Contesting Human Rights: The Legal, The Political, and the Structural

Contesting Human Rights: The Legal, The Political, and the Structural

by Ioana Cerasella Chis

The Effectiveness of Human Rights Norms in Changing State Behaviour

With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, every person has, as stipulated in the document, a set of universal, inalienable rights. Since then, the human rights discourse (and, since 1994, ‘human security’), together with the concept of ‘democracy’ have been invoked much more widely by various actors, becoming what Laclau calls ‘empty signifiers’ (1995:43). For instance, the median use of the term ‘human rights’ by six of the world’s leading media outlets ‘rose 95% from 1986 to 2000’ (Hafner-Burton and Ron 2007:379). Does it mean that human rights have been increasingly respected, or on the contrary, violated more?

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Before the Law Stands a Gatekeeper

Before the Law Stands a Gatekeeper

By Ioana Cerasella Chis

 All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN 1948).

‘Before the law stands a gatekeeper’ – this is how Franz Kafka’s short parable begins. A man from the countryside (K) arrives in front of a legislative building to be admitted to the Law. However, the gatekeeper stands in front of the door, always deferring the man’s admittance. K waits patiently, at times bribing the gatekeeper; in return, he is told: ‘I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything’. The gatekeeper informs K that the latter can try to enter the Law, but he also reminds the countryman of the former’s power to keep him away from the gate: ‘It is possible’ to be admitted, the man is told, ‘but not now’. K waits his entire life before the Law, and dies outside the building. The parable ends here.

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Grassroots Level Democracy in Kashmir

Grassroots Level Democracy in Kashmir

By Haifa Peerzada

As the elections are underway for a much awaited change of political leadership in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, some of the basic essentials of good governance have not been given much attention or they have been ignored. With the killing of a Sarpanch associated with PDP, the issue of fragile self-governance at local levels in Jammu and Kashmir has again come to fore. This issue cuts right at the core of a larger issue which seeks to devolve more powers to the local authorities which may in turn lead to better development and good governance, free of corruption. But even this seems to be co-opted by the power politics in which various political parties religiously indulge.

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Senate Strikes A Blow at the Heart of the US Criminal Justice System

Senate Strikes A Blow at the Heart of the US Criminal Justice System

by Ross Kleinstuber

It is rare that the US Congress can do anything that gets me riled up anymore.  I have come to expect so little from the institution, but today, the US Senate, by denying Debo Adegbile’s appointment to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, struck a blow at the heart of the American criminal justice system.

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Determination of Age for Legal Purposes, Immigration and Travel:The Ethical Use of X-ray Imaging

Determination of Age for Legal Purposes, Immigration and Travel:The Ethical Use of X-ray Imaging

by Javier Betancourt

Source: Government of Chiapas, via European Pressphoto Agency. (no copyrights violation intended)

This article introduces the reader to the debate on the ethical use of X-ray imaging by the authorities in various situations. I hope that the reader will be able to think, analyse and criticise the current situation about the politics surrounding x-rays, that everyone has been subjected at some point of their lives.

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Abortion and Women’s Rights in the USA

Abortion and Women’s Rights in the USA

By Marianna Karakoulaki

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Introduction*

1973 is marked as a very important year for women’s rights in the USA. It was that year that abortion became a constitutional right and was legalized on a federal level across the USA with the historical Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade. Since then, however, the conservative right and religious leaders across the states have been trying with every means they have to overthrow the decision. With every chance the republican controlled legislatures have, they change their state laws in order to make it more and more difficult for a woman to have an abortion or even take contraceptives. Especially this year, abortion and contraception in general became one of the most discussed issues on the agendas of the republican primaries due to the Birth Control Mandate that the Obama Administration tries to push forward.

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To Use or Not To Use Nuclear Weapons: A Question of Legality

by Jeff Collins

…the use of nuclear weapons is prohibited not because they are or they are [not] called nuclear weapons. They fall under the prohibition of the fundamental and mandatory rules of humanitarian law (which long predates them) by their effects, not because they are nuclear weapons but because they are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.”    – Judge Ali-Saab[i]

When it comes to war and armed conflict, international law has always sought to balance military necessity with humanitarian considerations.[ii] It has done so by constraining state behaviour through “regulating the conduct of belligerents and…limiting the weapons that may be used…”[iii] Since 1945, a major challenge to this balancing process has been the threat of nuclear weapons. As the destruction evidenced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrate, in a world of proliferation (horizontal and vertical) and international terrorism, the international security implications stemming from the existence and use of such weapons is potentially catastrophic.[iv] Unfortunately – from an international legal point of view – the politics of Cold War deterrence prevented the emergence of a specific treaty prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons following World War Two.[v] This, despite the emergence of treaties prohibiting the use of ‘less’ destructive armaments (e.g. landmines) and other ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (e.g. the Chemical Weapons Convention) during the same time period (1945-present).

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The Case for Pre-emption (Not Prevention) in Public International Law

by Jeff Collins

In part due to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and in part due to the diversity of external threats that states now face in a post-Cold War era, much discussion has arisen in the past decade on when states may, unilaterally, use force to defend themselves outside of the restrictive parameters of the United Nations Charter. The two arguments advanced by a number of states and commentators that would permit a state to unilaterally use force in self-defence are pre-emption and prevention. Unfortunately, over the preceding decade both terms have been used interchangeably (as exemplified in the 2002 US National Security Strategy) to such an extent that confusion now exists over whether there is any real distinction between the two. In actuality, although both terms fall under the category of anticipatory self-defence they are distinct arguments separated, at their crux, by a “matter of timing.”[1] In short, pre-emption is to be initiated on the premise that an external attack is imminent while prevention is initiated on the belief that an armed attack is likely to occur in the future and “that delay would involve great risk”.[2] Continue reading

Labeling Human Rights

Labeling Human Rights

by Marianna Karakoulaki

“Is there such a thing as “Women’s Rights”, and if so which rights are “Men’s Rights”? Can “Gay rights” be considered as men’s rights? And if so, does not that apply to gay women? And what about transgendered people? And in the end, what about everything? And if there are so many divisions why do we keep saying “human rights” after all?

The answer should come natural to anyone: “there are human rights, not women’s or men’s rights”. Some argue that women have separate rights because they suffer more in some regions of the world. Some argue that human rights are universal and the same for everyone. Indeed, people tend to create so many labels for human rights that sometimes forget to talk about their universality. Continue reading