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Dr. Natalie Davidson

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Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Human Rights Under Pressure - Ethics, Law and Politics

Post Doctoral Fellow

Field of Research: The Changing Definition of Torture: A Socio-Legal Inquiry

Natalie Davidson completed her SJD at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Law, and was a 2015-2016 research fellow at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Social Justice at the University of Texas School of Law. She is interested in the history and sociology of international human rights law, private law theory, and how insights from those fields can be incorporated into normative analyses of international human rights law. Her dissertation revisits seminal torture claims filed under the Alien Tort Statute, exploring their contribution to the social construction of political violence committed in the Cold War's Western bloc. Drawing on critical approaches to human rights, law and history scholarship and anthropological theories of human rights, she examines how these cases have been constructed in legal proceedings in the United States and (re)interpreted and deployed by parties, the media, civil society organisations and state actors in the countries where the torture was committed, Paraguay and the Philippines. Natalie holds a joint LLB-Maîtrise (King's College London and Université Paris I) and LLM (University of London), and practiced corporate law for over five years. She also taught French at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Before moving to Israel in her twenties, she grew up half-French, half-American. 

The Changing Definition of Torture: A Socio-Legal Inquiry

Natalie's post-doctoral project exposes how activists and international judges are promoting a new definition of torture in international human rights law. By framing sexual abuses by clergy as well as domestic violence as forms of torture, these actors challenge the traditional understanding of torture as concerning the way public power is exercised. While attention has been drawn in recent years to changes in the definition of torture in international criminal law as well as to the feminist campaigns in that field, the dramatic transformations occurring in international human rights law have gone largely unnoticed. In order to understand the causes of this change and begin assessing its desirability, this project adopts a socio-legal perspective at two levels. First, drawing on the work of constructivist international relations scholars, it explores the role of feminist lawyers and other actors in promoting through the law relating to torture a new international norm concerning violence by private actors, and the processes by which human rights bodies become receptive to and in turn promote this norm. Second, drawing on critical legal approaches to international law, the project asks to what extent the new definition of torture is emancipatory, raising questions about the possible costs of this feminist campaign. 

Freie Universität Berlin
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The Minerva Center for Human Rights
Menschenrechtszentrum Uni Potsdam
DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Einstein Foundation Berlin
Dahlem Research School