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About Isabel Hilton

Isabel Hilton is the editor of, and was editor of openDemocracy from March 2005-July 2007. She is a journalist, broadcaster, writer and commentator.

Articles by Isabel Hilton

This week’s front page editor

Adam Ramsay, Editor

Adam Ramsay is a co-editor of openDemocracyUK.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

In deep water: China tests its neighbours’ patience

China’s rapid growth is placing increasing demands on natural resources in the region but Beijing’s political rise is encouraging the dictatorship to flex its muscles as associated tensions rise.

Justice in the world's light

What precedent did the arrest of former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet set for international justice? An interview from the openDemocracy archive.

Isabel Hilton

If the world’s surface is also a measure of the world’s peoples, then the People’s Republic of China is the most significant “vast swathe” to have achieved democracy by 2050. How did this come about? In the dark years of 2008 to 2012, when progress towards openness and pluralism in China seemed to have stalled, it seemed highly unlikely.  But the economic crisis, the resource crunch, food price inflation and the bursting of the real estate bubble that had underpinned much of the Chinese economy created an opening for progressive voices in the Party to argue for a Hungarian style transition. It was a high risk venture: they were opposed by an extremely powerful security sector and by die hard elements of the Party. They were supported, however, by an enthusiastic people who recognized that increasing repression was a sign of weakness at the top, not strength. The Party split that followed allowed the successor parties peacefully to compete in the elections of 2015 and the adoption of a new, federal constitution.

Shanghai World Expo 2010 Demotix/Alec Ash. All rigths reserved.

Chile's global drama

An extraordinary Latin American country gifts another story to the world. But Chile's latest epic carries many ghosts in its train, writes Isabel Hilton.

Central Asia's water problem

A regional crisis created mainly by disastrous Soviet policies will only be exacerbated by the challenges of climate change, a Kyrgyz water expert tells Isabel Hilton.

We are visible

Katana Gégé Bukuru spoke to Isabel Hilton at the Nobel Women's Initiative gathering in Antigua about her work for women's human rights and the search for durable peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Violence targets the weakest

We have found that the primary cause of all the violence and submission which women undergo is discrimination, and it is this which makes us more vulnerable than the others. Lucie Minzigama spoke to Isabel Hilton at the Nobel Women's initiative gathering in Guatemala about her work in Burundi working for women and children's human rights

For democracy to flourish, it has to be a culture as well as a process

Behind the high walls of a hotel in Antigua, the tranquil colonial capital of Guatemala, as the more than 100 women participants moved into the third day of “redefining democracy” some 40 miles away in the modern capital Guatemala City, democracy did a little redefining of its own. It was precipitated by an event unusual even for Guatemala: the distribution at the funeral of a murder victim of a video in which the deceased, a respected lawyer, accused the president, his wife and his secretary of organising not only his own murder – he was shot on the streets of Guatemala City while riding his bicycle on Sunday - but the murders earlier in the year of two of his clients.

The neglected story of war

When men have done making war on each other and on each other’s women, many return to home to make war on their own. Aftermath is the neglected story of war: what happens to the guerrilla fighter after he lays down his gun? Or to the former soldiers with stories of horrors never told, men cast adrift from the companionship of shared military experience, alone with unspoken memories?

The evidence is that many come home to act out their nightmares through violence against women.

Courting justice

What can a government do to harass women fighting for their rights when they are not breaking the law? In Iran, according to Shirin Ebadi, Nobel prize winner, lawyer and human rights defender, one answer is to use the power of the courts against them. The Iranian delegation to the second meeting of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which opened today in Guatemala, was meant to have five members. Two of them were prevented from leaving the country. Narges Mohammadi, spokesperson for the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights and an award-winning human rights defender in her thirties, and Soraya Arzizpanati, a Kurdish Iranian journalist active in the campaign to clear land mines in Iran, had passed through passport control at Tehran airport, their exit visas safely stamped in their passports, when they were called back by the police. Their passports were confiscated and they were notified that both were subject to court cases. They will now face charges in the revolutionary courts.

Engaging with Power

The night the SAS stormed the Iranian embassy in London, May 5th 1980 - a very wet bank holiday as it happened - I was entertaining the writer Marilyn French, who died last weekend, to a very expensive dinner in the Savoy. The choice of location was hers and the bill, fortunately, was picked up by my then employer, for whom I was to interview her.

It did not go particularly well. I was a big fan. Like many women of my generation, I had devoured The Women’s Room, French’s first novel. It read like a souped up fictional account of the insights that Betty Friedan had published in The Feminine Mystique a few years earlier. I was keen to meet the author.

Guantánamo: the inside story

Clive Stafford Smith is a lawyer who represents many of the more than 500 prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. In an exclusive interview for openDemocracy, he describes the prison camp and the conditions that lawyers work under, tells us that his clients have been tortured and explains how false information extracted by torture is contaminating US intelligence. Listen to Guantánamo, the inside story.

(This was first published on 23 November 2005)

openDemocracy: a farewell salute

openDemocracy's experience is proof of the value and influence of serious global journalism on the web, says our departing editor-in-chief Isabel Hilton.

Peacework: lessons we have failed to learn

Isabel Hilton reports from Galway on the first international conference of the 2007 Nobel Women's Initiative: Women redefining peace in the Middle East and Beyond

The "Economist" and Britain's future

The Economist newspaper presents an optimistic picture of Britain in the age of globalisation. Isabel Hilton digests its argument and invites openDemocracy readers to respond.

Hrant Dink: an openDemocracy tribute

openDemocracy's Anthony Barnett and Isabel Hilton pay tribute to Turkish journalist and democrat, Hrant Dink who was murdered today in Istanbul.

2007, reflections and predictions

In the last days of 2006, openDemocracy columnists, contributors and friends from around the world share their thoughts about the coming year.

Alfredo Stroessner: revisiting the general

Alfredo Stroessner ruled Paraguay with an iron fist from 1954 to 1989. On 16 August 2006, the general died in lonely exile in Brazil, where he found asylum seventeen years ago after being ousted in a coup. He didn't grant interviews, but made an exception for Isabel Hilton. Here are excerpts from that interview, "The General", first published in Granta magazine in April 1990.

Happy (5th) Birthday to us! openDemocracy greetings

openDemocracy went live on 13 May 2001. We invited friends, colleagues and authors to mark the fifth anniversary. A selection of their messages follows one from our editor, Isabel Hilton.

Beijing's media chill

The criticisms of media censorship in China are spreading to former members of the political elite, reports Isabel Hilton.

Imagining power: Carlos Fuentes interviewed

Carlos Fuentes, one of Latin America's foremost novelists, talks to Isabel Hilton about his latest book The Eagle's Throne which explores the nature of power and presidency in a future Mexico. 

The right to life: an interview with Sister Helen Prejean

Over 1000 people have been executed in the US since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976. Sister Helen Prejean, a leading campaigner against capital punishment and author of “Dead Man Walking,” talks to Isabel Hilton about the flaws in the American judicial system and whether the death penalty will ever be abolished. Plus, an exclusive extract from her new book “The Death of Innocents”.

What does 2006 have in store? (part one)

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006.

What does 2006 have in store? (part two)

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006.

Forty-nine of openDemocracy’s distinguished contributors, from Mariano Aguirre to Slavoj Zizek, Neal Ascherson to Jonathan Zittrain – offer their predictions for the coming year. Since this is openDemocracy, we did not expect them to agree. We were not disappointed.

A New Year message from openDemocracy

A seasonal letter to all openDemocracy readers and supporters from our editor, Isabel Hilton.

From Vietnam to Iraq: Daniel Ellsberg interviewed

Daniel Ellsberg pioneered modern “whistleblowing” when, as a former insider, he revealed the Pentagon’s classified, 7,000-page history of the Vietnam war in 1971. Why did he do it, and what lessons can he give to those troubled by the Iraq war today? Listen to Daniel Ellsberg’s four-part interview with openDemocracy’s Isabel Hilton.

America's secret prisons: Alvaro Gil-Robles interviewed

The CIA is accused of operating “black sites” – secret prisons in Europe, using European airports for clandestine flights connected to the transfer of unacknowledged prisoners. Alvaro Gil-Robles, human-rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, tells openDemocracy’s Isabel Hilton that this must stop – and that democrats cannot fight terrorism by abandoning their principles and values.

Guantánamo: the United States's torture

The United Nations has cancelled its fact-finding mission to Guantánamo Bay, citing American obfuscation. Isabel Hilton reports from a London conference where ex-Guantánamo detainees reveal what the United States prefers to hide.

Álvaro Uribe's gift: Colombia's mafia goes legit

Colombia's plan to demobilise and integrate violent, drug-trafficking paramilitary mafias is an invitation to criminalise the state, says Isabel Hilton. 

Democracy and openDemocracy

Terrorism, fundamentalism, and neo-liberal globalisation each pose a challenge to democracy. openDemocracy intends to play a key role defending and deepening democracy, explain Anthony Barnett and Isabel Hilton.

9/11, four years after

openDemocracy’s editor Isabel Hilton introduces a selection of the reflections and analyses we have published about the “two hours that shook the world”.

China's freedom test

Chinese journalists are braving censorship and repression, but the complicity of companies like Yahoo and Google makes their stand harder, reports Isabel Hilton.

Letter from wounded London

On the 7th July 2005, 56 people were killed in a series of coordinated bomb attacks in the UK capital.

Letter from wounded London

The terror attacks in London are a moment to reaffirm democratic values, says openDemocracy editor Isabel Hilton.

(This article was first published on 7 July 2005)

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