Dear fellow jurists, human rights are about politics, and that’s perfectly fine

socialjusticeFor decades, the global human rights community has seen human rights as a matter of law, mostly international law. Economic, social and cultural rights, however, are meant to be progressively realized making use of all available resources. The violations approach and the work on their justiciability do not address the structural factors that constrain the enjoyment of these rights. Human rights are about policy and politics as much as about law. There is room for human rights advocacy outside and beyond the limits of the law.

Abstract of a chapter by Koldo Casla in Can human rights bring social justice?, book edited by Amnesty International Netherlands in the Changing Perspectives on Human Rights collection.


Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015

Amnesty International held its International Council Meeting (ICM) this last week in Dublin.

The Strategic Goals were the most important issue under consideration, but Amnesty delegates from all over the world also talked about internal governance nationally and internationally, fundraising, austerity, resource allocation, and the work on individuals at risk, for example.

Yet, one other issue stood out: sex work. After months of preparation and internal and external discussion, Amnesty was presented with the guiding principles of a draft policy to decriminalise sex work in order to protect the rights of women and men in this sector.

The proposal had generated massive interest not only among Amnesty members, but also far beyond. Social and conventional media bustled with comments for and against the resolution, or perceptions and reinterpretations of it.

Continue reading “Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015”

Order versus Justice in the selection of the next UN Secretary General

aban2The battle to replace Ban Ki-moon has begun. A recent article by Colum Lynch (@columlynch) in Foreign Policy speaks about the race, the likely competitors and the interests at play. The author explains how the most powerful countries tend to prefer contestants from nations with little weight in international politics. He also talks about the strategies previous nominees have followed, and foresees that the next Secretary General may come from Eastern Europe, notwithstanding the quiet movements of certain players from Latin America to Australia and the ongoing EU-Russia tensions. Not in vain, the UN Secretary General is appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council (Art. 97 of the UN Charter), where vetoes are always an option.

This time some people are committed to change the way the Secretary General gets chosen. A number of civil society organisations are campaigning under the platform #1for7billion (@1for7billion), calling for a “process that meets the higher standards of transparency and accountability that UN Member States and civil society have been demanding for years, (…) a process that provides meaningful involvement from all Member States, appropriate input from civil society, and that matches that of other high-level international appointments”. They demand transparency and citizens’ active participation. They oppose the business as usual that has ruled the nomination since 1945. They want 1-for-7-billion, not 1-for-193-mostly-15-really-5. Continue reading “Order versus Justice in the selection of the next UN Secretary General”

The ugly t-shirt or the cost of supporting feminism in Britain

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg wear the Fawcett Society’s feminist T-shirt.British media are echoing the claim that the t-shirts Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman posed with a few days ago were made in Mauritius by workers being paid 62p an hour. Fawcett Society, the organisation behind this campaign, promised that they take this allegations very seriously and they are looking into it. The t-shirt says “This is what a feminist looks like”. Each t-shirt costs £45.

It is true that the working conditions are not the exception, but the norm in this sector. Having said that, it has been clumsy. And it is Fawcett’s fault. Continue reading “The ugly t-shirt or the cost of supporting feminism in Britain”

Is Russia a human rights promoter in the Snowden case?

Edward SnowdenIt seems that the former NSA employee Edward Snowden remains in the transit zone of Moscow airport. At least, that´s what President Putin said a couple of days ago in a press conference in Finland. Putin claimed to be as surprised as any other, and argued that Snowden was just a “transit passenger” and therefore didn´t need a visa or any other document. The Russian President also said that, since Snowden “has not crossed” the Russian border and he “has not committed any crime” on Russian soil, there are no grounds for prosecution in Russia or for deportation to the US, with which Russia has no extradition treaty. Considering Snowden has reportedly applied for asylum from Ecuador, when the Russian Premier was asked about the similarities between his case and the one of Julian Assange, Putin responded with another question: “Just like Snowden, (Assange) considers himself a rights advocate and fights for sharing information. Ask yourself: should or should not people like these be extradited to be later put to jail?” Continue reading “Is Russia a human rights promoter in the Snowden case?”

Are human rights claims morally virtuous?

ImageAt the inaugural lecture of Northumbria University last November, Lord Justice Laws provocatively asks “whether human rights make us bad citizens”. (Read the comment by Rosalind English in UK Human Rights Blog). Bearing in mind that the discourse of rights has reached a protagonist role in current political and legal thought, Laws argues that we should not confuse rights with morals.

The entrenchment of rights in the culture of the State carries with it a great danger. It is that rights, a necessary legal construct, come also to be seen as a necessary moral construct. Applied to the morality of individuals, this is a bad mistake. (…) Why is it so malign a force? Let me consider the nature of rights a little more closely. What am I doing when I state that I have a moral right – a right to do something, or a right not to have something done to me? It is not a statement that implies any virtue on my part. I am not good because I assert that I have a right. To claim a right involves no moral action by the claimant. There is nothing virtuous in making the claim. It is not an act of self-sacrifice or self-restraint, kindness or consideration towards anyone else; it is not other-centred; it claims what is due, or what is thought to be due. Systematically, it is a claim about how someone else ougt to behave – or refrain from behaving. Any morality in it is the other person’s morality. If it is morally justified, it is because the other party owes a duty – a moral duty – to make it good. (…) The performance of duty is virtuous; whereas a claim of right is only an insistence that someone else behave virtuously.

I see the point Lord Justice Laws makes here, and I agree to some extent. Continue reading “Are human rights claims morally virtuous?”