International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.
The human rights of LGBTI persons are being contested across the world—both within states and across regions. Despite decades of incremental change, in many states, LGBTI activists are beginning to rapidly advance their normative agendas, particularly in the context of protection against violence and discrimination. However, consistent backlash and opposition to LGBTI advocacy remains. Notwithstanding decades of silence on LGBTI rights, international institutions are also beginning to rapidly include sexual orientation and gender identity in their work as well. Institutions that consist primarily of independent experts and that focus on narrower human rights issues have been especially active in including sexual orientation and gender identity in their work, either formally or informally. At the same time, largely political institutions have generally lagged behind their counterparts. Scholarship on both sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) advocacy and contestation have also lagged behind political and legal developments at international institutions. Although a few works exist, particularly on the UN Human Rights Council, there are numerous other institutions that have been understudied. Further, research on the implementation of international SOGI policies has also been largely absent. SOGI advocacy and contestation continues across nearly every major international institution. Research agendas, either qualitative or quantitative are sorely needed to help better predict and explain the advancement or retreat of SOGI in international institutions and within domestic contexts.
The United Nations system has been a major global site of political and legal contestation for LGBTQI human rights. However, the lack of consensus has led to major divisions within the UN’s political institutions. The independent human rights institutions that do exist within the UN system have been more progressive in advancing LGBTQI issues.
Christina Kiel and Jamie Campbell
Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and international institutions have proliferated since the end of World War II. This development has changed the landscape of international relations not only for states, but also for nongovernmental organizations and social movements. The advocacy of international nongovernmental organizations (INGO) plays a central role in pushing IGOs and their member states toward action. INGOs’ success in doing so depends on a number of factors, opportunity prime among them. Political opportunity structures (the institutional arrangements and resources available for political and social mobilization) determine lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) INGO access to power holders and thus their chances of bringing their concerns, and possible solutions to those concerns, to IGOs. The opportunity structures vary significantly from one IGO to the next. For example, the political opportunity structure offered by the European Union (EU) has been favorable to LGBT activism, while the United Nations is much less open to comprehensive inclusion of LGBT and sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) human rights. As LGBT issues move onto an IGO’s agenda, a symbiotic relationship develops between the IGO and advocacy organizations. The changing opportunity structures influence NGOs’ structure, strategy, and resource mobilization. Coordination between advocacy groups with similar goals becomes easier when many organizations have physical offices at IGOs. For diplomats and bureaucrats working at the IGO or national representative offices, INGOs can be beneficial, too. In particular, advocacy organizations are experts and purveyors of information. However, the interdependence between INGOs and IGOs has the potential of silencing voices that do not neatly fit into the internationalist, liberal rights-based discourse. Besides the political opportunity structures in IGOs, the frames INGOs use to advocate for issues have been found to be essential for campaign success. One tactic that often constitutes successful framing is the grafting of issues to existing norms. In the LGBT context, the frames proposed by activists include human rights, health (specifically HIV-AIDS), and women and gender. International institutions assure that similar issues will be politicized in multiple countries. In order to meaningfully affect domestic populations, the policy needs to translate to the local level through norm diffusion. The mechanisms of diffusion include material inducement (e.g., conditions for membership), learning, and acculturation and socialization.
M. Joel Voss
Europe has some of the most powerful human rights legal institutions in the world including two supranational human rights courts—the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights and the European Union’s Court of Justice (hereafter, together—the Courts). After decades of relative quiet, the Courts have begun hearing more cases concerning LGBT rights. Judgments of the Courts have advanced some facets of LGBT rights like anti-discrimination in the workplace while disappointing gay-rights advocates in other areas, for example family life and asylum. Scholarship on European courts and LGBT rights is not as developed as scholarship on norm advocacy or policy diffusion within states in Europe. The research that does exist looks at how decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice deal with current European law, how the institutions are designed, or how the supranational courts may act as agents of change or status quo institutions in shaping wider European behavior. This lack of newer research on the Courts presents ample opportunity for new avenues of research that examines not only how decisions are made at the Courts but also how states implement decisions and how states view the legitimacy of each Court.
HIV/AIDS in Europe highlights the centrality of politics at local, state, and international levels to the successes and failures in fighting transnational, global threats. Though several European states have led the international struggle against HIV/AIDS and have made great strides in treatment and prevention, others host the fastest-growing epidemics in the world. Even in states with long histories of treatment, specific subpopulations, including many LGBTQ communities, face growing epidemics. This variation matches trends in public policy, the actions of political leaders, and social structures of inequity and marginalization toward affected populations. Where leaders stigmatize people living with HIV (PLHIV) and associated groups, the virus spreads as punitive policies place everyone at increased risk of infection. Thus, this epidemic links the health of the general public to the health of the most marginalized communities. Mounting evidence shows that a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS prevention involving universal treatment of all vulnerable communities is essential to combating the spread of the virus. This approach has taken hold in much of Europe, and many European states have worked together as a political force to shape a global human rights HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention regime. Despite this leadership, challenges remain across the region. In some Eastern European states, tragic epidemics are spreading beyond vulnerable populations and rates of transmission continue to rise. The Russian case in particular shows how a punitive state response paired with the stigmatization of PLHIV can lead to a health crisis for the entire country. While scholars have shed light upon the strategies of political legitimization likely driving the scapegoating and stigmatization of PLHIV and related groups, there is an immediate need for greater research in transnational social mobilization to pressure for policies that combat these backward political steps. As financial austerity and defiant illiberalism spread across Europe, key values of universal treatment and inclusion have come into the crosshairs along with the European project more generally. Researchers and policymakers must therefore be vigilant as continued progress in the region is anything but certain. With biomedical advances and the advent of the “age of treatment,” widespread alleviation from the suffering of HIV/AIDS is a real possibility. Realizing this potential will, however, require addressing widespread political, social, and economic challenges. This in turn calls for continued interdisciplinary, intersectional research and advocacy.