Dedicated to interdisciplinary and critical dialogue on human rights, the Rapoport Center’s Working Paper Series (WPS) publishes innovative papers by established and early-career researchers as well as practitioners. The goal is to provide a productive environment for debate about human rights among academics, policymakers, activists, practitioners, and the public.
Authors from all disciplines and institutions are welcome to submit papers. We publish papers on a variety of human rights and social justice topics, and we particularly welcome papers focusing on issues and topics affecting the Global South. We are especially interested in the following: reproductive justice and sexual rights; environmental justice and climate justice; peace and nuclear disarmament; inequality; and the future of work.
Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis and evaluated by the WPS interdisciplinary editorial committee, which includes graduate and professional students from across the University of Texas. The WPS committee provides comments and feedback to authors before the paper is published online. Publication in the WPS does not preclude future publication elsewhere; in fact, many of our working papers have since been published in academic journals and edited volumes.
The WPS also fosters international human rights scholarship through its collaboration with Sur: International Journal on Human Rights, a São Paulo-based journal that is published biannually in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. WPS editors work with Sur to edit articles that have been translated to English from a variety of languages. Through this partnership, the WPS expands human rights dialogue across linguistic borders.
To learn more about how to submit a paper, click here.
2023: First Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice
Ana Van Liedekerke uses Jorge Luis Borges' short story The Book of Sand (1975) to examine the aversion of Constitutional originalists in the United States to the idea of the Constitution as a living text. Contrasting Justice Antonin Scalia's rhetoric of magic as used to denounce the “living Constitution” with Justice William J. Brennan’s conception of an originalist Constitution as a ghost terrorizing the present, the paper asks what vision of the text these metaphors construct, and how they make the Constitution of the other into a "nightmarish" object.
2023: First Place, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights
Taís Penteado's paper discusses the complexity of subordination in legal contexts, particularly in the case of the Brazilian Supreme Court's criminalization of LGBTQphobia. Penteado argues that legal decisions based on the anti-subordination principle should consider the diverse ways inequalities manifest to address them effectively and highlight the dynamic nature of power relations and the challenges posed by intersectionality, and proposes a "Joint Venture Theory of Legal Interpretation," suggesting that civil society participation should be considered in legal interpretation to create more inclusive and effective legal outcomes.
Ashok Danavath highlights how the Indian government underfunded and mismanaged higher education scholarships for students of “scheduled castes and tribes,” two of the most oppressed communities in the country. In this paper, Danavath hypothesizes that recent changes to the scholarship requirements are designed to censor discussions of caste discrimination in academia, as students studying Indian culture and social structures in post-graduate programs will no longer be eligible for the scholarships, severely hindering their ability to pursue such educational opportunities. Such changes, Danavath argues, only further marginalize students of “scheduled castes and tribes” and deprive academia of vital research and scholarship on the Indian caste system.
2022: First Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice
Emma Brush presents Frederick Douglass’ “plain reading” textualism as a counter to the current constitutional arguments used by the Supreme Court, which often use inherently-racist originalism and color-blind constitutionalism to justify or ignore racial injustices. Brush explores Douglass’ claim that the Constitution should be seen as a “glorious liberty document,” drawing on Lockean natural law, common law, and the American tradition of prioritizing liberty, arguing that if Douglass could look to the Constitution as a tool for abolition, Douglass' textualism may also provide progressive constitutionalists with a theory of intepretation that centers racial justice.
2022: First Place, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights
Arti Gupta's paper identifies the danger of relying upon the past to confer legitimacy on non-normative sex and gender in India. The paper explores how totalizing accounts of history and appeals to "Indian culture" have been used to cast both "homosexuality" and "homophobia" as colonial impositions. Gupta's analysis further notes how these dueling narratives are instrumentalized by political actors, such as postcolonial elites or the Hindu Right, to evade responsibility and advance romanticized and essentialized visions of history, culture, and identity.
2022: Second Place, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights
Alaa Hajyahia explores the practice of wearing Islamic veils in public spaces in Europe, using a representative case study to detail how the Muslim woman is constructed by the European Court of Human Rights. Hajyahia argues that in cases involving Muslim women, the European Court of Human Rights maintains, protects, and enforces white power and control as defined by critical race scholars, all under the guise of gender equality.
2022: Third Place, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights
Fabiola Gretzinger details the history and successes of the #NiUnaMenos and the Marea Verde (Green Wave) movements throughout Latin America before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the obligations of both governments and movements to ensure women's rights are strengthened and protected.
2022: Second Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice
Timothy Lundy examines the influence of George Buchanan’s poetic work on classical democratic political thought in an unexpected sixteenth-century monarchical setting. Demonstrating the value of fictional poetry in appealing to both rulers and subjects, Lundy explores Buchanan’s pragmatic approach to arguments in favor of limited monarchy and political transparency. Buchanan’s work envisions a system of “robust public judgement” in which common people recognize a collective authority to remove tyrannical leadership and rulers respond to the public interest. This relationship, Lundy argues, reveals the indispensability of both fiction and popular support in past and present political decision-making.
In the United States, the “collateral consequences” of a criminal record extend far beyond the period of physical detention. These disadvantages fall disproportionately on the shoulders of people of color, and on Black Americans in particular. Among the numerous policy mechanisms aimed at alleviating these collateral consequences, expungement – the extraction and isolation of official criminal records from public access – stands out as particularly promising in that it promises to provide criminalized individuals a “clean slate.” Michael Hiestand provides a critical race perspective, through a comparative analysis in New Jersey and Alabama, to emerging literature on the uptake rate of expungement policies in their current, petition-based state.
Drawing from authors of legal theory on racial capitalism, self-regulatory behavior by transnational corporations, and "precarity capitalism," John Fossum explores how sectors categorized as "essential" maintained their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic through a case study of JBS USA Beef in Greeley, Colorado. The paper frames the protracted battle over production and worker safety as a standoff between workers of minority racial status, in precarious economic and labor conditions, and a winning coalition of powerful political and corporate stakeholders invested in the global value chain in beef.
Miriam Zucker's paper deconstructs scholarly blindspots in discussions of oppressive intra-group treatment of vulnerable persons that are part of minority groups. Zucker argues that scholarship fails to account for the role of the state in the problem of intra-group vulnerability. Recognizing the responsibility of the state for this problem, the paper insists, can then form a basis from which to hold the state accountable and more effectively respond to vulnerable members’ interests and needs.
2021: First Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice
Laura Petersen's paper, "An Ethos of Restitution: Walter Schwarz and the Gloss" explores the legal writing of Dr. Walter Shwarz, a Jewish lawyer active in settling restitution claims in post-WWII Germany. Through an engagement with his glosses, commentaries written in the literal margins next to summaries of legal decisions regarding restitution claims, Petersen argues that these glosses were also located in the margins of the law itself, bringing a human dimension to what was a rigid and bureaucratic process and ultimately constructing the building blocks for a different ethos and practice of law.
2021: Second Place, Zipporah B. Wiseman Prize for Scholarship on Law, Literature, and Justice
Rajgopal Saikumar puts a set of modernist texts in conversation to ask, what is one’s obligation to obey the laws of the state that one belongs to? Relatedly, what is the subject’s duty to disobey unjust authority? By providing examples from the Black radical tradition, European antiwar pacifism, and South Asian anti-colonial thought in the interwar years, this paper explores heterodox conjugations of commitment and disobedience to juridical authority.
Laura Charney’s paper uses ethnographic data from personal interviews to center on the migrant and refugee experience. Rather than emphasizing smugglers as the primary source of violence, her research implicates securitization processes, state bureaucracies, and anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling humanitarian projects, all of which relegate migrants to a “rightless” zone of economic, political and social vulnerability.
Vrinda Marweh’s paper draws from fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in the north Indian state of Punjab. She demonstrates that the state’s institutionalization of women as community health workers has both devalued care work and reinforced its gendered status.
Shireen Jalali-Yazdi presents a feminist decolonial intersectional framework of the killing of African American women, using it to undermine culturalist and racial explanations for the prevalence of feminicide in African American communities. The paper argues that the colonial conditions faced by African American men have contributed to the construction of feminicidal masculinities.
Holly Genovese examines the legacy and intellectual contributions of the Angola 3 to the Black Radical Tradition and contemporary understanding of the Black Panther Party. She argues that while the members of the Angola 3 do not fit conservative conceptions of intellectuals, they have used intellectual means to redefine the memory of the Black Panther Party and lay claim to their own experiences in prison.
In the wake of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Caroline Omari Lichuma argues that a human rights approach advocating economic and social rights (ESRs) is capable of mitigating economic inequality worldwide.
Serges Djoyou Kamga examines South African policies that aim to ensure higher education access for students with disabilities and the uneven enforcement of such measures at various institutions. He argues that although policies and legislative measures are in place, it is essential to implement enforcement mechanisms to foster the inclusion of students with disability in higher education.
Focusing on the multiple ways that international human rights discourse is deployed in diverse African locales throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Dr. Abena Ampofoa Asare launches the concept of domestication as a way to apprehend the variety of human rights practice. She challenges definitions of human rights progress that focus on expanding global consensus, and instead theorizes a future for human rights discourse that is rooted in difference, particularly the divergent strategies and ideologies of diverse local stakeholders.
Viki Zaphiriou-Zarifi explores the creation of the United African Women's Organization (UAWO) and its activist work in bringing mobilization, empowerment, and feelings of identity and citizenship to African migrant women in Greece. Applying the notion of ‘acts of citizenship,’ the paper illustrates the ways in which UAWO works towards claiming citizenship rights for non-citizens creatively, performatively, and in multiple spaces. In so doing, it also explores how UAWO seeks to challenge, and potentially transform, the categories of recognition available to African women in Athens.
Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso examines the need for and lack of truly durable solutions to the African refugee situation by addressing the insufficiencies of the current problematic approaches and the obstacles due to African history, politics, and humanitarian involvement.
Katherine Fallah shines a light on law’s claims to authority over transgender identities and transgender bodies, and offers an alternate, intimate account of one transgender person’s interactions with law and society.
Discussing forms of interpretation and implementation of reparation in international law, Franziska Brachthäuser argues that the current reparation practice at the ICC is not equipped to adequately address consequences of sexual and gender-based crimes.
Patricia M. Rodríguez explores alternative ideas of territorial governance and the reimagining of human rights by local communities in Cauca, Colombia, just as they construct life plans and popular mandates for truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition principles.
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee (“TRC”) that was established to “promote unity and reconciliation in a spirit of understanding which transcends the conflicts and divisions of the past” following Apartheid. Ultimately, the TRC decided to focus on human rights violations committed as specific political-criminal acts against specific individuals instead of on the effects of laws passed by the Apartheid government. In this context, Michaela Bolton asks how the reconciliatory dialogue initiated by the TRC could be extended to the people that fell outside of the TRC’s purview.
Leah Rodríguez analyzes how US immigration law exacerbates the precarity of immigrants’ work situations in ways that demonstrate that insecure work is not a function of the neoliberal economic system alone; rather, it is partly a function of immigration law and bureaucracy. Precarious work situations of immigrants in the US perpetuate social and economic inequality, labor rights abuses, and human rights abuses. The extent to which immigration law is the cause of immigrant workers’ precarious work situations explains why changes in labor law and human rights law are insufficient solutions to the issues that precarious work generates.
In this paper, Tanja Herklotz examines the dilemma that faces feminists and women's rights activists in India who are confronting the gender discrimination inherent in the Indian "personal law" system, according to which the individual is governed by the family law of her or his religious community. Although feminists criticise these laws as patriarchal and in need of reform, many Indian feminists do not want to mimic the secular agenda of their Western counterparts when thinking about the reform of personal laws, but rather seek to accommodate their own cultural and religious identities.
Mihret Getabicha grapples with the question of whether the International Criminal Court (ICC), since its emergence after the Rome Statute entered into force in 2002, disproportionately or selectively investigates situations in African countries in a manner that unfairly targets African leaders.
Arguing that income inequality is one causal factor in the deaths of environmental activists, Scott Squires examines how higher level of in-country inequality increases the likelihood an environmental and human rights defender will be killed for advocating against environmentally destructive megaprojects.
Pamela Neumann examines the process by which Nicaragua came to pass its most comprehensive law concerning violence against women (Law 779) in 2012, and the contentious politics that led to its unraveling over the next two years.
As uncovered by Rimple Mehta, the trajectory of violence in the lives of women engaging in transborder mobility can be plotted along a continuum where the border becomes one moment and site of violence in a series of violent experiences. Being masculinised and militarised the border becomes the breeding ground for gender-based violence.
Initiatives aimed at combating inequality through the promotion and protection of the human right to education—specifically those of Mercosur’s Educational Sector (SEM)—may have the unintended consequence of perpetuating already existing educational inequalities and, by extension, economic inequality among and within the block’s member states as unveiled by Craig Lauchner.
In this paper, Ryan Jones analyzes the six nations that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates— that have found themselves severely criticized for the abhorrent conditions that migrant workers frequently face in these countries.
Far from empowering women or supporting the poor, Nike’s rebranding project is an attempt to discipline girls, and the NGOs that represent them, into behaviors that support the status quo, distract from corporations’ misbehavior and expand the power of the market as analyzed by Maria Hengeveld.
Exactly how do indigenous actors elicit the right of self-determination as inherited, and to what extent does such agency reconstitute or validate human rights norms? Carla Silva-Muhammad proposes that within their unique project of self-representation and activism, the Kayapo indigenous society is indeed reformulating the concept of self-determination.
Lina Buchely analyzes the case of community mothers as street-level bureaucrats who produce the rule of law in their local spaces, within an institutional or democratic mechanism. This case study of community mothers, developed between June 2012 and February 2013, shows how street-level bureaucrats use the rule of law as a tool of empowerment.
Scholars often argue that the culture of American constitutionalism provides an important constraint on aggressive national security practices. Aziz Rana challenges the conventional account by highlighting instead how modern constitutional reverence emerged in tandem with the national security state, functioning critically to reinforce and legitimate government power rather than simply to place limits on it.
Karen Knop shows that the normative effects produced by San Francisco’s CEDAW initiative are not well captured by existing schematic approaches to the behaviour of sub-state actors, which tend to apply either a linear measure of compliance with international law or some general idea about good and/or bad local variation.
This article situates the fight against impunity in the history and trajectory of the human rights movement from the 1970s until today. Karen Engle argues that the movement’s early ideology of antipolitics has reemerged in recent years, functioning to defer—even suppress—substantive debates over visions of social justice, even while relying on criminal justice systems of which the movement has long been critical.
In this working paper, John D. Ciorciari explores legal and policy issues that arise when collections of documents pertaining to past atrocities are discovered in societies emerging from civil war, state collapse, or dire misrule.
This article is based on two months of fieldwork conducted in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010. Joyce Wu's article is a feminist reflection on the politics of aid, gender, and religion within the context of civil society organizations’ efforts to address violence against women in Afghanistan.
The concept of reputational dividends is developed in Matthew Flynn's paper to emphasize that as nation-states become increasingly integrated into a global social system, the symbolic dimension of power becomes more salient in forging state autonomy.
In June 2011, the International Labor Conference adopted the Domestic Workers Convention (the Convention), the first international labor standard to set out legal obligations that specifically protect and improve the working lives of domestic workers. Kali Yuan argues that previous regulatory attempts to protect domestic workers have been inadequate and, although it is an improvement, the Convention is currently also an insufficient legal instrument.
In this paper, Barbara Harlow, Daniel Kahozi, Lucas Lixinski, and Caroline Carte examine Libya’s most recent (and ongoing) uprising—following the largely peaceful popular overthrows of the repressive governments in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt (and complemented by the more violent and still unresolved confrontations in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and in sub-Saharan Africa from Uganda to Swaziland as well) in the first months of 2011.
Although the recognition of forced marriage signifies the SCSL’s commitment to actively prosecute gender-based crimes, and may further set persuasive precedent for other international adjudicative bodies, there remain certain elements of this crime that, despite the Appeals Chamber’s decision, are unsettled and unclear. To raise, explore, and assess these pressing questions, Jennifer Del Vecchio writes this paper.
In Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict, between one-fourth to one-third of combatants are women. In this paper, Shana Tabak addresses the problem of reintegrating female combatants in Colombia’s violent conflict into civil society after they have left armed groups.