Englehart to discuss changing human rights discourse

Human rights abuses have long been a subject of debate. On the one hand, discourse about human rights has been built on the assumption that states are the primary abusers of rights, yet human rights law assumes that states are also the primary guarantor of rights.

Dr. Neil Englehart, political science, will discuss “Petty Despots: Rethinking Human Rights Discourse After the Cold War” at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 15 in 201A Bowen-Thompson Student Union.
His talk, which is free and open to the public, is the first in the 2008 Artists and Scholars in Residence Series organized and operated by the campus Institute for the Study of Culture and Society (ICS). The series showcases the work of faculty affiliated with the institute.
Englehart will address how human rights abuses have changed over time, how we might understand such abuses in the context of state failure and how we adapt human rights discourse to meet these new challenges.
During the Cold War, human rights discourse and activism was premised on the assumption that states could protect rights if they chose; if abuses occurred, it was because the government lacked the will to intervene or acted out of malice. Today, however, most human rights abuses occur in places where states are too weak, incompetent and ineffective to protect citizens. The problem in these cases is petty despots: warlords, rogue police or military officers, landlords and strongmen. These local power holders operate free from effective government control, and under the radar of the international community, and are therefore able to commit abuses with impunity.
Englehart’s teaching and research focus on Asian politics and human rights. He is the author of Culture and Power in Traditional Siamese Government and co-editor of Human Rights in the Age of Globalization, and has been widely published, especially in the Journal of Peace Research, International Political Science Review and Human Rights Quarterly. Currently a fellow at ICS, he is at work on the booklength study Petty Despots: State Failure and Human Rights, which is based in part on fieldwork in Afghanistan, Burma and India.

September 8, 2008