Human Rights Commentary

This is a regularly updated selection of pieces discussing emerging scholarship and current events related to international human rights. We encourage commentary submissions from within the UT community and from outside students, academics, practitioners, and policymakers. Submissions should be no longer than 750 words, and will be reviewed by an editorial committee member before being posted. Please send submissions, and any questions, to

All is Fair in Love and the War on Terror, According to the U.S. Supreme Court

Fall 2023 Barbara Harlow intern Manasi Chande analyzes the manufactured legal system for Guantanamo Bay detainees, evaluating how the U.S. Supreme Court’s justification for the separate, unequal legal system has created a “law-free zone” that perpetuates a cycle of human rights abuses against detainees.

Mural honoring Marielle Franco in the Jardim Paulista/Pinheiros neighborhood of São Paulo. (Photo credit: Edward Shore)

Marielle Franco and the Brazilian Necropolis: Assassination and After Lives

Xavier Durham, Barbara Harlow Intern in Spring 2018, reflects on the assassination of human rights activist and Rio de Janeiro Councilor Marielle Franco through the lens of structural anti-black state violence in Brazil.

Family sits at edge of ocean
Ricardo Velasco (2018) Local "Sabedores" meet regularly in Isla Grande, Islas del Rosario, to discuss strategies to pass on to younger generations their traditional cultural knowledge.

Summer Reflections Series: Sustainable Settlements for Peace

Ricardo Velasco reflects on his work as a Berta Cáceres Fellow, undertaking fieldwork with the Sustainable Settlements for Peace, a program developed by the organization CASA (Council for Sustainable Settlements of Latin America) and the Foundation Mentes en Transicion in Isla Grande, Islas del Rosario and in Filandia, Department of Quindío, Colombia.

Access to Counsel: A Corollary to “The Production of Precarity” within the US Immigration System

Leah Rodriguez's article, "The Production of Precarity: How US Immigration ‘Status’ Affects Work in Central Texas" offers a comprehensive breakdown of the relationship between immigration law and precarity for immigrants in the United States. In response, Elizabeth Schmelzel considers why the public provision of immigration attorneys is a necessary corollary to Rodriquez's proposed solutions.

fitbit stats
In our daily lives we are regularly giving away bits and pieces of our privacy. When we use Fitbit, the company is given access to where and when you have been somewhere. (Flickr, Charlene McBride)

Digital Privacy: Smart Technology and the Naive Consumer

To be a part of the modern world one must be connected to it constantly. The pervasiveness of technology, combined with its necessity in the modern world, has made issue of use of personal data for convenience versus protection of personal data for security an all-important debate.

One of the main criticisms is that the new Penal Code, like the 1976 Penal Code, only defines punishments that fall under the Tazir, which are punishments that are not defined in the Quran or Sunna and are executed under the discretionary power of the judge, in article 2(1). (credit: Todd Huffman, Flickr)

Afghanistan’s new Penal Code: Whether or Not to codify Hudud and Qisas

In May 2017, Afghanistan enacted a new Penal Code in an attempt to modernize and unify the statutes regulating crimes and their punishments. Murtaza Rahimi discusses some of its primary criticisms.

Brazil Lula
Last July, the court found Lula guilty of receiving a beachside apartment from a construction company in exchange for lucrative contracts in state projects.

February 15, 2018

Volatile Times for Brazil’s Human Rights

Following the decision of Porto Alegre’s appeals court to uphold the corruption conviction of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva three weeks ago (1/24/2018), Eyal Weinberg explores its impact on Brazil.

shipping containers stacked high
Some multilateral trade agreements have successfully encouraged the development labor standards with targeted economic sanctions. However, using labor standards as a solution to poor working conditions overlooks the cost of isolating developing economies while they remain non-compliant.

February 1, 2018

Economic Sanctions: Effective Enforcement Method for Labor Standards?

Julie Wilson explores the incorporation of labor standards into multilateral agreements. She discusses how trade sanctions could induce compliance for labor violations, and argues that labor standards remain a limited tool to improve workers’ conditions globally.

Youth set up a mobile food stand
Youth set up a mobile food stand near the Mercado de Minero, or Miner's Market, in San Luís Potosí. (Scott Squires, July 2014)

January 12, 2018

Child Labor and the Mountain that Eats Men

Sofia Bonilla presents the case of dangerous mining in Bolivia as part of the larger global issue of child labor. She calls for governmental reform that goes beyond conditional cash transfers and enacts actual solutions to combat the deadly child labor conditions in Bolivia.

Sierra Leone river and town
Sierra Leone has virtually no laws to regulate in-country or out-country outsourcing. As a result, employees are losing their jobs to contract workers. (Image: David Hond)

December 23, 2017

Sierra Leone’s Experience with In-Country Outsourcing

Kaifala details the exploitative effects of in-country outsourcing in Sierra Leone and pushes for domestic standards that protect workers' human rights.

empty cubicles
Are unpaid internships really an option for all candidates? Or do they favor the financially capable and take away opportunities from disadvantaged applicants?

December 13, 2017

Society Pays for Unpaid Internships

Patrick Aana discusses the exclusionary effect of unpaid internships on applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly at the United Nations. He argues for a change in internship policy that focuses on how to compensate interns that eliminates class barriers and promotes equality.

Burma city from above
Focusing on enhanced transparency does little to rectify extant business-related human rights abuses in Burma (Photo by Waldemer Merger shared under a CC BY 2.0 license)

November 30, 2017

Shining Light on Bad Practices: Re-assessing Tools for Corporate Accountability in Burma

In light of rapidly increasing levels of investment in Burma, Kate Taylor considers the ways in which transparency is being used as a governance tool to pursue corporate accountability for human rights abuses. She argues that transparency is a laudable beginning for investments in Burma, but it is the start, and not nearly the end, of the broader accountability project.

female symbol etched into concrete
Feminist scholarship offers the tools to build a more just and inclusive internet.

November 8, 2017

3 Reasons Why We Need Critical Feminist Theory More Than Ever in the Age of Big Data

In the age of Big Data—when Silicon Valley “tech bros” are busy convincing us of the merits of machine learning, and the US president pretends to govern while flirting with his white supremacists followers on Twitter—Inga Helgudóttir Ingulfsen makes the case for why we need critical feminist scholarship now more than ever.

water over land
Mehta traces violence following migrant women across the India-Bangladesh border. This violence operates as a method of control over movement between unequal regions.

July 3, 2017

Comment on Violence, Mobility, and the Borders of Bengal

Rimple Mehta’s ethnographic exploration of the violence of mobility is a critical intervention in studies of migration across the India-Bangladesh border and of border crossing more generally.

hands of an African-American holding onto jail bars
Today, people of color make up thirty-seven percent of the United States population but sixty-seven percent of the prison population.

April 26, 2017

Legalized Slavery in the United States Implemented Through the “Justice” System

The prison system in the United States equates to modern-day slavery due to its targeting of racial and ethnic minorities. There are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails, which amounts to a 500% increase over the last 40 years. One in seventeen black men, aged between thirty and thirty-four, were in prison in 2015, as were one in forty-two Hispanic males, and one in ninety-one white males in the same age group...

man with tape over his mouth
The wave of arrests targeting journalists and activists in Lebanon over online statements— especially those made on Twitter and Facebook—during the last few years has escalated at an alarming rate.

April 12, 2017

#JungleRepublic: Where a Facebook Status Can Cost You Your Freedom

An enraged young Lebanese activist, Ahmad Amhaz, was detained in March over this Facebook status: “Three kinds of animals currently rule our country: a donkey, a crocodile and a third whose kind is yet to be discovered.” Referencing the Lebanese president, prime minister...

surveillance word cloud forming a head
How do we balance our need to prevent attacks by foreign agents and our right to privacy?

April 5, 2017

Finding a Balance: Privacy and Safety

Considering the most recent release of information by WikiLeaks, and the ongoing 2016 election investigation, it seems as apt a time as ever to reevaluate the right of privacy and how far it truly protects the individual. In the United States, while the right to privacy...

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which sits in San Jose, Costa Rica, hears cases on human rights violations in the Americas.

March 29, 2017

The Need To Increase Participatory Mechanisms at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been subject to significant criticism regarding the absence of participatory mechanisms that allow societal actors to intervene in the inter-American process. To some extent, these critiques reflect a similar demand that is occurring in the domestic realm...

Romani children pose for a photograph
Presently, cases of outright denial to enroll Romani children to academic institutions continue to remain prominent. The mayors of several French municipalities refused to enroll Roma children in public schools on the basis of lack of certification. Certification, however, is not easily achieved by Roma parents as informal settlements are almost never recognized by government officials.

March 22, 2017

The Weight of Stigma and Segregation: Examining the Denial of Equal Education Opportunities to Roma Communities in EU Countries as an Abuse of Human Rights

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination released a statement in 2000 that acknowledged “the place of the Roma communities [is] among those most disadvantaged and most subject to discrimination in the contemporary world.” Such socially and institutionally accepted xenophobia...

protestors hold signs
Protestors push back against the idea that refugees are not welcome.

March 2, 2017

“Are Refugees Really Not Welcome?”

“#RefugeesNotWelcome: Making Gendered Sense of Transnational Asylum Politics on Twitter” by Inga Ingulfsen is the winning paper of the 2016 Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights, an interdisciplinary writing competition organized by the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice.

man and woman holding Oscar award
Before the broadcast, the five directors nominated in the best foreign language film category released a joint statement, where they denounced "the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and some many other countries." (Express Tribune)

March 1, 2017

Oscar Night Winners Bring Human Rights Issues Center Stage

On a night usually reserved for celebrating Hollywood elites, human rights violations around the world were featured front and center in several winner’s acceptance speeches. Especially in the categories that celebrated international achievement in filmmaking, winners did not hesitate to make strong statements in support of inclusion, tolerance, and peace...

people holding aids awareness ribbons
Not all training programs, according to Swidler, were equally effective in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS. This and other shortcomings in the NGOs efforts, Swidler found, arose when the priorities of foreign volunteers were disconnected from local needs. Many volunteers had an idealized fantasy of helping the Other, which Swidler called the “romance of AIDS altruism.”

February 22, 2017

Ann Swidler on the Romance of AIDS Altruism

How is culture embedded within institutions? This central question drives the research of Ann Swidler, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. The interplay between culture and institutions has taken her from investigating how middle-class Americans talk about love to studying the international AIDS effort in sub-Saharan Africa...

Volkswagen sign
Recently, scholars are returning to scrutinize the interplay between business corporations and Latin American regimes. Early literature has already unraveled the close ties between business elites and authoritarian rules, from the state’s reliance on industrialists in developing a pro-market, open economy, to industrialists’ consent and sometimes-active support of coups d’état and ensuing state-led repression.

February 13, 2017

New Research on the Relationships between Businesses and Military Regimes under Latin America’s Cold War

State terror and human rights violations during Latin America’s authoritarian phase have been amply studied in the past two decades. Scholarship has revealed how Cold War military dictatorships and juntas-headed national security states detained, tortured, and disappeared hundreds of thousands of civilians— from indigenous groups in Central America to political activists...

Mideast Israel Miss Trans
Israeli Arab Talleen Abu Hanna, 21, poses on stage after she was announced as the first Miss Trans Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

November 10, 2016

A Move Towards Acceptance of Transgender Women in the Middle East

On May 27, 2016, Talleen Abu Hanna, 21, became the first Miss Trans Israel. On an international scale, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals face discrimination not only by those in their communities, but also by...

Awlaki, a U.S.-born and U.S.-educated radical Muslim preacher, had been the target of a protracted mission to eliminate him, in an operation code-named “Objective Troy.” (New York Times)

December 10, 2015

Violence Committed by Americans against (Foreign) Americans

Mark Danner’s portrayal of the muted denunciation of human rights abuses during the now more than decade-long U.S.-led global “War on Terror” and the remission of the once honorable paradigm of the exposure of injustice leading to redress were especially poignant reminders of the current crisis in humanitarian thought and activism...

young man standing next to wall about US drones
The Obama administration has made extensive use of drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, killing between 3,500 and 5,000 individuals. (CNN)

December 9, 2015

What Do We Do With What We Know? The War on Terror and Human Rights

Danner offered an incisive analysis of the current state of the United States’ War on Terror, an analysis that should not only sound alarm bells among European leaders as they choose military strikes as their response to the latest attack by ISIS in Paris, but also raises difficult questions about the part a human rights framework could play in putting an end to torture, indefinite detention...

school desks
Not only have human rights policies failed to alleviate economic inequality in the Mercosur region, but they have also, in some instances, perpetuated those very inequalities. (Vice)

November 19, 2015

The Human Right to Education and Economic Inequality

Focusing policies on tertiary-level education, Lauchner argues, rather than on primary and secondary education, has disproportionately benefited elites and perpetuated existing inequalities in society...

woman holds Nike shoe
Nike’s track record on worker’s rights raises the question as to whether the Girl Effect is a “brand-led movement” or a movement to re-brand Nike. (

November 21, 2015

Nike’s Girl Effect and the Privatization of Feminism

In 2009, Nike launched the Girl Effect, a “brand-led movement” targeting the alleviation of poverty among girls worldwide. The initiative advocates for investing in adolescent girls to create future workers and stimulate economic growth...

kafala system
The kafala system—with all its legal underpinnings—is used to govern any worker within the country who is not a Gulf Cooperation Counsel national.(Al Jazeera)

November 15, 2015

Beyond Purely Legal or Economic Analyses of Migrant Laborer Abuses

The kafala is a system of laws and customs used to govern migrant workers in these countries. Some of the more egregious laws tie workers to one employer, enabling the confiscation of the workers’ passports during their stay in the country...