[URBANTH-L]CFP: The Uses and Misuses of Human Rights (Columbia U)

Angela Jancius jancius3022 at comcast.net
Tue Jul 14 12:50:45 EDT 2009

From: "Arat, Zehra" <zehra.arat at purchase.edu>

Call for Papers

"Uses and Misuses of Human Rights"

Columbia University Human Rights Seminar

Human rights can be empowering for those who have been repressed and
discriminated against, and international human rights declarations and
treaties serve as leverage for those who try to improve human rights
conditions.  However, human rights are also often misused.  The misuse  
of human rights may take the form of abuse, when the content and  
intention of human rights conventions are deliberately distorted, and 
advocacy of  human rights is used as a disguise to pursue other goals.  
More complicated, however, is the misuse of human rights by their 
sincere and devoted advocates.

Of course, misuse is subjective and may be perceived differently among
advocates themselves. Disagreements may arise over such issues as  
priorities, the nature and extent of state responsibility, and the identity 
of perpetrators and victims, among others. Some of these disagreements 
are clearly attributable to the indeterminacy of the human rights discourse,
while others may relate to situations where rights are in conflict.  
With the best intentions, however, human rights may be promoted in a 
way that sells them short, neglects the input of the target population, or  
underestimates the local and undesirable impacts. The actual content and 
intention of  human rights may be misunderstood; the root causes of violations 
may be  neglected; human rights may be interpreted narrowly; or beneficiaries 
may be defined in a limited way. In addition, the ever present danger of 
cooptation by  state, as well as non-state, authority structures can render
legitimacy to morally troubling outcomes often arrived at with a genuine desire 
to alleviate human suffering.

For the 2009-2010 Academic Year, Columbia University Human Rights  
Seminar seeks to explore the conditions that lead to the latter form of  
misuse, and examine advocates' approach and strategies that mean well 
but result in ineffective or even harmful policies.  We would like to discuss the
philosophical underpinnings or actual cases of misuse that would allow  
us to understand where we tend to go wrong and how we may overcome 
them.   Thus, we welcome speakers who have been working on these questions 
and related debates, and in particular those who work on the possible risks and
unintended consequences of human rights acrtivism, and would like to  
share their work in progress with us.

The Human Rights Seminar group includes professors and graduate  
students from universities and colleges in New York City and the tri-state area, 
as well as human rights advocates and public officials (from the US and other  
countries) who work on or interested in human rights issues.  The seminar meets 
on Monday evenings, and the scheduled seminar dates for this year are:   
October 5, November 9, December 7, February 8, March 8, April 5, and 
May 3.  Meetings start with dinner at 6:30 and continue with the seminar session 
at  7:30-9:00. The speaker makes a 15-minute presentation that highlights the key  
points of his/her draft paper, which should be submitted by the speaker at least  
ten days before the seminar date.  Since the participants receive and read  
the paper beforehand, the brief presentation is followed up by a discussion,
which constitutes the core of the seminar session.

If you would like discuss your work, please send an abstract of  500-700 words 
that clearly states your research question, thesis and methodology, as well
as the dates that you are available to present, by August 31 to the  
seminar co-chairs: George Andreopoulos (chrights at jjay.cuny.edu), Zehra 
Arat (zehra.arat at purchase.edu), and Peter Juviler (pjuviler at barnard.edu).   
You may contact them also if you would like to attend seminar sessions and  
receive their announcements. Please bear in mind that, in accordance with  
Columbia University Seminar policy, presenters do not receive honoraria. However,
speakers will be provided with accommodation and the seminar will cover
modest travel expenses.

In the past, we have published books based on a selection of the papers
presented at our seminar sessions. There is a strong interest in doing  
this again with the papers which will address this important theme. The most
recent book based on seminar papers and edited by the co-chairs of the
seminar is Non-State Actors in the Human Rights Universe, Kumarian  
Press, 2006.

Please feel free to circulate this announcement to other interested  

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list