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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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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The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants – What’s Missing?

By Emma Larking

Centre for International Governance & Justice, RegNet

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted by the UN General Assembly in September commits states to negotiating by 2018 ‘Global Compacts’ on refugees, and for safe, orderly and regular migration. Unfortunately, these Global  Compacts will not be legally binding. As currently envisaged, they represent a disastrous missed opportunity.

When the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was first drafted, the UN Secretary General expressed regret that it did not include a binding resettlement mechanism.[1] Continue Reading →

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The way to a cohesive society: cultural assimilation or structural inclusion?

By Ibolya (Ibi) Losoncz*, RegNet, ANU

Australian Government poster displayed between 1949 and 1951 in reception rooms and dining halls at various migrant reception centres in Australia. (Image courtesy of the NAA/Wikipedia).

Australian Government poster displayed between 1949 and 1951 in various migrant reception centres. (Image courtesy of the NAA/Wikipedia).

Increased international migration, including refugee admissions and resettlement, has changed the ethnic make-up of many developed countries. Instead of capitalising on diversity, government policies rely heavily on the assimilation of migrants as a way to create cohesion and unity within mainstream society. In public discourse, assimilation also tends to be portrayed as a precondition for social cohesion. But wouldn’t supporting the economic, social and political participation of newly arrived immigrants while acknowledging their diverse cultures be a more effective way of building a cohesive society? A critical look at Australia’s humanitarian resettlement program provides valuable insights to this important question.

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Indignation, not engagement: Australia’s response to international criticism of asylum seeker detention

Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Photo:

Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

By Cynthia Banham

Centre for International Governance and Justice

The Abbott government’s recent outrage at the United Nations over a finding by the Special Rapporteur on torture that Australia’s asylum seeker policies violate international law has a very familiar ring. Continue Reading →

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The Politics of Australian Asylum and Border Policy: Escaping the Duelling Paradigms

By Jonathan Kent, University of Toronto

The Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy appears to have stopped irregular maritime arrivals to Australia. In the first six months of 2013 (under Labor), 13,108 individuals arrived by boat, while during the first half of 2014 (under the Abbott Coalition Government) there were no boat arrivals.

The Government justifies its tough border policy using the humane and noble logic that it prevents people from dying at sea and puts an end to the exploitation of desperate souls by people smugglers. Whatever the figures on arrivals are, it is far more difficult to estimate the number of individuals who no longer have a viable pathway to a ‘durable solution’ now that Australia has shut the door. Though the current policy meets its most practical objective of ‘stopping the boats’, it is neither a stable nor a viable longterm policy. Continue Reading →

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Refugees and Transitional Justice: Reflections on fieldwork from Liberia

By Jacqueline Parry

Centre for International Governance and Justice

Advocates for Human Rights Report on the work of the Liberian TRC with diasporic communities
Available at

Jacqueline recently completed five months fieldwork in Liberia and Buduburam refugee camp, Ghana, in order to explore how refugees interacted with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as well as issues of transitional justice more broadly. This blog post sets out some initial reflections from that period of fieldwork.

Both refugees and transitional justice have the ability to convey potent messages about state sovereignty. Sovereignty, the set of norms held by the international community concerning the legitimate organisation of political authority, has changed over time and according to context.[1] Since the Second World War the understanding of sovereignty has shifted from being a purely territorial matter to incorporating – in rhetoric if not in fact – a particular type of relationship between the state and its citizens.[2] Continue Reading →

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Drifting Sovereignty

By Marie-Eve Loiselle

Centre for International Governance and Justice

Sea Monsters by Dennis Kim

Sea Monsters by Dennis Kim

Berkeley Professor of Political Science Wendy Brown’s latest book Walled States, Waning Sovereignty would make an interesting bedside read for Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison.

On the 7th of May, Minister Morrison unveiled the Australian Government’s new border policy during an address to the Lowy Institute for International Policy. The creation of the Australian Border Force (ABF) will see the merging of immigration and customs into a single portfolio. It will be headed by a Commissioner holding the same status as other security agency chiefs, including the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, the Chief of the Defence Force, and the Director General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Continue Reading →

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Some Experiential and Theoretical Remarks on Human Rights

By Angela Condello

A crucifix erected in Sicily in recognition of migrants lost at sea.

A crucifix erected in Sicily in recognition of migrants lost at sea.

University of Roma Tre and Käte Hamburger Centre for Advanced Study in the Humanities

Are human rights natural, or are they conventional? This preliminary and (way) too broad question leads us to reflect on the philosophical legitimation of human rights and, all the while, on the intersections and interactions between law and language. Continue Reading →