The power of human rights rituals: torture and the Australian context

Cynthia Banham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Legal and political rituals can play diverse and complex roles in human rights law and practice. Operating at a domestic or international level, their effect can be conservative or transformative. This article is concerned with the way international human rights can be undermined or supported according to whether the norms underpinning them are reflected in national rights rituals inside the participating state. My particular focus is the response of Australia after 11 September 2001 to the torture of its citizens. I ask: what ritual practices, domestic and international, were implicated in the use of relevant international human rights treaties regarding the absolute prohibition against torture in Australia’s national legal and political system, and how did they affect human rights activism in that country? I argue that a close examination of civil society activism around the cases of two Australian citizens alleging torture in the war on terror indicates the existence of powerful domestic legal and political rituals around human rights, including the right not to be tortured. These domestic rituals inhibited human rights activism and hence undermined Australia’s support of the United Nations Convention against Torture.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)67-83
    JournalAustralian Journal of Human Rights
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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