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Michal Cotler-Wunsh


Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Human Rights Under Pressure - Ethics, Law and Politics

PhD Candidate

Field of Research: In Defense of Free Speech: Creating or Re-affirming the Distinction between Human Rights and Civil Liberties – A Comparative Study

Adv. Michal Cotler-Wunsh received her LL.B. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and LL.M. from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Her research focused on understanding addressing power differentials in mediation processes in a thesis entitled: Understanding and Addressing Power Disparities in Divorce Mediation: Family, Feminism and Foucault. Michal has worked in both the public and private sectors. In her last position she served as Director of External Relations at IDC Herzliya and the commissioner for the prevention of sexual harassment. Michal is a research fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at IDC Herzliya and is a member of the executive and board of directors of ‘Tzav Pius’, an NGO dedicated to creating opportunities to connect Israelis along the secular-religious spectrum.

The research will present the development and interpretation of free speech in Germany, Israel and Canada in a post WWII reality. It will suggest that a lack of distinction between human rights (HR) and civil liberties (CL), whether inherent or developed, may result in a deep misunderstanding of the initial intentions of international law generally and of free speech in particular. It will examine in what ways western democratic countries seem to be forsaking civility for the sake of civil liberties (over human rights), possibly and among other things as a result of this confusion or blurring of terms. It will compare and juxtapose the American model of absolute freedoms, which has informed Western democracies most significantly, with the alternative embodied in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Delineating the distinction between HR and CL, it will present the Canadian model, which is based on an entrenched understanding of the guiding limits to speech, such as hate speech and incitement. It will examine the possible implications of the distinction between human rights and civil liberties in the Canadian model, such as the fundamental understanding of group rights and acceptance of group remedies and of affirmative action. It will suggest relevant ways in which the Canadian model can inform Israeli understanding, implementation and guidelines in the context of free speech. It will strive to suggest practical ways in which this unique, balanced perspective can shed light on in depth examination of existing international law and the infrastructure and institutions created to uphold and protect it, as a mechanism for change.

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