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Gráinne de Búrca, Katharine G Young, The (mis)appropriation of human rights by the new global right: An introduction to the Symposium, International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 21, Issue 1, January 2023, Pages 205–223,


The meaning of human rights has always been susceptible to multiple, and sometimes conflicting, interpretations. Yet after several decades of efforts to develop an emerging, if dispersed and overlapping, normative consensus at the regional and UN treaty-system level, as well as within domestic constitutional and legislative settings, an array of efforts at concerted legal change in the human rights field has recently appeared in different parts of the world, on the basis of a supposedly reformed characterization of human rights, including in Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, Modi’s India, Bolsanaro’s Brazil, and the United States under the former Trump Administration, alongside developments in Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana. We describe these arguments and moves as appropriations—and indeed as misappropriations—when they use human rights language in the service of ends which are exclusionary, repressive, or anti-pluralist in character, highly retrogressive or reversing of previous commitments, and evasive of external monitoring or accountability. We argue that by invoking the language, tools, and framework of human rights to exclude or repress particular groups and individuals, while consolidating authority and avoiding accountability, they misappropriate a human rights system which—despite extensive contestation and critique—has been developed over a long period around certain core values including equal human dignity, inclusion, and accountability. The essays in this Symposium track a range of these actors and the strategies they are using to reshape the human rights field, examining recent moves towards transnational coordination of nationalist, populist, right-wing, and authoritarian movements. The analyses from various jurisdictions around the world focus on attempts to remake and—we argue—reverse a range of progressive achievements of the human rights system around gender, religion, property, culture, and equality.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.