The Future of Human Rights

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‘It looks like we’ve missed the boat’: lifelong gay activist dies waiting for permission to marry

”It looks like we’ve missed the boat’: lifelong gay activist dies waiting for permission to marry’ by Michael Koziol

I came across this article on my Facebook newsfeed shortly after our last IHRL class for the semester. It almost brought me to tears and, for me, really encapsulated the importance of human right law and human rights advocates.

In the midst of semester, buried in readings, and grappling with multiple academic theories and critiques, the fact that this all has a significant impact on people’s lives can sometimes be obscured. Real people suffer real consequences while human rights progresses. The article was a reminder that you can never forget that while practicing in this area. You need to be present and proximate.

 

Two men receive 83 lashes for gay sex in Indonesian province of Aceh

A much more violent story which also concerns the human rights of LGBTQ people emerged recently. Two men in the Indonesian province of Aceh received 83 lashes each outside a mosque in the  for the crime of gay sex.

These two stories illuminate the numerous ways in which a State’s legal system can infringe upon an individual’s human rights. While the two stories may appear to be totally different, they are both examples of State power being used to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexuality.

Societies like Australia cannot afford to become complacent about human rights simply because they perceive themselves to be more advanced or ‘better’ than societies where lashings and more violent forms of human rights abuses take place.

 

 

Business and Human Rights

Should businesses be held accountable for human rights violations? If so, what is the best mechanism for ensuring that they are effectively held to account?

These were some of the interesting questions raised in this week’s class.

The orthodox legal position is that states have an obligation to take positive measures to ensure that there are no violations of rights by non state actors, including corporations. This means that there is no legal obligation on corporations under international law not to violate human rights, the ultimate responsibility is on the states. While this may have been understandable when the IHRL framework was created, as states were the most powerful actors in the global community, there has been a redistribution of power due to globalisation. As this week’s reading made clear, corporations are wielding increasing amounts of power and therefore have an increasing ability to impact upon the human rights of individuals, whether in a negative or positive manner.

Thus it is necessary to examine the existing international framework and determine if it could be improved in order to recognise the changing power dynamics and protect individuals’ human rights. After reading the articles for this week, I would say that despite the numerous challenges, a binding treaty on business and human rights would be incredibly beneficial in making clear the distinct obligations that corporations and states have in relation to human rights. However, this would need to be accompanied by a dramatic cultural change and work at the domestic level.

I think I have greater faith than Jochnick that the Human Rights and human rights approaches can be synergistic. Although he focuses on the institutional architecture of international law as being integral to the Human Rights school, international treaties are also used by civil society and other ‘human rights’ actors as a persuasive tool in their advocacy. Treaties are not solely the domain of the Human Rights approach.

Companies Urged to Publish Workers’ Race and Pay Breakdown

One example of the ‘human rights’ approach that Jochnick advocated for can be seen in the above article. It outlines a campaign to require corporations to publish breakdowns of their workers’ pay and ethnicity in order to target the race pay gap. This is a clear example of a grassroots campaign that seeks to harness transparent information and public opinion to create change.

Interestingly, the article states that if businesses do not take up this measure voluntarily, the group will push for legislation to force them to make this information public. This is an example of societies becoming increasingly open to the idea of placing legal obligations upon corporations in order to combat human rights violations, in this case racial discrimination.

The sentence ‘the report also claimed a more diverse workforce would help boost the economy by £24 billion’ is interesting as it highlights the importance of knowing your audience. Given that this measure is being aimed at corporations, the report is utilising the language of business, economics and profit to motivate companies to sign up to this measure. Framing the debate is something that has been highlighted by several of the guest speakers this semester and is evidently an essential aspect of human rights advocacy. This course has definitely made me more aware of the ways language is varied in different contexts even when advocating for the same issue.

‘Fed up’: Eric Abetz slams big business over latest same-sex marriage push

This article sums up many of the complexities surrounding business and the human rights debate in Australia. The article summaries Eric Abetz’s displeasure with business’  putting political correctness before services, as he puts it.

Furthermore, it throws interesting light on the debate surrounding freedom of speech in Australia. Eric Abetz and the rest of the Coalition are normally staunch defenders of freedom of speech. Much political time and energy was devoted to debating s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on the basis that it unfairly hindered Australians ability to exercise their freedom of speech with regards to issues of race. However, Abetz seemingly does not believe that asking business leaders not to contribute to the debate on same sex marriage is restricting their freedom of speech. This view was supported by Peter Dutton, who told business leaders to ‘stick to their knitting’ when it comes to this issue.

However, despite criticism from sections of the Coalition, the article also emphasises one of the roles that businesses can play in debates surrounding human rights. Business leaders can contribute to the debate y publicly stating a position. This makes them an additional stakeholder, and one that government is likely to take notice of for economic reasons. One of the reasons that certain politicians have taken aim at the business leaders’ open letter is almost certainly the fact that they believe that it will be effective in the campaign for SSM.

Although this is not evidence of a formal role or obligation on corporations in the human rights context, it is an example of the ways in which corporations can use their power in society to advocate for human rights.

Human Rights and Poverty

Of Hopscotch and Little Girls – what a beautiful, confronting, uplifting and demoralising documentary that was all at the one  time!

Although it seems odd to describe something as both uplifting and demoralising, this was the emotional rollercoaster that this documentary took me on. The spirit of the girls, their ambitions to help people, and the joy that so many of them found in their education was uplifting to see. However, the documentary did not shy away from confronting depictions of the type of obstacles that stand in the way of these girls as a result of both poverty and their gender.

The documentary made clear that while education is a human right, in today’s world having access to a quality education is an immense privilege. It is certainly one of the things that I’m most grateful for in my own life. The documentary also made clear the fact that poverty and human rights are inextricably interlinked. When individuals are suffering from extreme poverty their human rights are not adequately fulfilled, this is particularly true of their economic, social and cultural rights.

 

Readings 

The thing that struck me the most about the readings this week were the following statistics:

  • The 80 richest people on the planet now own as much as the bottom half of the world’s population
  • 7 out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago

These statistics threw rising inequality into sharp relief. What was most shocking was how widespread the regression was throughout the world. It is difficult to comprehend that inequality has grown on such a massive scale.

Philip Alston’s article made the point that inequality is not just a economic issue but a human rights issue – as was apparent in the Hopscotch documentary. Acknowledging this and working to combat inequality is one of the most important tasks for the global human rights movement. Even if there is no outright ‘right to equality’, inequality and its companion, poverty, make it impossible to realise human rights at a basic level.

The consequences of inequality and its drivers in the Australian context can be seen in some of the news articles below:

Slavery claims as seasonal workers from Vanuatu paid nothing for months’ work

In this appalling situation, Silas Aru picked fruit at farms dotted across Queensland as part of a federal government low-skilled Seasonal Worker Program. He was paid less than $150 in total. Some days he did not even eat. Over twenty men from Vanuatu were blatantly exploited while completing farm work in regional Australia. Increasing inequality leads to exploitative work as those who have no economic power have to accept whatever labour conditions are offered to them. This is likely only a very small snapshot of worker exploitation in Australia.

Third of Australian youth have no job or are underemployed, report finds

Young people in Australia are increasingly affected by rising inequality. One of the contributing factors is the difficulty of finding work, particularly stable work. Employment is becoming increasingly casual and ‘education inflation’ has meant that many entry-level positions now require a Bachelor’s degree when they would have required a high school certificate ten years ago. When combined with increased housing pressures, as discussed in a previous blog post, young Australians are insecure in greater numbers. This has an impact on their quality of life and their human rights – it can affect access to healthcare, further education and housing.

I’m no socialist, but markets need to work for the greater benefit of everyone

Finally, in the first sentence of this opinion piece John Hewson encapsulates one of the things that most frustrates me about modern politics: “Sometimes we seem to forget that in the design and implementation of public policy and reform we are attempting to improve our society, not just our economy.”

If the government is going to play a part in reducing inequality it is essential that they put society, not the economy, first.

National Security and Human Rights

I found this week’s class particularly fascinating as it is an area in which the goalposts are constantly changing. It is also a very politically and legal contested area. The structure of the class and the readings this week did a great job at making me think about the legal structures in place and the intersection between human rights, security, and conflict.

Case study question: Operation Sovereign Borders

Given the prevalence of this issue in the news and the other contexts in which I’ve examined this policy in law school, it was interesting to explicitly apply human rights reasoning to this issue.

Legitimate aim: Protecting Australia and its citizens from terrorists, the stated goal of this policy, is a legitimate aim.

Rational Connection: It is not clear if there is a rational connection between the policy and the aim. Research and government statistics suggest that the vast majority of asylum seekers who come by boat are found to be genuine refugees. Furthermore, the head of ASIO recently stated that there was no evidence of a link between refugees and terrorism.

Proportionality/Minimally invasive: The policy definitely fails at this stage. There are numerous other policy proposals, such as on-shore or community detention, which would enable the legitimate aim of protecting Australia’s security to be pursued without blatantly violating the human rights of refugees.

Readings

The rapid evolution of technology is playing such a massive role in the IHL sphere and in some ways is leaving the law in its wake, scrambling to keep up. For me, the main takeaway from the readings this week was in Philip’s piece and was the idea that the transparency around the use of this technology needs to be dramatically improved.

Although it is now clear that IHRL does not cease to exist in times of armed conflict, and IHL provides a clear framework for the process that must be followed in order to take a human life in conflict, not all States are transparent about whether they adhere to these legal standards. In order to improve adherence to these norms, transparency must be viewed as essential.

Class: I must admit that I found the torture video very difficult to watch and had a visceral reaction of disgust to it at several points. It was uncomfortable and it made me flinch but it was so necessary. It made the issue feel real and immediate Of course, the importance of continuing advocacy surrounding torture was brought home by the clip of Donald Trump saying that he was a fan of waterboarding!

Related articles: 

Lessons from Syria on women’s empowerment in conflict 

When we think about conflict, we often think about men. Given that most media and portrayals of war are centred on men and their experiences of war, it can be difficult to find portrayals of women in conflict that go beyond the ‘patiently waiting for her man’ trope. This is an article from the ground in Syria which discuss some of the lessons learned in this context on strategies to reinforce women’s voices and participation during conflict. These articles address only the situation of women in areas outside the Syrian regime and under the control of opposition armed groups.

It is a vital reminder that women have an integral role to play in protecting human rights in conflict.

Face to face with the ghost of ISIS

This eerie profile of a former ISIS member emphasised the complexities of the problems that are faced in the national security space. There are numerous war crimes and grave violations mentioned in this piece, not least of which is the use of rape as a war tactic. However, the article also explores the complexities in dealing with a range of ideologues and those who are attracted to ISIS for other reasons. Indeed, it also touches on those who are forced to join against there will. For me, my initial reaction was to feel quite uncomfortable at the personal way in which the piece dealt with its subject – sometimes there is an intellectual dissonance where it is possible to forget that terrorists are people too. This is another important reminder that human rights are held by all and must not be forsaken in the quest for national security.

United States’ Missile Strikes in Syria: Should International Law Permit Unilateral Force to Protect Human Rights?

This article on EJIL was a fascinating look at the possible implications of the US drone strike on Syria. Ir examines the evolution of IHRL, IHL and ICC since the First World War and hypothesises as to what developments could be made in the future. The core question is: can States engage in unilateral humanitarian intervention?

The author argues that sine WWII, there has been a greater focus on the human rights of individuals and the security of peoples, as opposed to the notion of state sovereignty which overpowered everything else in the first half of the 20th century. Whether the pendulum has swung more towards individuals than states is an interesting question.

The circumstances in which force can be used to protect human rights are not define by bright lines; there are numerous shades of grey. This makes it a fascinating area of law to study and engage with. I really enjoyed this perspective on the possible next step in international law.

 

Federal budget – more welfare cuts, more inequality

Federal budget – more welfare cuts, more inequality by Fatima Measham, Right Now

It can be disheartening to read about the measures that will be included in the upcoming federal budget. I loved this article on Right Now because it explored the different language used when describing expenditure on welfare and tax cuts. Welfare spending is  often seen as excessive, ‘bad’ spending which the government should minimise at all costs. We see this in the articles about ‘dole bludgers’ and those who are ‘rorting the system’. However, tax cuts, although they often cost the budget a lot more than any welfare cut saves, are viewed and talked about as beneficial. The government consensus seems to be that tax cuts will ‘trickle down’ and benefit society as a whole.

If the growing inequality in Australia is going to be addressed then there needs to be a change in the narrative concerning welfare. It needs to be seen as an essential element in protecting Australian citizens’ human rights. It needs to be seen as an investment in our population and the type of country that we want to live in. It cannot be seen as the first line of expenditure to be cut. Particularly not if those cuts are to help fund corporate tax cuts.

It raises the question: can governments continue to cut welfare and still claim to have respect for human rights?

Strategic Human Rights Advocacy: Marriage Equality in Australia

One of the things that most struck me about Lee’s presentation was the discussion about strategic messaging and targeting your audience. The campaign for marriage equality is a great example of how this can be approached in different ways. Given that one of the major proposals for achieving marriage equality is a national plebiscite, it is essential that marriage equality has a broad base of public support. The campaign therefore needs to utilise a variety of messages in order to harness the necessary level of support. This post will look at several marriage equality advertisements in order to analyse the different messages being used in the campaign as a whole.

It’s only fair

The latest advertisement from Australian Marriage Equality is aimed at a specific section of the Australian public. It’s aimed at a section of society that Lee referred to as ‘the soft yes’ vote. It’s effective at reaching people for whom marriage equality it not one of the most pressing issues in their lives. It’s particularly aimed at people often referred to by politician’s as ‘Aussie battlers’. The ad deliberately frames marriage equality as being about fairness, playing into the idea of Australia as the land of ‘the fair go’. This message is likely to sway people who are concerned about fairness and inequality in their own lives, even if it is in a different context. In addition, the focus is on individuals, not couples or relationships. The ad deliberately minimises the visibility of same-sex relationships in order to keep the focus squarely on issues of fairness. While this may be an effective way to reach the target audience, it is not an approach that celebrates same-sex relationships.

Furthermore, the ad also plays into the public’s dissatisfaction with politicians. It contrasts the hardworking nature of the individuals in the ad with the fact that politicians are not doing their job by refusing to have a parliamentary vote. There is a legitimate criticism that the focus on employment suggests that marriage equality should only be available if someone has a traditional job and contributes to society economically. This can be problematic as it suggests that rights are earned, not inherent and unconditional. However, the focus on jobs is for the purpose of highlighting the steps that the parliament can take to make marriage equality a reality.

This ad is extremely effective at reaching its target audience. However, it is not necessarily the strongest message to use to reach the community as a whole.

 

It’s time

This ad, produced by GetUp!, uses a markedly different approach to the ‘It’s only fair’ ad. This ad has a same-sex relationship as its centrepiece. By only showing one side of a loving, fulfilling relationship and revealing it to be a same-se relationship at the conclusion of the ad, GetUp! are combating the idea that same-sex relationships are somehow markedly different from heterosexual relationships.

Perhaps the most interesting contrast between the two ads is the fact that this ad has love as its central message, not fairness. This ad has a much more positive tone and focuses on relationships as opposed to economic contributions to Australia. The couple are shown with their families and friends, not at work. This means that the overall message of this ad is that marriage equality should exist because all relationships are equal. This is in contrast to the previous as which contends that marriage equality should exist because it’s a fair reward for their other contributions to society. This is an important distinction as the ‘It’s time’ ad does not place limitations or conditions upon the right to marriage equality.

 

These two ads are both in support of the same aim, however they use very different approaches. The difference between them highlight the importance of being able to present your message in a variety of ways. Given that human rights advocates often have to coalesce a broad range of support, knowing how to alter the language and messaging of a campaign is a vital skill. Nevertheless, it is important not to compromise too much on the central message and values of the campaign.

 

 

 

 

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Housing in Australia

Described by Neier as ‘non-enforceable and broad assertions which require democratic debate”, economic, social and cultural rights are often misunderstood. They can be seen as aspirational extras that are closer to privileges than rights. When talking about human rights most people immediately think of the civil and political rights, not the economic, social and cultural rights.

There were some interesting views raised in the readings this week, most very sceptical of the role they have to play. There are a lot of interesting links between this topic and the issue of inequality. Personally, I find Philip Alston’s argument that a renewed focus on ESC rights can play an essential role in combating inequality and ensuring that human rights remain relevant to be persuasive. However, several commentators argue that the ESC rights are too broad, vague and non-enforceable to play a significant role in combatting inequality. Nevertheless, ESC rights are real human rights.

The common misconception that ESC rights do not impose ‘real obligations’ on states stems from a misunderstanding of the progressive obligation that is imposed on states by Article 2(1):

Each state party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps individually and through international assistance and cooperation especially economic and technical to the maximum of its available resources with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised in the present Covenant by all appropriate means including particularly the adoption of legislative measures

While this does not impose an obligation on states to fully realise each of the ESC rights immediately, it does impose a real obligation to utilise their resources to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards realising those rights. Furthermore, it places an obligation on states to do so in a non-discriminatory manner. Thus it requires states to analyse how they are utilising their resources through a human rights lens.

Effectively, this is a similar approach to how states protect the civil and political rights of its citizens. While civil and political rights are often seen as negative rights which do not require states to take positive action, this could not be further from reality. Protecting civil and political rights does require significant investment of resources by states. It requires investment in the judicial system, political infrastructure and the police force just to begin with.

On of the thing that I took away from the seminars on civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights is that the language in which they are discussed is critical to the public’s perception of them. If it was made obvious that protecting civil and political rights does require significant investment then it may be easier to convince sceptics that ESC rights can similarly be realised.

In Australia, one ESC right that is the subject of constant debate is the right to housing. The issue is explored in the articles below:

Baby boomers have already taken all the houses, now they’re coming for our brunch

The ridiculous nature of the debate surrounding housing in Australia is exemplified by the avocado. It started when Bernard Salt, a commentator who writes for The Australian wrote that if millennials stopped going out for brunch and eating smashed avo on toast, they could probably save a deposit for a house. He was quickly met with criticism and a barrage of articles explaining that it really wasn’t that simple and that housing affordability had become increasing out of reach for many, no matter how often they deprive themselves of avocado.

This debate highlights the fact that housing affordability has morphed into a much broader debate about inequality and generational warfare. In a way it is emblematic of many other issues – the increasing casualisation of the workforce, the increasing cost of education, and the growing disparity between the government’s taxation and policy approach to those who have houses and those who do not. All of these factors contribute the cost of housing and all are symptoms of an economy which is increasingly leaving people behind.

Additionally, the debate often focuses on what investors would have to give up – negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions. This obscures an important part of the debate, namely the purpose of housing itself. The narrative is increasingly preoccupied with the idea of houses as an investment rather than houses as shelter. Framing the debate around the right to housing would be an important step in changing this damaging narrative. This is explained succinctly in this article: Federal budget 2017: Home ownership – the new class divide

Vacant property tax expected to raise $80m in push to increase housing affordability

This proposal is an eminently sensible one that aims to increase the supply of houses and discourage property owners from keeping housing vacant. The thing that struck me when reading the comments on this article was the number of people expressing the sentiment that “this is my property and I have the right to do with it as I wish.”  There were people stating that being a landlord was too much hassle and they just wanted to keep the property as an investment. They were adamant that this was their right.

To me that brings up an important question of how society chooses to balance the rights of individuals. Although these individuals may believe they have a right to as they wish with their property, other members of society have a right to shelter and housing. The first right cannot be used to deny other people their right to housing. This policy is an example of a government taking a progressive approach to the realisation of ESC rights. They are using the resources at their disposal to shift the balance towards those who need housing.

 

 

First Dog on the Moon and the Adani Coal mine

AdaniAgainAgain-800x1466.jpg

The Adani coal mine is such an interesting and devastating intersection of so many different human rights ideas. In no particular order:

  • Does human rights have a role to play in discussions concerning climate change? Should it?
  • Is it morally acceptable for the government to be proposing lending public money to a corporation with such an awful environmental and human rights record?
  • Does the creation of a contested number of jobs justify building this mine? What about all of the people whose jobs rely upon the Great Barrier Reef?
  • Providing energy to impoverished people in India seemed to be one of the justifications for the Adani mine that touched upon human rights. What impact does this have? Should providing electricity to people trump the other human rights and environmental concerns?
  • How much of this decision is being guided by evidence based policy and how much is being guided by uncompromising ideology?
  • What is the most effective way to have an impact on this issue?

The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death

The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death by Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker

The gig economy is undoubtedly growing. Companies like Uber, Lyft, AirBnB and websites such as Upwork and Fiverr advertise themselves as methods by which workers can gain flexible work. It is always assumed that flexibility is something that is desirable in the workplace. They pitch themselves to workers as the means by which they ‘can be their own boss’ and ‘hustle harder for greater rewards’. The narrative suggests that the gig economy will provide workers with freedom. However, this article suggests that this positive picture is far from the truth.

The gig economy raises questions about whether this ‘freedom’ is really exploitation dressed up as entrepreneurial ability. The primary story in the article, that of a woman who continued to work for rideshare company Lyft while in labour, was distributed by Lyft as an uplifting story celebrating the hard work of its drivers. However, fostering a culture in which a woman in labor chooses to work rather than seek medical attention demonstrates a fundamental disrespect to individual’s human rights, in particular economic and social rights. It can be seen as a symptom of growing inequality – with some people forced into increasingly unstable and casual work and others reaping the benefits of globalisation. There is definitely a space for human rights to play a pivotal role in this conversation about inequality. However, the narrative concerning economic and social rights should change to reflect the fact that they are human rights, not unrealistic aspirations. Otherwise there will be a lot more people reliant on the ‘gig economy’ even if that is not their desire.

 

Leunig inequality