the number of transactions conducted in US dollars and engaged in more trade in other currencies. The country also decreased its import of Western goods in favour of manufacturing those goods domestically and increased cooperation with China. Russia’s fortress is estimated to be worth about $640 billion.

Despite Russia’s efforts, according to Wall Street Journal, the strategy has “limited economic growth and investment,” and “Russia has grown slower than the world since 2014,” making Russians poorer overall. On top of that, due to freezes on assets and the withdrawal of government bonds, according to NPR, “when you zoom out, this $640 billion fortress that Russia has spent years amassing kind of just boils down to $30 billion of cash.” Fortress Russia may not be much of a fortress after all.

Economic collapse

As of 15 March, economic sanctions implemented by the US, UK, and EU include bans on luxury goods exports to Russia, weighty taxes on certain Russian imports, limits on Russian oil and gas imports, and asset freezes of Russia’s central bank and other major banks. The West has also targeted Russian oligarchs through travel bans and individual asset freezes in an attempt to weaken Putin’s inner circle.

One of the most serious sanctions has been the ban of seven Russian banks from SWIFT, a network that links 11,000 financial institutions in 200+ countries. Deutsche Bank and others fear the move will incentivise the use of alternative messaging networks and workaround methods. That said, only large companies and high net worth individuals would be able to implement such workarounds, and as is typical with sanctions, this measure will be of greatest consequence to average Russians, such as households who are no longer able to remit crucial funds to relatives in Russia.

Moreover, corporations such as Ikea, H&M, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks, have announced closing their establishments and pulling their products in Russia. The self-sanctioning of these companies has raised concern for job losses should these companies decide to close doors permanently. The self-sanctioning of businesses has extended to Russian oil as well. Even though Western governments left certain energy sanctions off the table to prevent a global meltdown, buyers have willingly stopped buying Russian oil. The move is in solidarity with a collective aversion to conducting business with Russia, but the country is inordinately reliant on oil exports – the Fortress Russia plan depended on its oil industry to keep the country afloat. A significant loss in oil revenue would decimate their economy.

Lastly, the Russian ruble has lost one-third of its value since sanctions were imposed. Russian people have responded by withdrawing cash to buy foreign currency and goods that will retain value better than the ruble. The Russian government began limiting the amount of money people could withdraw, exchange for foreign currency, and transfer out of the country to prevent bank runs, and the Russian central bank raised interest rates to 20% to encourage people to leave their savings intact.

Even if Fortress Russia worked as intended, the effects would be felt by the Russian people. Exclusion from global systems has isolated Russians from the rest of the world. The departure of multinational corporations will lead to an increase in unemployment, high interest rates will deter investment, and a decline in the purchase of Russian oil will lead to oil revenues falling. As a result, the Russian economy is estimated to shrink as much as 35% this quarter.

In the realm of global politics, the violation of another country’s sovereignty must be met with a decisive response. Sanctions have historically been the only alternative to war to punish such transgressions against international law. However, time and time again, sanctions have been unsuccessful in driving behavioural change from bad actors. Sanctions merely succeed in punishing regular citizens economically for the misbehaviour of their autocratic governments and wealthy elite.

The Protocol Committee condemns President Putin’s War on Ukraine in the strongest possible terms. Please remember support is available from student services and other organisations.

The Ethics of Summit: the Commodification of the Sherpa People

Mountaineers seeking to summit Everest have always relied on Sherpa guides and porters to lead the way. Despite their critical role in ensuring the success of a summit, Sherpas have historically been regarded as subordinate to the very foreign climbers they help. More than just an issue of representation, the proliferation of mountaineering in the Himalayas has left Sherpas facing abuse, exploitation, and death. As they continue to risk their lives helping others achieve their mountaineering dreams, it is worth questioning the ethics of ascending the Himalayas.  

Image by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

By Depali Rai

Known as Sagarmatha in Nepal or Chomolungma in Tibet, Mount Everest has long captured the popular imagination. The sheer scale of the challenge and the natural beauty that accompanies it brings in some 35,000 foreign trekkers to Everest base camp every year and more than 4000 successful ascents of Mt Everest since 1953. Those that continue to live at the foothills of the Himalayas in areas such as at Namche Bazaar have had their livelihoods shaped around the influx of tourism and mountaineering expeditions.

As a previously closed-off nation, Nepal first began to open its borders to foreigners in the 1950s. Shortly after, the “first official ascent” of Everest in 1953 was completed by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Consequently, the untouched Shangri-La of yore commenced its transformation into a global hub for tourism. The Sherpas are one core community that has experienced a permanent transformation of their culture and livelihoods.

Due to these early encounters between Sherpas and the West, the word Sherpa has entered mainstream usage and has come to denote several things. From fleeces to porters, the imprecise use of the term personifies a world in which Sherpa people have been misrepresented. Neither a clothing item nor a vocation, the Sherpas are an ethnic group indigenous to the Himalayas in countries such as Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

Human traffic jams at the summit of Everest and littering problems aside, the commercialisation of the Himalayas has brought with it many undeniable opportunities and benefits for Himalayan communities. Tourism is Nepal’s 4th largest industry and accounts for 6.7% of the nation’s GDP. As a developing nation boasting 8 of the ten world’s largest peaks, the mountaineering industry is a lucrative source of employment for communities that already struggle due to their remote and economically underdeveloped conditions. During a particularly successful climbing season, a Sherpa guide might earn up to 10 times the average annual salary in Nepal. Once remote misty villages some 3,440 metres above sea level now host Irish pubs, import Korean Ramyun and serve Nepalese and Western fare in equal measure. Travellers from across the world have made this rural corner of Nepal an incredibly cosmopolitan intersection. Entrepreneurship and investment have meant that even Everest Base camp boasts a high-quality internet connection. 

Nevertheless, the political economy of the Himalayas is not just a one-dimensional success story. The myth and glory of ascent are potent and enduring. Mountaineering expeditions held in the Himalayas has meant that Nepalese lives have increasingly become collateral damage in the search for success and profit.  

The employment of Sherpa men as mountain guides for foreigners began in the early 20th century when they were ushered away from their farms to carry loads as porters and guide mountaineers through the difficult terrain. Like many other indigenous to the Himalayas, Sherpas possess a remarkable degree of altitude adaptation, both physical and cultural, that make them critical to any mountaineering expedition. From their genetic advantages, which allow their bodies to more efficiently use oxygen at extremely high altitudes than normally expected of a human, to their historical understanding of how to navigate the hostile climate and terrain, Sherpas have long been the essential companions for any summit. There is not much else by way of economic opportunity in the Nepalese district of Khumbu (where Mount Everest lies) due to the immense geographical and climatic challenges.

Sherpas “do most of the legwork (…) carry their client’s gear, cover many more miles, lugging equipment, fastening ropes, setting up the camps and preparing the trail each season”. They lead the way across some of the most extreme environments, guiding climbers through harsh winds, crevasses, falling rocks and other hazards. The importance of Sherpas in helping to create a safe ascent is immeasurable. Reinhold Messner, a pioneer in modern Alpine climbing, is right to emphasise that “climbers who cross ladders set by Sherpas at the Khumbu Icefall then go up without ropes and claim to be special are parasites.”

Lucrative as their compensation might be, their employment comes with immense dangers that remain relatively unprotected and appear meagre compared to what Sherpas and their families risk. A Sherpa working above Base Camp on Everest is allegedly more than three and a half times as likely to perish than an infantryman during the first four years of the Iraq war. The common risks of working in such perilous conditions remain; frostbite, hypothermia, injuries, death, and the like. However, the challenges facing Sherpas are distinctively their own.

Sherpas make up a third of all Everest deaths, and a significant number of these continue to be avoidable tragedies caused by human agency. Sange Sherpa was one such near fatality at barely 19 years old. When working his second season on the mountain, a Pakistani client allegedly denied Sange’s request to abandon a summit attempt despite bad weather. As a result of his client’s insistence, both men were found unconscious by Sherpas from another team. Sange’s hands were so frostbitten that amputation was required. Sange has undergone treatment in the USA but only because of his personal supporters and a GoFundMe campaign.

In one extreme case, four Ukrainian climbers abandoned their guide, Sherpa Lam Babu, on a mountain. The group had come to Nepal as part of a publicity stunt sponsored by ASKfm. They were to scale the mountain and deposit a wallet containing $50,000 of the social media giant’s cryptocurrency at the peak. ASKfm then dared followers to collect the $50,000 prize from the summit. But when conditions went downhill, the team allegedly bolted, leaving their Sherpas behind. Babu never returned.

In another case, nine-time Everest summiteer Tenjin Dorji experienced one ascent where a client from South Korea announced he wanted to go to the top first and by himself. Despite Dorji’s assistance the entire way, guiding him, sharing his load, and laying down ropes to ensure his client travelled safely behind him, the climber then began swinging his ice axe at Dorji to prevent Dorji from trampling on his solo dreams.

Sherpas also confront monumental neglect by the Nepalese government. The Sherpa guiding business has been largely unregulated, leaving room for gross negligence and mistreatment. Tensions came to a head in April 2014, when an avalanche on Everest’s West Shoulder killed sixteen Sherpas. Following the incident, conflicts between the Sherpa community and the Nepalese government precipitated due to the refusal of the government to provide benefits for those injured or next of kin. The avalanche revealed the colossal neglect and exploitation underlying the Nepalese mountaineering tourism industry.

Initial outcry resulted in the government offering $400 to every family affected, less than a quarter of what a novice Sherpa would hope to bring home in a single season. After continued protests and a threat to cancel all climbing during the climbing season of 2014, the government set a relief fund with provisions such as pensions and educational assistance for Sherpa children.

The payouts of $400 rose to $5000. However, there has been continued criticism over the actual implementation of this policy. “I’ve seen so many broken promises” says Norbu Tenzing Sherpa, the head of the American Himalayan Foundation. The government has also started a policy requiring guide agencies to increase the life insurance policies for Sherpas from $10,000 to $15,000. Yet, this sum pales in comparison to the loss of the primary family breadwinner, leaving widows and their children poverty-stricken with little other income or savings. Hiring helicopters to airlift the dead out of the Himalayas and back home eats enough of this insurance money. With a rich and complex series of Buddhist funeral rites to follow, the payouts barely cover the essentials and are not fit to last Sherpa families a lifetime. Fundraisers organised by climbers and their supporters have been set up, such as in Sange Sherpa’s case, but no one should rely on philanthropy alone as their lifeline.

There are endless case studies and anecdotes detailing how the wider world has mistreated the Sherpas. Retelling them is an endless task. Melissa Arnot perhaps says it all when she mourns for Chhewang Nima, the Sherpa that died setting up her trail and fixing down ropes to ensure a safe passage for Arnot: “My passion created an industry that fosters people dying. It supports humans as disposable, as usable, and that is the hardest thing to come to terms with.”

Indeed, if we cast our minds back to 1953, even before the commercialisation of the Himalayas, the stark inequities are evident. Sherpas have been cast off as lesser achieving climbers. Where members of the British expedition team of 1953 received knighthood (i.e., Edmund Hillary became Sir Edmund Hillary), their guide Tenzing Norgay received the less significant award of the George Medal. Lord Hunt who was also a part of the British team later commented that Norgay’s contribution was good but  “within the limits of his experience” . To this, the New York Times rightly remarks Hunt’s comment about Norgay as “an odd thing to say of a man who had more experience of Everest than anybody else in the world”.  

Indeed, Tenzing’s son Norbu Tenzing Norgay is right to claim that: “if somebody in America climbs Everest 19 times, he’d be all over Budweiser commercials,”. Contrastingly, in Nepal, a Sherpa is expected to subserviently guide tens of foreign climbers up the highest peak in the world year in, year out, without expecting much in return for putting their lives on the line. The issue of representation is a whole different mountain to climb.

Whether it be foreign climbers who see Sherpas as disposable labour, or the Nepalese government who exploit their skills for a profit, Sherpas have sacrificed their lives for little in return. For mountaineers, the opportunity to achieve their dreams is worth the risk. In a remote region of the world so acutely transformed by the whims and wishes of modern travellers and profit-hungry governments, the Sherpas have little choice but to continue to risk exploitation and death every climbing season to feed their families. In response, they are rewarded with inadequate protections, mistreatment and minimal representation.

Confronting the UK’s Human Trafficking Crisis

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unspash 

By Anna Videbaek Smith

Bilkisu was only 15 when she left her homeland of Nigeria behind. She had read of England, of course, but had never dared believe that she could one day trek the hilly fields of Hertfordshire like an Austenian heroine. Then a phone call from her uncle-turned-saviour changed everything: he gave Bilkisu the offer of staying with him in the UK, where she could further her education and send money to her family back home. Bilkisu could not believe her luck; it almost seemed too good to be true.  She quickly learnt that it was. At 5 am the alarm clock went off marking the beginning of her 16-hour work-day cooking, cleaning, and caring for her young cousins. If her aunt was not satisfied with her work by the end of the day, Bilkisu was beaten. Nine years trudged by with no change, no pay, and no days off. It was not until she reached her mid-twenties that she managed to escape the grim fate of modern-day slavery, with the help of a local pastor. 

Bilkisu’s story is far from unique. Though rarely talked about, the UK has seen an almost ten-fold increase in potential trafficking victims from 1,182 in 2012 to 10,627 in 2019. While this is partially a result of increased awareness and improved methods of identification, many non-governmental organisations are sounding the alarm. The most common form of exploitation is forced labour, as seen in Bilkisu’s case, though this is often combined with bank fraud, welfare benefit fraud, forced begging, or shoplifting. The government estimates the annual cost to the economy is between £3.3 and £4.3 billion. Leading experts in the field, however, take issue with these calculations, putting the real number of human trafficking victims in this country closer to 100,000 – which would have a real annual cost of almost £40 billion. These numbers will likely only be aggravated by two recent events: the UK’s official exit from the EU, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, now more than ever, the British human trafficking crisis must be thrust into the public consciousness.

Experts predict Brexit will exacerbate the state of human trafficking in the UK in two primary ways. Firstly, prevention of modern-day slavery will likely become much harder, in part because a significant portion of workers’ rights stems from EU legislation that has yet to be replaced. This lack of legal protection will conceivably make workers more vulnerable to exploitation, particularly forced labour. This is only worsened by the fact that many EU citizens in the UK are unaware of their rights under the new EU Settlement Scheme, putting them in a vulnerable position. Moreover, reports from the Human Trafficking Foundation suggest many employers are unprepared for the end of free movement of labour, creating the risk that this labour shortage will be filled by traffickers. A final point worth noting is funding; in the past decades British human trafficking foundations have received significant funds from EU-affiliated institutions, particularly the European Social Fund. Thus, one might justifiably worry that these charities will become underfunded, weakening an already feeble support system for victims of modern-day slavery.

A second problem posed by Brexit is intelligence sharing when preventing and/or prosecuting cross-border human trafficking. Since its foundation in 1998, the UK has played a leading role in Europol and benefitted from EU support when carrying out anti-trafficking missions. Following the UK’s official departure in 2020, however, British cooperation with Europol is a fraction of what it once was. British officers, for example, no longer have access to Europol databases making it much harder to identify traffickers. This is only compounded by the limitations of the EGates system, which relies on watchlists to flag suspected traffickers, meaning it will not identify people who have not already been flagged. This method will become even less effective at identifying human traffickers without access to the abundance of EU data. Hence, there is reason to believe Brexit will only worsen the state of modern slavery due to complications surrounding preventative measures and intelligence sharing.

Another cause for concern is the COVID-19 pandemic. It has undoubtedly aggravated the underlying conditions that make people vulnerable to human trafficking in the first place; poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Furthermore, lockdowns and social distancing significantly limit opportunities to identify victims, meaning more people will be trapped in unimaginable and infernal situations. Moreover, the pandemic has inevitably led to a reprioritisation of resources, meaning the prosecution of modern-day slavery cannot keep up with the rate at which these crimes are committed. This also means victim support and prevention programmes have received less funding. All of this, combined with the UK’s official departure from the EU, will likely create a perfect storm exacerbating the already historically bad state of modern-day slavery in Britain.

As I am wrapping up this article, I am left with one burning question; why is this not talked about more? Part of the explanation, I believe, involves the so-called optimism bias. It is difficult to face the fact that such gross violations of human rights can happen right here on British soil. To me, and I suspect most others, this country feels safe. Yet, the experiences of Bilkisu and thousands of others have been characterised by exploitation and suffering.  Another theory might point out that Brexit and COVID-19 have sucked up enormous amounts of oxygen in the media ecosystem, leaving little left for problems like this. As COVID-restrictions are lifted and Brexit’s final chapters are completed, now is the time to shed light on the human trafficking crisis in this country. 

President Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine: The UK Government Must Act Now

Image by Karollyne Hubert on Unsplash

The Protocol Committee 

There is no doubt that you are already aware of the recent invasion of Ukraine by President Putin and Russian government forces. This invasion is a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, as well as an attack on human rights and a peaceful democratic way of life. It must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. At the time of writing, the UN has reported that 227 Ukrainian civilians including children are confirmed to have been killed. However, the Ukrainian emergency services estimate civilian deaths to be closer to 2000. The number of total casualties in this conflict is significantly higher and across the country, Ukrainians are no longer safe in their own homes. It is crucial to acknowledge that President Putin’s actions do not represent Russian civilians, thousands of whom are facing arbitrary detention for protesting against the war. 

In recent days, the severity and aggression of attacks on Ukrainian cities by Russian government forces has increased significantly. There are fears of an increased level of violence and Amnesty International has accused Russia of committing a war crime by using cluster munitions in a deadly attack on a Ukrainian residential area. In particular, the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv has been besieged by shelling for days. These attacks have become increasingly indiscriminate and directly caused civilian deaths. The strategically important port city of Maripol is reported as being “near to a humanitarian catastrophe” by the city’s deputy major after continuous Russian military attacks. Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, is also under siege, with a key TV tower destroyed in a recent Russian missile attack. The Ukrainian people have been resolute in the face of these attacks and the country continues to be led by President Zelenskyy.

The UK government must do more in light of these events. It is not enough to simply say that we stand with the Ukrainian people. The UK, US and EU must now face up to the challenge and take action to stop this illegal invasion and loss of life. Another key way the UK government could do more is by committing to helping Ukrainian refugees who are now estimated to number over 1 million. The countries that neighbour Ukraine, are already facing the challenge of providing the necessary support for people who have been forced to flee for their lives. After facing criticism, the UK government has relaxed rules for Ukrainian who currently have relatives in the UK and have extended a refugee scheme. However, this is not enough and it does not provide support for those who need it now.

The invasion of Ukraine has triggered condemnation across the world, leading to protests,  and calls for a stronger response.  In St Andrews, Amnesty International and Divest Borders, alongside other societies, held a well-attended vigil on Monday night. The messages delivered by the speakers were clear: Keep the conversations going, stand in solidarity with Ukraine and take action where you can. If you would like to do more, some options include supporting humanitarian and refugee organisations, writing to your MP or joining protests demanding support for refugees and tougher actions against President Putin’s government. As a global community, we must come together in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and other communities affected by President Putin’s aggression. 

Please remember that there is support available from places such as from the University’s student services. 

Polite protest: fundamental rights, the British way

Image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

By Maya Zealey

“Democracy is not something that you believe in, or something that you hang your hat on. It’s something that you do, you participate. Without participation, democracy crumbles and fails.”

This is a quote from Abbie Hoffman, a controversial activist who rose to prominence protesting America’s involvement in Vietnam. He articulates democracy as a verb, an action that requires participation, no matter where you live in the world. There tends to be an assumption that Britons are not at risk of being stripped of their most fundamental rights by their government because we live in a stable democratic country. This is a fallacy. Brits are facing an attack on their human right to peaceful assembly and their democratic right to protest, but what is scarier than this attack is the apathetic response from the public.

Peaceful protests by groups like Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain have evoked a genuine fury from the public; a mob-like mentality the likes of which tend to be the exclusive domain of Twitter-trolls. I watched as citizens that could be my grandparents had ink squirted on their faces, horrified by scenes of grown men violently dragging elderly women off roads that they were sitting on. Television interviews revealed an unparalleled hatred of these protesters, despite their methods being completely peaceful and genuinely political.

Undoubtedly spurred on by coverage of their own population scolding the actions of this inconvenient few, the Conservative government has been trying to push through their response to these pesky protesters – the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts’ bill (PCSC). This bill would enshrine a particularly dangerous Catch-22 into English and Welsh policing law; our democratic right to protest would be reduced to the right to make our voices heard as long as we do not cause ‘serious annoyance.’ Whether a protest is allowed to go ahead is at the whim of the police and the Home Secretary. This seriously threatens our right to protest in opposition to the actions of our government.

This will not just impact rioters and nuisances, this will impact anybody who might want to use their voice to criticise or pressure the government. For a protest to go ahead legally, prior permission from the Home Secretary would have to be obtained. The government would dictate what protests, and therefore what causes, could legitimately take to the streets. Priti Patel’s approval would stand between you and your human right to peaceful assembly. 

The police are also being given greater powers to dictate the appropriateness of a protest. If this bill passes, police could legitimately shut down a demonstration if it was too loud or going on for too long. Currently, the police can only arrest you if you have been informed of a restriction and have ignored it but this would no longer be the case. It’s perfectly feasible that an attendee of a protest could be arrested and have absolutely no idea why. Protesters will be assumed to have knowledge that the police have never communicated to them. This has the obvious effect of discouraging protest by essentially criminalising it. You will not even have to attend to feel the power of the police, they would have the right to stop and search anybody in the vicinity of a demonstration without cause. This has potentially disastrous consequences for people at disproportionate risk of police violence such as BAME people. 

Furthermore, increased powers of the police will only exacerbate the erosion of the relationship that many in society already have with the police. Even those who disagree with the disruptive tactics of climate protesters were able to see the completely disproportionate violence that the police met Sarah Everard vigils with. Some were arrested for breaking Covid rules, a revelation even more disgusting in light of the Metropolitan Police’s disinterest in investigating the numerous illegal gatherings at Downing Street and Whitehall. The record of the British police gives me no faith that they will use these new powers proportionately.

For as much outrage as this bill has produced, it has produced equal indifference. The protests this bill has produced have been shockingly small, a far cry from making the front-page news. The disengagement the British public has with their democratic right to protest, and their human right to peaceful assembly is astounding. The reality is that the government would not have been able to seriously introduce this legislation without an awareness that large swathes of the British public would be delighted to see the ends of inconvenient protests that block traffic or make noise.

This is negligence from both the Tories and the wider public at large. Politicians, business leaders and bankers are some of the least trusted professionals in the UK, yet these are the individuals currently being trusted to manage the greatest threat to humanity in our history. Shell and BP have announced billions in profits and yet the UK government continues to provide them with tax breaks, all while the public faces a cost-of-living crisis over rising fuel prices. They have also just announced the approval of a new oil field, despite hosting COP only months ago. Without protest, what hope do we have to fight back against this dangerous attitude to the risks climate change poses? The effect of this threat to our rights is not academic, it could have very real consequences for the survival of us all.

Waiting to Drown: The Living Crisis

Photography by Tom Parsons on Unsplash. 

By Jack McGrath 

Despite apparently infinite sleaze and deceit, the ‘Great’ British government somehow slouches on, its thin veneer of shame sufficient to stave off collapse. (Each week that veneer takes a slightly different form – one-week complete disregard, another week half-hearted apology, and, in yet another, it nearly takes the form of crocodile tears. Absurdly, this government’s shame has become a matter for calculation.) It is as if they are propelled forward by their boundless and blatant contempt for anyone ‘beneath’ them. (Of course, people used to say that Johnson’s blundering was ‘priced-in’ to his election. I highly doubt that, now. His blundering, and the government’s disregard for decency, is the fuel for their enterprise.) How long the government will stay afloat is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for certain: the ‘upcoming’ living crisis (as if there is not already one) has the potential to be their wreck.

As things stand, inflation has already risen to 5.1%. Real wages have stagnated and are expected to fall for the rest of the year. This should be enough cause for concern. Yet, of course, the reality is worse. According to Ofgem, once the next government-mandated price cap is set on energy prices, households can expect to see a 40% rise in energy costs. Indeed, all things considered, it is entirely possible that households will see a doubling of their bills in the next year. As things stand and as they will come to stand, then, many, many households will be utterly crippled or simply collapse under the financial strain they are about to experience.

Now, Rishi Sunak has announced a supposed £9 billion support package for a solution. But its components are misguided. Key to it, for instance, will be the provision of a £200 loan for households. The assumption that such a policy would go any substantial distance to really helping the poorest households (or, indeed, middle-income households) is ridiculous. (What is more, Sunak did not even seem to understand that his policy is, in fact, the provision of a loan and not, as he chose to frame it, a bill ‘discount’. Of course, in actuality, he does understand – this is just one of his turns at the government’s long game of infinite deceit.) 

At the very least, the government should be implementing a windfall tax on the exorbitant profits enjoyed by oil and gas companies in the past year. To put those profits in perspective, Shell’s pre-tax profit reached £12 billion in the last three months of 2020, rising from £886,000 in the previous quarter. Of course, Shell CEO Van Beurden claims that, as opposed to being taxed, the best way Shell could help the upcoming living crisis is by “staying in business”, suggesting, unbelievably, that a windfall tax might be the company’s end. Since it has to be said: oil and gas companies did not collapse in 1982 when the then-Tory government implemented a windfall tax on their profits, they would not collapse now. In any case, what baffles the mind most of all is the abject lack of potential solutions on the table. Aside from the £200 loan, other suggestions have been: a temporary VAT cut, price subsidies for the poorest households and a return to austerity as soon as possible

What strikes me about all these proposals is how boring they all are – how dull, lifeless, and grey. The problems we are facing are changing – the solutions must change, too. Why we assume the same set of solutions will be appropriate for every problem we face is a maddening thought. (Who knew, I suppose, that such a wonderful fiscal and monetary skeleton key was being hidden from us all in 11 Downing Street.) No doubt, some of the responses to the reality of the pandemic were somewhat creative. But, if we were being creative then, why stop now? Why revert back to an approach that may have worked (though, I would wager that it did not) in a world gone? On the other hand, if we were not being creative then, why are we still not now? 

We cannot slump into a financial policy that time should have buried. VAT cuts, subsidies and loans, and return to austerity cannot be the way forward. If we are to have any hope at steering a calm course through an otherwise tumultuous decade, we must rethink the structures of our society and financial system. We must, in the first instance, rethink our taxation system. And we must, at the same time, rethink our welfare system. If we do not, it will not just be this government’s ship that will be wrecked. They will drown, no doubt, but so will we all.

Tackling violence against women and girls in the UK: is a misogyny hate crime bill part of the solution? 

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

By Louise Palmer 

Content warning: Violence against Women and Girls/ Sexual Assult

When asked to think about Human Rights, it is common for people to picture places and situations that are distant or far removed from their everyday lives. However, this perception is deeply misleading as Human Rights remain as significant as ever in the UK. This argument is relevant to many different topics, but none are more pressing than the discussion concerning the epidemic of violence against women and girls. 

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’. Over the past year, news headlines have shown a pattern of women being violently deprived of their fundamental right to life. This issue was brought into sharp focus by the violent murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and more recently, Ashling Murphy in the Republic of Ireland. A collective outpouring of grief and anger has led to renewed attention on the everyday experiences of women and girls. Whilst there was an increased openness of conversations, the stories told were not new or surprising. Those who claimed to be shocked by these discussions quite simply had not been listening. 

The femicide epidemic (the killing of a woman or girl, by a man because of her gender) is not a recent development in the UK. Data suggests that a woman is killed by a man every three days. Only a minority of cases make national headlines, and those that do are still largely portrayed as single tragic events. Karen Ingala-Smith, the author of Counting Dead Women, describes a “hierarchy of victims”. “Men’s fatal violence against women cuts across all sections of society, across ages, class and ethnicity. But some women are afforded more empathy than others. Some are more likely to be disbelieved, to be blamed, to be sent away without the help they need”. Furthermore, we are less likely to hear about the women who are killed in their own homes or by someone they know. Despite this, data suggests that half of the women killed by men are killed by a partner or an ex.

Fatal violence against women and girls does not exist in a vacuum but is part of a larger issue across society. While both men and women can be victims of domestic abuse, it remains both strongly gendered and highly under-reported. It is thought that around one in three women aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. Moreover, UN Women UK reported that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. They also found that 96% of women did not report “those situations because of the belief that it would not change anything”. This is not surprising given that only 1.6% of UK [reported] rape cases led to charges in 2020

Tackling the epidemic of violence against women and girls requires wholesale societal change. As a country, we will have to confront the misogynic attitudes and mindsets which underpin these crimes. There is still value in short-term solutions to protect women, and they should be implemented by the government and authorities. This could include funding services but should not feature offering advice that inadvertently victim-blames. However, if we are to be committed to change, we cannot stop there. Longer-term progress will require uncomfortable discussions and soul-searching about the everyday realities of women and girls in the UK. One possible suggestion following this logic is to make misogyny (hatred or prejudice against women) a hate crime. 

This bill was presented by Labour MP Stella Creasy and passed by the House of Lords. Therefore, it will now return to the House of Commons to be debated again, after its initial rejection. In practice, the bill would mean that when a crime is carried out against a woman because she is a woman, it would be recorded as a hate crime and provide the opportunity for harsher sentencing (in England & Wales). A coalition of campaigners, including Citizens UK and Refuge, argue that this “would provide critical data on the link between hostility to women and the abuse and harassment women experience”. Campaigners also argue that this would help women to feel that they would be believed and supported in recording crimes. 

However, other figures have opposed the proposed bill arguing that it would further overstretch resources and dilute the impact of current hate crime legislation by creating too broad a category. Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that there was “abundant statute” to effectively tackle violence against women and girls. The BBC also reports that he argued that “widening the scope of what you ask the police to do, you will just increase the problem”. The challenge of overstretched police resources is undoubtedly an issue facing the government and local authorities. Be that as it may, it is not an excuse in 2022 to continue to avoid the reality of the epidemic of violence against women and girls. Accurate reporting and data on crimes motivated by misogyny are essential tools to expose the extent of this problem. 

Regardless of the outcome of this bill, the UK must continue to have uncomfortable discussions and confront the impact of misogyny on our society. Only by doing this, can we hope to make progress in tackling violence against women and girls. 

Confronting South America’s Violent Past: An Interview with Human Rights Scholar Dr Francesca Lessa

Image by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

By Clorrie Violet Yeomans

In this exclusive interview for Protocol Magazine, Oxford scholar Dr Francesca Lessa shares her two decades of experience researching human rights in Latin America. Lessa’s research focuses on accountability for past human rights violations and the politics behind these processes, which involve state, regional, and international actors, as well as civilian activists. She is currently a Departmental Lecturer in Latin American Studies and Development at the Oxford Department of International Development and the University of Oxford’s Latin American Centre.

MPhil candidate in Latin American Studies at Oxford University, Clorrie Yeomans, interviews Dr Francesca Lessa about her work on Operation Condor: a systematic plan of regional repression in Cold War South America. Lessa shares how her research, including her database and forthcoming book, aims to help combat impunity and restore justice today. The interview also reflects on the wider dangers of brushing the past under the rug.

How would you introduce yourself to our readers?

I would introduce myself as a scholar-activist. I quite like this word because I believe, when it comes to human rights and issues of justice and accountability, it’s impossible to be impartial. In most cases, we are talking about extreme situations where people’s basic rights are being violated on a systematic basis usually by the state. The clear situation of injustice and abuse of power means that there is an activist element. I have always felt that my work was about revealing these situations of injustice and trying to find a way to improve the victims’ possibilities to access remedies for the past or present crimes they have suffered.

How do you deal with the ethical issues surrounding your research?

My research involves an abundance of ethical issues. I mainly work with victims of human rights violations and so the main concern is that the interview itself could turn into a situation of revictimisation. Generally, I try to ask very open questions so that the victims can choose what they share with me. For example, ‘why were you a political activist at the time?’. Of course, the darkest aspects of human rights violations are there but what interests me the most is the story of the person and why they became a political activist and a human rights activist afterwards.

In most cases, because many of the victims have since become human rights activists, they have had plenty of experience testifying either in trials or truth commissions. They have usually told this story many times before. However, some people may speak out for the first time and it’s much harder for them. In the case of South America, there is quite a significant time distance from these events. Most people, especially in Argentina and Uruguay, have had this previous experience of sharing their past militancy.

Now, with Covid-19, you have the additional element that, for these kind of personal topics, a remote interview would be a little bit uncomfortable. Doing it over a screen is far from ideal. On the other hand, most of the victims are in their sixties, seventies, or eighties and so they belong to the most vulnerable categories.

The second ethical issue is the risk to you as a researcher. Researching these topics that remain very sensitive in some countries can put you on the radar of some unpleasant people. Even when you think that you are going to a place that you know very well, it’s always good to look at all the possible risk scenarios because things can change very suddenly. Sometimes we underestimate the impact of our research. We think that people aren’t interested but sometimes they are, much more than we expect.

Another impact on the researcher is secondary trauma from listening to so many stories of people being tortured, abducted, and disappeared. Although you have not lived through the experience, the continuous listening to these very harrowing and heartbreaking stories can impact the researcher as well. We always feel that we can keep the distance but if you are doing prolonged fieldwork everyday, it’s tough. I remember when I was at the trials in Argentina, it really depended on the person’s testimony. Some people can really get to you and, even if after a year, when I thought I had heard everything I could possibly hear, there was still that testimony that really broke my heart. It’s something that never really goes away. These are difficult stories of human bravery but also human cruelty at the same time.

Would you like to debunk any myths surrounding the Cold War in Latin America?

There are very skewed narratives about the global Cold War and if we were in any of the formerly Russian-speaking countries, they would have a very different story to the one we tell in the West. Many aspects are presented as if it were a Cold War because there was no conflict, nothing really happened, and few people died. But, if you start digging under the surface of that narrative, 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared, 9,000 to 30,000 Argentines were disappeared, 400 people were disappeared in Brazil and 20,000 were tortured through the Brazilian military justice system. Those are not wars in the traditional International-Relations sense of two armies or sides fighting each other like during World War One or World War Two. Here, we had states who imposed a very specific view of how society was supposed to be functioning and whoever opposed that view was targeted. In the case of South America, if you were a trade unionist or a student activist, or even a lawyer or journalist sometimes, that was enough for you to stand out as an internal enemy. Even though you weren’t part of an army, your ability to criticise the system was enough to get you killed or disappeared. I think this narrative of ‘there was no conflict’ must be nuanced. There was no conflict as in the sense of a WWI-or-WWII-style-conflict, but each country had an authoritarian regime that was murdering its own people and that’s problematic, too. Even in cases like Guatemala and El Salvador, where there were civil wars, we know from the subsequent truth commissions that it was never a balanced war. In reality, it was the state committing systematic human rights violations against civilians. So, the peaceful image of the Cold War that we are taught at school is erroneous.

So, even the name ‘Cold War’ itself is problematic…

Yes, because it’s in opposition to the ‘hot wars’ of WWI and WWII where you have these traditional conflicts. I also don’t like the alternative discourse which is the discourse of the ‘Dirty War’. In Argentina and Uruguay, there were armed groups but you cannot consider them as being on par with the state. So, the narrative of the ‘Dirty War’ is a discourse that comes from the National Security Doctrine, the School of the Americas, and the armed forces themselves. They were saying that ‘this is an unusual war because we don’t have armies. The enemy is not another country invading you, it’s your own people. So you don’t know who the enemy is and that’s why you need to torture people to get information and to see who your enemy is.’ They tried to legitimise these practices by using the language of war when, in fact, there was no war. Rather, it was the state systematically violating the rights of citizens. Although this narrative is very problematic, it remains very popular in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay among individuals who try to somehow justify the past human rights violations.

Do you think that the UK can learn something from Latin America’s experience of transitional justice?

Definitely. I saw in the news over the Summer that the UK Parliament was planning to issue a blanket amnesty for the crimes committed in Northern Ireland. I read an article by Louise Mallinder in which she argues that the amnesty that the UK government was planning to implement would have been worse than the amnesties in South America… and those amnesties were bad enough! I think that Latin America definitely has many lessons for the UK, the US, and many of the European countries that have done a relatively poor job at coming to terms with the past.

I think that Latin America exemplifies that you cannot brush the past under the rug. It will always come back to haunt you. Even though there have been ups and downs, the demand to know the truth and obtain justice is always there in Latin America. I don’t know how the amnesty plan ended up in the UK Parliament but it will not be a lasting solution. Latin America shows us that the solutions of amnesties could work for a short period of time but they are not long-term solutions. In Argentina and Uruguay, these laws have been derogated and now we have lots of criminal trials. In Chile, the law is still there but it’s being derogated in practice. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been very clear that you can come up with any kind of legal tool that you like but you still have to investigate human rights violations. It’s very disappointing to see that, in 2021, the UK Parliament thought that a blanket amnesty might be the way forward in Northern Ireland.

The experience in Latin America shows that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to obtaining truth and justice. You can definitely be creative in your approach. For example, in Argentina they developed a kind of truth-trial which was a compromise between trials and truth commissions to try to access  information about the fate of the disappeared. There has been compensation paid to various groups including the stolen babies who are now adults. No one path exists. The challenge is that each society must come up with its own path, as long as it complies with all the international human rights standards.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your database on Operation Condor?

The database now has over 800 cases of victims of cross border human rights violations in South America between the late 1960s and early 1980s. The idea for the database came from three workshops I organised in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay on the issue of Operation Condor. One of the topics that was always debated was which cases of repression were part of domestic repression and which others were part of Operation Condor specifically. If you read about Condor, you can find anything from 50 victims to 100,000 victims. One of the challenges was defining which cases count as Condor. I invited survivors, human rights activists, judges, lawyers, and prosecutors to these workshops to discuss this question.

Operation Condor was based on the exchange of information between countries looking for specific people living in exile. Sometimes, officers also travelled to another country to capture these people and take them back to their home country to kill them there. Since these cases can be quite complex, in Argentina, they originally said that all foreigners detained in Argentina were victims of Condor. When they then started looking at individual cases, they found, for example, a Paraguayan who had moved at two years old to Argentina. This individual had no connections to Paraguay and so it could not count as a transnational human rights violation.

By digging through all the stories, the experts came up with the following criteria. To count as Condor, the crime had to include a border crossing of information, foreign military officers, or deportees. I used these three criteria to build my database looking at all the information from previous research, truth commissions, and trials and going story by story. The database is not a finished product but I’d say that we have captured 80% of the cases. There are other cases that remain unreported since people are still very afraid.

Our aim was not to make categories of victims but to show how these states in South America really went the extra mile to expand their repression across borders. It shows an extra layer of sophistication in the repression through their communication systems, central headquarters in Buenos Aires, and hit squads operating in Paris against specific exiles. This also helps us to discredit the narrative of the Dirty War and ‘excesses’ because there was a plan throughout South America to tackle this Communist threat.

How has your database been used in practice?

So far, the database has been used by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in a case of two Uruguayan brothers who were abducted with their parents and ended up going to Uruguay and being abandoned in Chile. They filed a petition to the Commission a few years ago. The Commission then used the database in their report to contextualise their case. When Argentina didn’t comply with the Commission’s requirements, the case was referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and there was a hearing in May this year. I presented a written piece showing very specifically the victims’ Uruguayan nationality and how members of their specific political party had been targeted. I highlighted how Argentina was also at the heart of this system as it was home to the headquarters of Operation Condor and the majority of South American exiles were living there.

Could you speak to us a little bit about your most recent publication?

I have just finished my next book called ‘The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America’. It’s tells both sides of this story of cross-border repression in South America. The first part of the book explains the transnational terror that was taking place throughout the region at the time. It focuses on Operation Condor, which is the most well-known component of this story. I also try to go beyond the narrative of Operation Condor because it did not appear out of the blue. I therefore begin my narrative a bit early than some of the other publications by showing how there were some conferences in the early XX [20th] century between the police forces in Latin America that were already sharing information about anarchists who had been migrating from Europe to South America. From there, we see a gradual evolution that becomes much more coordinated and consolidated as a very well-oiled system during the Cold War. I start each chapter with the story of a victim and I use this as a window through which to explain the different institutions behind their repression. It’s the voices of the victims that have enabled us to do our research because we have very few other sources, except for some archives. I therefore wanted to put the victims at the centre of the book.

The second part of the book is about justice. Justice is a reverse transnational effort because the crimes did not only occur in one place. We therefore needed Transnational Activist Networks (to use Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s term) to document testimonies, build archives, and file these cases. I focus on cases in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, but also Italy which was strategically used by some of the Uruguayan human rights activists when nothing was taking place in Uruguay. They used the European courts to access the justice that they didn’t have in Uruguay. This included some trials in Rome this year.

Find out more about Dr Francesca Lessa’s research: https://www.area-studies.ox.ac.uk/people/dr-francesca-lessa