31 March 2016

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Refugee Rights + News

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Refugee Rights.

This is a very important topic today but unfortunately for the wrong
reasons. It is not that there are no refugees today but rather because
extremist political interests have hijacked this topic to advance their
inequitable agenda. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Right in
1948 was the product of inequitable extremist politics in Germany and
some commentators are arguing that the outcome of the referendum in
Britain to stay in the EU hinges on immigration. In my short essay I
basically address the following question: what's the scope of philosophy
in all this?

In the meantime, and quite by accident than by design, we have been sent
by David the forthcoming programme for the visits to the British
Cemetery in Madrid. This is quite telling because the British Cemetery
is a monument in Madrid for some very interesting and exclusive refugees
who sought protection in Madrid and given to them very generously.

Redacto el presente mensaje tanto en español como en inglés con el
objeto de comunicarles el programa de visitas guiadas, todos con su
comentario en español.

El punto de encuentro, la entrada del Cementerio, y la hora, las 11.00 horas
sábado, día 16 de abril
sábado, día 21 de mayo
sábado, día 2 de julio

Si prefiere hacer la visita en una fecha no programada y siempre que
formen un grupo de un mínimo de 8 personas, avíseme a <please contact me
http://www.britishcemeterymadrid.com >
I am writing this note in both Spanish and in English to provide you
with the programme of guided visits, all with the commentary in Spanish,
to open the new season.

We will meet at 11.00 a.m at the Cemetery entrance
Saturday, 16th April
Saturday, 21st May
Saturday, 2nd July

If you would like a visit on a different date and you can form a group
of 8 persons or more, let me know at <please contact me Lawrence>

< http://www.britishcemeterymadrid.com >
David Butler

----- Lawrence
Refugee rights

At the populist level of politics the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (10 December 1948) is no less a wonderful propaganda document
than the propaganda documents so beloved by the NAZI regime in Germany
before the end of the Second World War. This is quite a big statement to
make given that the UDHR is a direct consequence of what was the product
of a savage war. But the UDHR does make us feel good, even the
declaration itself does not do good nor does it pretend to do good.

Firstly, the UDHR tells us what we already know and what we believe to
be our relationship with the state. Indeed refugees are the first people
to know that they have a right to life and to be protected by their
government (state) but they are also the ones who suffer from the
consequences of a failure and collapse of this citizen-state relationship.

And secondly, and most important failure of such documents, and with
this we can include constitutions, is that it does not make any
automatic provision to reinstate these recognised rights of the
individual and for the individual to enjoy once again. Nor does it
establish an objective test to determine independently whether someone's
rights have been breached.

In principle and a priori "Refugee Rights" are a consequence of the
failure and abuse of people's human rights by governments and states.
Even the website of the UNHCR agency recognises so much: "People become
refugees because one or more of their basic human rights have been
violated or threatened." (http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4ab388876.html)

To be fair, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
(http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html pdf file) does address in the
detail: Who is a refugee? And more importantly this and subsequent
documents do address in detail practical rights such as the conditions
afforded to refugees. Given that refugee rights are one of the political
consequences of the Second World War, and a subject that is well and
truly analysed and examined in depth by most decent nations, what can
philosophy contribute to the debate?

These documents are quite clear about the duties of countries receiving
refugees, but from what I can make out there are no provision of any
duties countries have at preventing the abuse of human rights in other
countries in the first place. There does not seem to be a clear cut duty
for other countries to help and assist people whose rights are in
jeopardy. This is ironic given that the majority of the countries who
oversaw these documents were European many of whom have in their statue
books the duty to help others in need; for example road victims.

So maybe this would be a valid philosophical question for philosophy:
given that refugees and refugee rights are a consequence of abuse of
human rights by states and governments, do other countries have a duty
to intervene against offending governments? And even if we do agree that
there is such a duty, what would be an objective test to establish that
there are grounds to intervene? This is not a legal question and not
even a political question but rather what would be the necessary and
sufficient conditions to establish such duties? And what methodologies
should be used to verify such duties and such beaches?

It is true that today this dubious duty to decide on breaches of human
rights is left to the United Nations and the International Court of
Justice, but the former is hardly a council of philosopher kings and the
latter is not exactly a hand out to a starving parent.

In effect what I am asking is whether a human life is more important
than the sovereignty of a state? The irony to this question is that it
was the Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, who in the 80s
advocated the doctrine that there is no such thing as a society but only
individuals. I say irony because the consequences of her neoliberal
policies have culminated into the erosion certain human rights in
Britain e.g. the worst labour rights protection within the EU (and the
rest of the world) that might be interpreted as a situation for other
states to intervene on behalf of British workers!

As always, one of the key concerns of philosophy is indeed to clear the
fog of language. Today the lexicon for this subject has evolved to
include: economic migrants, illegal immigrants, refugees, trafficked
people, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, sham marriages, aliens,
undocumented aliens, and so on.

The UDHR was mainly addressing victims of war, but today we don't have
wars at the world level, and civil wars and local conflicts are more
prevalent than all out wars between nations. The refugees arriving in
Europe from Syria today are more victims of a civil war and an invasion
of lawless tribes from neighbouring countries than a war with another state.

So maybe today we need to revisit the language that describes this topic
of rights and refugees. Should people escaping abysmal economic
conditions in their country be afforded the same rights as political

Today, many illegal immigrants, are mainly looking for a better future
for themselves and their family, and are escaping economic conditions
than political persecution.

And this is confirmed by the political capital certain fringe extremist
parties are enjoying at the expense of refugees and illegal immigrants.
At least these extremists do not seem to distinguish between refugees in
the spirit of the original declaration and people just taking advantage
of a generous social security system.

It can always be argued that many economic refugees/immigrants are the
consequence of globalisation. After a few decades of this doctrine
gaining currency in economic relationship amongst countries, we can
safely conclude that globalisation has only benefited a small proportion
of people compared to the turmoil and negative consequences many people
have suffered in their life.

In view of a much closer global economic relationship amongst countries,
are economic migrants replacing political refugees? And, indeed, should
there be a charter or declaration for economic migrants? And what will
happen to refugees of global warming, desertification and water
shortages? I know of no one who has left their country for not having
oil, but we can be sure many will move if they have no water.

Traditionally, political philosophy did not discuss international
relationships, apart for going to war with one's neighbour, nor
individual rights, apart from the issue of whether the king had the
right to kill someone without the due process of the law. These issues
have not gone away from the scope of philosophy but rather the
perspective has changed completely. Today's war need not necessarily
include exploding bombs but more likely to include collapsed of economic
stability or ransom of a population because of international debt.

But the fact that in the 21st century we still have refugees and
economic immigrants suggests that the work of philosophy is not yet
done. Maybe this does not tell us how important philosophy is, but
rather how empirical philosophy ought to be. Philosophical issues of
today, such as refugee rights, are by definition empirical issues.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Refugee Rights + News

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