Dr Nazila Ghanea, Harriet Moynihan, Gehan Gunatilleke
Event date
Event time
16:30 - 18:30
Department for Continuing Education
Rewley House
1 Wellington Square
Venue details

Pickstock room

Event type
Lectures and seminars
Event cost
Free, optional £15.00 fee for dinner
Disabled access?
Booking required

Dr Nazila Ghanea
Liberal thinking has a long and proud history across a range of disciplines and was increasingly confident in its assertions. Critiques of the claims of liberalism, however, have been increasing, not least due to recent events.

This RHRS seminar will be analysing the ways in which the liberal order is now under threat at the international and national levels. These threats stem from populism, the sidelining of liberal values such as human rights and the increased polarisation and regulation in various jurisdictions; and arise in various arena, whether multilateral or domestic.

In some cases it appears that liberal values themselves create spaces that then advance tensions that call for restrictions. Could liberalism’s own icons, such as free speech, in fact be bringing about its own downfall?

Come along to examine this with our panelists.

Harriet Moynihan
Even before Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, there were signs that the liberal international order, dating from 1945, was under pressure. Since then, the trend for voters to elect right-wing populists who are scornful of regional and global bodies like the EU and the UN has raised the threat to the liberal international order, including multilateralism and the international rule of law.

The speaker will examine the future for the liberal international order in a multi-polar age in which China, Russia and countries from the Global South are increasingly seeking to be rule-shapers rather than rule-takers, and to push back against perceptions of a Western-centric international order. With President Xi Jinping’s defence of globalization and international ties, to what extent could rising China emerge as one of the champions of the liberal international order? And will liberal values, including human rights and democracy, be overtaken by a more instrumentalist approach to international law, with a greater emphasis on trade and nationalism?

Gehan Gunatilleke
Liberals face a dilemma today. In a global milieu of nationalist propaganda and divisive politics, much of what is claimed to be within the rubric of ‘free speech’ harms individuals and groups. In this context, public calls for stricter speech regulation have mounted. Yet these calls have strengthened an agenda of hyper-regulation; states, media organisations and academic institutions are expected to regulate expression in over-cautious, and arguably repressive ways. The ‘no platform’ movement in universities, and the increased drive towards state regulation of social media signal the trajectory of this discourse.

The speaker will examine the fundamental tension between maintaining space for free expression and preventing harm to others. He will critique the liberal response to this tension in the context of ‘right-wing’ politics and ‘violent extremism’, and question whether liberals have ceded too much space to the regulatory agenda.

Harriet Moynihan
Harriet is an Associate Fellow in the International Law Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), where she focuses on international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Harriet has lectured on international humanitarian law as part of Oxford University Department for Continuing Education's Foreign Service Programme with Kate Jones.

Before joining Chatham House, Harriet was a legal adviser at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, where she advised on a wide range of international law issues. Harriet has represented the UK in the Council of Europe, in cases before the European Court of Human Rights, and at bilateral and multilateral treaty negotiations.

Prior to that, Harriet trained and worked as an associate solicitor for Clifford Chance LLP in the firm’s London and Singapore offices.

Gehan Gunatilleke
Gehan Gunatilleke is a doctoral student in law at the University of Oxford, and a researcher at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights. His current research focuses on the grounds on which the freedom of expression may be restricted under international law. Gehan is a former UN advisor to the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, where he specialised in international treaty compliance. As a lawyer in Sri Lanka, he has campaigned against the criminalisation of dissenting speech, and the excessive regulation of mainstream and social media.

Dr Nazila Ghanea
Dr Nazila Ghanea is Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Kellogg College. She was the founding editor of the international journal of Religion and Human Rights and now serves on its Editorial Board. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, the Board of Governors of the Universal Rights Group and the Advisory Council of the Cambridge Institute on Religion & Global Affairs (CIRGA). She has been a visiting academic at a number of institutions including Columbia and NYU, and previously taught at the University of London and Keele University, UK and in China.

Nazila has acted as a human rights consultant/expert for a number of governments, the UN, UNESCO, OSCE, Commonwealth, Council of Europe and the EU. She has facilitated international human rights law training for a range of professional bodies around the world, lectured widely and carried out first hand human rights field research in a number of countries including Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. She is a regular contributor to the media on human rights matters. This coverage has included BBC World Service, BBC Woman’s Hour, The Times, Radio Free Europe, The Guardian, Avvenire, The Telegraph, The National (UAE), New Statesman, Sveriges Radio, TA3 Slovakia and El Pais.