Tag Archives: International Law

Conference: “Confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (July 24)

The Middle East Institute will be hosting a conference, “Confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: Challenges and Options,” at the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University on July 24:

The Middle East Institute and the Conflict Management Program at SAIS are pleased to a host a discussion about combating the rising influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Middle East Institute scholars Richard A. ClarkeSteven Simon, and Randa Slim will examine the current status of the organization and its support network, focusing on the steps that Iraqi political actors and the U.S. administration can take to address the spread of its influence. Daniel Serwer (SAIS, The Middle East Institute) will moderate the event.

Details are here.

Skepticism about International Religious Freedom: Types 1 and 2

A little more on last week’s conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” which CLR co-hosted in Rome.

First, a word of thanks to the participants. The presentations were thoughtful, the debate sharp but respectful. It was all one could want in an academic conference. And we had a private audience at the Vatican with Pope Francis! As Marc writes, to have the Pope address us personally, on a subject we study, at a conference we helped organize, was a remarkable experience.

We’ll post videos of the presentations as they become available. (A video of Pope Francis addressing the group is here). For now, though, I’d like to say just a few words about what I saw as one of the central themes at the conference: a certain skepticism about the promise of “international religious freedom.”

To be sure, many at the conference endorsed the idea of international religious freedom. International human rights law accepts that such a concept exists. International courts and organizations apply it; national governments purport to promote it in their foreign policy. Perceptive scholars like Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, who appeared on one of our panels, work hard to advance it across the globe. Yet the concept of international religious freedom also provokes some skepticism, and did so at the conference. It seems to me this skepticism takes one of two forms, what we might call “Type 1″ and “Type 2″skepticism.

Type 1 skepticism holds that, although a universally applicable concept of religious freedom exists, states and international organizations lack the commitment to make it effective. At the conference, the Berkley Center’s Tom Farr expressed this sort of skepticism. He maintained that religious freedom is grounded in human nature itself. “Religion,” he argued, “is the universal human search for a greater-than-human source of being and ultimate meaning.” Because the search for transcendence is part of what it means to be human, the international order must allow people to participate in the search without unnecessary obstruction.  “To deny a person the right to engage in this search and to live in accord with the truths he discovers,” Tom maintained, “is to deny the very essence of what it means to be human.”

This formulation owes a great deal to natural law; indeed, in his remarks to the group, Pope Francis spoke of religious freedom in much the same terms. The problem for Tom, the source of his skepticism, is that states, including liberal Western states, do not do enough to protect this universal right. For example, he noted, “the American policy of advancing international religious freedom, which is highly rhetorical and lacks any strategic rationale, has been largely anemic and ineffective.” He noted that the post of US ambassador for international religious freedom has been vacant for months.

The second sort of skepticism, what I am calling “Type 2 skepticism,” differs fundamentally. It objects to the notion that “religious freedom,” as human rights advocates define it, is a neutral, universally applicable concept. What the human rights community perceives as neutral and universal is in fact a product of a particular culture and history–Western Christianity and the Enlightenment, especially the latter. One cannot legitimately expect other civilizations–Islamic, Hindu, Confucian, even Eastern Christian–simply to adopt religious freedom as Western lawyers define it. At the conference, Emory’s Abduh An-Na’im expressed this sort of skepticism. Religious freedom, he argued, must be expressed in idioms that non-Western societies can accept without surrendering their own religious and cultural heritage. I can’t recall his exact words, but he put it something like this: “If I have to choose between my ‘religion’ and ‘human rights,’ I’ll choose my religion every time.”

The two types of skepticism are related. Indeed, Type 2 skepticism provides an explanation for Type 1. In a world where civilizations differ on the core meaning of religious freedom, advancing a universal formulation is impossible. You might get states to agree on vague treaty language; the treatment of the right to change one’s religion in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights offers a famous example. But enforcement is another matter.

None of this is to say the we should give up on the idea of international religious freedom. Religious persecution around the world is too widespread, too serious a problem, for lawyers simply to throw up their hands. The two kinds of skepticism suggest, though, that as a practical matter advocates for international religious freedom may need to accept somewhat modest goals, at least for the present, and avoid universal assumptions that create unnecessary obstacles for their project.

O’Halloran, “Religion, Charity and Human Rights”

Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion, Charity and Human Rights by Kerry O’Halloran (Queensland University of Technology).  The Religion, Chairtypublisher’s description follows.

For the first time in 400 years a number of leading common law nations have, fairly simultaneously, embarked on charity law reform leading to an encoding of key definitional matters in charity legislation. This book provides an analysis of international case law developments on the ever growing range of issues now being generated by clashes between human rights, religion and charity law. Kerry O’Halloran identifies and assesses the agenda of ‘moral imperatives’, such as abortion and gay marriage that delineate the legal interface and considers their significance for those with and those without religious belief. By assessing jurisdictional differences in the law relating to religion/human rights/charity the author provides a picture of the evolving ‘culture wars’ that now typify and differentiates societies in western nations including the USA, England and Wales, Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Oxford Journal of Law & Religion Summer Academy (June 23-27)

From June 23-27, the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion will host its annual summer academy at St. Hugh’s College in Oxford. The Summer Academy is a major international event held for the benefit of leading academics, policymakers, international officials, practicing lawyers, journalists,  NGO representatives, and students, working in the field of law, religion and international relations. This year’s theme is “Sacred and Secular–International Religious Freedom and Varieties of Secularism from the Perspectives of Comparative Law, International Law and Foreign Policy.” For details, please click here.

Sayyid, “Recalling the Caliphate”

Next month, Oxford University Press releases Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonisation and World Order, by S. Sayyid (University of Leeds). The publisher’s description follows:

As late as the last quarter of the twentieth century, there were expectations that Islam’s political and cultural influence would dissipate as the advance of westernization brought modernization and secularization in its wake. Not only has Islam failed to follow the trajectory pursued by variants of Christianity, namely confinement to the private sphere and depoliticisation, but it has also forcefully re-asserted itself as mobilizations in its name challenge the global order in a series of geopolitical, cultural and philosophical struggles. The continuing (if not growing) relevance of Islam suggests that global history cannot simply be presented as a scaled up version of that of the West. Quests for Muslim autonomy present themselves in several forms – local and global, extremist and moderate, conservative and revisionist – in the light of which the recycling of conventional narratives about Islam becomes increasingly problematic. Not only are these accounts inadequate for understanding Muslim experiences, but by relying on them many Western governments pursue policies that are counter-productive and ultimately hazardous for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Recalling the Caliphate” engages critically with the interaction between Islam and the political in context of a post colonial world that continues to resist profound decolonization. In the first part of this book, Sayyid focuses on how demands for Muslim autonomy are debated in terms such as democracy, cultural relativism, secularism, and liberalism. Each chapter analyzes the displacements and evasions by which the decolonization of the Muslim world continues to be deflected and deferred, while the latter part of the book builds on this critique, exploring, and attempts to accelerate the decolonization of the Muslim Ummah.

Posner on the New 19th Century Regime

Religious freedom is generally considered one of the fundamental “international human rights” that international institutions are enlisted to protect and propound. This is much more Mark’s area of specialty than mine, but lately I’ve been thinking about the state of play in the international community with respect to religious freedom. Mark’s post below on the misperception of Vladimir Putin’s aims and the broader lack of understanding as between WEIRD cultures and those many others with different views is an important reminder that it would be a mistake to assume congruence or convergence in the world at large with respect to those values that we, for various culturally specific reasons, deem fundamental.

It was in the light of these musings that I found Eric Posner’s new post at Foreign Policy–Sorry, America, the New World Order is Dead–a bracing and insightful read. A bit:

The second pillar of the post-Cold War order was recognition of human rights. Under international human rights law, all governments must respect the rights of their citizens. While the number, nature, and scope of those rights are contested — and while many countries that signed onto human rights treaties argued that rights must be interpreted in light of their own religious, traditional, or practical commitments — the new liberal order envisioned a world that abided by the basic terms of liberal democracy. The Soviet Union’s collapse seemed to provide spectacular vindication for this view and to portend its universal acceptance.

Yet the human rights regime has failed as well. It has become increasingly clear that many countries simply disregard their human rights commitments. Russia, for example, has moved toward authoritarianism despite its ratification of universal human rights treaties and its accession to the relatively robust European Convention on Human Rights, which empowers people to bring cases against their governments. China has certainly not liberalized. Most developing countries lack the capacity to implement their human rights commitments, even when their governments and publics support them. Even Western countries violated the spirit of these treaties by taking harsh measures against al Qaeda in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks….

Back in the 1990s, at the height of optimism about international law, academics believed that they had to answer a puzzle. The four pillars of the new international legal system self-evidently embodied a liberal worldview that countries like China and Russia did not subscribe to and that indeed most countries outside the West had traditionally rejected. So what would compel these countries to obey international law? An enormous number of theories were produced, with their accompanying buzzwords: Countries complied with international law because their leaders had internalized the law. Or because they were bound by cooperative networks of judges and bureaucrats from different countries. Or because domestic and international NGOs put pressure on violators. Or because countries had become interdependent. Or simply because it was fair. At the heart of all these theories was the assumption that all countries complied with international law more or less equally.

The most obvious explanation for legal compliance was all but ignored. Countries obeyed international law in the post-Cold War period because the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe forced them to do so. Part of the explanation, of course, was that with the Soviet Union’s collapse, the liberal order gained significant prestige. But much of the explanation lies in the fact that countries feared that if they did not play by the rules set by the West, they would be deprived of aid, investment, technical cooperation, and opportunities to trade — and, in extreme cases, might be threatened with sanctions and military force.

If this explanation wasn’t clear in the 1990s, it is clear now. As the United States loses power, it has become obvious that no one else will guarantee the peaceful settlement of disputes, enforce human rights, or ensure that international criminals are tried and convicted….

Put another way, the liberal order that was born with the Soviet Union’s collapse rested on a fiction: that all nations were equal and submitted to the same rules because they reflected universal human values. In reality, of course, the rules were Western rules, and they were enforced largely by the United States, which was no one’s equal. Today, the fiction has been exposed, and the world order looks increasingly like the one that reigned during the 19th century. In this order, a small group of “great powers” sets the rules for their relations with each other and interacts under conditions of rough equality. Smaller countries survive by establishing client relationships with the great powers. The great powers compete with each other over these client relationships, but otherwise try to maintain conditions of stability that allow for trade and other forms of cooperation. The major challenge for the great powers is to ensure that competition for clients does not erupt into full-scale war.

USCIRF Issues Annual Report

The US Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan government advisory body, has issued its annual report for 2014. As it does every year, the report designates countries with bad records on religious freedom. The “countries of particular concern” for 2014 are Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. In addition, the report names countries with somewhat less bad, but still problematic records, the so-called “Tier 2 countries”: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey. Finally, the report names countries and regions that merit watching, including, somewhat surprisingly, Western Europe, which makes the list this year, among other reasons, because of recent bans on religious dress and ritual slaughter.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the United States to coordinate its efforts on behalf of international religious freedom with global actors–not only the UN and the OSCE, but also other national governments that now make religious freedom part of their foreign policy. The geopolitics of religious will be the the subject of one of the panels at our upcoming conference on international religious freedom this summer in Rome (watch this space for further details).

The report is pretty long, about 200 pages, but quite worthwhile. For a good summary, check out this piece by the Commission’s Knox Thames and Elizabeth Cassidy.

Brett, “Changes of State”

This month, Princeton University Press releases Changes of State: Nature and the Limits of the City in Early Modern Natural Law, by Annabel S. Brett (Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows:

This is a book about the theory of the city or commonwealth, what would come to be called the state, in early modern natural law discourse. Annabel Brett takes a fresh approach by looking at this political entity from the perspective of its boundaries and those who crossed them. She begins with a classic debate from the Spanish sixteenth century over the political treatment of mendicants, showing how cosmopolitan ideals of porous boundaries could simultaneously justify the freedoms of itinerant beggars and the activities of European colonists in the Indies. She goes on to examine the boundaries of the state in multiple senses, including the fundamental barrier between human beings and animals and the limits of the state in the face of the natural lives of its subjects, as well as territorial frontiers. Drawing on a wide range of authors, Brett reveals how early modern political space was constructed from a complex dynamic of inclusion and exclusion. Throughout, she shows that early modern debates about political boundaries displayed unheralded creativity and virtuosity but were nevertheless vulnerable to innumerable paradoxes, contradictions, and loose ends. Changes of State is a major work of intellectual history that resonates with modern debates about globalization and the transformation of the nation-state.

Reichberg & Syse (eds.), “Religion, War, and Ethics”

9780521738279Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion, War, and Ethics: A Sourcebook of Textual Traditions edited by Gregory M. Reichberg (International Peace Research Institute, Oslo) and Henrik Syse (Peace Research Institute). The publisher’s description follows.

Religion, War, and Ethics is a collection of primary sources from the world’s major religions on the ethics of war. Each chapter brings together annotated texts – scriptural, theological, ethical, and legal – from a variety of historical periods that reflect each tradition’s response to perennial questions about the nature of war: When, if ever, is recourse to arms morally justifiable? What moral constraints should apply to military conduct? Can a lasting earthly peace be achieved? Are there sacred reasons for waging war, and special rewards for those who do the fighting? The religions covered include Sunni and Shiite Islam; Judaism; Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity; Theravada Buddhism; East Asian religious traditions (Confucianism, Shinto, Japanese and Korean Buddhism); Hinduism; and Sikhism. Each section is compiled by a specialist, recognized within his or her respective religious tradition, who has also written a commentary on the historical and textual context of the passages selected.

Quote for the Day

On the crisis in Ukraine, from the Washington Post‘s Robert Samuelson:

“We’re relearning an old lesson: History, culture, geography, religion and pride often trump economics.”