Human rights in times of crises

Resistance and concrete utopias

Event series, May – November 2021

Human rights are a concrete utopia worth defending. But how to defend them needs to be constantly reinvented. As we find ourselves in a time of profound, global transitions, human rights actors need to refer to prevailing inequalities and the underpinning social questions. They must be fundamentally informed by decolonial, feminist and environmental perspectives.

The global struggle for human rights needs deep reflection and new approaches. This is why ECCHR is organizing a series of seven online events, funded by the German Federal Agency for Political Education, with partners from around the world. These public platforms will discuss and advance how to reshape our alliances for global human rights struggles. The aim is to build on today’s unprecedented, multiple crises as momentum to consider new ways of creating change and better positioning ourselves to fight against the further marginalization of the most excluded, and growing authoritarian tendencies.

Each event will be streamed live below, where participants can contribute to the discussion and ask questions via chat. Please register for each event beforehand.

The event series is deeply inspired and co-led by our community of partners worldwide – people and movements that have not stopped questioning the establishment, reclaiming the streets, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. The events are framed around ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck’s latest book The concrete utopia of human rights: A look back into the future (published in German by S. Fischer).

New narratives and the end of business as usual

The current critical narrative of human rights provides a very bleak outlook – as if the last two decades illustrate the fact that the battle for human rights has been lost. Against this skeptical discourse, a growing, rational counter-voice has emerged. It is grounded in the lived experiences of human rights victories, inspired by unshakable mobilizations in the Global South, and equally considers social movements and civil society actors and their struggles, not just legal discourse. It refuses to be confined to narrow Western perspectives on human rights.

Faced with a multifaceted climate crisis, a pandemic, deeply unequal economic models, and authoritarianism, human rights activists can no longer go on with business-as-usual. The unprecedented transitions we are experiencing are the chance to rethink strategies, alliances and new ways forward.

Colonialism, paternalism, capitalism: How historical legacies shape our present

To design sustainable models to fight injustices, we must consciously reflect on history and legacies, and have that directly inform our strategies for action. How and why does colonialism continue to shape so much of our current social, economic and political world order? Why does paternalism marry so well with neoliberal capitalist agendas? How have dominant economic and development models enabled such environmental damage? How are the consequences of the climate crisis symptoms of racial, social and political inequalities? What needs to change in order to mitigate climate change in a way that does not further exacerbate existing inequalities? What can we learn from the way the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic?

In being informed by the historical roots and politics that underpin systemic injustices, we can better understand what needs to change. But more important is to learn from and listen to human rights actors in different parts of the world. The language of human rights is no longer for the exclusive few. It has become entangled in countless local, regional initiatives and movements around the world, particularly in the Global South.

The possibilities of a concrete utopia for all

Human rights law is without question a relevant tool to resist or upset structural injustices. But it also bears the potential for constructive change. The exceptional body of principles enshrined in law gives us a normative basis, and thereby a recognized right, to reclaim more of what is due. It also allows human rights actors – activists, artists and lawyers – to pragmatically formulate our right to move closer to a concrete utopia of human rights for all.