Regarding Rights

Academic and activist perspectives on human rights

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Centre for International Governance and Justice: News and Events

On 10 July the CIGJ hosted a talk by Professor Steven Ratner, the Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, on the topic of ‘International law’s ban on torture: can a super-norm survive pervasive violations?’

Professor Ratner gave a fascinating analysis of the impact that the US’s post-9.11 use of torture against detainees has had on the international norm against torture. He noted that what was unique about the Bush Administration’s torture policies was that they were justified by senior administration lawyers and involved the cooperation of other states; they also represented a significant change from previous US policies, which had insisted for years that the norm was sacrosanct.

Ultimately, Professor Ratner said the Bush Administration’s moves to seek internal (from government lawyers) and external (from other states) legitimacy for its policies backfired in ways that actually boosted the norm against torture. The leaking of internal government memos revealed there was no sound legal basis for approving some of the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that were used. The cooperation of other states with the US also proved to be extremely embarrassing for those states, with a series of European Court of Human Rights judgements condemning their behaviour.

Professor Ratner also shared interesting insights on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on torture, [the Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program] the executive summary of which was released in December 2014. While it helped solidify the norm against torture, the Committee adopted a utilitarian – rather than a moral – approach to discrediting the torture program, on the basis that it was ineffective and mismanaged. This left it open to future governments who might want to revisit and refine torture policies so they ‘worked better,’ although Professor Ratner thought it was doubtful a future US president would want to do this.

In conclusion, Professor Ratner said the US’s post-9.11 use of torture had not dealt a death blow to the norm against torture. The strength of an international legal norm must be based on the actual diminution of the behaviour it proscribes. According to Amnesty International, the number of states using torture today is 141. In that sense, the legal status of the torture ban as a ‘super norm’ serves an important purpose: it lays bare the gap between the norm and actual behaviour.

Welcome Gulazat Tursun

The Centre is delighted to welcome Professor Gulazat Tursun as a visitor. Professor Tursun received her PhD in Criminal Law from Peking University, and holds master degrees in international human rights law, international commercial law, and international relations. Professor Tursun’s research examines minority rights, international human rights, and anti-terrorism practices, and she teaches at Xinjiang University in both international and national criminal law.

Torture After 9.11: The Asia-Pacific Context Workshop

CIGJ researcher (and regular Regarding Rights contributor) Cynthia Banham is organising an interdisciplinary workshop on the current state of the norm against torture. Dealing broadly with three themes (the Mundanity of Torture, the Aesthetics of Torture, and Forgetting and Unforgetting Torture), the workshop will also feature a keynote talk by Professor Stephen Toope, Director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

See here for further information; 300 word abstracts for should be sent to Cynthia by 16 July for consideration.

Visit by Antony Anghie

In August Antony Anghie, Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law at the University of Utah, will visit the Centre. Professor Anghie will present a masterclass during his visit and will also speak at the upcoming Traversing Divides: A Symposium in Honour of Deborah Cass.