The Australian Journal of Human Rights will publish a Special Issue in mid-2024 that examines whether and why accountability for human rights violations is in crisis.
Accountability is a cornerstone of the international human rights framework and ‘accountability refers to the obligation of those in authority to take responsibility for their actions, to answer for them by explaining and justifying them to those affected, and to be subject to some form of enforceable sanction if their conduct or explanation for it is found wanting.1
In a decade of rising authoritarianism, democracies around the world are struggling to maintain the norms and practices essential to their survival. Despite attempts by some governments to cling to democratic values, the impacts of a global pandemic, climate change, armed conflict and economic inequality and instability have triggered a parallel erosion of human rights and declining trust in democratic institutions, adversely impacting on the human rights of millions.2
Accountability mechanisms are perceived by some as failing rights holders, particularly in upholding the right to access justice, and access to remedies and reparations.
The Journal invites contributors to take a broad approach to the topics of accountability, impunity, and the protection of human rights, focusing not only on holding governments to account, but also on how we might think about accountability and impunity from the perspective of business, traditional and digital media, emerging technologies, civil society and rights holders.
With the power to implement laws and incorporate human rights into legislation, governments increasingly fail to intervene in human rights violations and in so doing, often undermine public integrity.
- Are checks, balances and human rights seen as obstacles to the exercise of power rather than principles of good governance?
- The dominant approach to exacting justice for human rights abuses has been traditionally top-down. How can governments better support a bottom-up, victim-led approach to accountability, invoking methods and lessons, for example, from transitional justice?
Businesses can, like governments, also possess extensive power and social currency yet corporate accountability for human rights is limited. However, businesses can, and have, recognised the power they possess in leading issues of social significance when governments fail. Even so, authenticity in these contexts if often questioned.
- Is it possible for businesses to develop robust approaches that allow profits and principles to co-exist? What role should private actors play in public governance?
- Is there authenticity or only rhetoric in the business and human rights narrative?
- Businesses are not democratically elected governments but have an unprecedented amount of influence over the flow of information and personal data. Should they be taking the lead on issues of social significance?
In recent years, the media has been heavily criticised from both sides of the political spectrum. These concerns increasingly focus on the rapid technological transformation of the traditional media landscape. On the one hand, it is accused of political partisanship and spreading misinformation, while on the other, respected journalists are routinely targeted and sometimes murdered for telling the truth. Press freedom is essential in the fight against impunity and exposing human rights violations, and it is a key indicator of a functioning democracy.
- Is social media complicit in the erosion of accountability or can it play a role in restoring political and public life? Have emerging technologies intensified the commodification of news, eroded public trust in media and undermined the traditional media economy?
- Are democratic governments using their political and economic influence to restrict press freedom? What role do digital platforms play in this process?
- What are some of the implications for human rights accountability of digital media and associated technologies such as AI?
With the global decline in public trust in democratic processes and governments, citizens are demanding accountability from their governments. Digitally savvy and more engaged with legal processes, the resurgence of civil society empowerment is evident from large-scale protests demonstrating their discontent. However, civil society is not a monolith; it is made up of varying political opinions and backgrounds and may not always produce the most effective means to fight impunity.
- Are the ways in which individuals interact online, operate as consumers, and engage in political processes partially responsible for the decline of accountability?
- How can individuals and NGOs work together to enhance or recreate effective democratic institutions?
- How have civil society actors such a NGOs responded to debates regarding populism, emerging technologies and accountability?
Impact on rights holders
The contemporary debates regarding human rights accountability connect with a broader concern with a ‘backlash’ against human rights and deepening forms of impunity. Traditional accountability mechanisms are perceived by some as failing rights holders, particularly as regards delivering material outcomes including access to justice, remedies and reparations. Is framing the challenges posed in terms of ‘crisis’ a productive strategy for rights holders? How can publics respond to these challenges and develop effective mechanisms to achieve human rights accountability?
- What are the political and economic contexts contributing to impunity? How is the climate crisis implicated?
- What is the impact when human rights violations go unpunished, and who is most affected? How are rights holders responding?
- How can the recurrence of violations be addressed and by whom?
Submission instructions, dates and workshop
Academic workshop: 12 October 2023
This Special Issue will coincide with and support the Australian Human Rights Institute’s biennial conference on 11-12 October 2023. A half-day workshop will be held at UNSW Sydney on 12 October for academics to discuss these issues. This workshop is open to everyone regardless of whether you intend to submit an abstract or not. More information on the conference is available here.
Submission of abstracts: 19 October 2023
The Journal is seeking both original research articles (7000 to 10,000 words) and the Current Perspectives contributions (1500 to 3000 words) for the Special Issue. More information about these types of submissions and the AJHR editorial process is available here.
Please submit an abstract (500 words including footnotes), the type of submission (original research or Current Perspectives), and a biographical note (maximum 100 words) to email@example.com
Notification of acceptance of abstract: 10 November 2023
Manuscript submission: 16 February 2024
Manuscripts for publication in this Special Issue (30(2) of the Journal) will be due 16 February 2024 and will be subject to blind peer review. The expected publication of Issue 30(2) is mid-2024.
For more information on this call for papers, please contact the AJHR at firstname.lastname@example.org
1.United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘Who Will Be Accountable? Human Rights and the Post-2015 Development Agenda’, United Nations (Report HR/PUB/13/1, 2013). Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/WhoWillBeAccountable.pdf
2.Philip Alston ‘The Populist Challenge to Human Rights’ Journal of Human Rights Practice, 2017, 9(1) 1-15 DOI:10.1093/jhuman/hux007; for a critical perspective on the populism debate more generally see Christine Schwobel-Patel, ‘Populism, International Law and the End of Keep Calm and Carry on Lawyering’, Netherlands Yearbook of International Law 2018, October 2019, 97-121, DOI:10.1007/978-94-6265-331-3_5.