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Contesting Human Rights

Norms, Institutions and Practice

Edited by Alison Brysk and Michael Stohl

Illustrated with case studies from across the globe, Contesting Human Rights provides an innovative approach to human rights, and examines the barriers and changing pathways to the full realisation of these rights. Presenting a thorough proposal for the reframing of human rights, the volume suggests that new opportunities at, and below, the state level, and creative pathways of global governance can help reconstruct human rights in the face of modern challenges.
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Introduction: contracting human rights

Crisis, Accountability, and Opportunity

Alison Brysk

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Contracting the refugee regime: the global citizenship gap

Crisis, Accountability, and Opportunity

Alison Brysk

From the beginnings of the human rights regime, Hannah Arendt worried that the international regime could never fully meet the needs of non-citizens. With the highest number of refugees in world history, approaching 65 million, it appears that the citizenship gap continues to compromise the fundamental rights of the world’s neediest people despite decades of development of global governance. Even as new actors, claims, and mechanisms attend evermore to rights above and below the state, persons displaced across states remain the vast unfinished business of the human rights regime. Can new responsibilities be constructed to protect “people out of place” and close the citizenship gap?

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Has the occupation occupied Israel?

Crisis, Accountability, and Opportunity

Gershon Shafir

What happens to Israeli democracy when the simple tools of denial—silence, secrecy, and subversion—fail, as they inevitably do, to obscure the obstinate half-century long reality of occupation and Palestinian resistance to it? What happens when denialism—“the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none”—cannot build a cognitive wall high enough to keep out inconvenient truths. I will examine in this paper the backlash against the legacy of Israel’s liberal and human rights turn during the hopeful Oslo years.

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Claire Wright

The extraction of natural resources is promoted and prioritized by national governments in Latin America as a fast-track route to the economic development of the majority. However, its negative impact on minority groups, particularly indigenous peoples, is a cause for concern. This study aims to analyze a clear contradiction between compliance with an emerging social contract regarding consultation rights and the use of aggressive mechanisms – including emergency powers – to protect lucrative business contracts. The study charts gains, setbacks, and missed opportunities for the protection of indigenous rights in the context of a renewed wave of extractivism in Latin America.

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Natasha Bennett

In 2007 Paul Collier wrote of a “bottom billion” people caught in state-centric poverty traps. According to the U.N. Population Fund, by 2030, there will be two billion people caught in localized, individual poverty traps created by the political and socio-economic conditions in urban slums. This global expansion of urban slums presents a critical challenge for the future of the human rights project. This chapter argues that the global expansion of slums exacerbates two mutually reinforcing problems in the provision of human rights: fulfillment and accountability. State-centric mechanisms for human rights fulfillment often do not deliver at subnational levels of governance, particularly in modernizing economies and financially weaker states. Additionally, urban slum dwellers often lack the ability to hold the state accountable, because they have limited resources for mobilization, or lack access to formal claims-making mechanisms, such as the courts. Without a solution to the problems of fulfillment and accountability, the world faces a future in which two or three billion urban poor find themselves locked out of the human rights regime designed to protect the world’s vulnerable populations. This chapter discusses the extent of global slum formation, the nature of the relationship between human rights fulfillment and accountability, and then how this framework applies to one example: the human right to housing in India and Brazil.

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The human rights costs of NGOs’ naming and shaming campaigns

Crisis, Accountability, and Opportunity

Clair Apodaca

International human rights INGOs’ advocacy campaigns of naming and shaming are intended as forms of leverage against recalcitrant governments to encourage their compliance with legal and moral human rights standards. However, these campaigns can have the opposite effect. Criticism of a government’s policy and behavior can also put the INGO staff and the victims at risk of a backlash of retaliatory violence. This chapter reviews moves beyond the commonly debated aspects of INGO accountability by examining the philosophical arguments for and against INGOs accountability for the unintended consequences of the naming and shaming campaigns on nonparticipants.

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Phillip M. Ayoub

This chapter explores why norms governing LGBT rights mobilize a backlash and/or enduring resistance in some cases and not in others. It explores the phenomena of resistance at two related levels. First, based on a comparison of Poland and Slovenia, I trace how differing perceptions of threat define the way international norms are received in distinct domestic realms. Second, I explore threat perception and resistance as part of the emerging phenomena of norm polarization at the global level. Such polarization refers to a process in which states resist norms by purposively taking contradictory positions on the same norm, leading to norm indeterminacy.

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Felipe Gómez Isa

We are witnessing a global backlash against human rights and democracy that is weakening the key ingredients of the Western liberal order. The access of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, and the emergence of populisms in Europe, are but reaffirming this global trend that is undermining the universal scope of values such as human rights and democracy. Against the background of the progressive decline of Western power, the EU is facing increasing difficulties to have a significant impact on democratization processes taking place in different regions of the world. The aim of this paper is to shed light on the potential, shortcomings and contradictions of the EU as a human rights and democracy promoter in a strategically relevant context: post-Arab Spring Egypt.

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Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi

This chapter maps three distinct phases in the intermittent obsession with extra-judicial killings by the United States. First, is the lawless phase (1947–1974) where the CIA carried out a number of covert operations—including assassinations—that were either not vetted for their legality or were authorized despite their illegality. Second is the reform and caution phase (1975–2000) where a clear legal review process was created and limits on past behavior were established, including an assassinations ban. Finally, the secret law phase (2001–present) is a highly legalized secret process that has pushed the boundaries of legality and contracted rights.