Regarding Rights

Academic and activist perspectives on human rights

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The Marwan Affair: ‘War on Terror’ Resurgent

Image: flickr/

By Jayson S. Lamchek

Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, ANU

Believed to be a top Jemaah Islamiyah leader and one of the United States’ most-wanted terrorists – with a $5 million bounty on his head, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir (alias ‘Marwan’), was reportedly killed recently in a sensational police operation in the Philippines. The ‘success’ of the attack came at a heavy cost: some sixty other people died as well, mostly policemen.  The police operation and its aftermath illustrate the limited impact that recent commitments to respect human rights while countering terrorism, and to address the root causes of terrorism, have had on actual counter-terrorism practices.

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News and Events

Equal Justice Initiative

Jim Crow Doors: Equal Justice Initiative

This week the Centre hosted the Human Rights Tertiary Teachers Workshop. Co-convened by John Tobin (University of Melbourne), Andrew Byrnes (University of New South Wales) and CIGJ Director, Hilary Charlesworth, the Human Rights Tertiary Teachers annual workshops are fantastic opportunities to catch up with colleagues and hear about recent research, teaching innovations, and hurdles encountered. A highlight of this year’s event was Bryan Stevenson’s keynote address. Bryan is Director of the Equal Justice Initiative at NYU’s Law School and a long-time campaigner against capital punishment and for the rights of prisoners in the US. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a prison population that has ballooned from 300,000 in the early 1970s to 2.3 million today.

As is the case in Australia, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians, the story of imprisonment in the US is one of systemic racial discrimination:

In America, one out of every three black men born in 2001 will go to jail or prison if current trends continue. Black men are more than six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Nearly a third of black men in Alabama have lost the right to vote after being convicted of a felony. Without reform, it is estimated that 40% of the black male population in the State of Alabama will be permanently disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction.[1]

In his address, Bryan argued the power of narrative is ignored in traditional legal training, and that the failure to construct powerful narratives is the biggest problem we face in advancing social justice and human rights. We need narrative in order to make sense of particular human rights violations or, as Bryan put it, ‘to explain the incomprehensible’. We can’t understand the treatment of juvenile offenders in the US, for example, while ignoring the politics of race and fear that legitimates sentencing so many black children to die in prison under ‘life without parole’ sentences. In turn, this politics of race and fear can’t be understood in abstraction from America’s history of racial terror: campaigns of lynchings and violence that continued well after the abolition of slavery and whose impacts are still deeply felt.

Bryan called on human rights lawyers and teachers to draw on empirical research and socio-political investigative work – in addition to their traditional skills of interpreting and applying the law – to create explanatory narratives capable of  challenging systemic injustice. This is something that the Equal Justice Initiative has done in its recent report, ‘Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror’.

Human Rights Commission under attack again

After a period of sustained attacks on Human Rights Commission President, Gillian Triggs, it was revealed last week that Attorney-General George Brandis sought the resignation of Professor Triggs two weeks before the release of the Commission’s report on children in immigration detention. Hilary Charlesworth has again spoke out in support of Professor Triggs: Hilary’s interview on ABC Radio’s PM program is available here.

[1] Equal Justice Initiative:

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Reproductive Rights Victory and Challenges Ahead in the Inter-American Region

Artwork - Cristy C. Road @

Artwork – Cristy C. Road @

By Ciara O’Connell

University of Sussex

On January 21, 2015, Guadalupe, a Salvadoran woman sentenced to thirty years imprisonment after suffering a miscarriage, was pardoned seven years into her sentence. Guadalupe was one of a group of 17 women who are imprisoned in El Salvador as a result of obstetric complications, where the women have been found guilty of attempting to abort their pregnancies.[1] There is a complete ban on abortion in El Salvador, which means that even women who are raped or whose health is at a significant risk cannot abort a pregnancy. It also means that a pregnancy resulting in a malformed foetus that cannot survive outside the womb will not be terminated. For women in El Salvador, the ban on abortion is not only a violation of reproductive rights to health and autonomy, but in some situations may even take on characteristics of torture. Continue Reading →

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News and Events

Cynthia BanhamCongratulations to Cynthia Banham

Frequent Regarding Rights contributor and CIGJ member Cynthia Banham has successfully completed her PhD. Titled “The Responses of Liberal Democracies to the Torture of Citizens: A Comparative Study”, Cynthia’s research compares how three liberal democracies – Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom – responded to the torture of their own citizens after 11 September 2001. One of Cynthia’s examiner’s reports described her thesis as “an engaging read from beginning to end,” praising its detailed empirical analysis; another hailed it as a “substantial, original, well-written and well-documented contribution” to the field. This examiner added that, “The writing…was crystal clear, and the structure effective and well thought out.” Congratulations on a fantastic achievement, Cynthia!

Human Rights and the Universal Periodic Review: Rituals and Ritualism released

The new year also saw the publication of a new volume by CIGJ researchers. Edited by Hilary Charlesworth and Emma Larking, Human Rights and the Universal Periodic Review: Rituals and Ritualism (published by Cambridge University Press) provides the first sustained analysis of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and explains how the Review functions within the architecture of the United Nations. Drawing on socio-legal scholarship and the insights of human rights practitioners, essays in the volume consider the UPR’s regulatory power and the rituals and ritualism associated with the Review, and suggests how this ritualism might be overcome. Chapters include an examination of Canada’s appearance before the UPR by Regarding Rights editor, Benjamin Authers, and a consideration of Africa’s engagement with the mechanism by CIGJ affiliate, Takele Bulto.

Talk by  Bryan Stevenson

The upcoming Fifth Annual Human Rights Tertiary Teachers’ Workshop will feature a keynote lecture by Bryan Stevenson, Professor at NYU Law School and Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. One of America’s leading human rights lawyers and clinical law professors, Stevenson has been described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as American’s own Nelson Mandela and his soon to be released book, Just Mercy, has been described in the New York Times as ‘searing, moving and infuriating memoir’ of his experience in tackling racism and injustice in the American justice system. Bryan will offer his reflections on how to engage and motivate students to protect and promote human rights beyond the classroom.

If you’re interested in attending the Workshop, please register through this webform.