This week I participated in the ISA Human Rights Joint Conference on Human Rights and Justice, organised at the The Hague Institute for Global Justice, 8-10 June 2015. I presented my paper entitled ‘The Construction of a Human Rights Space in a Globalising World’, in which I addressed the competing interests on food, land and investments in the case of agricultural modernisation. I was honoured to be part of the panel on the Right to Food, Development and Justice, where I received good feedback and enjoyed an inspiring discussion.
Another panel that I also found very interesting was on the Role of Non-State Actors, where scholars working on the field presented their findings on the process of negotiating human rights at the international level. I was particularly intrigued by the debates on what comes after an understanding of the role of non-state actors. Indeed, NGOs have been crucial in the process of negotiating the establishment of declaration and/or the proliferation of human rights norms to wider audiences. However, what can we do with this understanding? Why after almost 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we are still struggling with the same issue on deficits between norms and practices?
Of course, we can continue by examining where, when and to what extent do non-state actors exert their influences in human rights negotiations. But, I also begin thinking about the role of non-Western researchers in this puzzle. The lack of comprehensive knowledge on human rights deficits might persistently present because scholars tend to inquire on the same subjects to which they have access. Desk research is obviously the preferred method for legal and often international relations scholars. Observing the behaviour of and the trend within social movements is naturally important for obtaining relevant knowledge on the topic.
Yet, to acquire further knowledge on state hypocrisies, we also need to talk about power, that is to talk with policy makers, bureaucrats, and other elites. Since many of these scholarly reportings deal with situations in developing countries, non-Western researchers will definitely play an important role here. Not only because of access, which is the most crucial contribution, but also because as non-Western researcher myself, we can act as a bridge and offer different insights that fill up the epistemological gap between the scientific knowledge building and what happens on the ground.