Guarding utopia : law, vulnerability and frustration at the UN Human Rights Committee

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Halme-Tuomisaari , M M 2020 , ' Guarding utopia : law, vulnerability and frustration at the UN Human Rights Committee ' , Social Anthropology , vol. 28 , no. 1 , pp. 35-49 .

Title: Guarding utopia : law, vulnerability and frustration at the UN Human Rights Committee
Author: Halme-Tuomisaari, Miia Marika
Contributor organization: Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
Date: 2020-02-17
Language: eng
Number of pages: 15
Belongs to series: Social Anthropology
ISSN: 0964-0282
Abstract: How can anthropologists negotiate access in high-profile, bureaucratic apparatuses, such as a UN human rights monitoring mechanism – and what can a detailed account of these negotiations tell us of such apparatuses, their operational dynamics and the processes through which they exert an impact, broadly construed? This article addresses these questions through the notion of tactical subjectivity by anchoring its discussion on the category of the intern and detailing how this category became informative of the ‘fuzzy logic’ of the UN apparatus. The article outlines three techniques mobilised in the process – name-dropping, ‘playing blonde’ and opportunism – all embedded in a tactical matrix of exaggerated transparency. The article further shares attempts to flesh out relations and thus form ‘liaisons’ between my interlocutors and myself at sessions of the UN Human Rights Committee, the most influential of all the UN treaty bodies overseeing how states comply with their covenant-bound obligations. The ultimate aim was to become a conspicuous ethnographer with constant access – a volatile goal in the unpredictable microstructures of this awesome global apparatus.In the 1940s activists lobbied for the creation of a binding international bill of rights backed up by an interna- tional human rights court as the backbone of the postWorld War II order. Together, so the activists believed, these would guarantee peace and harmony to all mankind. Seven decades later this vision has been transformed into a cluster of UN human rights treaties and expert committees known as treaty bodies to monitor them. In practice treaty bodies process documents in ongoing bureaucratic cycles, which are located somewhere between an audit ritual and a court session. This duality is a source of strength as well as vulnerability and frustration, embodying an endless navigation between the ‘utopia’ of a robust and binding legal framework and an ‘apology’ for actual state conduct. This paper explores how this duality manifests itself in the practices of the most authoritative and ‘courtlike’ treaty body of the UN, namely the Human Rights Committee monitoring state compliance over the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), simulta- neously exploring how the vision is kept alive.
Subject: 5143 Social and cultural anthropology
United Nations
human rights treaty body
conspicuous ethnographer
Peer reviewed: Yes
Rights: unspecified
Usage restriction: openAccess
Self-archived version: acceptedVersion

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