Rights as Democracy? A short response to Bellamy

Last week a few members of King’s College London held the first session of our reading group on Law and Social Sciences. We discussed Richard Bellamy’s “Rights as Democracy” (2012), and we also read Isaiah Berlin’s seminal “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958) with Skinner’s critique, “A Third Concept of Liberty” (2002).

In his article, Bellamy opposes the traditional liberal justification of human rights as a set of prepolitical liberties and entitlements. Bellamy conceives rights in line with the republican notion of non-domination and claims that they require a democratic justification, which is by definition a political process. From that premise Bellamy works out the argument for a “rights-based judicial review of legislation”, that takes judicial hermeneutics away from professional and non-democratic courts and gives this power to “the people themselves” (I am indebted to my friend Donald Bello Hutt for introducing this concept to me).

For Bellamy, a political process to claim and justify rights must possess three important features. “First, it must show equal respect for the different views of individuals as rights bearers. Second it should also demonstrate equal concern for their capacity to employ their rights on the same terms as others. (…) Third, it will have to answer to the ‘traditional purpose’ of rights as means for holding power to account and marking its limits”.

I must start by saying that I find Bellamy’s argument both powerful and persuasive. Continue reading

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What does a 6.5% public surplus mean from the perspective of the ICESCR?

201416114832861621_20Earlier this month, the Greek Government assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU for this semester. In an attempt to show off the austerity efforts made by his Government, the Deputy Prime Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, said in a recent interview with Euronews:

Over the past three and a half years, Greece has made the biggest fiscal adjustment in the history of the western economy. We began back in 2009 with a 12 percent primary deficit, and now we have achieved a primary surplus, which in terms of structural surplus – that is not taking into account the circumstantial results of the recession – is as high as 6.5 percent. We are by far the best-performing country in Europe in terms of primary fiscal results, and one of the best in the world.

As written some time ago, if Greece had been militarily occupied instead of “rescued” by the Troika, international law would have provided some more tools to protect the local population. Having said that, even in the current situation international human rights law imposes certain obligations. In particular, one must question whether such an impressive evolution of the public accounts over a short period of time (from -12 to a projected +6.5 in a lustrum) goes in line with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Greece back in 1985. Continue reading

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El sexismo cotidiano y la cara de vergüenza

no the man doesnt know the womanHace unos días una amiga puso esta foto en su perfil del Facebook. Junto a ella escribió “No, este hombre no conoce a esta mujer”. Ese mismo día, o quizás la víspera, entré en el vagón de metro y me senté sin pensarlo frente a un chico joven. Justo antes de partir entró una atractiva mujer y se sentó junto a la puerta, dos lugares a mi izquierda. Abrí mi libro, pero por reflejo levanté la mirada y vi cómo aquel chico la observaba fijamente. El tren prácticamente no había salido de la estación cuando la mujer se levantó y rápidamente fue a sentarse al otro extremo del vagón. El chico hizo un gesto, que yo interpreté como una mezcla de sorpresa y desgana, y volvió a su periódico gratuito.

Hace ya tiempo la profesora de francés nos hizo unas preguntas para provocar el debate entre los cuatro alumnos de la clase: dos mujeres jóvenes, un hombre mayor y un servidor. El hombre tenía la costumbre de ser el primero en contestar. Aquel día, cuando se le agotaban las ideas mirándome con interés decía: “a lo mejor Koldo tiene algo que añadir”. Las otras dos personas eran al parecer nuestras convidadas de piedra. Continue reading

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A normative defence of a foreign policy in line with human rights

dialogue coverThis article was originally published in Dialogue, issue 6, winter 2013.

In the last two decades, norms and beliefs have put on weight in scholarly research in international relations. Traditional (neo)realists would still insist that international relations are only about one predetermined goal, that is, survival. Nonetheless, among those willing to accept that there is room for choice in foreign affairs, the study of human rights in foreign policy has focused so far on issues like motivations, consistency, assessment and impact. These are certainly critical aspects that deserve due attention in order to comprehend the possibilities of a foreign policy that includes human rights into its defining elements. However, I believe it is time to take another step and make the case that the existing global legal regime imposes certain human rights duties on States also when they work as international actors. Continue reading

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Mapping human rights or how to sieve governments’ words into the bowl of facts

mapI will be honest with you: I tend to dislike the idea of categorising human rights violations with numbers. If human rights are indivisible and interdependent, how can we say that the violation of this right deserves a “4” while the violation of that one will do with a “2”. Does that mean that two of the latter equal one of the former? It won’t be me telling that to the victim. Continue reading

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Are freedom, social justice, democracy and human rights appealing outside the West?

bricsThe puzzle is probably as applicable to Europe as to the rest of the world. Looking at the way intelligence agencies have been spying over European citizens, or at the “legacy of poverty” that the austerity policies are leaving behind, we can legitimately wonder if freedom, social justice, democracy and human rights are at all appealing within the West itself and, specifically, in Europe. However, the question that I ask myself today is whether these values and norms are still attractive in developing countries, if they ever were.

A few days ago, I attended an event co-organised by Ipsos Mori and KCL International Development Institute, where they presented a research into public perceptions about growth and prosperity in emerging economies. The survey was conducted online and about 6000 people were interviewed in 11 countries: Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India, China, South Korea, Indonesia and Mexico. When asked about what country/region has the best economic ideas and offer better employment opportunities, the US and China led way ahead (28 and 26%) and the EU came third (16%). In fact, the EU only was first in 2 of the 11 countries: Turkey and South Korea. Interestingly enough, Brazilians, Russians and Indians all agree that China is leading the way among the BRICs. From the perspective of the emerging world, the Chinese model now seems at least as relevant as the American one, and the decline of Europe is just evident.
Continue reading

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En las condiciones actuales, el acuerdo de pesca entre la UE y Marruecos no debería ser aplicable al Sáhara Occidental

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATras el fracaso de las negociaciones en 2011, en febrero de 2012 el Consejo Europeo autorizó a la Comisión Europea para que negociara un nuevo protocolo de pesca con Marruecos. Tanto el Consejo Europeo como el Parlamento Europeo dieron el mandato a la Comisión con el fin de que el nuevo acuerdo de pesca con Marruecos incluyera una “cláusula de derechos humanos”. Sin embargo, debido a la eficaz presión ejercida por Marruecos, el proyecto de protocolo de pesca actualmente en discusión no contiene cláusula alguna en este sentido, lo que le convierte en el primer (proyecto de) acuerdo pesquero de la UE en 3 años que omite una cláusula de derechos humanos.

El lobby español dio sus frutos y el miércoles de la semana pasada el Consejo de la UE dio su visto bueno al protocolo de pesca, aunque al menos cinco países se manifestaron en contra (Suecia, Dinamarca, Finlandia, Reino Unido y Países Bajos). El protocolo todavía tiene que ser sometido a votación en el Parlamento Europeo (que paralizó el proyecto anterior hace ahora dos años), cuya decisión no se espera hasta final de año.

Apenas dos días antes, los servicios jurídicos del Parlamento Europeo remitieron a los europarlamentarios su Opinión Jurídica sobre el protocolo en cuestión (aquí en inglés). Los servicios del Parlamento señalan en su informe que, aunque no ha reclamado expresamente la Zona Económica Exclusiva (ZEE) correspondiente a la costa del Sáhara Occidental en base a la Convención de Montego Bay (artículo 75), Marruecos puede explotar las aguas saharauis dentro de los límites de la ZEE (200 millas náuticas), siempre que respete las obligaciones con respecto a la población del Sáhara Occidental derivadas del derecho internacional y en particular del artículo 73 de la Carta de las Naciones Unidas. Los servicios jurídicos concluyen que el acuerdo de pesca entre la UE y Marruecos puede ser aplicable al Sáhara Occidental siempre que beneficie a la población local.

A mi juicio, si tomamos en cuenta el derecho internacional en su conjunto llegaremos a la conclusión de que confiar en que Marruecos tome medidas simplemente no es suficiente. Continue reading

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