Change and Continuity in Global Governance

The latest issue of the Journal Ethics & International Affairs has a special section that addresses probably the most pressing questions on today’s global world. Why, despite well-established and well-publicised intergovernmental processes that date back to the early 1970s, have we been unable to put in place effective mechanisms to combat climate change? to enforce human rights? to eradicate inequalities? Most fundamentally, why have the current international system and the outcomes that it has produced remained so inadequate in the postwar period?

The purpose of the special section edited by Thomas G. Weiss and Roden Wilkinson is to push outwards the boundaries of what we understand as global governance. That is to look at not only ‘traditional subjects’ such as state, international law, and international organisations, but also other actors, networks and strategies, either formal or informal. The idea is to understand global governance actors both as guardians of practices/issues and agents of changes.

Articles included in this special section are:


Governance Human Rights Indonesia Social Movement

Law, Democracy and the Socio-Economic Rights

The problem of implementation deficits may be an inherent trait for human rights in general, including socio-economic rights. In this regard, much commentary on human rights in developing countries, particularly written by international human rights NGOs, as well as from the rights-based approaches camps, has suggested that the problem lies primarily in inadequate protection for human rights in countries’ legal frameworks. Here, many view law, accepted, ratified and/or codified as a powerful force for change. The focus has been on identifying legislative and policy gaps. But what explains countries’ slow and uneven progress in implementing socio-economic rights?

An article written by Andrew Rosser and Maryke van Diermen critically engages with this topic by arguing that the most important determinants of socio-economic rights outcomes in developing countries, such as Indonesia, lie in the political and social, rather than the legal realm. Indonesian average score on the Social and Economic Rights Fulfilment (SERF) Index shows an uneven improvement across socio-economic rights. The country has made significant progress in the rights to education and health but rather less progress in the rights to food, work and housing. The authors argue that the competing elite network over resources and power, such as reflected in the electoral process, has created a persistent obstacle for realising these rights, despite an increasing political and social space claimed and acquired by social movements.

I support this argument but also think that this approach reduces the scale of implementation problems into mere non-fulfillment ones. The implementation of socio-economic rights requires protection as much as fulfillment. And therefore a question is asked: doesn’t legal institutional design matter in how states respect, protect and fulfil these rights? Because what is missing in the argument is how the dynamic between actors affects existing enforcement mechanisms, for instance the role of prosecutorial independence and prosecutorial accountability.

A prosecutorial organ is in charge of the investigation and prosecution of violation of human rights, which makes this institution a key gatekeeper to the courts, thus the protection and realisation of socio-economic rights. Empowered with prosecutorial discretion, a prosecutorial organ dictates what, when, and whom to prosecute. The institutional design of the prosecutorial organ varies across time and across countries, which raises an important question on the discretion to prosecute (i.e., the more accountable a prosecutorial organ is). On this topic, Veronica Michel argues that the less this discretion is shaped by political pressures (i.e., the more independent the prosecutorial organ is), the more likely we will observe the initiation of prosecutions against state agents. For the case of socio-economic rights, this thesis should be tested even in political contexts that appear to be against the rights-based approach to development.

Future research on socio-economic rights should incorporate the interplay between political economy aspects and the role of prosecutorial organs and prosecutorial discretion, as this is pivotal to our understanding of how and when claims are successful or deceased.

Human Rights

Reworking Postcolonialism

There are not many books dealing with the topic of postcolonialism and human rights, which makes this recent publication particularly interesting. The volume, Reworking Postcolonialism, discusses human rights and postcolonial discourses in the context of globalisation. There are four main themes: (1) Globalisation, Modernities and Other Histories, (2) Globalisation, Labour and Work, (3) Globalisation, Labour and Citizenship, (4) Globalisation, Rights and Citizenship.

Some of the chapters:

As mentioned in the book: both postcolonial and human rights discourses address human suffering in search of justice. But each has its own theorists, archives and spheres of engagement. If human rights imaginaries consider victims, perpetrators, duty bearers and rights holders, postcolonials studies scrutinize the colonizers and the colonized people.

In my view, relating human rights to postcolonial discourses implies, thus, examining at least two things: the asymmetrical power relations, and the collision of global and local spheres.


Human Rights International Law

Transnational Legal Processes and Human Rights

My review on the book Transnational Legal Processes and Human Rights has just been published online by the Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law. Some excerpts from the review:

The volume deals with a wide range of problematics, not only legal and political but also economic and cultural, that occur and emerge at multiple levels. Analysis pertaining to various transnational legal processes provides insights that extend beyond the common caveats of what presumably constitute as differences with regard to human rights implementation and enforcement in developed and developing countries. Such a distinction might be implicitly suggested, as several chapters that deal with the judicial aspect and process of internalization of foreign law use cases from the United States and European countries. Networks and real-life realities, on the other hand, serve more as the common denominator for transnational legal processes of human rights as reflected in the cases on Angola and Pakistan. It should be noted, however, that insights on social and political processes that shape the challenge for judicial enforcement in those areas support the comparative style taken in this volume. Moreover, chapters are structured to reflect on contemporary challenges for and resulting from practicing human rights.

My guess is that it will appear in the first issue of next year.

Anyway, I wish everyone a good end of year celebration and a happy, healthy and prosperous year of 2016.


Fried van Hoof Award

I met Fried van Hoof fifteen years ago. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was around September 2000.

There was an informal drink organised by the School of Law of Utrecht University to welcome LLM students specialising on human rights. I remember he was telling a story about his childhood dream to become a professional soccer player, about his family, about his wife who is also Indonesian like me and jokingly said that he was the only white person in the house. I followed his class on International Human Rights Law and he was my supervisor for both my master and doctoral theses.

He was one of the best teachers I have ever had. Apart from his clarity and understandable explanation, one thing I recall from his style of teaching is that before answering questions posed by students, he often said, “if I understood your question correctly, you were asking….” Being an international student in a new environment, sometimes I got lost in words, so him repeating the question was very helpful for me. That does not mean that his class was easy though. He set high standards for his students. Moreover, Fried was not only my teacher, he also played a major role in my intellectual development. Without a doubt, if it was not because of his endless support I would not have been able to start or finish my doctoral degree. His thorough comments trained me to think critically over my work and to develop original ideas about human rights, development, and Indonesia.

He died on May 18, 2014.

When I attended the Human Rights Integration Conference at Ghent last week, I learned about a new human rights movie award named after him. I was of course excited to hear about this initiative. And it is also very nice that the organiser of the conference made some time to screen it.

This year’s winner is a movie called ‘9999’. It is about mentally ill criminals in Belgium, who are not held responsible for their actions but become separated from society. Their criminal acts range from murder to stabbing fire of a bike. Due to the lack of places in psychiatric hospitals they end up in prison without any possibility for therapy nor end date. Their files mention as date of release: 31/12/9999.

A powerful story.

The award is a powerful way to remember Fried’s legacy.