The Troy Davis case and disconnected justice. Of Human wrongs and human networks.
The Troy Davis case proves a stark reminder that the frontier to justice often resides within people: be they jurors, journalists or judges. Individual and community networks – both on and offline – are a vital nexus for the proper fulfilment of individual and group human rights.
States must be held accountable for the human rights obligations they have: in the Troy Davis case the right to life, the right to a free trial, the right to live without inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to non-discrimination. However, human rights obligations transcend the state. Ours is an era of transnational corporations, transnational movements of people and ideas, and transnational channels of communication. Fundamentally, the human condition has always been transnational: there are no thick black country lines visible from space.
Each individual and the social norms of the communities that they feel part of are the frontier for the proper fulfilment of human rights. If I carry a respect for mine and others’ human rights as my own personal baggage as I may move for study, work and family, I become a human rights respecting person who has the possibility to spread that respect for human rights to others.
As a rule, human rights are not broken by an anonymous ‘state’ but by other citizens acting in both public and private capacities. Rights such as those to live free from discrimination, to live free from violence and to experience an education and childhood that allows one to freely participate in a free and fair society are predominantly rights sustained or severed by people. It is people who hold prejudice, or who turn down an applicant based on name, or who turn a blind eye to domestic violence because ‘it is not my business’. Teachers and parents are people and it is the expectations they place in pupils, or the attention they give their children’s homework that predict to a large extent how well those children will do.
The state must respect, protect and promote rights: it must have have appropriate legal systems to prosecute offenders, systems in place to ensure that national policy does not infringe human rights, and the appropriate programmatic provisions to provide courts, minority interest group institutes/ministries and the schools and hospitals that are necessary. However it cannot and should not directly police all personal relationships, physically hold back the punches of abusive husbands and wives, and ensure that all children are taught rights and responsibilities in equal measure, whilst provided for and allowed to play and grow at their own pace.
In those cases where no dialogue is possible with states and the war-torn factions in their place, people’s social networks can be understood as an important tool in the fight against repression. This could be by leveraging the networks of those in power, the creation of self-help networks and the promulgation of networks of interest that hold that even if the state sees nothing wrong with racial discrimination, or violence against women, or the lack of education facilities for disabled children, we do.
Those agencies that seek to protect human rights and protect those that protect the human rights of others, can use network mapping tools – the International Criminal Court has long used network maps to explain complex cases, and agencies like the United Nations Development Programme are also moving into the fray. Understanding networks of people, human rights violations and human protectors allows organisations to chart emerging group phenomena (say twitter and the Arab spring), signpost complexity, and better protect those doing valuable work by understanding their enemies’ enemies, and their enemies’ weaknesses.
Human beings are wonderful, but our history is littered by dead ends and wrong turns. Understanding human networks allows us to understand power systems, visualise connections and to challenge and change the norms underpinning our communities. Often somebody has to stand up and make a difference. And you are somebody.