Gaps in Human Rights Research, Advocacy and Compliance

How human rights scholars conceal social wrongs.

That’s the title of an Open Democracy article published yesterday, which takes issue with the way that international comparative indices (such as Ciri Human Rights Data Project and Freedom in the World) hide injustice in rich western democracies. Specifically, the authors are angered by the US government’s consistently high ranking, despite systematic disenfranchisement of the African-American electorate. The main critique regards”methodological nationalism” (treating countries as monolithic entities, there’s a scholarly debate). I think that criticism is a bit unfair when critiquing comparative studies on treaty ratification and compliance, which are forced by the realities international law and relations to take states as their unit of analysis. But the authors do make some good points about the consequences, especially regarding how influential such studies are in shaping international discourse on rights compliance. They also imply that the problem has something to do with  the fact that all the large research grants come from precisely those countries. No comment.

Meanwhile, at The Conversation, Alejandro Anaya Muñoz provides a survey on precisely the literature that the Open Democracy authors critique. He notes how general concensus has moved from seeing treaty ratification as the foundation for human rights compliance, towards exploring the importance of transnational activism and strong national civil society (his links are great and he does an excellent job of summarizing debates and trends in the literature). He closes though, by noting that these conditions haven’t led to compliance in his country .

[Mexico] is a transitioning democracy with highly active civil society groups that have been mobilising and litigating in favour of human rights for a long time. All of these are conditions associated with a higher likelihood of compliance with international norms. What, then, is causing the gap?

He doesn’t answer that question (yet), but it’s an important one. If international norms aren’t the magic bullet, and nor is transnational and national advocacy (see also the observation cited by @fp2p on the failure of international MDG advox), then maybe it will be technology? Sigh.

Enter the data revolution. I expect to see these articles re-written, with find and replace for ICTs, in ten years time.

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