Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights

UCLA’s Critical Race Studies Program, Promise Institute for Human Rights, International and Comparative Law Program and Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs presented a one-day conference at the UCLA School of Law exploring critical topics in contemporary international human rights law from the joint perspectives of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL).

Contemporary global and national political crises, many of which threaten the human rights of millions and even the international human rights system itself, call for novel, radical ways of re-imagining the role of law and legal institutions for a more just and humane future. The national oppression of politically marginal groups cannot fully be understood apart from the global structures that condition national dynamics. Similarly, global systems cannot fully be understood apart from the national contexts that give them content. Racial structures and systems central to colonization and neo-colonialism are crucial dimensions of the overall framework.

The aim of this conference is to foster a transnational, interdisciplinary academic dialogue among human rights, TWAIL and CRT scholars on some of the most pressing issues of our time. The TWAIL umbrella brings together scholars with diverse interests and methodologies who begin from the premise that the “Third World” is a political reality that unifies much of the world outside Western Europe, the United States and Canada. Nations of the Third World remain politically and economically subordinate to the powers in these two regions, and this subordination cannot be understood apart from European colonialism and its legacy. TWAIL scholars locate international law in this colonial project; attempt to understand and deconstruct the ways in which this genealogy still defines international law as a system of empire and subordination; and some reconceptualize international law in ways that disrupt hierarchies of power.

Critical Race Theory scholars seek to understand the deep interconnections between race and law, particularly the ways in which race and law are mutually constitutive as well as the imperviousness of racism to efforts at legal reform. They have done so mainly with a focus on the United States and other former British colonies, though increasingly with an eye on the broader international context including the role of American imperialism in the Third World. Contrary to the traditional notion that racial subordination represents a deviation from the liberal legal ideal, CRT scholars recast the role of law as central to and complicit in upholding racial hierarchy as well hierarchies of gender, social class, sexual orientation, and disability among others.

The conference brings the TWAIL and CRT frames together to bear on questions of law, history, political economy, and others as they relate to the field of human rights, broadly construed.

Browse more programs in Transnational Legal Discourse on Race and Empire.