Regarding Rights

Academic and activist perspectives on human rights

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The ‘call and answer’ of the Universal Periodic Review. Against ‘ritualism’?

By Shane Chalmers

Regulatory Institutions Network, ANU

AHRC Australia's Universal Periodic Review 2012

AHRC Australia’s Universal Periodic Review 2012

The following piece draws on the work of two scholars: Jane Cowan’s paper on ‘an anthropology of the UPR’ presented at the Centre for International Governance and Justice’s Workshop on Rights, Ritual and Ritualism: The Universal Periodic Review at the Australian National University, Canberra, 13–14 December 2012; and Desmond Manderson’s book Kangaroo Courts and the Rule of Law (Routledge, 2012). Where these two scholars meet here is in the notion of ‘call and answer’ (to use Manderson’s phrase) — in the contention of many voices resounding inharmoniously — in the ritual dialogue of the international human rights Universal Periodic Review process.

In what briefly follows I reflect on how the United Nations’ human rights Universal Periodic Review (UPR) might represent a form of ‘regulatory ritual’ that denies, by its very form, the calcifying effect of ‘ritualism’. Before I turn to the UPR itself, however, first a few words on how I understand the terms ‘ritual’ and ‘ritualism’—two concepts employed by Professor Hilary Charlesworth in relation to human rights through her project ‘Strengthening the International Human Rights System’.

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