Guarding utopia

Law, vulnerability and frustration at the UN Human Rights Committee

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
Miia Halme‐TuomisaariHelsingin yliopisto tutkijakollegium

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In the 1940s activists lobbied for the creation of a binding international bill of rights backed up by an international 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), simultaneously exploring how the vision is kept alive.

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