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The Institutions of International Society  

Tonny Brems Knudsen

The “fundamental” or “primary” institutions of international society, among them sovereignty, diplomacy, international law, great power management, the balance of power, trade, and environmental stewardship, have been eagerly discussed and researched in the discipline of international relations (IR), at the theoretical, meta-theoretical, and empirical levels. Generations of scholars associated with not only the English School, but also liberalism and constructivism, have engaged with the “institutions of international society,” as they were originally called by Martin Wight and Hedley Bull in their attempt to develop a historically and sociologically informed theory of international relations. The fact that intense historical, theoretical, and empirical investigations have uncovered new institutional layers, dynamics, and complexities, and thus opened new challenging questions rather than settling the matter is part of its attraction. In the 1960s and 1970s, the early exponents of the English School theorized fundamental institutions as historical pillars of contemporary international society and its element of order. At the turn of the 21st century, this work was picked up by Kal Holsti and Barry Buzan, who initiated a renaissance of English School institutionalism, which specified the institutional levels of international society and discussed possibilities for institutional change. Meanwhile, liberal and constructivist scholars made important contributions on fundamental institutions in key engagements with English School theory on the subject in the late 1980s. These contributions and engagements have informed the most recent wave of (interdisciplinary) scholarship on the subject, which has theorized the room for fundamental institutional change and the role of international organizations in relation to the fundamental institutions of international society.

Article

The Politics of Digital (Human) Rights  

Ben Wagner, Andy Sanchez, Marie-Therese Sekwenz, Sofie Dideriksen, and Dave Murray-Rust

Basic human rights, like freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and privacy, are being radically transformed by new technologies. The manifestation of these rights in online spaces is known as “digital rights,” which can be impeded or empowered through the design, governance, and litigation of emerging technologies. Design defines how people encounter the digital world. Some design choices can exploit the right to privacy by commodifying attention through tactics that keep users addicted to maximize profitability; similar design mechanisms and vulnerabilities have facilitated the abuse of journalists and human rights advocates across the globe. But design can also empower human rights, providing novel tools of resistance, accountability, and accessibility, as well as the inclusion of previously underserved voices in the development process. The new capabilities offered by these technologies often transcend political boundaries, presenting complex challenges for meaningful governance and regulation. To address these challenges, collaborations like the Internet Governance Forum and NETmundial have brought together stakeholders from governments, nonprofits, industry, and academia, with efforts to address digital rights like universal internet access. Concurrently, economic forces and international trade negotiations can have substantial impacts on digital rights, with attempts to enforce steeper restrictions on intellectual property. Private actors have also fought to ensure their digital rights through litigation. In Europe, landmark cases have reshaped the international management of data and privacy. In India, indefinite shutdowns of the internet by the government were found to be unconstitutional, establishing online accessibility as a fundamental human right, intimately tied with the right to assembly. And in Africa, litigation has helped ensure freedom of speech and of the press, rights that may affect more individualsas digital technologies continue to shape media. These three spheres—design, diplomacy, and law—illustrate the complexity and ongoing debate to define, protect, and communicate digital rights.