7th Joint Human Rights Conference: Call For Proposals


Human Rights and Foreign Policy
7th Joint Human Rights (Virtual) Conference


Organized by:

Human Rights Consortium, University of London
Human Rights Section, International Studies Association (ISA)
Human Rights Section, American Political Science Association (APSA)
Standing Group on Human Rights and Transitional Justice, European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR)


We are pleased to announce that the seventh joint international conference on human rights, on the theme Human Rights and Foreign Policy, will take place from 14 to 16 June 2021 online (hosted by the Human Rights Consortium, University of London).

In light of geopolitical rebalancing of power, challenges to human rights from a number of quarters, and waning international support for human rights, the role of human rights in foreign policy requires urgent investigation. For human rights to thrive internationally, states need to support them not only domestically but also in their foreign policies, both in their bilateral relations and multilaterally. Yet, there is significant divergence of practice. Clear challenges appear in the policies of traditional supporters of human rights. This includes actions of the Trump administration on multiple fronts, as well as European states and the EU as a whole. European policy on refugees, for example, severely threatens basic international norms. And UK support for Saudi Arabia even as it carries on a murderous war in Yemen highlights hypocrisy.

Whereas a certain set of middle powers have traditionally been supporters of human rights internationally, and have explicitly incorporated human rights into their foreign policies, emerging powers in the developing world represent a much more diverse set of actors and perspectives on human rights and international institutions which, while providing opportunities for new kinds of engagement, also pose significant challenges.

Much of the work on human rights and foreign policy has focused on one state in particular – the United States – although there is increasing focus on the European Union, and there is clearly a need for much broader investigation and analysis, and broad-based comparative studies are scarce. Thus, an overarching question for the conference is: in 2021, what does foreign policy support for human rights look like?

Potential questions to be addressed during the conference include:


  1. Are the traditional supporters of human rights internationally changing their support?
  2. What opportunities and challenges does the emergence of new regional and global powers provide?
  3. What are the internal and external processes which drive state support (or not) for human rights internationally?
  4. What theoretical approaches best explain human rights foreign policies?
  5. How do material and ideational factors influence and shape human rights foreign policies?
  6. What role do emerging powers play in driving (or constraining) human rights internationally, and what are the similarities and differences between their positions?
  7. How do we situate international organisation actors like the European Union or the African Union which have some state-like characteristics internationally – or at least have such ambitions?
  8. What role might sub-state political actors play in supporting human rights internationally?
  9. How do transnational civil society networks affect state human rights foreign policies?
  10. Are there divergences between states’ bilateral and multilateral human rights policies?
  11. Can we identify a state of the art in empirical research on human rights-related foreign policy?


We invite both individual paper and full panel proposals which address one or more of the above questions and other questions related to the theme; proposals for other issues related to human rights more generally may also be submitted. Each full panel proposal should include 3 or 4 papers plus a chair and discussant. We will also consider roundtables, which should include 3 to 5 participants plus a chair. Please note that we intend to accept relatively few roundtables. Each roundtable proposal should indicate the importance of it being a roundtable rather than a panel and should be directly related to the theme of the conference.

In addition to traditional panels and plenary sessions, the organisers intend to explore less traditional forms of interaction and exchange, such as sessions intended to support teaching and PhD students. Please contact the organisers to discuss potential approaches.

The organisers will explore a variety of potential output mechanisms for work presented at the conference, including a special issue of the International Journal of Human Rights and an edited volume to be used for teaching, potentially in open access format.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59pm EST on 1 March 2021.

Core Organizing Committee:

Corinne Lennox (Human Rights Consortium)
Kurt Mills (University of Dundee)
Damien Short (Human Rights Consortium)
Daniel Whelan (Hendrix College)

We look forward to seeing you in 2021!