Third World Approach to International Law

The journal of Third World Quarterly has recently published a special issue on the Third World Approach to International Law.

Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) is a movement encompassing scholars and practitioners of international law and policy who are concerned with issues related to the Global South. The scholarly agendas associated with TWAIL are diverse, but the general theme of its interventions is to unpack and deconstruct the colonial legacies of international law and engage in efforts to decolonise the lived realities of the peoples of the Global South.

In addition to important critical analysis to theoretical fundamentals relevant to the study of the Third World, the special issue also deals with more immediate praxical questions of if, how, and when to deploy international legal argument, whether as sword, shield, or strategy of rupture. The concept is engaged in an open manner, in order to avoid an essentialised Third World identity, but to deconstruct it, so as to allow for a fuller disciplinary engagement with the plural, hybrid, ever-evolving, and contested performance of identity everywhere.

Some of the chapters worth reading are:

Food Systems Governance

How to explain that despite growth in food production, many are still lacking of adequate food? This is a classic question that has been investigated by many leading lights from various disciplines, including the Noble Laureate Amartya Sen in his groundbreaking research in the 1970s. But challenges remain and this is the focus of the new volume edited by Amanda Kennedy and Jonathan Liljeblad from University of New England Australia. The title of this book is Food Systems Governance: Challenges for justice, equality and human rights. Their starting point is law, and what is the role of law to form the pivot around which these issues are addressed in society in the form of food governance mechanisms. Accordingly the chapters in this book address a range of issues in food governance revolving around questions of justice, fairness, equality and human rights.

I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to contribute to this exciting publication. My chapter entitled ‘Transnational Legal Processes of the Right to Food: Lessons Learned from Papua, Indonesia’, discusses whether and how the growing network between transnational actors that advocate the right to food delivers political change, in the sense that they challenge order the power in society. The paper is based on the paper I presented during the Conference under a similar title, held in Beijing China, May 2014.

The Global South

The latest issue of the Third Quarterly is dedicated to examine a phenomenon called: the Global South. This special edition is currently free to download and divided into three themes: Ideas and shifting power relations, International peace and security, Human rights and development. As stated in the introduction, the focus of this volume is about ‘then’ and ‘now’. The nine individual articles contribute towards improving our understanding and bridge-building in different ways – sometimes by making the differences clearer, sometimes by probing how we could conceivably move beyond them, sometimes by calling into question the shibboleths of international cooperation.

Some of the chapters are:

Who owns the right to food?

The journal of Third World Quarterly recently published my article entitled: “Who owns the right to food? Interlegality and competing interests in agricultural modernisation in Papua, Indonesia”.

The  article dicusses the extent to which the competing as well as conjoined interests of actors involved in agricultural modernisation are reconfiguring the right to food. Agricultural modernisation provides such a context to study the interplay between global and local levels and between various legal and normative frameworks, as well as how the right to food is promoted or jeopardised in these interactions. The focus here is twofold: first, it is on existing norms linked to the wider understanding of the right to food; and second, on the diverse interests supported by the state, corporations and civil society organisations, particularly indigenous rights movements.

A Political Race

In a recent interview, Stephen Hopgood raises an interesting question: how politically effective is human rights to a normative progress?  Although human rights are globally spread, one could easily argue that they at the same time stand on a shaky ground. There are various views on gender equality for example, there are also many aspects that determine the autonomy of indigenous peoples over their lands. In such fields, is claiming for human rights in its normative nature politically feasible?

Not an easy question to answer. Many have tried to. Normative lawyers might refer to the minimum core obligations. Others might refer to philosophical and historical basis for justice. But in realities these things often do not matter as much as in legal and abstract opinions. For many different reasons. Majority of the population might not consider it as important to promote gender equality, to respect LGBT rights, or to abolish death penalty. The government sees it as its obligation to convert native land into productive agricultural plantations, or to move people so dams or transportation infrastructures can be built. Obviously, there are many norms, rules and customs in the field, as much as there are many interests and agendas.

Does this imply a normative inadequacy of human rights? Another complex issue. To some extent, there are still strong western views in the ways human rights are constructed and challenged. Critiques on how ASEAN juxtaposes human rights and human responsiblity in one single authoritative document represent how certain standards should be maintained for human rights to work. Yet, many authors have successfully mustered the relevance of global south in the making of human rights. Although one should also bear in mind that the processes and outcomes of these endeavours are not altering the western influence in constructing and challenging rights.

Assessing normative inadequacy implies also an examination of the scope and jurisdiction of the human rights norms. Again, this is a contested territory, but one certain thing is that it is impossible to predict what each model of norms codification can deliver. Legal binding documents can have the same impacts as non-legal binding documents. The latter can face comparable drawbacks as the first one. Similarly, one can not simply gauge the extent to which monitoring-based system, penalties, or statistically based indicators can benefit or jeopardize rights holders.

Indeed, it is not easy to asses the political effectiveness of human rights in the race of normative progress.