CfP: The Rule of Law from Below: Individuals and Civil Society as Protectors of the Rule of Law in Troubled Times

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

On 29 October 2020, Utrecht University’s Montaigne Centre for the Rule of Law and Administration of Justice, together with the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), will host a conference that shifts the focus to the role of individuals and civil society in responding to threats to the rule of law. The purpose of the conference is to investigate the different ways in which individuals can be protectors and defenders of the rule of law, and also explore whether attention to this perspective may influence how the rule of law is defined and understood by States and other international actors. A follow-up session will be held in the morning of 30 October to brainstorm potential new publications or research projects. The conference will have four themes (see below):

The role of the civil society and civic space supporting the rule of law.
Collective citizens’ activities face pressure globally, whether it is demonstrations by social movements in the streets or the work of non-governmental organisations: civic space is under pressure. By holding authorities to account, uncovering corruption, claiming social justice and litigating in courts, civil society plays a crucial role in upholding the rule of law. It is clear that the rule of law should protect such work, but how does it work the other way around? What effects do the activities of civil society, organised or not, have on the rule of law? Which particular features of the rule of law are strengthened by civil society and in which ways?

The role of religious/traditional groups in promoting the values underlying the rule of law. While the State is at the centre of public international law and the primary duty bearer in human rights, private actors have long been implicated by and dedicated to their underlying values. Human rights in fact notes its origins in the many religions and philosophies of the world. Given contemporary factors including globalisation, privatisation, and the rise of religiosity, private actors are increasingly important in today’s society, and the role of the State is both changing and diminishing. What role can and should private actors, like religious groups and community collectives, play in promoting the rule of law and human rights? How does this impact upon the role and function of the State, and upon the international legal framework?

The role of civilians and community leaders in protecting the rule of law in armed conflict. In recent and ongoing non-international armed conflicts, civilian communities have played active roles in securing their own protection by, for example, organising governance initiatives in areas where the de jure government is absent, negotiating with armed actors and forming committees and structures to assist civilians in need e.g. white helmets. To what extent does the international humanitarian law or human rights law framework address civilian volunteerism in non-international armed conflicts? To what extent do civilians living outside the control of the de jure government remain subject to the rule of law – and how should that rule of law be understood and measured? What are the risks for local entities taking on the role of protectors of the rule of law and should third States support these initiatives?

The role of civil society in documenting serious human rights violations and protecting the rule of law through ensuring accountability. From interviewing and advocating for survivors to leading forensic exhumations to building criminal case files against specific individuals, civil society is often at the forefront of accountability efforts, protecting, defending, and leveraging the rule of law. Recently, new technology and new networks of support have propelled these efforts in unprecedented ways. In what ways has technology changed the work of civil society in bringing about accountability? How are civil society actors engaging in new ways with institutions involved with accountability? What are the risks associated civil society actors playing a greater role in criminal investigations and filling in spaces previously occupied only by states or international bodies?

See here the call for papers.

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