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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Masterclass with Professor Marti Koskenniemi

'The Politics of Human Rights’




On 14 November 2011, Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki Marti Koskenniemi engaged with five junior members of the School of Human Rights in a ‘Politics of Human Rights’ Masterclass.  Laura Henderson, Ingrid Leijten, Gustavo Arosemena, Robert Weaver and Abel Knottnerus challenged the current Treaty of Utrecht Visiting Professor on five propositions selected from his article ‘The Effects of Rights on Political Culture’. Under the chairmanship of Professor Tom Zwart the afternoon showed an elusive discussion on the foundations of human rights.

It is not every day that law students, scholars or professionals question the footings of their study and practice: what is the meaning of rights? Many might actually feel quite uncomfortable to engage in such discussions.  How to think of a house, when debating its building stones? What is left of human rights, if one starts to challenge the meaning of rights itself? Perhaps partly because of these concerns, many scholars prefer to elaborate on the roof tiles or the colours of the curtains, but not Martii Koskenniemi. While calling jurisprudence a ‘disaster’ and technicalities boring, he brought his attentively listening public back to the foundations of human rights.

Twelve years ago, Koskenniemi had claimed in Alston’s ‘The European Union and Human Rights’ that Ronald Dworkin’s famous thesis of rights as trumps was false. Rights could never be a-historical and universal. However, nobody tended to disagree with his argument. Of course, there is always a gray zone in which politics plays a major role. Would this mean that Koskenniemi shot a dead horse, a building stone which nobody uses anymore? No, because the rights discourse, according Koskenniemi, remains to hold a separate, a relatively absolute position in relation to other legal language: ‘I attack those people that believe that rights are the instrument, the technique to protect the most important values of social goods (..) It is that ‘something’ which makes rights special that I address’. We could describe that ‘something’ as the comfort of living in a house.  

What should we do with the house? We cannot just sleep under the stars, can we? Of course not, all participants of the Masterclass appeared to agree on this.  Acknowledging its politics is not to denounce the importance of human rights. This brings us back to the colour of the curtains. Can we find a way to decide which fabric to take? It was on this question, on the criteria to distinguish between a genuine claim to rights and an improper claim to rights that the discussion evolved.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Breakfast Meeting with Courtenay Griffiths QC


The Netherlands School of Human Rights Research hosted its second breakfast meeting on Monday the 31st of October 2011. In a riveting follow-up to the first guest speaker David Crane, former Prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, Courtenay Griffiths Defence Counsel for Charles Taylor, defended the assertions made in his closing argument that the Taylor Case was politically motivated and that international criminal law a product of political machinations. The breakfast provided a great platform for academic debate and discussion, and interns were 'hanging on the lips' of Mr. Griffiths, who quite eloquently defended his position. 

Future meetings will see the likes of prominent legal scholars, judges, and practioners. It will offer interns a unique and fantastic opportunity to supplement their practical training with sound theoretical legal knowledge and practical advice whilst help keeping them abreast with the latest developments in international criminal law. It also provides excellent networking opportunities, since interns get one on one time with guest speakers.

The meetings are convened by Professor Tom Zwart, who is the Director of the Netherlands School of Human Rights Research, and organised by myself. These informative sessions are held at the Eden Babylon Hotel in The Hague, directly across from the Central Station and are convened on each allocated day from starting at 8.00 am. Breakfast is free of charge so that should be stimulus enough to sign up :-) For more information interns should contact the heads of their respective internship units or if all else fails drop me a mail.

Posted by Ingrid Roestenburg-Morgan