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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)




The Centre of Governance and Human Rights is hosting a Doctoral Triangle Research Workshop along with Human Rights centres based at the Universities of Essex and LSE. 

This one-day conference is the fifth in a series for students working within the broad interdisciplinary field of human rights. This conference aims to stimulate research on contemporary human rights issues, challenges, critiques and policies from a variety of perspectives. We are interested in interdisciplinary research and debate and include papers from several disciplines including Sociology, Anthropology, Law, Politics and International Studies, Philosophy, Economics, Peace and Conflict Studies, Development Studies and History.

The conference aims to enable an environment that allows student participants to present work to peers and academics, providing an opportunity for supportive, critical and informed feedback and for developing new and intellectually innovative exchanges and ways of thinking about contemporary human rights from an interdisciplinary perspective. 

2021 Doctoral Triangle Participants and Presentation

Zeina Al Azmeh: ‘The right to meaning: A Syrian case study'

This paper argues that the discursive trajectory of the Syrian democratisation movement of 2011 is marked by a shift towards a persecuted and racialised collective identity shaped by a perception of international indifference towards, sometimes complicity in, human rights abuses within the country. It contends that a belief in international protection of the regime in Damascus, as articulated by exiled intellectuals and activists, was understood as a sign that Syrians are among the peoples excluded from human rights discourse and condemned to an existence of ‘bare life’. The paper draws on an empirical examination of the shifts in the movement’s cognitive praxis as captured by its intellectuals in exile. It argues that this praxis started with a discourse of hope, agency and unquestioned belonging to a world of possibilities and potentialities where New Social Movements can thrive. Gradually, this outlook was replaced by one of helplessness and exclusion. In tracing this discursive shift, the paper is anchored on a meta-analysis of ‘meaning’ as a philosophical construct. In other words, it explores the meanings of ‘meaning’ among Syrian intellectuals in relation to four distinct but intertwined domains: linguistic meaning, existential meaning, meaning-as-significance and meaning as essence.


Tom Boekestein: ‘Preserving rights and values: The essence of rights and rule of law-backsliding in the EU’

Human rights are universal, but not absolute. In EU law, this premise has applied to fundamental rights since they were introduced by the Court of Justice. Rights may be limited in pursuit of competing interests; The greater these interests are, the greater the limitations may be. However, there are limits to these limitations. In EU law, the concept of essence suggests that rights have a hard core that cannot be interfered with; An absolute minimum that ensures that the right does not become meaningless. But how is this minimum defined by the Court of Justice? This is not a purely theoretical question: The essence of rights has featured prominently in the enforcement of the EU’s common founding values against Member States that undermine them. Against this background, this paper examines how the essence of rights is understood by the CJEU and what its implications are for the EU legal order.

Jinal Dadiya: ‘Using structural human rights indicators to support policy development’

Recent years have seen a rise in the importance of measuring states’ implementation of human rights through indicators. This is especially significant for social, economic, and cultural rights recognized by the ICESCR. The OHCHR recommends development of structural, process, and outcome indicators to examine states’ steps towards rights realization. In the last decade, there has been a move from narrative, expert-based evaluation towards quantitative indicators and benchmarks. While statistical and fact-based measures are useful measurement tools, I argue that overemphasis on quantitative frameworks negatively effects the educational purpose of the indicators approach, especially that of structural indicators. I develop a conceptual framework of structural indicators to claim that they support policy development more directly than other categories of indicators. In view of this, I recommend an alternative approach towards structural indicators. Since they comprise of legal frameworks, I also consider the import of legal analysis in working with structural indicators.

Agnes Harriet Lindberg: ‘Individual rights and climate change’

In this paper, I am investigating the current trend of using human rights to address climate change. The Dutch Urgenda case is a prominent example of recent litigation where this strategy has succeeded. Far more cases have, however, not gained similar success. When analysing the litigation, this paper shows that courts are pondering a central question in rights theory, namely the distinction between rights and common good. The paper will argue that most of the courts follow Joseph Raz’ concept of rights, where the interest at stake is separable/excludable for each rights-holder. As climate change is a global phenomenon, cases are regarded as inadmissible. When courts have admitted the case, the right at stake has been a protection of a common good in Raz’s sense (right to environment). The paper will argue that Urgenda is an anomaly in this trend, as it does not engage in this debate.

Cristina Blanco: ‘The empire of rubber: A peripheral story of international law’

The "rubber boom" is an episode of particular relevance for understanding the civilising mission's interconnectedness with colonial capitalism and trade in the early 20th century. There is probably no other period in Amazon's history that more viciously reflects their perverse interactions, that led to the enslavement of 30 thousand indigenous persons for rubber extraction in the Putumayo region. The Peruvian Amazon Company, a London-based company, was the main protagonist of these practices. Although there are several accounts on the "Putumayo atrocities", little attention has been put to IL's role and its implications for the history of the field more broadly. This research examines two aspects. First, how did IL contribute to providing the conditions for commercialising this product through the Amazon rivers? This question is answered analysing the consolidation of the principle of free navigation and trade by the Amazonian states, which was later claimed as a natural right by the leading rubber exporters (GB /US). Second, it explores the narratives of the States involved in the abuses to illustrate the paradoxes of GB's civilisation discourse and how it was echoed by Peruvian agents in the articulation of the company's defence. The proposal is part of a study that seeks to explore, from a genealogical approach, the role of IL in the Peruvian Amazon region and the continuities of historic structures.

Busra Gulsah Gokce: ‘A comparative analysis of Islamic mediation for family justice in turkey: Shari’a councils in England case study’

Mediation allows the parties to resolve disputes in a short time at a very low cost. However, if the parties cannot reach an agreement despite all the efforts of the mediators, there is no decision that resolves the dispute and has a binding effect. This deficiency can be completed with the arbitration that will start after the mediator. In this way, the parties will both benefit from the opportunity of reconciliation provided by the mediation, and in the absence of a settlement, the dispute will be concluded through arbitration in a binding manner. Therefore, this study recommends considering the advanced mediation-arbitration institution in Islamic family law for reaching family justice to Turkey. This model as being more appropriate to the family structure in Turkey as well, the divorce rate in Turkey in the fight against the significant growth experienced in recent years shows it would be much more effective.

Samanmali Kumari Alujjage Don: ‘Menstruation, menstrual taboos and associated boundaries among Sri Lankan women’

Menstruation is a silent and taboo topic in Sri Lankan society. Women are supposed to manage menstruation according to religious norms, these into practice through cultural rituals.  These religious norms are usually associated with gender norms, and the norms, as well as the ritual practices, are spread through informal knowledge between generations. The nature of these practices is such that they bring social stigma and body shame for women. Furthermore, due to a lack of explicit instruction, menstruation becomes a mysterious phenomenon for young girls. Although education and health channels (formally) and adults in general (informally) are supposed to provide the knowledge to handle menstruation, in practice/in actual fact they seem less interested in disseminating information on this body function unique to the female body.  This has severe effects on women's human right to equal access to health, education, and hygiene management facilities. This paper explores how women's rights have been affected by social norms and cultural values in the Sri Lankan context articulate different aspects of menstrual management practices within Sri Lanka through a literature review.

Rachel Bosler: ‘”Why can’t everyone have a home?”: How differential grievability can shed light on the UK’s housing crisis’

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, housing in the UK was a privilege rather than a right with skyrocketing rates of homelessness and diminishing social housing availability. Yet the pandemic demonstrated that eradicating homelessness is possible and is a political choice. I seek to understand the UK housing crisis by building on Judith Butler’s work on ‘differential grievability’, which illustrates how certain bodies and lives ‘matter’ more than others and focuses on the life and death consequences of ‘mattering’ less. Therefore, I will first outline how differential grievability functions as a logic essential to the continuance of neoliberal hegemony before moving to consider ‘common sense’ narratives surrounding housing (such as aspiration, gentrification/’regeneration’, and social cleansing) and examine their role in constituting and reconstituting normativity and social value. Overall, I aim to understand how the UK’s failure to respect the right to housing is justified and aim to destabilize this profound injustice.

Damla Gundogdu: ‘Rethinking voluntary repatriation in international law: The global compact on refugees’

In the 21st century, particularly, as a result of the increasing number of the armed conflict and violation of basic human rights in several states, the current rate of displacement is the highest level of all time and usually it forms a large-scale and prolonged situation compared to before. Under this situation, voluntary repatriation remains the most desirable and useful solution as a result of right to return that is one of the basic human rights. However, there is no internationally specific convention about voluntary repatriation and substantive customs directly related to voluntary repatriation, although it does not mean that there is no international legal standard regulating voluntary repatriation. Given that, the Global Compact on Refugees provides an opportunity in various aspects for the improvement of voluntary repatriation to reach a durable solution for refugees taking into account the current international resources and requirements of refugee crisis in the 21stcentury.

Susan Stallabrass: ‘The Social Gradient in Health and Minimum Core Obligations in the Right to Health’

The social gradient in health presents challenges to the right to health, particularly in respect to minimum core obligations. The social gradient depicts inequalities in health as an incremental increase in positive health outcomes between the poorest in society and the wealthiest. It suggests that action targeted to improve conditions for the poor simply raises the gradient between rich and poor rather than ‘levelling up’ those in poverty. Issues of wealth and redistribution, the needs of the ‘ignored middle’, and the structural factors implicated in the unequal distribution of social determinants of health, all need to be addressed. This paper presents an analysis of the thematic and mission reports of the Special Rapporteurs for the right to health to identify to what extent and in what ways they address the social gradient and whether this holds any implications for minimum core obligations in the right to health.

Miracle Chinwenmeri Uche: ‘Victim-oriented amendment of the International Criminal Court’s complementarity legal framework, a means to fostering victim-oriented justice’

The International Criminal Court (ICC) and States Parties work together through the principle of complementarity to end impunity for international crimes. Luke Moffett argues that a human right’s reading of the ICC’s mandate extends beyond ending impunity to delivering justice to victims. The principle of complementarity was designed to manage this system, and through the admissibility procedure, the ICC makes a determination to exercise its jurisdiction or defer to States whose primary responsibility it is to address such crimes.

Admissibility is rooted in Article 17, and it examines States’ ability and willingness to investigate and prosecute international crimes. It is however perpetrator-centric, as it considers ability purely from a prosecutorial perspective, thereby excludes a consideration of States’ ability to deliver procedural and substantive justice to victims as a determinant factor of inadmissibility. This paper proposes a victim-oriented amendment to the complementarity legal framework, as a means to achieving victim-oriented justice.

Ronit Matar: ‘Pretty v UK and the right to individual self-determination: Personhood, harm and (missed) opportunities for change’

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Pretty v UK was issued almost 20 years ago and marks the first time that self-determination was enunciated in relation to individual rights in international human rights law adjudication. Suffering from a terminal illness that has left her paraplegic from the neck down, Mrs. Pretty was unable to take her own life without the assistance of her husband and brought her case before the ECtHR. In this paper I want to explore self-determination as articulated by the Court and as expressed by Mrs. Pretty herself in order to demonstrate the relationship between the hegemonic narrow framing of the human legal subject and the right to individual self-determination. I thus argue that while the ECtHR has incorporated self-determination to its jurisprudence, it has failed to articulate its substantive protection and to fully give effect to its egalitarian, relational, dynamic, and disruptive nature.

Manuel Pérez Aguirre: ‘Why do non-state Actors disappear people? An explanation from the Mexican ‘war against organised crime’

Studies on violence against civilians by Non-State Actors have focused on more visible crimes, like killings or massacres. However, the logic behind disappearances remains unclear. Why do criminals disappear people? This manuscript test if disappearances follow a traditional logic of criminal violence, where criminal conflicts increase them, or criminals use a logic of occupation when they used disappearances, with inverse effects. Furthermore, it investigates the role of political power on disappearances by criminal NSA, in relation to qualitative research on the visibility of violence. This paper uses data of Mexican disappearances from 2006 to 2016, framing most of the years of the ‘war against organised crime’. It shows that political competition is more critical to disappearances than the criminal competition, although this crime shares similarities with other types of criminal violence.

Alexandra Carina Grolimund: ‘Criminalizing consensual injury: deconstructing sexual consent in the legacy of the Spanner trials’

This historico-cultural and socio-legal study considers the relationship between consensual bodily injury and cultural morality, relating to human rights discourse and activism. It examines how one case study in particular – the fallout of the Operation Spanner case and consequential limitations on sexual expression – exemplifies and sheds light on the role of activism within and around BDSM culture. Given the recent resurrection of R v Brown’s framework as it was applied to the recent R v M (B) case, how might civil society reaction against the negative outcome of the case for individual rights be reincarnated, engaging both political and legal discussion? By examining, via oral histories and archival materials, the activist efforts of the Spanner Trust and its allies during the trials, the research offers an opportunity to understand the perceptions, beliefs and motivations of key participants in their fight for rights and recognition of sexual freedom.

Yang Yun Jung: ‘External support and child soldiering by rebel groups’

When rebel groups recruit more children if they have external support? Existing research on child soldiering has largely neglected whether external supporter affect decision of child soldiering by rebel groups. I develop an explanation of child soldiering and its relationship with external support by dividing the types of sponsor and kinds of support that rebel groups receive. I argue when rebel groups receive support as establishing alliance and get support from external rebel groups, they are more likely to recruit children. To test my expectation, I utilise dataset introduced by Haer, Faulkner and Whitaker (2019). I combined data named UCDP External Support Project – Primary Warring Party Dataset (Högbladh et al. 2011). This research has crucial implications for our understanding of the relationship between rebel groups’ engagement in human rights violations and supporting from external actors.

Olivia Nantermoz: ‘Rewriting histories of anti-impunity through the erasure of economic, social and cultural rights’

This paper investigates the historical emergence and propagation of the ‘anti-impunity’ norm in global political and legal discourses, tracing its political contestation and mutation(s) over time. I argue that contemporary international justice institutions suffer from a form of historical amnesia concerning the early application of anti-impunity for violations of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR). Indeed, the paper focuses on a largely forgotten moment in the 1990s, when Special Rapporteur El-Hadji Guissé drew attention to the link between human rights violations and the legacies of colonialism, apartheid and economic inequities. The erasure of these debates about ESCR in the contemporary anti-impunity agenda has depoliticised many of the sources of human rights violations and international crimes in the present, limiting the capacity of international justice institutions to address the root causes of violence and instability and concealing the relationship between systemic forms of violence and ‘core’ international crimes.

Belinda John-Baptiste: ‘Learning to deviate race at primary school’

This paper draws on observations and interviews with 5-year-old to 8-year-old pupils during my full-time two-year ethnography in two London primary schools.

I argue that efforts to understand where young children encounter and negotiate racialised discourses of deviance overlook an essential site – the primary school. Despite widespread belief in the “sincere fictions” which characterise young children as “colourblind” racial blank slates (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001, p.155), young children interpret, (re)shape and (re)produce racialised discourses of wrong-doing and racialised discourses of “good” behaviour at an early age. I suggest that primary school can be a key source of these discourses, with messages about bad brown children and good white children being regularly transmitted to pupils in these learning environments. I examine the implications of these messages, particularly the lessons young children can take away about racial disadvantage and privilege – both their own and that of others.

Nader Andrawos: ‘"The right to have rights" as a philosophy of right’

In this paper I will explore common readings of Arendt's famous chapter on "The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man," in which she introduces her concept of "the right to have rights." I argue that Arendt's reflections allude to an alternative philosophy of citizenship that can be mobilised as a critique of the "humanitarian reason" that bedevils much human rights discourses today. I critique multiple readings of Arendt which suggest that she is a conservative, anti-radical thinker. And I show how her philosophy of right provoked rich reformulations of human rights in contemporary political theory, via thinkers such as Claude Lefort, Jacques Rancière, Etienne Balibar and Seyla Benhabib. In the end, I propose that human-rights scholarship needs to take seriously the challenge of thinking a global, substantive citizenship that Arendt prefigures and fails to fully articulate.

Jacob Lypp: ‘Crafting role models worthy of emulation: Human rights and ethical personhood in German civic education’

A large critical literature emphasises the material and epistemic power relations structuring the transposition of ostensibly universal human rights language to specific contexts, highlighting the central role of activist intermediaries in this process. Yet the constitution of this figure remains underexamined: What is required to become a (recognised) intermediary brokering between a setting stylised as 'particular' and a discursive-political realm of 'universal' human rights? I analyse the production of intermediaries through an ethnographic account of German civic educational training seminars. Here, budding educators - especially those from racial and religious minorities - are trained as emissaries bringing human rights to particular, 'diverse' cultural contexts. Their work of intermediation consists in serving as role models worthy of emulation for their own communities. This implicates educators' full personhood and requires cultivating a certain ethical self - an observation reinforcing arguments about the influence of (Christian) personalism on the post-1945 human rights regime.

Özgün Aksakal: ‘Political Cosmologies of Violence: The Case of the 2021 Boğaziçi University Protests’

The persistent culture of violence against difference and dissent remains a key challenge within the longstanding human rights crisis in Turkey. The widespread state and far-right violence targeting the 2021 Boğaziçi University Protests, occurring against the anti-democratic appointment of a ‘trustee’ rector by presidential decree, represents a significant contemporary case in exploring how violence against difference and dissent becomes a meaningful and legitimate action in everyday politics. To understand how violence is readily justified against those defending academic freedom and autonomy under an authoritarian regime, I propose to explore the role of dominant far-right political cosmologies by analysing the state and far-right movement discourses via a digital ethnography of the Boğaziçi Protests. I will discuss how by allegations of terrorism and hate speech towards non-conforming identities and forms of political expression, such cosmologies render the Others of the so-called authentic nation as ‘the enemies within’ to legitimize atrocities.

Mattia Pinto: ‘Punishing torture through human rights: The paradox of rights-based penal discourses’

We tend to think of human rights law as a barrier against an uncontrolled expansion of penality and a driver of the progressive elimination of morally shocking penal means, including torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. However, human rights also trigger punitive responses. As much as they reject torture as an instrument of criminal procedure, they require criminal liability and severe penalties when the prohibition of torture is breached. Drawing on the findings of Discourse Analysis on over 120 texts about torture, this article explores how contemporary legal and political discourses construct the relationship between human rights and penality. It is shown how anti-torture discourses tend to link human rights to criminalisation and punishment, seen as necessary components of their effectiveness. This way, debates around torture contribute to strengthening and legitimising the very same actors and institutions (military, police, prison) that make torture possible in the first place.