All entries for May 2021
May 25, 2021
Project Team members (Source: author)
Written by: Bronwen Webster
Whilst working as a research assistant for Dr Briony Jones in November 2019, I joined a project team exploring the search for victims of enforced disappearance in Colombia and El Salvador, specifically the legal frameworks and search mechanisms available for families and friends as they search for their disappeared loved ones. The team consisted of researchers from search organisations in Colombia and El Salvador, namely Dejustica and Pro Búsqueda, the practice-oriented research institute swisspeace and the universities of Lausanne and Warwick. The project was funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS). Considering the global scope of the project, it was managed by a remarkably small team of ten members. Five of them were working in Dejustica and Pro Búsqueda and played a vital part in the project by conducting the interviews of eleven different relatives and civil society actors in Colombia and El Salvador. Assessing these interviews alongside the legal frameworks and the actors involved in the search formed the basis of the project’s analysis.
Although the project team managed to meet a few times in person, it relied to a great degree on online collaboration from the start due to its international scope. As such, not much seemed to change when the world first plunged into lockdown back in March 2020. Whilst technology would always be necessary for a global project, the pandemic made online video calls even more essential. However, the ease with which the team worked together makes it easy to overlook the challenge of pulling-off an interdisciplinary, multilingual project, spanning organisations, time zones and languages, not forgetting the small issue of a global pandemic. So, what exactly made the project tick?
Throughout my time working with the team, I have noticed that the willingness of team members to learn from one another is crucial to the project’s success. Being part of an interdisciplinary project requires that you step out of your comfort zone, that being the discipline in which you are trained, and learn about a topic from a new and different angle. The range of disciplines within the project was diverse, spanning from practitioners and academics who were psychologists to traditionally trained lawyers and to political scientists. This allowed the team to analyse the experiences of the families and friends of the disappeared through three main paradigms: the legal, the psychosocial and the political. Regular communication, as a whole and in break-out groups, was not just a requirement but a necessity. It enabled the team to draw out how exactly these paradigms overlapped and combined to produce a lived experience for the victims of enforced disappearance. This was coupled with an open approach, which provided each team member the space and guidance they needed to understand such a complex topic. Personally, coming from a political science background, I found the team’s constant willingness to explain the legal frameworks at play really encouraged me to cultivate my own ideas, and feel at ease in communicating them.
When lockdown hit, we were lucky to have already been working together for a year, so the online environment did not faze us. In fact, not only did the team seamlessly continue in its work, but the regular meetings became a much-needed point of familiarity during the uncertainty of those first lockdown days. This enabled meetings to feel fluid and allowed for spontaneity within meetings as we brainstormed ideas. This is crucial when analysing a difficult and emotional topic through not just one, but three distinctly different disciplines.
The importance of cultivating this interdisciplinarity has become increasingly apparent to me as I have been helping to write the last of the three resulting papers. The paper explores the intersection between the legal and social definitions of what it means to be a ‘victim’ of enforced disappearance. Six members of the team have helped to write the paper, which is based on the methodological guidance of Mina, a Swiss-based academic specialising in psychology, and Lisa, a Swiss-based lawyer, who coordinates the whole project. I wrote the introduction, delving into the sociological definitions of the victim’s identity: Alejandro, a Colombian lawyer, and Ana, a Swiss-based lawyer, complemented this with outlines of the legal developments in both countries. Pamela, a Salvadorian psychologist, and Mina then analysed the interviews of the victims. Following this, Mina and Lisa edited the paper as a whole. All of our work on the paper took place through online conversations to explore the legal concepts and perceptions that victims had referred to across the disciplines, languages, and local contexts. Co-drafting a document on Google Drive meant that each of us could edit and see the edits of others in real-time, allowing us to work simultaneously on the paper and streamline our arguments. This short description provides a snapshot of the workings of an interdisciplinary project in reality.
Finally, what stood out most for me was the team’s warm and welcoming attitude. This attitude lies at the heart of the project’s success as a multi- and interdisciplinary project. Each team member not only brought something uniquely valuable to the table but was encouraged to actively develop their ideas across the disciplines; it is precisely this collage of different disciplines that has led to such rich analyses and conclusions.
Bronwen Webster completed her Masters in International Development at the University of Warwick in September 2020, during which time she became involved in the SNIS project whilst working as a research assistant for Dr Briony Jones. She also holds a Bachelors from the University of Warwick in German and English.
Links to project pages:
Dejustica’s “virtual museum”, which the project helped bring to life.
May 11, 2021
Written by Dana Justus
Vaccine nationalism, meaning that higher-income countries are buying up disproportionate amounts of vaccine doses for their own populations, has been a concern since the first COVID-19 vaccines entered clinical trial phases in mid-2020. Multilateral solidarity seems to have given way to competitive behaviour in light of what a recent RAND survey called the ‘arms race’ towards global vaccination. This will affect not only poorer regions, but also the global economy with expected losses of trillions (USD) in global GDP. While this behaviour might seem like a logical consequence of self-protection, there is a need for closer examination. For example, Germany alone has ordered at least 323 million doses from six different vaccines for a population of 83 million. The EU seems to find themselves in the middle of a fight of political wills by promoting global value chains and calling for global cooperation. At the same time, they are threatening vaccine manufacturers over ambiguous contractual obligations favouring EU citizens in a row that could threaten vaccine distribution.
Global immunity is seen as the primary means to end the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and has substantial implications for global health governance. Yet, it would be a misconception to argue that the approval of several vaccines for rollout is equivalent to a cure-all solution. In addition to limited access for developing countries, there are problems of logistics and storage, not to forget widespread hesitancy to get vaccinated due to misinformation. Beyond humanitarian reasons to promote vaccines for all, the phrase “no-one is safe until everyone is safe” is more than just a campaign slogan for COVAX. The pandemic has shown by now that global cooperation is a necessary means for global recovery. More so, the crisis presents the international community with the opportunity to strengthen fragile health systems holistically. The pandemic has already complicated access to health care services around the world, resulting in setbacks for childhood immunisations in 70 developing countries. Additionally, treatments for non-communicable diseases and routine surgeries have become hard to come by with millions of patients affected worldwide.
Continued delays to the global vaccine rollout will result in substantial economic shocks and developing countries will likely see the worst of these effects. Prolonged exposure to physical distancing measures and public disinvestments will not only affect global supply chains but are already inhibiting progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Food insecurity was already rising before the emergence of this virus while continued restrictions and resulting threats to people’s livelihoods are active threats to food systems and efforts to alleviate global hunger. This adds to the problem of infrastructure. India and South Africa have high production capacities (India is home to the largest producer of vaccines worldwide), but also have high exposure and mortality rates, while the poor and rural populations are difficult to reach. The situation in India today is highly problematic; as the country is experiencing new daily totals of over 300,000 infections, immunisation efforts are seriously constrained by the struggling health system. Chile, on the other hand, has been impressively fast to vaccinate its mostly rural population but cases are rising nonetheless, resulting in significant problems for health services and political stability. Middle-income countries may find themselves in the difficult position of being neither too rich, nor too poor for receiving vaccines in the short term, especially problematic considering they are more susceptible to economic shocks than some high-income countries. Competition between buyers – in addition to companies’ manufacturing problems – are actively constraining public health campaigns for widespread rollouts, while resulting issues for health services are likely to induce setbacks for building back societies.
Middle-and lower-income countries not adequately recovering from the pandemic will lead to hundreds of billions in GDP losses for rich countries. Such numbers suggest significant economic incentives for affected nations to commit to equitable vaccinations. In the wordsof the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), ‘a US$ 27.2 billion investment on the part of advanced economies – the current funding shortfall […] – is capable of generating returns as high as 166x the investment’. Thus far, COVAX is set out to distribute 1.8-2 billion doses to 92 lower-income countries. Despite these promising numbers experts claim that COVAX is insufficient, ‘wholly unequipped’ to meet the 70% target for global immunisation. Moreover, World Bank assessments of countries’ vaccination readiness show dramatic shortfalls when it comes to safety systems (68%), trained staff (30%), and social engagement strategies (27%) which are necessary to meet vaccine hesitancy.
Consequently, there is a clear need and opportunity to strengthen public health beyond borders, to invest in human capital and facilitate access to medical tools. Such efforts could build widespread resilience in those regions which are still most susceptible to public health emergencies. Research shows that this is not “just” a humanitarian mission or an ethical motivation; there are significant economic incentives for rich countries to open themselves up to equitable vaccine distribution. Calling on leaders to share unused vaccine doses is a start, but achieving global targets will nonetheless require a more widespread response to expand capacities in poorer regions in order to avoid gaps in time and prevent likely new mutations. If this pandemic has shown us something, it is that there is a clear discrepancy between economically-motivated and public-good policy-making. Given the unequal speed of vaccine rollouts and rapidly rising case rates in countries like Chile, Germany and India in spite of access to high quantities of vaccines, it should become clear that domestic immunisation is not the singular solution for recovery. It is time for global leaders to re-invest in existing global governance mechanisms as it has become obvious that this crisis is truly global – and thus requires a global solution to build capacities beyond national borders.
You can help by calling on pharma companies to donate more of their doses for free. Sign Amnesty International’s petition here.
Read more on COVAX rollout here.
Dana Justus is a Postgraduate student of International Security at Warwick and a volunteer research assistant for WICID. Her key research interests are global health, security, and development. She is currently working on her dissertation discussing how global health governance is framed in security and human rights-based discourse.