Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Nordic Journal of Human Rights
For a Special Issue on
The future of human rights
25 June 2021
07 October 2021
Special Issue Editor(s)
Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo
Johan Karlsson Schaffer,
School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
Faculty of Social Studies, VID Specialized University
The future of human rights
Human rights seem to be at a crossroads and are subjected to harsh criticism quite often. According to some scholars, the idea of human rights has failed to deliver on its radical promise of emancipation. Since its inception in the aftermath of World War II, the international human rights system has evolved through a number of successive phases and, arguably, we are now in the middle of a new stage of rethinking and development. In his landmark 2005 report, In Larger Freedom, the late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan identified several human rights challenges, including poverty and global inequities, discrimination, armed conflict and violence, impunity, democracy deficits, and weak institutions. More than 15 years later those major challenges still hold true. The so-called liberal international order seems threatened by waves of populism and authoritarianism. Global warming and the pollution of the environment pose major challenges to life on our planet.
For the 40th anniversary of the Nordic Journal of Human Rights – a leading forum for interdisciplinary exchanges on human rights in the Nordic region and beyond – we invite papers that provide insights on the future development of human rights. Looking back at the past 40 years, it is evident that human rights – as a legal, political and social practice – have experienced significant achievements and successes, some notable setbacks and failures, and a number of unprecedented and unforeseen events and developments. Likewise, the academic study of human rights has matured and become increasingly specialized. Yet, rather than retrospectively summarizing these 40 years, we wish to use the occasion to invite scholars and practitioners to prospectively conjecture about what the coming decades may hold for human rights, to discern where current trends are likely to lead, and to make sense of the future they herald. Speculating about the future, let alone predicting it, is a daunting task for academic researchers and practitioners alike.
We call for papers that are theoretically informed, empirically grounded and methodologically rigorous in their ambitions to advance not only the academic study of human rights, but also its relevance to reflective practice in the real-world (Corley and Gioia, 2011). Expectedly, these papers will set agendas and advance new potential lines of inquiry. True to the multi-disciplinary approach of both the journal and the subject of human rights, we welcome contributions from different disciplines, including but not limited to international law, political science, sociology, history, philosophy, and anthropology.
- A new climate: How will climate change, and strategies for mitigation and adaptation, influence human rights? What is the role of different actors in this process? What about international and domestic courts and their use of human rights in climate change litigation?
- New regimes: What does the current rise of authoritarian populism around the world entail for the future of human rights? There seems to be a democratic decline and the global trend of democratization has stalled. States that have experienced setbacks in terms of democracy and the rule of law include not only those that have had recurring problems, but also the US and few other Western countries. While liberal-democratic States have been promoting human rights in their foreign policies since the 1970s, some of them seem to have been backtracking on certain topics. State positions on assessing human rights situations elsewhere have been subject to significant criticism on account of double standards and political considerations and preferences. Given that States bear the key responsibility for the protection and promotion of human rights, how are such trends likely to shape the future of human rights?
- New world order(s): The end of the Cold War paved the way for a major breakthrough for human rights, e.g. with new instruments and expanding state commitments, but also for new forms of mass violations of human rights. If the liberal hegemony that triumphed with the end of the Cold War is now being undermined, what role will there be for human rights in an emerging ‘multiplex’ (Acharya, 2017) world order?
- New institutions: In recent years, the institutional machinery of the international human rights system has been strained. In part, UN treaty bodies and regional human rights mechanisms have become victims of their own success, with some human rights courts struggling with docket overload. But, they also increasingly face direct challenges from the States whose human rights record they are monitoring. Challenges range from outright backlash from authoritarian governments denouncing regional human rights courts to pushback from governments that at least nominally commit to international human rights norms (Madsen et al., 2018; Schaffer et al., 2013).
- New actors: International human rights law has contributed to expanding both the subjects and the objects of international law beyond States. Individual persons as both rights holders and duty bearers, corporate social responsibility, non-State actors participating in monitoring, implementation, litigation. Defying their non-existence as subjects of international law, cities are increasingly engaging with international human rights law (Oomen and Baumgärtel, 2018). How is the line-up of actors involved in human rights likely to develop in the future? What are the pros and cons of this expansion of subjects and objects?
- New technologies: Advances in science and technology usually entail both opportunities and threats for human rights. The internet has provided billions of people with new channels for keeping themselves informed, for mobilization and monitoring of human rights abuses, but also enabled new forms of surveillance, control, disinformation and destabilization. Artificial intelligence and machine learning provide new venues for furthering human rights, but the rule of algorithms can also entail new forms of discrimination. If algorithms and deep learning create discriminatory situations, who can be held liable for human rights violations? Advances in medicine and genetic modification have brought new possibilities, but also entail new threats to privacy and ethical challenges. How can human rights considerations be taken into account and guide the work on these new emerging fields and technologies?
- Sustainable development: The Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030 have set an ambitious agenda for improving life conditions across many areas. Since 2000, one billion individuals have been lifted out of absolute poverty. For large and increasing parts of the world’s population, problems that once seemed perennial like famine and diseases today seem like a thing of the past. Yet the pandemic has also shown how such progress cannot be taken for granted. What steps are necessary to ensure that economic development is sustainable and benefits those most in need? How can human rights be relevant in the development agendas pursued by countries, regional and international organizations, and international financial institutions?
- New (armed) conflicts: Despite a decrease in the number of casualties and persons losing their lives during armed conflicts, about 30 years after the end of the Cold War there are many ongoing international and non-international armed conflicts. Data about armed conflict show that we have some 20 theatres of conflict with massive impacts on people, livelihood systems, neighboring countries and the international community. About 60 States, almost a third of the UN member States, are involved in these conflicts either directly or indirectly. The ICRC President, Peter Maurer, has noted several worrying trends, including protracted armed conflicts; more conflicts fought in densely populated urban areas; root causes of violence being unclear and difficult to address; armed actors being more numerous, more radical but also less political and less structured; wars often involving partners, allies and coalitions – leading to a dilution of responsibility, fragmentation of chains of command and an unchecked flow of weapons; and the challenges of new military technologies (Peter Maurer address, 2018). What is the role of human rights in early warning and prevention of mass atrocity crimes and in ending these armed conflicts? How can human rights be harnessed in peace negotiations, peace-building measures, and transitional justice efforts?
- New issues: The law and practice of human rights has been able to expand its topical focus by successively addressing new issues. The prohibition of torture, women’s and children’s rights emerged on the agenda in the 1970s and 1980s. The rights of indigenous peoples, disability and LGBTQ rights have gained prominence since the 1990s. There are more recent developments regarding international migrants and refugee law, intersectional, or environmental issues. Finally, there is increased attention concerning the decolonization process, crimes committed during that period, and reparations for historical injustices. Are new issues likely to appear on the human rights agenda, and if so, how will they affect the law and practice of human rights? What are the consequences of the expanding scope of international human rights – as law, as politics, and as a social practice?
- Papers could be either in the form of regular papers submitted to the NJHR (8-10,000 words maximum), or shorter entries, that is between 5-6,000 words, covering current developments or specific trends.
- All papers will be subject to double-blind peer review.
- In case we get more proposals than we can actually accept, we will consider having two anniversary special issues, or invite the authors whose papers were not selected to submit their contributions anyway for ordinary publication in the journal.
- We wish to ensure pluralism in terms of:
- Disciplines and methodologies;
- Topics and themes;
- Scholars, legal practitioners, human rights professionals and human rights defenders;
- Global regions; and
- Submit a short abstract (350-500 words) and short CV/bio (150 words): 25 June 2021
- Selection of abstracts: 30 June 2021
- Submission of full papers for peer-review: between 30 September – 7 October 2021
- Publication: expected March-April 2022
Please visit this website to submit your abstracts: https://www.jus.uio.no/smr/english/research/current-affairs/the-future-of-human-rights.html
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