Posts Tagged ‘Hurst Hannum’

Rescuing Human Rights – another way of re-assessing human rights

November 17, 2019

I wrote abut Hurst Hannum’s book ‘Rescuing Human Rights’ earlier [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/hurst-hannum-wants-a-radically-moderate-approach-to-human-rights/]. On 30 July 2019, Peter Splinter wrote for ISHR a book review “Rescuing Human Rights – Making the case for a reassessment of the scope of human rights advocacy”

 
Hurst Hannum, Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2019. 223 pp.

Hannum argues the case for a hard-headed reassessment of what human rights are and what they can achieve, done with the aim of preventing unrealistic expansion or overreach that undermines their legitimacy and universal acceptance.

Hannum expresses a firm conviction in the durable value of human rights. He brings to Rescuing Human Rights a lifetime of rich and diverse experiences as an observer, teacher and practitioner of human rights in numerous capacities and settings. While conservative, Hannum’s thesis does not hark back to a golden age of human rights. He recognises that human rights law has evolved and will continue to evolve. He also accepts that “pushing the envelope of human rights norms may sometimes be a legitimate [advocacy] tactic.”

Hannum’s principal concern is with human rights ‘overreach’ – efforts to resolve contentious political issues by trying to make them into technical human rights matters that they are not. He is not a fan of a widespread inclination to advocate for human rights of the next good cause.

“Attempting to regulate ever more narrow slices of life under ever more diverse circumstances through promoting new human rights runs a serious risk of undermining both the legitimacy of human rights and their universality. The result may be to simply expand the number of rights that are routinely ignored rather than to bring real help to those whose rights, no matter how narrowly construed, are already being violated.” (p. 79)

He perceives that human rights activism based on an expansive concept of rights as the primary means to effect domestic social and political change is feeding a global backlash against human rights. He is concerned that this will undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of human rights advocacy to protect universally recognised rights, which “facilitate the development and influence of other socio-economic-political-moral change agents in ways that are likely to respond to the needs of most people of the world.” (p. 10) While acknowledging that human rights are inherently political, as they constrain government behaviour, Hannum suggests that the more that human rights advocacy approximates politics, the less rights will be able to effectively set the boundaries for the open, inclusive, democratic politics required to effectively address major contemporary social, political and economic issues by ensuring that political decision-making takes account of the needs and preferences of all relevant parts of society.

“This book is an appeal for radical moderation, which values and promotes human rights norms without distorting or deifying them. …  Underlying many of the book’s arguments is the belief that human rights cannot provide dispositive answers to all of the world’s problems, although they may be a necessary precondition for resolving many of them.” (p. 157)

Rescuing Human Rights focusses on human rights as universal legal norms embodied in public international law, particularly universal and regional treaties. Hannum assumes a universal consensus over the core content and legitimacy of most human rights. He distinguishes human rights from moral and political standards, while acknowledging their complementarity as forces that shape societies.

While Rescuing Human Rights discusses human rights primarily as they are shaped and invoked at the international level, Hannum emphasises that they are applied in national contexts where the relationship of the State and rights-holders is played out. Human rights promotion and protection are essentially a national project that is shaped and constrained by national governments’ voluntary acceptance of universal legally binding human rights standards. An important chapter is devoted to arguing for flexibility in the application and prioritisation of human rights norms on the grounds that universality is not uniformity. This recognition points to the need for further examination of Hannum’s thesis in specific national contexts. Are the dangers of human rights expansion and overreach at the international level mirrored by developments at the national level in individual countries?

Rescuing Human Rights focusses largely on what human rights are not and should not be made out to be. Hannum’s thesis would also benefit from further exploration of how human rights can be used better to contribute to efforts to address major contemporary social, economic and political issues at the international and national levels. If one accepts that human rights cannot determine the outcomes for issues such as development, climate change and corruption, then what are the contributions that specific rights make in specific contexts to political, economic, cultural, moral and technological efforts to meet those and other challenges? Any recalibrating of human rights promotion and advocacy in accordance with the approach Hannum proposes would benefit from robust exploration of the important contributions that human rights do and can make, such as ensuring that climate change policies are developed in consultation with representatives of all persons whose rights might be affected and have regard to their human rights impacts, including for the most marginalised communities and groups.

Today, while human rights are increasingly invoked in connection with efforts to address a growing range of global and national challenges, they are also increasingly flouted or questioned in many parts of the world. This includes in some countries where until recently human rights appeared largely beyond challenge. Many governments are demonstrating a renewed brazenness in violating their international human rights obligations. In many countries, there is widespread apathy, popular disillusionment and even hostility for human rights. This current state of human rights has led to calls from civil society organisations, academics, governments and inter-governmental organisations for urgent stocktaking about what is to be done to defend and reinforce the post-1945 human rights achievement. Some call into question the human rights project, and others call for its reinvention. Some appeal to humanity’s better angels, and others buckle down on business as usual. Some pursue novel organisational approaches to human rights advocacy, and others look to human rights to provide solutions for ever more matters of concern.

The way forward is not clear. However, Hannum’s lucid argument for greater focus and humility in recourse to human rights and his call for the recalibration of the scope of human rights advocacy should form part of any discussion about the future of human rights. Rescuing Human Rights merits reading and reflection by all who study, defend or promote human rights.

Peter Splinter is an international human rights consultant and was Amnesty International’s Representative in Geneva from 2004 to 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @pgsplinter.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/book-review-i-rescuing-human-rights-making-case-reassessment-scope-human-rights-advocacy

Third Committee of the GA also has a lot to do with human rights defenders

October 13, 2019

The UN General Assembly’s Third Committee will run for eight weeks from 1 October to 21 November this year. The International Service for Human Rights, which follows the UN human rights bodies diligently, put out an Alert for this 74th Session on 1 October 2019.

The Third Committee brings together a wide array of Special Procedures mandate holders, including Special Rapporteur, independent experts, and chairs of working groups that are mandated by the Human Rights Council to discuss some of the most pressing human rights concerns and present findings and recommendations to the Third Committee. These findings should in turn play a role in shaping the focus of resolutions negotiated at this session.

Third Committee is expected to consider approximately 60 resolutions on a range of topics, including:

  • the advancement of women
  • the rights and protection of children
  • the rights of refugees
  • the elimination of racism
  • self-determination
  • and social development, amongst others.

ISHR will be closely monitoring the work of the Third Committee as well as relevant developments in the plenary of the General Assembly and will report on key developments. Follow them on Twitter at @ISHRglobal using #UNGA74 for the latest updates.

Overview of Key Resolutions  

  • Human Rights Defenders (Lead Sponsor: Norway) – This year Norway will present the biennial resolution on human rights defenders. One year after the twentieth anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, implementation of the Declaration unfortunately remains far from adequate in a number of States. ISHR therefore welcomes the resolution’s continued focus on the Declaration’s implementation and urges States to ensure that the resolution includes calls for concrete activities and mechanisms to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the Declaration and previous resolutions on human rights defenders.
  • Terrorism and Human Rights (Lead Sponsors: Mexico and Egypt) – The Third Committee will consider a resolution relating to Terrorism and Human Rights. Previous resolutions on the topic have condemned terrorist acts as criminal and unjustifiable, and expressed concerns about their detrimental effects on the enjoyment of all human rights. The resolution is the result of the combination of two previously separate resolutions on the “Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism” and the “Effects of Terrorism on the Enjoyment of Human Rights” led by Mexico and Egypt, respectively. Civil society remains concerned that the combined resolution compromises language on State obligations to protect human rights by prioritising the impact of terrorism on human rights. ISHR hopes that language in the original resolution led by Mexico is not compromised and that this resolution upholds State responsibility and the rights of victims.
  • Safety of Journalists (Lead Sponsors: Greece, Argentina, Austria, Costa Rica and France) – A resolution on the safety of journalists is expected to be advanced at this session. ISHR will be watching this negotiation closely and hopes the resolution will be used to expand, rather than restrict, space for civil society and strengthen protections for human rights defenders.

Several country resolutions are expected again this session. For the 17th year, Canada will present a draft resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran spotlighting the continued dismal human rights situation and lack of progress over the last year. The European Union will again lead on a resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, similarly underlining the lack of human rights progress. Ukraine will again present a draft resolution condemning Russia’s activities in Crimea. Resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar and Syria are also expected to be led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Saudi Arabia respectively.

ISHR remains concerned that China will again attempt to insert the seemingly harmless language of ‘win/win’ language in resolutions, which in fact focuses only on intergovernmental dialogue and cooperation, rather than actual human rights violations or accountability. This language risks shrinking space for civil society and roll back human rights norms across a number of resolutions.

Several resolutions are expected to become battle grounds regarding references to gender, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, including resolutions on the Improvement of the situation of women and girls in rural areas, Violence against women migrant workers, Rights of the Child, The girl child, The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation,

Elections for the Human Rights Council are set to take place in mid-October as part of the General Assembly. ISHR is once again disappointed that this year a number of regions have presented closed slates. ISHR has published ‘scorecards‘ for each of the States seeking membership. These provide a brief overview of their human rights records, cooperation with civil society, past roles in the Council, and past engagement with UN human rights mechanisms.

Overview of Reports and Dialogues with UN Experts: 

The UN Special Procedures – Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups – will report to the Third Committee and hold interactive ‘dialogues’ with member States. Several of this year’s reports reflect concerns about increased attacks on human rights defenders and emphasise the critical importance of creating and maintaining space for civil society. Click here for a list and schedule of dialogues.

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders – Combatting the currently widespread impunity for human rights violations that target human rights defenders is, according to Special Rapporteur Michel Forst’s report (A/74/159), “an essential prerequisite to guarantee human rights and to advance towards equal societies that are free from fear and violence.” He outlines a regulatory framework on the right to access to justice, including due diligence in investigations and elaborates on the de facto and legal barriers to access to justice. He offers essential guidelines for ensuring due diligence in the investigation of such violations. Good practices implemented by States and civil society are also described. He will present his report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 15 October 2019 at 3pm.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran – At least 32 Iranians have been arrested as a result of viral social media campaigns against compulsory veiling laws, such as the #whitewednesdays and “Girls of Revolution Street.” Human rights lawyer and defender Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 148 lashes and 38 years in prison last March for defending some of these women. BBC Persian staff have suffered reprisals for engaging with UN human rights mechanisms. These are only some of the attacks on human rights defenders that Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman flags in his report (A/74/188), which calls on Iran to stop violating the rights of human rights defenders through intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, deprivation of liberty, among other arbitrary sanctions. The Special Rapporteur will present and discuss his report on 23 October 2019 at 10am.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – In his report (A/74/181), Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz exposes the ways in which socio-cultural norms and discriminatory laws continue to marginalise and exclude LGBTI persons. In order to become fully inclusive of LGBTI individuals, he stresses that States cannot overlook the “vital role” of partnerships with civil society. He cites a number of partnerships in the fight against HIV/AIDS as particularly strong examples of this. Independent Expert Madrigal-Borloz will present his report and hold an interactive dialogue on 24 October 2019 at 10am.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism – How can States truly integrate human rights into the global fight against terrorism that is increasingly shaped by elusive norms of ‘soft law’? According to Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin’s report (A/74/335), one of the keys is for States to engage with and create space for civil society, non-governmental organisations, and human rights defenders to participate in the shaping of these counter-terrorism norms. Her report maps out how civil society access to these processes can be transformed from “ad hoc and inconsistent” to consistent and meaningful, ensuring that soft-law counter-terrorism norms are not at odds with human rights. The Special Rapporteur’s report will be presented and discussed on 16 October 2019 at 10am.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd clarifies the obligations of States and businesses under a human-rights based approach to climate change in his report (A/74/161). These obligations include providing strong protections for environmental and environmental defenders who work on issues relating to climate change. In addition, the report examines how UN human rights mechanisms can be empowered to better address climate change. The Special Rapporteur will present his report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 24 October 2019 at 3pm.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief – Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed expresses alarm in his report (A/74/358) about the rise of anti-Semitism around the world and the ways in which the underreporting of these hate crimes and lack of mechanisms to monitor them enable anti-Semitic hate crimes. The report finds that a lack of Jewish civil society engagement with UN human rights monitors only exacerbates this issue and calls on States to work more closely with Jewish communities and organisations to create mechanisms that fill this void. Special Rapporteur Shaheed ends his report with the recommendation that the Office of the UN Secretary-General appoint a senior-level focal point specifically responsible for monitoring and engaging with Jewish communities on this issue. He will present his report and hold an interactive dialogue on 17 October 2019 at 3pm.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences – In her report (A/74/137), Special Rapporteur Dubravka Šimonović stresses the need to address mistreatment and violence against women in reproductive health services from a human rights perspective. The report therefore calls for the creation of human rights-based accountability mechanisms and greater State collaboration with civil society organisations to address violence and mistreatment in reproductive and obstetric care. The Special Rapporteur will present her report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 4 October 2019 at 10am.

ISHR Events

Ending impunity for violations against Human Rights Defenders: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/09/panel-against-impunity-for-abuses-against-human-rights-defenders-new-york-on-16-october/

  • Book Launch – ISHR will also be hosting a launch of Hurst Hannum’s new book ‘Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach’ on 18 October at 1:15-2:30pm. Please contact Marina Wilbraham at m.wilbraham@ishr.ch if you are interested in attending. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/hurst-hannum-wants-a-radically-moderate-approach-to-human-rights/]
  • Venezuela on the Brink: The urgency of an appropriate international response to the crisis, where Eleanor Openshaw will be discussing the implications of Venezuela being re-elected to the Human Rights Council. 2 October at 10am in the Church Center, 777 UN Plaza.
  • Breakfast reception to mark the launch of URG’s new yourHRC.org Guide to the 2019 Human Rights Council Elections, where Madeleine Sinclair will be discussing ISHR’s ‘scorecards’ for each of the States seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council for 2020- 2022. October 10 at 8:30 am in Conference Room 6, UNHQ.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-74th-session-third-committee

Hurst Hannum wants a “radically moderate approach” to human rights

April 20, 2019

Hurst Hannum in his Fletcher School office
Hurst Hannum. Photo: Alonso Nichols
A piece by Taylor McNeil in TuftsNow of 19 April 2019 is about Hurst Hannum and his latest book Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach (Cambridge University Press). Disclaimer: he and I are old acquaintances but have not seen each other for decades. I agree with much of what he says.

Hannum, a Fletcher School professor of international law, argues for bringing human rights back to the center of law and politics, while at the same time trying to define their role more carefully. Too often, he says, human rights are linked to just about everything, from punishing international crimes to seeking redress for nefarious corporate behavior and environmental degradation. “Human rights have come to mean almost anything to anyone,” Hannum said. “If something means everything, it means nothing. What we risk losing is a much narrower but more universal approach, focusing on the basic rights—civil, political, economic, social, and cultural—that government should be responsible for.

Since the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set forth as “a common standard of achievement” every country in the world has ratified at least one human rights treaty, and most have ratified a half-dozen or more. Hannum is aware that implementation leaves much to be desired, but said that “continued emphasis on ensuring those rights that a country has already recognized is most likely to be the best way forward.”

….“While the contemporary world may seem bleak, apartheid is gone, authoritarian regimes have largely disappeared from eastern Europe and Latin America, and rights are more widely respected in countries as different as South Korea, Nepal, Tunisia, Taiwan, and Mongolia,” he said. “Many of these changes can be attributed at least in part to greater awareness of and demands for human rights, even though progress is often slow and difficult.” ..

Beginning with the Carter administration in the late 1970s, human rights became a focal point for U.S. foreign policy, “although they were never the only or most important factor in determining policy,” Hannum said. Since the Clinton presidency, the U.S. has focused increasingly on promoting democracy, not human rights per se. Hannum thinks that’s a mistake. “Obviously, democracy and human rights are related—all of the things that go into making a democracy are human rights,” he said. “But since the end of the Cold War, we’ve been pushing democracy as the solution to all problems, and it turns out that it’s not.” 

Unrealistic expectations of what democracy or a free-market economy can achieve “may help to explain the recent success of nationalists and populists, who often define democracy simply as elections, ignoring the essential human rights components of freedom of assembly, association, and expression that give such elections legitimacy,” Hannum said.

He also takes aim at human rights advocates who claim more for human rights than they can deliver—especially those who “confuse human rights with outsiders intervening in all sorts of way to fix other countries,” he said. “Human rights are about persuading governments to institute reforms within their own countries, not about imposing them from the outside.”

While he fully understands the desire to expand human rights efforts to deal more directly with contemporary problems, “we can achieve more if the goals are modest,” Hannum said. Of course, he knows that “Let’s try to achieve moderate success!” is not going to be a popular rallying cry, but he argues that such an approach seems radical these days “only because it seeks to retain the consensus and universality on which human rights are based.”

https://now.tufts.edu/articles/reviving-human-rights