Well, I’ve arrived. I suppose? I’ve landed at least, in Washington DC, after almost a year and a half of wandering from country to country. And I have a job no less. I’ll be working at World Vision, in a city where I know no soul and have no permanent residence…yet. But I’m here and that’s what counts, right? Nevermind I feel like a foreigner in my own country or that I’ve walked the city staring at strangers thinking they look like friends I know. I must say, so far, the city has treated me well. Either way, in the end, I’m simply ready to get to work doing a job I’ve been trained/educated to do and a job I have a passion for, whether or not I have a place to lay my head or food to fill my belly.
Now to say a word about DC.
This may be the weirdest city I’ve ever been in. The level of income inequality is sickening. So much power in so few hands is mind-numbing. I’ve seen many centers of power, whether, The White House, World Bank/IMF offices, State Department and national academies, The Capitol, and various world embassies and consulats. The city is a buzz with the upcoming Presidential Inauguration on Monday, which gives the city a false sense of excitement and hides the true personality of the city, I think. Either way, this is my new adopted city and I’m excited to see what it has in store for me.
This past week I was reading over the entries in my journal written this past year and decided, to create a sense of accountability, I would write out here the entry I wrote afterward.
Well today I turn 25 years old and can officially begin to believe that my life will fly by until I’m 60 and wondering where all the time went. I have no girlfriend, no job, I live at home, and yet I’ve done some absolutely amazing things in this last year of my life. I’ve travelled to three continents, I’ve overlooked the Rift Valley, I developed some life-long friends, I had too much fun, I’ve seen countries torn apart by war, I’ve seen countries rebuilding. I’ve seen the Rhine Falls in Switzerland and seen Castles in England. I’m extremely thankful for the life I’ve had and am able to live. And I’m excited to see what year 25 has in store for me and those around me. To ensure that year 25 is great I’ve got a list of “things” I want to accomplish in this year.
1. Get a great job abroad
2. Learn to decisive in decision-making
3.Learn to be vulnerable
4.Travel with friends
5. See Asia and South America
6. Pay off loads of school debt
7. Visit one place abroad you’ve already been simply to see it through new eyes
I want to really learn who I am this next year. I want to explore the heights of my ambition. I want to delve into the depths of past pain. I want to uncover space inside me that has the capacity to love just a little bit more. I want to learn to be a better son, brother, friend, and citizen of this bubble we call Earth. “
Now for the important part, it’s up to those of you who read this to help me, keep me accountable to the things I want to achieve. Here’s to 25 years old and hopefully another memorable year.
New blog post on my research in Kenya featured on the youthpolicy.org website.
For those of you who do not know, for the last year of my life I lived in Sheffield, United Kingdom. I was there pursuing a Master’s degree in International Development. I have learned so much from the city and people of Sheffield; not too mention, had incredible life-changing experiences and opportunities. There are no words to accurately express my gratitude for everything that the past year has held. It is only now, looking back, that I can put into words what I have learned. Apart from learning immense amounts about the development sector and all the academic knowledge that can be crammed into one’s brain in a year’s time, I want to comment on some of the more subtle things I have learned. I will preface these lessons with the fact that I am still working through and processing much of what my Sheffield experience has taught me about my life, the world, my faith and professional life. I’ll leave you with three lessons for now.
The first thing I learned came immediately. I learned to live within my own loneliness. Most think that loneliness is a negative word and conjures up emotions of sadness and depression. Initially, I did feel a bit of sadness and depression at the prospect of moving across the world to a country completely foreign to my own. It took sometime for me to realize that loneliness can also teach me valuable lessons. I can remember distinctly the moment when I came to grips with my own loneliness. I was sitting in my small room at Opal 2 staring out of the window around October when it hit me, “Barrett, you’re alone, deal with it and move on. You’ve been miserable but you have a chance to get involved in really good things here. You have the support of family and friends at home so just get on with it already.” I guess it’s that old fashioned “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” American mentality. But in that moment I was quietly conquering my loneliness and harnessing it into proactive possibilities. Many people can’t get past the notion they are lonely and begin to sink into the trap of loneliness.
Loneliness is sneaky monster. It silently and painfully finds its way into our thoughts and actions until it renders us paralyzed. Loneliness whispers to us lies about who we are, who we were created to be, how we interact in the world, and about the motivations of those who are trying to get to know us in new places.
The second thing I am learning is that power is addictive. I know it seems common sense and everyone always says that power corrupts people. I now know it does indeed subtlety change our thinking. I’m not talking about the power to make personal decisions but rather the power to influence others, to influence change, and more specifically in my case, to influence development policy and programs. Unchecked addictions to power are dangerous not just personally but socially, within the group you find yourself a part. Selfish, uncontrolled, idealized power corrupts and it is indeed addictive. We must work to submit this kind of power to our self-control, ethic, and the relative positionality of our life. I’m still working out what this means in my life practically but it is something that I have learned over the past year.
Power, like loneliness, is a sneaky monster that casually works its way into our thinking to create arrogance, selfishness, and conceitedness. Working in and studying development brings to light the positive and negative consequences of power. I hope I have enough self-reflexivity to challenge power that I recognize is taking hold in my life.
The last thing I have learned over the past year is there are some truly amazing, spectacular, brilliant, hospitable, passionate, creative, energetic, deep, and insightful people in this world and I have had the privilege of spending time with them. There are entirely too many people I could thank and would feel the need to thank for the rest of my life, to mention here. I trust those of you who read this know who you are. In the end, it’s really the relationships and experiences I’ve shared with people that make up how amazing the past year of my life has been. From wine and cheese nights, to matches at Bramall Lane, to sketchy stories in Kenya, to cottage weekends in the Peak District, to the weekly coffee conversations, to the support and encouragement of a summer spent working ALL THE TIME, and finally to the people it’s extremely hard to say goodbye to; all have made up a year that I will never, ever, forget.
Photo: DRC 2003 © Marcus Bleasdale
Shifting Sands: Conflict Photojournalism and Ethics
What are the ethical responsibilities of photojournalists who choose to cover conflict? Can they be truly neutral or does one have a responsibility to reflect the moral and political imbalances of a given situation?
This panel will explore the ethical pressures on photojournalists in conflict and will consider their accountability for the positions they take; the pictures they make and how they make them; where they place their images; and the voice they attach to them.
The discussion will consider the responsibilities and consequences, intended and otherwise, of reporting on conflict.
Moderated by Stephen Mayes, director of VII Photo, the panel will include MSF USA’s communications director, Jason Cone; photographer Marcus Bleasdale; Philip Gourevitch, staff writer for the New Yorker; Thomas Keenan, director of the Human Rights Project at Bard College; and Kira Pollack, director of photography at TIME magazine.
This event will be webcast live on our site tonight at 6:30pm ET!
MSF is excellent at scheduling things I really want to see at times that I can’t.
If you missed the panel discussion on conflict photojournalism and ethics that we participated in, the recording is now available here.
The historical context of Afghanistan is rich in its relationship with foreign militaries and powers. Human rights abuses have taken place in Afghanistan long before the American, Taliban and Soviet takeovers and invasions. But, it was thought that the signing of the Bonn Agreement on 5 December 2001 would allow the transition to more democratic government systems, and therefore, more focus on crucial human rights and the prosecution of human rights abusers. Given the extensive history of covert operations in Afghanistan by the United States’ clandestine agencies and Special Forces groups, the growing outcry of the Hamid Karzai government to reign in those forces is critical in the US/Afghan relationship. The reigning in of Special Forces under Gen. Stanley McChrystal in 2010 should signal to US Special Forces, the US military, and Afghan government that US forces will be held accountable for their actions and acting with impunity, even implicitly, will have its consequences. Though US Special Forces are being reigned in to give more accountability and oversight to their missions, working relationships with Afghan Civil Defense Forces (CDFs), and networking among local populations; human rights abuses are still occurring.
The International Criminal Court, the first international court to begin trying human rights abusers has considerable working definitions of abuses. This article will focus on Article 7: Crimes Against Humanity, and Article 8: War Crimes. In turn this article will show how US Special Forces lack accountability to these Articles and other International Humanitarian Law through their implicit involvement in human rights violations given their close relationship to Afghan forces. Their impunity, neglect, and implicit/explicit human rights violations on their part and the part of their Afghan counterparts are cause for concern given the strained US/Afghan relationship.
Since the introduction of US Special Forces into Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, US Special Forces and Afghan forces have acted outside the realm of accountable, international and transnational human rights law. Though, some in the US military would have it believed that the nature of the war has changed since 2005 and the prevalent “warlordism” culture has shifted so as to have prominent warlords surrender their weapons, ammunition, and men to a concerted effort to build national cohesion, this presupposition is misleading. However, there has been a focus since the reigning in of US Special Forces in 2010 by Gen Stanley McChrystal, to reduce the number of civilian casualties. In the words of Muhammed Iqbal Safi, head of the defense committee in the Afghan Parliament, “In most of the cases of civilian casualties, special forces are involved…We are always finding out they are not following the rules that other forces in Afghanistan have to.”
Human Rights Watch, a prominent human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) has outlined implicit human rights abuses committed by US Special Forces or their counterparts, the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan National Police (ANP) or Afghan Local Police (ALP) in their report, “Just Don’t Call it a Militia: Impunity, Militias, and the Afghan Local Police.” Though within the report they do not expressly link ANP or ALP human rights abuses with US Special Forces, the lack of oversight by the Special Forces, who are legally obliged to provide oversight to forces receiving funding, training, support, and guidance from them, is grossly negligent and implicit with human rights violations.
The continuing push for more control of the country into the hands of the Afghan government, the ANA, ANP, and ALP means that the US government, Military and Special Forces have used less than accountable means to speed up security development in the final push towards the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. This has led to laxed vetting and training for ANP and ALP forces by US Special Forces in charge of their training and support. The blind eye that US Special Forces turn towards employing former warlords or militias is concerning. Amnesty International, another prominent human rights NGO is also encouraging greater oversight and accountability of ANP and ALP forces by US Special Forces tasked with training Afghan forces to reduce civilian casualties and human rights violations.
Though much of the focus on human rights abuses as been positioned in terms of Taliban and Al-Qaeda raids, suicide bombings, and extrajudicial killings; the international community should also take note of the negligent oversight by US Special Forces to control revenge killings, extrajudicial killings, torture, land grabs, and private militia growth through US military support and equipment. Under international humanitarian law, international forces are obliged to ensure accountability for their actions and the actions of those they operate with. The US military has come forward to acknowledge the abuses carried out by Afghan militias and ANP/ALP forces under their mandate to support. A report by US Military investigators into 32 alleged cases of human rights abuses, was carried out in September 2011 using US Military investigative units interviewing provincial reconstruction teams, Afghan civilians, elders, local and provincial members of government, and staff within the Ministry of the Interior. 
As part of this investigation, the 32 alleged cases of human rights abuses under ICC Articles 7 and 8 were heavily investigated. The report was commissioned as part of US Army Regulation 15-6, which states a commander must conduct an informal investigation into “the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations of human rights violations appearing in a recently published report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled, Just Don’t Call it a Militia: Impunity, Militias and ‘the Afghan Local Police’.” This report details human rights violations concerning local Civil Defense Forces (CDFs), under the support and monitoring of US Special Forces. Specifically, the report details militias given power, weapons, money, and support by US Military and Special Forces units to run Civil Defense Forces (CDFs) given the uptick in insurgent activity in the Baghlan, Uruzgan, Kandahar, Kunduz, Wardak, and Herat provinces. The power that CDFs now have in these provinces led to an increase in human rights violations against the general Afghan public, such as, sexual assaults and rape, land grabs, extrajudicial killings, unauthorised night raids, unauthorised and illegal detention of suspected insurgents.
The US Military, NATO and other international forces working in Afghanistan have acknowledged that Special Forces often work outside of established mandates and therefore require greater scrutiny. However, this has not resulted in many positive changes in policy. The US Military working with the Afghan government should begin working to establish clearer mandates for Civil Defense Forces to ensure the protection of human rights in Afghanistan. This clarity in mandates not only helps ANP and ALP forces understand their limits and responsibilities but also gives clearer guidelines to US Special Forces who are working alongside those forces. The rule of law must be upheld and US Special Forces, ANA, ANP, and ALP forces working to secure Afghanistan should learn to be accountable for their explicit and implicit human rights violations. As well, the international community has an obligation to ensure that the rule of law is being followed. The role of independent human rights NGOs in Afghanistan is clear, they must continue to pursue allegations of human rights violations by any side, insurgent or allied forces.
 Rubin, B. (2003) Transnational Justice and Human Rights in Afghanistan. International Affairs, Vol. 79, No. 3, pp. 567-581.
 NY Times Article [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/world/asia/16afghan.html?_r=3&pagewanted=all
 See ICC Website [online] Available at: http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/ADD16852-AEE9-4757-ABE7-9CDC7CF02886/283503/RomeStatutEng1.pdf
 See US Military Congressional Report [online] Available at: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a458286.pdf
 See NY Times Article [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/world/asia/16afghan.html?_r=3&pagewanted=all
 See HRW Report [online] Available at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/09/12/just-don-t-call-it-militia-0
 Amnesty International Report [online] Available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA11/012/2012/en/56fda1ab-5068-4cc0-a229-9557a92114c3/asa110122012en.pdf
 See Amnesty International Report [online] Available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA11/011/2012/en/36323bf2-b186-422b-882a-d35ba22c10f6/asa110112012en.pdf
 See Washington Post Article [online] Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/us-military-acknowledges-abuse-by-afghan-militias-it-trains/2011/12/15/gIQA6zzqwO_story.html
 See US Military Report investigating the HRW Report [online] Available at: http://www.isaf.nato.int/images/stories/File/2011-12-06%20AR15-6%20Findings%20and%20Recommendations%20on%20ALP%20Report%20%28EXSUM%29%20%28Redacted%29.PDF
Breakfast. Granola with fresh raspberries, dried strawberries and almonds. (Taken with Instagram at 16 Upper Albert Road)
(Source: , via besecretlyincredible)