Nov 10, 2016
8:45am - 1:00pm    |    Vanderbilt 201, 40 Washington Square South, New York City

Please RSVP here and bring ID to access NYU building.

Coffee and refreshments will be provided. 

Every year, CHRGJ hosts a large and impressive class of Scholars in Residence engaged in research that shapes in fundamental ways how we think about and advocate for human rights and global justice. They are an integral part of the Center, and the Research Forum is an opportunity for the broader community to learn about and engage more deeply with their work. Our fall half-day forum will feature four scholars discussing projects in various stages of completion. Academics, practitioners, students, stakeholders, and members of the broader community are welcome to attend. Presentations will be followed by comments from discussants and audience members. Précis for some presentations are listed below, and all will be circulated on Wednesday, November 9 to those on the RSVP list.


9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.

Socioeconomic Rights in India: Seeking to Preserve both Democratic and Constitutional Legitimacy
Rehan Abeyratne

The Indian Supreme Court’s active defense of socioeconomic rights has enhanced democratic legitimacy by giving the public a forum to express, in the language of rights, their grievances at the lack of distributive justice. This, in turn, has spurred civil society activism and social movements that have resulted not only in the judicial recognition of socioeconomic rights, but also in sweeping legislation guaranteeing, inter alia, rural employment, primary education, and food security. Yet, in ruling on these issues, the Court may have threatened constitutional legitimacy. Drawing from chapters in his forthcoming monograph, Socioeconomic Rights in India (Oxford University Press), Abeyratne will discuss three challenges to constitutional legitimacy. First, The Court has not adequately described how non-justiciable Directive Principles of State Policy can be read into the right to life under Article 21. Second, no structure or standard of review has been clearly identified or consistently followed in socioeconomic rights cases. And third, the Court has identified new rights, which are unmoored entirely from the constitutional text, without sufficient explanation. These challenges raise important questions: Is it possible to preserve constitutional legitimacy while ruling as broadly and creatively as the Indian Supreme Court has in its socioeconomic rights jurisprudence? In future judgments, how can the Court remedy its jurisprudence to mitigate, or even eliminate, constitutional legitimacy concerns, while maintaining its democratic legitimacy?

Discussant: Madhav Khosla

Click here to view précis.


10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.

Missing Torture amongst the Poor
Tobias Kelly

What is the relationship between poverty and torture in human rights work? Torture has been one of the dominant international human rights issues of the last fifteen years. Much of the focus has been on the ill-treatment of individuals in the context of national security. However, torture can also be common experience for many people who live in poverty- as their daily encounters with the police and other officials are marked by violence. Kelly will discuss a forthcoming journal article (in Human Rights Quarterly) in which he and his co-authors examine the ways in which human rights work can systematically under-perceive the extent and nature of torture amongst the poor. Its findings are based on research examining the documentation of torture and ill-treatment in urban slums in Kenya, Bangladesh, and Nepal.  The work involved interviews with human rights practitioners, household surveys in low-income neighborhoods, and detailed analysis of particular cases. The paper sets out the key predispositions in documentation techniques that result in the experience of the poor often failing to enter the human rights frame in relation to civil and political rights. These predispositions are linked to the social networks within which human rights works operates, a focus on accountability and redress over protection issues, and notions of what it means to be a ‘good victim’.

Discussant: Deborah Popowski

Click here to view précis.


11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

The emergence and influence of a transnational activist network on the rights of older persons
Annie Herro

The campaign to establish a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons is currently taking place; however, progress on drafting the convention has been slow. Studies have shown that transnational activist networks are influential actors in establishing new human rights norms and law. Yet, while highlighting the central role of networks, the literature pays little attention to how such networks operate and function internally. Herro’s presentation will draw from a research project aimed at tracing the development of the transnational advocacy network seeking to establish a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons in real-time. The project asks: What is the evolving composition of this network? How does this network operate and what are its goals and strategies? To what extent do these goals and strategies explain the success/lack of success of the campaign to establish this convention? What are the implications for our understanding of transnational advocacy networks and their influence over a UN political process?  The presentation will present some preliminary observations that address some of these questions based on field research and documentary analyses from the regional network in Africa .

Discussant: Philip Alston


12:00 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Constitutional Making in Deeply Divided Societies: The South Asian Experience
Tarunabh Khaitan

This project aims to investigate the ability of democratic constitutions to defend themselves and thereby endure, especially in deeply divided societies. It will rely on case studies from the constitutionally volatile South Asian region to examine the following three questions:

  1. Do specific design features (concerning their composition and decision-making processes) of constituent assemblies influence their ability to secure broad consensus around the resulting constitution?
  2. What specific tools can constituent assemblies use to secure a broad consensus around the resulting constitution?
  3. Are constitutions enacted without broad consensus amongst politically salient groups more likely to suffer constitutional crises? Are they less likely to survive such crises?

This study brings together three emerging fields of constitutional theory and comparative constitutional law scholarship: the endurance of national constitutions, constitutional stability in deeply divided societies, and the constitution-making process. These are all concerns about constitutional engineering, whereas the scholarship has overwhelmingly been dominated by a focus on the normative legitimacy of different design features in constitutions—constitutional edifice, if you will. There is broad consensus in the scholarship that a normatively legitimate constitution is a liberal-democratic one, which respects some version of democracy, fundamental human rights, separation of powers, and the rule of law. The project is significant in its focus on how to design and build a good and enduring constitution, rather than studying what counts as such.

Discussant: Samuel Issacharoff

Précis will be circulated to those who RSVP.

Research Forum 2016_Final Draft



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