Emerging Human Rights Institutions: The Case of Museums in a Human Rights Culture

AuthorJennifer Carter & Jennifer A Orange
ProfessionProfessor of new museologies, intangible heritage, and cultural objects in the Department of Art History at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM)/Barrister and Solicitor (Ontario) is an adjunct professor and SJD candidate at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law where she teaches International Human Rights Law and the Law of Armed Conflict
 
Jennifer Carter & Jennifer A Orange1
"One thing to remember is to talk to the animals. If you do, they will
talk back to you. But if you don’t talk to the animals, they won’t talk
back to you, then you won’t understand, and when you don’t under-
stand you will fear, and when you fear you will destroy the animals,
and if you destroy the animals, you will destro y yourself."
— Chief Dan George2
When we debate the idea of human rights, we often hear the voices of
two seemingly opposite groups. The rst praises laws that enable the
realization of the dignity of all people, ourishing to their human po-
tential and experiencing the beauty of our rich and diverse societies.
The other is more cynical, or perhaps, realistic. The second notes the
historica l and ongoing violations of human r ights by oppressive states,
1 Jennifer C arter, PhD, is Profes sor of new museologies, int angible heritage ,
and cult ural objects i n the Departme nt of Art Histor y at the Université du
Québec à Montréa l (UQÀM).
Jennifer A O range, B.A., LL.B., LL .M., Barriste r and Solicitor (Ontar io),
is an adjunc t professor and SJD cand idate at the Univer sity of Toronto,
Faculty of L aw where she teaches International Human R ights Law and the
Law of Armed Con ict.
2 “Chief Dan George,” online: Ca lifornia I ndian Education
   &   
organi zation s, and individuals despite both the post-Second World War
founding of the United Nations (UN) to safeguard the “equa l rights of
men and women and nations large and small”3 and the subsequent con-
clusion of numerous inter national human rights treaties intended to
enforce this commitment.
This chap ter addresses the pot ential of cult ural in stitutions to br idge
the gap in civi l society bet ween the inspirat ion and cynici sm that prevai l
in human r ights discourses and, more sp ecically, to enrich the impor t-
ant work of national human right s instit utions. It proposes a new for m
of human rights instit ution to promote human rights within the fabr ic
of civil societ y. Ou r focus is the potential of mus eums to contribute pur-
posefully to a human rig hts culture, although we do not mean to limit
the discussion to the museum. We leave open the possibility for some
new and unique for m of institution t hat combines human rig hts law and
culture i n a yet undiscovered way. While a nu mber of social inst itutions,
such as huma n rights commissions , are discussed at leng th in this book,
it is worth dwel ling on the distinc t roles of cultural inst itutions such as
museums, li braries, and arch ives to raise awareness about hu man rights
and to perform a s catalysts for social t ransformation in the important
arena of huma n rights.
Our essay is div ided into three sections. We begin by imagining
what a cultu re of human rights look s like by deni ng its terms and goa ls.
We then review the ma ndates and work of National Human R ights Insti-
tutions (NHRIs), within the UN’s mechanisms, for the purpose of com-
paring their goals and methods wit h the work of museums. L astly, we
exami ne how cultural ins titutions support the de velopment and susten-
ance of such a cult ure, using examples of museum s as institutions tha t
communicate a nd educate about, and now increasi ngly across the globe
advocate for, human r ights. We conclude this section w ith an analysi s of
the foundin g ideas of the Canadian Mus eum for Human Rights (CMHR).
We assess the work that ha s already been done to esta blish the CMHR, a s
well as its potent ial to promote a human rights culture in Canada and
3 Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945, Ca n TS 1945 No 7, Pre amble [UN

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT