by Gunnar Eigener

Content warning: mentions violence, execution, massacre, abortion, domestic violence

‘For example, what does the billboard say,
 Come and play, come and play
 Forget about the movement’

Freedom – Rage Against The Machine

A UN-declared famine is threatening the lives of over a million people in South Sudan, with 100,000 of those facing immediate starvation. It has been six years since a famine was last declared, but the difference is that this famine is the result of structural violence.

Violence has a broad definition and isn’t limited to acts of physical savagery carried out against individuals. The violence we most commonly recognise is media sensationalised. The relentless killing of young black men by US police officers. The torture of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay. The annihilation of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The executions and imprisonments of opposition political leaders in Russia and elsewhere.

Structural violence is a process whereby human rights and freedoms are slowly and aggressively  removed. In the case of South Sudan, the government have stopped aid agencies from getting to those areas in most need. Government forces have also deliberately attacked the food production abilities of the agricultural communities which produce food for vast areas of the country. While the government is now on the verge of allowing some agencies in and aid money is starting to flow, the problem of a government using such tactics on its own people will remain. In a country where 300,00 have already been killed in a civil war that has raged since 2013, the scars will take a long time to heal and will be prone to further in violence down the line.

Structural violence is a process whereby human rights and freedoms are slowly and aggressively  removed.

The idea of structures and support systems put in place by governments and institutions is to support citizens, to protect their rights and to care for those vulnerable individuals and groups who are unable to look after themselves. Yet, increasingly, it appears as these structures are being turned against populations.

The House of Commons, Congress, the Duma, and homes of politics the world over are supposed to be places of debate; for discussing the best way to look after a country and its people. They are now platforms to push through personal agendas and beliefs, to voice disagreement with experts and to make decisions that are, more and more, removed from the real world. Law enforcement agencies are used to keep the public in check rather than protecting it, as demonstrated by the latest Wikipedia leak on CIA surveillance.

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The Russian Duma. Photo credit: Frederick Florin

On International Women’s Day, the Texas House State Affairs Committee spent hours considering a Foetal Burial Bill. Despite claims that this has nothing to do with abortion processes, it is clearly an attempt to create barriers to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. The US President, Donald Trump, has promised that he will appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court with an eye to overturning Roe v Wade. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, earlier this year signed into a law an amendment that decriminalised various forms of domestic violence. In the US, three women are killed every day by domestic violence; in Russia, one woman dies every 40 minutes.

In the US, three women are killed every day by domestic violence; in Russia, one woman dies every 40 minutes.

The UK Department of Work and Pensions has, for many years now, been complicit in the deaths of thousands of people that have been declared ‘fit to work’ through work capability assessments (WCA), carried out by, often, US private firms. One in ten UK children now suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder and, globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-20 year-olds.  Combined with severe cuts to mental health trusts, it’s not hard to see why mental health is fast becoming one of the UK’s biggest problems. Despite the UK government pledging to tackle the stigma around mental health, the UK has seen a 68% increase in teenagers admitted to hospitals for self-harm over the past decade.

In Ecuador, the government has signed over the majority of the Intag region to mining corporations. Opposition groups are being silenced through dissolution, false charges and the suspension of civil rights. Political slander of such environmental groups by government officials demonstrates that profit is more important than biodiversity and natural beauty. Local populations are targets for intimidation, often through brutal local police forces. Ecuador will have an election on April 2nd. Hopefully this will be an opportunity to choose a president not driven by the money of transnational mining companies.

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Resistance in Intag. Photo credit: Earth First Journal

Structural violence is an insidious method used by those in power to force through political agendas that mainly benefit commercial and industrial interests. Institutions that are funded by the taxpayer are being used to extract yet more money from us, through attacks on our civil rights and physical and mental well-being. The public has very little say in how a government spends its money. This is, of course, a responsibility that has been given up in the belief that our government will use it for what is best, based on advice of experts. But we can see this is no longer the case.

Governments are filled with lawyers, business men and media moguls. This is what must change.

Governments are filled with lawyers, business men and media moguls. This is what must change. Ethical standards need to be higher, conflicts of interest cannot be allowed and those who make such decisions cannot be old friends and former colleagues of the very people they are supposed to be holding to higher standards. And we, the public, need to be more proactive in pointing out these conflicts – every single one. It’s an issue of individual well-being being eroded by laws and promises of economic growth.

What we need are global governments actively pursuing the interests of human good and protection for the world we live in. Otherwise, sooner or later, standards and rights will be a thing of the past. Forget about the distractions, don’t forget about the movement.

Featured image credit: Jamie Manley via Boston Review

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