Global downturn in civil and political rights – key implications


There is a downturn in civil and political rights in many of the world’s largest and most geopolitically significant countries, especially Russia, China, and Turkey, but also other countries such as Venezuela, argues Ingrid Wuerth, a Professor at Vanderbilt Law School. These developments have four broad implications, she writes for Lawfare:

  • First, the slide toward authoritarianism in Turkey and Russia calls into question the success of the European Convention and Court of Human Rights for countries that lack close cultural and economic ties as well as a shared overall foreign policy agenda.  The point is not so much about specific conflicts between the Court and these two countries – although there are certainly those.  ….  The point is more that preventing states from sliding into authoritarianism – and thereby ensuring “greater unity” and “peace” within Europe — was precisely what the more ambitious understanding of Europe and European human rights institutions were about.  … 
  • Second, developments in all three countries are also part of a broader downturn in democracy around the world.  The decline in democracy undercuts – at least as descriptive matter — the purported “human right to democracy” in international law.  The latest democratic casualty is Venezuela, where the government is cracking down on hungry looters and has been curtailing civil rights generally.  The Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States was adopted in 2001, and it calls for the suspension of countries in which the democratic order is interrupted.  The OAS has been slow to respond to events in Venezuela, however.  Latin American diplomats are concerned the forceful action against Venezuela would not restore democracy.  But they also are hesitant to interfere in the internal affairs of other states out of a concern for their sovereignty.            
  • Third, the general shift away from democracy and civil liberties also undercuts other doctrinal developments in international law.  The project of internationalizing human rights has become a project about transforming the very idea of “sovereignty,” which Professor Louis Henkin famously calledThat ‘S’ Word.  The claim that sovereignty has been transformed into a doctrine (mostly) about responsibility towards individuals and their well-being has become something like an article of faith in the human rights movement.  But Russia and China have not accepted that view – and the positions of Russia and China look less and less like a temporary bump on the road toward global human rights and more and more like long-term world-views that are arguably shared by a growing number of countries, .. ….
  • Fourth, the crackdown on dissenting viewpoints complicates efforts to enforce international law.  The Russian annexation of Crimea is a good example, as is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. …


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