Rights at the edge: Who has rights to what and why

9 September 2019

International human rights are complex, and it’s important to remember why it’s critical to protect and ensure these rights, even in trying circumstances.

As an academic specialising in international human rights law for 20 years, Professor Claire Breen has sought to keep pushing the boundaries of our understanding of whose rights are protected by international human rights law, and what rights are protected by international legal frameworks.

In her upcoming lecture in the University of Waikato Hamilton Public Lecture Series, happening on 17 September, Professor Breen will start by asking who has rights, using that question to explore the issue of children's rights. Although international human rights law, such as the United Nations' Universal Declaration on Human Rights 1948, extends human rights to 'everyone' and children feature heavily in many aspects of the laws of Aotearoa New Zealand, there is still some contention that children have rights that they can exercise and which must be protected. Professor Breen’s talk will explore some of the historical reasons for and challenges to that view, and will then put these debates in context by looking at children and young peoples’ rights to protest against adult and Government inaction around climate change.

Secondly, Professor Breen will look at the interrelationship between peace, security and human rights. We may think about peace and security matters in relation to large scale conflicts, but Professor Breen’s research takes this relationship in another direction by exploring how peace, security and human rights are to be found in the small places close to home (to borrow from the words of Eleanor Roosevelt). Against this background, she will explore an important human right, which is access to water and sanitation, especially in the context of UN peacebuilding missions. Professor Breen will discuss why countries that contribute to such missions and the UN itself might need to respond to allegations of violations of that right, especially since the reintroduction of cholera to Haiti in 2010 by UN peacekeepers.

Thirdly, Professor Breen will look at the interconnection between the protection of human rights and the legal requirement to respond to threats to, and instances of, terrorism in New Zealand. The initial motivation for the research was New Zealand’s response to the threat posed by Islamic State, but has broadened into a never-before written legal history of New Zealand’s response to internal and external security threats and attacks.

Professor Claire Breen completed her Bachelor of Civil Law at University College Cork in Ireland, before going on to complete her Master of Laws in International Law and her PhD, specialising in the rights of the child, at the University of Nottingham. She moved to New Zealand in 2000 and started teaching as a junior lecturer at the University of Waikato.

Her current research interests focus on the interrelationship between international peace and security and human rights, with a particular focus on States' legal obligations arising from post-conflict reconstruction. Professor Breen also researches in the area of children’s rights and has been extensively published in this area.

Professor Breen has received two grants from the New Zealand Law Foundation, the first in 2007 to support her research on peace-keeping. She then received one in conjunction with colleague Professor Al Gillespie in 2015, to research how New Zealand has responded to threats to security.

Professor Breen’s lecture, Rights at the edge: Who has rights to what and why, will take place on Tuesday 17 September at 5.45pm in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato.

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