As has been widely reported in the Western media, on Friday, China’s state media finally officially announced two changes in human rights policies: (a) an end of the “Laojiao” policy of “re-education through labor” and (b) a change in the one-child policy in China, allowing two children per family if at least one of the parents was a single child (before both parents had to be only children). Other, somewhat underreported, changes coming from the same official media report about the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China included a reduction of crimes punishable by death and efforts “to ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse.” Also in the news last week concerning Chinese human rights: China will have a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in the New Year.
What do these changes mean for the human rights situation in China? Are they a sign of things to come or are these changes just “window dressing,” meant to divert attention away from the very pressing human rights problems within the state? Many experts have highlighted that it is the latter: for example, Steve Tsang, although saying that the steps are an “important step forward,” said that it would be “naive to think this effort will seriously address the human rights problems in China.” The famously negative NGO UN Watch also indicated that it was a “black day for human rights” when China and other human rights offenders were elected to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
I had a boy break up with me once by saying “we’re not breaking up, we’re taking a break.” I guess the boy assumed that “taking a break” would be easier for me to accept than “breaking up.” He was right: it took me a while to actually figure out that “taking a break” was really synonymous with “breaking up.” For my teenage-girl angst, “taking a break” just sounded better. For the boy, “taking a break” was probably the safer option.
In both advocacy and research concerning of how people are treated by governmental and non-governmental actors, I think the same type of linguistic gymnastics occurs between the terms “human rights” and “human security.” However, I think the strategic use of the terms could have ramifications for both our research and advocacy.
Members of international institutions typically honor their commitments. But that does not, by itself, tell us much. States are unlikely to join institutions that require them to do things they have no intention of doing. Indeed, some argue that institutions merely act to screen out those least likely to comply. Others, however, have argued that institutions do in fact constrain states - that they are not mere epiphenomena. One prominent mechanism through which institutions are thought to alter state behavior is by mobilizing pro-compliance groups domestically. Institutions may lack enforcement capable, after all, but few governments are entirely insensitive to domestic pressure.
But, as Stephen Chaudoin cogently observes in this working paper, those who stand to lose if the government adopts the institution's preferred policy are unlikely to give in without a fight. And such groups virtually always exist; if they did not there'd be little need for institutions to promote cooperation in the first place. Put differently, while WTO rulings may raise awareness about the effects of tariffs and Amnesty International might draw attention to human rights abuses, the net effect of such efforts might simply be to increase the amount of effort those advantaged by the status quo invest in defending it.
Syria has raised several questions that pertain to morality, legality, and strategy in international relations. Discussed extensively on the Duck, Opinio Juris, The Monkey Cage, and
Yesterday, four Neo-Nazis were finally sentenced for their roles in a series of brutal killings of Roma families in Hungary in 2008 and 2009. Although the convictions have been applauded as a human rights victory, advocates are still demanding that Hungary steps up to the plate and protects the rights of Roma, a historically at-risk minority. The killings were not isolated events against Roma in Hungary; other discriminatory actions have been occurring, without punitive consequences, for quite some time.
Why are Roma still discriminated against in Hungary? Hungary is an EU state. The state’s overall level of human rights practices is not altogether that bad but the level of on-the-ground discrimination against this minority group is appalling. Unfortunately, the discrimination in Hungary against the Roma is not unusual. What, if anything, can be done to lessen discrimination against the Roma and other minority groups?
My colleague and friend James Ron has a new article up at Open Democracy (with Shannon Golden and David Crow) on asymmetric access of global populations to human rights machinery. The article is one in a new Open Democracy series "Open Global Rights," which aims to " relocate the [human rights] conversation away from the west and to the Global South."
A little over a month ago, I wrote about the growing academic literature concerning human rights treaties and their lack of influence on human rights practices. Based on my own experiences growing up in parts of the U.S. where it’s assumed we can "[Rebuild] Our Culture One Purity Ball at a Time,” I likened human rights treaties to virginity pledges, saying that “in most circumstances, these human rights “pledges” don’t work to improve human rights practices. In some circumstances, they can actually lead to a worsening of governmental human rights practices.” There is a brand-spankin-new forthcoming article at American Journal of Political Science by Yonatan Lupu of George Washington University that may indicate my previous conclusion was overstated: when fully accounting for state preferences in treaty commitments, Lupu does not find any evidence that treaties make things worse. This is good news for human rights advocates everywhere and very important for human rights/treaty scholarship! Lupu’s article definitely deserves your attention.
This week’s topic for both my grad and undergrad human rights courses is “foreign policy and human rights promotion.” On the list of readings-not-on-last-year’s-syllabus is this little gem: “Enter the Dragon! An Empirical Analysis of Chinese versus US Arms Transfers to Autocrats and Violators of Human Rights, 1989-2006” by Indra de Soysa and Paul Midford. It appeared in last December’s issue of ISQ. Drop what you are doing now and read it! Seriously. It is thought -provoking, made me want to download their replication dataset and play with it before class, and made my students argue aggressively with each other in class.
In the category of “pop-culture-not-talked-about-by-normal-Ducks,” People magazine’s cover story last week was on ABC’s The Bachelor, Sean Lowe, and his pledge to remain a
virgin re-virgin until his wedding night. As someone who graduated high school in town of less than 1500 in Kansas, I think this type of pledge is pretty typical: many teens and young adults make a pledge, usually in front of an audience, to avoid sexual conduct until marriage. And, not surprisingly, most teens do not keep their pledge. In fact, there are some studies that indicate that these virginity pledges are associated with riskier sexual behavior.
In many regards, the academic literature on UN human rights treaties sees their effectiveness as extremely similar to virginity pledges: in most circumstances, these human rights “pledges” don’t work to improve human rights practices. In some circumstances, they can actually lead to a worsening of governmental human rights practices. Why is this? Below, I outline 3 reasons why human rights treaties and virginity pledges don’t work.
Thanks to a very awesome grad student of mine, I just realized that last week marked the second anniversary of the start of the Bahrain uprising. Fueled by protests in Tunisia and Egypt, citizens of this small and very beautiful island state took to the streets to demand political changes. For two years, the protests have not completely dissipated but haven’t escalated to the point of civil war either. What explains this continued state of violent limbo?
No, this isn't one of those posts where we go all "Monkey Cage" on our readers and
pimp (sorry) promote political-science research, but rather a "Dan is befuddled, perhaps readers might help" kind of thing. In other words, I make no effort to answer the question of the title. The post is an extended version of the question itself.
In one of those strange synergies associated with social media, I've seen a fair number of things about prostitution today. Erik Loomis points to an interesting history of sex work. Then there's this Julie Bindel piece arguing that "the Dutch experiment in legalized prostitution has been a disaster," which isn't very good but does mention the key problem with experiments on decriminalizing and legalizing prostitution: that they just seem to make life easier for pimps, organized criminal syndicates, human traffickers, and others seeking to profit from the exploitation of women and men (she does a better job chronicling those issues here). Sweden's decision to abandon a regulatory model and criminalize the buying of sex (but not the selling of sex) gets a lot of positive press these days.
It’s a question faced by scientists daily: if you found that X wasn't associated with Y, would you report it? What if you found that treatment X was harmful to Y, would you report your findings? For example, let’s say you are an oncologist and you just concluded, based on years of research, that smoking wasn’t associated with cancer – would you report your findings? What if you were employed by the cancer drug’s maker or dealing with cancer personally, would you report your findings about treatment X then? Is it unethical to leave the results unpublished?
Questions of personal biases and valid science permeate all facets of science; of course, we as social scientists face these questions all the time in our research. Do personal biases get in the way of our science? Is there any way around our personal biases?
I’m a firm believer that the process of science allows us to eliminate many of the potential biases that we carry around with us. As Jay Ulfelder just pointed out in a blog post on Dart Throwing Chimp with respect to democracy research in comparative politics, the scientific process isn’t easy – there are often strong personal and professional reasons that lead people to stray from the scientific process (to me, sequestering results would imply straying from the scientific process). But, I would contend, the scientific process allows us to overcome many of our personal and professional biases. This is especially relevant, of course, to human rights research. As Jake Wobig just wrote,
“a person does not start studying human rights unless they want to identify ways to change the world for the better. However, wanting something to be so does not make it so, and we scholars do not do anyone any favors by describing the world incorrectly.”
Charli’s posts on Human Rights Watch and Autonomous Weapons got me thinking: should we really expect human rights international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to influence weapons systems? On the whole, human rights NGOs are a pretty powerless lot: NGOs don’t control military resources like states do and they are typically not at the decision-making table. Why would a powerful state ever listen to the musings of an NGO? Are all of these reports and calls-for-action by NGOs really just hot air?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) includes a right that many grad students and professors probably feel is constantly under attack: the right to leisure. It’s there, clearly laid out in Article 24: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Whenever I introduce the UDHR to a room full of undergrads, I always get some smart aleck in the front row that is quick to associate the document with some sort of lofty, unattainable ideal because of this right. What exactly is the right to leisure? And, why is it included among seemingly more important rights, like the right to freedom from torture or political imprisonment?
The ninth episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Kathryn Sikkink about a variety of subjects, including her
In Spring of 2006, I was nearing the end of data collection on my investigation into the human rights of children born of rape and
CBC - CP file photoThe Canadian International Council recently organized an interesting public event with Louise Arbour on her role in speaking "truth to power."
A few sensitive souls expressed dismay this week when a Romney official declared that the campaign would “reset” itself for the general election after the