Student and alumni event

Rights trumped? The future of international human rights in an era of national populism

Current affairs series with Başak Çalı (Professor of International Law, Hertie School), Mark Dawson (Professor of European Law and Governance), and Pierre Thielbörger (Professor of German Public Law and International Law, Ruhr University Bochum).
This event is open to the Hertie School community.

In a seminal article from the 1970s, the legal theorist Ronald Dworkin argued that the only meaningful reading of rights in a liberal democracy was to see them as 'trumps' on majority decisions i.e. as claims that carry 'special' weight. Recent developments put this view into question. In the US, the current administration has used restrictions on refugee access not only as an opportunity to limit the domestic scope of the Refugee Convention, but to engage in potentially anti-constitutional discriminatory treatment, questioning the legitimacy of Courts which stand in their way. On this side of the Atlantic, the talk of 'illiberal democracies' is on the rise.  In Hungary, Poland and Turkey, the right to freedom of expression and independent media and separation of powers have taken heavy hits in the recent years.

At the same time, globally and regionally, international human rights treaties - and mechanisms to enforce gross violations, such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court - seem under attack. Whilst the UK is threatening to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, several African states are threatening to withdraw from the Rome statute.

In spite of these developments, human rights-claims and Courts continue to be important battle-grounds in domestic and international politics. They provide pathways to challenge governments, either in the streets or in the Courts, when other political options are exhausted. What then is the future of international human rights? Will human rights law perish or prosper in a potential new populist era? In this session, we hope to gather thoughts and contributions in this highly open and contentious field of public policy.