On the Political Geography of the Right to Survive: The EU and Mass Migration
Gonzaga Journal of International Law, vol. 21, p. 1 (2018)
14 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2018
Date Written: February 23, 2018
The international human rights movement, begun in the aftermath of World War II, is in obvious crisis. Democratic norms and structures, which had been on an upward trajectory, appear to be in retreat almost everywhere. Even in the European Union, which could be considered a kind of homeland of the international rule of law, these negative, anti-democratic trends have been gathering strength. This article traces the manner in which the EU had managed to stand as a strong and law-based symbol of respect for international human rights and the international rule of law, and examines the way in which this role has been undermined by the alienation of the European public from the EU itself. Ironically, this alienation has been exacerbated by the EU’s attempt to live up to the letter and spirit of international law in accepting a proportionately massive number of refugees and other migrants in recent years. In the wake of this complex political dynamic, it is argued, we should recognize that the survival of international human rights depends upon broad public acceptance of its premises. Human rights and democracy can only live in actual places, not as mere abstractions in the minds of scholars and advocates. If human rights should fail in the EU, where then will human rights thrive? This article reasons that the survival of international human rights is not in fact guaranteed. Whereas the immediate post-World War II generation assumed that the global democratic trend would continue in a positive direction, recent events have seen the rise of illiberal politics and extreme nationalism of a sort believed to have been superseded by an international commitment to democratic structures and internationally defined rights. The argument is made that human rights cannot exist on pieces of paper held in the United Nations, but must live in actual places, in actual societies on earth. In that sense, the preservation of the EU requires that mass migration as it has been experienced in the past several years might be too drastic and too destabilizing to allow for the survival of the European project. Again, there is a deep paradox in the fact that the strongest proponents of international standards in refugee and asylum law now face a reluctant or even hostile European public opinion, to such a degree that the very basis for human rights within the EU, and thus in the world generally, may be threatened.
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