Performance or performativity? Australia’s membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Amy Maguire, Fiona McGaughey, Georgia Monaghan

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Scholarship to date has analysed the politics surrounding the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) and examined the Universal Periodic Review. Less has been uncovered about what states are doing as Council members. Is their human rights ‘performance’, namely their behaviour, enhanced by Council membership? Or is Council membership more about ‘performativity’–that is, the use of language as a form of action with the intention of effecting changes in the performance of other actors? This paper introduces these questions in the context of Australia’s 2018–2020 Council membership term. The potential impacts of membership for Australia are salient given its lack of a constitutional or statutory Bill of Rights and the lack of any regional human rights mechanism in the Asia-Pacific. Australia’s bid for a seat on the Council had five pillars: gender equality, good governance, freedom of expression, rights of Indigenous peoples, and strong national human rights institutions and capacity building. The paper assesses Australia’s performance and performativity in relation to a selection of its voluntary pledges as a Council member. We reflect on the challenges inherent in holding states to their human rights obligations when international institutions struggle to require accountability, transparency and verifiability of commitments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-338
Number of pages22
JournalAustralian Journal of Human Rights
Issue number2
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Aug 2019


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