GlobalUSAtion: Lawyers, Human Rights and the Contradictions of the Legal Order

In the end, the reforms were largely pushed through. But other lawyer resistance actions we have studied have been more successful, eg Malaysian lawyers’ demonstrations against abuses in the long-drawn out Anwar matter, and in solidarity with Hindus being discriminated against; and of course, most dramatic-the Pakistan lawyers’ demonstrations which were crucial in the developing resistance to Musharraf.

“Budgeting” for social justice and human rights

In recent years a number of techniques have been used by lawyers and their allies in the struggle to demonstrate the culpability of repressive states. These would include Popular Courts/Tribunals such as the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal. Another important contribution is the monitoring and recording state activity and publishing it widely, as Karapatan has so successfully done. In recent years the notion of “budgeting” has developed in many countries, two of which, Tanzania and Brazil, are useful to note here.

In Porto Allegre, Brazil “participatory budgeting” brought direct in-put from the grassroots into decisions on budgetary allocation and policy. In brief, this was possible because of the strength of the labor movement and the Left generally. Although it was extra-legal, the strength of the workers and the Left made it possible. Institutions were created outside the formal legal political structure, and the political situation was such that they had to be recognized as a legitimate part of the budgeting process.

In Tanzania, “gender budgeting” developed as a response to the negative effects on women, especially poor women, of the neo-liberal policies of the Tanzanian government, particularly after it was forced to capitulate to the IMF and undergo a “Structural Readjustment Program” in the 1980s. It was basically the mobilization of a coalition of progressive forces to 1) analyze state resource allocation and a range of policies to evaluate the effect on women,( later broadened to include poor and excluded groups generally because of the reality of interdependence); 2) to examine the role of TNCs and imperial links; and 3) to develop a democratic , informal extra-parliamentary “opposition”. Having done this, over a period of years, they were capable of bringing a transformative agenda to the public, and to bring pressure on the local, then higher levels of government-using national and international links- lobbying, demonstrations etc to try to achieve a re-distribution of resources which would be consistent with the agenda they had developed at grass-roots level.


I have only seen reports on these processes. Obviously there are potential problems, such as cooption and providing legitimacy for the state, as there are in any counter-hegemonic program. There are advantages as well, in developing capacity and consciousness of those involved. I suggest that a similar program for social justice and human rights might be worth considering as a part of SCHLS. In summary, building a coalition of forces which would have the kind of focus indicated in the Tanzania experience: analysis of government policies specifically dealing with law in order to assess the effect which legislation and court decisions have had, or will have, on the people i.e. is there, or is there likely to be, a negative result in terms of social justice and human rights?; putting the analysis in the framework of a progressive agenda to be fought for; and organizing grassroots “opposition” behind counter-hegemonic understandings and practices of law to try to de-mystify the legal framework in which the state and TNCs operate.

As a first step, as a legal academic, I recognize it will be necessary to challenge the traditional teaching of positive law in our Universities, a process of which I have some, mixed, experience! Contributed to (


Antons,C and Gessner,V (eds) Globalisation and Resistance: Law Reform in Asia since the Crisis (2007).

Aronowitz,S and Gautney,H (eds) Implicating Empire: Globalization and resistance in the 21st century world order (2003).

Barratt, B, Human Rights and Foreign Aid: For love or money? (2008).

Blum,W, Killing Hope:US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (1995).

Boehringer, G H and Russell, S, “Capitalism, lawyers and the State” Alternative Law Journal (forthcoming, Sept., 2008).

Bricmont, J, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (2006).

Brysk, A, Globalization and Human Rights (2003).

Caney, S and Jones, P (eds) Human Rights and Global Diversity (2001).

De Feyter, K Human Rights:Social Justice in the Age of the Market (2005).

De Sousa Santos, B and Rodriguez-Garavito, C A, Law and Glogalization from Below: Towards a Cosmopolitan Legality (2005).

Drydyk, J and Penz, P, Global Justice, Global Democracy (eds) (1997).

Dunne, T and Wheeler, N J, Human Rights in Global Politics (1999).

Evans, T, The Politics of Human Rights:A Global Perspective (2001).

Ghai, Y, Luckham, R and Snyder,F (eds) The Political Economy of Law: A Third World reader (1987).

Gibney, M J, (ed) Globalizing Rights: The Oxford Amnesty lectures 1999 (2003).

Held, D and McGrew (eds), The Global Transformations Reader: An Introduction to the Globalization Debate (2000).

Ishay, M R, The Human Rights Reader: Major Political Essays, Speeches, and Documents from Ancient Times to the Present (2nd ed., 2007).

Ishay, M R, The History of Human Rights; From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era (2004).

Trotsky, L, Dewey, J and Novack, G, Their Morals and Ours:Marxist vs. Liberal Views on Morality (5th ed, 1973).

Rajagopal, B, International law from below: Development, Social Movements and Third World Resistance (2003).

Woodiwiss, A, Globalisation, human rights and labour law in Pacific Asia (1998).

Share This Post