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The Future of Human Rights: From Gatekeeping to Symbiosis

| October 25, 2014

The international human rights movement faces a context of uncertainty due to: (i) the rise of a multipolar world with new emerging powers, (ii) the emergence of new actors and legal and political strategies, (iii) the challenges and opportunities presented by information and communication technologies, as well as (iv) the threat posed by extreme environmental degradation.


The author first reviews the critical literature on human rights, highlighting how these transformations are unsettling prevailing structures and practices in the human rights field such as: the hierarchical nature of traditional human rights discourse and movement, asymmetry between North and South organisations, over-legalisation of human rights language, and the lack of concrete assessments of human rights outcomes. The author identifies two responses to these critiques among human rights practitioners: denial that defends traditional boundaries and gatekeepers, on one hand, and reflexive reconstruction that reimagines practices and boundaries to generate productive symbiosis among diverse human rights actors, on the other. Overall, the author favours the latter approach, arguing that human rights practitioners should strive to create a human rights ecosystem. This approach seeks strengthen the collective capacity of the human rights movement by harnessing its diversity. Thus, a human rights ecosystem prioritizes collaboration and symbiosis with a much more varied range of actors and issues coupled with more decentralised and network-based forms of collaboration than that of previous decades.

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