State Sovereignty v Migrants' Rights: Who Wins before the European and Inter-American Court of Human Rights?

by | Nov 8, 2012

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On Tuesday this week, the Oxford Human Rights Hub (OxHRH) in conjunction with the Oxford Migration Law Discussion Group (OxMLDG) welcomed Professor Marie-Benedicte Dembour, Professor of Law and Anthropology at the University of Sussex.

Professor Dembour gave an engaging presentation entitled ‘State Sovereignty v Migrants’ Rights: Who wins before the European and Inter-American Court of Human Rights?  This presentation drew upon her work on her upcoming monograph, provisionally titled ‘Migrant First, Human Second? Comparing the Approaches of the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights to Migrant Cases’.

Professor Dembour juxtaposed case law demonstrating the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ comparatively ‘human-centric’, or ‘human-rights-first’ approach to cases involving migrants’ rights with what she identified as a ‘State-centric’ or ‘State-first’ approach taken by the European Court of Human Rights.  She pointed to possible causes for these divergent approaches: the textual differences between the European and American Conventions on Human Rights; the social make-up of the European and Latin-American continents which reverberates with the distinctive political history and migration patterns characteristic of the two continents; and the orientations of the judges sitting on the respective benches, resulting in a particular judicial ‘habitus’ where precedents are established which set the parameters of future judicial reasoning and activity.

Professor Dembour recognised that her thesis is controversial, but asked why academics and practitioners have been reluctant to criticise the  European Court of Human Rights’ case law on migrants’ rights.

Her presentation was followed by a lively discussion, with questions from, among others, Shirley Ardener (Anthropology), Meghan Campbell (Law), Anne Koch (Refugee Studies Centre),  Dr Martin Ruhs (COMPAS) and Mimi Zou (Law).

Both OxHRH and the OxMLDG were delighted to collaborate on this inter-disciplinary event, bringing together academics and students with an interest in migration law and human rights from the broader Oxford community.

Laura Hilly is a DPhil Candidate at the University of Oxford and a Co-Editor of the Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog.


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