Social Justice and Global Forces

  • Dr Gabriel Garcia
  • Dr Luis Gómez Romero
  • Professor Nan Seuffert
  • Dr Niamh Kinchin
  • Dr Dorothea Anthony

In the era of globalisation, the notion of social justice is often influenced by the way the concept is understood in international forums. Whilst the world has witnessed an increase of global trade, commerce, capital and financial services in the last few decades, it has also experienced an increase of injustices at the international level that has produced more inequality between rich and poor nations, and between the rich and poor within many nations. At the same time, growing disparities among countries have affected the way interests of certain groups and developing countries in general are represented in global forums, a problem that has contributed to creating greater inequality and vulnerability in local and national communities. International institutions controlled by affluent countries and international agreements negotiated under the direction of powerful business lobby groups have created a set of ‘rules’ that have influenced the formulation of national policies in a great number of matters, favouring the protection of free trade and free movement of capital over the reduction of social inequalities. As pointed out by a report of the United Nations, social justice requires coherent policies in a multitude of areas orientation to the overall social goal of promoting the welfare of a nation’s citizens and, in the age of globalisation, the citizens of the world.

Following the United Nations ideal, this theme encompasses research that critically examines the legal and political dimensions of social justice in a global context and the challenges posed by global forces, including international law, international institutions, global finance and the local and global manifestation of ideas, laws and policies related to financial inequality and vulnerability. Assuming a social-legal approach and using case studies borrowed from Australia and other parts of the world (e.g. Asia and Latin America), projects will address issues such as transparency of international financial institutions’ governance; legitimacy of multilateral and plurilateral agreements; challenges faced by less developed countries to meet standards set by international agreements (e.g. TRIPS); historical and current implications of contract theories and doctrines for inequality; growing tensions between the right to internet access and the international protection of intellectual property rights; and interaction and conflicts between indigenous people’s rights and international law.

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The Human Rights Principle of Indivisibility
Dr Dorothea Anthony

This project is a monograph based on Dr Dorothea Anthony’s PhD dissertation. It presents an analysis of the meaning, application, and idealogical significance of indivisibility, which is a major principle of international human rights law stating that all rights are equally important and connected. Although indivisibility informs a great deal of human rights theory and practice across the world, it has so far largely eluded explication and critique. Some research has investigated interpretations of indivisibility that existed prior to the popularisation of indivisibility at the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. The current work, however, examines the principles as it has been used for ideological purposes in contemporary times, in bridging a significant gap between international human rights law and politics.

Dorothea Anthony, ‘The World Conference on Human Rights: Still a Guiding Light a Quarter of a Century Later’ (2019) 25(3) Australian Journal of Human Rights 411-427, DOI: 10.1080/1323238X.2019.1695083

Administrative Justice in the UN: Procedural Protections, Gaps and Proposals for Reform
Dr Niamh Kinchin

The UN’s capacity as an administrative decision-maker that affects the rights of individuals is a largely overlooked aspect of its role in international affairs. This project explores the potential for a model of administrative justice that might act as a benchmark to which global decision-makers could develop procedural standards. Applied to the UN’s internal justice, refugee status determination, NGO participation and the Security Council, the global administrative justice model is used to appraise the existing procedural protections within the UN administrative decision-making.

Niamh Kinchin, Administrative Justice in the UN: Procedural Protections, Gaps and Proposals for Reform (Part of the ACUNS Series on the UN System) (2018, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, UK)


A New World of Constitutional Imagination: On Constitutions in the Americas
Dr Luis Gómez Romero

This project will analyse the constitutions enacted since 1776 in the Americas as multiple yet intersecting imaginary worlds. The Americas were first imagined as a new world. Constitutions imagine how to create worlds of power and liberty too. The project will thus shape two perspectives on constitutional imagination. First, it will look at the texts, sources and histories on the vibrant constitutional discourses in the region. Second, it will excavate new sites for the study of constitutions as they are brought to life by myths, stories, popular culture and art.

Contract and Colonisation in the Age of Modernity
Professor Nan Seuffert

‘Contract and Colonisation in the Age of Modernity’ is the first study to investigate the connections between modern contract law and the formation of settler colonial societies in Australia and New Zealand. It investigates how contract law and ideas such as individualism, freedom and consent, developed in those societies. It asks whether, and how, contract law and these associated ideas became integral to what it means to be an ‘Australian’ or a ‘New Zealander’ today. Significantly, it places this analysis within a trans-colonial and transnational perspective, analysing how contract laws and ideas circulated among settler colonial societies in the British Empire. The resulting book and other scholarly publications will highlight complex exchanges across colonial sites, rather than movement from the centre to periphery.

The Law of Wrath or, the Resurgence of the Legal Myth of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Dr Gabriel García and Dr Luis Gómez Romero

In an age of skyrocketing consumerism, the unremitting popularity of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s manly features has ensured the durability of his significance as a critical cultural symbol and a political myth around the world. Guevara remains today a universal icon of leftist radicalism and revolution. Even though Guevara’s understanding of Marxism is deeply rooted in the appalling social injustices of Latin American contexts, it has gone beyond its geopolitical origins and played a major role on the stage of world history. In the upsurge of several recent protest or revolutionary movements –like Occupy or the Arab Spring– we can still find traces of ´Guevarismo.’ Nonetheless, his political and legal thought is still under-researched. This project is aimed to fill this gap by critically examining Guevara’s works and: a) provide a jurisprudential perspective on the legal assumptions and the critiques of law and justice deployed in Guevara’s thought; b) critically evaluate Guevara’s political program and social ideals; and c) reconsider the processes of legal globalization by assessing the reception of Guevara’s legal thought in Venezuela. The expected outcome will shape how wrath multiplies legal violence and develop new methods for the legal and cultural analysis of globalization.

Funded: 2014 URC Small Grants Scheme. 

Economic Inequality After the Global Financial Crisis: A Gender Analysis
Professor Nan Seuffert 

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC), increasing economic disparity and ‘austerity’ policies responding to fiscal imbalances all impact on women and children, and particularly indigenous women and women of colour, as well as other vulnerable members of society, disproportionately.  Indeed, the World Bank estimated in 2009 that the GFC had driven 50 million people into extreme poverty, mostly women and children.  The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2013 identified increasingly severe income disparity as the global risk most likely to manifest in the next ten years, and major systemic financial failure as the risk most likely to have the highest impact if it were to manifest; chronic fiscal imbalances appeared at the top of the risk rankings in both likelihood and impact.  These issues were considered at a Bilkura at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law at Onati, Spain, and are the focus of a forthcoming edited special issue of the IISL Journal, co-edited by Professor Seuffert.  Her article in the journal Law, Culture and the Humanities is also part of this project.

Seuffert, Nan, ‘Occupy, Financial Fraternity and Gender Ventriloquism’ (10 Jan 2013) 8 Law, Culture and the Humanities, 1-17 DOI: 10.1177/1743872112466711, online pre-publication version. 

A Portrait of Herod’s Law: Rafael Cauduro’s Murals at Mexico’s Supreme Court Building
Dr Luis Gómez Romero

Globalization theory has arrived in an arbitrary and uneasy way to the assertion of the implementation of the rule of law as a universal condition of legal modernity. This pretended universality of the rule of law, however, is not mainly referred to the observance of human rights and institutional democratization, but also to neoliberal economic rectitude. Such account of globalization favors specific imperial interests while neglects the hierarchies of the current world system, as well as the asymmetries among so-called core and peripheral societies. In Mexico, for example, the rule of law has been both historically flawed and politically precarious. Mexican popular culture thus mirrors and procreates a defective rule of law whose pathologies can be summarized through the popular saying that defines the Mexican legal system as La Ley de Herodes (Herod’s Law): “O the chingas, o te jodes” (“you will either be screwed up, or fucked up”). Rafael Cauduro’s murals in Mexico’s Supreme Court building offer a display, rare inside a courthouse, of law’s failings that is closely related with the Mexican popular representations of law and justice. Completed in 2009 as a part of the Bicentennial of Mexican Independence celebration, the murals greet visitors with graphic details of “The Seven Major Crimes of Justice,” including rape, homicide, torture and police repression. While visually denouncing specific pathologies of the Mexican legal system, Cauduro’s murals also address the two necessary conditions for the existence of any complex legal system that were identified by H. L. A. Hart. Firstly, ordinary citizens must generally obey legal rules. Secondly, officials must regard legal rules as common standards of behavior and critically assess their own and each other’s deviations. The placement of Cauduro’s murals in the Supreme Court’s building bespeaks of a universal conflict that potentially haunts each and every legal system: the divorce between officials and citizens or, to put it in plain terms, between law and society. This research project will therefore probe into art and images as key elements in the representations of public life and legal systems, in order to throw new light on the broader ethical and cultural discourses that analyze and criticize the inner tensions of the rule of law in globalized contexts.

Gómez Romero, Luis. “Mexico, Law and Development: Lessons from an Unlucky Country.” Paper presented in Legal Intersections Research Centre Discussion Panel on “The Critical Turn in Law and Development in Latin America: A Review of the Current State of Affairs (2000-2013).” School of Law, University of Wollongong, 23 October, 2013. 

IMF Conditionality and Stand-by Arrangements
Dr Gabriel Garcia

This project explores effects of IMF stand-by arrangements on legal systems of developing countries by reviewing the programs sponsored by this institution in Asia and Latin America in the 1990s. The project has been recently extended to study the IMF’s intervention in Greece.

Funded by the NSW Law Society Legal Scholarship Support Scheme, 2012.

Garcia, Gabriel, ‘Understanding IMF Stand-by Arrangements from the Perspective of International and Domestic Law: the Experience of Venezuela in the 1990s.’ Paper presented in Third Biennial Global Conference, National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law Centre for International Law, Singapore, 12-14 July 2012. 

Current IP Developments in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar
Dr Gabriel Garcia

This project explores a range of current issues on intellectual property rights in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. This work is highly relevant considering the challenges faced by least developed country members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that must address a significant number of social problems and, at the same time, apply the standards set by the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) by July 2021.

Garcia, Gabriel, ‘Current Developments in Intellectual Property Law in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar’.  Paper presented at the Workshop on Recent Developments in Intellectual Property Law in Southeast Asia, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 13-14 December 2010.