Human Rights Series

Human Rights and Democratisation Special Lecture Series

The Faculty of Arts and Sydney Ideas co-present a public series of special lectures on human rights and democratisation. The series has featured keynote speeches by internationally renowned human rights experts, including the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, Adj. Prof Chris Sidoti and Prof Brian Burdekin, who drew on their extensive expertise and experience to examine the opportunities for and challenges of promoting human rights at the regional level in Asia Pacific today.

This lecture series is an initiative of The Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific), the Master of Human Rights, the Graduate Diploma in Human Rights and the Graduate Certificate in Human Rights.


9 August – Giving teeth to international Human Rights treaties: commissions, courts and corporations - a practitioner’s perspective

Prof Brian Burdekin, AO, Visiting Professor at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Sweden

In the last two decades the international order has changed dramatically - and institutions designed to protect human rights have evolved. New institutions, in particular National Human Rights Commissions, have(with Australia's assistance) been created in over 50 countries, in part to address the significant inadequacies of judicial systems in redressing violations by the Executive or forces it controls. Governments have increasingly "privatised" or "out-sourced" many essential services - but, in breach of international law, have frequently failed to ensure the private sector is appropriately regulated. In this lecture Professor Burdekin will consider recent international developments in protecting human rights with reference, in particular, to developments in Australia, Africa, Europe, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea and other Asian countries where he has recently been advising Governments, Commissions and civil society.

Professor Brian Burdekin AO is currently Visiting Professor at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden and International Adviser to a number of National Human Rights Institutions in Africa, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe. From 1995 to 2003, as Special Adviser on National Institutions to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, he conducted over 200 missions to 55 countries where governments or civil society had expressed interest in creating an independent Human Rights Commission or similar institution. Prior to taking up his appointment with the United Nations, Professor Burdekin was, from 1986 to 1994, the Federal Human Rights Commissioner of Australia. In this capacity he conducted major national inquiries into the systemic abuse of particularly vulnerable groups – including the homeless, mentally ill and people with disabilities.

No podcast available.

20 August – UNDP Global Community on HIV and the Law

The Hon Mr Michael Kirby AC CMG

Michael Kirby was a Justice of the High Court of Australia between 1996-2009. He had many engagements in the international law – especially in the field of human rights. In 2010, he has been appointed to two new international bodies and these will be the focus of this lecture.

First, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations in London (Khamalesh Sharma) has appointed him to an Eminent Persons Group on the future organisation of the Commonwealth of Nations, its Secretariat and mechanisms.

Secondly, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in New York (Helen Clark) has appointed him to be new Global Commission on HIV and the Law. This body will address legal obstacles to the effective tackling of the epidemic, including intellectual property law that increases substantially the costs of urgent anti-retroviral therapies, and criminal laws that target vulnerable groups such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers.

The lecture will explain certain common themes and explore the new dimensions of internationalism and global human rights.

When he resigned in February 2009, from his office as a Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG was Australia’s longest serving judicial officer. He had served successively as a Deputy President of the Australian Conciliation & Arbitration Commission (1975-83); Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission (1975-84); Judge of the Federal Court of Australia (1983-4), President of the Court of Appeal of New South Wales (1984-1996) and President of Court of Appeal of Solomon Islands (1995-6). He also served in many international bodies, including in OECD, the Commonwealth Secretariat, WHO, ILO, UNESCO, UNDP, UNODC and UNAIDS. He was president of the International Commission of Jurists (1995-8) and UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia (1993-6).

Listen to the podcast (MP3 file, 1 hour 36 mins, 43Mb)

10 September – Social Movements and the Indigenous People in India

Professor Debal SinghaRoy, Indira Gandhi National Open University, India

This lecture will outline the changing facets of participation of indigenous people in social movements in post-colonial India. In a transitory socio-political spectrum, Prof SinghaRoy will speak about the lives of the indigenous people that have remained historically embedded in poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, livelihood insecurity and varieties of existential deprivations. He will analyse the state initiatives for their development and empowerment that very often fall short to create a space for their upward social mobility and which illustrate the indigenous people’s participation in the peasant, pro-agricultural and autonomy/separate statehood movements as voices of their dissent against the dominant development discourses in India. Based on case studies of the Tebhaga, Naxalite, Pro-agriculturalist and Gurkhaland movements, Prof SinghaRoy will examine the issues of indigenous identities and their integration in a multicultural society in India.

Professor Debal K. SinghaRoy is Professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Sociology at the Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi where he coordinates both undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs in sociology and women’s studies, including the empowerment and development of women. He is a recipient of the Australian Government Endeavour Fellowship 2010 and currently a visiting professor at the Civil Society Research Centre at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Professor Singharoy has researched extensively in the areas of social movements, agrarian studies, social development, marginalisation, social exclusion, sociology of distance education and knowledge society and has published widely on these topics both nationally and internationally. Professor SinghaRoy is currently in Australia to undertake research on Environmental Movements and the Indigenous People in Australia: Dynamics of Participation and Integration, examining, the extent to which the issues, concerns and cultural perspectives of indigenous peoples are becoming interlinked with the perspectives of environmental movements in Australia.

Listen to the podcast (MP3 file, 1 hour 24 mins, 38.6Mb)

17 September – Challenges of Protecting Victims of Forced Displacement: A UNHCR Perspective

Mr Richard Towle, Regional Representative, UNHCR Regional Office, Canberra

What are the main challenges faced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the better protection of refugees globally and in the Southeast Asia region? Richard Towle, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and 13 independent Pacific Island States, will situate his remarks against the backdrop of the recent national election in Australia where the issue of refugees and asylum-seekers – particularly those coming by boat – featured so prominently.

He will also explore ways in which issues of national border security can be reconciled with humanitarian action to protect refugees and UNHCR’s evolving thinking on how closer regional cooperation in the region can lead to more positive outcomes both for states and refugees alike.

Richard Towle is the Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and 13 independent Pacific Island States. The UNHCR office in Canberra has an oversight role: to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees in the region and to assist regional governments to find durable solutions in relation to the plight of refugees.

Richard Towle has worked for the UNHCR since 1990, in a variety of capacities around the world. Prior to assuming his responsibilities as Regional Representative in early 2007, Mr. Towle was Special Advisor in the Department of International Protection, at the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva. He previously also worked as Chief of Mission with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia, between 2001 and 2003. Mr Towle has also held a variety of senior positions dealing with refugee issues outside of the United Nations system, in Hong Kong as well as in his home country of New Zealand, where he was in legal practice.

No podcast available.

8 October – Women, Rights and Religion*

In the latter half of the 20th century, many social scientists predicted the demise of religion, especially as a force in public life. Quite to the contrary, however, religion has come to represent a major force in both public and private life in the 21st century. One of the areas where the force of religious norms is most evident, and has been most fiercely scrutinised is in relation to women, with many strong secularists claiming that religion has been particularly deleterious to women’s rights. In this seminar, we probe that claim, asking, in relation to several major world religions, whether religion is a force for recognising women’s rights or a vehicle for their violation. What is the relationship between religious doctrines and their socio-political and economic contexts? The Faculty of Arts and Sydney Ideas present a unique discussion on religion and women’s rights where women from diverse religious backgrounds examine the rights of women in some of the major religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, through narratives based on personal experience.


Christianity: Dr Laura Beth Bugg, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney and Ms Maricel Seno, Scholarship Recipient, Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific)

Judaism: Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio, Emanuel Synagogue, Sydney and Dr Danielle Celermajer, Director, Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific)

Buddhism: Sister Yeshe, Bodhicitta Foundation

Hinduism: Dr Sheleyah Courtney, Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Islam: Ms Nimrah Zubair and Ms Shaufa Ahmed Saeed, Scholarship Recipients, Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific)

Listen to the podcast

22 October – Australia’s Ambivalence Towards Human Rights

Adj. Prof Chris Sidoti, Visiting Professor at the University of Western Sydney and Griffith University

Australia is a liberal democracy with a long unbroken history of governments chosen in popular, free and fair democratic elections. We Australians see ourselves as an international champion of human rights. Our leaders played an important role in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have ratified almost all the main international human rights treaties and comment regularly on the human rights record of other countries. Yet our own record is far from distinguished and our own legal system provides minimal protection for human rights. Are Australians hypocritical or just mentally ill? Why are we like this?

Chris Sidoti is a human rights lawyer, activist and teacher. He currently works from Sydney, Australia, as an international human rights consultant, specialising in the international human rights system and in national human rights institutions. He was director of the International Service for Human Rights, based in Geneva, Switzerland, from 2003 to 2007. He has been Australian Human Rights Commissioner (1995-2000), Australian Law Reform Commissioner (1992-1995) and Foundation Director of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1987-1992). He has also worked in non-government organisations, including for the Human Rights Council of Australia and the Australian Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. In 2007-08 he was the independent chair of the United Kingdom Government’s Northern Ireland Bill of Rights Forum. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Western Sydney, Griffith University (Queensland) and the Australian Catholic University, a Fellow of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University and an Affiliate at the Sydney Centre for International Law at the University of Sydney.

No podcast available.

2 November –Women's Reproductive Rigths: Others, Selves, Bodies

Yasmine Ergas, Associate Director, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Columbia University.

For decades the phrase ‘women’s reproductive rights’ served as a rallying cry for assertions of women’s right to control their own fertility. In the words of the CEDAW Committee: “women are entitled to decide on the number and spacing of their children.” This entitlement is far from having been achieved. Numerous states have explicitly announced their rejection of any obligation to work towards its realization, prompting the question of how to overcome their reluctances.
But the problem cannot simply be posed in ‘how to’ terms: how to attain what recalcitrant states resist providing. The issues at stake have been complicated by the emergence of ‘human rights’ as the framework within which women’s claims are increasingly understood and by the ‘globalisation of motherhood’ as well as the development of technologies that have facilitated markets in babies and baby-making. If ‘reproductive rights’ are to be understood as ‘human rights’ what are the implications for the decision-making capacity of men as well as women as to when and how to reproduce – and what are the consequences for women’s control over their own bodies? And, what kind of rights are at stake in the global market place for reproduction?

Yasmine Ergas is Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. A lawyer and social scientist, Ergas has served as the gender coordinator of the Millenium Villages Project, practiced law in major corporate law firms, and acted as a consultant to international organizations and private institutions. Her research interests focus on the intersections of international law and human rights in particular with reference to gender relations.

Co-presented with the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (VELiM), and the Sydney Centre for International Law (SCIL), at the University of Sydney.

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 38 min, 42.4Mb MP3)