The winners of this year’s Australian Journal of Human Rights Andrea Durbach prize press for greater accountability in human rights debates.

The Australian Journal of Human Rights Andrea Durbach Prize has been jointly awarded to two original research articles. 

The prize is awarded annually to an author or authors whose original article in the Australian Journal of Human Rights reflects the values that have resonated in Professor Durbach’s career and scholarship. These include: the courage to push the boundaries of human rights debates; the creativity to examine issues that cut across different academic disciplines; and a desire to press for human rights accountability to ensure voices that aren’t always heard are magnified. 

The prize was jointly awarded in 2020 to Dr Dorothea Anthony for her article The World Conference on Human Rights: still a guiding light a quarter of a century later, and to Ms Lauren Tynan and Ms Michelle Bishop for their article, Disembodied experts, accountability and refusal: an autoethnography of two (ab)Original women.

“The distinctive contribution of two very different and beautifully written articles is their combined signal and powerful reminder that human rights must be carefully, imaginatively and systematically claimed and exercised if their aspirations to a more just and humane world are to be effectively realised,” said UNSW Law’s Professor Andrea Durbach, congratulating the authors on their joint award.

Disembodied experts

Ms Tynan’s and Ms Bishop’s article calls for the need to centre the voices of those directly impacted by human rights abuse, including colonisation and systemic racism.

The selection panel – Professor Andrew Byrnes and Associate Professor Lucas Lixinski from UNSW Law, Professor Danielle Celermajer from the University of Sydney, and Professor Sarah Knuckey from Columbia University – said it stood out amongst the many papers of politically relevant, courageous scholarship they read for this year’s award.

“The article demonstrates that when Indigenous peoples’ perspectives on the violations they experience shape and lead conversations, they can more effectively destabilise racial hierarchies and enliven the transformative promises of human rights,” the jury said.

Both Ms Tynan and Ms Bishop are pleasantly surprised and humbled to receive recognition for their first academic publication, and regard winning the Andrea Durbach Prize as a very significant honour.

Ms Tynan says their paper reflects their experiences working with Indigenous communities in the not-for-profit sector.

“The disembodied expert represents people who are in managerial positions within this sector and seen as experts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and issues,” she says.

“We see this type of expertise as disembodied because it is technical and detached from the body, particularly the feet which connect to land (Mother) and keep people accountable to Country and community.”

'We want everyone to practise a future-thinking that accounts for the wellbeing of Country and community. We want everyone to think about their grandchildren’s grandchildren.'

Indigenous communities are constrained within colonial assumptions, interpretations and structures of whiteness, Ms Bishop adds.

“Indigenous knowledges are often rendered invalid or invisible in favour of western values and structures of whiteness which aim to ‘civilise’, ‘save’, and ‘advance’ Aboriginal peoples.”

Ms Tynan says it is important to centre the voices of those directly impacted by human rights abuses, in particular, colonialism and systemic racism.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are important because we carry the knowledges handed down from our ancestors, that has sustained our communities for thousands of generations.

“So, in that way, it’s not just about equity and centring Aboriginal voices, it’s about centring our knowledges so we can create a future that is built on respect for Country and each other.”

Ms Bishop hopes the paper will encourage critical thinking and deep self-reflection to shape a better future for generations to come.

“We want everyone to practise a future-thinking that accounts for the wellbeing of Country and community. We want everyone to think about their grandchildren’s grandchildren.”

Indivisibility of human rights

Dr Anthony’s paper advances the understanding of a pivotal moment in the history of international human rights, the Vienna Conference 25 years ago.

“It is an excellent example of the value that histories of human rights provide in enriching our understanding of human rights politics. It prompts deep thinking about the contextual and contested nature of human rights, seamlessly integrating theory and historical research,” the jury wrote.

Dr Anthony says, “It is wonderful to be awarded a prize named in honour of Professor Andrea Durbach given her inspiring record as a human rights scholar and activist.

“It is also an honour to be recognised by one’s peers,” she says. “Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge whether others are engaging with one’s work and their view on it. So to be told that four eminent scholars not only read my work but had chosen it for an academic prize was a very nice surprise.”

Dr Anthony’s interest in the World Conference on Human Rights and human rights more generally stems from her fascination with Cold War history.

“I grew up reading books from both East and West and living in a world with social classes that divide people, while thinking about what life would be like without these divisions,” she says.

“To learn that there was an area of law – human rights – that had a large archive of enthralling debates on the question of which social system and which human rights position could best satisfy people’s interests was quite heartening as it seemed to be the natural place for me as a scholar.”

'...we may be better off targeting the source of rights by calling for change to society more fundamentally – change which can catalyse the introduction of a greater level of humanity in our human rights program and in our laws in general.'

She hopes her article will help each society, nationally and internationally, produce a human rights program.

“The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) is a fitting document for post-Cold War times,” she says.

“While we can attempt to expand existing human rights law from the World Conference to make it more truly ‘indivisible’ and reflective of the greater interests of people, we may be better off targeting the source of rights by calling for change to society more fundamentally – change which can catalyse the introduction of a greater level of humanity in our human rights program and in our laws in general.”

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