Regarding Rights

Academic and activist perspectives on human rights

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Normative Esperanto? A Closer Look at the Proposed Indicatorisation of the Right to Development in the UN

Declaration on RTDBy Siobhán Airey

There is now a very solid body of literature, both scholarly and practice-focused, on the relationship between indicators and human rights. It addresses pragmatic considerations (how indicators can develop precision on the normative content of human rights, especially for socio-economic human rights, and aid the monitoring of states’ duties to fulfill their international human rights obligations); political considerations (how the use of indicators can result in shifts in relationships between different policy spheres and their institutional mechanisms and human rights, and between human rights actors such as rights-holders and duty-bearers and those with responsibility for monitoring those institutions and actors); epistemological questions with normative effects (how indicators can foreground certain kinds of knowledge and ways of seeing the world and, through their use in a human rights context, can shape what we think a human right might be). This work can also illuminate the role of indicators, especially in a human rights context, in helping to solidify the “legality” of human rights norms (helping them become more “law-like”).

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News & Events

Stephen Toope

Stephen Toope

During a jam packed last week of November the Centre hosted two workshops: ‘Torture after 9.11: The Asia Pacific Context’ and ‘Futures of Human Rights’.

Torture after 9.11

Is there a false universalising of dignity in international human rights law? How do different understandings of the concept of dignity that we see across our region affect how local police and security forces think about the permissibility of torture? Should torture be understood as a problem of individual agency or a product of situational factors? If the latter, why does the human rights project privilege individual culpability for torture when thinking about prevention? How is literature used to communicate unspeakable crimes, such as disappearances and torture, that otherwise remain erased from the public record?

These were some of questions discussed at ‘Torture after 9.11: The Asia-Pacific Context’, held at ANU on 25 November. RegNet was fortunate to host eminent international law and international relations professor, Stephen Toope, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, who gave the keynote address. A recording of his address, ‘Can International Human Rights Law Prevent Torture?’ is available here. Pannelists and discussants included academics, PhD students and practitioners from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and the ANU College of Law, as well as from the University of Sydney, the Australian Catholic University, Monash University, the University of Western Australia, and the Association for the Prevention of Torture.

A blog about some of the fascinating ideas to emerge from this Workshop will appear on Regarding Rights in the new year. The Workshop was supported by an ANU Research School of Asia and the Pacific workshop and conference grant, as well as by the ‘Strengthening the International Human Rights System: Rights, Regulation, Ritualism’ Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship (FL 100100176).

Cynthia Banham

 Futures of Human Rights

Image: University of Essex on flickr under the CC by 2.0 license

Image: University of Essex on flickr under the CC by 2.0 license

The ‘Futures of Human Rights’ workshop marked the official end of Hilary Charlesworth’s ARC Laureate Fellowship project: ‘Strengthening the International Human Rights System: Rights, Regulation, Ritualism’, of which Regarding Rights has been a part.

Hilary opened the workshop with an overview of the ideas that provided the impetus for ‘Strengthening the International Human Rights System’. She discussed how regulatory theory, including the concept of ritualism, provides new ways of thinking about the striking gap between states’ human rights commitments and their implementation of those commitments.

With considerable fortitude, Stephen Toope – having been lured to CIGJ/RegNet for the ‘Torture after 9.11’ workshop, provided a second keynote address, this time engaging provocatively with the topic, ‘Religion, Ritualism and the Future of Human Rights’.

Megan Davis

Megan Davis

CIGJ alumna, Megan Davis, spoke about her experience as Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She discussed how ‘ritualism’ has provided a useful lens not only to analyse the hurdles faced in implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, but also to spur creative attempts to do things differently. For example, as Chair of the Permanent Forum, Megan has attempted to shift behaviours and how state representatives engage with the process by changing the rules and format of meetings and conferences.

Another CIGJ alumna, Fleur Adock (now at ANU’s National Centre for Indigenous Studies), joined Ben Authers and Emma Larking on a panel to discuss aspects of their research. Fleur traced the evolution of rights for indigenous peoples in international human rights law; Ben spoke about how human rights activists in Singapore are engaging with the Universal Periodic Review; and Emma considered the proliferation of international human rights instruments, arguing they have limited value and calling for a renewed focus on political mobilisation.

The workshop concluded with a wonderful panel of CIGJ PhD scholars, including Visiting PhD scholarship recipient, Siobhán Airey. Nara Ganbat, Marie-Eve Loiselle, and Christoph Sperfeldt joined Siobhán to provide insights to their doctoral research, on topics as diverse as ‘indicators and Overseas Development Assistance’ (look out for Siobhán’s post this coming Friday); the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities; how walls operate politically as a technology of regulation (see Marie-Eve’s earlier RR discussion of border policy, here); and ritualism in transitional justice contexts (read Christoph’s most recent RR post here).

Although the Fellowship has now concluded, work on various activities to come out of the project will continue for some time, and Regarding Rights will be maintained as the Centre’s blog. We are very sad to farewell one of our founding co-editors – Benjamin Authers, who is leaving the Centre to take up a position as Assistant Professor in law at the University of Canberra. Ben will still be involved in many of the Centre’s activities, though, and we will be twisting his arm to provide occasional RR posts. Emma Larking will stay on at the Centre for another year, and will continue editing RR, possibly with an expanded editorial team or with guest editors – more news on this in the new year!

As always, RR will provide lively and fresh insights from academics and activists on issues in human rights…so if you are not already an email subscriber, do sign up (see the menu item on the right of our homepage); and if you have an idea for a post, please contact Emma:

Our final post for the year will be this Friday, when Siobhán Airey considers the ‘indicatorisation’ of the right to development. For now, we wish all our readers a happy and peaceful end of the year, and things to enrich and bring joy in the year ahead.

– Emma & Ben

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Climate Change and Human Rights: beneficial links?

By Jolyon Ford, College of Law, ANU


 Is framing climate change in terms of human rights a positive development for addressing climate change and its various impacts?

This week sees the much-anticipated Paris summit (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, ‘COP 21’). A growing and diverse constituency is calling for COP 21 to couch state climate change responses in the vocabulary of human rights. Continue Reading →