Third AAA Declaration on Human Rights: Concept Note

Third AAA Declaration on Human Rights: Concept Note

At the 2013 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, the Committee for Human Rights discussed the need for a third declaration on anthropology and human rights (previous declarations were issued in 1947 and 1999). The justification for such a declaration, or statement can be found in July 2014 issue of Anthropology News.

Building on the 1999 Declaration on Human Rights, CfHR maintains that the AAA “founds its approach on anthropological principles of respect for concrete human differences, both collective and individual, rather than the abstract legal uniformity of Western tradition.” We continue to embrace the view that the AAA has “an ethical responsibility to protest and oppose” situations wherein “any culture or society denies or permits the denial of . . . opportunity to any of its own members or others.” Several key themes, and additional cross-cutting ones, form a foundation for elaborating how anthropologists can think about and position themselves relative to human rights theory, law, and practice as well as concrete struggles on the ground.

The Third Working AAA Declaration on Human Rights focuses on grounding anthropological research and practice in foundational and cross-cutting themes. Our practice uniquely places our observation of social justice issues in the context of accountability and daily life. While broad, these themes help contextualize anthropological engagement with human rights across the sub-disciplines and with respect to the complex interplay of historical, cultural, political, and legal dynamics in any given instance. These themes should “address general circumstances, priorities and relationships, and also provide helpful specific examples that should be considered in anthropological work and ethical decision-making” (AAA 2012 Statement on Ethics).

Foundational Themes:

  1. INQUIRY: Human rights law, institutions, and socio-legal practice as the subject of anthropological reflection and critique
  2. EVIDENCE: Anthropological research undertaken within human rights frameworks, investigations, and mandates
  3. ADVOCACY: Anthropological knowledge informing strategies for advocacy and activism

Cross-Cutting Themes:

  1. BEYOND STATISM: Anthropological analysis of non-state actors, from corporations and other agents of economic development (e.g. World Bank, IMF), to non-governmental organizations, armed groups, and dynamic civil rights networks, which fall outside the statist framework of most human rights laws and institutions.
  2. CHALLENGING POWER: Anthropological approaches that discern the power relations at work in claims to the protection or promotion of human rights.
  3. INFORMING PUBLIC DEBATE: Anthropological responses to reported evidence and/or allegations of human rights abuses or violations that seek to inform public understanding, consistent with the AAA mission as a whole.