The Persistence of Chinese Rights Defenders

Scholars have recently critiqued human rights as a purely Eurocentric construct that has failed to find wider appeal and is now on the decline. Some cite the apparent success of China’s repressive political regime in support of this argument, but depicting China as uniformly authoritarian risks missing the persistence of domestic forms of human rights advocacy and mobilization.

This chapter, “The Persistence of Chinese Rights Defenders”, which I wrote a couple of years ago for the Oxford Handbook of Law and Anthropology, draws on my experience as a rights advocate to review the history of civil society mobilization in China since 2000, including actions taken in domestic courts, in non-governmental organizations, and through social media. Despite repeated crackdowns, the arrest and disappearance of leading human rights defenders, and Chinese authorities’ interference with UN human rights mechanisms, some Chinese human rights defenders do find innovative ways to persist in rights-based advocacy, such as the practice of weiguan (public counterveillance during political trials).

I argue that the world has entered a more intense phase of struggle over the meaning and application of human rights norms in diverse local contexts, and that the human rights framework facilitates transnational solidarity.

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Enter the Cyborgs: Health & human rights in the digital age

It was a pleasure to co-edit this special section of the Health and Human Rights Journal with Carmel Williams on “Big Data, Technology, Artificial Intelligence and the Right to Health”. It gathers a diverse group of anthropologists, human rights lawyers, tech researchers, rights activists, and UN policy officials to explore early thinking on this rapidly emerging field.

As Carmel and I wrote in our editorial, COVID-19 has forced many of us into a strange new intimacy with our phones and laptops: those of us in the elite with the privilege to work from home have virtually melded with our machines. Personally, I don’t think I’ve been farther than one room’s length from my smartphone since March 2020. So if we are now basically cyborgs…living “on the boundary between fact and fiction” (Haraway 1995), what use are 20th century human rights?

A bunch of smart people tackled this and other questions, ranging from the rights of children in the digital age, to the role of tech in human rights investigations, to the role of the private sector and UN agencies, to the possibilities for new forms of civil society and community engagement in the digital space. The issue is available for free download here.

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Right On 5: Why are we failing to end AIDS? Engaging with the politics of data

This fifth episode of the Right On Podcast, recorded for the American Anthropological Association annual conference, brings together co-hosts Meg Davis and Ryan Whitacre with medical anthropologist Prof. Cal Biruk and UN Development Programme policy officer Kenechukwu Esom to explore how human rights and quantification collide in the global HIV response.

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New paperback! And a chat with activists in the Uncounted

Some good news — beginning in October 2020, The Uncounted: Politics of data in global health will be available in paperback for US$35.99 (or 23.99 if you’re paying in GBP)!

To order from your local bookshop, try Indiebound – or if you’re not sure who that would be, go to Bookshop to order it online while supporting independent booksellers in general. The book is also available from Amazon, of course — but please support independent bookstores if you can. Wherever you get your copy, I’d be grateful for an honest review on Goodreads or Amazon – in our data-driven world, the more reviews it gets, the more visible it will be.

I had the chance to reunite with some of the Caribbean activists I wrote about in the book, who did their own community-led key population size estimates in 6 countries that had never had them before – as the book describes, they mobilized to draft the questionnaire, develop the research methods, interview hidden key populations, and analyze the data. Thanks to the amazing online HIV2020 conference organized by communities living with and affected by HIV, we were all able to reunite on Zoom and geek out about participatory action research. Watch the recording here. Look on the right-hand side of the screen for interpretation in Spanish, French, Portugese and Russian!

We’ll have more events soon – including an exciting one organized by AIDS activists, so please stay tuned.

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The Politics of Global Health Data – a chat with Oxford RightsUp podcast

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought questions around global healthcare financing and equitable access to treatments to the fore. But this is not the first time a spotlight has been thrown on the thorny issue of fair resource allocation in efforts to tackle global health issues. In her book, “The Uncounted: Politics of Data in Global Health” (Cambridge University Press), Dr Sara Davis considers how human rights issues can affect the data which underlie global healthcare funding. She looks closely at the indicators which drive resource allocation, the metrics used to measure success in tackling health issues, and the people whose experiences healthcare data often fails to capture. Ultimately, in a world of finite resources, this data plays an important role in determining who is more likely to live or die.

Available on Spotify or Soundcloud, here.

Interview with: Sara Davis (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva)
Host: Natasha Holcroft-Emmess
Producer/Editor: Christy Callaway-Gale
Executive Producer: Kira Allmann
Music: Rosemary Allmann

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The silence at AIDS 2020 Virtual

Reprinted from Harvard Health and Human Rights Journal.

For decades, the International AIDS Conference has successfully convened a massive biannual meeting, bringing together a diverse community of scientists, researchers, activists and officials, as well as a smattering of celebrities. At a turning point with a battered global strategy and the devastation caused by a second global pandemic, COVID-19, the global AIDS movement has never been in more urgent need of such frank and diverse conversations. Sadly, the conference which launched online this week has never been more divided: while scientists and UN officials gather in the official meeting, AIDS 2020 Virtual, community activists have broken away to hold a parallel conference, HIV 2020.

Continue reading

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Why are we failing to end HIV?

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Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development/flickr, CC BY 2.0

Reprinted from Med in Switzerland #21, Medicus Mundi International

As the International AIDS Conference holds its first virtual meeting, it’s time to consider the politics that create gaps in data for the fight against HIV, writes Sara L.M. Davis

This year was supposed to be a celebration – the year we reached the milestones set by the UN General Assembly to end HIV by 2030. But as the International AIDS Conference, the world’s largest meeting of HIV scientists, officials and activists, convenes online, it is clear that the world is far off track. Why? Continue reading

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Health aid accountability and the politics of data

Screenshot 2020-07-16 at 17.37.54This webinar was organized on June 26, 2020 by the Kampala Initiative: Challenging Realities of “Aid”. Speakers included Dr. John Waters (Caribbean Vulnerable Communities) and Hayden Barthelmy (GrenCHAP), civil society activists from the Caribbean who successfully conducted an HIV study in partnership with communities and researchers; Dr. Carolyn Gomes, winner of the UN Human Rights Prize and Alternate Board Member representing Developing Countries NGO Delegation on the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; and Sara (Meg) Davis.

Click here for the slides and here for the recording.

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Online events on the Uncounted

Screenshot 2020-06-17 at 12.45.42

Three events to share: two recorded online, one up ahead, on my new book, The Uncounted: Politics of Data in Global Health — including an upcoming webinar featuring some activists profiled in the book.

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Right On 4: Meet the speakers

For this episode, I reached out to two good friends who are wonderful data nerds and activists, Shirin Heidari and Marina Smelyanskaya, to talk about gender, inequality and data. When I invited Malu Marin, a longtime activist for the rights of migrant workers in Asia, she urged me to talk to her friend Jolovan Wham instead – “a very committed activist working directly with migrant workers”. Jolovan has come under more than his fair share of pressure for his advocacy for free speech – so especially grateful to him for his time, and to all three of this episode’s experts. Continue reading

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