Greetings again from Belgium! As our tired group made their way back from the beautiful and (too) sunny Paris to the comfortable familiarity of Brussels, we refocused our minds from discussions of foreign security matters and EU institutional concepts towards an exploration of international human rights in the context of European nations.
We welcomed Dr. Mikulas Fabry to Belgium, who is graciously imparting his expertise in ethics and international affairs through a crash course on the nature of international human rights policy and its omnipresent impact on world affairs. We began by discussing current issues concerning the European continent, including the migration of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa into EU countries, Hungary’s reconsideration of capital punishment, and ongoing war crimes occurring in the Gaza Strip. There are numerous obstacles to achieving peace in the current international system, and many center around the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms for human rights treaties, which stem from an inability of national governments and international institutions to concretely define the terms of human rights debates.
Dr. Fabry lead us through a comprehensive definition of human rights, and I especially appreciated our discussion on how human rights were developed from natural law, which constitutes an ancient moral theory that nature contains objective moral standards that are accessible to all people by virtue of their reasoning. A world that is constantly evolving and entrenched in cultural relativism contests natural law, and by extension, human rights protections. This clash between what a culture deems is acceptable for those involved and what should naturally be accessible to all peoples is still relevant in contemporary human rights conflicts.
Our afternoon lecture centered around various international institutions that contribute to the global human rights debate, including the various institutions from the United Nations and the European Union specifically. These institutions have evolved and adapted to address human rights concerns in the past, and are continuing to develop in response to recent crises such as the migration problems and rising tension in the Middle East.
The general conclusions reached after a comprehensive and engaging six hour discussion were that unsympathetic governments hinder the operability of human rights machinery on both the regional and global level, and that sympathetic governments benefit greatly from external reviews of their practices because those reviews establish a good reputation on the global stage. All of us received a solid (but firehose) grounding in human rights theory and are ready to discuss more about the International Criminal Court and other details regarding human rights institutions tomorrow.
We all look forward to using the knowledge we gained from today’s lectures and will gain from tomorrow’s as we prepare to embark to The Hague, Berlin, and Kraków in order to become truly immersed in current human rights issues through relevant site visits!
Great post Meghan! I really enjoyed the transition to Human Rights as well! I found myself engaged in the lecture the whole time, even with it being a long day! I also thought the discussion about how human rights stems from natural law. It got me thinking about the nature vs. nurture debate.
Dr. Fabry’s lectures were wonderful! Even though we packed several hours within a few days, I found myself constantly engaged– as you know, I was already interested in the subject beforehand (INTA 2010 partners hey!!), but this definitely boosted my interest in working in the field in the future. I too enjoyed the part of the lecture on the origination of human rights through ancient moral theory. It surprised me that the concept of international human rights is relatively new, too. Great blog post, Meghan!
Great picture of Dr. B 🙂
This is a great synopsis of Dr. Fabry’s introductory lecture on human rights. Your statement on the current debate over whether human rights should be defined by either cultural law or natural law really highlights why efforts thus far to promote and secure them have historically been weak. I think your concise insights about the philosophy behind human rights and its subsequent consequences on a policy-level reveal why its such a controversial subject in the international theater. Regardless, I think we can all agree that existing temperatures under 100 degrees should be a human right; it’s definitely good to be out of that insane Parisian heat wave.
First of all I would like to agree with you about how overwhelmingly sunny (though beautiful) Paris was and what a shock and welcome surprise this 60-75 degree Belgian weather must be for all of us. I’m honestly sad to say goodbye to Brussels; this post really made me think about how little time we have left and how we’re moving on to a new class and new cities. I know we’re all excited, but I think a lot of us are going to miss our home away from home.
This post did a great job outlining our first day back in Brussels and detailed the most important points from Dr. Fabry’s introductory human rights lecture, even mentioning certain unstable HR areas like the MENA region. I can’t wait to see how each of the topics we mentioned will come into play during our visit tomorrow at the ICC.