Monthly Archives: January 2021

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.

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.