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Emerging powers and human rights

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Our guest editors provide a walk through this week's theme of emerging powers and human rights. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on Emerging Powers and Human Rights.

Sophie Arie Leslie Vinjamuri James Ron Archana Pandya
17 June 2013

This week we launched openGlobalRights, a one year-long project to facilitate a global, multilingual conversation among individuals engaged in human rights work worldwide. Globalisation has revealed fractures in universal human rights, but new technologies also facilitate previously impossible conversations. openGlobalRights will connect engaged audiences in the global south, and bring these into debate with practitioners, academics, and activists worldwide, especially on issues relevant to the non-western world.

This week we launched openGlobalRights, a one year-long project to facilitate a global, multilingual conversation among individuals engaged in human rights work worldwide. Globalisation has revealed fractures in universal human rights, but new technologies also facilitate previously impossible conversations. openGlobalRights will connect engaged audiences in the global south, and bring these into debate with practitioners, academics, and activists worldwide, especially on issues relevant to the non-western world. There will be four weeks of discussion on different themes over the course of the next year. Each week we will publish articles by a range of experts on human rights, each in several languages. We invite all our readers to weigh in with comments of their own, in any language. And we invite other readers to respond to those comments, using Google translator, if necessary

In our first week of discussion – entitled Emerging Powers and Human Rights – our contributors evaluate the stance that newly powerful states take towards human rights. Some speak of BRICS, others of TIMBIs, and still others of IBSA; these and other acronyms abound. All share the notion that world power is increasingly diverse, that the west, and especially its declining influence in the face of emerging power, both raise serious questions about the future of human rights.

On Monday, we started the week with a brief overview from Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International who calls on Emerging Powers to use their growing international clout to play a much more active role in shaping global human rights efforts. Alongside this, a piece by Nukhet Sandal, an expert in religion and international relations at Ohio University, asks how Turkey can reconcile its ambitions to promote Muslim rights worldwide with the recent shocking treatment of peaceful protesters at home. Her piece highlights the question of how Emerging Powers can play a part in improving the way rights are protected worldwide when they still preside over serious abuses within their own borders.

On June 18, Stephen Hopgood, author of The Endtimes of Human Rights and professor of international relations at SOAS, University of London, argues that it is activists worldwide, not states, who will make a difference in future. Western-led rights organisations, he says, may have seen their day.

Research by James Ron and colleagues into public opinion on human rights on three different continents contrasts this argument by questioning whether it is social class, not the dominance of western organisations, that has influenced global thinking on human rights too much until now. Globally, human rights language and action is firmly the domain of an elite of educated middle class. The people whose rights are most threatened have often never heard the words ‘human rights’. Does that need to change, they ask?

On Wednesday, Jack Snyder, professor of international relations at Columbia University, looked at how emerging powers might redefine human rights and in particular through their domestic civic institutions, given greater ownership. Nahla Valji, of UN Women and Dire Tladi, a law adviser at the South African department of international relations and cooperation, explored South Africa's efforts to represent African interests internationally and to promote the values enshrined by Nelson Mandela and the battle to end apartheid. 

On Thursday, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch and Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for HRW, outlined how emerging powers have been reluctant to press abusive governments to respect rights and how their voice could prove powerful by helping to break down the “west versus rest” dynamic that tends to shield those governments from pressure to change.

And Xiaoyu Pu, of Princeton University, looked at how China is increasingly engaging in international debate over rights. Does China aim to redefine the norms in future? he asks. 

Finally, as over a million people pour onto streets around the country in protest at their living conditions, Camila Asano, of Conectas Human Rights, a Brazilian NGO, assesses Brazil's potential to challenge the status quo on global rights. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of HRW, highlights India's relative lack of action on global rights so far and urges it to take a stance on foreign policy issues that could end human suffering.

 

 

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