The mysterious appeal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Barbara Oomen

Afb blog Barbara

If there is one issue that, as a human rights scholar, has puzzled me for years it is the continued popularity of the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Permanently referring back to the UDHR, it seems to me, is like continuing to use an old Nokia when the Iphone X has just come out. Legally, we have come so far since that first non-binding Declaration stating 30 rights and the underlying principles. A Declaration, not a Treaty. An act of engagement, but not the actual marriage contract – as our colleague Fried van Hoof liked to put it. Ever since 1948, we’ve carefully and painstakingly constructed a whole architecture of binding treaties, monitoring bodies, special rapporteurs, and regional courts. Why do we continue to dig beneath all of that to draw attention to the foundation of human rights instead of simply focusing on the whole shiny construction? Continue reading

Process-based fundamental rights review: what about the applicant?

L.M. (Leonie) Huijbers

Afb blog Leonie

What if you see a runaway train moving toward five people tied-up on a track. Would you pull a lever to redirect the train to another track? Yes, of course. No doubt about it. But what if there was another person tied-up on the other track? The decision whether to pull the handle or not becomes inevitably harder. This famous philosophical conundrum applies in a similar, yet – fortunately – less gruesome way, to the European Court of Human Rights. The backlog in cases, the failure of states to implement the Court’s judgments, the increasingly harsh (political) criticism on the Court, and the shortage of resources have put a strain on the proper functioning of the European Convention on Human Rights’ system. This has given rise to the question of whether the Court should continue to provide justice to each applicant, possibly at the cost of the Convention system (track one), or whether it should focus on providing general justice, by ensuring justice for as many individuals as possible, even when it may come at the cost of the applicants before the Court (track two). This dilemma between individual and general justice is also relevant for the Court’s recent procedural turn… Continue reading

The Rome Statute at 20 Years: Exploring Intersections of Law and Culture at the International Criminal Court

Julie Fraser & Brianne McGonigle Leyh

ICC logoOn 17 July 2018, the Rome Statute (RS) creating the International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated its 20th anniversary. The ICC is a permanent court that investigates serious international crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and prosecutes individuals believed to be most responsible. In this way, the ICC promotes the rule of law internationally and seeks to end impunity for the most heinous crimes. The Statute’s agreement was a remarkable achievement many decades in the making. In the last 20 years, the ICC has grown from small beginnings into a fully-fledged court of international law. Progress has not, however, always been smooth, with many issues and obstacles arising, including in relation to culture. While international law (including international criminal law) is typically portrayed as objective and not limited or bound by a particular culture, as revealed especially in practice, law and culture cannot be so clinically separated. Culture influences our view of the law, of the facts to which it applies, and the fairness of any outcome. From the substantive charges and their defences to the scope and content of reparations and the operation of the criminal process, the impact of culture can be problematic given the nature and context of the ICC’s work. And, yet, culture and the ICC has not been comprehensively addressed in scholarship. Continue reading

“Practically unimportant”? A poor excuse or well-executed sarcasm? — On China’s constitutional amendment removing the limitation on the President’s term of office

Shuai Zhang in response to a previous blog post by Cong-rui Qiao

chinese constitutionThe National Congress of China has recently passed a highly controversial constitutional amendment removing the limitation on the President’s term of office. Consequently, it is no longer limited to two consecutive terms. While some consider this amendment as a step towards dictatorship, many are seemingly trying to interpret it in a more sympathetic way. A very popular discourse regards the change merely as a “practically unimportant” technical fine-tuning. Ironically, this argument is roughly supported by two rival groups. This blog elaborates why neither of these groups is right in labelling such a change as “practically unimportant”, and argues that the constitutional amendment is in fact very important. Continue reading

Drifting between disciplines: the challenges of doing multi- and interdisciplinary research

Dr. Erie Tanja, postdoctoral researcher

Multidisciplinary research

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays, when talking about scientific research, the call to make it multi- or interdisciplinary, is never far away. Although the terms are often mixed up or used interchangeably, there is a difference. Multidisciplinary research is about ‘simply’ combining insights from different disciplines; interdisciplinary research is the ‘symbiosis of disciplinary questions, methods and outcome measures’, transforming scientific identities in the process (De Jonge Akademie 2015). As so many researchers are trying to find out how to go from mono- to multi- and interdisciplinary research, it is necessary to share experiences and insights to prevent all of us from unnecessarily reinventing the wheel. In this blog, I want to do just that. Sharing my personal experience and viewpoints, means n=1 and that the perspective is inherently subjective. In the social sciences, such results would not merit much attention. But sharing and comparing experiences will help other researchers that conduct multi- or interdisciplinary research to find the way forward.

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‘Every Organ of Society’: Exploring the Role of Social Institutions in the Effective Implementation of International Human Rights Law

Julie Fraser

ThiEleanor_Roosevelt_and_Human_Rights_Declarations blog was written by Julie Fraser who will defend her PhD at Utrecht University on 31 May at 10.30am.

This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This document continues to represent a landmark achievement of the international community. Since 1948, much progress has been achieved, with numerous human rights treaties and instruments adopted nationally, regionally, and internationally. Despite this momentum, human rights continue to be violated in all states around the world, revealing the gap between law and practice. The challenge of implementation – of making legal norms a lived reality – is now most pressing. How to address this challenge was the focus of my PhD research completed earlier this year. This research focused on criticisms of state-centricity in international human rights law, as well as its tendency to take a legalistic approach to implementation. Identifying the shortcomings of state-centric legalism, my research proposed involving informal social institutions the domestic implementation of human rights due to their cultural embeddeness and ability to guide human behaviour.

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Constitutional Amendments to China’s Presidency and Supervisory Commissions

China_State_Visit_(21706073543)Cong-rui Qiao

This blog is the first in a series on the amendments to the Chinese constitution. 

This blog is about an important affair in today’s China: the set of 21 amendments made to China’s Constitution in March 2018. It will interpret the political and practical implications of two high-profile amendments: 1) the constitutional change to the term limitation on the Presidency, which is the head of State; and 2) the constitutional inception of the State Supervisory Commission (“SSC”), which is the highest national supervisory body. It will do so in two dimensions. One is a textual reading of what has been amended in the Constitution. The other goes beyond textual aspects, explaining what changes these alterations imply. Where possible English translations to the text have been provided in the links. Continue reading

Politicians, sore losers?

Leonie BlogLeonie Huijbers

The division of power between the legislator – represented by ‘the political’ – and the judge – represented by ‘the legal’ – is a centuries-old dilemma. The question on which position both powers take in the constitutional context is an everyday reality for the (constitutional) lawyer. The balance between these powers often turns into a tense relationship – a tension that becomes especially tangible after courts important judgments, such as the Urgenda case. Cases seem increasingly to end up in court because politicians have no answer to the issues at hand. If in such a case a court makes a  decision, then politicians are eager to emphasise that the court has illegitimately taken up the role of the democratically elected legislator  and that it is up to the people to make a decision; not the court. The question, however, is whether this criticism is always justified. Do politicians indeed try to protect the institutional balance as set out in the Constitution? Or do they act as sore losers, looking for a scapegoat for their own failure? Continue reading

#Whataboutthepresumptionofinnocence?

metoo-2859980_960_720Leonie van Lent

The #metoo campaign has once again shown what social media are capable of: stirring a worldwide debate on important issues for people and society and questioning power structures that are not or cannot be put on trial in the same way in traditional media, politics and courts. But also: destroying reputations, careers and relationships, creating large-scale gossip and speculation and forcing people to their knees who know that there is no chance to defend themselves against the storm unleashed by this puny but unassailable mark.

At the same time, human rights treaties not only state that the human body is inviolable, but also stipulate innocence until proved guilty. But what good does this? People are groped involuntary on a massive scale and at the same time people are subjected to a rhetoric of naming and shaming without due process. In this blog, I argue that the presumption of innocence has been neglected wrongfully by lawyers and that now is the time to let it live up to its expectations, also with regard to the media. Continue reading

Fake Facts: the Justice Scoreboard of the Directorate General for Justice and Consumer protection

justice-2071539_960_720Philip Langbroek

The European Commission has a justice policy which involves all national judiciaries, whose functioning is monitored. However I argue that this monitoring is done unsatisfactory. Justice is an important subject in the European Union. For example, trade and crime do cross borders and economic competition contracts and regulations need the guarantee of enforceability. It is obviously unavoidable that a lot of European law is involves regulation and law enforcement. National judiciaries play an important role in the enforcement of EU-law. And it seems perfectly justified that the European Commission monitors the functioning of those national judiciaries. The monitoring of that function is done through the so-called Justice Scoreboard. This Justice Scoreboard, however, is a methodologically inadequate device to evaluate the functioning of national justice systems. The main problem of the Justice Scoreboard is that the data it is based on are overall not reliable and based on nationally – differently! – defined statistics. Consequently, national numbers cannot adequately be compared, which leads to a misleading presentation of the data in bar charts. Continue reading