Regarding Rights

Academic and activist perspectives on human rights

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The Space Between The Laws: Life for Sri Lankans who seek Asylum in Australia

By Kirsty Anantharajah,

RegNet, ANU[1]

When liberties are taken away and when democratic institutions die, is it even worse than human beings dying? …when institutions die, people end up living as if they were dead.[2]

In 2014, a boat carrying 157 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who had been living in limbo in India was intercepted near the coast of Christmas Island, Australia. The asylum seekers were transferred to an Australian customs boat where they were detained at sea for a month. Continue Reading →

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Advance Australia Unfair

By Emma Larking,

RegNet, ANU

Australian Foreign Minister, Hon. Ms. Julie Bishop met Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral Jayanath Colombage at the Naval Headquarters on 15th November 2013. Image:

Australia is pouring money into a system that targets the vulnerable in our region, and it is doing so with considerable secrecy and scant regard for the costs.

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News and Events

Hiding in a cupboard with an esky full of icy poles, a torch and a pile of paperbacks whose contents are a world away from the USA might seem a sensible approach to 2017[*], but for the sake of humanity, the better course is to stay informed, keep talking (in complete sentences), forge connections and find avenues for resistance.

Regarding Rights is delighted to announce the publication of two books: the first makes an important contribution to understanding how societies sometimes countenance – but also resist – the infliction of dreadful harm on their members, and the second to understanding how societies seek to repair past harms.

Cynthia Banham’s book, Liberal Democracies and the Torture of their Citizens compares how America’s liberal allies responded to the use of torture against their citizens after 9/11. While in many respects Australia, the UK and Canada share similar political cultures and alliances with the USA, they behaved differently when their citizens, caught up in the War on Terror, were tortured. Cynthia concludes that human rights activism played an important role in how each state responded, and that this activism was in turn influenced by different national rights cultures, domestic legal and political human rights frameworks, and political opportunities.

Cynthia’s book will be the subject of discussion at a RegNet bookclub on 28th March, with guests George Williams, Dean of Law at UNSW, and Richard Ackland, publisher of Justinian and The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor and roving diarist. Keep an eye on the RegNet events page for more details.

The backdrop to Bridging Divides in Transitional Justice, by Cheryl White, is Cambodia’s revolution under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, and the culture of impunity and silence imposed by successive national governments. Dialogue on the suppressed past began in 2006 as key figures of the regime were brought before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a specially created and internationalised criminal court. The ECCC forms part of the panoply of international criminal courts of the post-Cold War era. Cheryl highlights the dissonance between the expressivism of idealised international criminal trials and their communicative value within the societies most affected by their operation. She explores the communicative dynamics of ECCC trial procedure, which have sparked unprecedented debate and reflection on the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia.

Bridging Divides in Transitional Justice will also be the subject of a RegNet bookclub in 2017. Details will be posted on the RegNet events page, or subscribe to RegNet’s email updates here.

[*] Feeling dispirited recently I went hunting in dusty wardrobes for PG Wodehouse but found instead HE Bates, who failed to cheer. I had forgotten that Pop Larkin doesn’t believe in paying his taxes either, and Ma is a terrible hypocrite.



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Civil Society Resistance in Liberal Democracies in a Time of Rising Non-Accountability

By Cynthia Banham*

School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, and RegNet, ANU

No way

Political accountability, we are taught to believe, is a defining feature of liberal democracies. A basic relationship of accountability lies at the heart of democratic government: citizens elect their political representatives, and these representatives become accountable to voters. Yet political accountability, as we have traditionally understood it to exist in liberal democracy, is under stress.

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News and Events

Brazil is in crisis. And once again, the poorest will bear the burden

A protester in Brasilia. The banner reads ‘Out Temer! Out everyone!’ Photograph: The Guardian/Adriano Machado/Reuters

A protester in Brasilia. The banner reads ‘Out Temer! Out everyone!’ Photograph: The Guardian/Adriano Machado/Reuters

As Brazil faces its worst economic crisis in decades, its government is taking steps to constitutionally enshrine a 20 year austerity plan that will freeze public spending at 2016 levels until 2037. Former CIGJ Visiting PhD scholar, Mariana Prandini Assis has written an article for The Guardian decrying the precedent the policy sets in South America, and the burden it will impose on the poor in what is already one of the most unequal countries in the world.

Transitional Justice and Civil Society in Asia and the Pacific

In September, CIGJ’s Lia Kent co-hosted with the Bell School’s Joanne Wallis a two-day workshop at ANU on ‘Transitional Justice and Civil Society in Asia and the Pacific’. Among the workshop’s international visitors were Associate Professors Vasuki Nesiah, from New York University, and Jelena Subotic, from Georgia State University. As well as their contributions to the workshop, each gave a public lecture – Vasuki on ‘Commissioning Civil Society’ and Jelena on ‘The Evolution of International Transitional Justice Advocacy’.

Civil Society Asia PacificThe workshop was part of a broader project (also involving Griffith University’s Professor Renee Jeffery) that looks beyond state based approaches to examine the politics of reconciliation in Asia and the Pacific. In their introduction to the workshop, Joanne and Lia noted that the Pacific tends to be left out of global transitional justice debates, perhaps because of the paucity of formal state-led transitional justice mechanisms in the region.

Joanne and Lia suggested a focus on Asia and the Pacific would enrich the existing scholarship, especially given what is distinctive about the region. This includes the central role of customary actors and institutions in resolving conflict; and understandings of civil society that diverge from common accounts in western scholarship and that question whether civil society is a distinct sphere separate from the State. The significance of faith-based actors and organisations in Asia Pacific is also distinctive, challenging the secular focus of much transitional justice scholarship.

In his concluding remarks, RegNet’s Professor John Braithwaite emphasised the issues associated with the professionalisation and commodification of civil society organisations, particularly where non-government organisations come to see themselves as businesses beholden to key performance indicators. John contrasted this process to mass mobilisations that – as theorised by Theda Skocpol – build social capital through the involvement of many actively contributing individuals.

Duterte deliberative symposium a great success

By Jayson Lamchek

Duterte - Beyond FacebookThe symposium ‘Let’s talk: Duterte beyond Facebook’ was co-sponsored by the CIGJ with the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra and ANU’s Filipino Association. It brought together individuals with different views about the Philippine government’s War on Drugs to engage with each other and Philippine-based human rights advocates. Participants came mainly from the Filipino community in Canberra, but some also travelled from Sydney, and a representative of Migrante-Australia came from Wondonga, Victoria. The Philippine Embassy as well as the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also sent delegations to observe the event.

 Participants engaged in workshops that drew out their underlying reasons for supporting, opposing, or feeling neutral about the War on Drugs. Very few said they felt neutral; the audience was almost evenly split between supporters and opponents. Those who supported Duterte’s efforts in the War on Drugs nevertheless said that protests should be welcomed. Some supporters expressed their view that the police are already adhering to strict rules of engagement in the arrest of drug suspects. During the discussion with guests from the Philippines, a relative of a victim, Mikas Matsuzawa, gave an account of the police operation that killed his uncle to illustrate how police violate rules. The Chairperson of the country’s Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon, noted that police investigations into wrongful killings have not resulted in any cases being filed in court.

After the symposium, many participants described the community dialogue as a model of respectful interaction and commented that such interaction is sorely absent in social media. Organisers were approached by a number of the participants keen to participate in follow-up activities and to support the campaign to stop the killings in the Philippines.

The event was livestreamed on Facebook and was viewed by more than 1,000 people. Watch the recording online here.

End of Year Good Wishes

Regarding Rights wishes all our readers a happy and peaceful end of the year, and joy in the year ahead.


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Rethinking the International Criminal Justice Project in the Global South

By Michelle Burgis-Kasthala*

Centre for International Governance and Justice, RegNet, ANU

ICC in Ivory Coast in 2013. Image: BBC News

ICC in Ivory Coast in 2013. Image: BBC News

Concerns about the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) continuing relevance in Africa following exit announcements by Burundi, South Africa, and Gambia are widespread. But the picture across the continent is more complex. While some African states have clearly rejected the Court, the majority remain members. How can we explain the fracturing of the Court’s support in Africa? More fundamentally – what is the best way of studying international criminal justice and its effects in the Global South – whether in Africa or elsewhere?

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The role of civil society in Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review

By Kirsty Anantharajah

Centre for International Governance and Justice, RegNet, ANU

Sri Lankan civil war. Image: Andy Freifeld/Pinterest

Sri Lankan civil war. Image: Andy Freifeld/Pinterest

Sri Lanka’s game playing at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) during its first two reviews in 2008 and 2012 tested the ability of this human rights mechanism to achieve its aims and maintain the integrity of its principles, including objectivity and transparency. This post explores how the proactive participation of civil society pushed back against the rights ritualism displayed by the Sri Lankan state at the UPR.[i]

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News and Events

Wonderful news for Ciara

ciara vivaRegarding Rights contributor and former CIGJ Visiting PhD scholar, Ciara O’Connell has successfully defended her doctoral thesis in a viva held at the University of Sussex School of Law, Politics and Sociology on 16th November. We are delighted to congratulate Ciara on this very significant milestone, and to report that she actually found the experience rewarding and empowering!

Ciara’s PhD examined the role of women’s reproductive rights in redressing gender-based harm in the Inter-American human rights system. Read Ciara’s Regarding Rights post, discussing aspects of her doctoral research here, and some of her other academic work here.

Duterte beyond Facebook

Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’ is polarising political debate in the Philippines and beyond. Tomorrow (Saturday 3rd December), ANU will host a public deliberative forum designed to transcend the acrimony that Duterte’s policies have spawned on social media. The forum will encourage deeper reflection and respectful discussion about what is at stake. Sponsors include the CIGJ, the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra, and ANU’s Filipino Association.

Duterte - Beyond Facebook

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News and Events

Examining legal responses to forced migration

Vera's students 1

Emma with Dr Věra Honusková and students from Věra’s ‘Asylum and Refugee Law Clinic’ at Charles University, Prague.

 Emma Larking was a guest speaker at a conference on ‘Legal Responses to Forced Mass Migration: Regional Approaches and Perspectives’ in Olomouc, the Czech Republic, last month.

A focus at the conference on forced migration within Africa provided a fascinating and useful corrective to characterisations of refugee flows into Europe as a crisis. It also challenged the idea – widespread in Europe – that the continent is the primary destination for all people forced into exile in Africa or the Middle East.

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Investment Treaty Law and Arbitration: Common Controversies

By Anthea Roberts,

Centre for International Governance & Justice, RegNet

My previous blog provided an introduction to investment treaty law and arbitration. In this blog, I consider some controversial aspects of an area of law that has only recently attracted widespread public attention.

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