Tag: human rights (page 1 of 5)

The Importance of Evidence-Based Human Rights Advocacy

The following is a guest post by Michele Leiby & Matthew Krain of The College of Wooster.

We are at a moment where there’s more media attention, research and advocacy on behalf of global human rights than ever before. Given our common interests and goals as members of an international human rights community, it’s surprising how infrequently and ineffectually we communicate and contribute directly to one another’s work. Our recent research on the efficacy of human rights messaging is both informed by this gap and an effort to bridge it.

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What Does it Mean to Promote Human Rights?

Migrants on the Hungarian border

A few months ago, I began my Duck postings with an introspective on what it’s like to have grown up in the USA and moved to Canada to start my professional career. The current context in Canada is both daunting and exciting – yes people, “We the North” have an election. In two weeks. We have three (possibly four or five) parties to choose from, only one has amazing hair, and unlike US elections with the circus of personality assassinations and general chaos that surrounds the process, the Canadian one has gone on quite civilly and remained mostly focused on real issues. There are real issues at stake here in the Canadian election – and I had a chaotic but very thought-provoking week to reflect on some human rights concerns, both in Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. I had two sets of thoughts that popped into my mind as a result of being part of two human rights-related events this past week: global leadership on human rights is exceedingly difficult; and maybe we need some leadership on human rights domestically.

First, I had the honor of moderating the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Victoria University, at the University of Toronto. This year, I got to lead a discussion between The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs led the way to ban landmines, is a celebrated name among human rights junkies in particular (like me … if you don’t know who he is, see this), and Professor Charli Carpenter, who is a colleague whose work I’ve referenced extensively in my own research. They were responding to the topic of “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights Around the World?” which was the topic that U of T’s political science students came up with for the evening. Continue reading

Market Values: Why Local Human Rights Work Needs Global Funding?

As IR scholars thinking about the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in shaping international norms, we rarely think to ask those doing the work on the ground what they think (this author is guilty as charged).  Plenty of work has gone into researching how others NGOs think of one another (Murdie and Davis, Hadden) and try to shape one another’s’ behavior (Deloffre), how international NGOs shape international norms through their work with other political actors (Carpenter, among others), and how NGOs might censor themselves (Bush).  Others have also looked at how external, in particular, Western donors, can shape the NGO-scape in a certain country (Luong and Weinthal, Sundstrom), but very few of us have then thought about where else the money would come from if not from outsiders meddling in the internal politics of state-society relations (see however, Brass, Dupuy et al. for a view of Ethiopia, work by Gugerty and Suarez).   Continue reading

Bottom’s Up: Exploring the Resource Mobilization of Local Human Rights Organizations

James Ron, Archana Pandya, and David Crow’s article investigates the resource mobilization of local human rights organizations (LHROs) in India, Mexico, Morocco and Nigeria. Having theorized the transnational networks, strategies, politics and influence of NGOs, Ron, Pandya and Crow now turn the attention of international relations scholars to the local contexts in which NGOs work. Drawing on original data including 263 semi-structured interviews with key informants and LHRO staff in 60 countries as well as public perceptions surveys in each of the four cases (n= 6,180), they find that although there is widespread public support of human rights and trust in LHROs, domestic publics do not donate to LHROs. They call this the “resource-rights” puzzle.

One nagging implicit normative assumption in the article is that somehow the resource-rights puzzle has negative or adverse effects on the work and impacts of LHROs. One obvious reason why LHROs might want to raise funds locally is the sense that Northern donors push Northern agendas and raising funds from local communities would empower LHROs to better represent local interests (Bradshaw 2006). Ron, Pandya and Crow’s public perceptions data however, show that the surveyed publics in the four cases generally support the broader human rights agenda. So while the funding might come from the global North, substantial local support for human rights principles and groups exists. Continue reading

The Politics of Resettlement: Migrants vs. Refugees

We are witnessing the horror of war. We see it every day, with fresh pictures of refugees risking their lives on the sea, rather than risking death by shrapnel, bombs, assassination or enslavement. For the past four years, over 11 million Syrians have left their homes; 4 million of them have left Syria altogether. Each day thousands attempt to get to a safer place, a better life for themselves and their children. Each day, the politics of resettlement and the fear of terrorism play their part.

The last major resettlement campaign in the US came after the Vietnam War. Over a 20-year period 2 million people from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were resettled into the US.   The overall number of resettled refugees from this period is roughly about 3 million. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey alone has taken 2 million Syrian refugees within its borders. In short, Turkey has absorbed the same amount of war refugees in a four-year period that the US absorbed in five times the amount of time.

Turning to the Syrian case, which has produced the most refugees in any war in the past 70 years, we find a very dismal record of other than near neighbor resettlement. The Syrian conflict began in early 2011, and while the violence quickly escalated, I am taking the numbers of admitted Syrian refugees to the US starting in 2012. In 2012, the US admitted 35 Syrian refugees. In 2013, it admitted 48; in 2014, it admitted 1307. For 2015, the US is estimating admitting somewhere between 1000-2000 refugees. Even Canada, who tends to be more open with regard to resettlement and aid, has only admitted about 1300 refugees, pledging to admit 10,000 more by 2017.  In short, since the beginning of this war, one of the most powerful countries in the world, with ample space and the economic capacity to admit more people, has admitted an estimated total of 2400 people, and its neighbor, a defender of human rights, has admitted about half that. Thinking the other way around, the US has agreed to take in .0006 % of the current population of Syrian refugees, and this number does not does not take into consideration the 7 million internally displaced people of Syria, or the simple fact that one country (Turkey) has absorbed 45%.

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LGBT Rights: The Perils of Becoming Mainstream

To begin with a confession, I have spent far too long contemplating what to write about as my first post, due in no small part to sharing fellow Guest Duck Tom‘s nerves about joining such formidable paddling of regular Ducks. However, Wendy‘s post on human rights having gone mainstream and no longer being revolutionary has given me exactly the push I needed to get started.

Specifically, I want to explore Wendy’s argument in relation to claims for LGBT rights. My aim is not to counter Wendy’s argument, which I find persuasive, but rather to use it as a starting point for thinking through the implications of becoming mainstream and, in particular, consider the potential downsides of becoming “accepted and discussed” – what is lost when one’s claims cease to be revolutionary and/or “subversive”?

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The Threat of the BDS Movement

Hello there! I’m very excited to be blogging here at Duck of Minerva for the next several months, and I’d like to thank all the full-time Ducks for the opportunity! For my first post, I thought I’d address something I’ve been thinking about ever since a student asked about it in my US Foreign Policy class this past semester. She asked about the BDS movement and whether I thought it had any chance of influencing Israel’s behavior towards the Occupied Territories and the Palestinians. Not having thought much about the issue before, I gave a typically hemming-and-hawing answer, but the more I think about it the more I think that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divest Movement is, perhaps, the most significant threat faced by Israel today. (As an aside, this is not at all an area of expertise of mine, so what follows is more musing than academic treatise. I’ll post more serious  stuff in my area of academic expertise soon.)

Seriously, you ask? Yes, seriously. Seriously, you ask again? More significant than the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah? More significant than Iranian nuclear proliferation? More significant than the civil war in Syria and the potential collapse of the Assad regime? Yes. Let me explain.

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The New Mineshaft Gap: Killer Robots and the UN

This past week I was invited to speak as an expert at the United Nations Informal Meeting of Experts under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The CCW’s purpose is to limit or prohibit certain conventional weapons that are excessively injurious or have indiscriminate effects. The Convention has five additional protocols banning particular weapons, such as blinding lasers and cluster bombs. Last week’s meetings was focused on whether the member states ought to consider a possible sixth additional protocol on lethal autonomous weapons or “killer robots.”

My role in the meeting was to discuss the military rationale for the development and deployment of autonomous weapons. My remarks here reflect what I said to the state delegates and are my own opinions on the matter. They reflect what I think to be the central tenet of the debate about killer robots: whether states are engaging in an old debate about relative gains in power and capabilities and arms races. In 1964, the political satire Dr. Strangelove finds comedy in that even in the face of certain nuclear annihilation between the US and the former Soviet Union, the US strategic leaders were still concerned with relative disparity of power: the mineshaft gap. The US could not allow the Soviets to gain any advantage in “mineshaft space” – those deep underground spaces where the world’s inhabitants would be forced to relocate to keep the human race alive – because the Soviets would certainly continue an expansionist policy to take out the US’s capability once humanity could emerge safely from nuclear contamination.

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Human Rights Research and Researchers in IR: Are We REALLY that Odd?

Before APSA last week, I had the privilege of attending a small conference put on the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at William and Mary.  The conference was a chance for researchers in different research areas to write about the policy-relevance of their issue area and compare research and researchers in their area to the larger IR community.  It relates to the discussion going on the last couple of weeks on ISQ’s blog.  All of the participants had the opportunity to use the TRIP project data on journal articles in top-IR journals and survey data from IR researchers around the world.  I learned lot about how interactions with the policy/practitioner community differ across issue areas.

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Meanwhile in Cambodia: The Detention of Mu Sochua

Mu Sochua a leading member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested on Tuesday along with five others after a demonstration to gain access to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park turned violent in clashes between police and some of the protesters. Sochua was elected to the Cambodian parliament in 2013 and is a leading human rights and non-violence advocate in Cambodia. Despite their calls on the protesters to remain calm and non-violent, Sochua and the five others have been charged with insurrection and incitement and have been detained in Phnem Penh’s maximum security prison.  If convicted, they could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The US State Department, and others, including my home institution Mount Holyoke College have already called on the government for their release. Human Rights Watch called the government to investigate and prosecute those opposition supporters who committed violence, but is also called the insurrection charges “absurd” and yet another “pretext for threatening opposition leaders with prison.”

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“A Social Science of Human Rights” – Some New Social Science

 This morning, I woke up with a very nice notice about the 50th Anniversary Issue of Journal of Peace Research  in my inbox.  The issue is worth checking out – there’s some good stuff in there.

As a human rights scholar, I was really interested in the “A Social Science of Human Rights” piece by Emilie Hafner-Burton.  While I’m happy to see human rights get a mention in this important issue, I think there is some significant literature that has been missed by Hafner-Burton’s review.  I want to bring attention to this not as a “wait, why wasn’t I cited?” but because the piece raises a few questions and makes some claims to which we already have some increasingly solid answers.  Let me bring attention to a few of the statements from the review piece:

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The “Baptist-Burqa” Network and LGBT Advocacy

It’s been a big and extremely depressing week for the rights of sexual minorities.  Despite some minor victories in Texas and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto, anti-gay bills remain on the agenda in many US states.  Things continue to get worse in Uganda and Russia.  What can be done to help stop the abuse?

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Political Homophobia in Uganda and a (Very) Belated Apology

In what I suspect is the least auspicious debut ever made by a Duck guest blogger, six months after being welcomed by the Duck team, I’m finally posting. It turns out that starting a new job, prepping a new course, learning how to shovel snow, and attempting to finish a book manuscript all at once is not particularly conducive to being a good guest blogger. I’d like to thank the Duck team for their patience, and for their completely unwarranted confidence in still welcoming me to blog here. And I promise to do better from here on out. 

As Charli noted, my area of interest is in questions at the intersection of conflict and development in Africa. I’m particularly fascinated these days by African states, how they (and their international relations) contrast with traditional understandings of what states are and what they do, and how people in conflict situations organize themselves to provide for community needs, with or without outside help. So it’s likely that most of my posts at the Duck will focus on these questions one way or another, as well as on general debates in the study of politics in Africa.

The biggest African story right now is the increasing criminalization of homosexuality and homosexual behavior in places like Uganda and Nigeria. Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law has drawn the greatest amount of attention due to its extremely harsh penalties. Though the worst excesses of the bill’s original language (including the death penalty for those caught committing multiple homosexual  acts) were  amended out, the bill still provides for jail time for persons who engage in any form of physical content with “intent” to engage in homosexual acts as well as imprisonment for those who help or counsel GLBTQ Ugandans. Continue reading

Guest Post: Considering the BDS Movement from a Human Rights Perspective

The following is a guest post by Joel R. Pruce, a post-doctoral fellow in human rights studies at the University of Dayton. 

The transnational movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel continues to capture headlines and prompt crucial debate on the status of Palestinian claims to national self-determination and individual human rights protection, and the global public’s moral responsibility with respect to the ongoing conflict. Recent episodes, including the academic boycott passed by the American Studies Association and the SodaStream/ScarJo/Oxfam love triangle, signal that BDS is penetrating discourse and influencing decisions of prominent actors. Since sufficient vitriolic ink on this topic has been spilled prior to the current contribution, the approach here is to propose a critique of the BDS movement from a universal human rights perspective, in order to provide a consensus-based reference point with which to orient reasonable debate, while engaging with the movement itself in its own terms.

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Dear Kansas Board of Regents

Dear Kansas Board of Regents,

Greetings.  You probably don’t know me but I’ve been a long-time user of your services.  I started my college career taking dual-credit courses at Pratt Community College in 1996, I attended the Kansas Board of Regents Honors Academy in 1998, and I am a graduate of one of your fine institutions, Kansas State University.  After getting my PhD, I even returned to Kansas State for 3 years as an assistant professor.

I “did good” as a professor at Kansas State – I published a lot, won a big teaching award, and didn’t make waves.  Like a lot of people in my generation, I also had a Facebook account.  I proudly displayed my work information on the account – I wanted others to know that I was a K-State grad and professor.  I left K-State in the Fall of 2012 for a better position at a better department and university.  It was a good decision.  There really wasn’t anything wrong with K-State and I still keep in close contact with many of my friends and former colleagues in Kansas.

Last night – on Facebook in fact –  I learned that you just adopted a new social media policy.  I read the policy with great interest.  In many regards, I think it is completely reasonable.  Of course I know not to incite violence in my Facebook or blogging activities; I also know not to post confidential information about students.  It’s your other point that worries me: improper use of social media includes things that are “contrary to the best interest of the university.”  Wow.  Talk about scary.  As Philip Nel – a K-State English professor I actually took a class with in 2000 – wrote in his blog (also cited in the Inside Higher Ed article):

 “As faculty grade their last student papers and exams before leaving town for the Christmas holidays, the Kansas Board of Regents quietly — and unanimously — voted to revoke their academic freedom and basic right to freedom of speech.”

I didn’t start blogging until after I left K-State.  However, if this policy had been in place while I was at K-State or was in place at my current university, I don’t know if I would have.  I also don’t think I would risk posting anything on Facebook or Twitter as a professor at one of your colleges or universities.  “Best interest of the university?”  What does that mean?  I one time posted something on Facebook about how my office at K-State was never heated properly.  Is that in the “best interest of the university?”  Probably not – we wouldn’t want outsiders to know that facilities are sub-par.

“Best interest of the university” could also mean I should never post about my current research.  Let me give you an example – I study human rights and am working on a paper with Victor Asal and Udi Sommer on how advocacy concerning LGBT rights influences the rights for sexual minorities to marry.  This right is not in line with the Governor of the State of Kansas, Sam Brownback, who actually appoints your board.  So, if I write a post about my current research, would that be against the “best interest of the university”?  We all know that Brownback’s staff really likes to search for anti-Brownback tweets (even of high schoolers)– would a blog at the Duck on that subject get me in hot water if I taught in Kansas?  I sure hope not.

In short, I’m saddened by the potential misuse of your new policy.  I hope my former K-State colleagues also express their dismay.  However, if I was them, I’d be hesitant to express my dismay on any sort of social media.

Best regards,


Human Rights Week Roundup: New Work by (Somewhat) New Scholars

December 10th was UN Human Rights Day, starting off Human Rights Week.  In many regards, 2013 has been a very good year for human rights practices around the world.  In other regards, 2013 has had some abysmal failures when it comes to human rights on the ground, especially the rights of sexual minorities.

For our academic understanding of human rights, 2013 has been a very good year, with many excellent and novel pieces published in political science.  Although this list is in no way exhaustive, let me highlight five of my favorite new articles of 2013 by (somewhat) junior IR scholars (all of which will appear on my updated graduate and undergraduate human rights syllabus):

Barry, Colin M., K. Chad Clay, and Michael E. Flynn. 2013. “Avoiding the Spotlight: Human Rights Shaming and Foreign Direct Investment.” 57(3): 532-544.

*Barry, Clay, and Flynn provide a very crucial empirical link for our understanding how shaming by human rights international non-governmental organizations is linked to changes in repressive behavior: human rights shaming leads to changes in multinational corporation investment. A must for any syllabus week on shaming and human rights outcomes.

Ellerby, Kara. 2013. “(En) gendered Security? The Complexities of Women’s Inclusion in Peace Processes.” International Interactions 39(4): 435-460.

*This whole special issue of International Interactions would be an excellent week on a political violence/human rights syllabus: the focus is on gender in peacekeeping/peacemaking.  I especially liked Ellerby’s theoretical overview and detailed empirical treatment of how peace agreements are or are not incorporated into the intrastate peace process.

Kingston, Lindsey N.  2013.  ““A Forgotten Human Rights Crisis”: Statelessness and Issue (Non) Emergence.”  Human Rights Review.  14(2): 73-87.

*Kingston builds on work on the Duck’s own Charli Carpenter to outline detailed and very policy-relevant implications about when a human rights grievance is translated into a human rights “issue.” Interviews with NGO leaders on the non-issue of statelessness provide empirical support for her overall framework.

Nielsen, Richard A.  2013.  “Rewarding Human Rights? Selective Aid Sanctions against Repressive States.”  International Studies Quarterly.  57(4): 791-803.

*Nielsen’s study is shockingly overdue.  Using some pretty advanced statistical methods, Nielsen gives us a very thorough picture of how repression can influence different types of aid but that not all states find their aid cut in the same ways: donors often do not sanction states that are important to them politically.

Wallace, Geoffrey P.R. 2013. “International Law and Public Attitudes toward Torture: An Experimental Study.” International Organization 67(1): 105-140

*Wallace does a fantastic job at getting at the mega-big questions in international relations about the role of international law while focusing specifically on public’s support for the use of torture.  Very cool experimental design.  Check out Wallace’s whole CV – chock-full of stuff I could have included on this list.

Tactical Concessions or a Kiss Off? Understanding Recent Changes in Chinese Human Rights Policies

As has been widely reported in the Western media, on Friday, China’s state media finally officially announced two changes in human rights policies: (a) an end of the “Laojiao” policy of “re-education through labor” and (b) a change in the one-child policy in China, allowing two children per family if at least one of the parents was a single child (before both parents had to be only children).   Other, somewhat underreported, changes coming from the same official media report about the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China included a reduction of crimes punishable by death and efforts “to ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse.” Also in the news last week concerning Chinese human rights: China will have a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in the New Year.

What do these changes mean for the human rights situation in China?  Are they a sign of things to come or are these changes just “window dressing,” meant to divert attention away from the very pressing human rights problems within the state?  Many experts have highlighted that it is the latter: for example, Steve Tsang, although saying that the steps are an “important step forward,” said that it would be “naive to think this effort will seriously address the human rights problems in China.”  The famously negative NGO UN Watch also indicated that it was a “black day for human rights” when China and other human rights offenders were elected to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

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Creative Rebranding? Human Rights vs. Human Security

I had a boy break up with me once by saying “we’re not breaking up, we’re taking a break.”  I guess the boy assumed that “taking a break” would be easier for me to accept than “breaking up.”  He was right: it took me a while[1] to actually figure out that “taking a break” was really synonymous with “breaking up.”  For my teenage-girl angst, “taking a break” just sounded better.  For the boy, “taking a break” was probably the safer option.

In both advocacy and research concerning of how people are treated by governmental and non-governmental actors, I think the same type of linguistic gymnastics occurs between the terms “human rights” and “human security.” However, I think the strategic use of the terms could have ramifications for both our research and advocacy.

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International Institutions Mobilize Opponents Too

Members of international institutions typically honor their commitments. But that does not, by itself, tell us much. States are unlikely to join institutions that require them to do things they have no intention of doing. Indeed, some argue that institutions merely act to screen out those least likely to comply. Others, however, have argued that institutions do in fact constrain states – that they are not mere epiphenomena. One prominent mechanism through which institutions are thought to alter state behavior is by mobilizing pro-compliance groups domestically. Institutions may lack enforcement capable, after all, but few governments are entirely insensitive to domestic pressure.

But, as Stephen Chaudoin cogently observes in this working paper, those who stand to lose if the government adopts the institution’s preferred policy are unlikely to give in without a fight. And such groups virtually always exist; if they did not there’d be little need for institutions to promote cooperation in the first place. Put differently, while WTO rulings may raise awareness about the effects of tariffs and Amnesty International might draw attention to human rights abuses, the net effect of such efforts might simply be to increase the amount of effort those advantaged by the status quo invest in defending it.

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The Scarcity of Politics in Cosmopolitan Theory: Part I


Syria has raised several questions that pertain to morality, legality, and strategy in international relations.  Discussed extensively on the DuckOpinio Juris, The Monkey Cage, and elsewhere the situation in Syria has sparked a valuable debate on critical issues, both old and new. I would like to touch upon the implications of Syria for Cosmopolitanism. I think Syria has again highlighted the core dilemma of Cosmopolitan theory: the scarcity of politics. Protecting inalienable human rights requires applying normative cosmopolitan principles in practice. Application necessitates a departure from cosmopolitan normative theory towards cosmopolitan practice. And practice is inevitably political. Questions about when and how R2P applies, when intervention without Security Council authorization may be justified, and when a state looses its sovereign privileges when the government attacks its own people are about applied normativity. Cosmopolitan theory still offers relatively little on the politics of norm implementation.

At its, core, Cosmopolitanism asserts that there are “moral obligations owed to all human beings based solely on our humanity alone, without reference to race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, political affiliation, state citizenship, or other communal particularities (Brown and Held).”  Taking the inherent moral worth of the individual as its starting point, Legal Cosmopolitanism calls for the institutionalization of key cosmopolitan normative principles. Versions of Cosmopolitanism abound. I bracket these debates for the time being and recommend Catherine Lu’s article for a useful and critically-informed review. But there is consensus among scholars that honoring and protecting the individual is the core principle shared by Cosmopolitans of all stripes.

From Cicero to Kant, Pogge to Taylor, a lot has been said about the promises as well as perils of Legal Cosmopolitanism. But as As Garrett Wallace Brown notes in a recent article, we still have not moved “from cosmopolitan normative theory to cosmopolitan legal practice.” I think this is one reason why Cosmopolitanism seems to have little to say on the implementation of R2P. Thou shalt not kill may indeed be a universal norm. Yet how it is applied in practice by people and institutions varies. Shibley Telhami noted that the U.S. should not expect a “thank you” from the Arab world for intervening. This does not mean the Arab public opinion supports the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations. But it does suggest that the Arab world has a different understanding of how civilians need to be protected and criminal actions punished.

Cosmopolitan theory generally has a hard time tackling normativity in practice. It talks about our obligations towards global compatriots and calls for reforming existing international organizations to institutionalize cosmopolitan ideals. Yet it does not always tell us what our obligations are in practice and how they relate to our other moral duties, including those to the nation. It also gives us little policy guidance on institutional reform and on the role of the state in cosmopolitics. And the political implications of applied cosmopolitanism for democracy, moral diversity, and individual autonomy, to name a few important issues, sometimes remain unexplored. Of course, progress has been made and there is growing interest in applied global normativity. But I think IR scholars could offer additional insights that will inform theory and facilitate empirical research. I will sketch out some of my thoughts in Part II of this discussion. (Image source: http://criticalworld.net/cosmopolitanism/M. Roberts)

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