VICTIMS’ UNDERSTANDINGS AND MOTIVATIONS IN PROCESSING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS CASES IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH
The proliferation of international human rights treaties, committees and courts over the last sixty years represents enormous achievement. International human rights laws are now asserted throughout the world by individuals of many cultures and traditions. Yet, at the same time human rights ideas and principles continue to have difficulty in establishing their relevance in the daily lives of those who are geographically and culturally distant from international institutions (Stacy, 2009). In my forthcoming piece in Human Rights Quarterly, I argue that notwithstanding the fact that giving voice to those oppressed is a main function of the international human rights movement (Baxi, 2009), and that the meaning of human rights must be grounded in local culture at grassroots levels, relatively little scholarship bases its analyses on the discourse of those actually involved in human rights violations cases in the Global South. What are victims’ conceptions and expectations of human rights and their agendas and experiences in formal and informal justice systems processing their cases? This knowledge is critical to enable greater understanding of victims’ needs, epistemologies and micro-realities in order to innovatively engage the controversies in international human rights theory and practice and to effect realizable change for the subjects of human rights in the Global South.
I provide some such data in my forthcoming book based on my empirical research in India, detailed in my earlier post. This includes voices of female victims of violence discussing their comprehensions, objectives, and practices in processing their cases (74 interviews with victims, and 24 with their family members). I link victims’ discourse to norm diffusion theory in international relations (Risse et al. 1999) and to vernacularization theory in law and anthropology (Merry, 2006), which engage the issue of permeation of human rights standards to grassroots levels.
In terms of female victims of violence in India where CEDAW was ratified in 1993, I show that notwithstanding State enactments of laws in line with international human rights obligations, and the dissemination of human rights concepts by transnational activists and domestic NGOs who work to make them meaningful within particular societies, the subjectivities of victims of violence in two major cities (Delhi, Bangalore) as illustrated in their discourse on their motivations and aims in approaching formal courts and informal justice mechanisms suggest little if any human rights emancipation. Those with little education had either never heard of human rights or lacked an understanding of their meaning. More educated victims who had a general sense of human rights concepts knew little of specifics. Moreover, both groups generally felt that fundamental human rights ideas, though something positive, were primarily of use on an inspirational level.