The focus of this year’s Human Rights Luncheon Speaker series is “Rights in Conflict.” By this framing, we aim to focus on two distinct but related ideas: The first is that rights discourses, by their very nature, often conflict with each other. This raises deep problems of interpretation, legitimacy, strategies and tactics for activists, etc. Around the world, we see many recent poignant examples of such conflicts, including US Supreme Court litigation over religious-based refusals to provide cakes for gay weddings, debates over the lines where “free speech” may become sufficiently oppressive to violate rights to dignity or equal protection, tensions between the power (some say the “rights”) of nation-states to control their borders versus compelling human rights claims of refugees, those facing deportation, women’s rights claims for equity versus “traditional” or “cultural” but often exclusionary or patriarchal norms, etc.
The other meaning of conflict refers to actual conflicts where rights claims face increasing pressure, again often due to claims of overriding security issues (e.g., President Trump’s promise to resurrect waterboarding; the threats to journalists in Mexico, and elsewhere), deep norms of cultural or religious cohesion (e.g., the Rohingya in Burma; US and Canada removals and forced assimilation of Native children), and transnational capital development (e.g., global North’s industries’ extractive mining and/or flooding of indigenous lands for hydroelectricity in the global South).
In sum, human rights claims have increasingly come into conflict in both senses, both in the US and around the world. Invited speakers will reflect on these fault lines and consider how societies and institutions balance such competing claims, both as to specific case studies and, as part of a year long extended conversation, more broadly.