Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Remembrance of Professor Robert C. L. Moffat

Bob was my teacher during the first year of his career in the legal academy, imparting my first knowledge of civil procedure as well as his own special brand of jurisprudence.
Law school was somewhat more casual in those days of the classroom shuffle and Quarterback Spurrier and a plentiful market for pioneering legal jobs.  This comfortable camaraderie was especially noticeable in the relationships between the students and the younger professors.  Bob and Janette quickly became my Gainesville family and I routinely gravitated to their house every week to share in a nourishing meal, their exceptionally warm company, and a delightful conversation that often explored some legal issue in closer detail.
While I concede to being more impressionable then than now, looking back I realize there were few topics that Bob could not discuss with exceptional knowledge and passion, always made more memorable by his clever, near frolicsome sense of humor.  That continued of course to be the case when I moved back to Gainesville a few years ago, although by then the list of publications, honors, and memberships had more than met the promise of those early days.
To say that Bob was inspirational to his students is perhaps an understatement in my case.  Bob’s passion about legal theory led me to write that year my first law review article on The Legal Nihilism of Pashukanis.  Perhaps that article was not on the top ten list for Florida practitioners, but that did not discourage Bob from pressing me and classmate Pat Brown into service during the summer after our graduation to put together an entire symposium edition of the Florida Law Review on Jurisprudence, where I had the great pleasure of working with Myres McDougal and Harold Lasswell on one of their classic iterations of the New Haven School.  Bob always ran with the big dogs, as they say, and it was amazing to have some of that vibrant personality and powerful mind rub off on me as a law student.
I’ve always loved the expression, "Teachers Touch Tomorrow."  We can be sure that Bob has inspired a world of creative ideas and interests and passions in his thousands of students.  Now that’s a legacy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Calling a spade a spade: Toward a more expansive condemnation of human rights violations

Worker rights are human rights. A healthy environment is a human right. Health care is a human right. Freedom from discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, or political opinion are human rights. The right to own property, to assemble peaceably, to due process, to an education, to leave the country are human rights. Freedom of expression and the right to vote are human rights. Of course, freedom from torture and arbitrary arrest are human rights.

These are individual rights that exist simply because we are human beings. They are guaranteed by a raft of UN treaties.  Yet rarely do we see this term used except in the context of genocide, slave labor, mass rape and child soldiers as weapons of war,  imprisonment of dissenters, and other violent government intervention into the lives of its citizens.  We can agree that government violence against its people deserves a higher priority of condemnation than other human rights violations.  My contention, however, is that we should begin routinely labeling as human rights violations other government deprivation of protected individual rights.

Fraudulent elections, unreasonably forceful quelling of public protests, and failure to ensure that producers do not poison our aquifers, pollute our air, or crush unions picketing for fair wages are violations of human rights that deserve to be accurately labeled as such. As Berta Hernandez-Truyol, co-author of our book on Just Trade, reminds us, "all human rights are universal, indivisible and inter-dependent and interrelated."

Condemning as human rights violations what governments that perpetrate them prefer to call "labor violations" or "environmental problems" or "discrimination situations" will help to end the fallacy that only violence by governments rises to the level of a "human rights" concern.  It would recognize that the indivisibility of human rights means that denial of free speech is closely related to arbitrary arrest, that condoning chemical dumping is closely related to denial of health care, and that failure to enforce laws against discrimination against women at work is closely related to the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Our human rights are precious, and each is inter-dependent on the others.  Let us accurately label their violation.