Find my full series of articles written for this US-based publication here, including on Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid in China, Norman Foster’s Beijing Terminal 3, China’s emerging generation of architects, Alaska’s Museum of the North (also covered for TIME), and Berlin’s Grand Central Station.
About Jo Baker
South China Morning Post, August 2012.
San Francisco has always had an acute sense of the frontier, and this can be said for its arts scene as well as for its gung-ho economy.
As a gold rush town, it was unusually cosmopolitan. In the mid-1800s it hosted up to 37 foreign consuls and boasted newspapers and theatre productions in at least five languages. By the time Mark Twain turned up in the 1860s, the city was a blur of bohemian activity, with strip after strip of saloons, boarding houses, dance halls, brothels and theatres.
During the next century, this bohemia fell victim to industry and the power of the American puritans; it is no coincidence that its architecture is so frothily Victorian. But its role as an artistic frontier somehow survived and ‘heading west’ has brought out the best in many writers since – from Jack London and Jack Kerouac to Isabel Allende and Amy Tan.
For anyone wanting to get a real sense of the place – after the trips to Alcatraz and a few laps of the bridge…
I joined NGO and OHCHR staff to present research at the panel, ‘Evolution of the recent debate on defamation of religions‘, on behalf of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and the SOAS Human Rights Clinic, during the 16th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva. The study (available here in full, co-written with Julia Alfandari and Regula Atteya) charts the development of discourse on religious defamation at the United Nations, and analyses blasphemy cases in Pakistan, Syria and Algeria using the international human rights legal framework. It has been published by the Social Science Research Network , and was well used by NGOs and delegates at the Session in the lead up to a groundbreaking draft resolution that better preserved the right to free expression. The resolution was pronounced a ‘landmark’ by then-US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.
Other panelists included the Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division at the Office of the UN High Commissioner…
This is part of my contribution to ‘Defamation of Religions: International Developments and Challenges on the Ground’, published by the Social Science Research Network, for the Cairo Institute on Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).
SECTION 3: CASE STUDIES FROM THREE OIC STATES
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a majority Muslim population, and has passed some of the world’s strictest national laws on blasphemy and the defamation of religion. Its provisions are established in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), its Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and its constitution. Many of these provisions were introduced or strengthened between 1977 and 1988 during the reign of military dictator Zia ul-Haq, known for his ‘Islamisation’ of the country, mostly under martial law. Under General Zia, Shari’a Benches were established in the high courts and the Supreme Court (which had the jurisdiction to examine the compliance of domestic laws with Islamic law, even if no complaint was brought before them),…
Social Science Research Network, 2011.
Abstract: This paper aims to provide a general overview of the current debate on religious defamation laws internationally, and to research and analyse the use and impact of the ‘defamation of religion’ concept and blasphemy laws on freedom of expression in three OIC member states. Part I of the paper will explore the evolution of the concept within the UN in three sections: Section One looks at the positions held by the OIC since the introduction of the initial resolution on defamation of religion at the UN; Section Two explores the counter positions held by NGOs and states in disagreement; and Section Three examines the treatment of this concept in other UN reports, namely from its committees and independent experts, as a measure of the current international consensus. Part II of this project is a study of three selected OIC member states: Algeria, Syria and Pakistan. In this section we present the national laws on religious defamation and…
Between 2007 and 2010 I worked in Hong Kong and various countries in Asia as advocacy programme manager for the AHRC and its sister organisation, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a regional NGO. This involved managing and writing advocacy strategies and content, liaising on casework with state officials and UN Special Procedures, and advocacy at high level fora, namely the UN Human Rights Council. Other activities, included field research on witness protection, violence against women and torture in various Asian countries and delivering workshops for human rights defenders. Below is a small selection of my work, taken from over a hundred articles and appeals written during my time there.
Reports and submissions:
ASIA: Council urged to act to protect rights by protecting human rights defenders, a written statement to the Human Rights Council, Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, 23 February 2010.
PAKISTAN: Judicial obedience and a weak…
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 22 April 2011
Since Architecture for Humanity first made its mark in 1999 with a competition to design transitional housing for returning refugees in Kosovo, it has used designers’ competitive streaks to its advantage. Its competitions have produced the ultimate mobile health clinic for AIDS victims in Sub-Saharan Africa, a factory to connect indigenous chocolate producers in the Ecuadorian Amazon with the global marketplace, and many more. Each competition has garnered fame and funding, showing in travelling exhibitions and drawing a range of panellists, from architect Frank Gehry to actor Cameron Diaz. The blueprints are uploaded on the Open Architecture Network (www.openarchitecturenetwork.org ) for use across the world, while the winning prototype is funded and built.
This may present an interesting challenge for the 2011 competition, which will ask architects to repurpose disused military installations for civic use. “They’re built with…
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 4 March 2011
Philosopher Alain de Botton is bent on revitalising British ‘comfort’ architecture
For those who live in it, and visit it, British architecture is a wellspring of nostalgia. Spare a thought for the landscape here and you will likely envisage Georgian manor houses amid rolling hills, or perhaps the sooty brick-and-mortar of Sherlock Holmes’ London. And while this has long been good news for the tourist board, for writer and popular philosopher Alain de Botton, it is an endless source of frustration.
“Liking modern architecture is a kind of sect here,” the Swiss-born de Botton complains from a cosy brickbound office in north London. “It’s like witchcraft, or something slightly unusual. Because Britain industrialised so fast there’s a tremendous desire for history. But there’s a reason things become history.”
As a writer, long based in England, de Botton has dedicated himself to reforming the public understanding…
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 22 April 2011
A humanitarian design group is redefining crisis response across the globe, writes Jo Baker.
Twelve years ago a designer caught in a disaster zone might have been at rather a loss at how to pitch in; but when the quakes hit Japan last month it took very little time for the architects to rally. There were readymade chapters in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto with access to a global network of nearly 5,000 volunteer design professionals, a template for crisis response, and an online bank of designs, all relevant to post-crisis reconstruction and free for the download. And joining all these dots was the only international humanitarian-oriented organization to have pioneered design as a tool to fight disaster: Architecture for Humanity (AFH). Throughout the last month AFH has been working to link the Japan Institute of Architects (JIA) and professional building associations with designers and funders across the world as they start the long rebuild…
Human rights, law and development
The Asia Sentinel, Hong Kong: www.asiasentinel.com
The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong: www.humanrights.asia
The Historical Justice and Memory Research Network at the at The Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Australia: www.historicaljusticeandmemorynetwork.ne
DIGNITY – The Danish Institute Against Torture, Copenhagen: www.dignityinstitute.dk
Human Rights Monitor Quarterly for the International Service for Human Rights, Geneva: www.ishr.ch
Groundviews, Sri Lanka: www.groundviews.org
The Guardian, London: www.guardian.co.uk
Open Democracy, London: www.opendemocracy.net
Oxford Human Rights Hub, Oxford: ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk
Penal Reform International, London: www.penalreform.org/blog
The Social Science Research Network: www.ssrn.com
Say-NO-UNiTE (UN Portal): http://saynotoviolence.org/
University of Essex Human Rights Centre Blog, blogs.essex.ac.uk/hrc
UN Women: www.unwomen.org
Books, Journals, Reports and Newspapers