Reframing International Human Rights Regimes

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deburcaMax Weber Lecture

Gráinne de Búrca (New York University)

22 April 2015, 17:00-19:00
Badia, Refettorio



About the Speaker:

Gráinne de Búrca joined NYU law faculty in 2011. Prior to joining NYU, she held tenured posts as professor at Harvard Law School, Fordham Law School, and at the European University Institute in Florence. Before that, she was Fellow of Somerville College and lecturer in law at Oxford University from 1990-1998. She was deputy director of the Center for European and Comparative law at Oxford University, and co-director of the Academy of European Law at the EUI in Florence. She has also been a visiting professor at Columbia Law School, a member of NYU’s Global Law faculty and Straus Inaugural Fellow at NYU.

Her main field of research and expertise is European Union law, and she has written widely on questions of European constitutional law and governance, human rights and discrimination, and international relations.



International human rights regimes – the array of UN human rights treaties and their monitoring mechanisms – have come under attack in recent years from all sides.  Eric Posner says bluntly that “[h]uman rights law has failed … andit ought to be abandoned.”  
Samuel Moyn has advanced a range of critiques, mostly premised on the argument that the regimes have been singularly ineffective, and are doomed to extinction before long.  Even their defenders acknowledge that UN human rights regimes are poorly equipped to handle many of the challenges that confront them.  They are inadequately resourced, lack expertise, and governments ignore their recommendations.  One consistent theme of the many criticisms is that the treaty body regimes have failed because they operate in a determinedly top-down manner.  In Posner’s words: “the human rights movement shares in common with the hubris of development economics the attempt of western institutions to impose top-down solutions on developing countries”.
This lecture suggests a very different reading.  Applying an experimentalist perspective, and drawing on evidence from the actual practice of the UN treaty regimes, I argue that the system is much more dynamic and multi-faceted than its detractors (and often also its defenders) suggest and that, in particular, one of the great strengths of the human rights treaty regimes is precisely that they operate in ways that are not at all top-down. 
By mobilizing multiple actors and bodies at different levels – local, national, regional and transnational, governmental and non-governmental – to give meaning and content to their norms, these multi-level interactive regimes quite often succeed in placing neglected issues on the agenda, and in proposing and devising ways of addressing serious social wrongs.
Video of lecture
Video of Interview of  Grainne De Burca by MW Fellows Cristina Fasone and Toni Marzal-Yetano