Academia Human Rights

Call for Book Proposals, New Series Human Rights Interventions

Together with Dr. Chiseche Mibenge (Stanford), we have launched a new book series, titled Human Rights Interventions, with Palgrave MacMillan. The series joins the list International Relations and Security Studies held by Palgrave Senior Commissioning Editor Dr. Anca Pusca. And we are now accepting book proposals. Please check the instructions for submitting one here, and below is a short description of the series.

The traditional human rights frame creates a paradigm by which the duty bearer’s (state) and rights holder’s (civil society organizations) interests collide over the limits of enjoyment and enforcement. The series departs from the paradigm by centering peripheral yet powerful actors that agitate for intervention and influence in the (re)shaping of rights discourse in the midst of grave insecurities. The series privileges a call and response between theoretical inquiry and empirical investigation as contributors critically assess human rights interventions mediated by spatial, temporal, geopolitical and other dimensions. An interdisciplinary dialogue is key as the editors encourage multiple approaches such as law and society, political economy, historiography, legal ethnography, feminist security studies, and multi-media.


Human Rights Integration Conference

Last week I attended an international conference on The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective (HRI).

The conference considered how rights holders, duty bearers and other ‘users’ of human rights are confronted simultaneously with multiple layers of human rights law, amongst which there is generally little coordination. Human rights law today is characterised by the simultaneous existence of a large variety of norms, developed by numerous actors, at different geographical levels, addressing similar or different topics, individuals and groups. In result human rights studies often focuses on one or more specific rights, target groups or jurisdictions, which in turn contributes to creating a fragmented view of human rights law. For users, the complex architecture of human rights may create opportunities as well as obstacles.

The conference had posters and presentations organised into five interesting tracks – theorising fragmentation and integration in human rights law, convergence and divergence within international human rights law, convergence and divergence between national and international human rights law, convergence and divergence between international human rights law and other branches of international law, and human rights are useless/useful.

I presented my paper on “National Constitutions and the Protection of Human Rights in ASEAN”, which was accepted under the track of convergence and divergence between national and international human rights law.

Some prominent scholars also presented their thoughts and ideas in the plenary sessions. I will write more about this next time.


On Peer Review

It might not be exaggerated to regard a peer review report as a judgment made on the quality of your papers, and thus also on your competence. Yet some reviews can unfortunately be brutally rude. Examples are available online, l’ll only mention two here:

This paper is desperate. Please reject it completely and then block the author’s email ID so they can’t use the online system in the future


I understand that Wikipedia is not the best source for my information, however, I don’t have access to the [peer-reviewed] literature you cite, and based on the information from Wikipedia, your hypothesis breaks down.

To share I once received a review which basically said that my English is insufficient, I am probably Indonesian, and I should send my paper to national academic outlets instead. I understand this is still much better than the examples above.

According to Hugh McLaughlin in the LSE Impact Blog, we need to rethink the objective of peer review. He argues that reviews should be both “critical and constructive”. Basically, “do unto others what you would expect them to do”.

I agree,  and I think as reviewers we should give thorough feedback – try to give justifications of all points made, and provide constructive feedback – clearly identify missing points and suggest some ideas on how to improve the article. Although we are at the same time authors, a role which enables us to this service, we are invited to review papers as how they are written, not how we would have written them.


Non-Western Researchers

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.