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.
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.
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.”
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:
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Syria has raised several questions that pertain to morality, legality, and strategy in international relations. Discussed extensively on the Duck, Opinio 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)
Yesterday, four Neo-Nazis were finally sentenced for their roles in a series of brutal killings of Roma families in Hungary in 2008 and 2009. Although the convictions have been applauded as a human rights victory, advocates are still demanding that Hungary steps up to the plate and protects the rights of Roma, a historically at-risk minority. The killings were not isolated events against Roma in Hungary; other discriminatory actions have been occurring, without punitive consequences, for quite some time.
Why are Roma still discriminated against in Hungary? Hungary is an EU state. The state’s overall level of human rights practices is not altogether that bad but the level of on-the-ground discrimination against this minority group is appalling. Unfortunately, the discrimination in Hungary against the Roma is not unusual. What, if anything, can be done to lessen discrimination against the Roma and other minority groups?
My colleague and friend James Ron has a new article up at Open Democracy (with Shannon Golden and David Crow) on asymmetric access of global populations to human rights machinery. The article is one in a new Open Democracy series “Open Global Rights,” which aims to ” relocate the [human rights] conversation away from the west and to the Global South.” Continue reading
A little over a month ago, I wrote about the growing academic literature concerning human rights treaties and their lack of influence on human rights practices. Based on my own experiences growing up in parts of the U.S. where it’s assumed we can “[Rebuild] Our Culture One Purity Ball at a Time,” I likened human rights treaties to virginity pledges, saying that “in most circumstances, these human rights “pledges” don’t work to improve human rights practices. In some circumstances, they can actually lead to a worsening of governmental human rights practices.” There is a brand-spankin-new forthcoming article at American Journal of Political Science by Yonatan Lupu of George Washington University that may indicate my previous conclusion was overstated: when fully accounting for state preferences in treaty commitments, Lupu does not find any evidence that treaties make things worse. This is good news for human rights advocates everywhere and very important for human rights/treaty scholarship! Lupu’s article definitely deserves your attention.
This week’s topic for both my grad and undergrad human rights courses is “foreign policy and human rights promotion.” On the list of readings-not-on-last-year’s-syllabus is this little gem: “Enter the Dragon! An Empirical Analysis of Chinese versus US Arms Transfers to Autocrats and Violators of Human Rights, 1989-2006” by Indra de Soysa and Paul Midford. It appeared in last December’s issue of ISQ. Drop what you are doing now and read it! Seriously. It is thought -provoking, made me want to download their replication dataset and play with it before class, and made my students argue aggressively with each other in class.
In the category of “pop-culture-not-talked-about-by-normal-Ducks,” People magazine’s cover story last week was on ABC’s The Bachelor, Sean Lowe, and his pledge to remain a
virgin re-virgin until his wedding night. As someone who graduated high school in town of less than 1500 in Kansas, I think this type of pledge is pretty typical: many teens and young adults make a pledge, usually in front of an audience, to avoid sexual conduct until marriage. And, not surprisingly, most teens do not keep their pledge. In fact, there are some studies that indicate that these virginity pledges are associated with riskier sexual behavior.
In many regards, the academic literature on UN human rights treaties sees their effectiveness as extremely similar to virginity pledges: in most circumstances, these human rights “pledges” don’t work to improve human rights practices. In some circumstances, they can actually lead to a worsening of governmental human rights practices. Why is this? Below, I outline 3 reasons why human rights treaties and virginity pledges don’t work.
Thanks to a very awesome grad student of mine, I just realized that last week marked the second anniversary of the start of the Bahrain uprising. Fueled by protests in Tunisia and Egypt, citizens of this small and very beautiful island state took to the streets to demand political changes. For two years, the protests have not completely dissipated but haven’t escalated to the point of civil war either. What explains this continued state of violent limbo?