Tag Archives law

When should you ‘Call It What It Is’? Enabling disclosure of sexual violence by Chris Dolan and Onen David

When should you ‘Call It What It Is’? Enabling disclosure of sexual violence by Chris Dolan and Onen David

The international criminal law (ICL) system can only hear and describe a tiny fraction of what people experience, particularly when it comes to sexual violence. The ICL system not only ...

Beyond the binary: negotiating cultural practices and women’s rights in South Africa by Cathi Albertyn

Beyond the binary: negotiating cultural practices and women’s rights in South Africa by Cathi Albertyn

In a recent lecture at the ISS, Professor Cathi Albertyn of the University of the Witwatersrand discussed how South African women navigate civil and customary laws to claim women’s rights ...

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)

 

 

Striking at the glass ceiling: a tale of seven judges (and a lawyer) by Ubongabasi Obot

Striking at the glass ceiling: a tale of seven judges (and a lawyer) by Ubongabasi Obot

Memories came racing back for Ubongabasi Obot during a recent book launch at the ISS. The book’s theme? Breaking through the glass ceiling as an African woman. Obot’s own journey ...

Toward ‘fisheries justice’?: the global ‘fisheries crisis’ and how small-scale fishers are fighting back by Elyse Mills

The global ‘fisheries crisis’—in which fish stocks are depleted, environmental destruction has reached an apex, and small-scale fisheries are disappearing—is causing irreversible damage to both the fisheries sector and communities ...

Toward greater tolerance? Ethno-nationalist lawfare and resistance through legal mobilisation by Jeff Handmaker

JeffHandmakerISS_smallAbout the author:

Jeff Handmaker teaches law, human rights, development and governance and conducts research on legal mobilisation at the ISS. He is also an associate member of the Faculty of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Editor-in-Chief of the South African Journal on Human Rights and a member of the EUR INFAR Project.


In September 2014 Henk van Oss, a caravan dweller and member of the Dutch traveler community, received a letter from the Dutch municipality of Oss. Condolences were expressed for the recent death of his mother. And, in accordance with the Dutch “extinction policy”, he was informed that the permit for his mother’s caravan had been withdrawn and that he had to leave. His story of ethno-nationalist lawfare and the struggle for citizens to defend themselves reveals the importance of research on the contested terrain of legal mobilisation.


Victory for van Oss

Mr. van Oss, who had cared for his mother until her death, did not accept the municipality’s demands. He came in contact with the Dutch organisation Public Interest Litigation Project, who took his case to the Netherlands Human Rights Institute and brought a legal claim against the municipality of Oss. While the legal battle continued for some years, it was ultimately successful. The Human Rights Institute declared that the actions of Oss Municipality were unlawful. The courts (on appeal) declared that the municipality had acted illegally by withdrawing their permission for the caravan stand.

It was in some respects a legal tale of David and Goliath.  From an analytical standpoint it was a classic case study of how ethno-nationalist lawfare to end what the Dutch government regards as an undesirable cultural practice met the counterpower of the Sinti, Roma and Traveler community, who used strategic litigation, a form of legal mobilisation, to claim their rights.

The traveler community: A precarious existence

The history of the Sinti, Roma and Traveler community in Europe is not an altogether happy one. Historicially, the community travelled for economic opportunities or to escape persecution. But this wasn’t always enough. During the Second World War, several hundred members of the community were arrested and deported from the Netherlands by the Nazi occupation authorities. They were sent to concentration camps; most died. While the number of persecuted travelers in the Netherlands was relatively small, they met a similar fate as several hundred thousand other travelers did across Europe.

Ander-kamp-Oss-in-2013-grotendeels-ontruimd-3
A modern-day caravan in the Netherlands.

Over the course of the past few decades, a range of restrictive legal measures have been taken against Sinti, Roma and Travelers by both national and municipal governments across Europe. These measures frequently reflect ethno-nationalist, autocratic tendencies rather than the values expected of liberal democratic states. Such measures are also rooted in populism. They are framed by over-exaggerated perceptions of criminality and sometimes invoke the mantra of integration or even emancipation as a thin, and disingenuous form of justification.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Dutch “extinction policy1, largely implemented at the municipal government level, and sometimes containing a benevolent, moral message aimed at improving the socio-economic conditions of the community, is met with such revulsion and hostility. Ultimately, the government’s legal measures represent an oppressive use of law, with the overall aim of reducing, if not completely eliminating the community; in other words, these measures are a form of lawfare.

Resistance through legal mobilisation

Meanwhile, civic-led, law-based efforts to protect members of the community facing discrimination and to advocate for more rights-respecting policies make it difficult for such restrictive measures to take hold legally, particularly at the local/municipal level. These efforts serve as a counterpower to the exercise of ethno-nationalist lawfare against these legally-recognised ethnic groups.

As I argued in a paper presented at the Dutch-Flemish Socio-Legal Studies Association (VSR) in January 2018, legal mobilisation as an analytical lens can help to explain the potential for civic-led legal instrumentalism to protect groups against retrogressive measures by the state. According to my colleague Sanne Taekema, Professor of Legal Theory at Erasmus School of Law and leader of the project on Integrating Normative and Functional Approaches to the Rule of Law and Human Rights (INFAR) in which I am also participating,

traditional separation or balance of powers focuses on formal mandates of public actors and their interactions. Given the fact that in many states executive and legislative powers have become strongly intertwined, a veritable trias politica is merely an ideal.

Taekema’s research explores whether a model of balance of powers can be extended to include non-state actors. Together, we are investigating whether it is possible to revise the theory to include counterpowers outside of the state and serve as “direct and indirect checks” on government abuse of power. More broadly, my research explores how an analytical lens of lawfare can explain governmental-led instrumentalisation of law against communities, such as the Sinti, Roma and Travelers community, and how an analytical lens of legal mobilisation can explain the strategic potential of law-based, civic-led social justice claims.

A legal mobilisation lens: Useful in practice

The usefulness of a legal mobilisation lens is is further affirmed by Dutch attorney Jelle Klaas, litigation director of PILP, who led the strategic litigation on behalf of Henk van Oss. The Amsterdam-based organisation pursues what it describes as strategic litigation, a concept that is in fact broader than what most legal advocacy organisations traditionally understand strategic litigation to be, and incorporates various forms of law-based, civic-led advocacy. Klaas has noted that

sometimes, alternative routes to justice are blocked. Sometimes dialogue and lobbying are ineffective on their own. In these cases, legal action may be necessary as a form of counterpower to curb government overreach or harms caused by corporations.

PILP’s work is about using legal action to bring about social, political or legal changes. The goal is not necessarily to win a case for a particular client. Strategic litigation complements other ways of bringing about change: from lobbying and advocacy to community organising and protests. According to this approach, an organisation focused on strategic litigation should act as an ally to activists, NGOs and grassroots organisations. Klaas further explains PILP’s litigation strategies:

Usually, the aim is to go to court for a legal victory, but sometimes you can win by losing a case. Where injustice is exposed and publicity generated, there is often an opportunity for non-state actors to be a form of counterpower, regardless of the outcome of the case.

Conclusion

The case brought by Henk van Oss was “won” by PILP-supported lawyers in 2017, albeit not on the grounds of human rights violations as PILP had hoped and eloquently argued for. However, the case elevated the plight of Sinti, Roma and Travelers to the national spotlight. Furthermore, in laying out a detailed dossier of state-based discrimination, the case produced a vivid portrait of the community, giving the legal issue a human face and according credibility to the Sinti, Roma and Traveler movement’s campaign to end discrimination.

Beyond this particular issue, I feel it is crucial to understand the dynamics of legal mobilisation, both in a specific case and – generally – as a form of counterpower against lawfare exercised by state and indeed corporate actors. In this regard, context always shapes the socio-cultural possibilities for legal mobilisation. Furthermore, it is crucial to understand the structural bias embedded within national and international laws that condition the opportunities for exercising agency. Finally, the existence of structural bias, carefully leveraged, can form a powerful basis for advancing a social justice claim.


1The “extinction policy” is known in Dutch as the “uitsterfbeleid”.