T11 – Don’t Be Too Hard On Hypocrisy

Double standards are valauable as long as they don’t last too long

Download the complete article as a PDF.

T11 intro video – audio transcript.

An Irish Morality Tale

Last week saw a very important abortion case in the European Court of Human Rights A, B and C v Ireland.  It may well have brought closer the prospect of women being able to end their pregnancies when their lives are threatening by continuing to term – without as now having to leave Ireland in order to do so.

If this does happen it will have been Ireland’s double standards on abortion that have brought this about.

Few subjects can be as riven with hypocrisy as is abortion law in Ireland.  The procedure is still prohibited under the Victorian Offences Against the Person Act 1861, sections 58 and 59.  But the Irish escape the consequences of this by their proximity to ‘Godless’ Britain, to which (at great financial and emotional cost and at risk to their health) Irish women have long been travelling in their tens of thousands in order to do that which the Irish proudly say they refuse to countenance.  There are even a couple of constitutional provisions (in Article 40.3.3.of the Irish Constitution) specifically designed to ensure that women can leave Ireland to get abortions and that they can access information about such abortion services outside the state.

You may find such hypocrisy ludicrous and distasteful – but it beats the consequences of moral certainty.

These rights to travel and to information were not in the Irish constitution when an amendment was made (in 1983) acknowledging ‘the right to life of the unborn’.  In the years that followed, various interest groups – supported it has to be said by the law officers of the state and many in the Catholic church – chased and hounded anyone in Ireland who had the temerity to assist women who felt they had to have abortions in Britain.  No hypocrisy there, just cruelty.

Then in the notorious X case, the state overreached itself, seeking to trap within the jurisdiction a fourteen year old girl who had become pregnant as a result of having been raped.

‘No this isn’t what we meant’ chorused the Irish – ‘we can’t impose this baby on her.’  After the High Court insisted that words mattered and this was exactly what they meant, the Supreme Court relented, saying that an abortion would be lawful in Ireland as long as there was a ‘real and substantial risk’ to the life of the mother, including a risk from self-destruction.  The amendment of 1983 had referred to having ‘due regard to the equal right to life of the mother’ and from the point of view of purist pro-lifers (so pure they’ll kill a mother to save her unborn child) this proved to be their beloved guarantee’s Achilles heel.

A constitutional amendment to save Ireland from abortion for all time had brought abortion about!

Or had it?

The state responded by ensuring the rights to travel and information were added – the amendments mentioned above.  But the Irish did nothing about tackling the question of abortion services within the state.

The country carried on as though nothing had happened, as though women did not have the right the top court in the country had just declared was theirs.

No laws regulating abortion were passed.  No doctors’ association insisted on providing such services.  No politician forced the issue.

Just look the other way – the Ryanair answer to Ireland’s moral dilemma.

This is the specific hypocrisy that the Strasbourg court has now blown apart.

Interestingly the European Court of Human Rights was fairly relaxed about Ireland prohibiting abortion where the health and well being of the putative mother were concerned.  What angered the judges was Ireland’s acceptance of a constitutional right to an abortion where there was a risk to the life of the mother and its refusal despite this to put its claim into effective law.  One of the three women who took the case fell into this category and she won (the other two lost).

Without this double standard in the law Ireland would not now be inching towards confronting its larger hypocrisy, the way it lets the UK deal with the consequences of its stance on abortion.

Progress Needs Duplicity

Hypocrisy works as a way of forcing social change.  Pointing out double standards has always been a way of getting people to see things in a fresh light and therefore to be more open to viewing them differently.

First a community (or state or nation or company) commits to a general principle, one that they see as important because they are thinking only of people like themselves.

They ignore entirely the way the fair application of this principle across the board would benefit others as well.

When these double standards are pointed out (by campaigners, the marginalised, or independent reporting bodies) they have a choice –

  • ditch the general principle
  • keep it and embrace hypocrisy
  • seek to close the gap between theory and practice.

Eventually most places/states/companies choose the last of these.  The principle is too important to them to dump and the double standards too glaring an abnegation of reason to be long sustained.

Progress is the only real option!

  • universal suffrage (for the rich) becomes universal suffrage (for men) becomes universal suffrage
  • non-discrimination on grounds of race extends to gender extends to sexual orientation extends to … much else of great importance
  • self-determination for our own people leads to self determination for our colonies
  • the courts are open to all (as long as they can pay) becomes the courts are open to all (with state support if necessary)
  • abortion as a right when life is at risk becomes in such circumstances a legal right to an abortion

Is Hypocrisy Always A Sign Of Imminent Progress Then?


It all depends on the route the law and practice is taking.  If the momentum is towards closing the gap between talk and practice, then there is bound to be evidence of double standards along the way as the new forms of law gradually kick in.

These are the kinds of double standards we should relish as signs of progress.

General Pinochet was in a unique position when we was dramatically arrested in Britain with a view to his extradition to Spain to stand trail for crimes committed during his time as Head of State in Chile.  The case became one of the most famous of the 1990s, and we can fairly say that the law generated by these proceedings kick-started a whole new field of law, and caused many state killers to think twice about visiting London.

Of course Pinochet was not the only one.  Of course, other mass murderers were out and about at the same time. (Henry Kissinger was mentioned a lot at the time and still is.)

  • But Pinochet was there
  • He was available
  • It was do-able, sort of (and very nearly got done)

Double standards on the road to progress.  Without Pinochet we wouldn’t have had the Livni case earlier this year – when the former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni came close to arrest in London for her part in the attacks by Israel on Gaza.

Much the same can be said of the International Criminal Court today.  Of course as things stand most of those indicted are from African countries, and these include – astonishingly – one serving head of state President al-Bashir on charges that include genocide.

Does this mean that the system is unfair?  That it goes after Africans only?  That it is colonialism by another name?

Well up to a point yes.  But these are the cases the system has thrown up, as the ICC’s feisty prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo explained at a talk he gave at LSE’s centre for the study of human rights in 2008.

‘This is the start, not the end’ is a summary of what he said on that occasion.

Impunity cannot be tackled overnight.  And as some get charged and some do not of course there will be injustice that will not just be apparent, it will be real.

Real – but short term.  That is the key.

Is there a journey here, a move to close down the double standards that a tentative search for justice has thrown up?

If so hypocrisy is the price we (temporarily) pay for embarking on this journey to justice.

Duplicity Is Bad When It Is Durable

But if the hypocrisy we have uncovered is designed to be permanent, a way of throwing us of our guard, we should have nothing to do with it.

An example that comes to mind is Burma’s constitutional guarantees of freedom Or President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus imminent fourth election ‘victory’.  Or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.  Sadly there are many such examples of ‘bad faith hypocrisy’.

What about the decision by China to amend its constitution to include human rights guarantees in 2004: double standards on the road to justice, or simply a Burma-style diversion?  A bit of both I’d say – I looked at the whole issue of Asia and human rights, including China, in common track five).

And Is Ending Duplicity Always Such A Good Thing?

Closer to home, how do we feel about the Coalition Government’s decision to scrap various health targets including ambulance response times?  Or the dumping of the annual Foreign Office human rights report in favour of a vaguer system of assessment and the use of a new advisory group?

A sensible move to end a system which caused so much anger for targets missed and spurious claims to ethical supremacy too often honoured only in their breach, perhaps?

But how will we like not having these targets and authoritative reports with which to be able to attack the government for its duplicity?

Are these decisions really about focusing on the quality of care (the Health Secretary on the removal of the ambulance target) or doing human rights more effectively than Labour (the Foreign Secretary on his new system).  Or are they a way of ensuring that the double standards point is now harder to make?

Perhaps it is time for a new campaigning slogan:

Bring back overt hypocrisy! Conor Gearty

Two Final Thoughts

Double standards are okay as long as they are the consequence of well motivated but incomplete action, showing a desire to change without the capacity (yet) to change entirely. Conor Gearty

Human rights activists need to work the space left available to them by such double standards, to first mind the gap they have left open, and then to close it. Conor Gearty

This entry was posted in 2 - Layers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to T11 – Don’t Be Too Hard On Hypocrisy

  1. Paul Bernal says:

    The first thing that this thread brought to my mind was Lewis Carroll. As the White Queen said to Alice, ‘sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’.

    Living with contradictions, paradoxes and hypocrisy is part of what it is to be human – and we all do it, much more often than we realise, or at least much more often than we admit. Lewis Carroll had a very strong grasp of the human condition, the absurdity of it, the hypocrisy of it, and the importance of it. Believing six impossible things before breakfast may not be what we want to do, it may not fit with the ideals that we purport to hold, but if we want to get anything done in reality, I suspect it has to be done. In the end, for me, human rights needs to be both idealistic and pragmatic – which in itself is paradoxical, and at times hypocritical.

    • Christina says:

      Paradox and hypocrisy are part of the human condition, like believing impossible things before breakfast. A word shall mean whatever I say it means said Humpty Dumpty. It’s the nature of humanity, but also language the impossible tool we have to attain to a better state of living. TS Eliot had something to say about the gap between reality and ideal. Perhaps it is a step on the way. Perhaps that’s why its necessary. But not to be complacent.

      • Paul Bernal says:

        I’m with you all the way on that. Complacency may well be the most dangerous enemy of human rights around – particularly in that some of the ‘conservative’ enemies of human rights are always ready to take advantage of any signs of complacency from its advocates.

        I’m reminded of Michael Mandel’s piece ‘A Brief History of the New Constitutionalism, or How We Changed Everything so That Everything Would Remain the Same’, which (amongst other things) traces how the US Supreme Court has generally used the Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) to entrench inequalities and protect the powerful – as a kind of emforcement mechanism for conservatism. If we’re not careful – if we’re too complacent – it’s that paradox that will be supported, not a progressive one.

  2. Richard Buck says:

    Thank you, Conor, for proposing a positive role for hypocrisy, and making the distinction between hypocrisy as a progressive step and durable hypocrisy. Your discussion of the Irish approach to abortion also says something about unintended consequences. Court decisions and positive law both almost always have unintended consequences. Over concern with unintended consequences leads to inaction. Of course, inaction itself can have unintended consequences. Likewise there is no guarantee that court action or positive law will have the intended results. My inclination to take action now, see what happens and make whatever corrections are necessary to fine tune the results. Unfortunately, this can have devastating effects on individual people and groups of people. There are many minefields to cross. Let’s not waste time in getting started.

    Back to hypocrisy. Paul makes a good point about idealism and pragmatism regarding the question of living with a certain amount of hypocrisy in the interest of making what progress we can. It is a question of where to direct our energy. Should it be directed to the most egregious examples of durable hypocrisy, where success will be slow in coming, or toward hypocrisies that are ready to collapse with a gentle shove? We probably have to direct some energy to both, because we need some success on the easy ones to strengthen our fortitude for the bigger battles.

  3. Colin Harvey says:

    Rather than view this through the lens of hypocrisy, is this not more like old fashioned (and social democratically attuned) immanent critique? Since the first declaratory statement of principle (and in the face of strikingly divergent practice) we have been ‘working the gap’. As long as the normative commitments continue to made concrete (they will keep talking the talk) we will retain a normative foothold in the ongoing process of challenge and change…..the more intriguing questions then often arise on the variety of interpretations about what it means to close the gap, or even whether such closure can ever be achieved often in the face of abstract and broad normative commitments in the area of human rights. Are the real battles today happening within the discourse of rights itself and the arguments that win, and the contexts within which such little victories are achieved…?

  4. You are right to say that hypocrisy happens because change happens so slowly. Often our ambitions for human rights outstrip our ability or willingness to enact them. In these cases, a little hypocrisy can be a good thing in the sense that establishing a right in law creates a goalpost to be reached in practice, much like the EU clean water guidelines (although this goes against my preference in the other tracks for law to be the codification of what we’ve already established). There are few motivations as good as a legal requirement.

    However, as with Burma, we must be careful that saying we will do something is not the end of the story; it seems in Ireland that, once the right to abortion to preserve the right of the mother was established, everyone relaxed to the point of not making it practical. Codifying a right is no replacement for working towards its practical use; while in Burma the reasons for writing human rights laws are far more malevolent, in neither case will a written right be any help to someone who needs to use it.

    • Christina says:

      “Codifying a right is not replacement for working towards its practical use” Often its an excuse to ignore it. How could equal pay for women be made law in 1968 and still not actual?? I always come bcak to “what about the women?”, a very similar case as the Irish abortion law, and probably similar number of years. I believe the current “word” is mission statement, wonderful managment speak which is invariably in inverse proportion to its “delivery”. Julian Burnside QC Australian (another Monash alumni) “Mind your language”, and Don Watson speech writer to Paul Keating. Look to the language and the media.

  5. Craig Valters says:

    I’m going to tentatively state that I feel as if there are some tensions here with a previous post of yours Conor, on T9 – Resisting Laws Empire. I think many of us, like yourself, were very wary of the fruitlessness of implementing ‘vague and woolly’ laws, which whilst posing as powerful human rights documents, act as a way of accommodating existing unequal power structures – this (if I understand your thought correctly) moves human rights away from those who need them and into the hands of judges. I argued that this was certainly the case – much human rights law is not strong enough, not coherent enough to be worthwhile – yet. I believe that the task of anyone who wants to see a more egalitarian state of affairs (inclusive of a human rights culture embedded in modern politics) is monumental.

    Yet how does this fit into your idea of hypocrisy working as a force for social change? You state, ‘Pointing out double standards has always been a way of getting people to see things in a fresh light and therefore to be more open to viewing them differently.’ This is undoubtedly true in some key cases (you mention race and gender issues for example). But I would say that on a global level, the possibilities for challenging such hypocrisies form an exception, not the rule – and the changes that are allowed (barring these exceptions) are small gains that are accommodated by unequal power structures.

    The issues I view as most crucial to establishing a more peaceful future for the world (such as engaging with the nature of complex political emergencies, the global political economy, responses to natural disasters and ‘humanitarian’ interventions) are now couched in human rights terms within the United Nation’s system. There is surely no more relevant hypocritical organization than the UN: they specialize in creating the exact woolly documents we have previously mentioned – which leads to catastrophic geopolitical decisions, which prioritize wealthy states interest, whatever the human rights rhetoric may say. Yet there can be no doubt that they provide norms which given your arguments in this week’s post, could be worth pointing out and utilizing for social change (the normative content of any given UN declaration could serve the purpose here – Rights to Development, the ICCPR and ICESCR, or articles on disabilities, torture etc).

    You have stated ‘Double standards are okay as long as they are the consequence of well motivated but incomplete action, showing a desire to change without the capacity (yet) to change entirely.’ From your previous post on the UN system and human rights, I think it’s clear that you do not believe the UN system forms the basis for ‘well motivated’ action, considering its power structure and the Hobbesian state of nature contract it appears to be premised on. Yet, doesn’t the United Nations still form a ‘tentative search for justice’? Aren’t the many declarations/covenants etc (some more than others) genuinely expressions of human rights double standards that we can then squeeze our governments for the benefits of? Burma, as mentioned, is an easy case to look at, frankly because it seems clear that there is no real intention for a beneficial enactment. Can the same truly be said for the UN and all its related elements? Richard Buck makes the point, ‘Should (our efforts) be directed to the most egregious examples of durable hypocrisy, where success will be slow in coming, or toward hypocrisies that are ready to collapse with a gentle shove?’ If we accept that such efforts are valid doesn’t this come into conflict with many previous assertions within this project (which Holly alludes too) regarding creating the genuine political will for human rights before instituting the law?

    I think that my main point here is that it’s unclear to me how you would draw the line between what you see as useful duplicity and useless duplicity – and much work of the UN could be seen to sit right on that blurred line.

    I’ve attempted to play devil’s advocate here: personally, I don’t currently feel the United Nations offers us much chance of utilizing your hypocrisy theory (whilst it may have more uses on a national level for (generally) more low-level change). The whole system is fashioned post WW2 power interests – many posed reforms that appear immediately beneficial are no more than extensions of the current power systems. For example, India and Brazil possibly getting permanent seats on the Security Council – sounds good in principal – perhaps it would demonstrate both greater diversity and unity on the world stage, the inclusion of underrepresented areas (South America and Asia). But the reality is that it’s based purely on economics, global ‘clout’. It’s not as if India is representative of all of Asia any more than Brazil necessarily is of South America. And from my personal research within India I believe it to be less democratically representative than many people like to claim.

    The whole apparatus of the United Nations and subsequent laws have done little to quell poverty or war – perhaps now these just aren’t on the minorities doorstep who control the United Nations (indeed, it would seem unfathomable that European nations could go to war with each other again in the near future). If anything, the world has become more murderous than ever before; if people want to kill, they just carry on killing. The laws on Genocide aren’t too relevant to preventing such atrocities– as you mentioned Conor, just look at President Al-Bashir, who is still a serving President.

    In ‘A Bed for the Night’, David Rieff spoke of the 20th century, saying that ‘No century has had better norms and worse realities’. Nothing has changed dramatically in the last 10 years – hypocrisy is a geopolitical reality, which tends to resist logical challenges.

    This has been written quickly so I apologise for any obvious grammatical or logical errors!

  6. Richard Buck says:

    I appreciate the practical points Craig makes about making a distinction between good and bad hypocrisies and the UN as an example of institutional hypocrisy. All hypocrisies considered, I have to believe the world would be a worse place if there were no UN.

    I am going to make a more personal point. It has to do with the ethics of hypocrisy relative to promoting human rights: condoning it or ignoring it (might be the same thing); revealing it in others; admitting in in ourselves; and committing it. The strongest ethical standard, which I assert would be using Kant’s categorical imperative, would permit only one response: revealing it and opposing it wherever we see it. The categorical imperative would require that we act only on a maxim which we could will to become a universal law. If hypocrisy is O.K. for any case we would have to be willing that it be operative in all cases. In my personal life I am perfectly comfortable with the categorical imperative. In essence, the ends never justify the means. This ethical standard is impossible in the public policy context. Neither war nor politics can be conducted on this high ethical plain. Christian realists had to make this distinction between personal morality and acting for the good of mankind relative to some really awful actions by the Allies during WWII. Cases in point? Fire bombing of German and Japanese cities and the atomic bomb. I am afraid in the public policy arena utilitarian ethics necessarily must be the norm; the greatest good for the great number. Yet, this type of approach to ethics might be used to justify trampling the human rights of one group to secure good for the majority. Utilitarian ethics does, however, allow some latitude for condoning, ignoring and even committing hypocrisy to promote human rights. It permits a means/ends calculus in the interest of achieving human rights for as many as possible in as many places as possible.

    This brings me back to Conor’s position. We do not have to like hypocrisy or accept it in our personal lives. If we want to promote human rights effectively, we may have to use hypocrisy as we would other tools to achieve our end.

  7. Luis Paulo Bogliolo says:

    First of all, I have to say that I was very disappointed with the ECHR judgement on the A, B & C v. Ireland case. As was mentioned only C “won” the case, as her life was at risk, while A and B had their claims rejected. I wonder though if it was really Ireland’s double standards that were responsible for this result. Say Ireland banned abortion in all circumstances, would the ECHR reject the arguments of all the complainants? I guess not – it should still condemn Ireland for not providing proper procedures for abortions when the woman’s life is at risk (because that is a limit situation which in my opinion is outside a country’s margin of appreciation). See paragraph 172 of the decision: “While the State was entitled to a margin of appreciation to protect pre-natal life, it was not an absolute one. The Court could not give unqualified deference to the State’s interest in protecting pre-natal life as that would allow a State to employ any means necessary to restrict abortion without any regard to the mother’s life.”
    My personal disappointment comes from the fact that the ECHR should have gone further and given more weight to the situation of A and B and to the their rights to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

    I am afraid the ECHR’s decision may not be used to expose Ireland’s hypocrisy but as an obstacle to further progress, as it clearly stated that Ireland did not violate any conventional rights by denying A and B the right to an abortion. Those who are against abortion, like the Catholic church, now have an extra argument and an “authority” (the ECHR) to support – in part – their views.
    I cannot help not comparing Ireland’s case to my country’s (Brazil) situation. Here abortion is legal only in very specific circumstances (when the woman’s life is at risk and a short period after conception in cases of rape). Abortion is a crime defined in the criminal code yet thousands, if not millions of women abort every year. It has become a problem of public health as complications derived from abortions are second on the list of motives for the hospitalization of women in the country. Many surveys show that the majority of women who abort are usually religious, many are married and middle-aged. So why is it that it is still a crime? This clearly is a case of hypocrisy that has gone on for too long. Isn’t Ireland’s case about the same? How will the double standard in Ireland help further progress on the subject? On the contrary, could it not be a further barrier for full legalisation? The argument would be that since we allow abortion when the woman’s life is at risk, we have reached the perfect balance between protecting the rights of the unborn and those of women – and the ECHR ratifies this approach.
    For some I am afraid that the ECHR’s decision might just solidify this double standard in a way that it will not be seen as hypocritical and as a double standard anymore.

    I have tried here to pose some questions that came to mind while reading the ECHR’s judgement. Back to the main point of this track, I agree to some extent with the idea that double standards may serve us well if they do not last too long. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to define what is “too long”. It is surely much easier to condemn hypocrisy and to fight against double standards wherever we find them. Yet they do have a role to play. For me the real problem is to know when hypocrisy can be useful – and nowadays I can imagine only a handfull of cases. The ICC is a great example. Professor Gearty says “hypocrisy is the price we (temporarily) pay for embarking on this journey to justice”. Perhaps this is an institution with good motivation and a desire to change – without the capacity to change entirely (yet). But once people begin to see it as never having the capacity to end impunity they will begin to doubt its motivation. Is impunity really achievable? If so, my guess is only on a very long term. In this case, wouldn’t the double standard last “too long”? The alternative would be to view the ICC as perpetuating double standards with African countries and giving up hopes that it will one day prosecute people like Kissinger or George W Bush (for aggression and war crimes in Iraq). Therefore, it would be better to shut down the lights and close its doors. I am not ready to accept that would be the best thing to do. Therefore I am inclined to concur with the thought that hypocrisy is in fact the price to pay for embarking on this journey.
    We cannot bring justice to everyone all the time, this should not stop us from actually being just to some whenever possible. Even though I tried to argue against the usefulness of double standards concerning abortion, in general I support the proposition that we shouldn’t be too hard on hypocrisy – we must actually learn to live with it.

  8. Craig Valters says:

    Richard, I’d like to pick up a little on what the tension you mention between utilitarianism and human rights. First off, from a personal perspective, I can tell you that I don’t have a problem per se with utilitarianism. A notion of a ‘greater good’ surely informs a great deal of our moral decisions, both on a personal level and in the context of states and law-making. I find attempts to get away from this slightly counter-intuitive, in the sense that I feel as if we all ‘know’ that we base decisions on such greater goods (of course this could just be my personal perspective). This doesn’t mean ‘anything goes’ – it’s within the realms of utilitarianism to institute rules which maximise welfare – why could they not be human rights? Human rights, of course, just as easily come under a number criticisms: for example, considering that the phrase ‘human rights’ doesn’t tell us a great deal about their content, can’t they be easily appropriated by nefarious powers? The kind of individual rights preached by Nozick etc for me form the basis a deeply unequal society. This contrast, for me, points to the need for a modest approach to human rights, promoting its positive aspects whilst challenging its more negative ones.

    The fact the utilitarians would be willing to challenge any given human right on the basis of a moral calculation (in contrast to the normally negative picture painted at this point) can form a contribution to human rights discourse. A human rights discourse that is informed by competing moral doctrines is one that is used as a tool for progressive social change. One that engages with human rights not just on an individualistic and negative level but a positive economic , social and cultural level.

    As Conor has recently stated, ‘Truths may be obvious but then fall away, back into the obscurity from whence they came.’ As scholars of human rights, it’s clearly crucial to hold onto the progress already made – the hypocrisies, perhaps, that have already been exposed. Yet, open dialogue between diverse theories supporting human rights not only allows us to maintain the positive human right ‘truths’ we already have through reasoned argument; but it creates the debate and conditions for the future progress of human rights – it allows us to challenge hypocrisies in other terms, but leading towards the same goal. I’m not trying to claim that utilitarianism is the most ardent supporter of human rights (in fact many utilitarians may even disagree with my viewpoint), but more that the utilitarian argument has its own merits that can be used in a human rights discourse

    Sometimes I feel human rights can become divorced from reality a little. Let us not forget that very few human rights are actually absolute – infringements of liberty, for example, are common via imprisonment. We cross human rights lines all the time.

    As you say, Richard, utilitarianism offers us ‘latitude for condoning, ignoring and even committing hypocrisy to promote human rights. It permits a means/ends calculus in the interest of achieving human rights for as many as possible in as many places as possible.’ That is no bad thing. In fact I think the discourse requires it.

    • Christina says:

      An interesting thought ECHR or EHRC, which is more effective? Which is which.
      I’m looking ta the language again. Human rights are always divorced from reality. A war for the greater good is often about power, aquisition or oil and little to do with liberations. I want to go out on a limb. Back to my inspirations: Bingham:
      which of these rights would you wish to give up? life? liberty? freedom from torture? when are these fundamental 3 NOT absolute? and Sachs in particular.
      as a high judge he would NOT codify capital punishment. Had he been through the torture and the solitary to lose his humanity? these are the standards against which I wish to measure. Is there useful hypocrisy here?

  9. Favio Farinella says:

    Double standards, as long as they are not part of the ideology of human rights, could be useful to let dogmas behind.
    I will tackle three main ideas. First, hypocrisy as a constituent element of human rights. Second, hypocrisy as a component of progress. And third, human rights as confronted with progress.

    Is hypocrisy a constituent element of human rights? There is a double meaning for those ‘double standards’.

    One is related to what we openly proclaim and what we really sustain in everyday practice. Here we can place the abortion situation in Ireland and many other countries that deny women the right to abort but are plenty of illegal short-cuts to that end, which by the way, are only open to those who have money enough to pay for them (in Ireland women can travel, in other countries they can visit an expensive-private medical centre full of doctors willing to practice the ‘illegal’ acts and to charge for them …). I call this bad hypocrisy.

    Another meaning is related to those ideas we proclaim and put in practice for our kin, but deny for the rest. This is good hypocrisy.

    Why? Because while for the latter it is only a matter of time to become universal, the former is here to stay, and can only be abrogated by real activism, denouncing and exposing the double discourse, and assessing those in power for what they do instead of what they say or bills they pass.

    One by one, the ideology of human rights is demolishing old dogmas that refer to the most important circumstances an individual may pass through in his/her lifetime: pregnancy/abortion; life/suicide; marriage/divorce; homosexuality/equal marriage, and the like. Whenever religion and morals provided for absolute answers to the former dilemmas, human rights open a Pandora box and leave us alone with our conscience to play an uncomfortable game: that of deciding how our life is gonna be. From this approach, whenever tradition forges dogmas, hierarchies and social stratification in order to survive, the ideology of human rights opposes tradition systematically, even running the risk of devising its own dogmas. Good hypocrisy is the first step in this transition.

    This way hypocrisy is a label which states that human rights -under no circumstances- cannot be formulated and put into practice everywhere, once and for all. They are universal but they are also progressive. To apply human rights first within our kin and then to the rest may sound as an injustice, but is human. May we call this hypocrisy? Good hypocrisy, if it is so.

    Second, are hypocrisy and progress running in the same direction?
    Every progress on individual decision-making means some kind of demystification of a particular side of tradition.
    Theories are physically set on a particular location and subjectively dependant on certain ideological context. Whenever theory can be formulated to deal with problems of a particular group, justice demands that it shall be applied universally (Kant and his categorical imperative).
    Double standards are born out of that sense of belonging. It is the theory thought within the group that perfectly fits to that group. Here comes again the need for that feeling of empathy we dealt with in track 4, because when ‘our solution’ is good enough to deal with ‘others’ problems’, so double standards disappear.
    And this is progress: to achieve new solutions for old dilemmas by thinking freely while breaking dogmas.

    To same extent, hypocrisy or double standards are something absolutely normal, because until our kin has not reached the entire satisfaction of our own goals, there will not be ‘time/minds/political decision’ to accept the real implementation of the theory to other groups/societies: no time for progress.

    And finally, can we equate human rights to the progress of rights?
    The notion of progress as inherent to human rights demands double standards in the sense that no right is absolutely and universally respected and if that happened, there would be no need for that right to be formulated as such (according to Ihering’s struggle for law).
    In this view, double standards mean that rights are theoretically for everyone, but practically exercised by a group (depending on the nature of the right, the group could be identify with a social class within a state, or with other regional or international divisions). The struggle of human rights is precisely to make them become universal.
    The notion of progressive rights may enter into conflict with the perennial stability of rights proclaimed by Roman law with its capacity for eternal truths. In this sense, there are few eternal truths according to human rights ideology, but even for them, progress demands new ways for their implementation. For instance, freedom of speech is not the same in out internet world as it was in the 18th century. Human rights need absolute freedom of thought in order to discuss old as well as new ideas (and whenever we have a perennial truth we are building up a dogma). So, if human rights implies perennial truths as well as progress, double standards are again the key that connects them.

  10. Christina says:

    Having just ditched 700 words and a temptation to wax philosophical about the distinction between hypocrisy and paradox as part of the human condition, I shall attempt to simplify and be succinct. The role of the media.

    Hypocrisy is a natural part of society, but at its most brazen amongst power greed and profit, concealment. This is not new. History repeats and repeats. We need to look at some most recent examples of exposure and that includes Heather Brooke and the latest of the leaks.

    It is a strong theme, Conor, that when the hypocrisy is most brazen that’s when we take to the streets, but whether it be unions, or students, or any other group united in outrage.* Hypocrisy: I’m editing this while King’s carols are on: we remember the poor, the hungry the homeless. Do we?

    This year we’ve seen a repeat of the 1968 rebellions,students in Paris and Melbourne. 40 years later??

    Heather Brookes investigative journalism led to the MP allowances scandal, but she was only able to bring about full disclosure through the expertise and support of lawyers. Matrix if I remember rightly.

    This is the law working hand in hand with the journalist, usually single ,rather than media, overall and there are good reasons for that.

    I’d like a roll call of role models, from Orwell, through James Cameron(Bikini)
    Wilfred Burchett, currently Robert Fisk and John Pilger. Who’s missing? Martha Gellhorn, Lee Miller, Kate Adie, Leah Chishugi.


    Who would have believed that Vogue would be publishing Lee Miller’s
    words and pictures, the liberation of Paris, the siege of St Malo, the Buchenwald and Dachau death camps. (V and A recent exhibition.)

    MPs excesses, bankers bonuses, student fees, all have raised awareness of levels of hypocrisy, but it needs the media to spread the word.

    Ironic on Xmas eve, to remind people, that every new mobile or piece of technology in your xmas stocking, means more rape in DCR. Rape as a weapon of war, because rape is cheaper than bullets, and the area around Congo is rich in the minerals Cadmium, Lead, Coltan. Three c words Congo,cadmium and coltan.

    Irish abortions, south american abortions, war torn congo . To take to the streets, yes we need either unions or students, or other groups *,
    but above all we need information, and brave reporters, tenacious investigative journalists

    *Perhaps someone can provide a collective noun for the people who took to the streets of London to protest against Iraq?, neither unions or students, but concerned citizens.

    My view is that overt hypocrisy has never gone away. Freedom of expression and information, however, are in danger.

    Regardless, we are all human. compliments of the festive season to all. We do what we can. This dialogue is valuable for that.

  11. Duygu Akdag says:

    Hypocrisy as a temporary weapon of human rights. Human rights, in turn, the means by which the specific example of hypocrisy at hand is finally decommissioned, but hypocrisy itself is never entirely destroyed, because human beings will return to it again and again. Hypocrisy as a developmental stage in the process, eventually to eat itself into oblivion. We tolerate this temporary hypocrisy because it is better than a rigid puritanical moral certainty which would rather fail than bend. If failure to make progress is the more unforgiveable, then hypocrisy will be rehabilitated under this pragmatic view of the world.
    As an example, it can be reasonably claimed that the distinction made between passive and active euthanasia, with the latter being unlawful in many countries, is not a rational one. A semantic distinction is not the same as an ethical one. Or looking at the initial sentencing practice of the ICTY, reconciliation appears to have played an important but spurious role. The inconsistent sentencing system resulted in big fishes receiving lower sentences than relatively minor players, but actual reconciliation was lost along the way and those with more criminal responsibility able to use the idea of reconciliation as a kind of legal bargaining chip.
    But if hypocrisy in theory opens a door for judges to develop human rights progressively contrary to the prevalent political will, the parliament could still close the door by enacting laws trying to hold back the shift in position. An example could be the right to free movement moving a step forward in the courtroom of the ECJ and a step back in the politics of sovereignty. It seems that immigration and asylum laws are becoming more strict, with parties on different sides of the political spectrum all trying to curry favour with their electorates with ‘anti-immigration’ posturing. It seems to me that we have to make sure that hypocrisy does not create a chain effect of one hypocrisy following the other and finding its way around justice. We should be wary of accepting a culture of hypocrisy, in other words.
    While one specific hypocrisy can contribute developmentally towards better protection close to home, another can allow human rights abuses abroad and escape the attention of a developmental process. These ‘durable’ hypocrisies often seem out of reach – an example might be the cheap labour without rights protection in countries beyond the reach of our laws but not our business investors. So perhaps another distinction to make about hypocrisy is that which is glaringly close and within reach of change, and that which manages to go relatively unnoticed because its victims are far away.

  12. Lee says:

    Apologies if this is duplicative of earlier responses: I haven’t had chance to read them.

    I accept the distinction between a durable hypocrisy and short-term positive hypocrisy (a stepping stone to full and non-discriminatory treatment) in theory but struggle with it in practice. Perhaps its a problem of categorisation …

    Unlike Moreno-Ocampo, I’m not sure the current practice of the ICC demonstrates a work-in-progress and short-term positive hypocrisy. Likewise the case of Pinochet. I fear these must be viewed more broadly as the latest manifestation of the enduring hypocrisy of impunity for the powerful. Everyone in power loves human rights until it restricts them. Those with lots of power can get away with less restriction. I look at the ICC and see a parallel with the lack of post-WWII accountability in respect of certain Allied actions, the impunity for those Germans and Japanese who had committed horrific acts on POWs in the name of science (since their results were useful to the Allies), many examples of Security Council inaction over the past 50 years, more recently the refusal of the ICTY prosecutor to properly investigate certain of NATO’s actions which appeared to fall within the jurisdiction of the tribunal and so on. The list could be very long.

    As highlighted in the article, progress where there are double standards seems much more straightforward nationally than internationally. The international system of delicate, diplomatic relationships between sovereign equals lends itself to entrenched hypocrisy. The system is designed so that the hypocrisy will be permanent.

Comments are closed.