Dilemmas and Recent Developments in Human Rights Advocacy on Palestine

Saturday August 17,2013 at 2:00 PM
Campus in Camps, Al Feneiq Center, (Dheisheh Refugee Camp)

Debates in the world of human rights theory and practice have interrogated the function and role of human rights, in terms of their objectives and legitimacy as well as their effectiveness in ‘fixing the problem’ of abuses. Why aren’t human rights groups able to end human rights abuses? What good is it to document violations and write reports? Critics say that human rights groups use language that is self-referential and divorced from reality, set goals that are too lofty and ambitious to be implemented, and are too concerned with their own respectability as opposed to with the effectiveness of their work. This session will explore some criticisms of human rights work and also examine ways to make human rights work more effective by invoking bases for action that would compel the political actor being addressed.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a leading international human rights organisation, has a long history in “naming and shaming” violators of rights through international media and lobbying of political officials with considerable influence and success. We will discuss HRW’s recent work on Israeli abuses, the work of Mattin Group on EU-Israel relations and the paradigm of third state responsibility in terms as part of the recent developments on human rights work on Palestine and to the broader dilemmas in the field.

Open Democracy, an online opinion forum, recently opened a discussion platform for views on advocacy strategies, funding, successes, and failures of civil society worldwide. This session will consider some of the questions raised in this forum: How can wrongdoing states be brought to alter their behaviour effectively? How have human rights groups, local and international, acted on these possibilities? What is the future of effective human rights work and how can political interests be prevented from derailing human rights and international law obligations – making respect for rights a need, as opposed to a choice?

By: Bill Van Esveld and Valentina Azarov

Biographical note

Bill Van Esveld is Human Rights Watch’s researcher on Palestine  and Israel. Bill was previously the Arthur Helton research fellow at Human Rights Watch in 2007-2008, when he reported on Western Sahara, the United Arab Emirates, and the treatment of African asylum seekers in Egypt. He has worked with the UNHCR in Thailand, and as Outreach Coordinator for the People’s Movement for Human Rights Education. He provided research support on Iraq at the International Center for Transitional Justice, and reported on human rights developments in the UN General Assembly for the International Service for Human Rights and Amnesty International. He has co-authored scholarly articles and an amicus brief on human rights issues, and holds a J.D. from New York University, where he was a fellow at NYU Law’s Institute for International Law and Justice. Bill also holds a PhD in English Literature from Cornell University.

Valentina Azarov spent four years as acting director and lecturer on the Human Rights and International Law Program at the Al-Quds Bard College, Al-Quds University, Palestine. She is a legal advisor to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, working on corporate accountability and the Palestinian UN bid. She was a legal researcher and training attorney at HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual. She worked on asylum seekers’ cases in the UK with Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and was an Advocacy Officer for the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) in Nigeria. She has an LLB in European Legal Studies (Honours) from the University of Westminster in London, and a Certificate of Transnational Law from the University of Geneva. She has published journal and media articles on a range of international law issues, and is currently working on a PhD at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway.

Reading Materials: 

Stephen Hopgood, ‘Human rights: past their sell-by date’ open Democracy, 18 June 2013

David Petrasek, ‘New powers won’t play by old rules’ open Democracy, 24 June 2013

Valentina Azarov, ‘Legal house-keeping in the EU’ open Democracy, 31 July 2013

HRW, Israel: End Restrictions on Palestinian Residency, 5 February 2012

HRW, Israel/Palestine: New Abuses, No Justice, 14 February 2013

HRW, Palestine: Newest ‘Observer State’ Should Act on Rights Treaties, 29 November 2012

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