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CPSA/ISA-Canada section on International Relations

C07(a) - The Challenges of Balancing Sovereingty, Resistance, and Human Rights

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 03:15pm to 04:45pm | Location: SWING 307

Chair/Président/Présidente : Mathilde Bourgeon (Université du Québec à Montréal)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Mathilde Bourgeon (Université du Québec à Montréal)

Of Jews and Arabs: ‘Ethnic’ Violence and the Purview of International Law: Kirsten Andersen (York University)
Abstract: This paper addresses the question of how understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of an ‘ethnic’ conflict rather than a colonial occupation has affected the responses of different international legal actors and institutions to the occupation, and the failure to uphold international humanitarian law (‘IHL’) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It argues that conceptualizing the conflict as ‘ethnic’ has resulted in an uneven and, at times, failed application of IHL. This is due to the unclear and underdeveloped status of ethnic conflicts within the IHL framework, and the colonial legacy of international law’s legal understanding and expression of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘self-determination’. Efforts to frame the conflict as ‘ethnic’ have been made to justify a permissive interpretation of IHL regarding the occupation. Such discourses shift the analytical focus away from the conflict’s territorial occupation and colonial violence, and centers it on the existing ‘state’ arrangements and ethnicities of its relevant actors. The paper undertakes this analysis from a postcolonial theoretical perspective that addresses the significance of colonialism in the formation of IHL’s theory and institutional development, including its subjects and objects. The oral and written interventions of the subjects, authors, and international actors involved in international legal forums and intergovernmental organizations will be subjected to a discourse analysis understood within an interpretivist epistemological framework to determine how (and why) the conflict is framed thusly. It concludes with thoughts on how international humanitarian law could reimagine the conflict in order to be more effectively applied to the occupation and its violences.


Canadian Foreign Policy Toward Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela: Selectivity in Promotion of Human Rights and the Advancement of Democratic Values Under Harper and J. Trudeau: Yvon Grenier (St. Francis Xavier University)
Abstract: This paper examines Canada's foreign policy toward Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela since 2006, with a focus on our resolve to project "a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values." Like most Latin American countries, Mexico is an "emerging" democracy (i.e. not quite "consolidated" yet), but with a deficient judicial system, endemic corruption, and widespread human rights violations. Cuba is a fully consolidated post-totalitarian regime, with low level of violence and some liberalization, but virtually no civil and political liberties. Finally, Venezuela has been in transition from a "hybrid" regime under President Chávez to a full-fledged authoritarian regime under President Maduro. The research question is this: Is our "voice" strong and coherent, and has it changed from Harper to Trudeau? The preliminary results suggest that the human rights and democracy agenda is easily trumped by other policy objectives, and that our lofty agenda can shine if no other major concern or interest is at stake. Conservative and Liberal policies are mostly similar, with the possible exception of our Cuba policy, though the difference seems less significant than is usually assumed in the scholarly literature. Finally, our policy is incoherent because it understandably calls for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values in Venezuela, but not nearly as much in Cuba, and not at all in democratic Mexico, where the human rights situation is arguably as deplorable (or possibly worst) than in the other two nondemocratic nations.

Rhyming Assertions of Sovereign Privilege: The UNDRIP and the Canadian Government's Discourse of: Caleb Lauer (Balsillie School of International Affairs / University of Waterloo)
Abstract: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is rightly lauded as a victory for Indigenous diplomacy and the struggle to protect collective Indigenous rights. However, the UNDRIP is also hyper-protective of state sovereign privilege. Mitigating against state fears that Indigenous peoples would claim “external” self-determination, the architects of the UNDRIP promoted a notion of self-determination which served to further “legitimize” already existing states to the extent these states facilitated Indigenous self-determination within the bounds of state sovereignty. This relationship between the recognition of rights and facilitation of self-determination, on the one hand, and the protection and legitimization of sovereign privilege, on the other, is also characteristic of certain state-Indigenous “reconciliation” processes found in various countries. Taking the Canadian case, the paper analyses the significance of this similarity, the implications of the UNDRIP being used by the Canadian government as a “framework” for reconciliation, how the discourses of sovereignty found in both the UNDRIP and the government’s reconciliation policies reinforce each other and serve to obscure the contingency and power-bases of sovereignty, and how reconciliation in Canada, despite its “domestic” nature is very much linked to persistent global contestations over the substance and effective extent of sovereign privilege.

Revolutions and Resistance Rights in International Politics: Antonio Franceschet (University of Calgary)
Abstract: When does the international society of states legitimate popular resistance struggles? Do revolutionary ideals, events, and movements have a decisive impact on these conditions? The question may seem less important today because of the apparent depletion of revolutionary ideology and zeal across the states system. Communist ideology has been supplanted by nationalist, statist doctrines, and liberal democratic states and societies seek minimal self-protection from apparent threats, internal and external, such as illiberal populism on the one hand, and Islamic extremism on the other. But looking at such transient signs of relative decline are misleading in terms of understanding the constant potential of revolutionary ideas and norms and the legitimation of resistance struggles. This paper explores the distinctly modern ideational legacies of the formation of the states system, particularly those that arose initially out of 17th and 18th century Europe, as potentially continuous resources for actors seeking to reshape the state and global expectations of international legitimacy. The central argument of the paper is that the concept of “rights” and of particular types of rights, particularly to sovereignty, to self-determination, and human rights, are borne out of revolutionary ideals that upended established political orders, and that have been constantly (re)appropriated by states and popular movements. Using social constructivist and English School theories of IR, I show that the international states system recognizes and legitimates popular resistance struggles that fit within those rights claims most congruent with the revolutionary foundations of modern international society.