Week 1: Origins of Human Rights
After we go over the unit outline, the second hour of the seminar for the first week will explore the origins of human rights, including alternative theories for how they came about. Following the horror of the Holocaust (the Shoah) in World War II, leaders of many nations felt a strong need to create checks upon the sovereignty of individual states, and the emergence of the United Nations provided the context for the first ‘declarations’ of human rights. From the very beginning, few took seriously the ability of these early joint declarations to restrain the hand of the state—many states probably only agreed to these documents because they never felt that they would be enforced. Since that time, however, human rights concepts have seemingly taken on a life of their own, gaining solidity over the decades since the initial declarations; this lecture will explore some of the reasons why this is the case.
There will be no tutorials for this week, but the convenor of the unit asks that students please acquaint themselves with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This short but essential document can be find in the unit reader and on line; we will refer to it throughout the semester.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Week 2: Relativism v. Human Rights?
One continuing source of friction between anthropologists and human rights advocates has been the issue of ‘cultural relativism’, that is, the notion that acts always occur within particular cultures, which help us to understand the significance of those acts. Anthropologists have thought long and hard, sometimes stumbling badly, over their relationship with human rights because they have disagreed over what ‘cultural relativism’ itself means.
In fact, anthropologists have long demonstrated profound respect both for cultural differences and for the marginalized peoples who most often must resort to human rights protections. Nevertheless, the universal language of human rights documents and the way that human rights interventions are carried out often leave anthropologists extremely uncomfortable. How then might we respect cultural particularity and yet pursue a global human rights agenda? And do anthropologists understand ‘culture’ differently than other people?
Engle, Karen. 2001. From Skepticism to Embrace: Human Rights and the American Anthropological Association from 1947-1999. Human Rights Quarterly 23:536-559.
Merry, Sally Engle. 2003. Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture (and Anthropology Along the Way). PoLAR Political and Legal Anthropology Review 26(1):55-76.
Week 3: Torture & Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment
In order to think more deeply about the problems confronting any attempt to define universal values, we will examine the ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This curb upon torture and inhumane treatment of an individual is probably the most basic human rights restraint upon the power of the state. But what sorts of punishment does it actually ban? Can there, in fact, be a clear standard of what would constitute an offense, or does the wording simply defer crucial questions? Should there be a clear definition of what constitutes torture? Should any ban be unconditional, or might there be situations in which a state might legitimately punish someone in a way that other societies might find cruel? And why should this particular offense be singled out as demanding strong enforcement?
This week considers the case of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment in light of some of the most difficult cases, such as the death penalty, treatment of children, torture of terrorism suspects, Shari’a-based arguments for corporal punishment, and blind spots in the human rights community’s attempts to address violations of this principle.
An-Na`im, Abdullahi Ahmed. 1992. Toward a Cross-Cultural Approach to Defining International Standards of Human Rights: The Meaning of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im, ed. Pp. 19-43. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Asad, Talal. 1997. On Torture, or Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment. In Human Rights, Culture and Context. Wilson, Richard, ed. Pp. 111-133. London: Pluto Press.
· Please note: This last reading by Asad is very worthwhile, but it’s a bit sprawling. If a student finds some part of it either difficult to follow or understand, skip to later sections.
Week 4: Genocide and Crimes against Humanity
+Please note: Short essay is due.
Genocide is the crime that sparked the modern human rights movement, and contemporary genocides, such as in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Darfur, press the global community in the way few other crimes do. Alongside crimes against humanity, genocide and other gross violations of human rights have proved the testing ground for new institutions that might enforce global principles of justice, such as ad hoc tribunals and the International Criminal Court. During this week, we will consider legal arguments about genocide, the demands for an international forum to try crimes against humanity, and the objections of those who argue against the creation of a standing tribunal. More broadly, we will consider the role of institutions in the human rights movement, and how non-governmental organizations, media networks, activist groups, and expert bureaucrats form a concrete mechanism for the pursuit of human rights-based justice.
The opposed tutorial readings for this week about universal jurisdiction in human rights (specifically about the International Criminal Court) are relatively short, so please try to read both. The background reading, also included in the unit reader, is not required, but it will be referred to in the lecture and tutorials as it provides background on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, a case study to think about the problems of determining responsibility, culpability, and how crimes might be prosecuted.
Kissinger, Henry A. 2001. The Pitfalls of Universal Jurisdiction. Foreign Affairs 80 (4): 86-96.
Roth, Kenneth. 2001. The Case for Universal Jurisdiction. Foreign Affairs 80 (5): 150-154.
Background on Rwanda (optional)
Power, Samantha. 2001. Bystanders to Genocide. The Atlantic Monthly. Accessed on-line at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200109/power-genocide. Accessed on 15 January 2007.
Public holiday 29 March!!!
Please note that, due to the University’s calendar, we do not have a meeting on 29 March.
Week 6: Seeking refuge: Asylum in Australia
In 1954, Australia was one of the first signatories of the Refugee Convention, the international document that guaranteed that refugees and asylum seekers would be treated as well as other international travelers. By 2012, however, Australia had imposed tough new laws and difficult application procedures for asylum-seekers, especially those that arrived by boats. In one of the supreme ironies, the ‘no advantage’ doctrine, described to the Australian public as a way of deterring ‘queue jumpers,’ perversely imposes artificially long waiting periods on asylum seekers, even when they have been identified as legitimate refugees. Whereas the Refugee Convention tries to enforce a minimum standard of treatment, these ‘no advantage’ tests seem to seek to enforce a uniform standard of suffering on refugees, whether they are in precarious camps in Southeast Asia or in Australia.
This week, we will explore the arguments for and against Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, placing Australian policy into the context of global refugee problems and the treatment of refugees in other countries. This issue in Australia is an emotional hot-button, with opinions running very strong on both sides; we will try to discuss the rationales for different positions, requiring a level of willingness to consider even positions that we might find objectionable. This year will be the first that we discuss asylum seekers.
Harrell-Bond, B. E., and E. Voutira. 1992. Anthropology and the Study of Refugees. Anthropology Today 8(4): 6-10.
McKay, Fiona, Samantha L. Thomas, and Susan Kneebone. 2012. ‘It Would be Okay If They Came through the Proper Channels’: Community Perceptions and Attitudes toward Asylum Seekers in Australia. Journal of Refugee Studies 25(1): 113-133.
Week 7: After Conflict: Truth, Reconciliation, Justice
After a society has passed through a conflict or oppressive regime, how does it go about recovering? What models exist for seeking justice, vengeance, truth, or reconciliation after massive human rights violations? There are many post-conflict strategies, including general amnesties, large-scale trials, local courts, truth and reconciliation commissions, investigations and public accountings for crimes, and other institutional models, as well as cases where societies have undergone no post-conflict processes of justice or reconciliation. While many models might make sense in abstraction, what does the experience of using different approaches tell us about the challenges and obstacles of recovery for a society as a whole?
This week, we will look especially closely at concrete experiences of societies responding in the wake of massive human rights violations, especially in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America. We will discuss the various models of post-conflict accounting, their different strengths and weaknesses, as we seek to better understand the practical needs of social healing as well as the abstract demand for justice.
Borneman, John. 2002. Reconciliation after Ethnic Cleansing: Listening, Retribution, Affiliation. Public Culture 14 (2): 281-304.
Kelsall, Tim. 2005. Truth, Lies, Ritual: Preliminary Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone. Human Rights Quarterly 27:361-391.
_Mid-semester Recess _
Week 8: Economic and Social Justice: The ‘Asian Challenge’
Since the fall of the Soviet Bloc, one of the primary fault lines of disagreement over human rights has shifted. Whereas Eastern and Western powers once argued over the preeminence of civil or socio-economic rights, now some Asian commentators have argued that their situation demands a different approach to human rights. Called the ‘Asian Challenge’ by human rights scholars, this movement has argued that social and economic rights must take precedence over narrow political or civil rights when a country is undergoing development; food is more important than freedom, to put it simply.
This week we will talk about socio-economic rights, the so-called ‘second generation’ human rights, and their evocation by some critics of human rights advocates in Asia. We will read an interview with Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, one of the leading advocates of an ‘Asian’ approach to human rights (along with Mohamad Mahathir of Malaysia) and critic of Western human rights discourse. This discussion will be a way of thinking specifically about the ‘Asian challenge’ but also more broadly about the issue of socio-economic rights.
Zakaria, Fareed. 1994. Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew. Foreign Affairs 73(2):109-126.
Bell, Daniel. 1996. The East Asian Challenge to Human Rights: Reflections on an East West Dialogue. Human Rights Quarterly 18(3):641-667.
Week 9: Indigenous Rights 1: Movement & Theory
Since the advent of the nation state, respect for minority groups within states has typically been conditioned upon those groups’ willingness to conform to majority standards and to cooperate in national goals. Indigenous peoples have borne the brunt of this ‘conditional’ approach to citizens’ rights and have suffered some of the most brutal, unrelenting campaigns of genocide, even though they have lived in some of the earliest ‘liberal’ democracies. Although the earliest human rights documents enshrined the right to self-determination, a tradition of considering collective rights did not really develop until the ‘third generation’ of human rights reforms.
Recognizing collective rights to self-determination by indigenous peoples seems to pose intractable problems for modern states: How might they atone for treaty violations, massive human rights violations, or even genocide during colonization or in generations past? What happens when the good of the minority seems to stand in the way of other goals, such as economic development? Does the right to self-determination trump other legal guarantees, including individuals’ rights, if an indigenous group wants to preserve a ‘tradition’? Must respect for cultural difference extend to respect for traditional forms of discrimination or domination?
Ironically, indigenous movements today are among the strongest social movements in the world, standing up not merely to states, but also to multinational corporations and environmental degradation. As indigenous peoples throughout the world have worked for recognition, they have increasingly developed sophisticated tools, including strategic alliances with other indigenous groups, powerful symbolic politics, and savvy media branches. As they have struggled for the safety of their homes, the ability to pass on their languages and cultures to their children, control over their resources, and a hand in deciding their future, they have created vital and even innovative forms of political activity and cultural practice. In the process, though, they have raised fundamental existential questions, such as, what does it mean to be indigenous in the modern world?
Bowen, John. 2000. Should We Have a Universal Concept of Indigenous Peoples' Rights? Anthropology Today 16(4):12-16.
McIntosh, Ian. 2002. Defining Oneself, and Being Defined as, Indigenous. Anthropology Today 18(3): 23-25, with responses.
Kenrick, Justin, and Jerome Lewis. 2004. Indigenous People’s Rights and the Politics of the Term ‘Indigenous’. Anthropology Today 20(2):4-9.
· Please note: even though this is actually six separate pieces, they are all very short; the longest is six pages, which includes large photographs and cartoons, and four of them together are three pages.
Background on cultural survival (optional)
Maybury-Lewis, David. 2003. From Elimination to an Uncertain Future: Changing Policies toward Indigenous Peoples. In At the Risk of Being Heard: Identity, Indigenous Rights, and Postcolonial States. Edited by Bartholomew Dean and Jerome M. Levi. Pp. 324-334.
Week 10: Indigenous Rights 2: Land & Rights
Please note: Research essay is due.
Throughout the world, struggles for indigenous rights have frequently centered around control over land. In many nations, including Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Latin American countries, a long history of negotiating with indigenous peoples (including treaty violations) established legal precedents for rights to land. In Australia, however, colonial opportunism created no such precedent, officially insisting that Australia was terra nullius, empty land for the taking when it was settled by Europeans.
In the Mabo v Queensland (No 2) decision of 1992, over traditional land rights to Murray Island (Mer), a new precedent was set for Aboriginal territorial rights in Australia, one that is still being widely debated in both court and public opinion. The justices found that Aboriginal land rights were not automatically extinguished by colonists’ assertions that the indigenous Australians had no rights; instead, the courts found clear precedents in Common Law for Aboriginal land rights.
This week we will discuss the reasoning behind both assertions of land rights and their denial, the current situation of Aboriginal land rights, and the effect on the community, both Aboriginal and Australian more broadly, of the recognition for land rights. Land rights are a classic example of collective, or ‘third generation’, rights, linked to a community rather than to specific individuals; we will ask whether community rights make for healthy communities in part by comparing the Australian experience to others around the world.
Reynolds, Henry. 1999. New Frontiers: Australia. In Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: In Australia, Canada, & New Zealand. Havemann, Paul, ed. Pp. 129-140. Auckland: Oxford University Press.
Background on Mabo (optional but strongly suggested)
Hill, Ronald Paul. 1995. Blackfellas and Whitefellas: Aboriginal Land Rights, the Mabo Decision, and the Meaning of Land. Human Rights Quarterly 17(2): 303-322.
Week 11: Rights-based Development
One of the most important innovations in human rights thinking in the 1990s has been the rise of ‘rights-based’ approaches to development, or the attempt to link economic development with human rights. In some cases, the bridge has been sought because the two were at cross purposes; economic development, for example, was pursued by means that clearly violated human rights, such as non-democratic decision making, oppressive policing policies, and large-scale socially disruptive development projects without compensation for those who were disadvantaged (such as communities flooded by hydro-electric projects). In other cases, the rapprochement was sought because those involved in development sought better criteria through which to assess their projects; human rights seemed an obvious set of criteria for judging the success of development. Theorists such as Indian economist Amartya Sen helped to push human rights concepts to the center of development discourse, pointing out that development has to seek more than simply an increase in GDP per capita for people’s lives to improve significantly.
The resulting ‘third generation’ right, a ‘right to development’, has influenced both the practice of economic development and the rhetoric of those seeking foreign aid. A rights-based approach shifts significantly the goals and methods that might orient development projects. In addition, discussion of the ‘right to development’ raises the controversial consideration of reparations for past economic and social injustice, including slavery, colonization, and exploitation during wartime. With so much of current development thinking driven by the ‘free trade’ framework and concerns about debt servicing, rights-based development offers an alternative set of priorities.
United Nations Human Development Report 2000. Human Rights and Human Development. (Chapter 1 of HDR 2000.) Pp. 19-26.
Aaronson, Susan Ariel, and Jamie M. Zimmerman. 2006. Fair Trade?: How Oxfam Presented a Systemic Approach to Poverty, Development, Human Rights, and Trade. Human Rights Quarterly 28:998-1030.
Week 12: Women’s Rights: Fourth Wave of Rights?
Women’s rights are an area where the regime of individual protection attempts to extend its influence into some of the most intimate areas of social life. If the ‘first generation’ of rights dealt primarily with the state’s treatment of individuals, this ‘fourth generation’ asks questions about justice that extend into the household, personal relationships, treatment of children, and culture itself. Perhaps not surprisingly, women’s rights have been one area where a range of political actors have expressed reservations about human rights documents; one need only review the extremely long list of Declarations and Reservations attached to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to see the controversial nature of some basic assertions of women’s equality.
As Richard Wilson and others have pointed out, feminists themselves are divided on the issue of human rights. Many feminists see the assertion of universal women’s rights as fundamental in the struggle against sexism, prejudice, inequality, and domestic violence globally. For these feminists, cultural practices that they find prejudicial to women, such as the veil, female circumcision, dowries, early marriage, or prohibitions on birth control, must necessarily be opposed. Other feminists, more suspicious of claims by one group to know what another really needs for its liberation, are more ambivalent about these sorts of interventions from abroad.
This week, we will take as our case study the practice of female genital surgery in Africa and, to a lesser degree, in Asia. We will try to tackle some of the complex issues relating to the debate about universal feminist rights, to the complexity of changing such intimate cultural practices, and to the views of women living within societies where the practice is widespread.
Packer, Corinne. 2003. African Women, Traditions, and Human Rights: A Critical Analysis of Contemporary ‘Universal’ Discourses and Approaches. In Human Rights and Diversity: Area Studies Revisited. David P. Forsythe and Patrice C. McMahon, eds. Pp. 159-181. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Walley, Christine J. 1997. Searching for ‘Voices’: Feminism, Anthropology, and the Global Debate over Female Genital Operations. Cultural Anthropology 12(3):405-438.
Background (optional, see online resources page)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Supplemental, optional reading
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2002. Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?: Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others. American Anthropologist 104(3): 783-790.
Week 13: Student choice: TBA
Students will nominate on the topic of their choice, and the convenor will prepare a new lecture on that topic. The poll for voting will be set up by Week 10, and students will be able to vote through iLearn.
No reading will be assigned for the week. Students are encouraged to catch up on their portfolio assessments and their other work for university.
+Please note: Media portfolio is due 10 June.