The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy launched an ambitious initiative in the fall of 2019 to advance the renewal of rights and responsibilities in the United States. The initiative aims to develop research and policy recommendations around six broad themes of concern: democratic process; due process of law; equal protection; freedom of speech, religion, and association; human sustainability; and privacy.
In the most recent Carr Center Discussion Paper, Mathias Risse looks at the Pompeo Commission as a jumping off point to reexamine the distinction between natural law, natural rights, and human rights in the modern day.
Law is a universal institution that has pretensions of being ubiquitous and complete. However, in a complex, plural and volatile world, its limits and possibilities are shaken by the speed, depth and extent of ongoing transformations, its resulting ethical dilemmas, and the difficulties of forming consensus in the political universe.
This article provides a reflection on how the Law has attempted to deal with some of the main afflictions of our time, facing demands that include the needs to (i) keep the technological revolution on an ethical and humanistic track, (ii) avoid that democracy be perverted by populist and authoritarian adventures and (iii) prevent solutions to climate change from coming only when it is too late. At a time when even the near future has become unpredictable, Law cannot provide a priori solutions to multiplying problems and anxieties. When this happens, we must set clear goals for the future of humanity, basing them on the essential and perennial values that have followed us since antiquity.
The human rights framework has had many successes in the 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, but is still relevant to today’s challenges?
In the last few years, human rights practitioners have raised the alarm on what seems like sustained attacks on human rights from some governments. But there is a bigger threat to the future of human rights: that people could see them as less relevant to their lives. My aim is to provide a constructive critique of human rights practice and messaging, together with three main proposals: 1. putting climate change at the top of the human rights agenda; 2. significantly increasing the amount of work on Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) rights undertaken by human rights advocacy and campaigning organizations, and 3. adopting a system-analysis and solutions-based approach to human rights.
What would it mean for there to be a genuinely and legitimately global discourse on justice that involves Africa in authentic ways?
There are various responses. On the one hand, there is the idea of “philosophical fieldwork” developed by Katrin Flikschuh. African thought that fell by the wayside due to European expansionism must be recuperated and inserted into that discourse. On the other hand, there is the world society approach pioneered by John Meyer and others. The point is that ideas from elsewhere in the world can be genuinely and legitimately appropriated, which is how ideas have always spread. Once ideas about justice are appropriated by African thinkers, they are associated with Africa as much as with any other region. My goal here is to explore both approaches and support the second, while also making room for the first. In doing so, I articulate a view about how my own ongoing work on global justice can be seen as a contribution to an actual global discourse. There are rather large (and sensitive) issues at stake here: how to think about respectful appropriation of ideas and thus respectful philosophical discourse. A great deal of nuance is needed.
Realizing Rights for Homeworkers: An Analysis of Governance Mechanisms Carr Center Discussion Paper:
Following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the labour rights violations in global supply chains, and indeed the governance of global supply chains, has become a pressing global issue. This paper evaluates key existing global and national supply chain governance mechanisms from the perspective of the most vulnerable workers in supply chains—informal homeworkers.
The 2020 presidential election will be a showdown over the right to vote. The outcome will be determined by an electoral system under attack from both foreign and domestic sources. Russian efforts to manipulate the 2016 presidential election are being extensively investigated, but the domestic war on voting rights is less well understood. After more than a century of expanding the voting rights of previously disenfranchised groups, the American electoral system today is confronted by political and legal maneuvers to curtail the hard-won rights of these same groups, ostensibly in the name of combating fraud and regulating voting, but in fact in order to change the outcome of elections.
Mathias Risse's explores the impact of artificial intelligence on human rights in his latest discussion paper.
My concern is with the impact of Artificial Intelligence on human rights. I first identify two presumptions about ethics-and-AI we should make only with appropriate qualifications. These presumptions are that (a) for the time being investigating the impact of AI, especially in the human-rights domain, is a matter of investigating impact of certain tools, and that (b) the crucial danger is that some such tools – the artificially intelligent ones – might eventually become like their creators and conceivably turn against them. We turn to Heidegger’s influential philosophy of technology to argue these presumptions require qualifications of a sort that should inform our discussion of AI. Next I argue that one major challenge is how human rights will prevail in an era that quite possibly is shaped by an enormous increase in economic inequality. Currently the human-rights movement is rather unprepared to deal with the resulting challenges. What is needed is greater focus on social justice/distributive justice, both domestically and globally, to make sure societies do not fall apart. I also ague that, in the long run, we must be prepared to deal with more types of moral status than we currently do and that quite plausibly some machines will have some type of moral status, which may or may not fall short of the moral status of human beings (a point also emerging from the Heidegger discussion). Machines may have to be integrated into human social and political lives.
The Social Construction of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by John Ruggie:
The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles) in June 2011. To date, they constitute the only official guidance the HRC and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, have issued for states and business enterprises in relation to business and human rights. And it was the first time that either body had “endorsed” a normative text on any subject that governments did not negotiate themselves. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, describes the Guiding Principles as “the global authoritative standard, providing a blueprint for the steps all states and businesses should take to uphold human rights.” According to Arvind Ganesan, who directs business and human rights at Human Rights Watch, as recently as the late 1990s “there was no recognition that companies had human rights responsibilities.” Needless to say, many factors contributed to this shift, particularly escalating pressure from civil society and adversely affected populations. But in terms of putting a global standard in place, The Economist Intelligence Unit has judged HRC endorsement of the Guiding Principles to be the “watershed event.”
Human Rights as Membership Rights in the World Society by Mathias Risse
The idea of human rights has come a long way. Even hard-nosed international-relations realists should recognize that the idea has become so widely accepted that nowadays it arguably has an impact. Many countries have made human rights goals part of their foreign policy. International civil society is populated by well-funded and outspoken human rights organizations. We have recently witnessed the creation of an entirely new institution, the International Criminal Court, as well as the acceptance, at the UN level, of guiding principles to formulate human rights obligations of businesses. Around the world, more and more local concerns are formulated in the language of human rights, a phenomenon known as the vernacularization, or localization, of human rights. Ordinary people increasingly express concerns in terms of human rights rather than a language that earlier might have come more natural to them. They are not just helping themselves to a legal and political machinery. They also make clear that they are articulating concerns others have in similar ways where they live.
Thinking About the World: Philosophy and Sociology an article by Mathias Risse
In recent decades the world has grown together in ways in which it had never before. This integration is linked to a greatly expanded public and collective awareness of global integration and interdependence. Academics across the social sciences and humanities have reacted to the expanded realities and perceptions, trying to make sense of the world within the confines of their disciplines. In sociology, since the 1970s, notions of the world as a society have become more and more prominent. John Meyer, among others, has put forward, theoretically and empirically, a general world-society approach. In philosophy, much more recently, Mathias Risse has proposed the grounds-of-justice approach. Although one is social-scientific and the other philosophical, Meyer’s world society approach and Risse’s grounds-of-justice approach have much in common. This essay brings these two approaches into one conversation.
The Globalized Myth of Ownership and Its Implications for Tax Competition by Mathias Risse
Tax competition (by states) and tax evasion (by individuals or companies) unfold at a dramatic scale. An obvious adverse effect is that some states lose their tax base. Perhaps less obviously, states lose out by setting tax policy differently – often reducing taxes – due to tax competition. Is tax competition among states morally problematic? We approach this question by identifying the globalized myth of ownership. We choose this name parallel to Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel’s myth of ownership. The globalized myth is the (false) view that one can assess a country’s justifiably disposable national income simply by looking at its gross national income (or gross national income as it would be absent certain forms of tax competition). Much like its domestic counterpart, exposing that myth will have important implications across a range of domains. Here we explore specifically how tax competition in an interconnected world appears in this light, and so by drawing on the grounds-of-justice approach developed in Mathias Risse’s On Global Justice.
Human Rights Documentation in Limited Access Areas: The Use of Technology in War Crimes and Human Rights Abuse Investigations:
We offer a theoretical framework for understanding the role of technological capabilities (affordances) in documenting war crimes and human rights abuses in limited access areas. We focus on three digital affordances: geospatial, digital network, and digital forensic science. The paper argues that by leveraging digital affordances, human rights groups gain access to otherwise inaccessible areas, or to information that has been degraded in an effort to obfuscate culpability. We also argue that the use of digital technology invites a reassessment of what we mean when we speak of a human rights organization. Organizational morphology in digital space is hybrid in nature, with traditional organizations also taking on or joining more virtual or solely digital forms.
Human Rights and Artificial Intelligence: An Urgently Needed Agenda? by Mathias Risse
Artificial intelligence generates challenges for human rights. Inviolability of human life is the central idea behind human rights, an underlying implicit assumption being the hierarchical superiority of humankind to other forms of life meriting less protection. These basic assumptions are questioned through the anticipated arrival of entities that are not alive in familiar ways but nonetheless are sentient and intellectually and perhaps eventually morally superior to humans. To be sure, this scenario may never come to pass and in any event lies in a part of the future beyond current grasp. But it is urgent to get this matter on the agenda. Threats posed by technology to other areas of human rights are already with us. My goal here is to survey these challenges in a way that distinguishes short-, medium-term and long-term perspectives