Sunday, July 15, 2018

Populism and International Human Rights Institutions

Growing populism and the role of human rights institutions is very much top of mind for many U.S. human rights activists these days.  Professor Laurence Helfer's recent essay "Populism and International Human Rights Institutes: A Survival Guide," recommends that institutions (and by extension, advocates) strategically adopt a survival mode to ensure the survival and continued relevance of international human rights institutions in the long term.  The full essay, published under the auspices of the Danish iCourts project, is available here.  Here is the abstract:


Confronting recalcitrant and even hostile governments is nothing new for international human rights courts, treaty bodies, and other monitoring mechanisms. Yet there is a growing sense that the recent turn to populism in several countries poses a new type of threat that international human rights law (IHRL) institutions are ill equipped to meet. The concerns range in scope and intensity—from criticisms of specific rulings or legal doctrines, to predictions of backlash against particular courts or review bodies, to warnings that major sections of the institutional edifice of IHRL are in danger of collapse.

Part 1 of this essay identifies several facilitating conditions that have, until recently, supported IHRL institutions. Part 2 considers several distinctive challenges that populism poses to those institutions. Part 3 identifies a range of legal and political tools that might be deployed to address those challenges and explores their efficacy and potential risks. Part 4 concludes that IHRL institutions should adopt survival strategies for the age of populism and it preliminarily sketches what those strategies might look like.

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