Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Social Magic and the Temple of Human Rights

A Critical Reflection on Stephen Hopgood’s Endtimes of Human Rights

(Cornell University Press 2013)

endtimesIn his compelling, engaging and wide-ranging book The Endtimes of Human Rights, Stephen Hopgood develops a highly critical argument that seeks to account for the biased genesis, dysfunctional enforcement, and precarious future of what have become known as internationally recognized (and increasingly legalized) human rights. For Hopgood, human rights are a secular yet sacred set of claims that have been advanced for human beings by virtue of them being human. The metanarrative that underpins their evolution from the middle of the 19th Century to their current manifestation in an increasingly complex array of international legal instruments is a product of European middle class intellectuals that is akin with what Pierre Bourdieu has called ‘social magic’; the performative concept that captures the idea that certain ‘speech acts’ create significant political outcomes.

Hopgood argues that the sacred metanarrative of human rights has been symbolized through great architectural temples in Geneva (Palais des Nations), New York (UN Headquarters), and in the future, The Hague (the planned home for the International Criminal Court).  The metanarrative has also been developed in ways that has largely ignored gross roots and organic struggles against oppression leading to the gulf between what Hopgood calls human rights (localized and self-styled struggles) and Human Rights (international sacred discourse). The elitist and sacred nature of Human Rights has its own set of codes and conventions, and has become a hermetic community that has little relevance for the every day struggles for justice taking place at the local level.

Despite their sacred and self-evident nature, the mechanisms for the enforcement of human rights have been notoriously weak and over-reliant on the power and purpose of the United States, which has led to a human rights double standard (mixed application with wildly varying results) and marketization (professionalization of large and wealthy human rights NGOs). These twin attributes have undermined the very ideals of the human rights movement and created patchwork application of universal standards. Moreover, and the subject of this essay, the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) challenges US (and European) hegemony in the world in ways that have created what Hopgood calls a ‘neo-Westphalian’ world, where the probability of successful protection of human rights is more limited than ever.

Many of these arguments put forth in the book resonate with my own experiences and I thus find much of what Hopgood argues to be less problematic than one would assume given my career as a political scientist of human rights. My essay for next week’s event in The Hague charts a bit of my own experiences in the world of human rights and then addresses a series of Hopgood’s claims based on extant empirical literature on human rights.

The argument is developed in four stages:

First, I argue that Hopgood does not offer anything particularly shocking or new, since political science has long been skeptical about the growth and effectiveness of the international human rights regime and its reliance on commitment from powerful states.

Second, I embrace his exaltation of local grassroots human rights groups, but argue that Human Rights as he conceives it can contribute to this struggle by providing important legal standards, public discourses and political levers that help local groups realize their aims.

Third, I argue that the rise of the BRICs and now the MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) may challenge US and European hegemony and represent new nodes of power and influence that have a negative impact on human rights; however, in terms of market size and material capabilities, the only real contender in the world for the medium term is China.

Finally, I argue that his worry over the assertion of nationalism and religion is overly critical and that the emergence of Pope Francis and survey data on values illustrates more hope for human rights in the future than Hopgood concedes.

I will present the full paper next week in The Hague, after which it will be published along with other papers by Amnesty International. Click here for my book: Democracy and Human Rights: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals and click here for my new article on human rights and the case of Chile published by Revista Politica.

2013: An Intense Year

kiev-2Last year in December I was in Kiev working with a citizen group wishing to improve the quality of democracy in Ukraine. The members of the group were very motivated, energetic, and excited about the prospects of making a difference in the future of their country, as well as the prospects of Ukraine making closer ties with the European Union. This December, the Government of Ukraine has turned its back on Europe, which has provoked popular outcry and unrest from pro-European groups. Many see any gains from the Orange Revolution as being finally extinguished.

The trip to Kiev was part of my work as the Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex, which I maintained until 1 August when I became the new Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The new role has meant an expanded set of responsibilities, deeper engagement with campus life across all aspects of the academic endeavour: education, research, finance and people. I work with superb team in the Faculty and other colleagues who make the job exciting, engaging and rewarding.

The higher education sector is going through profound and unprecedented change at the moment here in the UK. The government rolled out a liberalization process that has culminated in expanding the student market during this recruitment cycle by 30,000 and then by opening up the market completely from 2015.

fss-1My work involves creating the kind of value proposition for our students that is attractive, competitive and meaningful. Our strategies are geared toward achieving excellence in education (‘a transformational educational experience’) and excellence in research (maximise our performance in the research excellence framework 2014 and beyond). The Faculty of Social Sciences features top social science departments in the United Kingdom with a critical mass of academic staff carrying out cutting edge research that is data rich, methodologically rigorous, and practically applicable across many different policy sectors.

The early part of the year involved work on The Westminster Consortium for Strengthening Parliaments and Democracy, and other projects associated with the IDCR, including the wonderful joint project with the Mackman Group, Thomson Reuters Foundation, The Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO-Mexico), Human Rights Centre and ESRC: The Human Rights Atlas. The Atlas work involved a wonderful visit to FLACSO-Mexico for a workshop on measuring human rights, as well as a visit to the Circle of Mexican Magicians!

After Mexico, I found myself in Brussels for a series of meetings with the EU’s External Action Service with some of my colleagues from Kiev. I also had the opportunity of a lifetime to finally go visit Christian Chelman, one of the world’s most foremost bizarre magicians at his famous Surnateum.


In April I went to San Francisco for the annual meeting of the International Studies Association and spent a great day with Christian Cagigal, a bay area bizarre magician who showed me the Mission area and the Castro. I saw my friend and colleague Edzia Carvalho marry Sam Mansell in Sheffield. I also had the honour of lecturing to the MA in Sustainable Leadership at the University of Cambridge.


In May I got the new job and started with the preparations almost immediately. I also made my annual sojourn to Whitby for the Doomsday bizarre magic convention where I had the honour of performing in the Gala show and running a workshop on the final day. June and July were spent getting up to speed on all matters in the faculty.


After a lovely visit from my amazing mother, I had the pleasure of presenting a full day workshop on democracy for staff at the EU’s External Action Service in Brussels, where we looked at stylised facts, concepts and definitions, theories and explanations, and implications for EU policies in the area of democracy building.

On 22 July, I was delighted to host an evening of mentalism at the prestigious Magic Circle in London, which featured many of the talented members of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers. We had mind reading, memory stunts, tests of suggestibility, and a packed house with over 70 people.

In September I was delighted to publish my new book Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals with Bloomsbury. The book charts developments in democracy and human rights over the last 60 years, and reflects on my last 20 years working with democracy assessment, human rights measurement, and capacity building around the world.

The month also saw the roll out of an experiment run in our Essex Lab, which tested over 150 respondents on their attitudes to transitional justice through direct reference to the trial of Rios Montt in Guatemala. The results are promising and will be written up in 2014, and preliminary results presented in a talk at the University of Dundee in February.

This year saw the debut of my new stage show ‘Lifting Veil of Ignorance’, which is a show inspired by John Rawls and includes an exploration of deep philosophical questions through the medium of mind reading. I did parts of the show in Whitby in May, and then the whole show in Bath in September, Wivenhoe House and University of Huddersfield in October, and Southend in December.

lifting the veil-1

At the November Tabula Mentis meeting of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers I was presented with the Chancellor of Mystery award by the membership for service to organisation as one of its founders and the main organiser for 14 Tabula Mentae meetings since 2007.

In research terms, I was awarded two new grants, one from the Economic and Social Research Council for the extension of our Human Rights Atlas project and one from the Technology Strategy Board for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Glowinkowski International.

As an exciting year closes out, I am really looking forward to 2014. My academic work continues at Essex with the Faculty and with new research endeavours on authoritarianism and human rights, while in the magical world, I am pleased to announce the forthcoming book The Magiculum, which will be published by EyeCorner Press. The book is a wonderful collection of essays from lifelong magicians reflecting on the different ways in which magic has been part of their lives.

Finally, I wish to thank my lovely family Melissa, Sophia, Oliver, Briony, and all our furry friends for making home life so wonderful, full of love, and never short of surprises. This is where the true magic lies.



Forty Years of 9/11

As the world prepares to commemorate and reflect on the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001, it is equally important to do the same for the ‘other’ 9/11: the military coup in 1973 that ousted democratically elected Salvador Allende, which brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.

Human Rights in Chile

Over the last 40 years Chile has experienced a pattern in the violation of civil and political rights that was relatively severe in the early years of the Pinochet regime, that modulated from outright killings and disappearances in the 1970s to arbitrary detention and torture in the 1980s, to dramatic improvements in human rights protection after the 1988 plebiscite and throughout the period of democratic consolidation in the 1990s.

The consolidation of authoritarian rule in Chile under the leadership of President Pinochet was achieved relatively quickly through a series of Constitutional Acts combined with the creation of an increasingly powerful internal security agency (most notably the National Intelligence Directorate, Direcciòn de Inteligencia Nacional, DINA), which was built on an initially highly repressive set of policies that led to widespread extra-judicial killings, exile, disappearances, torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment often carried out in secret.

The repression brought with it initially an attempt to document human rights abuses most notably by the Vicariate of Solidarity (Vicária de la Solidaridad) followed by increasing forms of social mobilization, which peaked during the economic crisis of the early 1980s and were subsequently quashed with by the declaration of various states of siege between 1984 and 1987.

Social mobilisation returned to Chile with the 1988 Plebiscite as support for the ‘No’ Campaign grew, and the 1989 democratic transition was relatively peaceful and brought with it a dramatic decrease in human rights abuse. Continued contestation over social policy, indigenous rights, educational issues among others have produced some repression but nothing compared to the policies of the Pinochet regime between 1973 and 1990.

As part of the military’s extraction from power, Pinochet remained the head of the military until 1997, was pronounced ‘Senator for Life’, and the military guaranteed itself a percentage of foreign exchange to fund its on-going activities. These and other factors infuriated the victims of Pinochet’s time in power and significantly undermined any attempts by the new democratically elected Aylwin government to move the process of reconciliation forward.

The politics after the authoritarian regime were such that any attempt at pursuing prosecutions was not possible. Rather, Aylwin apologised on behalf of the previous regime and focused on reparations for the victims; a policy that he saw was dedicated to providing truth and ‘as much justice as possible’. Absence of official state prosecution of military and security personnel alleged to have been responsible for human rights abuse during the Pinochet years meant that many victims sought redress through the civil courts. Indeed, there were approximately 750 private prosecutions against army, police, air force and naval officers. On balance, however, the immediate post-Pinochet years saw an acknowledgement of human rights as an issue, but it was quickly downplayed and dissipated from dominating public discourse.

Detention in London

On 16 October 1998, British police, acting on an extradition request from Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón arrested and detained Pinochet, who had come to the UK for a back operation in a private hospital. His detention became relatively prolonged as he remained under house arrest for over a year and half, while the Law Lords debated the merits of his detention and more importantly the merits of the legal case against a former head of state accused of committing human rights abuses. Judge Baltasar Garzón argued that the state security apparatus under the command of Pinochet had committed human rights violations against Spanish citizens, and that since Britain and Spain were party to a bi-lateral extradition treaty, Pinochet could be detained to answer these charges in a Spanish court.

This inventive legal argument carried enough weight to lead the British authorities to detain Pinochet. The detention sent shockwaves around the world even before any resolution of the case.  As Sikkink (2012: 121) notes, ‘[e]ven the most ardent advocates of accountability didn’t really believe such an arrest was feasible. The international lawyers knew it was legally possible, but no one believed it was politically possible.’ The political impossibility stemmed not only from friendly relations with Margaret Thatcher and political right in the UK, but Chile was a staunch ally for Britain in the 1983 Falklands/Malvinas war, and many believed that he had saved the Chilean economy from ruin (Roht-Arriaza 2005: 36)

Pinochet’s defence rested on his immunity from prosecution as a former head of state. Advocates for extradition and prosecution were based on a jus cogens argument that some crimes, such as torture are simply too egregious to ignore and the defendant cannot hide behind principles of diplomatic immunity. The deliberations in the House of Lords centred on all these legal questions.

The Law Lords agreed that torture is a special case of egregious crime, but the UK had only incorporated the principles found in the 1984 Convention on Torture in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and thus could only focus on those crimes committed from 1988. While this much narrower focus (indeed, the year of the plebiscite) invalidated most of the original charges against Pinochet, the decision to extradite him to Spain could nevertheless be upheld. Significant contestation ensued about whether (a) he should be extradited to Spain (e.g. George Bush and Margaret Thatcher said no, human rights groups and Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said yes) or (b) he should be allowed to return to Chile. In the end, the decision rested with Home Secretary Jack Straw, who in March 2000 decided that for reasons of ill health, Pinochet should be permitted to return home.

Pinochet’s return home was met with outcry and dismay from many within the human rights community. It was politically expedient for both the New Labour Government in Britain and the Concertación Government of Eduardo Frei Ruíz-Tagle, since neither government wanted to be embroiled in a prolonged diplomatic and legal wrangle over the fate of the former dictator.

It is very telling now to observe the diplomatic rows over Julian Assange and his asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador and Edward Snowden and his asylum in Russia. Neither individual is a former dictator, nor have they committed crimes against humanity (some believe no crimes at all have been committed), but imagine the politics of extradition of a former head of state by Britain to a third country and then the trial of that head of state in the third country. Straw’s decision neatly avoided this scenario while at the same time upholding the decision to extradite. The short term dismay at not seeing the former dictator on trial in Spain was balanced against a longer term legal victory that many have argued is the most important in the field of international human rights and humanitarian law since the Nuremberg Trials.

The War on Terror

The irony of these developments is that at the same time that the Pinochet case was buttressing the human rights movement, well-established democracies in Europe and North America were passing anti-terror legislation that significantly undermined long-held rights commitments. For example, the Patriot Act in the United States and various anti-terror acts in the UK increased and centralised power in the executive branch, allowed for the indefinite detention of terror suspects without charge, and greatly enhanced the ability of governments to use stop and search powers and interfere with the private correspondence and financial activities of ordinary citizens suspected of being involved in terrorist activity (see Brysk and Shafir 2007).

The arguments for tightening security powers of the state since 9/11 are ominously the same as those used by the authoritarian regimes of the Southern Cone that were part of Operation Condor.  Dubbed the “first war on terror,” the Condor Years lasted from 1973 to 1980, during which the military regimes of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia were arguably at their most brutal. The alliance sought to ‘track down “terrorists” of all nationalities, wherever they resided’ (Dinges 2004: 4), and an ‘extraordinary list of military and political leaders from the countries of southern South America lost their lives or were targeted for assassination’ (Dinges 2004: 1).

While the activities were initially limited to Latin American countries, from 1976 onwards, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay created multinational teams that carried out operations outside Latin America, including the Letelier bombing in Washington DC, and two other foreign assassination attempts. The post-9/11 ‘war on terror’ and its associated by-product of human rights abuse are eerily reflected in the Condor activities, where the hunt for subversion leads to the curbing of liberties, moral relativism, complete disregard for hard fought international standards, and the persistence of impunity.

The world’s main defenders of human rights and promoters of democracy have looked inward after 11 September 2001 and pursued security policies that continue to undermine the quality of democracy and the sanctity of human rights. The Abu Ghraib scandal, Guantánamo Bay, and the National Security Agency scandal (including the recent detention of David Miranda at Heathrow airport) all demonstrate that basic freedoms and rights require vigilance and defence against what appears to be easy authoritarian temptations (cf Revel 1978). While there have been quiet judicial revolutions in both the UK and US that are beginning to roll back the more draconian aspects of anti-terror policies, it would have been inconceivable before 9/11 to have imagined the kinds of events that have shocked the world.

The lessons from the Chile also important for the events that have unfolded in the ‘Arab Spring’ countries in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly the tumultuous events that have overtaken Egypt. I was struck by an extraordinary response to the military coup against Morsi that appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.[1]

This quote aptly demonstrates not only a complete misreading of Chilean history and the period of Pinochet’s rule, but also the continuous need for human rights scholars and practitioners to document, research and struggle against the forces of oppression wherever they may appear in the world. In the event, the General Sisi period of rule in Egypt has also included the use of repression that is emblematic of the Pinochet years, where the 14 August 2013 clearing of pro-Morsi forces led to a large number of casualties at the hands of the Egyptian military. The lesson from these events in Egypt (like so many lessons in history) is very clear with respect to the article in the Wall Street Journal: be careful what you wish for.

The forty years between the two 9/11’s has seen many victories and setbacks for the cause of human rights. The continued development of the international human rights regime during this period has gone far beyond what was imaginable in the years immediately following the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But these many achievements have also seen many setbacks, as governments around the world trade rights for security and adopt the same logic in the face of threats.

On this 9/11, I am mindful of the ways in which history continues to repeat itself.

*On a personal level, the case of Chile has been with me for my entire academic career. I attended a lecture by Arturo Valenzuela in 1986 while at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote my senior paper on Chile, studied with Arturo Valenzuela at Georgetown, and then supervised one his students Jaime Baeza Freer for his PhD at the University of Essex. Jaime kindly hosted me in Santiago and Concepción and introduced me to former President Patricio Aylwin in 2010. Chile has featured in my academic work throughout this period, and the University of Essex has been host to many Chilean exiles (and their children), and will host a number of events during autumn 2013 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the military coup of 11 September 1973.
This blog is an excerpt from a new article entitled ‘A Most Unlikely Case: Chile, Pinochet and the Advance Human Rights,’ Revista Politica (forthcoming).


Brysk, A. and Shafir, G.(eds) (2007) National Insecurity and Human Rights: Democracies Debate Counterterrorism, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Dinges, John (2004) The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents, New York: The New Press

Joe Foweraker and Todd Landman (1997) Citizenship Rights and Social Movements: A Comparative and Statistical Analysis, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hawkins, Darren (2002) International Human Rights and Authoritarian Rule in Chile, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Landman, Todd (2013) Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals, London: Bloomsbury

Revel, Jean Francois (1978) The Totalitarian Temptation, New York: Penguin.

Roht-Arriaza, Noami (2005) The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sikkink, Kathryn (2011) The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics, New York: Norton.


[1] ‘After the Coup in Cairo,’ Wall Street Journal, 4 July 2010;

The Travails of Free Speech

‘Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.’

Liu Xiaobo, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

On Wednesday 20 February 2013, the University of Essex sought to host the deputy ambassador of Israel, Mr Alon Roth-Snirto to speak about Middle Eastern politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict for a select number of students on degree courses in the Department of Government.

The details of the event were made public a few days before, which prompted a number of students within the student union to mobilise against his appearance. On the day, it is estimated that 50 to 100 students started a demonstration outside the lecture theatre block where the Deputy Ambassador was meant to speak. His speech was interrupted, relocated and then abandoned altogether.

The student union claimed victory for their protest action and the University claimed that the students had compromised the principle of free speech. The University argued further that the actions of some students went beyond legitimate forms of protest and may well have contravened University policy as well as student union policy. The University announced that an investigation would be started into the incident. The story is covered in the Student Union’s Rabbit Newspaper.

This event reminded me of my days as a student in the 1980s at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. At that time, the students protested the University’s investment policy in South Africa to put pressure on the Apartheid regime to leave power and bring about a democratic transition. We also discussed the principle of free speech in our constitutional law classes, our politics of Latin America classes, and our history of modern Europe classes.

In my final year at Penn (1988), Louis Farrakahn, leader of the Nation of Islam was invited to the University to give a speech, this at a University whose student body was about 30% Jewish. The event was controversial but it was not cancelled. The New York Times reports that,

‘Mr. Farrakhan’s appearance is being billed by its sponsors, a coalition of 10 campus groups, as an exercise in the defense of freedom of discourse on behalf of black students who say they believe that Mr. Farrakhan’s views have been distorted and who want to hear him for themselves.’

The 1980s had other memorable free speech events, most notably the exhibition of the publicly funded photographic work of Andres Serrano, entitled Immersion (Piss Christ) in 1987, which features a plastic crucifix immersed in a jar of the artist’s own urine, and the flag burning case Texas v Johnson, where during a communist rally in Dallas, Mr Johnson set an American flag on fire.

This latter case was brought into my own after dinner discussions at home as my father, a naturalised American citizen (he had emigrated from the Netherlands in 1955) was very upset at the flag burning act itself and initially wanted the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of states to ban flag burning. I argued at that time that to allow flag burning would uphold the very principles for which flag stands. I too find flag burning morally reprehensible, but I also know that the rights for which the flag stands are far more robust than isolated incidents of anti-Americanism.

In both cases, the principle of free speech prevailed. Senators, religious leaders, and commentators have been incensed by the work and that funding from the National Endowment for the Arts had supported Serrano’s work; however, it has featured across a variety of art exhibitions and retrospectives. The work was subsequently vandalised in Avignon in 2011. The majority decision in Texas v Johnson upheld the principle of free speech, even though the justices were not happy with the result. In the concurrence with the majority opinion written by Justice Brennan, Justice Kennedy argued,

‘For we are presented with a clear and simple statute to be judged against a pure command of the Constitution. The outcome can be laid at no door but ours. The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.’

Now back to the University of Essex. A debate has ensued on campus between the leadership of the student union, dissenting members of the student union, academic staff, and University officials (although their role is not necessarily to debate but to apply University policy).

The student union leadership position can be broken down into two syllogisms. The first makes a logic of equivalence between Israel’s policy and the Apartheid regime in South Africa:

  1. The Apartheid regime in South Africa used oppressive force against black South Africans
  2. Israel uses oppressive force against the Palestinians
  3. Therefore Israel is an apartheid regime

The second syllogism argues why the Deputy Ambassador should not appear on campus:

  1. Representatives of Apartheid regimes do not have the right to speak at Universities
  2. The Deputy Ambassador is the mouthpiece of the Israeli Apartheid regime
  3. The Deputy Ambassador has no right to speak on campus

Whether such syllogisms stand up to logical scrutiny is not really relevant for this discussion. Even if they do pass a strict test of logic, there is still a very strong case to be made on the grounds of free speech for the University to allow the Deputy Ambassador to appear on campus.

The dissenting members of the student union argue that the University is meant to encourage free speech and that regardless of Israeli policy or the characterisation of the regime as Apartheid: (1) the deputy ambassador has the right to speak and (2) the students have the right to attend and engage in intellectual debate and argumentation to test the claims that would have been advanced by the Deputy Ambassador.

The university agrees with the dissenters, and so do I.

As I am teaching a course called the Comparative Politics of Human Rights, I wanted to address this issue in my class. To place our discussion in the context of the International Law of Human Rights, I began with Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

And followed with Article 19 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

‘1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’

I then showed the Serrano picture, the Farrakahn case, the Johnson case, and added the case of a recent approval from Memphis Tennessee of a march led by the Ku Klux Klan. I then showed pictures of the student protests on campus at Essex and opened the discussion.

What ensued was a mature one-hour debate on free speech, the nature of the Israeli regime and the role of the University in modern life.

There was overwhelming support for the principle of free speech. What I do find interesting is that a small proportion of the student body was able to deny the right of free speech both to the speaker and to fellow students. Moreover, the event raises the further questions concerning what other regimes this small proportion of the student body finds reprehensible and therefore ineligible to speak on campus.

Israel has sought an audience on other campuses and run afoul of other student protests (e.g. Manchester). Further afield, the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was allegedly invited to a dinner at Columbia University (see commentary from Stanley Fish in the New York Times), while a controversial speech from Narendra Modi (Governor of the State of Gujarat) was cancelled at the Wharton School of Business at the Univesity of Pennsylvania.

These cases and the general principle of free speech intrigue me, as much of my work takes place in parts of the world where such a fundamental right is not so guaranteed (hence my quote from Liu Xiaobo above). The jurisprudence on Article 19 of the ICCPR and two general comments (GC10 and GC34) from the UN Human Rights Committee suggest that these kinds of speech events at Universities are consistent with the principles therein, and that forced cancelling of such events runs counter to the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of opinion.*

I only wish the small proportion of students that disrupted the event at Essex would reflect on this contrast and value the freedoms that are upheld in the UK in general and at our University in particular.


*For in-depth analysis of the principle of free speech and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, see O’Flaherty, Michael (2012) ‘Freedom of Expression: Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 34,’ Human Rights Law Review; de Zayas, Alfred and Martín, Áurea Roldán (2012) ‘Freedom of Opinion and Freedom of Expression: Some Reflections on General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee, Netherlands Human Rights Law Review, LIX: 425-454.

Reflecting on 2012 & Looking Forward

My year was topped and tailed by quality time with mother. In January I spent a week in Virginia with her catching up on life, love and politics while sampling many musical delights and taking in the southern charm of Norfolk. The end of the year saw her come to our home here in England to enjoy the best that country life in Suffolk can offer.

My mother is what I would describe as a ‘quiet feminist’ who battled against deep patriarchy in corporate America in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, first by returning to University to get a BA and then MA, and then in the world of health insurance. She worked hard, put her head down, and achieved great success despite the odds. While the glass ceiling was there, it certainly needed to be raised after her career and I am immensely impressed by her and hugely proud of her. She is a bedrock of wisdom in difficult times and a sheer joy to be with.

Family life has been a joy this as my eldest daughter continued in high school, my stepson finished primary and entered secondary school, and my youngest started in reception. Three kids in three schools makes for a hectic but rewarding schedule, while our menagerie of animals at home keeps us quite busy!

My year’s activities involved travel, publishing, teaching, business development, institution building and of course magic! In many cases, these activities were not mutually exclusive, but reinforcing and interdependent in ways that have enriched my experience.


The travel schedule was heavy this year with international obligations taking me to the United States, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Mozambique and Ukraine. In each location, I have met truly wonderful people and made new friends, while nurturing old friendships. Work involved lecturing, training, and giving key note speeches primarily on global trends in democracy and human rights, as well as the value of systematic research and evidence-based advocacy and policy making. Downtime in these venues allowed for a little sightseeing and walking as well as bit of magical entertaining.


2012 saw a lot of work come out in books and articles, with some pending publications coming out in 2013 that have been completed from my desk. These include:



  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2013) ‘Tension Points: Learning to Make Social Science Matter,’ Critical Policy Studies, forthcoming.
  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2013) ‘Political Political Science: A Phronetic Approach,’ New Political Science, forthcoming.
  • Todd Landman, David Kernohan and Anita Gohdes (2012) ‘Relativsing Human Rights,’ Journal of Human Rights.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Projecting Liberalism in a World of Realist States: David Forsythe and the Political Science of Human Rights’, Journal of Human Rights, 11 (3): 332-336.


  • Todd Landman (forthcoming 2012) ‘Social Science, Methods and Human Rights’ in Mark Gibney and Anja Mihr (eds) The Sage Handbook of Human Rights, London: Sage.
  • Todd Landman (forthcoming 2012) ‘The European Union and the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights’.
  • Todd Landman (forthcoming) ‘Measuring Human Rights’ in Michael Goodhart (ed) Human Rights: Politics and Practice, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Todd Landman and Anita Gohdes (forthcoming 2012) ‘A Matter of Convenience: Challenges of Non-Random Data in Analyzing Human Rights Violations during Conflicts in Peru and Sierra Leone’ in Taylor Seybolt, Jay Aronson and Baruch Fishoff (eds) Counting Civilian Casualties, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Foreword’ in Bethany Barratt, The Politics of Harry Potter, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Framing the Fight: Public Security and Human Rights in Mexico’ in George Philip and Susuna Berruecos (eds.) Mexico’s Struggle for Public Security: Organized Crime and State Responses, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 99-118.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Narrative Analysis and Phronesis’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 27-47.
  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2012) ‘Introduction: New Directions in Social Science’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-12.
  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2012) ‘Important Next Steps in Phronetic Social Science’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 285-297.

Papers and Reports

  • Anita Breuer, Todd Landman and Dorothea Farquhar (2012) Social Media and Protest Mobilization: Evidence from the Tunisian Revolution, Paper prepared for the 4th European Communication Conference for the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA), Istanbul, Turkey, 24-27 October 2012.
  • Todd Landman, Alejandro Quiroz-Flores and Dorothea Farquhar (2012) Democratic Governance and Sustainable Human Development, United Nations Development Programme, Oslo Governance Centre, Oslo.


I was honoured to teach a methods course in Vienna for human rights students, a comparative methods course for the Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis, and my course The Comparative Politics of Human Rights.

Business development

My work as the Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex has me engaged with partner organisations from the public and private sector as we seek to generate new high value content for a wide range of users. We developed a pilot mediation training course, and delivered other forms of training as part of our work in parliamentary strengthening. Our research capacity was used for a wonderful UNDP project on democratic governance and sustainable human development and we engaged with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance on staff training.  Our work with the Mackman Group has been excellent and culminated in the launch of our ESRC-funded Human Rights Atlas.

Institution building

The year has seen continued development of Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolutionand Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers. The IDCR goes from strength to strength as we engage in a variety of challenging and rewarding projects across training, research and policy analysis. Psycrets has expanded its international network and celebrated its 5th Anniversary with an amazing volume entitled Liber Mentis, edited by Steve Drury.


Finally, the world of magic continues to inspire me and push my capacity for creativity and innovation. I have enjoyed performing with Pool Voodini in our show The Edge of the Unknown. I have performed around the UK and further afield as I never leave home without a little magic. The highlight of the year has been my appointment as a Visiting Professor of Performance Magic at the University of Huddersfield where I conducted a drama workshop entitled The Magician, the Mentalist and the Mystic. I have joined the editorial board of the new Journal of Performance Magic, which will have its inaugural issue in Spring of 2013.

While 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring, 2012 featured the prolonged and inclusive struggle in Syria that has taken so many lives, a regression in the positive steps taken by Egypt, and another unfortunate conflict between Israel and Palestine. A large proportion of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief with the re-election of Barack Obama in the United States, but he faces many challenges not least of which his increasingly worrying drone policy, the fiscal cliff solution (which may or may not happen tonight), and the on-going battle over gun control after yet another mass shooting (this time in a primary school).

Life under austerity will continue and the struggle in the Eurozone will continue for 2013, as European democracies search for long term solutions for failed economic models. I have stressed this year and will continue to stress that the financial crisis in Europe is a problem for democracy not a problem of democracy.

On a positive note, we all survived the Mayan Apocalypse and as 2013 marches on, may we agree with Daniel Pinchbeck and see a shift in global consciousness towards more peace, more understanding, and empathy for our fellow humans instead of over self-centred egotism and maximisation of material self-interest. The New Year brings many challenges, but the human spirit and capacity for overcoming adversity is strong. My new book Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Idealsis guided by a simple belief that humans have incredible desire and capacity for demanding a better life and to challenge oppression wherever it may manifest itself. While 2011 saw the election of Dilma Rousseff the first female president of Brazil and former prisoner of the military regime, 2012 saw the election of Ayn San Suu Kyi to the Burmese Parliament. These examples and others serve as positive reminders of what is possible, which is why I welcome the new public and open letter from 73 Chinese academics calling on the new regime to accelerate the much needed political reforms to complement the otherwise impressive economic progress that has been achieved.

No doubt 2013 will be another roller coaster ride, but let’s hope the net experience is a positive one!

Happy New Year!

Reflections on 9/11

Here are my reflections on 9/11 after ten years:

Bin Laden and the ironies of history…

In contrast to popular perception, the death of Osama Bin Laden brings to a close a chapter of geopolitics that did not begin with the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

The chapter began with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, after which US policy led to the creation of anti-Soviet forces that many have argued had direct connections to the genesis of Al Qaeda (see Steve Coll’s brilliant Ghost Wars).  According to Coll, anti-Soviet rebels (i.e. the mujahideen) became radicalised while on recruitment missions in the US, some of whom then went on to form the ranks of Al Qaeda.

The advent of the ‘war on terror’ combined with the promulgation of George W Bush’s notion of ‘imminent threat’ created the precedent for the Iraq War in which the Bush Administration sought to make a direct link between the 9/11 attacks and Saddam Hussein. The ensuing saga involved the search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, an altered mission towards regime change, many thousands of deaths and massive expenditure from the United States and its allies. Bush had turned his attention to toppling Saddam Hussein, while Afghanistan drifted from view.

The October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was hailed by many as a justified response to the 9/11 attacks and even defended on the grounds of just war theory (see e.g. Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Just War Against Terror).   I concurred at the time of the invasion and even though the mission has changed, I still think that the war in Afghanistan has had the correct focus: addressing one of the main sources of terrorism and to rebuild the country after decades of war. President Obama refocused on Afghanistan, increased troops and made the search for Bin Laden a priority of his administration. Like Iraq, the indicators on Afghanistan are chilling, but the intent and progress are far more palatable than anything that was carried out in Iraq.

And now, it would appear, the plan to find Bin Laden worked.

On 12 September 2001 I was asked by the BBC if I thought that Osama Bin Laden had human rights. I answered a very firm ‘yes’ at that time and still do today. I would have preferred then as I do now that he was captured and tried using the standards of evidence and protection of rights that our democracies seek to uphold. To do otherwise undermines the many cherished ideals for which numerous wars have been fought and for which numerous countries now stand.

We may never know the true circumstances of his death last night, but what we do know is that an operation based on solid intelligence led to a brisk operation, firefight and ultimately his death. George W. Bush called this ‘justice’ after hearing the news. It is a form of retributive justice and perhaps a hallmark of the ancient edict ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But it is not the kind of justice that has emerged in the modern world.

In the event, I am not saddened by the death of Osama Bin Laden as he bears huge responsibility for the tragic attacks that were visited upon my beloved country, but I do regret that he was not captured alive and tried.

After World War II, the victorious Allies established the International Military Tribunal to hear evidence about Nazi atrocities (see Joseph Persico’s wonderful book Infamy on Trial). This was an experiment in ‘transitional justice’ and has set a standard for subsequent developments, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As we watch events unfold in the Middle East and North Africa during the ‘Arab Spring of 2011’ we need to remember the values and standards upon which many post-World War II notions of peace and justice have been based. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is now in the sights of many for regime change, but I hope that NATO avoids the approach used last night if it all possible. To do otherwise will once again set back the quest for justice, peace and the protection of human rights. Moreover, it is important to avoid the human rights double standard, as we watch hundreds of innocent Syrians die at the hands of the security forces with no equivalent response from the United Nations Security Council as we have seen in the case of Libya.

We must also remain vigilant as the great powers seek to mould current developments, not to get caught in the ironies of history that have so bedeviled us with respect to Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden.

What an interesting week…

April has been a funny month with long school holidays, many bank holidays and a Royal Wedding to boot!

This week found me giving two very different lectures in two very different venues for two very different audiences.

On 26 April, I gave my lecture Making Magic Meaningful at The Magic Circle weekly Club Night. The headquarters of The Magic Circle has a wonderful 150-seat theatre upstairs with all the trappings for putting on a show or a lecture. My lecture consists of six performance pieces drawn from my two shows An Evening of Metaphysical Magic and An Evening of Enchantment that are broken up by a short discussion of my own approach to magic and the evolution of my own style of ‘theatrical mentalism’. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and have been getting wonderful feedback from those who attended.

On 28 April I delivered a keynote lecture entitled Global Analysis of Human Rights: Trends and Future Directions for a conference on the political economy of globalisation. The event took place at Goodenough College in the Churchill Room, which was a fantastic room with wainscoted walls and Georgian windows.

So, two days after appearing before a theatre full of magicians, I was lecturing to a room full of economists on the spatial diffusion of human rights; a research area that I have been working on with colleagues from Middlesex University and the University of Loughborough. We call our programme The Political Economy of Human Rights.

Across the two lectures are common approaches to public speaking, highlighting the main features of the argument that I am advancing through animated PowerPoint slides, and (hopefully) giving people something to think about. I do believe that the skill set for both events is very similar in the abstract, and you might be surprised to know that in the magic lecture I covered metaphysics; free will;  Marx, Weber, and Freud; the history of jazz; Mongolian currency; Tarot theory; and Jungian synchronicity…

The various distinctions between the two worlds of academia and magic are thus highly blurred, and long may they stay that way!

Musings in Middlesex

I attended a fabulous meeting of minds today at Middlesex University.

As part of my work on the political economy of human rights, I met with my collaborators Professor David Kernohan, Professor Joshua Castellino, and Dr T. H. Edwards to discuss a series of new papers we are writing.

These papers are truly inter-disciplinary and bring together law, economics, and political science in ways that address fundamental questions of state power and the role of international institutions and norms in the contemporary world.

We attended Dr Edwards paper presentation on Horizontal Technological Barriers to Trade (HTBT), which was a fascinating exploration of firm and country behaviour in the era of the WTO, which ostensibly prohibits trade barriers. The paper was a game theoretic model of firm and country choice with repect to regulation.

This was followed by a fantastic discussion over a table full of quality Turkish food. Our group has submitted a panel proposal for a conference on Human Rights and Peace after the Cold War being organised by the International Political Science Association (IPSA) in Korea for next June.

It is refreshing to leave your own institutional environment and kindred spirits elsewhere for a fulsome discussion of really interesting research questions. It is also nice to meet with people that care about the systematic analysis of evidence in support of human rights, not to mention discussing the finer points of spatial econometrics while munching on a chicken doner!

I have high hopes this programme of research and the bonds of intellectual friendship that it brings.

Mexico in Crisis II

The trip to Mexico could not have been better…

I met with a large number of graduates from the University of Essex who are now in various posts in the government, political parties, and academic positions. All of them value the educational experience they had at Essex and are now putting their knowledge and skills to good use.

I have to confess I arrived with a fair bit of apprehension since the international media coverage of the violence in Mexico had been more than alarming. I settled in well at my hotel, which was in Santa Fe, an emerging business zone with the presence of multinational corporations, as well as two of the main Universities that have colleagues with whom I met – Ibero and CIDE.

It was also very close to the headquarters for the Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (SSP), which has the onerous responsibility of ovserseeing law and order and the guarantee of human rights.

I found the entire experience as one of warmth, generosity of spirit, and seriousness of the work that is needed to address such deep seated and multi-fafeced challenges that Mexico confronts.

While there is no agreement, reports suggest that more than 25,000 people have died in the war on drugs since the Calderón government stepped up its efforts to eradicate the drug trade in 2006. While the exact number of killings and the proportion that are a result of inter-cartel violence are disputed, the seriousness of the problem and its multiple dimensions are not.

The analogies for dealing with the crisis have varied from terrorism, to insurgency, to criminal networks akin to Al Capone’s organisation in Chicago. When I lectured at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) and to the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) we discussed how framing the issue affects the way in which to respond to it. (For pictures from the lecture, please click HERE).

Travelling around the city by foot and by car was a bit of challenge given the huge urban population and vast and sprawling city scape, but the museums, downtown area, and rich cultural experience were amazing. Lunch at the Opera Bar was a highlight as the food was excellent and the bar had remained virtually unchanged since the Mexican Revolution. The murals and maya exhibits in the Fine Arts Museum and the Anthropological Museum were simply breathtaking.

Our meetings were productive and hold much promise for future collaboration. Meetings with the various organs of government, academia, and the United Nations all went well as we defined new lines of collaboration. I am looking forward to a return visit very soon and in the meantime can get started on a series of projects on security, human rights, and governance.