Thursday, April 19, 2018
For the most part, Sikkink does not sugarcoat the challenges facing the human rights movement. Trump’s nativist agenda, hateful rhetoric, and professed enthusiasm for torture techniques “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” have rightly alarmed U.S. human rights advocates, provoking fears of backsliding at home and emboldening bad actors around the world. Last December, the UN’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who had expressed concerns about the Trump administration and other potential sources of harm to the human rights regime, announced his unusual decision to not seek a second term, saying it “might involve bending a knee in supplication.”
But Sikkink remains optimistic. She argues that the fight for human rights has taken on a new dimension as developing countries have joined the fray in ways that do not depend on Washington. “Human rights work in the coming years of the twenty-first century may look very much like the Cold War period,” she writes, when “the major powers were mainly in opposition to the international protection of human rights and where momentum and progress depended on the actions of smaller countries, with support from emerging NGOs and civil society.” But she also notes an important distinction between the two time periods: today, “these small countries and activists have far more institutional resources at their disposal—the human rights law, institutions, and movements that earlier activists created in the mid- to late twentieth century.”
Everyone should hope that Sikkink is right. Human rights organizations based in the developing world have evolved significantly over the past few decades, and Sikkink cites a study showing that they are increasingly trusted by citizens and are not perceived as the “handmaidens” of powerful donor countries. Such groups could become highly effective in mobilizing support for human rights in an era of populist nationalism and rising authoritarianism. But they and their counterparts in the developed world will need to craft customized solutions that do not rely solely on established practices. The kind of “boomerang” that has worked in the past may not always be the right tool—especially if powerful figures in Washington are not interested in listening to world opinion.
Editors' Note: This essay was published in Foreign Affairs.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Editors' note: Prof. Carrie Bettinger-Lopez writes this essay discussing optimism in the a difficult human rights era. Below is part one of a three part series.
Does fighting for human rights actually make a difference? Scholars, policymakers, lawyers, and activists have asked that question ever since the contemporary human rights movement emerged after World War II. At any given moment, headlines supply plenty of reasons for skepticism. Today, the news is full of reports of Rohingya refugees fleeing a campaign of murder, rape, and dispossession in Myanmar; drug users dealing with brutal, state-sponsored vigilantism in the Philippines; and immigrants and minorities facing the wrath of extreme right-wing and populist movements in European countries and the United States. It is easy to succumb to a sense of despair about the laws and institutions designed to protect human rights.
In 1968, the legal scholar Louis Henkin wrote that “almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all of the time.” Subsequent empirical studies, primarily in the fields of international trade and international environmental law, have confirmed Henkin’s qualified optimism. But in the field of international human rights, empirical studies have sometimes led to more pessimistic conclusions. In a 2002 article in The Yale Law Journal, for instance, the legal scholar Oona Hathaway concluded that “although the practices of countries that have ratified human rights treaties are generally better than those of countries that have not, noncompliance with treaty obligations appears common.”
Hathaway and others who have analyzed international human rights regimes have generally focused on the efficacy of specific laws, institutions, or methodologies: for example, the number of human rights treaties that a given country has ratified, the existence of domestic legislation that reflects international norms, or the presence of national human rights institutions. But few have stepped back and considered the overall impact of the broader international human rights movement. In her new book, Evidence for Hope, the political scientist Kathryn Sikkink fills that gap—and the news, she reports, is better than one might fear. Drawing on decades of research into transnational civil society networks and international institutions, Sikkink counters skeptics from the left and the right who have argued that the persistence of grave human rights violations throughout the world is evidence that the international movement has failed and should be abandoned altogether. On the contrary, she concludes, the struggle for human rights has indeed made a difference: “Overall there is less violence and fewer human rights violations in the world than there were in the past.”
Sikkink contends that skeptics have relied on the wrong metrics to measure progress and have failed to see shifts in the human rights movement that have made it more durable. She is even relatively bullish about the prospects for continued progress in the Trump era. In this way, she distinguishes herself from the many activists and scholars who fear that the populist nationalism that helped put Donald Trump in the White House could reverse hard-fought human rights gains of the past few decades, both in the United States and abroad.
The essay continues tomorrow.
This essay first appeared in Foreign Affairs
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Carrie Bettinger-Lopez sends this post written by student Kelsey Hayden. In this two part post, Ms. Hayden addresses Florida's shocking disregard of the human rights of juveniles in the criminal justice system.
Kelsey Hayden writes:
Juveniles accused of crimes in the United States are sometimes stripped of the protections that they should be afforded at a time when they are most vulnerable. Florida is perhaps one of the worst offenders when it comes to the deprivation of children’s rights in the criminal justice system. While most U.S. states permit the transfer of juveniles alleged to have committed certain crimes to adult criminal court for prosecution, Florida transfers more children under 18 to adult court than any other state. In Florida alone, more than 12,000 children were transferred to adult courts between 2008 and 2012. Florida is one of only 15 states to allow for prosecutorial discretion—and 1 of only 3 states to remove the possibility of any judicial review upon transfer—for all kids aged 14 and up who have been charged with certain enumerated crimes. Prosecutorial direct file removes all judicial discretion and is not in compliance with the corpus juris on children’s rights which provides that when alleged to have violated the penal law, a child has the right to have any potential measures reviewed by an impartial authority or judicial body. Following the March 2014 review of the United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), the United Nations Human Rights Committee (“UNHRC”) recommended that the U.S. ensure that juveniles are not transferred to adult courts.
In Florida, one particularly troubling consequence of such transfers to the adult system is that juveniles who have been charged as adults are automatically detained pre-trial in adult county jails. As a result of a federal and state mandate that juveniles be held out of the sight and sound of adults, juveniles in adult facilities are sometimes held in administrative solitary confinement where they can languish for months, or longer. In the recent review of the United States’ compliance with the ICCPR, the UNHRC also expressed concern about the continued practice of holding juveniles in prolonged solitary confinement, including during pre-trial detention, and recommended that the United States impose “strict limits on the use of solitary confinement, both pretrial and following conviction . . . and abolish the practice in respect of anyone under the age of 18.”The use of solitary confinement on juveniles is a particularly critical concern in light of the mental harm that isolation causes to children. Some of the mental health consequences in juveniles include self-harm, suicidal thoughts/attempts, and hallucinations.
Ms. Hayden continues her discussion of this disregard of the right so juveniles in tomorrow's post.