On Friday 27 September 2019, the Freilich Project was pleased to join with ANU’s Centre for Heritage & Museum Studies to welcome historian Dr Kostis Karpozilos, director of the Contemporary Social History Archives in Athens, and legal scholar Professor Dimitris Christopoulos, President of the International Federation for Human Rights, and Professor of State and Legal Theory at Panteion University in Athens.
Presenting a critical history of the idea of human rights, focused equally on European history and on the on present crises of economic inequality, xenophobia and right-wing populism, Professor Christopoulos and Dr Karpozilos emphasized the specific genealogy of human rights, noting the current retreat from the universalism of human rights which emerged in the wake of WWII. The figure of the refugee, codified in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, is central to this history, they argued.
For the presenters, the retreat from the universality of human rights we are witnessing today is inexplicable but for the emergence of neoliberalism, which detached social rights from the broader body of human rights, and later sought to absolve the state of any moral responsibility for refugees, outsourced to NGOs or to poorer, peripheral islands and nations.
“The answers given to the refugee crisis will soon be the answers given to every crisis,” Professor Christopoulos warned, as Dr Karpozilos drew connections between the demonization of refugees and the demonization of the poor, both deemed responsible for their own plight in neoliberal rhetoric.