The future of human rights

Photo:Shutterstock/Donatas Dabravolskas (All rights reserved)

Photo: EFE/EPA/PHILIPP GUELLAND.

Protesters at in Bonn, Germany. November 2017.

Perhaps there has never been so much debate about the future of human rights. As I’ve explained elsewhere on OpenGlobalRights (OGR), the reason for this is that the movement is in a mment of uncertainty and transition (not “crisis” or “endtimes”), given rapid and simultaneous changes in context and strategies for doing human rights work.  There many new human rights groups and issues, and longer-term shifts in geopolitics and technology are creating both new challenges and opportunities for human rights. Illiberal democracies and populist governments are proliferating, prompting human rights actors to respond and innovate.

Given the rapid pace of these concurrent changes, it has become increasingly difficult for analysts and practitioners to orient themselves in the field and anticipate future trajectories. Those who have not embraced the “crisis” perspective often find themselves on the defensive and double down on the traditional forms of human rights advocacy. 

On this new section of OGR, I will engage the ongoing debates about the future and delve into promising innovations in human rights thought and practice that address the aforementioned challenges. One of the core themes I’ll grapple with the need for human rights actors to learn from how other fields, such as journalism, have adapted to and seized new opportunities. Against the dominance of legal knowledge in human rights debates, I will borrow freely from other disciplines that have traditionally received scant attention in the field, including: cognitive biology, social psychology, artificial intelligence, and the science of cooperation.

Given that my approach to human rights work is “amphibious” in that it combines research and practice, I will write from my sites of fieldwork, teaching and advocacy in different parts of the world, both in the global South and the global North. Content for my entries will vary widely, including academic exchanges, experiences in advocacy and litigation, fieldwork notes, conversations and interviews, always in search for ideas and insights into the future of human rights.

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