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School of Law

CLSGC Policy Lecture: Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im (Emory)

The currently dominant conception and practice of human rights are not only relativist, not universal, but also entirely incapable of protecting even the ideologically and culturally biased norms and institutions they proclaim. The present system, and the state-centric international law and practice on which it is founded are the handmaiden of neo-colonial hegemony and cultural imperialism. It is time to decolonize the human rights paradigm in this age of self-determination because the human subjects of human rights are ready and able to exercise their own agency in the protection of their own rights. By decolonizing I mean freeing this powerfully liberating paradigm from the paradoxical constraints of state-centric legality, whereby states are supposed to be both the sole violators and protectors of the rights of human beings at large. As obligations of sovereign states under international law, only states have the competence to protect human rights and only states have the jurisdiction and access to protect those rights within their territories. Granted that there will be varying degrees or levels of realizing self-determination and its implications, crossing that threshold is incremental and irreversible. The protection of human rights is integral to both the means and ends of that goal.

About the speaker

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im (from Sudan) is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law, associated professor in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion of Emory University. An internationally recognized scholar of Islam and human rights and human rights in cross-cultural perspectives, Professor An-Na'im teaches courses in international law, comparative law, human rights, and Islamic law. His research interests include constitutionalism in Islamic and African countries, secularism, and Islam and politics. Professor An-Na'im directed the following research projects which focus on advocacy strategies for reform through internal cultural transformation:

  • Women and Land in Africa
  • Islamic Family Law
  • Fellowship Program in Islam and Human Rights
  • The Future of Sharia: Islam and the Secular State.

These projects can be accessed through Professor An-Na'im's professional website.

Professor An-Na'im's current research projects include a study of Muslims and the secular state, and of human rights from state-centric to people-centered. He continues to further develop his theory of Islam and the Secular State (Harvard University Press, 2008), also published in Arabic and Indonesian. Translations of this manuscript in Bengali, Persian, Urdu, Bengali, Turkish and Russian, are available for download free of charge.

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