RÆTT UM MANNRÉTTINDI Í BOSTON
Frá því um miðja vikuna hef ég setið ráðstefnu
við háskóla í Boston, Wheelock College, en mér var boðið á
ráðstefnuna til að flytja þar erindi um mannréttindi. Yfirskrift
ráðstefnunnar var Global Challenges and
Opportunities ( Áskoranir og tækifæri í hnattvæddum
heimi). Það rímar vel við einkunnarorð þessa háskóla
sem lúta að því að bæta kjör barna og fjölskyldna, "Improving the
lives of children and families."
Á sjötta hundrað manns sóttu ráðstefnuna frá 40 löndum og 26 fylkjum Bandaríkjanna. Erindi voru flutt, löng og stutt, pallborðsumræður og seminör voru haldi.
Ég sótti seminar um barnaþrælkun þar sem sýnd var mynd sem Barnahjálp Sameinuðu þjóðanna hafði gert um barnaþræla. Myndin var áhrifarík og ekki síður umræður í kjölfarið. Á ráðstefnunni voru nokkrir einstaklingar sem höfðu sjálfir mátt þola þrælkun í sumum tilvikum barnavændi og talaði það fólk af eigin reynslu. Þótti mér það áhrifaríkast á að hlýða á ráðstefnunni.
Hér að neðan er erindi mitt sem ég fliutti á föstudagsmorgun:
Human Rights in Action: Global Challenges and Local Communities
Politics, the clothing industry, the world of pop-music and for that matter the porn industry have a lot in common. All are under pressure from corporate interests and all are to a certain extent subject to fashion. And fashion changes. Behind changes in fashion - and I deliberately use that term - there are strong forces, so strong and dominant, that it is difficult to rise against them - to challenge the current trend is like swimming up-stream in a very forceful river.
In a globalized world, fashion is indeed global. Due to the
wonders of technology in communication we have very much come to be
what once was termed the global village. Hence the waves in
fashion, whether it be in styles in clothing or in politics, are
almost universal at least as far as the industrial world is
I was born in the middle of the 20th century - in 1948 - and my generation - not some of us, but all of us in large parts of the world - listened to the Beatles and Bob Dylan, we saw the same films and had similar hair-styles.
I lived in Great Britain for a period in the late sixties and seventies, and I remember a time when shoes with very thick soles were in fashion. It was an awful fashion and few people liked it, but for a while there was nothing else to be had in the shops. Even if you were seven feet tall and desperately wanted to look smaller, you got nothing but the thick sole shoes.
So it has been with political ideas, the same trends have been almost universal.
Although the world may be controlled by interests, ideas play no small part. In the last three decades we saw the dominance of neo-liberalism at least in the industrial part of the world. In the political field Thatcher and Reagan arrived as decisive leaders at the two sides of the Atlantic in the early eighties and together with emerging right wing think-tanks, they helped push neo-liberalist ideology with more emphasis on market solutions than had been the case from the Depression in the 1930´s onwards. The effect was not that right wing parties grew bigger, all parties became more right wing and so did the institutional world at large, even including many labour unions.
I worked as a TV journalist for ten years from the late 70´s and well into the 80´s, experiencing at first hand the assault being made on ideas and values in our society by the neo-liberals in this period. Also in Iceland we had Hayek, Freedman, Buchanan and the whole lot, visiting regularly, helping to prepare the ground for the political harvest we later had to suffer, first on our menu and then on our tables from the nineties onwards. The harvest of the neo-liberal garden has consisted in extensive privatisation and marketisation in fields formerly regarded as being the responsibility of public authorities. It is of course not altogether right to liken political development in the US with that of Europe but in terms of trends and ideological emphasis I believe it is possible.
This of course has meant that in the political shop very much
the same solutions have been on offer in the shelves, not
necessarily products or solutions people crave for - no more
than they did for the thick sole shoes in the seventies - but
so strong has been the tide of neo-liberal political fashion that
attempts to reverse the trend has proved extremely
difficult. I am, however, of the optimistic opinion that
politics in a democratic world is like the pendulum in a huge
clock-work that swings back and forth - seeking some kind of a
balance - and that now, regardless of the political colour of
governments, the pendulum is starting, if very slowly, to swing
back in the direction of social democracy and away from the
extremes of market ideology which have characterized the last two
decades. Still the order of the day is never to interfere with
market forces. That is almost seen as holy scripture. Later I come
to the way in wich dominant forces in society regard the internet;
also that has become a holy cow.
A recent reminder of globalization is the case of Edward Snowden, who has informed the world of extensive espionage conducted by US authorities through the internet. I was pleased to see in opinion polls that more Americans approve with what he did - thinking he did the right thing by revealing to the press information on the spying activities - only a minority see him as a criminal and traitor.
In a letter to the Attorney General of the United States the Commissioner for Justice in the European Union, says that this matter is of grave concern to Europeans no less than to Americans since both are customers of Google and Yahoo and other internet providers which gave information to the US National Security Agency and the F(ederal) B(ureau) of I(nvestigation) for espionage purposes and when these companies follow US obligations as laid down in US law, the danger is that law on the protection of the individual in European countries and elsewhere will be undermined. So what US authorities do with Edward Snowden is of concern to all of us.
Of course I am not saying the world has become uniform through
globalization and of course endless reservations have to be made.
We have the poor parts of the world, we have the industrial and
more prosperous parts of it, we have authoritarian China and the
Islamic world and we have the diversity within all these parts -
nevertheless certain aspects of globalization are sinking in almost
everywhere. In spite of all the reservations it is thus true that
the means of communication are almost everywhere becoming the same
with important consequences. I am told that a cell phone, in
the hands of a protester at Taksim Square in Ankara or Tahrir
Square in Cairo, has a more sophisticated computer than there was
in the first manned rocket to the moon!
There are certainly many more reservations to be made. The thinkers and ideologues of the past, people who in their time were kind of social enzymes for change, were aware of each other although living far apart without the help of the cell phone or e-mail. And of course many socialist scholars maintain that economic and social trends must be explained with reference to development in the mode of production and that changes in the nature of social forces and their inter-relations must be explained in that context. Hence, according to this theory, development tends to be everywhere in the same direction.
Another important reservation I want to make, while dealing with this fundament in my reasoning, namely that the world is becoming increasingly globalized - or smaller as some people would put it - has to do with the way the local world may encounter the global environment. At a recent international conference in Reykjavík organized by the Icelandic Ministry of Interior, the University of Iceland and Institute of Cultural Diplomacy, Cynthia Enloe, professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, told a story of a NGO promoting human rights in Afghanistan, distributing radio sets in the mountains where there are long distances between the villages and communications are difficult. The NGO then broadcast programs with information and news and with special emphasis on the rights of women, questions concerning their education, health and social standing, well knowing that the fight for human rights has to be gendered if it is to be effective.
But in practice the results were different to what was expected and hoped for. In the mountain villages of Afghanistan the men took immediately control of the radio sets. The women did not even have permission to touch them! The men of the village would come together to listen to the news from the outside world. The radio-sets, the means of communication - thus became a tool of increasing male power in these little communities, giving the men still greater privilege than they already had by possessing more information and knowledge than before - thus increasing the gender gap, not decreasing it as was set out to do! In other words, local realities turned out to be stronger than the global and the technology which had been intended to work in favour of human rights, turned out to do the opposite!
But in spite of all these reservations the main point stands that there are discernible similar trends throughout the world and that the technological revolution in the world of communication is speeding up processes of change. In the industrial part of the world at least, nobody is unaffected by this development. This affects our lives and therefore we have a right if not an obligation to have a say in where we are heading.
Before I grapple with what I see as a core question, namely the interaction between the local and the global in the fight for human rights - and now from the point of view of Iceland - I want to say a few words about a tendency which is very apparent, namely to attach inappropriate attention and importance to wrappings rather than content, to the medium rather than the message.
If we imagined that here, on this platform, there was a show
were five men were raping a woman - we knew that she had been doped
- no wonder because she had been sold into slavery. On stage the
doers in the show, the males, subjected their victim to all kinds
of sadistic cruelty. If this was the case, everybody in this room
would jump to their feet in disgust and horror and demand that the
violence be stopped immediately.
Now if we had been in a school and the audience had been children - on average 11 years old - and the headmaster and the board of the school had allowed this to take place or given it a blind-eye I can bet you that the whole group, the headmaster and the board, would have been fired before dawn the following day.
But let us for the sake of argument say this had been on the
internet and the children had been either in school or in their own
room at home watching, there would not be a similar outcry. I said
that I was saying this for the sake of the argument. But it is
unnecessary to phrase it that way. Because this is not imaginary
but a fact of life.
In the Nordic countries research has shown that on average, children are 11 years old when they encounter violent pornography the first time on the internet. They do come across violent pornography, not necessarily because they are looking for it but because it simply pops up on their computer screen when they are searching for something else- not for some mysterious reason but because the producers and sailsmen of this "product" have found ways of approaching their future customers.
There are strong indications that there is a correlation between violent pornography on the internet and the behavior of those who commit sexual offenses. Cases have been reported of teenage boys re-enacting pornographic sexual acts on younger children. There is little doubt that we have reached a stage where pornography is influencing teenager´s first sexual experiences - often leading to social isolation and anxiety - and that this is already having dramatic effects on the youngest generations. In other words, pornography on the internet is taking over the role of sex-education of our children and in this process violence is being normalized.
Similar research has been carried out elsewhere and I refer as an example to a report published last month by The Children's Commissioner for England and I quote the Commisioner, Maggie Atkinson in an interview to the British newspaper Guardian on May 24th : "We are living at a time," she says " when violent and sadistic imagery is readily available to very young children ... even if they do not go searching for it, their friends may show it to them or they may stumble on it while using the internet.... "For years we have applied age restrictions to films at the cinema but now we are permitting access to far more troubling imagery via the internet. It is a risky experiment to allow a generation of young people to be raised on a diet of pornography."
So what is to be done? What do we do, you and I, faced
with these over-powering forces in our man made world?
First we must remember that it is a
man-made world. Changes do not occur, they are made to
occur. There are always doers. This is the democratic aspect never
to forget. And this gives hope. Secondly we must look at
our own responsibilities. It is good to be reminded of
Eleanor Roosevelt´s words of wisdom when she said:
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
And now to a little case study on pornography and sexual violence in Iceland very much in the vein of Eleanor Roosevelt´s message, that we should start by cultivating our own garden.
When I, together with my advisors, came into the Ministry of
Interior in Iceland, three years ago, we knew that when it came to
sexual violence, an unacceptable number of claimed offences were
actually taken to court and again, of offences where a charge was
being made, a remarkably small percentage ended in conviction.
There obviously was something wrong somewhere. What we then
did was to organize meetings and conferences across the board, with
representatives from the courts, the police, academia, grass-root
organizations working in the field, politicians and of course from
the Ministry of Interior. At first this was criticized, or "did
we not realize", it was said, "that politicians should
leave the courts alone?" We responded by saying that there was
no question of interfering with the courts, but the courts should
also be aware of the rights of democratic society to have a say in
the development of our ideas of social justice.
We also realized that we had to reach out to the wider world for knowledge, and looked for the best people world-wide to bring to us knowledge, experience and inspiration. One such visitor was professor Gail Dines of this University, Wheelock College, who last year came at our invitation and gave a very powerful presentation to a packed conference at the University of Iceland, on the harmful effects of pornography on the internet. "Why don´t you do something about this," she asked. "Yes, why not", we responded.
What we then did was twofold. I asked a committee of experts to look into the legal definition of pornography. According to the Icelandic Penal Code pornography is banned but definition is lacking in order to enforce the law. Secondly, I established a committee to look into the legal and technical possibilities to prevent the salesmen of pornography infiltrating the world of our youngsters especially. This committee is still at work.
Once the news of this was made public hell was loose, not only in Iceland but in the media world-wide: Interference with the media, freedom of expression to be restricted, the socialist enemy of the free market strikes!
I used the term "sex-education", in referring to the porn industry. In fact pornography has little to do with sex. It has to do with violence. "You sell Playboy in Iceland, don´t you - or have you already banned it?, a foreign radio reporter asked me recently, aghast over our intentions in Iceland to try to do something about pornographic violence on the internet. I told him that Playboy magazine was no doubt still on the shelves in book-stores, but if he thought I wanted to ban sex or nakedness he could not be further from the truth. I was all for sex, but against violence. "But are you going to decide for me what I do?", he then asked. And I replied I did not want to interfere with his life, I was very much in agreement with the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, who in his book, On Liberty published in the mid-19th century, said that every man should be free to do what he wanted as long as he did not harm others. And since he was concerned that I do not interfere with his life, I wanted him to understand that I for one was not going to allow the proponents and salesmen of violence to harm my children or indeed the people they exploited for financial gain. This had nothing to do with neither freedom of expression nor nakedness or sexual activities at all - it had to do with greedy corporate interests infiltrating the world of our children with degrading and violent material - and if we were going to let this happen, turning a blind eye - we were indeed accepting a practice where one person was harming another.
At this point the interview came to an end.
The internet is so new that many people still see it in the mystified glory as one could imagine people alien to technology would have regarded a movie camera. As we got accustomed to the movies we stopped revering the technology and only took notice of the content.
We have seen how the internet can be used and abused. I have full respect for those who warn against any kind of censorship of the internet. But that does not mean that we stand idle by when the internet is being abused.
"Are you going to take us to North Korea?", I was once asked by a reporter after I voiced interest in mapping out the possibilities, technical and legal - in limiting access of violent porn on the internet.
"No, I don´t want to take you to North Korea, but I refuse to let you bully me into silence on an issue that must be openly discussed." That was my answer and I must say that I am glad to see how in the United States there is a growing intelligent discussion on the internet reminding us that it must not be seen in black and white colours - there are many shades. But for government there should be no standing in the shade. Inaction is not an option for government when it comes to exploitation of people on the internet. If government gives a blind eye it is in the same position as the headmaster in my imaginary school. Remember that he would have been made responsible for what happened in his school by turning a blind eye. For government it is a question of taking sides, either with corporate interests or society. And most governments - through their inactivity - take sides with the porn industry.
On the other hand we in Iceland, received a public declaration
from more than a hundred academics, journalists, writers, human
rights activists and human rights organizations, among them Liz
Kelly, Julie Bindel, Gloria Steinem and here present today, Norma
Ramos, Cherie Jiminez and Gail Dines. In their declaration which
was published internationally, it says:
"We are writing to express our support for current efforts in Iceland to develop and implement legal limits on violent Internet pornography. As scholars, medical and public health professionals, social service providers, and community activists, we commend your government's determination to confront the harms of pornography. As part of a comprehensive approach to violence prevention, sex education, and public health, legally limiting Internet pornography will reduce the power of this multi-billion dollar global industry to distort and diminish the lives, opportunities, and relationships of Icelandic citizens....It is naïve and unrealistic to expect parents and schools to counter effectively the influence of this powerful and pervasive industry. Rather, society must act on its compelling interest in providing a safe and nourishing environment for children. We applaud your government's effort to exercise collective responsibility for children's well-being by placing limits on a toxic media environment from which they cannot otherwise be sufficiently shielded. .....As your efforts continue to develop, we would urge you not to be dissuaded by dark invocations of totalitarianism or of an unregulated black market in pornography. The pornography industry could hardly be any less regulated than it is currently, nor could the motivations and methods of the Icelandic initiative differ more starkly from those of authoritarian governments..... As a group of similarly committed scholars, activists, and professionals across the globe, we stand with you and look forward to seeing the final result of your efforts."
These are the movers of history, creators of a new spirit, people resolute in not letting the market govern our lives.
In Iceland there are no law-bills yet, only exploratory work. I am out of office as Minister of Interior, after a change in government following a general election at the end of April, but still in Parliament, now as chairman of the Constitutional Committee of the Icelandic Parliament. But this does not mean the debate has stopped. Still news media from all around the world are calling me and my advisors, showing interest, asking for interviews.
Why? Because - and this is our contribution to the debate, globally as well as locally - the world wants to hear this. There is demand for voices ready to stand up against corporate interests, not heeding if they be ridiculed for being "not with-it" , "are you against Playboy", remember? And after three thousand interviews - or three hundred thousand if need be - we may have contributed towards normalizing a discussion on how to limit a greedy, aggressive and often criminal industry on the internet.
Our approach must be holistic, taking into consideration the law, the schools and education and then of course encourage open discussion in society at large. As an example the Icelandic government last year organized an awareness campaign, headed by my former advisor at the Ministry of Interior in Iceland, Halla Gunnarsdóttir. Part of this campaign was a video-presentation on sexual violence, shown in schools. Every 15 year old in the country saw the program which was followed by discussion in the class-room and in the media. The program was called: Ask for a yes! We are hoping this may become the new fashion.
Parts of this film are very direct. Other parts were more indirect, but no less convincing, this part an eye-opener for boys: