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From the Boomerang to the Banyan: The Diffusion of Human Rights Norms Reconsidered Based on Presentations at (1) the Workshops on Religion and Human Rights.

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Presentation on theme: "From the Boomerang to the Banyan: The Diffusion of Human Rights Norms Reconsidered Based on Presentations at (1) the Workshops on Religion and Human Rights."— Presentation transcript:

1 From the Boomerang to the Banyan: The Diffusion of Human Rights Norms Reconsidered Based on Presentations at (1) the Workshops on Religion and Human Rights Pragmatism: Promoting Rights across Cultures, Columbia University, New York, Sept. 24, 2011; (2) Lecture delivered to the Development Roundtable at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC. 13 April 2012; (3) Peace Research Institute, Frankfurt, 3 May 2012, Free University of Berlin, 17 July 2012. Professor Amitav Acharya UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance, American University, Washington, DC.


3 Three Main Objectives To contribute towards a new approach to understanding human rights norm diffusion in the IR scholarship – In IR literature, human rights and norm diffusion closely linked, many scholars straddle both, but – IR theory has lagged behind actual developments in the diffusion of human rights norms – To look beyond the Cold War or early post-Cold War era model of human rights norm diffusion To look beyond the stale ‘universalism versus relativism’ debate in human rights debates and writings To contribute to non-Western IR Theory development: goal here is not to perpetuate an artificial ‘West versus the Rest’ divide, but to bridge it in a way that generalizes as much from the norms and practices of the Rest rather than simply expecting the norms and practices of the West to apply to the Rest

4 In Praise of the Boomerang “Boomerang” and the “Spiral” Models (Keck and Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders, Risse, Ropp and Sikkink, The Power of Human Rights) Boomerang: activists link up with transnational human rights groups and use their influence with their own national governments and international organizations to bring pressure to bear on their domestic oppressors. Spiral: refines and subsumes the boomerang, a follow-up stage- governments initially accept human rights norms for instrumental reasons, but gradually end up internalizing them due to moral pressure and accountability politics.

5 Where are the Natives? – the literature on human rights has privileged the role of transnational actors and “paid far less attention to the local embodiments of human rights norms in the developing world.” (James Ron, U of Minnestoa, “Legitimate or Alien”) – Although in the Boomerang model local groups initiate “the process, their location, obscure language, and marginality have limited scholarly inquiry.” (Ron “Legitimate or Alien”). – Originally developed within specific context of US- Latin America relations – Popularity in immediate post-Cold War milieu, a period of ‘end of history’.

6 Changing Normative Environment 9/11 has diminished the moral prestige and leverage of “Western Powers”, especially the US, for the Boomerangs to travel effectively. The rise of the Rest has accelerated since the 1990s. Western leverage on human rights issues may be diminishing in view of the growing voice of emerging powers. Democratization in non-western societies (Indonesia) means local actors there have less rationale and need for foreign support. The role of social media empowers local actors and permits a more horizontal mobilization among domestic activists than ever before, hence there is less need for information boomerangs that travel internationally. Need for revisiting the universalism/relativism debate

7 Revisiting the Universalism/Relativism Debate whose universalism? Narrow concept of human rights: “Islamic, Confucian, and African societies did not in fact develop significant bodies of human rights ideas or practices prior to the twentieth century.” Donnelley) Human rights are “equal and inalienable entitlements of all individuals that may be exercised against the state and society”, (Jack Donnelley, The Relative Universality of Human Rights,” p.284)

8 Other Human Rights Traditions “The idea of human rights as an entitlement of every human being, with an unqualified universal scope and highly articulated structure, is really a recent development; in this demanding form it is not an ancient idea either in the West or elsewhere. But there are limited and qualified defenses of freedom and tolerance, and general arguments against censorship, that can be found both in ancient traditions in the West and in cultures of non-Western societies.” Amartya Sen,

9 Relativism of Western Universalism the so-called universalism is actually a major example of relativism of sorts. By arguing that the valuing of toleration of personal liberty, and of civil rights is a particular contribution of Western civilization, Western advocates of these rights often give ammunition to the non-Western critics of human rights. The advocacy of an allegedly "alien” idea in non- Western societies can indeed look like cultural imperialism sponsored by the West.” Amartya Sen

10 Ancient Human Rights? Ashoka and Kalinga in 261-250 BC India You must attend to this matter. While being completely law-abiding, some people are imprisoned, treated harshly and even killed without cause so that many people suffer. Therefore your aim should be to act with impartiality…See that you do your duty properly… the judicial officers of the city may strive to do their duty and that the people under them might not suffer unjust imprisonment or harsh treatment. To achieve this, I will send out Mahamatras every five years who are not harsh or cruel, but who are merciful and who can ascertain if the judicial officers have understood my purpose and are acting according to my instructions…When these Mahamatras go on tours of inspection each year, then without neglecting their normal duties, they will ascertain if judicial officers are acting according to the king's instructions. (Instructions to judicial officers, Emperor Ashoka, Kalinga Edict, Around 250 BC) This is not entitlement, but embodies the idea of protection. Laws of Manu has more legal flavour.

11 Alternative Universalism “In the Enlightenment meaning universal meant true for all time and space – the perspective of a homogenous reality.” Rejecting this, Cox advanced an alternative understanding of universality that would mean “comprehending and respecting diversity in an ever changing world”. Myself- go a step beyond and add another dimension: the agency of diverse local actors in constructing global human rights order.

12 ‘Localization’ and ‘Subsidiarity’ Whose Ideas Matter? Agency and Power in Asian Regionalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009). “How Ideas Spread: Whose Norms Matter? Norm Localization and Institutional Change in Asian Regionalism”, International Organization, vol. 58, no.2 (Spring 2004), pp. 239-275. “Norm Subsidiarity and Regional Orders: Sovereignty, Regionalism and Rule Making in the Third World,” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 55 (2011), pp. 95–123.

13 L-S Framework Norm localization is “the active construction (through discourse, framing, grafting, and cultural selection) of foreign ideas by local actors, which results in the former developing significant congruence with local beliefs and practices.” Acharya, 2004, p.245 Norm subsidiarity is “a process whereby local actors create rules with a view to preserve their autonomy from dominance, neglect, violation, or abuse by more powerful central actors.” Acharya, 2011, p.97

14 Localization

15 Subsidiarity

16 L-S Framework (Key Points) Both interrogate the universalistic claims of ideas and norms or at least recognize that many of the ideas and norms that are supposedly universal are essentially Western and display a Western bias. They call for tempering, if not rejecting, the moral cosmopolitanism of constructivist approaches to norm diffusion, whereby good global norms are implicitly seen as western, and bad local practices non-Western. They recognize that many local beliefs and practices have a robust legitimacy and functionality which should be recognized and universalized.

17 L-S Framework (Key Points) The agency of local actors, ‘insider proponents’ The need to build congruence between local norms (cognitive priors) and outside norms Preserve and amplify, rather than supplant, an existing identity Non-adversarial- ‘Shaming’ may not be as effective as ‘saving face’ Subsidiarity stresses local norm creation and its universalization, including from regional to global and on a region-to-region basis Recognize that normative change in most cases is evolutionary, not a one-step transformation

18 An Alternative Metaphor The “early and most influential qualitative studies [on the spread of human rights] may have been mistakenly generalized from the Latin American and Eastern European experience”, and thus research based on these frameworks on “Africa, Asia, or the Middle East may be barking up the wrong theoretical tree.” Emily Haftner Burton and James Ron So what is the right theoretical tree?

19 What is This?

20 What is the Banyan? “Indian fig tree, Ficus bengalensis, whose branches root themselves like new trees over a large area. The roots then give rise to more trunks and branches. Because of this characteristic and its longevity, this tree is considered immortal and is an integral part of the myths and legends of India. Even today, the banyan tree is the focal point of village life and the village council meets under the shade of this tree. ( “As it grows, the banyan tree produces aerial roots that hang down and take root wherever they touch the ground. These thick roots actually make the tree appear to have several trunks.” Nikki Phipps, “Growing a Banyan Tree”. shrubs/growing-a-banyan-tree.htm

21 Banyan Found in many parts of the world Shady, resting point for travelers (local-outside interaction) Resilient (rarely cut down) Cultural symbol (festivals, ceremonies, worships) Social institution (gathering place of diverse communities, dispute settlement, consensus-making) Large canopy spread out in all directions represents universal nature of human rights Aerial roots hanging down from the branches and taking root illustrates localization (top-down) Roots taking hold and supporting the branches and canopy illustrates subsidiarity (bottom up) Overall: an inclusive, two-way process

22 Human Rights Approach An inclusive, rather than adversarial approach. Consultations dialogue A broader view of human rights(a large canopy for the evolving international human rights regime. A Banyan has multiple roots, which collectively support the tree.) Governments consult domestic and regional groups. Contestations occur, but generally, not fatal. Local (domestic, regional) ownership and entrepreneurship. Insider proponents. (A Banyan Tree shelters outside travelers, but they are guests not actors, they bring in new ideas, and new incentives, but it is the locals who buy and use them.) Regional mechanisms are important. Sikkink (Justice Cascade, 251), argues that regions matter. Regions are early adopters and sites of horizontal diffusion.

23 The Banyan Approach to Human Rights Diffusion Appeal to cognitive priors. Symbolic politics (Banyan as a cultural symbol and social institution) rather than sanctions in order to propagate human rights norms and help to localize and diffuse norms. South Korea-former presidents were persecuted but with an eye to the honor of their families. (Sikkink,281) Bolivia- traditional conceptions of community justice had to be “reconciled with ideas of human rights.” (Goldstein, p.7) Dialogue: the village council meeting under the Banyan metaphor. Debate, consensus-building, dispute settlement. Congruence-building is like the root trunks taking off from the Banyan. Even if norms are accepted, negotiation over their meaning and implementation and improvement may continue. Not an one-step, but evolutionary process.

24 Southeast Asia The ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) 2009 - More of the Spiral Model. (No protection mandate, created to deflect international pressure) The ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) 2010 – exemplifies the Banyan Model. – It takes broad view of human rights, creates local stakeholders and ‘insider proponents’ – Acts a s bridge between governments and civil society (members drawn both government agencies and rights groups) – Mandate includes promotion and protection

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