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Season 7 Episode 7: Women Peacebuilders in a Conflicted World Order

In our seventh episode, host Neema Jayasinghe joins panellist Yasmin Homer to discuss the work of women peacebuilders with guests Eva Tabbasam (GAPS UK) and Andrea Filippi (PeaceWomen Across the Globe). We discuss the importance of fostering and protecting civil society networks in peacetime and wartime, the challenges of political will, and how the Women, Peace, Security Agenda needs to expand its feminist focus through a more inclusive intersectionality. With insights from GAPS UK’s work in Afghanistan and PeaceWomen Across the Globe’s networks between Columbia, Nepal and the Philippines, this episode crosses local, national, and international borders in a timely conversation about conflict resolution and representation. 

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Season 7 Episode 6: The Psychology of Border Violations in Mental Abuse

In our sixth episode, host Neema Jayasignhe is joined by previous podcast host and panellist, Dr Maryam Tanwir. With special guest, Professor Sam Vaknin, the episode unpacks discourses related to the psychology of personal border violations in mental abuse. The conversation questions how borders and boundaries are not only demarcated, violated or transgressed in global politics but also at the level of the personal. Here, physical or mental abuse is a form of structured aggression and can be surreptitious, coercive or disguised in a myriad of ways. Invariably, it involves the violation of our borders and boundaries- both personal and societal. In this episode, we explore these various levels of abuse and their psychological implications.

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Season 7 Episode 5: ‘Women, Life, Freedom’: Poetry and Protest in the Iranian State

For our fifth episode, panellist Clare Francis discusses the interplay of poetry and protest in the Iranian state with Dr. Fatemeh Shams, an activist, award-winning poet, and Persian literary scholar. Alongside host Neema Jayasinghe, they explore the boundaries of art and activism in Iran, where successive regimes have historically sought to enforce strict limitations around acceptable versus unacceptable forms of activism. Protest movements challenge these boundaries in myriad creative ways, but they are at constant risk of co-option by the state. By examining the intersection of poetry and protest in Iran’s women-led uprising – known globally by the catch cry ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ – Dr. Shams gives voice to both the challenges and the revolutionary potential of women’s activism in Iran.

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Season 7 Episode 5 – ‘Women, Life, Freedom’: Poetry and Protest in the Iranian State

For our fifth episode, panellist Clare Francis discusses the interplay of poetry and protest in the Iranian state with Dr. Fatemeh Shams, an activist, award-winning poet, and Persian literary scholar. Alongside host Neema Jayasinghe, they explore the boundaries of art and activism in Iran, where successive regimes have historically sought to enforce strict limitations around acceptable versus unacceptable forms of activism. Protest movements challenge these boundaries in myriad creative ways, but they are at constant risk of co-option by the state. By examining the intersection of poetry and protest in Iran’s women-led uprising – known globally by the catch cry ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ – Dr. Shams gives voice to both the challenges and the revolutionary potential of women’s activism in Iran.

‘Keep amplifying the voices of Iranian people… If they do not make headlines, it doesn’t mean the movement is dead, or over. It’s just under the skin of the society, like an active volcano waiting for another moment to erupt.’

Dr. Fatemeh Shams

Iran has a long history of popular protest which predates the Islamic Republic itself. To begin, we explore the historical continuities between the current uprising and other historical protest movements in Iran. Dr. Shams tells us that we can understand the 1905-11 Constitutional Revolution as the genesis of later mass protest movements, including the current uprising. Women, as activists and intellectuals, were politically awakened by this movement. By the beginning of the 20th century, many Iranian women publicly opposed the misogyny and hypocrisy of the other intellectuals and religious clerics of the time.

‘We must avoid the misconception that this is the first time Iranian women have revolted against the patriarchy.’

Dr. Fatemeh Shams

In the mid-twentieth century, Iranian women activists fought to reform marriage and inheritance laws in Iran. Therefore, from a historical perspective, we must acknowledge that Iranian women have been fighting for their rights for over a century. Yet, Dr. Shams appreciates the uniqueness of the contemporary ‘moment’ in Iran. While women have always played an integral role in Iranian revolutions and popular movements – from the 1905 Constitutional Revolution until the 2009 Green Movement – the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement represents the first time in Iranian history that women’s rights are decidedly at the forefront.

Our conversation then shifts to Dr. Shams’ membership of a feminist collective of Iranian activists, which has recently published the Iran Women’s Bill of Rights, calling for equality for women to be enshrined in the future Constitution of Iran, in accordance with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Dr. Shams speaks of how Iranian women, like women elsewhere, have always been excluded from the corridors of power and decision-making during critical moments in the past. By publishing the Iran Women’s Bill of Rights, the collective seeks to learn from history by ensuring that the voices, needs, and rights of women – and other marginalised populations – cannot be pushed to the margins. Dr. Shams notes that the Bill of Rights was developed in consultation with international human rights law experts so that it could one day form part of a new Constitution of Iran.

‘Women’s rights are a representation of the rights of all marginalised bodies.’

Dr. Fatemeh Shams

Dr. Shams’ membership of the Iranian feminist collective is part of her lifelong commitment to activism, both with Iran and, later, as part of the Iranian diaspora. While she became an activist as a university student in Tehran, her involuntary exile following the 2009 Green Movement led her to engage in new forms of cyber activism. Cyberactivism has allowed many diaspora activists to participate in and organise protests, and to create educational and creative content in service of social justice goals. Dr. Shams notes that social media has facilitated greater connectivity among the Iranian diaspora community. In our present moment, the reason for the ‘unprecedented unity’ of the diaspora is the noble cause of the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement: human dignity and bodily autonomy. So, despite the restrictions imposed on the internet within Iran, it has played a tremendous role in uniting supporters from the global diaspora.

‘For poets, this pattern – resisting through words, and the state responding through force – has been a pattern we have seen over our history.’

Dr. Fatemeh Shams

Poetry has played an important historical role in the struggle for systematic change in Iran. Dr. Shams notes that poetry is intertwined with the lives and identities of Iranian people, reflecting the centrality of poetry to the Persian language and Iranian national identity. This importance is visible in poetry’s formative role in political activism; in the past seven months alone, poets who were outspoken in favour of the women-led uprising were immediately captured and imprisoned. Even now, dozens of Iranian writers remain in prison. Nonetheless, the Iranian affinity for poetry is reflected in the creative outpouring that has marked the uprising, as embodied by the chanting of social and political slogans in the streets of Iran.

‘What the slogan [‘Woman, Life, Freedom’] offers us, as nothing else does, is that affect, that emotional and affective force that you only understand if you are in the streets, with the people, at the forefront of the protests.’

Dr. Fatemeh Shams

Dr. Shams highlights the importance of understanding the uprising’s famous catchcry – ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ – and its origins in grassroots Kurdish women’s movements. The historical and political genesis of the slogan, which was first chanted at the funeral of Jina (or Mahsa) Amini in Saqqez, Kurdistan Province, reveals that the movement is about the rights of all marginalised bodies. In this context, we must remain alert to the first demand of the revolutionary uprising. Unlike ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’, other protest slogans throughout history have sought to slander Iranian authorities through crude references to mothers, sisters, or genitalia. Dr. Shams notes that these slogans are antithetical to the feminist spirit of the current uprising, and reveal deep wells of misogyny and patriarchy.

We discuss the influence of Dr. Shams’ upbringing, in a relatively conservative social context, on her own poetic work. She tells us that she became an activist when she got to know herself as a woman because she had to resist patriarchal treatment from a very young age. It required an activist spirit; you had to be actively engaged in what was happening around you, and then actively resist and defy it as well. During her late teenage years, Dr. Shams’ poetry took on new life. It became a refuge, in which she could write about experiences – dancing in public, or eroticism – which could not be discussed elsewhere. Later, the loss, displacement, and exile which followed the 2009 Green Movement deeply inspired her poetry. Poetry, for Dr. Shams, serves both as a form of activism and is informed by her activism; yet her activism is also informed by her poetry – they are constantly in interaction with one another.

‘Poetry became a refuge, and at the same time, a place where I could speak about experiences that I could not otherwise discuss’.

Dr. Fatemeh Shams

As the episode draws to a close, Dr. Shams tells us she is hopeful for the future of the current uprising in Iran. Even in the United States, which has often been plagued by propaganda and misconceptions of Iran and its people, there is now a profound sympathy for the efforts of Iranian protestors. This reflects the world’s changing imagination of Iran and a growing realisation that Iranian society is not the Iranian government – and that in itself is a revolutionary act. Dr. Shams argues that we owe this revolution to the Iranian girls, women, and men who have put their lives on the line. Even the Iranian people themselves could not have imagined the events and acts of bravery that have recently taken place in Iran.

‘Girls on top of cars; burning their veils; making bonfires from their mandatory hijabs. For me, as a literary scholar, this is a metaphor for the corpse of a rotted ideology.’

Dr. Fatemeh Shams

While the Islamic Republic has responded to the current uprising with force – with rape, persecution, imprisonment, and sexual assault – Dr. Shams believes the time has truly come for the world to begin imagining an Iran without the Islamic Republic. The international community has a duty to do so, in recognition of the sacrifices made by the schoolgirls, men, and women at the forefront of the protests. Yet Dr. Shams notes the failure of the international community to support the uprising, in part reflecting the long history of foreign powers’ resource exploitation of Iran. The Iranian people are ready to divest themselves of the Islamic Republic, but they cannot break free alone, and the international community must be ready to make sacrifices in order for Iranians to achieve a democratic society. Dr. Shams concludes with a call to Declarations’listeners: we must continue amplifying the voices of the Iranian people and the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.

Our Guest

Dr. Fatemeh Shams is an Iranian activist, award-winning poet, and expert on modern Iranian history and Persian literature. She is the author of A Revolution in Rhyme: Poetic Co-option under the Islamic Republic (2021), which explores the state’s use of poetry as a tool of political legitimacy in post-revolutionary Iran. She has also published three highly regarded collections of contemporary bilingual poetry, including, most recently, the collection When They Broke Down the Door (2016). She is currently an Assistant Professor of modern Persian literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

Our Panellist

Clare Francis is an MPhil student in Politics and International Studies at Trinity College, from which she previously graduated First Class with Distinction with a BA(Hons) in Human, Social, and Political Sciences. Her research interests – including conflict, migration, resistance, and the rights of women and migrant workers – share a central connection to human rights issues. She has previously worked in foreign affairs and public policy.

Further Reading – Background Information

Afary, J. and Anderson, K. (2022, 2 Dec.). Woman, Life, Freedom: The Origins of the Uprising in Iran.

Dabashi, H. (2013, 12 Jun.). What happened to the Green Movement in Iran?

Moaveni, A. (2022, 3 Nov.). Two Weeks in Tehran.

Mottahedeh, N. (2022, 20 Oct.). Listening to Women in Revolutionary Tehran.

Further Reading – More From Dr. Shams

Chotiner, I. (2022, 2 Oct.). How Iran’s Hijab Protest Movement Became So Powerful.

Feminist Collective (2022). Iran Women’s Bill of Rights.

Poetry and Protest with Fatemeh Shams (2022, 3 Mar.). Woman, Life, Freedom: All In On Iran [Podcast].

When They Broke Down the Door: Poetry Reading by Fatemeh Shams (2016, 24 Jun.).

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Season 7 Episode 4: Lawfare: The Modern Version of Warfare

In this episode, panellist Vanessa Dib joins host Neema Jayasinghe to discuss developments of lawfare, the power of law being used as a weapon of conflict, with guest Jason McCue. In this day and age, wars can take place within and outside the traditional confines of borders and boundaries as wars are increasingly started, fought and ended through lawfare. To better situate the discussion, legal expert Jason McCue explores what lawfare is, how it is used today, and future developments of lawfare through the case study of the Libyan civil war.

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Season 7 Episode 4 – Lawfare: The Modern Version of Warfare

Wars now take place both inside and outside of the confines of traditional borders. In 2001, Major General Charles Dunlap popularised the term ‘lawfare’ which he described as the ‘newest feature of 21st-century combat’. For this episode, host Neema Jayasinghe and Panellist Vanessa Dib are accompanied by guest Jason McCue in a thought-provoking discussion on this modern form of warfare. In particular, we focus on the Libyan civil war to situate lawfare within the realm of human rights litigation. What role did law play in creating a transitional government amidst the Libyan civil war? How can international human rights law be wielded by victims to confront repressive regimes? Through a rather practical lens, Jason provides his vision of what lawfare is and how it may be wielded in the future.

To begin, we examine what lawfare means in practice. Jason outlines that lawfare as a concept has been used by states from as early as the 19th century and is therefore not a modern construction. This can be seen in British emancipation laws, where Admiralty achieved secondary strategic aims by boarding and plundering Spanish ships under the initial concern for slavery. However, lawfare has admittedly evolved. Jason reasons that lawfare is no longer state-centric and instead tends to be used by civil society and the private sector across numerous facets of international law.

‘Lawfare should be called strategic law and policy.’

Jason McCue

In this sense, lawfare is seen in actors using theories and structures available to them as tools to achieve a strategic objective; it is a concept that takes important books as building blocks and answers what will happen in practice. Jason admits that all people’s objectives are different with some actors misusing lawfare to suppress information. Yet, there are many more NGOs and individuals using lawfare to achieve behavioural change for the better. Thus, lawfare is best viewed as a substantive means to support legal and policy lobbying to enact normative shifts. 

Our conversation then moves to a question specific to the Libyan context. We ask Jason what challenges litigators face in a transitional period that aims to reconcile the interests of competing players. In this role, you must find a way to talk to all parties involved which often proves difficult. Jason and his team successfully proposed the Benghazi Agreement which gave parity to all English victims not covered under the American Libyan Claims Settlement Act. Jason recalls that this moment – which promised money to victims once the war ended – was one of joy.

‘Since this date, we have not had a single government who have honoured the agreement.’

Jason McCue

Unfortunately, the team’s efforts have been met with limited success. The goal line is constantly moving in what has become a long-lasting diplomatic tussle. For Jason, it is important to keep looking for different angles to pursue despite outgrowing the stakeholders involved. When you build a dialogue with people in negotiations it can be incredibly difficult to start anew. Conversely, these fresh faces may also help to provide newfound momentum. The multilateral nature of these periods is not inherently good or bad and is instead what you make of it.

What role did law play in the creation of this transitional government? Jason believes that the question of recognising a state is a practical point rather than a legal one. As the former Presidential Envoy for Somaliland, Jason was part of a convoluted journey to have the state’s independence recognised. This journey was made even more complex by the fact that it was more theme-based than rule-based, with the ultimate goal of gaining a majority of the actors’ support.

‘Recognition certainly came down to legal concepts, but it was more their practical application.’

Jason McCue

During Jason’s early days in Libya, the application of concepts was of great importance. Jason’s team spent time debating how a rebel government could act like a state in a legal manner and the implications that would hold for other states recognising their statehood. Despite being in the throes of conflict, these actors are still concerning themselves with minuting meetings and appointing ministers to appear a functional government.

This episode’s discussion then turns to considering how international human rights law can bring justice to victims of repressive governments. Many argue that human rights have a glaring enforcement problem which makes it difficult to punish violators who control the state media, for example, which makes it almost impossible to obtain information. For Jason, this situation is exactly that – tricky, but not impossible. To overcome obstacles, you must think outside the box.

‘The two biggest problems of  human rights law are access to justice and jurisdiction.’

Jason McCue

Jason argues that the law will provide a solution because that is the point of the law. To protect and promote human rights universally, we must treat access to justice and jurisdiction as slightly separate; the former usually pertains to funding and the latter involves finding a courtroom that will take a case. Jason feels that the world needs a developed law that opens universal jurisdiction more. Other courts must become more accessible and open their jurisdiction, and while this trend is clear in both international and domestic law, it has not gone far enough.

‘In this lifetime, the biggest human rights issues are gender and environmental inequality.’

Jason McCue

Cases of gender and environmental inequality are often stopped due to issues of jurisdiction. Jason says that we are not developing laws enough to establish competent courts that deal with these expansive and necessary subjects. Around 90% of environmental harm is committed in the Global South by companies of the Global North. Yet, victims in the Global South have limited access to justice through their courts and cannot get access through other forums because of a lack of jurisdiction

‘You are fighting with one arm behind your back at all times.’

Jason McCue

Second, we discuss the issue of funding. A key issue with the litigation market and global funding is that there is a focus on commercial cases rather than on human rights cases. The financial services sector must come together with the human rights sector and develop a suitable funding scheme. For Jason, this is wholly feasible as it is not beyond humankind to provide money for an action for a return of investing in human rights. Still, gathering a consensus on this topic has proved trying.

‘Civil society lawfare is the key to keeping checks and balances on the world.’

Jason McCue

To close, we examine the failures of the international community to intervene in catastrophic events such as genocides. For Jason, civil society is not affected by politics and plays a pivotal role when the system fails. Inane problems that persist on a structural level, seen in the veto capacity of the United Nations, entirely stagnate contemporary efforts in the Ukrainian war. The Ukrainian state and the international community will rightly seek accountability through justice tribunals and international courts. But empirically, it has been shown that the ordinary individual will end up with little to nothing.

For sustainable peace to be attained, civil society lawfare must operate in parallel with government and international community efforts. Finally, Jason warns against numerous international actors essentially breaking laws to solve legal problems, such as taking sanctioned Russian assets and confiscating them in Ukraine. This means that the approach in Ukraine towards civil society lawfare is essential for reparations, and will only become more poignant in future conflicts.

Our Guest

Jason McCue is a Senior Partner of McCue Jury & Partners LLP, co-founder of Rigel International, co-founder of EBRO Global, and co-founder and general partner of Greenlit SA. He has served as General Counsel for numerous campaigns, such as Justice for Rohingya Minority and the Omagh Bomb Campaign. Additionally, Jason was the appointed facilitator to the joint UN/AU Darfur Peace Process, an adviser on transitional justice to the Transitional Government of Libya, and an advisor to leading stakeholders in the South Sudan peace process.

Our Panellist

Vanessa Dib is an MPhil student in Development Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her interests lie in refugees, populism, and Europeanisation. Currently, Vanessa is writing a dissertation to examine differential treatments of refugees in the case of the Syrian and Ukraine refugees in Poland and Hungary. More specifically, she aims to understand how political and public discourses act as tools to shape responses to refugee crises.

Further Reading

Dunlap, C. J. (2001). Law and Military Interventions: Preserving Humanitarian Values in 21st Conflicts.

Kittrie, O. F. (2016). Lawfare: Law as a Weapon of War. 

Thompson, L. A. (2022, 8 Jun.). UK Law Firm Seeks Damages From Russia on Behalf of Ukrainians. 

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Season 7 Episode 3 – Privacy for Public Figures

Many of us naturally assume that individual humans have the right to some degree of privacy. Yet, when it comes to the privacy of public figures, the legal framework provides a far more complicated answer. For the fourth episode of season seven, host Neema Jayasinghe and panellist Olivia Chen lead a discussion on the human rights of public figures, including issues of definition and the conflicts between privacy and free speech; Prof. Gavin Phillipson – our guest for this week – helps us to explore this difficult tension. Do public figures have a reasonable expectation of privacy? If so, should the public interest in disclosure then override their right to privacy? As an expert in freedom of speech and media freedom in English law, Gavin offers helpful and practical insight into these rather intricate issues.

Gavin begins by providing us with his thoughts on the reasonable expectation of privacy held by public figures, and how this may differ from ordinary citizens. In the US, public figures tend to lose their right to privacy completely, except in extreme circumstances. However, in the UK, this is a factor that courts will take into consideration alongside many others, and being a public figure does not imply an automatic loss of privacy. Gavin notes that in some cases, a public figure role may not even be relevant at all to the courts.

‘The press argues that if you decide to publicise it, you cannot complain if other people discuss it or report on it.’

Prof. Gavin Phillipson

By making a public statement about yourself, say regarding your health, you may no longer have a reasonable expectation of privacy on that matter. However, an explicit declaration is not always required. For example, reality TV show participants consent to a considerable intrusion into their private life, and must also have a reduced expectation of privacy. While not public figures, per se, these individuals have deliberately placed their private life into the public domain.

This discussion begs an interesting question: What exactly is a public figure? Gavin states that the term itself tends to be quite vague and circular. As such, popular definitions tend to say broadly outline a public figure as any individual who plays a role in public life. This produces two key groups of people. First, we have major public servants, politicians, or any individuals who wield power within the country. Second, we have actors, sportspeople, and other celebrity-like figures. While not precise or necessarily helpful, this definition is used by most countries in privacy and defamation claims. 

‘The definition expands to include both a candidate for public office and a pop star who has received a lot of attention in the press.’

Prof. Gavin Phillipson

In terms of a reasonable expectation of privacy, there are both objective and subjective approaches to deciding whether an individual could have assumed a matter to be private. Gavin asserts that earlier cases tended to be rather objective, but there is now an emphasis on mixed approaches that increasingly take into account the characteristics of a claimant. Courts will recognise that you may be sensitive about a particular topic, be it your sexuality, health, family, or any other facet of your life. But, this sensitivity still must be reasonably foreseeable to others, and people will not be found liable for invading someone’s privacy if this is not the case.

‘Courts may say there is no reasonable expectation of privacy if other people cannot reasonably guess you would feel this way.’

Prof. Gavin Phillipson

A clear example of this idiosyncratic approach is that of Naomi Campbell and Mirror Group Newspapers. Campbell was photographed leaving a rehabilitation clinic and these images were published in the press. Campbell then brought a case that bridged a gap between a breach of confidence and misuse of private information. The Court of Appeal used a dryly objective test, including the ‘highly offensive’ formula, which tests whether it would be highly offensive to have the information in question publicly revealed.

The Court of Appeal arguably misapplied this test, instead examining offensiveness to a hypothetical reasonable reader. Once taken to the House of Lords, it was found that there was good reason to shift away from common legal objective tests. Instead, Campbell’s own perception would be considered. To this end, the issue was not really whether something was offensive, but whether it unreasonably intrudes into her private life. The case was extremely interesting in the way it approached this question, balancing Campbell’s public figure status alongside public interest.

‘Campbell had made a point of never having used drugs, so the press had a right, of sorts, to reveal this was a lie.’

Prof. Gavin Phillipson

In terms of precedent, this case revealed that the test of high offensiveness should be replaced entirely. This test depends on the seriousness of the intrusion, so is somewhat contained within looking at a reasonable expectation of privacy, and balancing this against public interest. This test was essentially side-lined and has rarely appeared in domestic case law following Campbell’s case. Though, it may be of interest to note that the test is still utilised in the US, where the right to free speech under the First Amendment tends to prevail over nearly all privacy and defamation cases for public figures.

‘Public interest is not just what interests the public.’

Prof. Gavin Phillipson

The aforementioned question of public interest often proves quite complicated. Gavin asserts that in the courts of the UK and Europe, a judge may be prepared to say that intimate knowledge of an individual’s sex life is no business of the public. Thus, public interest is not just general public curiosity, but only what the public has a legitimate interest in knowing. The controversial nature of this test is that individual judges are deciding on behalf of others, who may very well use such information when voting, for example. In the US, courts tend to say that citizens are entitled to make their own decisions on these matters

This logic is more easily applied to elected officials but becomes more problematic when applied to general celebrity figures. In these instances, the press tends to run a ‘role model’ argument. This argues that celebrities influence the way people behave so the public has a right to know details of their intimate life that contradict their image. In these cases there is often no evidence cited, rather role model status is asserted in a ‘common sense’ fashion. Though the press has won numerous cases on this basis, it is not always clear how the public benefits.

‘The press relies on the idea of a public interest in correcting mistaken impressions about individuals, but I am not sure this is often true.’

Prof. Gavin Phillipson

Our discussion then pivots slightly to analyse the role of methods used to attain information and how these contribute to what is public. In 1991, actor Gordan Kaye suffered a significant head injury and two reporters posing as doctors took images of him in the hospital. This case expressed the view that there is no common-law right to privacy in English law and is famous for effectively demonstrating the need for such a right. Gavin, therefore, argues that the method used to gain information is always considered an important factor by courts in the UK and EU.

‘If you have to resort to intrusive and surreptitious methods to gather information, then the individual must have been trying to keep that information private.’

Prof. Gavin Phillipson

Yet, if you are photographed walking down the street, there is no privacy breach as this is what anyone present on the scene would have observed. While the US is rather extreme in this idea, English law identifies that private things can very well happen in public places. Gavin offers the case study of a conversation between good friends in a popular restaurant. If two friends whisper a piece of information to one another, and a hidden microphone records it, the method of attainment is still intrusive despite the public setting.

To close, Gavin informs us of the recent controversy around the government’s plans which attempt to alter the relationship between freedom of speech and privacy in the UK through the Bill of Rights Bill. A particular focus of this debate surrounds the privacy rights of criminal suspects yet to be found guilty. Gavin mentions the case of Cliff Richard, where the BBC live-streamed Richard’s house being searched in connection to a crime he was never arrested nor charged for. These instances are incredibly damaging to individuals and are a cause for concern for many when looking at possible changes in approaches to privacy.

Our Guest

Prof. Gavin Phillipson is a Professor of Law at Bristol University Law School. He is the Visiting Fellow at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Oxford University, and has been published widely in top law journals in the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US. Gavin was also co-author of the leading text ‘Media Freedom under the Human Rights Act’.

Our Panellist

Olivia Chen is a third-year Philosophy student at Selwyn College. She is interested in examining human rights issues from the intersection between their philosophical basis and legal manifestations in both domestic and international spheres; her dissertation examines people’s rights to privacy and the relationship of privacy to other basic human rights. 

Further Reading

Elliot, M. (2022, 22 Jun.). The UK’s (New) Bill of Rights.

Fenwick, H. M. & Phillipson, G. (2006). Media freedom under the Human Rights Act.

Hughes, K. (2019). The Public Figure Doctrine and the Right to Privacy.

Kaye v Robertson & Anor [1990] EWCA Civ 21 (1990, 16 Mar.).

Library of Congress (2018, 11 Sep.). United Kingdom: Cliff Richard Wins Privacy Case Against BBC and South Yorkshire Police.

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Season 7 Episode 3: Privacy for Public Figures

In this episode, host Neema Jayasinghe is joined by panellist Olivia Chen and guest Professor Gavin Phillipson to discuss the legal connotations of privacy for public figures. Professor Phillipson provides a detailed insight into how the law utilises both objective and subjective criteria to assess whether a person has a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’, as well as how the status of a public figure enters into the consideration process. Moreover, the panel discusses whether it is reasonable to hold public figures to reduced rights of privacy based upon their ‘role model’ responsibilities.

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Season 7 Episode 2 – The Policy that Never Took Off: Assessing the UK’s Rwanda Asylum Plan

In this week’s episode, Declarations host Neema Jayasinghe is joined by panellist Veronica-Nicolle Hera to discuss the UK-Rwanda asylum agreement with guests Dr. Peter Walsh and Colin Yeo. The Rwanda Asylum Plan – UK’s most controversial migration policy in recent years – saw 99 asylum seekers whose claims were declared ‘inadmissible’ scheduled to embark on a flight relocating them to Rwanda in June 2022. While never enacted, the plan attracted widespread media attention and the criticism of many NGOs fighting for migrants’ rights. Under the scheme, the UK’s legal responsibilities for such people would end once they have been relocated and they will not be able to apply for asylum in the UK. Instead, they would have to apply for asylum in Rwanda with no option to return. Our guests discuss the origin of this policy, its problematic nature, and what could be done in the future to avoid similar mistakes.

‘The Rwanda Plan is designed not to achieve a goal, but to send a message.’

Dr. Peter Walsh

The conversation begins with an outline of the current state of affairs. Colin aptly notes that the High Court upheld the government’s Rwanda Plan and that there is an ongoing appeal in place. This is an actively developing situation with many further appeals likely, and rumours of further legislation on the matter to be released. Regarding the broader immigration context of this policy, Peter adds that the number of individuals crossing the English Channel from France in small boats has risen quite substantially. In the last year alone, these numbers sat at 45,000 individuals.

‘Many agree it’s a blatant violation, but not the judges of the High Court who upheld the government’s policy and found that it breached neither human rights laws nor the Refugee Convention.’

Colin Yeo

The Rwanda Plan was found by the High Court to not be in breach of the Refugee Convention. Colin notes that may be partially explained by its very nature as just the second international convention drafted after the Second World War. In particular, the Refugee Convention is characterised by a poor enforcement mechanism and rather an ambiguous language that will challenge lawyers involved in the case.

Colin continues by outlining what he sees as the greatest problems within the Rwanda Plan, which can be helpfully divided into moral and practical concerns. In a moral capacity, the enforcement of removal will be – at least implicitly – a violent affair that may set a dangerous precedent for the international community to follow suit. On a more practical level, there is no substantial evidence that suggests the plan would work effectively.

‘The UK Immigration Minister recently admitted that Rwanda currently has the capacity to accommodate just 200 people at one time.’

Dr. Peter Walsh

Peter builds upon Colin’s notion of practical effectiveness, citing the lack of Rwandan processing capacity at a time when arrivals to the UK are in the tens of thousands. If arrivals continue at such a level, it would suggest the chance of any one individual being removed is likely to be very small. As such, these numbers would surely have to be scaled up tremendously for the policy to achieve the desired deterrent effect. Peter also mentions the fact that once transferred to Rwanda, individuals will not be detained and are free to leave if they so choose. A similar Israeli-Rwanda plan is an interesting case study where almost all ‘voluntary departure’ scheme participants left Rwanda.

Yet, as previously noted, the High Court refused to block the 14th of June flight to Rwanda citing a material public interest in the process. Colin states that many commentators found this surprising as it seemed to fail a proper legal test to maintain the status quo before a formal decision is made. Eventually, one claimant brought a Rule 39 application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the flight was halted due to the imminent risk of irreparable harm.

‘It is currently taking years for asylum decisions to be reached.’

Colin Yeo

Both Colin and Peter argue that the Rwanda plan diverts resources and distracts attention from more pressing issues within the UK asylum system. Colin expresses that there is currently a backlog of about 150,000 initial decisions that have not been made by the Home Office, revealing that the number one problem is the delay in the system. A majority of these decisions are positive, yet applicants are crippled both socially and financially before eventually being integrated into society as refugees. Peter notes that alongside timing concerns, the decision-making process also seems ineffective in terms of quality. Recent statistics suggest that over 50% of appeals are allowed, meaning the initial Home Office decision is deemed incorrect by a judge.

‘The UK’s refugee resettlement programmes have not picked up post-pandemic, so 70% fewer people are being resettled.’

Dr. Peter Walsh

Furthermore, another facet of the UK asylum system is refugee resettlement, where individuals are identified by the UN in refugee camps around the world, and then transferred to the UK. Unfortunately, this scheme has failed to operate anywhere close to its pre-pandemic capacity.

This policy can be viewed as a continuation of the hostile and restricted asylum environment which goes back to at least the Blair administration. There has been a recent tendency to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ refugees, with the government essentially not processing or accepting asylum claims from people who arrive without pre-authorisation, but at the same time setting up extensive schemes for Ukrainians. Yet, Colin cautions against complaining about the way Ukrainians have been treated, which he views as controversial in itself.

‘We should welcome the fact that Ukrainians are being treated generously, and look at how that can be expanded to other nationalities as well.’

Colin Yeo

To conclude, our guests provide their thoughts on how discriminatory migration policies can be prevented from taking shape again. Peter feels that an evidence-based policy approach will ensure similar shortfalls do not occur. The current assumption that asylum seekers have a detailed knowledge of deterrent policy is rather flawed. Instead, many are drawn to the UK due to familial or language ties, and the perception of the UK as a safe and tolerant country.

Colin partially disagrees with Peter on this point, noting that many policymakers are not all that interested in producing genuinely effective asylum policies. In this sense, the Rwanda Plan is an example of symbolic policy-making that simply looks to send the message that the UK is tough on asylum seekers. Hence, the politics of the issue must be engaged with more effectively by the wider sector to prevent similar future policy. 

Our Guests

Dr. Peter Walsh is Senior Researcher at The Migration Observatory, and Departmental Lecturer in Migration Studies, University of Oxford. He has authored over forty reports and articles on UK immigration policy.

Colin Yeo is an immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer, and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London. He is also the founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.

Our Panellist

Veronica-Nicolle Hera is a PhD student whose research focusses on public perceptions of trust in government across democracies and authoritarian regimes. Her interest in human rights stems from her work with the3million advocating for the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

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Season 7 Episode 2: The policy that never took off: Assessing UK’s Rwanda Asylum Plan

This episode focuses on assessing the Rwanda Asylum Plan – UK’s most controversial migration policy in recent years. According to the proposal, 99 asylum seekers whose claims were declared “inadmissible” were scheduled to embark on a flight relocating them to Rwanda on the 14th of June 2022. While never enacted, the plan attracted widespread media attention and the criticism of many NGOs fighting for migrants rights. Our guests, Peter Wiliam Walsh and Colin Yeo will discuss the origin of this policy, its problematic nature as well as what could be done in the future to avoid similar mistakes. In our modern society, we expect developed democracies like the United Kingdom to set a positive example when it comes to respecting human rights. So, was this just a policy accident in the UK government’s overly nationalist agenda or is this the beginning of a hostile immigration environment in post-Brexit Britain? Only time will tell.