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The Social Practice of Human Rights bridges the conventional scholar-practitioner divide by focusing on the space between. In capturing this cutting edge research program, the volume proposes a perspective that motivates critical self-reflection of the strategies that drive communities dedicated to the advocacy and implementation of human rights.



The Practice Turn in Human Rights Research

Chapter 1. The Practice Turn in Human Rights Research

Over fifty years ago, international legal scholars reflected on the role of human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in advancing norms and shaping law, and longingly forecasted our current attempt to ground human rights ideals in practical action:
The focus of international efforts might be shifted from the preparation of complex and time-consuming declarations and conventions to practical grassroots measures designed to reach real problems of real people. A way must be found to establish a more effective and meaningful link between what is done by international organizations and the actual human rights issues of everyday concern. (Bilder 1964, 732)
Joel R. Pruce

Constructive Critique


Chapter 2. Rethinking Activism: Social Movements and the State over the Longue Durée

This chapter explores the social and political production of human rights advocacy over the last 250 years, focusing on how social movements and human rights organizations relate to structures of political power, in the form of the modern nation state, and more particularly, variant forms of governmental power that exist in parts of the contemporary world. My main contentions are uncontroversial: that the practice of human rights activism is shaped by social and political context, and in turn have power to influence those social and political structures; that the changing context of globalization requires that human rights advocates need to rethink their approaches. What follows is an analysis of precisely what needs to be rethought and why. In this regard, I draw upon research into the changing nature of political authority in Africa and the Greater Middle East.
Alex de Waal

Chapter 3. How to Ask People for Change: Examining Peoples’ Willingness to Donate to Human Rights Campaigns

Imagine that Amnesty International, or any other large global human rights organization (HRO) has decided to start a campaign. Perhaps the issue is marriage equality, or stopping sleep deprivation during interrogation. These types of issues may be less widely accepted by the general public as human rights issues, requiring that the HRO first change minds, and only then try to mobilize their effort or resources on that campaign’s behalf. Raising money for such a campaign would be very challenging but doable, assuming that the organization knows how best to frame their appeals when they ask people to support the initiative.
Kyla McEntire, Michele Leiby, Matthew Krain

Chapter 4. Documentarian, Witness, and Organizer: Exploring Celebrity Roles in Human Rights Media Advocacy

Recent years have seen a growth industry for celebrity engagement in human rights work, broadly construed. For example, the website Look to the Stars has calculated that over two thousand charities have some form of celebrity support (Look to the Stars, nd). Hollywood stars Jennifer Garner and Julianne Moore promote the work of Save the Children as Artist Ambassadors; Gwyneth Paltrow and Rashida Jones designed t-shirts to support the ONE Campaign to alleviate poverty; meanwhile, George Clooney and Don Cheadle have formed their own organization Not On Our Watch to promote mass atrocities prevention. Celebrities raise money, speak to the media, pay visits to victim populations, and address US Congress and the United Nations. This expanding continuum of celebrity activity is linked to broad political, technological, and social trends in the human rights landscape.
Alexandra Cosima Budabin

Grassroots Sites of Practice


Chapter 5. The Human Right to Water and Advocacy for Urban Water Supply: After the Privatization Struggles

Advocacy to advance economic, social, and environmental rights takes many forms. Advocates in established human rights organizations (HROs), development agencies, and diverse civil society institutions have mobilized legal instruments from international to local levels, existing human rights treaties, various forms of policy leverage, popular political and social movement pressure, participatory mechanisms, and (sometimes new) monitoring methods to advance the realization of economic rights including housing, food, and water (Stryker and Haglund 2015).
Paul Nelson

Chapter 6. Localizing the Global/Globalizing the Local: Reconciling Botho and Human Rights in Botswana

Human rights” is an increasingly popular language of civil society advocacy internationally, but does it mean the same thing language may indicate an emerging international consensus, it is also possible that this “common language” is being used to reflect distinct concepts drawing on local perspectives and traditions. While a body of literature exists on regional interpretations of human rights in other parts of the world (see Wiessala 2006; Cesarini and Hertel 2005), little research has been conducted on human rights discourse in Africa, where the study of human rights remains rooted in law (Viljoen 2012) and largely divorced from the social practice of human rights as performed by civil society groups. Do indigenous concepts play a role in assimilating and shaping human rights in this context? What is the relationship between botho,1 an African concept of reciprocal humanity, and human rights, a common international language of advocacy and accountability? This chapter explores these questions with reference to Botswana, a country where rights are often depicted as foreign and where botho has deep social and cultural resonance. Unlike domestic government and media, human rights activists in Botswana increasingly view botho as a local translation of human rights. In doing so, they are tentatively building a culturally specific understanding of human rights including international components such as universality, but also highlighting culturally important traits such as reciprocity.
Kristi Heather Kenyon

Chapter 7. Uneven Ground: Asymmetries of Power in Human Rights Advocacy in Mexico

Mexico is a country with a rich and multilayered tradition of human rights advocacy. There are many active national and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and a strong network that binds those organizations, centers of research and investigation, alliances with international NGOs and funders, and national human rights institutions. Yet, despite its breadth and strengths, the human rights movement in Mexico has not implemented an effective policy agenda to protect human rights. The recent disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero are symptomatic of the stark view from the ground: violations by state and private actors continue unabated across the spectrum of personal security rights. In the realm of economic, social, and cultural rights, the violations extend from failure to fulfill the most basic human needs like safe housing, transportation, and potable water, to appropriation of land and natural resources. Most of these violations have existed or actually worsened since the advent of Mexico’s human rights movement in the mid-1980s. This chapter will explore the social and political context or “terrain” in which human rights actors work in Mexico and the barriers to their success in protecting human rights on the ground. My central finding is that the terrain of human rights advocacy in Mexico is profoundly “uneven”—characterized by asymmetries of power that limit the effectiveness of the human rights movement to bring about sustainable human rights protection.
Barbara A. Frey

Institutional Sites of Practice


Chapter 8. The UN Security Council and the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

At the founding of the United Nations (UN), the Security Council was tasked with regulating state sovereignty and maintaining international peace and security. Although the core principles and purposes of the UN outlined in the preamble and Chapter I of the Charter also include the reaffirmation of fundamental human rights, different organs were created to achieve the UN’s diverse purposes. The encouragement and monitoring of human rights was assigned to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its Commission on Human Rights, which was replaced by the Human Rights Council in 2006. A strict separation of responsibility between these organs was maintained until 1991, when the subject of human rights legitimately entered Security Council deliberations for the first time.
Carrie Booth Walling

Chapter 9. The Social Practice of Securitizing Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: 1325 Fifteen Years On

On October 31, 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (SCR 1325): a groundbreaking political achievement for women’s rights and gender equality. SCR 1325 represents a critical turning point in how the international community understands the role of women, men, girls, and boys, as well as gender in matters of peace and security. The resolution officially acknowledges women’s right to participate in all aspects of conflict prevention and resolution, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding and to be included in decision-making bodies at all levels of governance. It recognizes the special protection needs of women and girls, particularly in conflict-affected countries. Such protections are not just limited to situations of sexual and gender-based violence, but also involve measures to protect the human rights of women and girls, especially as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police, and the judiciary. The resolution also mandates all UN Member States to adopt a gender perspective in all UN peace agreements and peace operations. SCR 1325 covers “the most technical of issues involved in disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating combatants and reforming the security sector, to the broadest questions of how gender equality is fundamental to human security” (Taylor 2013, 1). SCR 1325 represents a technical tool, a conceptual lens, and a binding legal framework, according to the UN Charter, to be implemented by all UN Member States, and, therefore, has the capacity to fundamentally transform gender relations and women’s rights in the context of how the world defines and practices international security (Cohn 2004).
Natalie Florea Hudson

Chapter 10. Constructing a Dialogue on Human Dignity: The Role for Global Institutions

From the United Nations to newer hybrids like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (“Global Fund”), global institutions have a crucial role in making human rights a reality. Not only do they play a role in norm-setting, reflected on paper in treaties ratified and laws enacted by governments, but in facilitating implementation. Implementation, however, has often fallen short of norm promulgation on the national, regional, and global levels, as billions of individuals lack meaningful access to basic freedoms, justice, and economic opportunity in their experienced lives (Khan 2009; Council on Foreign Relations 2013). Tired debates and a false dichotomy between political-civil and socioeconomic rights compound this problem. This essay suggests that a broader, preexisting concept of human dignity, based on twin pillars of agency and social recognition of individuals, could guide the work of global institutions to help break through this rights-realization logjam.
Mark P. Lagon, Anthony Clark Arend


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