The Broken Rifle
Sept 2020 #113 Militarising the pandemic -1-
For this edition of the Broken Rifle we have reached out to activists around the world, asking them to describe the diverse ways that the covid-19 lock downs have been militarised, and argue that the militarised responses to the Covid-19 pandemic show how deeply embedded militarism has become. At the same time, the covid-19 crisis is an opportunity for our movements, to reflect, reevaluate, and regroup.
Since the start of 2020, our world has completely changed. So many of the things we took for granted as part of normal life have become impossible, or much more difficult; socialising with friends, going to the shop, traveling even short distances from our homes (let alone around the world!), gathering for parties (or protests!)...
We're also excited that this is the first edition of The Broken Rifle that will be printed and distributed for a long time! For several years The Broken Rifle has been an online-only affair, but we feel now is the time to again explore opportunities for other ways of distributing the magazine. We hope this will mean that producing and distributing The Broken Rifle will, eventually, contribute to WRI's finances and supports our other work. If you would like to subscribe to receive the printed version you can find out how here: https://wri-irg.org/en/the-broken-rifle-subscription or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And yet in so many other ways our world hasn't changed at all. As governments around the world scrambled to respond to the rapidly spreading Covid-19 pandemic, many reached for the old playbook; fear, violence, and militarisation. Even as communities around the world found a huge array of creative ways of responding tho the pandemic, building resilience and connection even as the fear and confusion took hold, governments used their military strength to violently enforce lock downs and take advantage of the situation for their own political gain. As always, it has been the most disadvantaged and marginalised communities who have most directly impacted.
Contents Page 3: Militarising the pandemic: how states around the world chose militarised responses Page 5: Going beyond protest politics: the opportunity within the pandemic and our political crisis Page 7: The illusion of security as a tool of social control: The militarisation of pandemic response in Israel Page 8: How the Chilean government used the pandemic to their political advantage Page 10: Militarized lockdowns and a predatory quarantine â&#x20AC;&#x201D; the unique story of Ugandaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pandemic response Page 12: Colombia: militarization goes viral Page 14: The British Armed Forces are using Covid-19 to solve a recruitment crisis and to heal their damaged reputation Page 17: Open letter on COVID-19 and humanitarian disarmament Page 18: Brazilian militarism and the crisis of imperial white patriarchal federalism in the coronavirus pandemic Page 21: COVID-19: divest, demilitarise, and disarm
The Broken Rifle
The Broken Rifle is a magazine published War Resisters' International. We normally publish three editions a year, in English, French, German and Spanish. Each edition is on a different theme, with articles written by members and friends of the WRI network. All of the material is published online for free. We also distribute the magazine in a print format via our affiliates, and to subscribers. If you would like to subscribe to receive The Broken Rifle via snail mail, please visit: www.wri-irg.org/en/the-broken-rifle, where you can also find back issues of the magazine. War Resisters' International (WRI) works for a world without war. We are a global pacifist and antimilitarist network with over 90 affiliated groups in 40 countries. We remain committed to our 1921 founding declaration that 'War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war'.
Militarising the pandemic: how states around the world chose militarised responses Andrew Metheven “Shoot them dead.” These were the orders of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, on how the countries soldiers and government should use a “martial law-like” approach to enforcing the strict lockdown imposed to limit the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Stories of abuse and police killings for infringements of the quarantine lockdown soon followed, including the shooting of a drunk man, young people being locked in a dog cage, and alleged violators of the curfew being held without food and water. Over 1000 people in the Philippines have been arrested for breaking lockdown conditions, and Human Rights Watch has criticised the govnerment for using tactics similar to those in its “war on drugs”, in which the police have killed thousands of people, including house-tohouse searches and encouraging neighbours to report others in their community they suspect of having symptoms of Covid-19. These approaches are not limited to the Philippines’ - a number of governments have been criticised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelete, who said that "Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power.” Understanding the militarised nature of these lockdowns helps us to understand the nature of militarised
policing and the threat it poses to the wellbeing and freedom of our communities, and why it needs to be resisted and challenged. Outside actual war zones, encounters with police forces might be many people’s most direct experience of militarisation, and they are impacting a huge number of people’s lives. Before the pandemic hit it was clear militarism was becoming increasingly normalised; now, considering the huge threats of the pandemic, the risks of extreme violence at the hands of militarised police forces around the world become even more extreme. When we talk about “militarisation”, we are referring to states using practises, systems, strategies and mindsets that are akin to those used by armies engaging in warfare. The “warrior mentality” has been a theme pushed by trainers delivering workshops for police forces in the USA, describing an approach to policing that sees members of communities are a threat to be countered and controlled, prioritises violent – even lethal – methods of managing conflict, and creates an “us versus them” mentality. This approach, coupled with military-grade weapons and often poor accountability – is a toxic mix in any situation, and many governments around the world have responded to the coronavirus pandemic with lockdowns enforced by militarised police forces. Militarisation goes beyond individual acts of violence; it relies on a complex and intersecting web of systems and structures. Militarised violence is organised, deliberate, and depersonalised, driven by patriarchal -3-
and racist values, and more often than not targets the poorest and most disenfranchised sections of our societies. Beyond the violent imposition of curfews and lockdowns, militarisation is also occurring when militaries dominate the role of managing the states response to the pandemic. Examples of countries where this is occurring include Indoensia, where a number of retired generals are in key decision-making positions, including the health minister and the head of the taskforce coordinating the government’s response. It is therefore unsurprising that the government is using hundreds of thousands of troops to enforce rules on social distancing and wearing masks. The militarisation we see taking place through the pandemic hasn’t come from nowhere, it is a symptom of deeply rooted militarised mentalities. We can see this in the language employed in states’ response to the virus; “war-footing”, “rally the troops”, “mounting an assault”. The values of militarism drive the rhetoric in the response, which in turn supports militarised responses and ultimately enables violence and oppression. There are a variety of ways that governments militarised their response to the pandemic. Understanding these helps us to build a picture of how militarism operates, and identify opportunities to challenge it. Photo: Military officials secure quarantine checkpoints, Manila. Source: Flickr/ ILO AsiaPacific, used under CC3.0 license
If not militarism, then what?
Human Rights Watch has reported that El Salvador’s police forces have “arbitrarily arrested hundreds of people in the name of enforcing restrictions” and that the country’s president, Nayib Bukele, has used Twitter and nationwide broadcasted speeches to encourage “excessive use of force and the draconian enforcement of measures”. Members of the public were arrested and arbitrarily detained for not wearing face masks even though this was not mandated by the government, or for going out to buy food or medicine.
By mid-May over 60,000 people in Sri Lanka had been arrested for breaking the country’s lockdown conditions. The country’s inspector general has curtailed citizen’s rights to free expression, ordering police to arrest those who criticise the governments coronavirus response, including “scolding” officials and pointing out “minor issues”. The government’s taskforce responsible for managing the response to the pandemic is being run by General Shavendra Silva, a military commander who, according to Human Rights Watch, “faces credible allegations of war crimes during the final months of Sri Lanka’s long civil war.”
States choose militarised responses for a wide number of reasons: because other systems and structures are deprived of resources; many see the military as resourceful, decisive and effective in ways that civilian/non-military systems can never be; violence and the threat of violence is an effective way of creating fear maintaining control; because of a belief that, in an emergency, states only option is to use coercive and authoritative means to enforce measures that will ultimately benefit their citizens…
South Africa In March, police forces in South Africa fired rubber bullets at shoppers queuing outside a supermarket in Johannesburg as the lockdown there came into effect, and videos showed heavily armed police and soldiers patrolling very poor neighbourhoods where residents have limited capacity to self isolate, beating members of the public with whips. In April the security services were accused of killing as many people enforcing the lockdown as the virus itself had killed. Collins Khosa was killed by security forces in his own home on April 10th after soldiers spotted what they believed to be a cup of alcohol in his yard (South Africa banned sales of alcohol during the lockdown). Thato Masiangoako, a researcher for the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa told Reuters that “This brutality and violence is not at all new. What is new is that during this lockdown, a harsher spotlight has been shone on these abuses… Security forces were deployed mainly to poor black areas like high density townships. More affluent areas have been shielded from the violence.”
Serbia As well as using the army and militarised police forces to violently impose lockdowns, states have used similar violence to respond to protests against their handling of the crisis. In Serbia, the “strongman” Aleksandar Vucic was criticised for holding elections on 21st June – in which his Serbian Progressive Party won a landslide victory but were boycotted by opposition parties – and escalating the crisis by relaxing the rules on large gatherings, before imposing a strict curfew after winning the election. Protesters demanding his resignation attempted to storm the parliament building were beaten and teargassed by riot police, who targetted journalists and indiscriminately attacking individuals who posed no threat and were a long way from the protest. Police fired flares at close range from vehicles and beat people sat on park benches.
As movements around the world push for a green recovery to the huge economic impact, we should also be using the opportunity to consider how and why many states turned to such militarised responses to the pandemic, and what our alternatives would be. Militaries squander huge amounts of resources that could have been used, over many years, to build stronger health and social care systems. Global Spending on the military in 2019 is estimated to have been $1917 billion by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the highest level since 1988 and a 3.6% increase on 2018 levels. When such huge amounts of resources are pumped into militaries it is unsurprising that militarised approaches and narratives dominate, but we need to be clear: militarism isn’t the only option, militarised approaches aren’t neutral alternatives to systems that should be run and managed by civilians, and we need to continue to push for approaches to managing emergencies that are equitable and just.
News from the WRI network
USA: WRL blocks tear gas factory On Monday 17th August 2020, five activists from the US-based WRI affiliate War Resisters League (WRL) blockaded the entrance of Combined Systems Inc., a leading tear gas manufacturer, with giant tear gas cans and gas masks. The five blockaders were part of a group of 40 activists from cities across the U.S. who protested at the factory in Jamestown, PA with the goal of shutting down operations at Combined Systems Inc. for the day. Outside the facility, other activists set out signs, each with the name of a different city where tear gas has been used against people.
been banned in war since the 1925 Geneva Protocol following World War I, the chemical weapon continues to be used domestically as a means of “riot control” and is exported around the world. Right now there are five tear gas manufacturers in the United States.
Tear gas produced by Combined Systems Inc. has been repeatedly used by local and federal forces to repress Black Lives Matter protests. Despite the fact that tear gas has -4-
Combined Systems Inc. is one of the largest tear gas manufacturers in the U.S. They are supplying chemical weapons for use in U.S. prisons, to the Department of Homeland Security, and to police departments cracking down on protests in the U.S. and around the world.
Going beyond protest politics: the opportunity within the pandemic and our political crisis Stellan Vinthagen The pandemic is a crisis that entails both a threat to marginalized communities and an opportunity for radical social change. To take that opportunity we need to rethink how we work in social movements, and carefully craft a strategy forward through broad alliances, mass mobilizations of direct action, and an understanding of "constructive resistance", Stellan Vinthagen argues, a professor of resistance studies at University of Massachusetts, and an activist in War Resisters' International. During this pandemic crisis, when we are bound to our homes, I hope we will deepen our relations online with fellow activists and citizens living far away. That we socialize over tea or wine, a movie or a mutual topic, that we develop visionary plans for the future, and reflect on how we live our lives; asking ourselves if we really are living according to our values and principles. I hope we educate ourselves and build our networks, that we focus on building broad alliances for the future. In this break from our normal way of living, I also hope we will take the opportunity to break with the ritualized forms of protests, like 1 May demonstrations or other small protest marches against all the things we
dislike. In those parts of the world where "Liberal Democracy" is the ideology of the state, it does not challenge anything. In Sweden, the prime minister from the Labor party walks and shouts slogans together with workers on the 1st of May, every year, since the Labor formed the first government in the 1932 ... There is a mythology, inherited from movements 200 years ago; that we can change society by walking from point A to B in urban areas, especially in the capital. Still, people do it all the time: Marches to Washington, to London, to Berlin, etc. again, and again. Yet such action is empty, an opium for the (liberal progressive) opposition! As Arundhati Roy said after the biggest protests in world history against the Iraq war in 2003: You do not stop a war with a weekend protest â&#x20AC;Ś You need to literally stop the companies that profit from war. As we reeducate ourselves, I hope we will instead see the value of focusing on another equally old but forgotten tradition, from the anarchists, of direct action. When you see a problem, you mobilize a movement that deals with it, be that through creating alternatives (like Fair Trade), or by resisting our opponents through blockades, occupations of land and factories. Ideally, we resist by enacting our alternatives. But, of course, in an authoritarian society that -5-
makes protest marches illegal, it makes sense, as a direct action, to march. Then, in that situation, the protest is a form of civil disobedience. The power of civil disobedience, strikes and interventions is so much bigger than protests and appeals. As long as we as citizens obey their laws and consume their products and services, and continue to produce what they demand as workers within factories, companies and universities, all the key problems will remain. We need to come back after this lockdown with the radical imaginations for a new society and the necessary broad, popular alliances to make them possible. But what are the strategies that will ultimately matter for the new broad alliances of movements we are building for the future? I will give three examples: one protest-oriented movement, one resistance oriented, and one that for me represents the most hopeful sign of social change, built on Indigenous traditions of what can be called "constructive resistance" - resistance through the enacting of alternatives. The most obvious example of a protestoriented movement is currently the extraordinary mobilization of the Photo: A man attends an MST demonstration. Source: wikimedia/AgĂŞncia Brasil, used under CC3.0 license.
Movement for Black Lives (or BLM), which already after some months is clearly one of the largest protest movements in US history. It is having ripple effects across the different states, in small towns and big cities. Political results are already visible, with defunding of the police, new laws increasing the possibilities for charging racist police violence, and to stop police militarization. Since 2013 this movement has been building a strong infrastructure of local leadership, social media presence, alliances and cooperation with professional groups (such as civil rights lawyers), as well as having its star-spangled leaders in the form of NFL players, thus laying the groundwork for the wave we see now. In this way, BLM is an example of when protests CAN have some effect, although how much remains unclear, and will depend on how this created opening will be handled. However, the usual trend is that protests are smaller and less impactful. Another example of the future is also percolating in the US, the People's Strike [https://peoplesstrike.org/], one which is more focused on resistance and directaction obstructions of the existing system, therefore trying to force elites towards social change. The beginning was marked with a new kind of 1 May action, followed up with a series of actions on 1 June, 1 July 1 August, and onwards, initiated by the Black liberation community of anti-imperialists in Jackson, Mississippi. Here people are coordinating online in arguably the broadest left and progressive alliance in US history, combining worker strikes at such corporations as Walmart, Amazon and Wholefoods. Meanwhile, work slow-downs are occurring at other places, as well as rentstrikes by tenants, motorcades honk-ins and other activities. They are united under the slogan that Capitalism is the virus. If many people and organizations join in, and if their strikes are impacting economic elites, this might be powerful. However hopeful this example is, I consider the main example of a strategic way forward to be those movements that through experimentation are developing a form of "constructive resistance". This includes the Black empowerment work of Cooperation Jackson, in Jackson, Mississippi, the Native Americans at the WhiteEarth Reservation in Minnesota, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, the Kurds in Rojava, Northern Syria, and the Landless workers movement MST in Brazil. The movement of landless workers in Brazil, with its foremost organization MST (Movimento dos trabalhadores rurais Sem Terra— the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement) is one of the largest social movement in South America. MST was formed during the 1980s and mobilizes about 1.5 million small-scale farmers and landless rural workers, who have no land with which they can sustain themselves. The participants are often underemployed rural workers or urban poor favela-dwellers.
They have united in a struggle for a socialist and democratic land reform, which they encourage through means of occupations of unproductive land. So far, they have completed over 2,000 occupations, managing to distribute land to over 350,000 landless persons, which is more than what the government has done. While waiting to occupy land, the activists live in temporary encampments (acampamentos). After the land occupation, temporary housing is constructed. If the government expropriates and redistributes the land, they are then able to finally build permanent settlements (assentamentos). MST has created an ambitious program of alternative agrarian development as part of their vision of a “New Brazil,” consisting of organic farming cooperatives, gender equal, democratic governance of their own encampments on land occupations, selforganized villages, cooperative businesses, health clinics, primary and adult schooling, as well as their autonomous, open and tuition-free activist university. When MST carries out land occupations, they transgress private property laws and build their temporary villages out of black plastic-tents, create schools, and cultivate the land. They are regularly violently evicted, but they return and rebuild. With steadfast persistence they claim their land rights and defend their emerging society with unarmed collective force, mass media attention and urban alliances (with lawyers, politicians, journalists, etc.). The key is that they are not just protesting, demanding or lobbying authorities to act on their behalf or for legal recognition from the state. They do what is needed by themselves, here and now. With time, they develop cooperatives, ecological farming techniques, local democracy institutions, schools with Freire pedagogics that teach not only literacy and theoretical knowledge but also political awareness. They create a new society. Thus, in the process of resisting one of the most unjust land distributions in the world, they also start creating the alternative institutions they envision. Therefore, they embody the politico-ethical future through their resistance practice, i.e. they do constructive resistance. When such a mobilization reaches a certain level or size that seeks to replace the existing unjust society, we might rightfully speak of a “revolutionary” process. MST's de-facto revolutionary process consists of local revolutions that spread and scale-up. If we take all the land that MST collectives have liberated since the 1980s, the total size of that territory amounts almost to the size of Cuba1. That means that MST is conducting a new “Cuban revolution” in South America, however this time it is a localized and distributed revolution that is unarmed. Local revolutionary processes are set in motion, without MST trying to capture the power of the state, but by collaborating with the -6-
state when possible and resisting it when necessary. Thus, "constructive resistance", resistance by enacting alternatives, is a form of resistance that combines the "Yes" and the "No" in the struggle for social change, and as such it is a very different strategy which we can learn from. It avoids the co-option trap that hunts the construction of alternatives—which risks them becoming just another alternative in the capitalist market—while simultaneously avoiding the repression and marginalization trap that hunts radical resistance movements. The construction work builds dignity, resources, empowerment and hopeful alternatives to existing problems, while mass mobilizations of resistance tear down and obstruct the power systems of dominant elites to exploit, repress and destroy people, nature and the planet we live on. Constructive resistance might therefore be a way forward. If so, we have a lot to do during the pandemic in terms of educating ourselves, reorienting and developing strategies and creative tactics, building relationships and forming alliances, and rethinking how we organize. If we do this, we might come out of the current COVID19 crisis far more prepared to deal with the fundamental system crisis that is threatening us all, and the future of this planet.
MST has gained in total 7,5 million hectares (see https://www.britannica.com/event/L andless-Workers-Movement), which is 75, 000 square km out of Cuba’s 110, 000 square km.
Stellan Vinthagen is the Endowed professor of resistance studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a WRI member active in the Nonviolence Commission.
The illusion of security as a tool of social control: The militarisation of pandemic response in Israel Rela Mazali, Sergeiy Sandler, Roni Slonim Israel is a highly militarised state with a highly militarised society, and the COVID-19 pandemic interacts with this militarisation in a variety of ways – from the way it has been used as a cover and an excuse for violence against Palestinians to the way it has served as a pretext for enhancing authoritarian trends in general.2 The political context, in which the pandemic allowed current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to maintain his grip on power despite the corruption charges he faces in court, has received its fair share of media attention too. However, here we would like to highlight another aspect of this intersection: the way in which the military and other “security services” took over pandemic crisis management in Israel. This is particularly instructive, because it illustrates the way in which militarism uses fear and the illusion of security as instruments of social control. In mid-March 2020, as the first lockdown orders were going into effect, the Israeli media reported on a “battle between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Health” over “Who will manage the coronavirus crisis”.3 Ministry of Health officials complained that their Ministry of Defence peers were attempting to take over medical aspects of the pandemic crisis management without having the necessary expertise, while Ministry of Defence officials claimed that they alone have experience in managing emergency situations, so the management of the crisis should be left to them. Waging such battles over power and resources against civilian authorities is one form of warfare in which the Israeli “security system” truly excels, and in this case, too, an epic victory followed. As one author described the situation a month later, “The debate in Israel right now is about whether the responsibilities of managing the COVID19 crisis should be transferred to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), the Mossad [Israel’s chief spy agency], the Shin Bet [a.k.a. General Security Service], or another ministry”.4 Let us list some of the conquests made: The military was tasked with the overall responsibility for Israel’s elderly population during the pandemic in late March.5 In early April, the military’s Home Front Command
was tasked with the responsibility to assist nursing homes for the elderly, effectively taking over many aspects of their operation (nursing homes’ administrators soon complained anonymously to reporters that this intervention was largely useless).6 Other military divisions were charged with the acquisition of medical supplies,7 or were put “in command” of hotels, where confirmed COVID-19 patients stay in isolation.8 Not to be outdone, the Mossad announced with great fanfare that it had obtained, in undisclosed ways, 100,000 COVID-19 testing kits (it soon turned out these kits were useless because they missed the necessary type of swabs).9 A joint “war room”, run by the IDF, the Mossad and the Ministry of Defence, was set up inside one of Israel’s largest hospitals to coordinate the pandemic response, and Israel’s most famous special operations military unit, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, was brought in to streamline the logistics.10 Faced with all this military intervention, medical professionals, speaking on condition of anonymity, voiced concerns about military officials increasingly inserting themselves into decision-making around medical treatment and research.11 Now, active-duty military personnel are not the only ones charged with managing the pandemic crisis in Israel. Retired senior officers are involved as well. These men (with only a handful of exceptions, they are indeed men) are automatically considered to be qualified for any top position in the Israeli government and civil service, and that was as true as ever for positions created to manage aspects of the crisis. And if on April 1st we were told that the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit was brought in to take over the logistics of COVID-19 testing, by May, a private company owned by one Noam Ya’acov – a retired logistics officer from that unit, recruited to be part of that logistics management effort as a reservist – was awarded a contract for managing pandemic-related acquisitions for the Ministry of Health, bypassing mandatory tender requirements.12 Which brings up the question of motivation. For the officers themselves, there are obviously the perks of money (as in Ya’acov’s case) and power involved. There is also, to be sure, the genuine wish to help out at a time of crisis, coupled with a sense of superiority and entitlement that blinds these military officers to the damage they do by pushing aside civilians with a more relevant kind of expertise. For the different military units and other “security services”, -7-
there is also the incessant internal competition over public relations, and the desire to again and again be portrayed to the Israeli public as hero saviours. Indeed, collecting all this information about military intervention in pandemic crisis management in Israel was made easy by the constant stream of (often ridiculously flattering) stories about the heroic exploits of “our brave men in uniform” pushed to the Israeli media. One prominent Israeli journalist quipped in this context in an op-ed: “Almost as a matter of course, you ask yourself whether this is an army that has a public relations office or a public relations office that has an army”.13 In the end, all these anecdotes add up to a larger story about social control in a militarised society. A government proclaiming fearful scenarios and sending civilians to shelter, as best they're able, replays countless episodes in the lives of most Israelis. Until 2020, these all involved military outbreaks, often ones deliberately provoked by Israel’s own military operations. Fear is a potent and central ingredient of Israel's militarisation. It’s simplistic but sadly true: A population preoccupied with dangers "from outside" focuses less on acute government failures “inside” and remains more compliant. Fear is why a large segment of the citizenry still go on feeding the military with its children. In response to this fear, the military and other “security services” offer the carefully cultivated illusion of security: we are taught to rely on the supposedly assured heroic victory of the Israeli military, not on the uncertainties of, say, epidemiology, or negotiating peace, to deliver us from all dangers and enemies. And in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the illusory nature of this security myth comes into sharp relief. In the end, the military was put in charge of Israel’s pandemic response not because of its (non-existent) expertise in handling medical crises, but because of its (very real) ability to inspire a false sense of security in many parts the general public.
For a version of this article including full references, please visit: https://wriirg.org/en/story/2020/illusion-securitytool-social-control-militarisation-pandemicresponse-israel
How the Chilean government used the pandemic to their political advantage Samuel Toro Contreras In Chile in October 2019, a historic social uprising took place, unexpectedly for the vast majority. More and more people were joining the protests every day. One of the protesters main demands was to repeal the Chilean republic’s current constitution, which was written during the civilianmilitary dictatorship of Pinochet. The current constitution forbids many changes that would benefit the poorest segment of the population. Chile is considered, within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the country with the highest levels of social and economic inequality. The current government, led by the multimillionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera, tried to soften and ease the diffuse protests that occurred almost every day, up until the beginning of March 2020. Those attempts were so clumsy from a strategic and political point of view that finally a state of emergency and curfew were enforced. This resulted in the presence of the military on the street, reminiscent of the dictatorship era. The president, Piñera, said that Chile was at war with a powerful enemy, but he did not specify which one. In fact, he was declaring war on the most oppressed Chileans, who were resisting the inequalities and constant thefts committed by multimillionaires from almost every statewide institution. Whitecollar theft in Chile does not lead to prison sentences. On the contrary, as happened in the Penta Case (in which employees of a
holding company called Grupo Penta and the Chilean National Tax System committed tax fraud, and used the funds to support far right politicians election campaigns), the sentences given the businessmen Délano and Lavin for defrauding the tax office of around $25 million was assisting in ethics class at a university. This is one example of the mockery of the legislative, judicial and executive branches, and such millionaire theft has been taking place over the last 30 years, since Chile’s return to democracy. The people could not put up with any more injustices while inequalities were increasing even more. With the military on the streets, working alongside police officers, demonstrators in Chile began to face huge amounts of repression, including shootings at pointblank range, disappearances, and torture and abuse in police stations. More than 350 suffered damage to their eyes; many ended up blind completely or in one eye. Through out this period the government ignored the protests and treated the demonstrators as delinquents. In March, as these events continued to unfold, the first Covid-19 cases appeared. As the number of cases went up and fear overcame the population, the government saw a great opportunity to move attention away from the protests and toward the health emergency. Even if in the last months of the protests the military was no longer patrolling the streets, the first health measure was to bring them out again. Another state of emergency, and curfews between 10pm to 5am (the period with the lowest probability of infection) were -8-
declared. Right-wing analysts claimed that Covid-19 was a stroke of luck for the government because they took advantage of the situation and started giving speeches about the efficient disease control measures and the prompt return to “normality”. Afterwards, the Boinas Negras appeared on the streets. The Boinas Negras are an elite military command trained for very specific war scenarios. Why were these specialized military units patrolling the streets during a pandemic? The repression returned and was well justified because the fear of becoming ill allowed terrible things during the state of emergency. At the end of March I watched the news on TV, and saw a driver was shot because he did not respect the identification control, and an acquaintance of mine who took longer to get home than expected was obliged to do push-ups with guns aimed at their head. The use of the military is justified in exceptional situations, like the one we are facing now, but in Chile it was incredibly convenient for the government. As the disease spread to the poorest areas of the country, the cases escalated quickly and ran out of control, because most people must go to work so that they can survive day to day. A couple of days ago, the same people in those areas started to stop following quarantine rules, and went out into the streets to protest but, this time, they specifically mentioned that they did so out of starvation. The demonstration was roughly repressed and the government started to give speeches about the manipulation and the use of economics resources by the left wing in order to start Photo: Heavily armed police respond to protests in Chile. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas/UnSplash
the riot. This means that even in the worst scenario, where the people, out of hunger, confront police officers and military, the government try to give it a political angle.
these communities protest they are repressed, both politically and by the police and military, being treated, as in October, like vandals.
During these protests, which began in October, some artists projected texts supporting the demonstrators ono a big building owned by Telefónica. The same people recently projected on to the same building one big word: Hunger. One of the symptoms that we can identify about the emergency state was a strict right government with military on the streets is giving out speeches as in a dictatorship. In May, Deputy Schalper asked the prosecutors to investigate those who projected the messages on the building. Freedom of speech is one of the characteristics of a democracy, but instead politicians are demanding acts of free expression are monitored and punished, instead of worrying about the real problems, like the hopelessness of the growing number of people who are literally starving. When
In the same areas where the people are starving, the community are restarting a movement that has not been seenin the country for 30 years, the “common pots”. Communities are gathering to cook and share the food in the nearby neighborhoods. This is unparalleled - in an extremely neoliberal country, this was unthinkable until this emergency. At the beginning of 2020, the Chilean State invested more than 2,000 million dollars in police infrastructures and arms. Nowadays they are running out of mechanical ventilators and they did not invest the amount of money in the Department of Health that they originally announced. When they invested in weapons of war, it was already clear that the new coronavirus will arrive to America. Chile, as a poor country, preferred to invest in its military.
News from the WRI network
The Council of Europe urges Turkey to recognise conscientious objection The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has urged Turkey to stop prosecuting conscientious objectors (COs) and take the necessary measures to address the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Since 2006, the ECHR has ruled against Turkey multiple times regarding the treatment and status of COs. In its decision on 4th June on the cases of nine COs (Ülke group v. Turkey), the Committee of Ministers addressed the COs’ repeated prosecutions and convictions, saying that they amounted to ‘civil death’, and criticised the lack of a procedure recognising them as conscientious objectors. War Resisters’ International was among the six organisations who made a joint submission to the Committee regarding the issue in April 2020. You can read our report by Conscientious Objection Association Turkey, Connection e.V., European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, Freedom of Belief Initiative in Turkey, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, as well as WRI. The Committee of Ministers’s decision stated that they regret the lack of progress with legislative amendments in Turkey, despite the government’s commitment to
do so. Turkey has been monitored by the Committee since 2007 following the Ülke v Turkey judgement of the ECHR in 2006, which described conscientious objector Osman Murat Ulke as living under a state of “civil death” and found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. With further judgments since 2011, which were included in the Committee of Ministers’ recent decision, the ECHR also found a violation of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the Convention and obliged Turkey to amend its law to recognise the right to conscientious objection to military service. Reminding Turkey of the lack of any progress in law, in its recent decision, the Committee of Ministers asked Turkey to submit an action plan with concrete steps addressing the ECHR findings before 21st June 2021. Also, the Committee asked Turkey “to provide statistical information on the number of conscientious objectors in Turkey and on administrative fines, prosecutions and convictions delivered in this connection since the Ülke judgment became final in 2006.”
Lifetime persecution for COs in Turkey In Turkey, military service is compulsory and the right to conscientious objection is not recognised. Every healthy citizen assigned as male at birth is called up to the military when they reach the age of 20. Anyone who refuses to perform military service continues to be called up repeatedly and faces multiple prosecutions. COs also find it extremely difficult to find jobs due to directives from the Ministry of Defense directives, which hold employers responsible for their employees’ military status. COs are usually employed informally without social security and pensions payments, and with lower salaries. Their persecution can last a lifetime leading to clandestine lives described as ‘civil death’ by the ECHR. = The Committee of Ministers’ decision is another reminder of the steps the Turkish government needs to take, to stop the violation of conscientious objectors’ human rights. WRI will continue to monitor the situation of COs in Turkey. This story appeared in CO Update. To subscribe, visit: www.wri-irg.org/subscribe
Militarized lockdowns and a predatory quarantine — the unique story of Uganda’s pandemic response Phil Wilmot
five minutes later, more police had arrived to patrol the area. Seeing them armed with AK47s — but no masks and standing shoulder to shoulder — I couldn’t help but offer more Eight young Ugandan men swarmed the humor to diffuse the growing feeling of a streets of a bustling-yet-militarized Kampala. military dystopia. They were banging empty saucepans to demand food, which the government had “Guys, the big man said no large groups! promised to distribute. For this June 17 Protect yourselves by keeping a distance! You noisemaking “crime,” police packed them don’t want to take this virus home to your into a tiny cell at Kitalya Maximum Security relatives.” Prison. The tenseness of the trading center loosened The arrests and the politically motivated with a few giggles, until one of the officers killings won’t slow down anytime soon. As barked in my face, saying I wasn’t supposed elections near, dictator Yoweri Museveni’s to be out in public. armed forces — cushioned by the ongoing Unpleasant as it was, it was helpful to see financial support of the U.S. government — how the authorities were enforcing enjoy conditions of impunity as they attack Museveni’s new lockdown measures because starving women and youth protesting for later that day we intended to test them. their survival. Some neighbors and I were planning to Since the 2009 Kabaka Riots, Uganda has deliver clean drinking water and snacks to witnessed a gradual but steady surge in the victims of a shoddy, opportunistic resistance to Museveni’s autocracy. This quarantine — a mismanaged detainment struggle was recently offered a boost of center for travelers arriving at Entebbe morale as Black Lives Matter protests in the International Airport. Our goal was to expose United States inspired a surge of resistance in the wretched conditions and the private profiteering that was going on at the Africa. expense of the travelers, even healthy ones. Even so, Ugandans have been hard at work It was a sign of how Uganda’s dictator, in fighting deplorable circumstances long power for the past 34 years, would exploit before the straw broke the camel’s back. The this new global health crisis. Sure enough, story of the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda is rumors of swindling a half-billion-dollar quite a unique one, but it underscores the International Monetary Fund loan ensued seemingly universal opportunism of soon thereafter. authoritarians amidst crisis, and reveals that Uganda had been relatively insulated from this opportunism can be resisted. the pandemic, especially in March. The outbreak of COVID-19 traced the routes of the global economy, spreading especially in those areas of hypermobility. Uganda is a largely agrarian inland country without a On March 19, the first full day of Uganda’s large international transportation hub. COVID-19 lockdown, I ventured on foot to Currently, only less than a thousand positive my nearest trading center to stock up on COVID-19 cases have been registered to supplies for our household. The street bustle date, none of them thus far fatal. What has was lighter than usual, but not substantially been fatal, however, are the autocratic so. Supermarkets were equipped with measures imposed upon Ugandans. Pregnant washing stations, and most staff were women and the sick are dying because they can no longer reach health centers to give wearing masks. birth under professional care and treat basic A motorcycle raced by, sharply cutting off my curable illnesses like malaria. Securing the footpath. The driver slammed on the breaks proper paperwork to enable them to travel at the now non-operational minibus stop. He beyond police checkpoints to obtain and his passenger, as it turned out, were professional medical assistance is a seemingly police officers. impossible nightmare for most. As a result, it “Didn’t you guys hear the boss’ directives last is likely that more people have died from the night?” I teased while continuing on my way. harsh lockdown measures than those that “No motorcycle is to carry people — only currently test positive for COVID-19. cargo!” I got a few laughs from onlookers In the first few days of the 12-hour curfew, who overheard my lighthearted civilian Kampala’s urban poor — especially adult enforcement of Museveni’s lockdown women selling produce at public markets for decrees. But the police officers were not meager earnings — were brutalized by armed amused. forces, including at least six who were killed. When I came out of the nearby supermarket Stories surfaced that even before curfew
Armed deployment as lockdown begins
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hours, police were rounding up pedestrians, placing them together in confined spaces and releasing them only after extorting bribes. Museveni’s ban on private transportation began April 1. Most Ugandans use public transportation, which had already been restricted, but the total ban on all transportation of passengers (as opposed to cargo) ushered in a surge of existential threats. Adding insult to injury, those in need of medical services would have to get permission from their Resident District Commissioner, or RDC — the person heading districts of hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of residents — to travel to the nearest professional health facility. Otherwise, the vehicles of their transporters would be impounded at police checkpoints.
Dismantling a predatory quarantine As the COVID-19 outbreak spread globally and a few cases began popping up around East Africa, Uganda’s Ministry of Health opened a quarantine at Central Inn, a private hotel in Entebbe, three miles from the international airport. Central Inn and the Ministry of Health agreed that those under quarantine would foot their own bills — upward of $100 per day. This resulted in Ugandans and foreign nationals being bussed to Central Inn without warning and being held against their will at their own expense. An alliance of travelers and Ugandans returning home — led in part by quarantined political cartoonist Jimmy Spire Ssentongo — resisted the Ministry of Health’s neglect by sleeping in the hotel lobby. No extra beds or mosquito nets were brought to this small space for those quarantined. Clean water and meals were being sold at four times the market price. Neither armed forces patrolling the quarantine nor hotel staff were equipped with the proper personal protective equipment. The so-called quarantine became a petri dish for a COVID-19 outbreak, among other diseases. Ssentongo sent a message to Merab Ingabire — a management member at the movement support network Solidarity Uganda — requesting water. He also noted that the quarantined either could not afford private rooms or had refused them on principle, even as sickness spread without due attention from the Ministry of Health. As neighbors to the quarantine, we pitched in and brought the water and a few snacks to the gate of Central Inn. Here we were met by armed forces and a man from the Civil
Aviation Authority who asked upon seeing my white skin whether we were from the Ministry of Health. “We have come to deliver water to those quarantined here who have not been given rooms,” I explained. The man had a difficult time finding grounds to refuse this delivery and, before he could, we quickly unloaded our contributions at the gate. Ssentongo met us there, and we were then allowed to stack the items on the ground for the quarantined to bring back to their fellow residents occupying the lobby. That day, publicity about the situation at Central Inn grew. The Ministry of Health convened emergency meetings and took action to begin disbanding the mismanaged quarantine. Some support from state budgets trickled in, and the financial burden no longer solely fell upon those unfortunate enough to arrive in Uganda at the wrong time. Yet, even when the Ministry of Health finally agreed to deliver on its mandate, it did so reluctantly. Some under the 14-day quarantine were still forced to foot their own bills. In several cases, the quarantine was prolonged due to test results that had been mishandled and lost. Although several in quarantine showed no symptoms after 14 days, they were still being forced to pay room and board for an indefinite period of time so that additional tests could be administered. Soon foreign nationals started posting videos of themselves pledging a hunger strike. They refused to answer their doors, except for a health certificate allowing their exit. Using toilet paper and scrap paper, they posted demands to their doors and, after days of protests, most were eventually released. But these activists weren’t the only ones in Uganda running on empty stomachs. A hungry people in the region’s breadbasket Uganda has the most fertile land in East Africa, and farmers comprise the majority of the population. The urban poor — nearly one in every four Ugandans — have had a difficult time feeding themselves under lockdown. Museveni had threatened murder charges to any rival politicians who attempted to distribute food, while his own convoys circulated communities doing exactly this while advertising the ruling party. In solidarity with the hungry, Member of Parliament Francis Zaake openly violated presidential orders by distributing food within his Mityana constituency, resulting in his arrest and brutal torture. His grotesque wounds were declared “self-inflicted” by a Ministry of Internal Affairs report to parliament. Nonviolent acts of desperation have been waged by the hungry across the country. Sex workers are among the better organized urban poor of Uganda, and in the
northern Ugandan towns of Gulu and Lira sex workers received foodstuffs from local government leaders after threatening to reveal the identities of their clients, many of whom are government officials. Meanwhile, in Kampala, the relentless protester Nana Mwafrika held three consecutive days of arrestable public actions demanding food. Authorities eventually gave in and offered her family a supply. This triggered an outpouring of contributions from other well-wishers, which Mwafrika then redistributed to needy families. Days later, she took to the streets with activistacademic Stella Nyanzi and events promoter Andrew Mukasa, banging empty pots until their violent arrest. In addition to empty saucepans, stones are becoming another symbol of hunger across East Africa. After a Mombasa woman cooked stones for her family, another woman in Mbale, Uganda adapted this as a protest tactic at the office of her RDC. The tactic migrated from eastern to western Uganda, including communities of Kamwenge, Kyenjojo and Isingiro, where whole communities then converged for “feasts” of stones. Political history teaches us that hunger unites revolutionary forces. From the French Revolution to Sudan’s 2018 bread subsidy cuts, people power has often been fueled by those with empty stomachs. All Black Lives Matter While the George Floyd protests sparked calls to defund police departments in U.S. cities starting in early June, communities across East Africa began to protest their own police states. This was in large part due to the 20 unarmed citizens killed by armed forces in Kenya and Uganda — both recipients of U.S. funding — while enforcing so-called COVID-19 protective measures. Kaepernick-style kneeling actions took place at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi — organized jointly by members of Nairobi’s Social Justice Centers, Americans and other foreign nationals living in Kenya. These peaceful actions proposing U.S. financial sanctions on Ugandan and Kenyan police forces and militaries led to arrests in both countries, including 15 Black Lives Matter activists in Uganda at a single protest. The spirit of resistance spilled into other grievances of Ugandans affected by the pandemic. On June 10, business tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia fired the entire staff of his radio station, Sanyu FM, in response to their sit-down strike against his 25 percent paycut. The former employees retaliated by temporarily seizing control of the Sanyu FM Twitter account, threatening a lawsuit and causing embarrassment to the politicallyconnected Ruparelia, notorious for leveraging his political connections to steal land for luxury hotels. In the same week, activists in Amuru pledged to resume direct action against businessmen driving deforestation in their - 11 -
communities, despite curfews that complicate the logistics of their blockades and resource repossessions.
Finding solutions within According to famed theorist Paulo Freire, one of the best ways to begin to solve a problem is by engaging in discourse and listening to those most affected by it. Sanyu FM staff and Amuru youth are among those who have found their own solutions to their present predicaments. Museveni, on the other hand, has done the opposite. He has imposed the “social distancing” mantra of the Global North upon his own national context, where food comes more often from the garden or the market than a refrigerator in the house — even for the few who are privileged enough to own such appliances. In many congested neighborhoods, several families may share space, water sources and bathrooms. Shouting at people to keep distance from one another places responsibility (and blame) for public health upon the urban poor. Had Museveni heeded his own nation’s experience managing epidemics, he might have gleaned a lesson or two. The late physician Matthew Lukwiya guided health workers through the 2000 Ebola crisis in the middle of a war. Lukwiya convinced scared and defected professionals to return to work to save the community. At the same time, he bravely navigated the perilous bureaucracy of the Ministry of Health to pull the necessary strings ensuring adequate support was promptly rendered to victims. “Lukwiya is still celebrated for his Dr. Kinglike charisma and ability to rally people toward a vision,” said Nicolas Laing, a doctor based in Lacor where Lukwiya had served. “He did this at the expense of his own life, but completely eradicated Ebola from Uganda.” Uganda is not the only African nation to have dealt with contagious outbreaks with immense efficacy, but amidst this particular pandemic, Uganda is not exactly a shining example. Museveni’s autocratic measures are causing very real death and suffering while doing little to flatten the COVID-19 curve. As hunger, medical emergencies and brutality continue to surge, Museveni may be left with no other option than to succumb to the voices of Ugandans who offer more reasonable proposals for survival.
This piece was originally published on the Waging Nonviolence website, republished here under the CC4.0 license. Phil Wilmot is director of Solidarity Uganda, an organization that trains and helps organize East African movements for civil resistance. He researches, consults, and writes about movements throughout Africa and is also author of "A Wolf Dressed in Sheepskin:
Colombia: militarization goes viral Ramalc Colombia Convergencia de Saberes - Colectiva La Tulpa - Cuerpo ConSiente Up to now, Colombia’s response to the pandemic - the Common Enemy - has been one of a familiar nationalist and militarist rhetoric, a staunchly-upheld, militarized response that is unfolding in Colombia’s towns and cities. We want to begin this report by addressing the serious militarization taking place within the context of the pandemic, and to assert that the fight will not waver, that our resistance will only become stronger. We feel it is necessary to emphasize that our resistance will not be put on hold during confinement, that indigenous people will continue to hold out against extractivist advancements; we will put a stop to legislative actions that favour extractavist aims, which offer no assurance that the respective communities are to be notified beforehand (External agencies in Colombia have a legal obligation to attain prior consent from communities in whose lands they plan to carry out activities). The solidarity of indigenous people has grown in several forms, borne of necessity and creativity: in Bogotá, we have bore witness to the indigenous Emeberá peoples’ methods of creating networks of solidarity,
whilst living environments.
During lockdown, a commemorative Day of Conscientious Objection was organised, and an Antimilitarist Festival was celebrated on May 15th and 16th, with several different national organizations participating. This Festival marked a meaningful union among these organizations, celebrating all resistance movements struggle against militarization, and celebrating life, even as reports of deaths continued to emerge. It was a day for men and women to join together in an affirmation of our efforts to end militarism in Colombia.
Militarization during the pandemic The State of Exception, which was decreed by the Government of Colombia on the 25th March 2020, has implemented measures mainly seen during States of Emergency. The State of Exception has given Colombia’s armed forces free rein to resolve issues by way of preemptive strike against the Public Enemy: Covid-19, a biological microorganism, invisible but deadly, which, as the weapons division of the Colombian Government would understand it, is to be defeated by force. In the beginning, relief measures were limited to those of a health and safety curfew, but this quickly evolved into a military curfew. In April, the National Government issued a decree which, in addressing the pandemic, implies that - 12 -
governments and local entities collaborate with the central government and its armed forces. In this same vein, the Ministry of Defense has ordered the first-degree deployment of all its forces. Even those who choose to turn a blind eye to the effects that this epidemic has had on those who are already impacted by inequality will have noticed the red cloths that have sprung up around residents’ homes, a sad shorthand used to signal that its inhabitants are suffering from hunger and lack the basic food to survive. On May 18th, Colombia’s number of positive cases rose to 16,295, along with 592 deaths, a figure estimated as the start of the high peak of contagion in the country. It is important to clarify that the official figures are considerably smaller than the actual number of cases, given that the rise in positive cases is directly proportional to the number of tests performed, which have been “scarce”: 47,000 is an alarmingly small number of tests for a population of 49 million people. As the number of Covid-19 infections has increased, impoverished communities have faced constant xenophobic attacks as their protests, in which displaced families living in makeshift shelters decry the lack of basic rights and necessities, are put under siege. Colombia is at a boiling point; at least 19 human rights defenders and social leaders have been assassinated in Colombia as of this year, and there are 34 other deaths currently being investigated due to their Photo: Colombian soldiers on the streets of Bogotá during the pandemic. Sourced from Twitter/Colombian military
possible connection to activist causes. As the violence has gone unchecked during this health crisis, Colombia’s National Liberation Army (a left-wing guerrilla group which didn’t participate in Colombia’s peace negotiations) has declared a unilateral ceasefire and has proposed that the government reengages in talks through the La Habana delegation.
Protest suppression in the cities Protests demanding peoples’ rights have taken place in several areas throughout the country. Impoverished, working-class communities, donning red cloths, have seen their peaceful protests suppressed - protests that are a necessary call to action for a bare minimum of human rights. In Bogotá some were surprised by the local police’s attempts to raise neighborhood morale via dance classes and positive messages, broadcasted by loudspeakers - under the slogan “We are united as one”. What was not surprising was when, at the same time, the police began to evict residents from the “two-bit” homes where the poorest families reside.
Militarization and closed borders As part of the quarantine orders, military action has been mandated by several legislators in the main cities. Several departments have made the decision to close the borders and passes that lead into other areas within the countryside, solidifying this position with a military presence. In the administrative district of
Boyacá the government was called to militarize their territories and departmental borders. Other neighboring municipalities of Bogotá have followed suit (as well as in several stop-over areas), in a joint agreement to close off and militarize their communities. In mid-May, the government announced that it would be closing the border between the Amazon and Brazil. The city of Leticia was then occupied by military forces, whose soldiers have received medical attention that health professionals from the main cities’ hospitals still do not have. When they began this operation, the government announced that they “had made the decision to increase military presence at all border points and to exercise such control so as to prevent new cases from entering via the floating population.”
have had little choice but to return to Venezuela on foot. Despite the border closures, representatives from the Colombian government have been arranging the departure of migrants via humanitarian corridors, in which soldiers, who guard the countryside along the border, are allowing the reentry of Venezuelans into their country. Likewise in Bogotá, in the Santa Fe neighborhood which the trans community and a great many Venezuelan migrants call home, the streets have been militarized as a response to its inhabitants’ disobeyance of quarantine doctrines. In the city of Cali the police and the ESMAD (the Mobile AntiDisturbances Squadron) have mounted a violent attack against a homeless community situated in a working-class neighborhood.
The northern Pacific border in the department of Chocó, which is ancestrally inhabited by indigenous communities who are at risk of extermination due to multidimensional poverty levels and malaria outbreaks that remain present in the area, have been gravely affected during this pandemic. An increase in military presence in their ancestral lands has decreased tourist revenue and affected commercial trade with migrants traveling from Central America and the Caribbean.
The case been the same in Altos de la Estancia, a settlement of 350 families in a poverty-stricken sector in Bogotá, many of whom are migrants or belong to families displaced by violence, where an ongoing eviction raid has been carried out since midMay.
Migrants during confinement
As a result of the pandemic, this April 13th the government issued its Decree 541 2020, which will extend the duration of military conscription for men who would otherwise have been close to completing their service. No clear connection has been provided between this initiative, which impacts the constitutional rights of 16,241 young men, with the health crisis at hand.
Migrants have often been painted as dangerous and frequently face evictions from their places of living due to lack of work. Many of these migrants, “even those without food, babies still in their arms”, according to the DW (Deutsche Welle),
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Decree for the extension of conscripted service
The British Armed Forces are using Covid-19 to solve a recruitment crisis and to heal their damaged reputation Matt Kennard and Joe Glenton Statements by the British military since the Covid-19 crisis hit the UK show that it sees the biggest domestic crisis since World War II as an opportunity. Drawing on the army’s internal marketing strategy, the military is using the idea of “belonging” to encourage young working-class recruits into joining the armed forces.
When 99-year-old Tom Moore, a former British Army officer, became a national story after raising money for charity to help with the battle against Covid-19, the UK military wasted no time taking advantage of his popularity. “Captain Tom Moore appointed Honorary Colonel to inspire next generation of soldiers,” read the headline of an Army press release posted on 29 April 2020. Junior Soldier Ash Greenwood, aged 16, who will join 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, told the Army website: “In the army, you never walk alone.”
Senior military personnel have repeatedly used the hashtags #InThisTogether and #ThisIsBelonging to promote the military’s recruitment programme. In a tweet on 2 April 2020, which was later deleted, the Royal Logistics Corp even admitted: “The Army is committed to maximising its size during the outbreak of #coronavirus.”
“The UK Armed Forces have not undertaken additional activity to recruit personnel during the coronavirus pandemic,” an MOD spokesperson told Declassified. “Like any large organisation, there is a constant flow of personnel through the Armed Forces, so recruitment and training must continue as normal.”
Lt Col Kevin Bingham from Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command’s marketing team has celebrated the recruitment figures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Interviewed in the May issue of Soldier magazine — produced by the British Army — he said: “The numbers of people we are attracting continues to rise” before noting that the military had to “change some wording to emphasise that we are still recruiting in the current climate”.
Faced with declining public trust in the UK military, which is partly the result of failed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has also sought to recast its damaged image by positioning itself as “a force for good” in the battle against Covid-19. Comparisons to British military successes against Nazi Germany, and of British involvement in the Battle of the Somme, are being made with support from the mainstream media. The strength of the British Armed Forces in 2019 was 165,000, including 133,000 regular personnel (56% of whom are in the army), and 32,500 trained personnel in the reserves. Extra troops are not needed for responding to Covid-19: The military’s current recruitment drive seeks to address a longer-term recruitment and retention problem. The MOD told Declassified that under 6,000 reservists and military personnel have so far been deployed across Britain in the Covid19 response.
When Mike Baker became interim chief operating officer for the MOD during the Covid-19 crisis, he announced his appointment with the quote: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” From the beginning of its involvement in the battle against Covid-19, the UK military has flagged its recruitment operations. On 19 March 2020, the government announced the formation of a Covid Support Force which placed 20,000 troops on “higher readiness” to assist in the battle against Covid-19. On the same day, an Army statement announced that face-to-face recruitment was being paused. However, “Be reassured that the British Army is still recruiting,” the statement added. “The process will continue ‘virtually’ and we are working on a different way to run our assessments which avoids bringing together large groups of candidates.” Later in March, the British Army put out its first Covid-19 “update” video with the hashtag #InThisTogether. A third of the update was dedicated to recruitment. The UK military also made a number of media packages showing that its recent recruits are still training during Covid-19. The Army jobs site quickly made a “Covid19 Frequently Asked Questions” page which is now the first option under the main advert on the application page. It states at - 14 -
the top, “You can still apply to the Army” and adds: “The National Recruitment Centre is still operating, and our teams will be continuing to work to support your application.” There is also a special chat box to submit a “Covid-19 question”. An internal briefing document on the Army’s recent “This Is Belonging” recruitment campaign makes clear that it is aimed primarily at 16-to 24-year-old “C2DEs” – the lowest three social and economic groups. The UK military has long faced a recruitment problem and in 2012, the British Army sought to transform its approach by entering into a 10-year, £495million agreement with Capita, the UK’s biggest outsourcing company. However, it has not recruited the required number of regulars and reserves in any year since the contract began. A parliamentary report in 2019 labelled Capita’s efforts “abysmal”. In 2019, the Army was 9% short of its target. Major General Paul Nanson, who heads Army recruitment, said the month before the Covid-19 crisis hit that it was “going to take years” to get back to the levels needed. Labour’s then shadow defence minister Nia Griffiths said in 2018 that the UK military was in the middle of a “crisis in recruitment and retention”. In the year to November 2019, some 15,120 British soldiers reportedly quit. Former Major James Dunning noted: “It is obvious commanders will struggle to mount a major intervention operation.” The size of Britain’s armed forces has fallen for the last nine consecutive years. But, according to one British Army newsletter from 2019, there was reason for hope. “Clearly our key messaging is resonating with the public, but there is still much to do, and we must continue to promote the Armed Forces as a career of first choice,” it noted. The Army recently claimed it was on course to reach its targets for recruitment for the year ending 31 March 2020. The MOD told Declassified that more than 100,000 people have applied to join the Army since April 2019, an increase of 5% over the previous year. However, a National Audit Office report in 2018 found: “The Army must … manage the number of serving soldiers and officers it
retains, and ensure a constant flow of new recruits to replace those who leave or retire from service. Unless it does so, its ability to meet operational demands and adapt to meet new threats will come under increasing strain.” The report added that “an improving UK economy with historically low levels of unemployment; a shrinking recruitment target population that is less likely to commit to a long-term career in the Armed Forces; and a public perception that the Army is reducing in size and is nonoperational, making it less attractive to join.”
‘Your Nation Needs You’ Perhaps an even bigger problem than recruitment is “retention”, or the rate at which soldiers are leaving the military before the end of their contracts. It was in this context that in early April the UK military began a new Covid-19-inspired programme to recruit back personnel who had recently left the Army. The programme is aimed at any former soldier under the age of 57, who has left in the past three years and was designated medically deployable on retirement. Those who sign up can be back in the military within four weeks. “Rejoiners: Your Nation Needs You” reads the Army’s advert for the programme, echoing the infamous Lord Kitchner recruitment advert during World War I.
The advert specifically alludes to the military’s involvement in the Covid-19 response. “Rejoin now to help the Army provide essential services to the Nation.” It then uses the instability of the economy to encourage people to rejoin, echoing the Army’s internal analysis that its target demographic for recruitment is usually “money-driven”: “Rejoin now and secure financial and employment stability for you and your family during these challenging times,” the advert advises.
the best kind of friends, you work together so well, it’s a whole other world. When you leave you miss the people and the banter.” The story was regurgitated across various major UK media.
As the programme was launched, Major General Matt Holmes, commander of the Royal Marines, tweeted: “‘Once a Marine, always a Marine.’ Interested in rejoining @RoyalMarines to serve your Country in time of need? Job security, good oppos and Future Commando Force ahead. Then step up once more Royal, and click this link.”
Earlier in April 2020, the Conservative MP and minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, tweeted his hope that former personnel would consider rejoining the military. “Hopefully people will respond not just to fight Covid but because Armed Forces continues to be an awesome career choice!” he wrote.
General Holmes was retweeted by TV celebrity Bear Grylls, who added a message for his 1.5 million followers: “If you’re a former Commando check this out… @RoyalMarines The Corps needs you …”
Heappey followed up with a second tweet: “Lots of interest in my tweet earlier about re-joining the Armed Forces. Here are the links for doing so,” before giving the sign up page for the three branches of the military.
On 24 April 2020, the Royal Navy put out a press release, complete with nine photos, about Jordan Holland, who had spent eight years as a medical assistant in the Navy. She had left to become a full-time artist. “The 29-year-old decided to sign back on as medical assistant and join the collective fight against Covid-19,” the Navy wrote.
An MOD spokesperson told Declassified: “There has recently been an increased interest in ex-military wishing to re-join the services, [so] we have taken steps to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible.”
Holland also gave her own quote: “I have always and still do love the Navy. You make - 15 -
A week later, the Navy advertised for a medical assistant, claiming it’s a “career that’s packed with variety and adventure”. The tweet was marked as an advert indicating the Navy had paid to promote it. The job description was tagged “humanitarian aid” and “adventure”.
But military personnel have made constant references to the fact the Army is still recruiting, as outlined in the Army’s internal recruitment strategy — and used the Covid19 response to make the point.
Nick McKenzie, assistant director of Army Recruiting, tweeted on 26 April a picture of a British soldier with the words “Confidence that lasts a lifetime. Can take on even invisible enemies”, emblazoned across it. He added the hashtags #stillrecruiting and #ArmyConfidence to his tweet. He was retweeted by the Army Jobs account and Major General Neil Sexton. Cath Possamai, chief executive of Army Recruiting Group, tweeted the day after, again using Covid-19 to push for recruits: “We are still recruiting. Our current situation has shown just how broad the @BritishArmy’s role can be, operating seamlessly in humanitarian support with the NHS and other public services.” The image accompanying the tweet was another picture of a British soldier, with the words: “Confidence that lasts a lifetime. It’s found when the world shuts down.” Possamai added the hashtags #thisisbelonging and #inthistogether to her tweet.
east London — never had more than 109 soldiers on site. The military has also delivered some personal protective equipment to hospitals and administered Covid-19 tests around the country, although it is unclear why it is performing this function. The military sees its involvement in the Covid-19 response as a way to repair some of the damage to its reputation incurred from the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March 2003, 83% of British people said they trusted the UK military to tell the truth about what was happening in Iraq. The level of trust has dropped to 60% today. The popular verdict on these wars was also poor, with roughly half of people surveyed saying they have made the country less safe, versus only a fraction believing the opposite.
Recasting its damaged image, the MOD wrote early on of itself as “a force for good” in the battle against Covid-19. Allusions to British military successes such as the battle against Nazi Germany have been constantly made.
The UK military became involved in the battle against Covid-19 in mid-March through two operations as part of the Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA) arrangement, which has previously been enacted after terrorist attacks and flooding. Operation Broadshare describes the effort to control the spread of Covid-19 in British overseas territories and military operations, while Operation Rescript oversees attempts to combat Covid-19 within the UK.
In the May 2020 edition of Soldier magazine, a column by Mark CarletonSmith, the Chief of the General Staff for the UK military, is entitled “The new frontline”. Beginning with a reference to Winston Churchill’s radio address announcing the defeat of Nazi Germany 75 years ago, Carleton-Smith writes that “our country finds itself locked in a struggle with another adversary”. He concludes: “This crisis has shown the Army at its best.”
Although the government has placed 20,000 troops on “higher readiness” and reserve soldiers, sailors, and airmen have also received a Call Out Order, it is unlikely that anywhere near the 20,000 troops have been used in the response to Covid-19.
‘It was for publicity’
The MOD has said 150 military personnel were made available to the NHS for driving oxygen tankers, while the military’s main contribution — building the NHS Nightingale hospital at the ExCel Centre in
On 29 March, Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph which outlined the military’s integral role in the response. “In times like these our military contributes unique skills
The UK military has also tried to ride on the outpouring of goodwill for the NHS and other key workers.
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in medical care, but also logistics, forward planning, command and control,” he wrote. Brigadier Phil Prosser of the Royal Logistic Corps argued that “the British army soldier is a citizen soldier and is proud to be part of the response”. On 1 April, a host of major media outlets carried stories with headlines comparing the UK military efforts to build the Nightingale hospital to the Battle of the Somme. The source was Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, who said: “My grandfather was at the Somme. This is no different. I’m just at a different battle.” Comparing the mission to his time in Afghanistan and Iraq, Colonel Boreham said: “The difference here is that it is at scale.” He went on: “The challenges are the same, the threats are in a different way. It is more that the threat is one we can’t see.” The 54-yearold added: “It’s the biggest job I’ve ever done. But I’ve spent 27 years on a journey to this moment.” None of the media reports noted that UK military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to serious and ongoing societal breakdown in both countries, despite the fact these operations fit much more neatly within the military’s specialisms than the current domestic crisis. Instead, photojournalists were let in to capture the troops screwing and bolting the new facility, which aimed to house 4,000 patients. Three weeks later, it was reported that the facility had to turn patients away because of staff shortages and was being “wound down”, having been barely used. A civilian source involved in constructing NHS Nightingale told Declassified: “I was there from day one of building the facility. The military’s presence had absolutely no bearing on the time-scale of completion.” The source added: “The military were actually not significantly involved in the construction. They were not needed. It was for publicity.”
Open letter on COVID-19 and humanitarian disarmament In this edition of the Broken Rifle, we are including a joint letter by multiple organisations from around the world calling for humanitarian disarmament. In July, more than 155 organisations signed a joint letter calling for humanitarian disarmament for an improved post-pandemic world. In the letter, the organisations call on states, international organizations, and civil society to follow the lead of humanitarian disarmament in creating the “new normal.” You can read the letter below. To see the full list of signatories, see here: https://humanitariandisarmament.org/cov id-19-2/open-letter-on-covid-andhumanitarian-disarmament/ The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy human and economic toll and shattered lives in many countries. The pandemic has also underscored that global solutions should be used to address global problems, in the current crisis and after it ends. Now is the moment to reflect on the world as it is and consider a better alternative for the future. A “new normal” should go beyond the field of public health to deal with other matters of ongoing international concern, including the humanitarian consequences of arms and armed conflict as well as peace and security more broadly.
the allocation of resources to advance human security. COVID-19 has caused people to take a fresh look at states’ budgetary choices. To prevent armsinflicted harm, governments and industry should stop investing in unacceptable weapons as well as strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of weapons and ensure arms transfers comply with international law. The money spent on nuclear arsenals and other military expenses could be better used for humanitarian purposes, such as health care or social spending. To remediate harm, governments should redirect money to programs that assist victims, restore infrastructure, clear explosive ordnance, and clean up conflictrelated pollution. Funding the multilateral institutions that set standards on these topics and ensure their implementation would also advance humanitarian disarmament’s goals.
Humanitarian disarmament, an approach to governing weapons that puts people first, can help lead the way to an improved postpandemic world. Humanitarian disarmament seeks to prevent and remediate arms-inflicted human suffering and environmental damage through the establishment and implementation of norms. Originating in the mid-1990s, it has generated four international treaties, been recognized with two Nobel Peace Prizes, and inspired ongoing efforts to reduce other arms-related harm.
The principles of inclusion and nondiscrimination, which are fundamental to humanitarian disarmament, should inform measures to address the inequalities that COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated. The pandemic has increased the challenges faced by conflict survivors and other persons with disabilities due to the vulnerability of certain groups, their inability to access health care and basic necessities, and restrictions on aid workers. A humanitarian disarmament response would ensure that such inequality and marginalization do not become entrenched. It would also promote more sensitive programs than existed before. States and humanitarian actors should broaden efforts to involve affected individuals and diverse populations in decision-making, gather data disaggregated by gender, age, disability, and ethnicity, and deliver assistance in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Humanitarian disarmament’s twin pillars of prevention and remediation should guide
Inclusivity and accessibility should underpin diplomacy as it emerges from its current
digital state. Since the pandemic led to a global lockdown, in-person disarmament meetings have been canceled, postponed, or held digitally. While face-to-face meetings have important advantages, once they resume, the international community could increase inclusivity and accessibility by permitting meaningful online participation at multilateral meetings. Individuals, including survivors and other persons with disabilities, who are unable to travel due to lack of funding or visa restrictions, could add their voices to critical discussions about setting and operationalizing norms. Finally, international cooperation should become a standard way to address global issues, as it is in humanitarian disarmament. Humanitarian disarmament treaties, which mandate international coordination, information exchange, and resource sharing, offer models of cooperation. States should adopt a cooperative approach to addressing the human and environmental harm inflicted by arms and increase their assistance to affected states. Such a cooperative mindset, reinforced by the pandemic experience, should carry over to other multilateral efforts to create, implement, and adapt international norms. As the world transitions to a post-pandemic reality, we call on states, international organizations, and civil society to follow humanitarian disarmament’s lead. The international community should prioritize human security, reallocate military spending to humanitarian causes, work to eliminate inequalities, ensure multilateral fora incorporate diverse voices, and bring a cooperative mindset to problems of practice and policy. Together we can reshape the security landscape for the future and help create a new—and improved—“normal.”
News from the WRI network
Webinar on conscientious objection and asylum This May, following International Conscientious Objection Day, WRI hosted a webinar on conscientious objection and asylum with contributions by campaigners from Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) and Connection e.V.. The presentations from this webinar are now available on the Refuse to Kill youtube channel.
In her presentation, Laurel Townhead from QUNO explains how to use the UN system in supporting conscientious objectors who are seeking asylum. Rudi Friedrich from Connection e.V. (based in Germany), was another contributor to our webinar. Rudi Friedrich has been - 17 -
counselling and supporting conscientious objectors and deserters seeking asylum in Germany for about 30 years. In his presentation, he shares his experiences with examples from the past. You can watch Laurel's and Rudi's presentations on the WRI website: https://wri-irg.org/node/42161
Brazilian militarism and the crisis of imperial white patriarchal federalism in the coronavirus pandemic Guilherme Falleiros Brazil could have followed the path of several Latin countries in combating the covid-19 pandemic: the use of force. Our government rushed to put the army on the streets to prevent the outbreak of popular protests during the last men's World Cup in 2014, yet the armed forces continued to be the nation's most trusted institution, according to opinion polls in 2019. The current government, democratically elected in 2018, has a cabinet almost entirely made up of military personnel, including even the Ministry of Health and its bureaucrats. But there are no troops to enforce the quarantine on the national territory during the covid-19 pandemic. What is happening in the country is a worsened version of United States policy, with some peculiarities. With 100,000 coronavirus deaths (underreported), approximately 0.05% of the Brazilian population, the president continues to treat covid-19 as a "little crack", demanding that economic activities continue with "normality" but granting more than a trillion reais (US$186bn) to the banks and guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the right to quickly dismiss workers. This government vetoes investments in health, especially in indigenous health, while investing heavily in chloroquine production via the Army itself. Its position on such a drug is similar to that of a few governments in the world, such as Venezuela and the USA, both of which are militarist. Though the USA has recently moved to accept recommendations about the dangers of chloroquine, they have made a large donation of the drug to Brazil, treating our country almost like a hospital garbage dump. To complete this debacle, the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, said that he had contracted the coronavirus and was being treated with chloroquine. Since Brazil is a federal republic, the president is trying to force the governments of the states of the federation to accept the stock of this drug. Bolsonara offered a small amount of R$ 600 (US$ 100) per month to the lower classes for one or two members of the same family, who have struggled trying to get the payment, often without success. His rejection of the World Health Organization's
recommendations was supported by the military junta, although the general who commands the Army declared that fighting today's pandemic "is perhaps the most important mission of our generation”. Faced with the escalation of deaths - the second largest in the world in absolute numbers by June 2020 - the vast majority of state governments rebelled against the central government in the first months of the pandemic and proposed stricter forms of quarantine. However, half the population continued to agree with the central government position, and boycotted local quarantines. In addition, employers forced a large part of their workforce to go to work, and without being able to increase labour rights, in the face of the apathy of the official unions, the people came to demand a greater presence of the repressive state apparatus. Within the mindsets of people there is both authoritarianism and irresponsibility. There was a timid mobilization against this authoritarianism. While a part of the US population took to the streets against racist genocide and fascism (a struggle that spread to Europe), in Brazil peaceful demonstrations against racism and in defense of democracy were promoted. Unlike in the USA, in Brazil, no temporary autonomous zones were created, police stations were not burned down, and no attempt was made to destroy the symbols of whiteness. The naïve defense of democracy forgets that the current president was elected after a campaign that preached authoritarian values. The national congress, also democratically elected, now makes political manoeuvres with the president in exchange for favours. Apart from that, one of the most exploited professions during the pandemic, the delivery workers, strike and come together nationally and internationally, uniting new Brazilian and Latin American organizations, but we are still far from a general strike against the pandemic genocide. Covid-19 emerged here as a political dispute: a conflict of "narratives" and "ideologies". It follows the paternalistic scheme that divided Brazil between two majorities: Lula's puppies, who were for tougher state measures, and Bolsonaro's puppies, who supported non-interventionist neoliberal policies. This follows a similar approach to by the military dictatorship - 18 -
(1964-1985), that aims to eradicate "communism," "cultural Marxism," and "gender ideology”. The president's supporters attack the funding of science and education, and consider the public university a "communist" haven. They also attack the relationship with China, one of the most important capitalist partners of a de-industrialized Brazil, which has been long reduced to a soybean exporter. Thus the government lost the support of Chinese capitalism as a provider of technology (including medical technology) and damaged the exports of one of the main sectors of its base: agribusiness, paradoxically losing allies to the right. It won the opposition of state governors and former members of the government itself, with the departure of the Minister of Justice in April 2020, the main person responsible for Lula's arrest. To try to contain this division on the right, the federal government expanded its dealings with groups in the Brazilian parliament. These three points - scientific denial, opposition to China, and conflict between state and federal governments - align current Brazilian policy with its great imperial model, the U.S. This is not by chance. As pacifist geographer Élisée Reclus demonstrated, in contrast to the decentralized federalism advocated by Pierre Joseph-Proudhon of whom Reclus was a follower, centralized federalism in the US and Brazil was conceived by the alliance between the provincial white patriarchal elites, who joined forces to maintain the central government and wage war against the repressed populations, the Amerindians, blacks, and the poor in general. This situation is similar to the "war of races" studied by the philosopher Michel Foucault, whose reflections influenced the concept of "necropolitics" of the political scientist Achille Mbembe: if biopolitics, according to Foucault, is the government of life then necropolitics, according to Mbembe, is the choice between those who live and, mainly, those who die. I suggest that the current global pandemic has shaken this state of affairs that made the US a global empire and Brazil a regional empire based on centralized federalism, as well as exposing the rupture between politics and life. The elections of Trump and Bolsonaro were a reaction to the limits of the more "leftist" and slightly less patriarchal white governments, such as those of Obama and
Dilma Rousseff. The latter, however, were unable to break with the elites and promote the full inclusion of subordinate strata. However, Trump and Bolsonaro are at a point where the epistemological bases that brought them to power are no longer compatible: racism, male supremacy, and sexual determinism no longer have a scientific basis. But their consequent denial of science ends up putting at risk the lives of sections of white patriarchy they should be defending, such as doctors. Necropoliticians cannot easily control the coronavirus; the European poles of whiteness have been shaken by a pandemic that has spread from there to the Americas. Some white patriarchs, such as the governor of New York State or the governor of São Paulo State, do not consider themselves represented by the central government of their countries. The most peripheral, black and immigrant strata are the ones most affected by the pandemic, but the middle, upper and whiter classes are also contaminated. If the governor of São Paulo could say, in order to be elected, that the state police should shoot to kill (understanding black and peripheral people as their preferred target), the virus is not as obedient as a voter or a gendarme. This may explain the large increase in the number of people killed by the police during the pandemic, especially in São Paulo: proving that it has more power than the virus. The government of São Paulo was dissuaded from using its police as a force to
combat the pandemic by controlling social isolation on the streets, given its officers' support for the position of the president of the republic. In other places, such as Rio de Janeiro, mafia-like paramilitary militias aligned with presidential opinion are forcibly contributing to the end of the quarantine. Even so, in regions far from urban centres, such as the Amazon, the presence of the Army led, through contaminated soldiers, to viral infection of riverine, quilombola, and indigenous peoples. The federal government hasn’t assisted the indigenous population, and they have become the main victims of covid-19. After much social pressure, the government began a show of "sanitary" military operations in the indigenous territories, generating suspicion and denial from the Amerindian population. Thus, faced with the crisis of its power, the white patriarchy reinforces its genocidal war, exposing itself to risk. However, it is in the international arena where its defeat becomes apparent. The pandemic has demonstrated the "physical" bases of international capitalism: the production of solid goods. This production was marginalized by the virtual economy and the "liquid" services, developed in the original Euro-American capitalist centres. Modernity was culturally appropriated by China as a hybrid imperial warfare weapon. The global clash of the coronavirus only crowned a power that "The Land in the Middle" already had. The fact that China was the centre of diffusion of the
covid-19 says less about a supposed biological weapon than about this country's role in capitalism today: the commodityproducing pole on which the globe depends. In the face of this change, countries like the U.S. and Brazil are losing the imperial power they used to have. If empire is in the details, as the anthropologist Catherine Lutz would say, China's title in the global power games may not mean the final defeat of the white patriarchy. Nor is it the end of the patriarchy itself, as China does not usually stand out for fighting against male chauvinism. However, it is an indication that politics, as a continuation of the art of war, is increasingly being fought by indirect but no less authoritarian means, using the technologies of information control and surveillance of the population (such as 5G) exported by China to the world. In this type of indirect martial art, China has millennial mastery. Brazil seems to be further and further from possession of the ball that maintained its football art, or even from the old prestige of its international diplomacy, living through the biggest shame in its republican history.
Arms trade news
UK resumes arms sales to Saudi Arabia The British government has announced it will resume issuing export licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a year the Court of Appeal ruled that they had acted unlawfully when licensing the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen. The Court found they government had not assessed whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. The Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. The announcement was made via a
written statement by Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, and said that the government believes that any breaches of international humanitarian law were "isolated incidents", despite hundreds of documented cases of the targetting of residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings, and agricultural land and facilities. Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition, the
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British government has licensed at least £5.3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Campaign Against Arms Trade, a WRI affiliate who brought the original case against the government believes the figure could be far greater because many bombs and missiles are licensed via the Open Licence system, which allows companies to export an unlimited number of certain items within a certain time frame. This story appeared in War Profiteers News. To subscribe, visit: www.wriirg.org/subscribe
War Profiteer of the Month: PepperBall Our War Profiteer of the Month series features in our War Profiteers News publication. United Tactical Systems is a US company that specialises in the manufacturer of “less lethal” weapons sold primarily to police and security services around the world, as well as prisons, private security and individuals under the brand name “PepperBall”. The company’s weapons have most recently been observed being used by US federal agents against protesters in Portland, but the company - based in California - claims its weapons are used by over 5000 police and security agencies around the world. United Tactical Systems was incorporated in 2014, employs 120 people and revenue has been estimated at $19.47 million. PepperBall products have recently been used extensively against Black Lives Matter protesters in the USA, and against democracy activists in Hong Kong, and have also been purchased by police departments in: Malaysia by the Federal Reserve Unit, “a riot control force and a paramilitary special response team”; India, where the police in Delhi are considering a range of PepperBall products; Turkey, where officers have been photographed carrying the TAC 700 PepperBall gun; and in Australia, with media sources from 2018 declaring that the weapons had now “come to Melbourne”. While the PepperBall website emphasises the potential for the weapon to be used as an alternative to lethal force, and promotes media stories of such uses of its equipment, PepperBall weapons are used regularly to disperse large crowds of protesters. The company has exhibited at a number of arms fairs and expos around the world: at DSEI in London; the International Association of Chiefs of Police event in Orlando; the “ShotShow”, Las Vegas; and MiliPol in Paris, an event specialising in equipment for police forces.
Weapons The company produces a range of different weapons (referred to as “launchers” on their
website), which all fire one or both types of the company’s projectiles, loaded with their “proprietary chemical irritant”. Weapons include the FTC, (“full tactical carbine”) the TCP (“tactical combat pistol”). The FTC weapon is based on the AR-15, a widely used semi-automatic assault rifle. The company argues that this means "many agencies and departments find it easy to use and simple to integrate into their existing training regime". The “projectiles” marketed on the PepperBall website come in two versions; a standard round ball, and a long range "XVR", which can be fired up to 150 feet. Both the standard balls and the XVR range come in a variety of options, containing different gases, irritants, marking paints and liquids. A "glass breaker" solid polymer option is also available. Images on twitter show evidence of PepperBalls being fired as white marks on the floor where the ball has hit the floor and exploded. The company has also produced a range of weapons designed for “personal protection”. The LifeLite combines a torch and a fiveshot PepperBall launcher in a hand held device with a 60 foot range and a laser sight. The weapon has been designed to be “openly carried during every day activities”, with the promotional video featuring a person walking their dog while using the torch. In 2017 the company announced they were developing a drone, capable of conducting surveillance as well as deploying "over two pounds of PepperBall LiveX" from the air. The announcement was made as part of a blog post about the company participating in a "mock prison riot" event, but there is little information elsewhere.
Hong Kong Police officers and members of the security service have been repeatedly photographed and filmed using PepperBall weapons against protesters voicing dissent against the immigration bill, including against journalists and at very close range. For - 20 -
example, footage published on the Hong Kong Free Press youtube channel (from 2:03) on 2nd July 2020 shows a police officer aiming a weapon marked PepperBall that appears to be a PepperBall FTC. In other images police officers were photographed pointing PepperBall weapons at very close range towards apparently unarmed, stationery protesters taking photographs and in shopping malls.
USA PepperBall weapons have been used extensively against the recent Black Lives Matter protests, with media sources regularly posting images of police and security officers brandishing the distinctive weapons. Some police departments have also requested funds from local governments to replenish stocks. For example, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department requested $30,000 from the local county commissions - including $15,815 worth of PepperBall products such as FTC launchers, projectiles and air tanks following the recent protests. PepperBall weapons have also been used while responding to large crowds of students on the University of Massachussetts Amherst campus, with one student accusing police of firing the weapon at close range to stop him filming. In Portland and elsewhere, federal agents have been photographed holding and firing PepperBall weapons at protesters, while dressed in full military camouflage gear and gas masks. The company’s VKS weapon, which is based heavily on the M-4 semi-automic rifle, has also been recently purchased by the US military, for use by the military in Afghanistan. The US military has recently purchased 267 VKS carbine weapons – which are based heavily on the M-4 semiautomic rifle used by the military, and capable 20 pepperballs per second – for use against protesters as a “less lethal” alternative to live ammunition.
COVID-19: divest, demilitarise, and disarm Ray Acheson $1,917,000,000,000. Or $1.9 trillion. Any way you write it, that’s a lot of money. All of which has been spent on militarism: on weapons production and development, on soldiers, on wars, on bases, on command and support systems, on repression. This number, released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, constitutes a 3.6 per cent increase from 2018, which is the largest annual growth in spending since 2010. We are spending more on militarism and weapons and pretending it brings security when we know people are fleeing from relentless bombing of their towns and cities, when we know the devastating radioactive violence of nuclear weapons lasts for generations, when we know that domestic violence victims are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner if there is a gun in the home, when we know that armed drones have killed thousands of civilians indiscriminately, when we know that the socalled threats that all this militarism is supposed to prevent just leads to more and more violence. “Violence makes violence, makes nothing much at all.” – Jesse Custer, Preacher
Myths and material reality Yet the culture of militarism runs deep and holds fast. 105 years ago, WILPF’s founders saw that those who manufactured weapons were at the heart of a grave, deeply gendered racket, in which myths such as
“security through violence” and “peace through war” are peddled in order to justify ever-increasing extravagant military budgets and profits. Its embeddedness in our culture is why, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the military-industrial complex has done so well for itself. In many countries, arms producers have been deemed essential services. Boeing, a major military contractor, successfully pushed for billions in aid to the arms industry in the $2 trillion US stimulus bill. Part of the triumph of the military industry in the United States is due to the revolving door between arms contractors and the government. The industry also portrays itself as a great employer, from soldiering to weapons manufacturing to base building—even though as veterans and economists have pointed out, this is not the case. The jobs argument just does not hold water. But the profits for these companies certainly does. About 90 per cent of Lockheed Martin’s budget, for example, comes from the US government—or rather, from US taxpayers. Its CEO earns between $21 and 34 million per year. These corporations also profit from the international arms trade—which, despite the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, has also continued unabated during the pandemic. In Libya, for example, where several actors have called for a ceasefire, in particular during Ramadan, and where there is an official UN arms embargo in place, fighting has not only intensified but it has turned into what the UN acting special envoy called “an experimental field - 21 -
for all types of new weapons systems” due to arms shipments from supporters of the warring parties. As noted in a previous blog, governments are also experimenting with new technologies of violence, surveillance, and repression during the pandemic, risking violation of human rights now and in the future. The military contractors involved in the development of these technologies include many of the usual suspects but also involve a growing number of tech firms including Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and many more. It’s important to note here that Amazon, which is suing the US government over not choosing it for its military cloud computing contract, has profited wildly from the coronavirus. At least, its CEO has. Jeff Bezos’ net worth has increased by $24 billion during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Amazon workers are striking because the company has not provided them with proper protective gear or been transparent about the number of positive cases in its facilities. Amazon is also using surveillance technology to identify union organising activities at its Whole Foods facilities. This a prime example of various strands of militarism, capitalism, and repression coming together to exploit moments of crisis for the personal gain of those at the very top of the money chain.
Making more than violence Despite the stranglehold that militarism and its material realities seem to have over our Photo: Type M88 tanks. Source: Wikimedia, used under a CC4.0 license
politics and economics, this pandemic is starting to create some cracks and shifts in the official narrative. This week in New York, for example, where doctors and nurses are wearing raincoats and bandanas instead of proper protective gear, the military did a fly-over with their $20 million jets to “thank” front-line medical workers, additionally wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars of fuel. New Yorkers were not impressed. Around the world, people are starting to ask, how could our governments have been so unprepared for this crisis? They are looking at where their tax dollars have been going, towards weapons, war, and militarised “security”. They are asking, what else could this money have been spent on? The Global Campaign on Military Spending has shown that one F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft could pay for 3244 intensive care unit beds, or that one submarine could pay for over 9000 fully-equipped ambulances. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has shown that a years’ worth of current investments in nuclear weapons in each country that has them could pay for hundreds of thousands of medical workers, ventilators, protective gear, and more. We know that more jobs could be created through investments in a Green New Deal and a Red Deal than are currently created by military spending, and that such investments would help us mitigate the climate crisis and improve the lives of billions of people and everyone else living on our planet. So what do we need to do shift our culture and economics away from militarism and towards peace, solidarity, and social wellbeing?
Cut military spending now We can start by cutting military spending. Mikhail Gorbachev, former premier of the
Soviet Union, has called for an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly to revise the “entire global agenda,” including by committing states to cut military spending by 10–15 per cent. WILPF welcomes this call. But we also do not believe that a 15 per cent cut in military spending gets us to where we need to be. Fifteen per cent of $1.9 trillion is $285 billion. Yes, that is a lot of money! It could be put to immediate good use on multiple fronts, from health care to employment and wages to housing to education to food and shelter, during this crisis and beyond. But when we consider that the United States alone spent $732 billion last year on militarism, or when we consider that the nuclear weapon maintenance and modernisation programmes are going to cost over $1 trillion, or when we consider the annual costs of operating foreign military bases or the single unit prices of jet fighters, battle tanks, and submarines, we can clearly see a much greater cut is not only possible but absolutely necessary.
Disarm and demilitarise To achieve this, the UN General Assembly needs to take additional actions, including taking over implementation of Article 26 of the UN Charter. This article gives the UN Security Council and the (now-defunct) Military Staff Committee the responsibility for creating a plan for regulating armaments and reducing military spending. These bodies have completely reneged on this responsibility. The UN General Assembly should take it up and negotiate a concrete programme for military divestment, demilitarisation, and disarmament. The UN General Assembly has already negotiated and adopted the international Arms Trade Treaty, which is a good first step. But as a tool that is supposed to prevent arms transfers that lead to human
suffering, it has not lived up to its promise or potential. Much more is needed. Because many of the ATT’s champions are major arms producers and exporters, the Treaty has been used since its adoption as a tool to legitimise their production of and profits from weapons. While beneficial to certain governments and corporations, it has meant that people around the world continue to die from bombs and bullets on a daily basis. We need an international system that deals directly with the production of weapons, as well as their sale, trade, trafficking, and with war profiteering. We need a programme for general and complete disarmament, building on the prohibitions, divestments, and elimination of specific weapon systems that we already have, taking the economic and political incentives out of arms manufacturing. As part of this project of disarmament, divestment, and demilitarisation, we need to consider how to hold states to account for their commitments. Interim measures could include, for example, the establishment of an international monitoring body to track investments in weapons production and purchase, profits from sale and trade, with the objective of imposing taxes or other penalties for crossing agreed thresholds. The funds from this system of taxation could be deployed to assist with disarmament programmes, to retool arms production facilitates to other socially progressive purposes, and for disarmament and demilitarisation education. The role that bilateral and multilateral development assistance, as well as international financial institutions (IFIs), must be examined as to whether they are incentivising or directly contributing to increases in military spending. The US government, for example, stipulates that recipients of its “foreign aid” must use part of the funds to purchase military equipment
Arms trade news
Bolivian government accused of $2m tear gas overpayment to US intermediary The Bolivian government has been accused of using a US intermediary to source millions of dollars worth of tear gas, at a price significantly exceeding the original quote. A report on the television programme "Detrás de la Verdad" (Behind the Truth) - denied by the government as a “false story” as part of a “political war” - alleged that on 25th November 2019, the Government Ministry requested a quote from the Brazilian company Condor, which produces a wide range of tear gas and other chemical
weapons used by police forces around the world. The next day, the same ministry sent another letter to the company, indicating that the order would now be made through the US intermediary company Bravo Tactical Solutions LLC. The final purchase was made via Bravo Tactical Solutions, with the contract signed by the Bolivian Defense Minister, Luis Fernando López Julio, for US$5.649.137,64. According to the https://www.opinion.com.bo website, the - 22 -
premium paid to Bravo Tactical Solutions was over $2 million, and highlights a close personal relationship between the person who signed the contract at Bravo Tactical Solutions and Arturo Murillo, the Bolivian Minister of Government. Condor Non-Lethal Technologies is a Brazilian company, specialising in tear gas, pepper spray, stun guns, rubber bullets, smoke grenades, impact grenades and pyrotechnics.
or training. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, parts of the funding made available by European Union for the country’s response to the increase in migration flows have gone into purchasing surveillance and other equipment for the police forces. Indirectly, conditionalities attached to IFI loans and grants that inter alia require privatisations, weakening of labour laws, and cuts in public spending, lead to increasing inequality and poverty. This often prompts governments to spend more on militarism, including by equipping police forces with army-grade weapons, to better protect private interests and resist opposition. These entities should be actively fostering policies for demilitarisation and disarmament, not increasing the availability of weapons and the risks of repression, violence, and war. Self-evidently, the UN Security Council cannot maintain its current mandate of making executive decisions on matters of international peace and security when its five permanent members, each of which has a veto over every resolution and decision, all profit massively from international arms trafficking and the violence it facilitates in conflicts around the world. Outside of the UN Security Council, various UN bodies have in the past undertaken serious efforts to reduce military spending. In 1959 the UN General Assembly reached consensus on the objective of general and complete disarmament, which prompted several efforts for disarmament, divestment, and demilitarisation within the UN system. Essentially none of this work is ongoing now. Routine resolutions are adopted every year at the UN General Assembly about disarmament and development and about transparency in armaments, and mechanisms such as the UN Register of Conventional Weapons and Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures continue to exist. But the momentum and energy have dissipated. This work should be resurrected and recharged.
Deconstruct power and recentre reality The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs is attempting to spark some interest, with its release last year of a paper providing a historical overview of past efforts, followed this year by the publication of a volume of activist perspectives on military spending. This new publication includes a chapter from WILPF on feminist perspectives on military spending, in which we argue that military spending has consequences for ordering our societies and international relations and has thus far condemned us to live within systems of violence and exploitation. We highlight that the harms caused by militarism are levelled disproportionately by and against men in the immediate term, but are inflicted
differentially and devastatingly upon those who have the least to do with creating this system: including women, Indigenous groups, LGBTQ+ people, ethnic and religious minorities, the poor and disenfranchised. Such populations tend to have no or little role in shaping the discourse on military spending, let alone establishing the limits or creating the budgets. From this context, we reiterate WILPF’s call from 1915 for an end to the privatisation of military production and for outlawing the influence of corporate interest over national policies that undermine disarmament and preclude a rational analysis of weapons and war. We need to centre instead those whose lives have been harmed by the weaponisation of our world; centring a feminist practice and policy that exposes the dominant militaristic narrative as a perspective, not the only credible perspective; and dismantling systems that privilege the militarised voices in our midst. This project of deconstructing and reconstructing power also means we need to deal with violent masculinities. Not only does the construct of militarised masculinity, as described previously, limit our ability to see past militarism as solution and saviour to all of our problems even while it is the cause of those problems, but it also portrays disarmament or conceptions of human security as “effeminate” and weak. Those perpetuating the dominant systems of thought posit that proponents of alternatives to militarism are emotional, unrealistic, and irrational. As the argument goes, there will always be those who want the capacity to wield power through violence; therefore, the “rational” actors need to retain the weapons for protection against the irrational others. This attitude not only undermines disarmament and reductions of military spending, but also perpetuates a social acceptance of human beings as expendable, in stark contrast to the principles that form the bedrock of human rights law.
Take an integrated approach This work also requires better integration and coordination among UN and other international mechanisms, including those related to disarmament, human rights, and women, peace, and security. For many years, WILPF has been amplifying the voices of women from around the world whose rights and security have been negatively impacted by the arms trade and the use of weapons in conflict, post-conflict, and in times of “peace”. We have made submissions about arms production and trade to human rights bodies and have talked about women’s rights in disarmament forums. Some governments and elements of the UN system are taking a more integrated approach to some of these issues but are categorically falling short of undertaking actions that will introduce the transformative changes we need in our - 23 -
structures of economic and political power. Adding women and stirring is just not enough, folks. The UN’s human rights mechanisms have already been stepping up during this crisis. As mentioned in our blog about multilateralism, statements and guidelines from the High Commissioners for Human Rights and for Refugees, some UN special rapporteurs, and at least ten human rights treaty bodies and committees, have been urging governments to ensure respect for human rights during the pandemic. Many of these have accounted for the intersectionality of sex, gender, race, class, disability, and other experiences and identities in their suggestions for how to prevent repression of various populations, including when it comes to using surveillance technologies. This work should be continued and taken up in a coordinated way by other aspects of the multilateral machinery, and must also look at the ways in which militarism impacts human rights during this crisis and beyond.
Evolve and adapt The connections between military spending, human rights, and the health of people and planet have never been clearer. We are what we spend our money on. Right now, we are armed to our teeth without a face mask to spare. If we are to survive this crisis, and the next one—crises of our own making because of our choices in investment in militarism, fossil fuels, and the capitalist economy—we absolutely must learn and adapt. In this case, adaptation means divestment, demilitarisation, and disarmament. This is entirely possible, if we choose to act. Now.
This piece was originally published by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom on 5th May 2020. You can see the original here: https://www.wilpf.org/covid19-divest-demilitarise-and-disarm/
Published and printed by War Resisters' International, September 2020 War Resisters' International is an international grassroots network of pacifist and antimilitarist organisations, working together for a world without war. www.wri-irg.org || www.antimili-youth.net email@example.com 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1, 9DX, UK