For some years, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney has been developing a vibrant research and teaching program in the area of human rights, establishing the University as a regional leader in this field. Working within the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR), the Human Rights Program now aims to expand this work, building collaborations with other research nodes and both deepening and broadening its international collaborations.
Uniquely, our researchers are primarily drawn from the social sciences and humanities and, as such, our work focuses on the political, social and cultural dimensions of human rights, with an emphasis on engaging scholarship and teaching with contemporary forms of activism and grass roots initiatives in political transformation and mobilisation. Beyond producing research that meets the most rigorous standards of excellence, our key objective is to engage our scholarship with the critical human rights issues and movements of our time, with a view to making them more effective and self-reflective, bringing a critical eye to assumptions and unintended consequences of work that falls under the banner of human rights and better understanding not only what human rights are, but what they can become.
Currently, our major programmes are: in the research area a major three year multi-country Torture Prevention Project, funded through a European Union grant of 1.5 million euros; and, in the teaching area, two Masters degrees, the Masters of Human Rights and the European Union-funded multi-university Masters of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific Program). Through our role as lead institution in the Asia Pacific Masters, we are also one of the founding members of the newly-formed Global Human Rights Campus, comprising over 100 universities all over the world involved in collaborative research and teaching in the field of human rights. Parallel with these ‘headline’ projects, our researchers are working on projects concerning refugees and refugee activism, indigenous rights, labour migration, fair trade, the rights of persons with disabilities, transitional justice, the implementation of international treaties, religion and human rights, human rights and multinational corporations and a range of other emerging projects.
The Human Rights Program also has strong synergies with the other nodes of the IDHR. With the Human/Non-Human Research program we are exploring conceptions of the human that underpin human rights, as well as the question of the rights of non-human beings. With the Environmental Research node, we are exploring issues of environmental justice, the idea and implications of the right to a healthy environment and the human rights implications of climate change. With the Democracy Futures node, we are interrogating the relationship between human rights and democracy, and in particular, how these two normative and institutional frameworks may be both complementary and, at times, in conflict. With the Freedom project, we are examining questions of the role of norms in identity formation and the understandings of freedom assumed in the normative frameworks of human rights. Finally, with the International Society node, we have been involved in researching the relationship between imperialism and human rights and historical dimensions of the human rights framework.
Our research and learning community also includes a cohort of creative and innovative postgraduate students working at the forefront of ground-breaking research in areas such as GLBTI rights, Islam and human rights in South-East Asia, diversity in the military, migrant workers’ activism and indigenous perspectives on human rights. Our postgraduates and alumnae are also actively involved in a range of on-and off-campus activities, including mounting and joining campaigns, hosting events on critical contemporary issues and developing a regional network for human rights work into the future.