New Social Compact
Time to take action against SLAPPs
Free speech is a cherished right in Europe. But in some countries, certain rich and powerful people use specious lawsuits to censor, harass and ultimately suppress critics. This is a long-standing problem but one that has been increasing in magnitude in recent months. Journalists, activists, and advocacy groups are the preferred targets of these so-called Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs).
When investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered, she was already facing over 40 civil and criminal defamation suits in Malta. Some of these lawsuits have continued posthumously against her family. Throughout August and September 2020, 39 defamation lawsuits were taken out against three journalists at the investigative news website Necenzurirano in Slovenia. Primož Cirman, Vesna Vuković and Tomaž Modic are facing 13 different criminal defamation lawsuits each. They were filed by a tax expert who argues that their reporting on his business dealings – including a controversial loan to the political party of the Slovenian Prime Minister, the SDS – contains false information and has damaged his honour and reputation. In Italy, where defamation is still a criminal offence, several journalists have been targeted by malicious lawsuits with the sole aim of silencing them and draining their time and financial resources. One such example is Federica Angeli, a journalist under threat who is known for her thorough investigations into the Mafia, and has had to fight over 120 lawsuits. In another current case in South Tyrol, criminal court proceedings have been brought by the provincial councillor in charge of agriculture and by apple farmers against environmental activists and the publisher of a book denouncing the high levels of pesticide use in the region.
These are just a few examples of abusive lawsuits intended to intimidate and silence critics. Commonly known as “SLAPPs”, these suits pose a significant and growing threat to the right to freedom of expression in a number of Council of Europe member states, perverting the justice system and the rule of law more generally.
SLAPPs: lawsuits with an intimidating effect
The Annual Report of the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists highlights groundless legal actions by powerful individuals or companies that seek to intimidate journalists into abandoning their investigations. In some cases, the threat of bringing such a suit, including through letters sent by powerful law firms, was enough to bring about the desired effect of halting journalistic investigation and reporting.
This problem goes beyond the press. Public watchdogs in general are affected. Activists, NGOs, academics, human rights defenders, indeed all those who speak out in the public interest and hold the powerful to account might be targeted. SLAPPs are typically disguised as civil or criminal claims such as defamation or libel and have several common features.
First, they are purely vexatious in nature. The aim is not to win the case but to divert time and energy, as a tactic to stifle legitimate criticism. Litigants are usually more interested in the litigation process itself than the outcome of the case. The aim of distracting or intimidating is often achieved by rendering the legal proceedings expensive and time-consuming. Demands for damages are often exaggerated.
Another common quality of a SLAPP is the power imbalance between the plaintiff and the defendant. Private companies or powerful people usually target individuals, alongside the organisations they belong to or work for, as an attempt to intimidate and silence critical voices, based purely on the financial strength of the complainant.
It should be no surprise that SLAPPs are multiplying in areas such as environmental and consumer protection, crime prevention or corruption allegations. A typical example is when a large company sues journalists or activists who have exposed an environmental disaster. France is a case in point. In 2018 two companies affiliated to the Bolloré Group sued three newspapers (Mediapart, L’Obs and Le Point) and two NGOs (Sherpa and ReAct) for defamation for publishing accusations of land grabbing made by villagers and farmers in Cameroon. This was one of more than 20 lawsuits filed by companies associated with the Bolloré Group, particularly palm oil companies Socfin and Socapalm.
I have also recently received information about specious lawsuits against LGBTI activists, in which wealthy conservative organisations have taken local human rights defenders to court as a means of intimidating them and hampering their work.
Existing standards applicable to SLAPPs
The European Court of Human Rights has made it very clear: unreasonably high damages for defamation claims can have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Therefore, there must be adequate domestic safeguards so as to avoid disproportionate awards being granted. The Court has also stressed that States are required to create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all, enabling everyone to express their opinions and ideas without fear.
Member states therefore have a positive obligation to secure the enjoyment of the rights enshrined in Article 10 of the Convention: not only must they refrain from any interference with the individual’s freedom of expression, but they are also under a positive obligation to protect his or her right to freedom of expression from any infringement, including by private individuals.
Several texts adopted at the Council of Europe refer explicitly to the problem of SLAPPs or other forms of intimidating or vexatious litigation against journalists and media outlets, including online media. The Recommendation on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in March 2018, states explicitly that “State authorities should consider the adoption of appropriate legislation to prevent strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) or abusive and vexatious litigation against users, content providers and intermediaries which is intended to curtail the right to freedom of expression.”
In addition, the 2012 Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on the Desirability of International Standards dealing with Forum Shopping in respect of Defamation, to ensure Freedom of Expression, touches upon a specific aspect of SLAPPs, namely so-called “libel tourism”, a tactic that is used by many litigators who file a complaint with the court thought most likely to provide a favourable judgment and where it is easy to sue.
Finding the right response
To counter SLAPPs effectively, a comprehensive response should be devised. In my view, this should follow a threefold approach:
- preventing the filing of SLAPPs by allowing the early dismissal of such suits. This should go hand in hand with an awarenessraising exercise among judges and prosecutors, and proper implementation of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights on defamation;
- introducing measures to punish abuse, particularly by reversing the costs of proceedings;
- minimising the consequences of SLAPPs by giving practical support to those who are sued.
To make this happen, governments, but also journalists, human rights defenders and civil society need to act decisively. I found it encouraging to see that a coalition of NGOs recently published a policy paper on how the EU should end SLAPPs and proposed a number of short- to medium-term measures to address this issue at EU level.
It is high time to tackle a practice which puts pressure both on journalists and on civil society as a whole and dissuades them from critical reporting. This is all the more important at a time when access to information is under strain, with governments seizing emergency powers to ban assemblies, reducing the ability of NGOs and journalists to do field work and sometimes also reining in critical media.
While this practice primarily affects the right to freedom of expression, it also has a dramatic impact on public interest activities more broadly: it discourages the exercise of other fundamental freedoms such as the right to freedom of assembly and association and undermines the work of human rights defenders. This means that it touches on many aspects of my mandate and I will continue to pay close attention to this issue. I believe that the Council of Europe and its member states are well placed to play a role in this context.
New Social Compact
The Untapped Potential of Women’s Contributions to Peace building
Women’s contributions to peace building have long been undervalued and overlooked, despite their immense potential to contribute to more effective and sustainable peace processes. This is an issue of critical importance, as conflicts around the world continue to have devastating impacts on individuals, communities, and entire nations. Women have unique perspectives and experiences that can help to foster understanding, build trust, and promote reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict. Moreover, research has shown that peace agreements that involve women are more likely to be successful and enduring. Therefore, it is essential that we recognize and harness the untapped potential of women’s contributions to peace building efforts. This article will explore the underrepresentation of women in peace building, the benefits of their participation, and the potential for increasing their involvement in these efforts. Ultimately, it will argue that increasing women’s participation in peace building is not only a matter of justice and equality, but also essential for achieving more effective and sustainable peace outcomes.
The underrepresentation of women in peace building efforts
Despite the growing recognition of the importance of women’s participation in peace building efforts, they remain significantly underrepresented in these processes. According to the United Nations, only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators, and 6% of signatories to peace agreements from 1992-2018 were women. Moreover, women are often excluded from formal peace negotiations altogether, with only 4% of signatories to peace agreements in 2015-2019 being women. This lack of representation is particularly concerning given the unique perspectives and experiences that women can bring to peace building efforts.
One of the key barriers to women’s participation in peace building is the persistent gender inequalities that exist in many societies. Women often have limited access to education and economic opportunities, as well as unequal representation in political and decision-making processes. This can make it difficult for women to gain the skills and experience necessary to participate effectively in peace building efforts. In addition, cultural and societal norms often restrict women’s mobility and restrict their ability to participate in public life, including in peace building.
Another key challenge is the prevalence of gender-based violence, which is often a feature of conflict and can prevent women from participating in peace building efforts. Women who are perceived as challenging traditional gender roles or participating in political activities may face harassment, intimidation, and even physical violence. This can make it difficult for women to engage in peace building activities and can discourage them from speaking out about their experiences and perspectives.
Thus, underrepresentation of women in peace building efforts is a significant concern that must be addressed if we are to achieve more effective and sustainable peace outcomes. Efforts to increase women’s participation must address the systemic barriers and challenges that prevent their involvement and must work to ensure that women’s perspectives and experiences are recognized and valued in peace building processes.
The benefits of women’s participation in peace building
The benefits of women’s participation in peace building efforts are numerous and have been demonstrated in various contexts. Research has shown that women’s involvement in peace processes can lead to more comprehensive and sustainable outcomes. This is due in part to the unique perspectives and experiences that women bring to peace building efforts.
Studies have shown that when women are involved in peace negotiations, the resulting agreements are more likely to include provisions that address the needs and concerns of women and other marginalized groups. This can help to promote greater equity and inclusivity in the aftermath of conflict. In addition, women’s involvement in peace building can help to build trust and promote reconciliation, as women are often seen as neutral parties who can bridge divides between different groups.
There are numerous examples of successful peace building efforts that involved women. For example, in Liberia, women played a crucial role in bringing an end to the country’s civil war in 2003. The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, led by women from all walks of life, organized protests and sit-ins that brought international attention to the conflict and helped to pressure the warring parties to negotiate a peace agreement. Women were also involved in the negotiations themselves and were instrumental in ensuring that the final agreement included provisions that addressed the needs of women and girls, such as support for survivors of sexual violence and the establishment of a gender-sensitive police force.
Similarly, in Colombia, women played a key role in negotiations to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict. Women’s groups were involved in the negotiations from the outset and successfully advocated for the inclusion of provisions on gender-based violence and women’s rights in the final agreement. Women have continued to play an important role in the implementation of the agreement, working to ensure that it is implemented in a way that benefits all Colombians.
The potential for women’s contributions to peace building
Despite the evidence of the positive impact of women’s participation in peace building, women are still underrepresented in these efforts. This represents a significant untapped potential for the promotion of peace and security in conflict-affected regions around the world.
One reason for this underrepresentation is the persistent gender inequalities that women face in many societies. These inequalities can limit women’s access to education and economic opportunities, as well as prevent them from participating in decision-making processes. Women are also often excluded from traditional power structures, such as peace negotiations and military operations, which can perpetuate their marginalization in peace building efforts.
However, increasing women’s participation in peace building efforts could lead to better outcomes. Women bring unique perspectives and experiences to these efforts that can help to address the root causes of conflict and promote sustainable peace. For example, women are often responsible for the care and well-being of their families and communities, which can give them insight into the needs and priorities of different groups affected by conflict. Women are also more likely to advocate for issues such as human rights, social justice, and inclusivity in peace negotiations, which can help to build more equitable and sustainable peace agreements.
Moreover, research has shown that when women are involved in peace processes, they are more likely to be committed to the implementation of the resulting agreements. This can help to ensure that peace building efforts are sustained over the long term and that the benefits of peace are shared by all members of society.
Overcoming barriers to women’s participation in peace building
Overcoming the barriers to women’s participation in peace building requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses both the structural and societal factors that perpetuate gender inequalities. Here are some potential solutions to increase women’s participation in peace building efforts:
- Increase women’s access to education and training: Education and training can help to build women’s skills and confidence, as well as provide them with the knowledge and tools needed to participate in peace building efforts.
- Create opportunities for women’s leadership: Creating opportunities for women to lead and participate in decision-making processes can help to promote their inclusion in peace building efforts. This can include quotas for women’s representation in peace negotiations and other peace building initiatives.
- Address cultural and societal norms: Addressing cultural and societal norms that limit women’s participation in peace building efforts is essential. This can involve raising awareness about the value of women’s contributions to peace building and promoting gender equality more broadly.
- Engage men and boys in gender equality: Engaging men and boys in gender equality efforts is critical for promoting women’s participation in peace building. This can involve education campaigns that challenge gender stereotypes and promote gender equality.
There have been several successful initiatives that have addressed the barriers to women’s participation in peace building. For example, the United Nations Security Council has adopted several resolutions that call for the increased participation of women in peace building efforts. The Global Acceleration Instrument for Women, Peace and Security is a new initiative aimed at accelerating progress towards the full and meaningful participation of women in all aspects of peace and security processes.
Moreover, grassroots initiatives, such as women’s peace networks and local community organizations, have been successful in promoting women’s participation in peace building. For instance, the Women’s Peace Initiative in South Sudan has been successful in promoting women’s participation in the peace process and advancing the inclusion of women’s rights in the country’s constitution.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that women’s contributions to peace building are essential and have been undervalued for too long. In this article, I have highlighted the underrepresentation of women in peace building efforts, discussed the benefits of their participation, and explored the untapped potential for women’s contributions to peace building.
The statistics and evidence are clear – women’s participation in peace building leads to better outcomes, including more inclusive and sustainable peace. Unfortunately, women face many barriers to their participation, including structural and societal factors that perpetuate gender inequalities. However, there are solutions, and successful initiatives have shown that progress is possible.
I urge readers to take action to increase women’s participation in peace building efforts. This can include supporting women’s leadership, promoting gender equality, and creating opportunities for women to participate in decision-making processes. We must work together to create a more just and equitable world, and recognizing and utilizing women’s contributions to peace building is a critical part of this endeavor.
In conclusion, let us not underestimate the power of women’s contributions to peace building. Their voices and perspectives are essential for building more inclusive and sustainable peace. We have the potential to create a better world, and it starts with recognizing and utilizing the untapped potential of women’s contributions to peace building.
New Social Compact
Aurat March 2023 & Agenda Setting
In history, women are portrayed in default of men. The women in primitive societies were freer and more emancipated than those in advanced societies. Advanced societies continuously extend male domination through psychological, religious, biological, and economic conditions to justify women’s inferiority. From 1960 onwards, women have built the consciousness to combat and march against the social ferment. Aurat March in Pakistan is the manifestation of turning the tide to some extent. It has always been rendered as an immeasurable opportunity to raise the voices of women in society which otherwise would still languish. But the Aurat March is the half march that only elevates the challenges of the urbanized and privileged class. Technically Aurat March is the feminist struggle for few. The platform provides an open sphere to voice against the political and social rights of women in Pakistan but it must check some new windows to surface the cool breeze for all rather than a few.
The women in Gilgit Baltistan or Baluchistan face different kinds of challenges and circumstances in their daily lives. It is an injustice to place the Aurat March by considering the issues of Women in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. The issues of women in the periphery and other parts of countries are different. The platform to raise voices for historically marginalized human beings must navigate what is urgent needs and demands to address so that we can integrate all women across the country to flourish linearly. The concern about the relative deprivation of women’s progress should be at the agenda setting. It is time to turn this Aurat March into an inclusive force for all women in the country.
Moreover, any movement in history got momentum for a clear vision and demands but unfortunately, the Pakistani version of feminism lacks clarity and vision in this regard. In 2023 the global economy is the digital economy. Only 21% of women in Pakistan have access to the Internet while living in the 21st Century. Aurat March must highlight this issue as the most vulnerable disparity for women. This century is the century of the internet, connectivity, and digitization. If women want to emancipate and exercise their freedom with the awareness of their rights; it is time to integrate the right to the internet and access to the digital world for women as an urgent imperative.
Aging is real. When women lost reproductive function in our society she suddenly becomes irrelevant to the household. Her value and grace were lost with the age. The rural areas are full of the old woman who live a very tough life once they get old. Aurat March is a platform to surface voices, through this platform the awareness, and response system for the miseries and social woes of old women must be heightened. They must challenge the traditional acceptance of the norms for aged women. Aurat March can normalize that aging is a natural process and the acceptance of the aged community shouldn’t be a burden.
Populism is on the rise in Pakistan. Every populist from Donald Trump to Xi Jinping tried to subvert the frontline women’s struggle for their political causes. Historically a populist demagogue and backsliding of democracy halt women’s empowerment. Aurat March must disseminate awareness that how women’s woes exacerbate the democratic depression in any nation. The provision of women’s rights depends on institutional democracy. Aurat March should do justice to build the political consciousness of women through their different platforms for sustainable rights development in the 21st Century.
Role construction plays a huge role in Patriarchal societies. The manufacturing of different roles and associations of venerated feelings functions to develop the system of obedience, passiveness, and immanence. Aurat March should also educate women through their platform that “over association” with the role is proportional to submission to authority and renunciation of the true spirit of freedom. Patriarchal society creates different roles to subjugate women. The agenda-setting of Aurat March must consider building rational choices and rational roles for women in the 21st Century so that the exploitation and injustice to women as human beings must be curtailed.
Finally, Aurat March is at the inception of its evolution as a movement. With time, they must evolve from the narratives of white feminism to South Asian feministic realities. The provision of basic rights, opportunities, and political freedom for all women in all parts of countries irrespective of the geography, region, and provinces should be at the core of the movement in coming years.
New Social Compact
Luxury Predecessors become the Necessity of Successors
It appears that many people’s lives today are increasingly focused on the pursuit of luxury. There is no denying the allure of luxury, whether it be in the form of designer goods, expensive automobiles, or lavish travel. Less frequently discussed, though, is the fact that many people now view the pursuit of luxury as essential to their success rather than just a matter of personal taste.
We need to look at the historical context to comprehend why luxury has evolved into a necessity. Luxury used to be a privilege enjoyed only by the wealthy elite who could afford to splurge on pricey items and experiences. The rise of consumer culture in the 20th century has made it simpler for the middle class to access luxury. More and more people started aspiring to the lifestyle that luxury represented as businesses started marketing luxury goods to a wider audience.
This desire for luxury has evolved to be closely related to our ideas of success. Owning expensive goods is often seen as a sign of success and status. It’s a way for them to demonstrate to the world that they’ve succeeded and are deserving of respect. The pursuit of luxury has consequently evolved into a central theme in the cultural narrative surrounding success.
But why has luxury become such an important part of this narrative? Our society’s escalating competitiveness is one factor. Being unique in a world where everyone is vying for success and attention has become more crucial than ever. And displaying wealth and luxury in a prominent manner is one way to accomplish this. People can advance in their careers and social circles by showing off their wealth and status by purchasing expensive goods.
Luxury is often viewed as a way to reward oneself for effort and success, which is another reason why it has become necessary. In a society where achievement and productivity are prized above all else, the pursuit of luxury can give one a sense of satisfaction and validation. People can get the feeling that their efforts have paid off and that they are entitled to indulge in luxury goods and experiences by doing so.
A prime example of how the success of opulent predecessors can turn into a requirement for successors is the tale of King Bruce and the spider. He, who was in exile and feeling discouraged, saw a spider repeatedly trying to spin a web. The spider kept trying despite repeatedly failing and kept going until it eventually succeeded.
King Bruce was motivated to keep going in his own pursuit of success by the spider’s tenacity. He came to the conclusion that persistence and determination are just as important to success as talent and aptitude. Then, after successfully leading a rebellion against his adversaries, he was able to retake his throne and enjoy the opulent lifestyle that came with it.
In this way, predecessors’ luxuries turn into successors’ needs. They serve as role models for future generations, motivating them to pursue success by showing what is possible with effort and tenacity. Many successors might lack the inspiration and drive to pursue their own ambitious goals if these luxurious predecessors’ examples are not followed.
Similarly, the life of Bill Gates, one of the richest people in the world and a co-founder of Microsoft, illustrates how once-luxury predecessors eventually become necessities for successors. Despite coming from a low-income family, Gates was able to achieve great success through his own perseverance, hard work, and inspiration from other successful people.
The achievements of his well-off forebears, including entrepreneurs and inventors Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, served as inspiration for Gates. He understood that the secret to success wasn’t just talent or intelligence, but also the capacity to keep going in the face of obstacles and setbacks.
Furthermore, through his philanthropic endeavors, Gates has persisted in inspiring and motivating others. His commitment to enhancing people’s lives all over the world has resulted in billions of dollars being donated to charitable organizations. His accomplishments and generosity serve as a motivating example of the value of volunteering and using one’s resources to improve society.
In the end, anyone who aspires to greatness can find inspiration from a successful person who serves as a role model. Successors can demonstrate extravagance in their own lives and have a positive impact on their communities and the world by realizing and putting into practice the lessons learned from luxury predecessors. In fact, successors can learn about the qualities and traits that helped their wealthy predecessors succeed, like hard work, dedication, and perseverance, by looking at their lives and careers. They can learn how to overcome the difficulties and obstacles they might encounter on their own path to success.
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