University of Cambridge > > Legal Histories beyond the State > The Rise of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the OAS and Responses to the Cuban Revolution: Towards a Humanitarian and Geopolitical Genealogy of Human Rights in the Americas

The Rise of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the OAS and Responses to the Cuban Revolution: Towards a Humanitarian and Geopolitical Genealogy of Human Rights in the Americas

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Humanitarianism has long been deployed as a dominant language in international law and world politics, especially as a tool to justify and legitimize interventions and occupations, situations of semi-colonial rule and even geopolitical projects. Yet international lawyers and IR scholars have tended to gloss over the connections between humanitarian and liberal internationalist aspirations and geopolitical and strategic concerns, based on realist assumptions about world order, because of the binary distinction between idealism — and liberal international humanitarianism — and realism in international law and IR theory. However, early ideas of human rights in the Americas and the continental tradition of “American international law” have been deeply rooted in humanitarian and liberal internationalist, as well as geopolitical, concerns since the early twentieth century.

This work-in-progress paper examines the repercussions of the foundational declarations of the Organization of American States (OAS) on human rights in 1948, the projection of US Cold War concerns of containing socialist regimes to the OAS , and the geopolitical and humanitarian responses of the US and the OAS to the Cuban Revolution (1959). These early OAS declarations led to resolutions on the “Preservation and Defence of Democracy in America” and “the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.” The paper focuses on the emergence of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC), created in 1959, and the final exclusion of Cuba from the OAS in 1962. It argues that the institutional concerns within both the IAHRC and the OAS in their early stages were informed by US-led Cold War geopolitical and humanitarian concerns, and contributed to shaping the present legal and political form of these institutions.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER : Juan Pablo Scarfi is Assistant Professor of International Relations and International Law, School of Politics and Government, Universidad Nacional de San Martín, Argentina; and currently Visiting Professor, Institut des Hautes Études de l’Amérique Latine, Université Paris 3 (Sorbonne Nouvelle). His first monograph was The Hidden History of International Law in the Americas: Empire and Legal Networks (OUP 2017).

ABOUT THE SEMINAR : The seminar will proceed on the basis that participants have read the paper in advance. For a copy of the paper (available one week in advance), or to join the seminar mailing list, please contact md718.

The Legal Histories beyond the State series is an initiative of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, the Centre for History and Economics, and the Cambridge Centre for Political Thought. It brings together historians, political theorists and lawyers who are interested in the social, economic and political dimensions of law in the early modern and modern periods. We focus on the ways in which law and legal institutions order and organize space and people. This encompasses both imperial and international law, and domestic public and private law in its manifold influences on the nature and form of relations across borders. We are interested in legal actors and institutions, both national and supranational; doctrines and concepts, like jurisdiction; and also diverse forms of legal border-crossing, including the migration of people, ideas and objects across time and place. Embracing new trends in legal and historical research, we pursue the exchange of legal ideas in formal and informal contexts, and the creation, appropriation and interpretation of law by non-traditional actors, and in unexpected places.

Some sessions will be devoted to discussion of new, published work in the field, and others to the sharing of works-in-progress, whether draft articles, chapters or book prospectuses, with a core group of scholars from a variety of disciplines.

This talk is part of the Legal Histories beyond the State series.

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