Sunday, June 25, 2017
The Law and Society Association conference, held this year in Mexico City, was the usual whirlwind of panels, roundtables and plenaries. This year's theme was Walls, Borders and Bridges. Nothing could better illustrate the Walls portion than the fortress-like US Embassy directly across the street from the conference hotel. The Embassy appeared completely impenetrable. At the same time, it boasted a large rainbow Pride flag hanging out of some upper floor windows. Perhaps there is life somewhere within the embassy after all, trying to make a connection with those outside.
The conference plenary sessions focused on populism and constitutionalism, with insightful talks on the US election, Brexit, and the Colombia peace referendum rejected by voters. Human rights -- particularly issues of economic, social and cultural rights -- was a frequent theme of the individual sessions, which also reflected the confounding theme of US human rights exceptionalism. Business and human rights also played a prominent role. In a session on comparative water rights, one speaker noted the relevance of human rights to water litigation in India and South Africa. Another panelist, providing an extensive analysis of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, focused on the growing popular movement in the US for water rights. As she noted "water is power" and power will not shift in the US without pressure from people. Other panels of relevance to the US addressed the continuing impacts of Washington v. Davis on civil rights and death penalty advocacy in the US; the experiences of undocumented immigrants within US borders; the jurisprudence of the InterAmerican system; and low wage workers' rights. You can search the program and download papers here.
There is so much to absorb at an inter-disciplinary, international conference like this. As the title of the conference suggests, the Law and Society Association is very much about building scholarly bridges to support the innovation that can come from such interchange. But with an embassy closed-off to the outside, and government institutions that often refuse to engage with human rights norms, the task of building bridges between the US and others beyond the academy is harder than ever.