Human Rights Inside and Outside: Introducing the 2018 INFAR Conference

The ISS next week hosts a conference organised by INFAR on “Human Rights Inside and Outside”, with a special focus on the Rule of Law and human rights. These two concepts are core normative ideas for law, yet their intrinsic value and application is contested. This blog details the conference proceedings and briefly describes the conference theme and the main questions participants will seek to answer. It also serves as an invitation for interested parties to attend the conference.


 

On 31 May and 1 June 2018, the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) will host a conference titled “Human Rights Inside and Outside”. This conference is being organised in the framework of the Integrating Normative and Functional Approaches to the Rule of Law and Human Rights (INFAR) Research Excellence Initiative, a 5-year (2015-2020) joint project of the Erasmus School of Law and the ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Over one and a half days conference participants will gather to discuss the application of the Rule of Law (RoL) and human rights norms in relation to civic participation, contested constitutionalism, and corporate responsibility.

What is the conference about?

The Rule of Law (RoL) and human rights are core normative ideas for law, yet their intrinsic value and application is contested. Some have even argued that the human rights movement is on a regressive path, frequently leaving the most vulnerable without voice, ignoring economic considerations, and lacking prospects of securing access to justice.

 International and supranational organisations today are dedicated to the promotion of the RoL and human rights, but they face problems in how to progress towards these purposes. The European Union (EU) finds that its new member states are unable to deliver on the RoL commitments made when they joined the EU. The United Nations struggles with RoL and human rights in post-conflict states, for instance when the UN takes on the role of government, as in Kosovo, and in transnational trade contexts, where the UN tries to provide guidelines for how business actors should take responsibility for human rights protection.

Part of the difficulty in realising and critiquing RoL and human rights interventions emanates from the divergence of views among actors regarding their overall meaning and purpose. The RoL and human rights are well-known legal and also political and economic concepts, as law and development scholars note. However, the content of these concepts is a contested subject. Policymakers, regulatory agencies and private actors tend to take a functionalist approach in which the RoL and human rights are viewed as instruments for stimulating economic growth or political stability. On the other hand, courts and most other legal actors view the RoL and human rights as intrinsically valuable norms, but fail to address the circumstances that lead to (dis)function. That is, they fail to realise how the application of RoL and human rights is contingent upon and vulnerable to economic and political struggles, and how battles over these norms are won and lost for economic and political expediency.

INFAR’s interest in RoL and human rights

A core assumption of the INFAR project is that it is not enough to shine light on the conceptual tensions and dilemmas of RoL and human rights arising through processes of globalisation and financialisation, such as in adjudications involving trade law and human rights. The global issues of inequality and political exclusion do not have a quick fix, but a fruitful approach towards them could be investigating the specific social settings where fallouts from the broader conceptual tensions and dilemmas are registered: the human consequences for people and groups and a fuller appreciation of which actors and what norms affected individuals must compete with. Micro ethnographic and other socio-legal studies within public and private settings that examine different forms of struggle against plural forms of expropriation and exclusion can tell us much about the success and deficits within a specific context.

Through these studies we find out more about the RoL and human rights elements that are frequently undermined by increasing economic inequality or political exclusion, and the processes surrounding and facilitating such outcomes. Such context-specific studies enable us to appreciate that both answers and obstacles to human rights and RoL questions are not controlled by the state and can involve private actors who bring their own understandings of what RoL and human rights mean within their operations.

Against this background, the conference will explore what RoL and human rights norms are invoked in different settings, involving constitutional courts, corporations, governments and regulators; how those rights interact with the political and economic purposes and incentives of those actors; and why the realisation of rights can involve innovative or adverse results. Accordingly, we will study how the substantive meaning of the RoL and human rights differs depending on circumstances.

We will explicitly examine the role of private actors in RoL and human rights conversations:

How might strategic litigation efforts assist in achieving social justice for Roma travelers under consistent threat of forced eviction?

How can legal guarantees for public participation be operationalised in private settings?

And how can human rights based constitutions remain a meaningful framework in divided societies?

When considering these questions we keep the people whose rights are at stake at the forefront of our discussions, while recognising the dangers of doing so from an epistemic standpoint.

Conference proceedings

The first session on citizenship and discrimination will focus on the global, European and Dutch responses to Roma rights, with papers from Julia Sardelić, Claire Loven and Leonie Huijbers, Helen Hintjens and Kristin Henrard. On the topic of contested constitutionalism we hear from Jeff Handmaker and Wil Hout, Otto Spijkers and Sanele Sibanda. On corporate social responsibility, Liesbeth Enneking discusses global value chains, Nicola Jägers, the Sustainable Development Goals, Peter Knorringa and Samer Abdelnour speak on global standards for sustainability, and Rachel Adams presents on transparency and human rights. On human rights and mining, Anneloes Hoff will present ethnographic research on the practical application of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, Kinnari Bhatt discusses an unusual example of private contracting between a concessionaire and an Aboriginal group, and Jackie Dugard presents on the constitutional rights to property and equitable access to South Africa’s mineral resources.

After an exciting roundtable debate and Q&A on how human rights can be strategically mobilised for political and social change, the conference closes with a Keynote Address by South African Sociology of Law Professor Jonathan Klaaren of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

All are welcome! Register for the event here. A conference programme can be found at the same link.


Authors:

Nathanael Ali, Kinnari Bhatt, Jeff Handmaker and Sanne Taekema (conference co-organisers)

 

 

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