Human Rights in an Age of Ambiguity


Fordham University

13 – 15 June 2016


5th joint conference, organized by:

Human Rights Section, International Studies Association (ISA)

Human Rights Section, American Political Science Association (APSA)

Human Rights Research Committee, International Political Science Association (IPSA)

Standing Group on Human Rights and Transitional Justice, European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR)


In association with:

Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS)



We are pleased to announce that abstract submissions are now open for the fifth joint international conference on human rights, on the theme Human Rights in an Age of Ambiguity, to take place from 13 to 15 June 2016 at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus, located in New York City. The conference will be held immediately prior to the annual meeting of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (16 – 18 June), also being hosted at Fordham University.



The global political, economic, normative, structural and ideational landscape has undergone significant change in recent decades, with no signs of abating. There are new – or newly important – players, both state and non-state-based, which affect global political power asymmetries and inject competing ideas, interests, and priorities into the global political scene. New and evolving institutions and authority structures raise deep and profound questions about global (and regional and national) governance. These questions lead to an ambiguous global situation as norms, institutions and power structures are called into question and challenged on multiple levels.


Nowhere has this ambiguity been more acute and clear than in the area of human rights. A human rights regime which, while far from perfect, appeared to rest on a global consensus and seemed impervious to change, has undergone rapid and deep transformation – in ways which appear to both support and undermine the protection of human rights.


Challenges from emerging non-Western powers highlight a lack of consensus on fundamental priorities and approaches to the relationship between people and power, the governed and the governors, freedom and order. Terrorism and other security challenges pose seemingly imponderable conundrums for civilian and basic human rights protection. Climate change raises questions of intergenerational justice and poses corollary rights threats resulting in forced migration, food insecurity, and humanitarian crises.


The global refugee regime, a core set of ideas and institutions dating from the end of the Second World War, now faces unprecedented challenges and been put to tests never imagined by its creators – challenges and tests that states and international institutions have failed to adequately meet. International criminal justice mechanisms have been created with high hopes that those who commit mass atrocities will be punished and justice will be done, only to be undone by lack of adequate global support and political will. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which heralded a new recognition that human rights are a core part of states’ claim to legitimacy – has frequently failed to gain decisive advantage over traditional notions of sovereignty and state interest.


This combination of new players, political power asymmetries, institutions, along with deep material challenges to the contemporary global order, raises profound questions about the future of human rights norms and institutions, as well as the actual enjoyment of human rights across the globe.


We welcome paper and panel proposals on the general theme of the conference from researchers and policymakers from academia, think tanks, IOs and NGOs featuring both traditional and innovative  scholarship which address the unsettled state of human rights norms and institutions. Papers might address, among others, the following questions:


•What challenges do shifting global power structures pose to human rights?

•Are traditional state supporters of human rights still supporting human rights?

•Are emerging global and regional powers supporting or challenging human rights?

•Has the global consensus on human rights changed? Was there ever a consensus in the first place?

•Is universality under serious threat?

•Are there regional or other political divides on human rights?

•How will new(er) global threats (e.g. climate change, terrorism) affect the realization of human rights in the future?

•How can resiliency in human rights be better cultivated and practiced?

•Have the Human Rights Council and other human rights institutions lived up to their promise?

•Do our global institutions need to be revived/renewed/reimagined in order to properly realize human rights?

•What are the implications of ambiguity across different generations of rights (e.g. civil/political vs. economic/social/cultural)?

•What are the implications of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and elsewhere?



Consideration will be given to publishing an edited volume with a select range of papers presented at the conference.


Please note that proposals must relate to the conference theme to receive full consideration. You may submit either an individual paper or a panel proposal. Each full panel proposal should include exactly 4 papers plus a chair and discussant. We will also consider roundtables, which should include four participants plus a chair. Please note that we intend to accept relatively few roundtables. Each roundtable proposal should indicate the importance of it being roundtable rather than a panel and should be directly related to the theme of the conference.


Submissions are now open. Please upload your paper or panel abstracts (no longer than 200 words) and all other necessary details as required through the site: bit.ly/HRAmbiguity


The deadline for submissions is 11:59pm EST on Monday, 30 November 2015.


Notification of acceptances will be sent by e-mail on Monday, 21 December 2015.


Registration fees for the conference are as follows:


General registration: $225

Student registration: $125


All individuals accepted on to the program will be expected to register for the conference by Monday, 1 February 2016.


For more information please contact: HRjc2016@global-human-rights.org.


Please Note: This conference is being held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Academic Council on the United Nations System, which will have as its theme Meeting the Challenges of Development and Dignity. Individuals registering for one conference will be eligible for a 20% discount on registration for the other conference. More information will be provided.


Follow us on Twitter @HRjc2016 for updates.



Conference Co-Chairs:


Melissa Labonte (Fordham University)

Kurt Mills (University of Glasgow)



We look forward to welcoming you to Fordham University in June 2016!