The prospects for real justice reform and greater support for human rights, including the rights of women, will survive the current political climate, say two leading international scholars.
“This is a time of opportunity, of hope,” said Rashida Manjoo, a professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and a former United Nations Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
Her upbeat prediction was echoed by Ronald V. Clarke, former dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and winner of the 2014 Stockholm Prize in Criminology.
“If you can marshal enough facts and get people to understand them, things can change, and things will change faster than they have in the last 15 to 20 years,” he said.
Both professors, who will receive honorary degrees at the John Jay College commencement Wednesday, delivered their remarks at a special discussion with students and faculty on the eve of the ceremonies.
Manjoo, an international human rights advocate for over 30 years, served as Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights between 2009-2015.
She used the tangled post-apartheid history of her own country as an example of why she felt optimistic about the future.
“Despite the democracy we (gained) in 1994 after apartheid, the growing inequality meant that you couldn’t step back and say ‘we made it,’” she said.
“The hard work was just starting, and 23 years down the line, the work continues.”
Clarke, who worked for the UK government’s criminological research department, the Home Office Research and Planning Unit, before coming to the U.S. in 1984, is most widely known for his work on Rational Choice Theory, which posits that people commit crimes when there are reasons to do so, and that individuals effectively do a form of “cost-benefit analysis” when considering committing a crime.
“Reducing opportunities for crimes really does work.”
The Stockholm Prize in Criminology, which some have called the “Nobel Prize” for criminology, was given in recognition of his wide-ranging achievements in criminological research.
He currently serves as associate director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, funded by the Department of Justice Community Oriented Police Services program, and is the author of more than 250 books, monographs and papers.
Clarke admitted the US justice system still had a long way to go in the area of reform.
“We need to spend far more time on prevention,” Clarke said. “Just as we have with our healthcare system, we’ve neglected prevention.”
Clarke added the prevailing notion in the US that imprisonment reduces crime was misleading.
“We know that in countries that have made much less use of imprisonment like Britain, Australia, (and) New Zealand, crime rates have come down just as much as the US since the 1990s,” he said. “It has nothing to do with imprisonment.”
Clarke added: “There’s an obvious problem of unfair treatment of minorities in our criminal justice system. It doesn’t’ get into mainstream of the debate, but people are beginning to see the costs of what we’ve done in the past.”
Manjoo, who served as head of South Africa’s Commission on Gender Equality, has focused her scholarship on examining the socio-economic, racial, historical, and cultural conditions that give rise to violence against women, and how different states have responded to it.
Describing herself as an “activist academic,” Manjoo called on researchers and criminologists to “bridge the theory-practice divide.”
Manjoo said inequality, gender stereotyping, and impunity are the “core” contributing factors in gender violence—which are perpetuated in turn by government policies.
“There is a lot of cultural relativism when we talk about women’s rights,” she said. “The global south is deemed uncivilized, as well as the Middle East.
“I found in one study that statistics of femicide in the U.K. are relatively high, but we name it differently when it happens in ethnic communities.”
Both speakers revealed a common interest in applying their scholarship to preventing crimes against wildlife such as poaching.
“People are not used to criminologists working in wildlife crime,” said Clarke, pointing out that current practices of locking up offenders did little to stop the practice.
“These crimes are a response to economic and land issues,” added Manjoo. “If you’re protecting land or wildlife, and people are homeless, that’s going to create an incentive.”
Asked about what continued to drive her work, Manjoo said it was the knowledge that gender and economic inequality still prevailed in many parts of the world.
I’m almost 63 (but) I cannot just walk away and say I’m exhausted,” she said. “Human rights is a way of life. I’m unable to let go witnessing or [fighting] any injustice that I see.”
Dane Stallone is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.