Amidst bleak prognostications about the future, the human rights movement offers a beacon of hope for securing a livable world. The movement’s universality, supranationalism, and expanding emancipatory potential serve as inspiration and guide for the larger project of global transformation. The sweeping vision embodied in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has experienced constant renewal and steadfast legitimacy in the tumultuous postwar world. It has been a foundation for the pursuit of supranational governance and an antidote to the notion that the ends justify the means. The human rights movement, despite its imperfections, has a key role to play in the transformational change in human values crucial to building a just, flourishing future.
On September 21, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously passed resolution 2379 to pursue accountability for atrocity crimes perpetrated in Iraq by the Islamic State (also called ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh). The resolution, in paragraph 2, requests the UN Secretary-General "To establish an Investigative Team, headed by a Special Adviser, to support domestic efforts to hold ISIL (Da’esh) accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by the terrorist group ISIL (Da’esh) in Iraq . . . to ensure the broadest possible use before national courts, and complementing investigations being carried out by the Iraqi authorities, or investigations carried out by authorities in third countries at their request."
The desirability of such an investigative team is well understood. ISIS has perpetrated widespread and systematic murder, kidnapping, sexual violence (including forced marriage and sexual slavery), and destruction of cultural heritage. The creation of this investigative team is thus a welcome, even if belated, development. However, this initiative prompts questions about the body’s scope, use of evidence, comparison to Syria, and precedential value.
Kaufman, Zachary D., New UN Team Investigating ISIS Atrocities Raises Questions About Justice in Iraq and Beyond (September 28, 2017). Just Security, September 28, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3044527
“There cannot be ‘innate’ rights in any other sense than that in which there are innate duties, of which, however, much less has been heard.”
Their article seeks to recover the tradition of individual duties that is integral to the historical origins of international human rights, arguing that increased attention to duties and responsibilities in international politics can be necessary complements to promoting human rights, particularly economic, social, and cultural rights.
A new report from the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy examines the democratic checks and balances in the US, and measures their resiliency in the first year of the Trump administration, comparing US response to illiberal democracies worldwide.
Kathryn Sikkink's new book documents the history of successes of the human rights movement, and makes a case for why human rights work.
Evidence for Hope makes the case that, yes, human rights work. Critics may counter that the movement is in serious jeopardy or even a questionable byproduct of Western imperialism. They point out that Guantánamo is still open, the Arab Spring protests have been crushed, and governments are cracking down on NGOs everywhere. But respected human rights expert Kathryn Sikkink draws on decades of research and fieldwork to provide a rigorous rebuttal to pessimistic doubts about human rights laws and institutions. She demonstrates that change comes slowly and as the result of struggle, but in the long term, human rights movements have been vastly effective.
Attacks on the human rights movement’s credibility are based on the faulty premise that human rights ideas emerged in North America and Europe and were imposed on developing southern nations. Starting in the 1940s, Latin American leaders and activists were actually early advocates for the international protection of human rights. Sikkink shows that activists and scholars disagree about the efficacy of human rights because they use different yardsticks to measure progress. Comparing the present to the past, she shows that genocide and violence against civilians have declined over time, while access to healthcare and education has increased dramatically. Cognitive and news biases contribute to pervasive cynicism, but Sikkink’s investigation into past and current trends indicates that human rights is not in its twilight. Instead, this is a period of vibrant activism that has made impressive improvements in human well-being.
Exploring the strategies that have led to real humanitarian gains since the middle of the twentieth century, Evidence for Hope looks at how these essential advances can be supported and sustained for decades to come.
Kathryn Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her books include The Justice Cascade (Norton) and Activists beyond Borders. She lives in Cambridge, MA.
An authoritarian nationalist regime in Hungary is threatening a renowned international university in Budapest. Legislation introduced last week by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban would fundamentally alter the legal status of Central European University and could force it to shut down or leave the country.
What’s going on in Hungary is not a local political dispute, but a frontal assault on liberal values essential to democracy and academic freedom.
Today we stand at a precipice. A critical fight for fundamental human rights is brewing, and our work to find policy solutions to the most pressing human rights issues has never been more urgent. These issues include economic justice; human security; equality and discrimination; and institutions of global governance and civil society. We leverage research, practice, leadership and communications and technology to enhance global justice and to address all four of these priority issues.
2016 saw a number of important victories for the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, engaging our outstanding faculty members, fellows and students. We hosted a two-day symposium on the future of human rights and technology, convening a diverse group of practitioners working on these issues. And we organized a conference exploring the strategic costs and consequences of the use of torture.
2017 presents new challenges, but also new opportunities to engage and collaborate to ensure respect for our most fundamental rights and freedoms. We will continue to work tirelessly, as we have for the past 15 years, to enhance global justice – and we hope that you will join us in this critically important work.
"What should President Donald Trump do if ISIS crashed a plane into the Freedom Tower next September 11, 2017? After 16 years of a so-called “war on terror,” would experts be able to provide the new President with a clear and effective strategy to confront international terrorism? A short answer to the question is no. In 2015, Stephen Walt denounced a massive, collective failure of the entire U.S. foreign-policy establishment including Democrats and Republican to propose new strategies to deal with international terrorism in the Middle East.
In this essay, I explain, first, the strategic opportunity available through greater US-Russian cooperation and, second, the tools for disrupting ISIS by establishing new international mechanisms—such as a UN Security Council Chief Prosecutor—to go after the group’s leadership and its money."
Authoritarian democracy is on the march on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite alarming parallels, the U.S. remains better positioned to preserve and rebuild true democracy.
The election of Donald Trump shows what happens when democracy misfires. It echoes recent developments in Europe, most notably in Hungary and Poland, where elected leaders are attacking democratic pluralism, minority rights, and civil liberties, keeping the forms of democracy without the substance. The same trends are proceeding in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other European democracies where far-right parties under the banner of populist nationalism are pursuing racist and xenophobic objectives.
Having returned to the United States this fall after seven years in Hungary, I am struck by the shocking parallel between what is happening in Europe and here at home. The Trump election signals a sharp turn toward the populist far right. The presidential campaign was marked by the denigration of women and minorities and the rhetoric of racial extremism. The president-elect’s early appointments include people with these views. Civil liberties are threatened. Foreign alliances are in jeopardy. The risk of war is heightened.
Burundi, South Africa, and the Gambia are not violating international law merely by announcing their withdrawal from the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court. In accordance with Article 127 of the Rome Statute, they have every right to go.
Contrary to what some commentators seem to believe, the ICC and the Rome Statute system will not disappear because of some withdrawals. The Statute can still function with 121 states or even less. Think about it this way: in 2003, I was appointed as ICC Prosecutor by 78 states. In those days, the Bush Administration was embarked on military operations in Iraq ignoring the position of the majority of the UN Security Council members, authorizing the use of torture, campaigning against the International Criminal Court and threatening states party of the Rome Statute with economic sanctions for not providing immunity for US troops. Despite those conditions, less than 100 states parties were able to provide the cooperation and support that the Court needed to function. Thirteen years later the system developed by the Rome Statute is a reality, part of international law’s landscape. Its existence is not at risk—its relevance, as with the relevance of international law to manage conflicts, is in question. Just Security produced three important opinions.
"In a world rampant with terrorism, Thursday’s verdict in the Radovan Karadzic trial in The Hague is a victory for international justice. The former Bosnian Serb leader was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for leading a reign of genocidal terror during the Bosnian war."
By first presenting an overview of possible responses to atrocities (such as war crimes tribunals) and then analyzing six historical case studies, Dr. Kaufman evaluates why and how the United States has pursued particular transitional justice options since World War II. This book challenges the “legalist” paradigm, which postulates that liberal states pursue war crimes tribunals because their decision-makers hold a principled commitment to the rule of law. Dr. Kaufman develops an alternative theory—“prudentialism”—which contends that any state (liberal or illiberal) may support bona fide war crimes tribunals. More generally, prudentialism proposes that states pursue transitional justice options, not out of strict adherence to certain principles, but as a result of a case-specific balancing of politics, pragmatics, and normative beliefs. Dr. Kaufman tests these two competing theories through the U.S. experience in six contexts: Germany and Japan after World War II, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, the 1990-1991 Iraqi offenses against Kuwaitis, the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Dr. Kaufman demonstrates that political and pragmatic factors featured as or more prominently in U.S. transitional justice policy than did U.S. government officials’ normative beliefs. Dr. Kaufman thus concludes that, at least for the United States, prudentialism is superior to legalism as an explanatory theory in transitional justice policymaking.
The Taliban movement commands the loyalty of thousands of Afghans and applies resources and men to the pursuit of political objectives, guided by doctrine and inspired by rhetoric. Taliban rhetoric consists of religious and historical references, narratives of recent events, and guidance for Taliban sympathizers. The rhetoric asserts that the Taliban are engaged in a righteous jihad aimed at establishing a divinely ordered Islamic system in Afghanistan. Taliban doctrine focuses on internal affairs and in particular on maintaining cohesiveness. The Taliban are ruthless in enforcing their doctrine of obedience to the amir, or leader. The movement has retained a narrow social base, and its power is concentrated in the hands of mullahs from the Kandahari Pashtun tribes. Any project to build a plural Afghanistan is likely to include an appeal to the Taliban or the constituency they have mobilized. The Taliban’s own attempts to regain power rest on a negation of pluralism, rejection of a popular mandate, and assertion of the divine right vested in their Islamic emirate. A Taliban rhetoric of peace would require addressing the position of the Taliban’s amir, peace as a desirable state, the need for cohesiveness and unity in support of peace, celebration of the withdrawal of foreign troops, Islamic credentials of the government in Kabul, protection of those who sacrificed for the Taliban, peace as conclusion of the jihad, and the new role for the Taliban’s cadres. After 2014, the Taliban leadership is vulnerable to a hard-line challenge arguing that the political system in Kabul is irredeemably compromised by its collaboration with unbelievers.