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Table of Contents
List of Case Studies
List of Problems
List of Tables
Part One: History and Theory
- The Emergence of International Human Rights Norms
- The Universal Declaration
- The Covenants
- The 1970s: From Standard Setting to Monitoring
- The 1980s: Further Growth and Institutionalization
- The 1990s: Consolidating Progress and Acting Against Genocide
- Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century
- The Global Human Rights Regime
2. Theories of Human Rights
- Rights in General
- Human Rights in Particular
- The Source or Justification of Human Rights
- Equal Concern and Respect
- The Unity of Human Rights
- Duties and Duty-Bearers of Human Rights
- Human Rights and Related Practices
- Sovereignty and International Society
- Three Models of International Human Rights
- The Realist Challenge to Human Rights
- Problem 1: Democracy and Human Rights
3. The Relative Universality of Human Rights
- Universality and Relativity
- International Legal Universality
- Overlapping Consensus Universality
- Functional Universality
- Anthropological or Historical Relativity
- Cultural Relativism
- Universal Rights, Not Identical Practices
- Universalism Without Imperialism
- The Relative Universality of Human Rights
- Problem 2: Hate Speech
- Problem 3: Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation
4. The Unity of Human Rights
- Interdependent and Interrelated Rights
- The Indivisibility of Human Rights
- Politics, History, Theory, and Consensus
- Three Generations of Human Rights?
- Problem 4: Human Rights: Hierarchical or Indivisible?
Part Two: Multilateral, Bilateral, and Transnational Action
5. Global Multilateral Mechanisms
- The Human Rights Council
- The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Treaty-Reporting Systems
- Additional Global Actors
- Mainstreaming Human Rights Throughout the U.N. System
- Case Study: The Special Procedures
6. Regional Human Rights Regimes
- The European Regional Regime
- The Inter-American System
- The African Regional Regime
- The Arab World
- Assessing Regional Human Rights Regimes
- Case Study: Chile and the Inter-American Commission
7. Human Rights and Foreign Policy
- Human Rights and the National Interest
- Means and Mechanisms of Bilateral Action
- The Aims and Effects of Human Rights Policies
- Drawbacks, Problems, and Criticisms
- Political Rhetoric Versus Political Will
8. Human Rights in American Foreign Policy
- Historical Overview
- Human Rights and American Exceptionalism
- Case Study: U.S. Policy in Central America
- Case Study: U.S. Policy Toward South Africa
- Case Study: American Policy Toward Myanmar (Burma)
- Case Study: Israeli Settlements in West Bank Palestine
- Other Western Approaches to International Human Rights
- Explaining Differences in Human Rights Policies
- Problem 5: U.S. Ratification of Human Rights Treaties
9. Transnational Human Rights Advocacy
- Case Study: Amnesty International
- Case Study: Human Rights Watch
- Nonpartisan Action
- Other Advocacy Actions: Celebrity and Consumer Campaigns
- NGO Legitimacy
- Problem 6: Human Rights Obligations of Multinational Corporations
Part Three: Contemporary Issues
10. Humanitarian Intervention
- Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity
- Case Study: Bosnia
- Case Study: Rwanda
- Case Study: Kosovo
- The Authority to Intervene
- Case Study: East Timor
- The Right to Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect
- Case Study: Libya
- Case Study: Sudan
- Justifying Humanitarian Intervention
- Problem 7: The War in Syria
11. Globalization, the State, and Human Rights
- States and Human Rights
- Markets and Liberal Democratic Welfare States
- Market Democracy and American Foreign Policy
- An Alliance of States and Human Rights Advocates?
- Problem 8: The Global North and South and Market Redistributions
12. (Anti)Terrorism and Human Rights
- International Human Rights Law and the Dilemmas of Counterterrorism
- The War on Terror and the Retreat of Human Rights
- Human Rights, Security, and Foreign Policy
- The Axis of Evil
- The War Against Iraq
- Recent Developments: Progress or Retreat?
- Problem 9: The Absolute Prohibition of Torture
- Problem 10: (Anti)Terrorism and Civil Liberties
Appendix: Universal Declaration of Human Rights
A Note to the Reader
This is a book about the international politics of human rights since the end of World War II; that is, the ways in which states and other international actors have addressed human rights. The topic, although broad, is narrower than some readers might expect.
Life, liberty, security, subsistence, and other things to which we have human rights may be denied by an extensive array of individuals and organizations. Human rights, however, are usually taken to have a special reference to the ways in which states treat their own citizens. For example, domestically, we distinguish muggings and private assaults, which are not typically considered human rights violations, from police brutality and torture, which are. Internationally, we distinguish terrorism, war, and crimes against humanity from human rights abuses, even though all lead to denials of life and security. Although the boundaries are not always clear, the distinction is part of our ordinary language and focuses our attention on an important set of political problems.
No single book can cover all aspects of the politics of human rights. Our concern is with the international politics of human rights, a vital and now well-established area of policy and inquiry. This does not imply that international action is the principal determinant of whether human rights are respected or violated. In fact, much of this book demonstrates the limits of international action, insofar as we maintain that, ultimately, human rights are respected and realized at the domestic, national level. In contrast to many other discussions of international human rights, we pay ample attention to the domestic politics of human rights throughout the book in a number of case studies.
Another distinctive feature of this book, along with the other volumes in the Dilemmas in World Politics series, is a relatively extensive emphasis on theory (and history), which forms the heart of Part 1. Chapter 1 examines the historical development of international human rights since World War II. Chapter 2 addresses philosophical issues of the nature, substance, and source of human rights; the place of human rights in the contemporary international society of states; and the theoretical challenges posed to the very enterprise of international human rights policy by arguments of radical cultural relativism and political realism (realpolitik, or power politics). Chapter 3 explores the important theoretical issue of the universality (and relativity) of human rights. And Chapter 4, which is completely new to this edition, explores the unity (indivisibility) of all human rights, with a particular emphasis on the two grand categories of civil/political and economic/social rights.
Part 2 looks at multilateral, bilateral, and transnational action, both separately and comparatively, with an emphasis on case studies since the end of the Cold War (with a few Cold War–era case studies from earlier editions). The chapters in this section consider global multilateral mechanisms, regional mechanisms, foreign policy action in general, U.S. foreign policy in particular, and transnational advocacy. All of these chapters have been significantly revised from the fourth edition, introducing new case studies and exploring the most recent human rights developments.
Part 3 turns to three contemporary issues: humanitarian intervention, globalization and human rights, and the challenges of (anti)terrorism and human rights. As with the chapters in Part 2, these chapters have been thoroughly revised and brought up to date with the latest developments in human rights policy and practice, including an examination of several new case studies.
We have tried to write a book that assumes little or no background knowledge. Most readers with an interest in the topic, regardless of age or experience, should find this book accessible, and we have highlighted in bold some key terms and concepts that are included in the glossary. However, we have tried not to write a textbook, a term that has justly acquired pejorative overtones. We have taken care not to write “down,” either in style or in substance.
Textbook presentations of controversial issues—when they are not entirely avoided—tend to involve bland and noncommittal presentations of “the two sides” to an argument. Although we have made an effort to retain some balance in the discussion, we have not expunged our own views and interpretations. To some readers, it may seem like we often lay out and defend one interpretation and give little attention to alternative views. While we have made great efforts to be accurate and fair, we have no false pretense of objectivity.
With that in mind, we want to draw the reader’s attention to the discussion questions for each chapter. There is almost a short chapter’s worth of material in these questions, which often frame alternative interpretations and highlight controversial claims in the main body of the text. They thus provide at least a partial corrective to any “imbalance” in the main text.
We also draw your attention to the ten “Problems” spread throughout the volume. Each is, in effect, a discussion question, followed by our own answer, followed again by further questions or problems. They aim to provoke additional thought and discussion and to illustrate ways in which readers may take the material presented here and go beyond it.
Another central feature of this volume is the extensive use of case studies. These include recent (post–Cold War) as well as older cases, in order to provide historical context and depth to the discussion and to provide points of comparison between earlier periods and more contemporary ones.
Each chapter—as well as each case study and each problem—can be read independently, in any order. Teachers and students can thus easily customize this book. Our only strong suggestion is that those without a background begin with Chapter 1. From then on, follow your interests—or the instructions of your teacher. And approach everything here with a critical mind.
Our goal is to get you to think about why and how human rights are violated, what can (and cannot) be done about such violations through international action, why human rights remain such a small part of international politics, and what might be done about that. These are pressing political issues that merit, even demand, thought and attention. This book provides resources to help you think about these issues more broadly, more deeply, and more subtly—and thus to be a more informed, and perhaps even more effective, person and citizen.
Part One: History and Theory
Chapter 1: Human Rights in Global Politics: Historical Perspective
There are many historically important precursors to the recognition of human rights as a matter of global concern. Only with the end of World War II and the establishment of the United Nations (U.N.), however, did human rights begin to take on an internationally obligatory nature.
The recognition of limited religious rights for some Christian minorities in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which brought the Thirty Years’ War to an end, is perhaps the earliest precursor of the idea of international human rights. Several treaties concluded in the aftermath of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, such as those affirming the sovereignty and independence of states such as Belgium (1815) and Greece (1832), included provisions protecting the rights of religious and linguistic minorities. In 1878, the major powers of Europe conditioned their recognition of the sovereignty and independence of Serbia on a guarantee of religious liberty. Nineteenth-century campaigns against the slave trade and slavery had clear overtones of what today we would call human rights advocacy. After World War I, workers’ rights and minority rights were addressed by the newly created International Labor Organization and League of Nations. Nonetheless, prior to World War II there was near-universal agreement that human rights were not a legitimate concern of international relations. For example, the Covenant of the League of Nations, which is usually seen as an expression of the idealism of the immediate post–World War I era, does not even include the term human rights.
This reflected a particular understanding of sovereignty, which has been the organizing principle of international relations for the past three centuries. States, the primary actors in international relations, are seen as sovereign, that is, supreme authorities, and thus subject to no higher political authority in their own territories. The principal duty correlative to the right of sovereignty is nonintervention, the obligation not to interfere in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of sovereign states (see §2.8). Human rights, which typically involve a state’s treatment of its own citizens in its own territory, were until relatively recently seen as such a matter of protected domestic jurisdiction. A major purpose of this book is to chronicle the ways in which, over the past seventy years, human rights have produced fundamental changes in understandings and practices of state sovereignty.
The contemporary human rights movement can be more directly traced back to the era between the two world wars. For example, the International Law Commission adopted the Declaration of the International Rights of Man in 1929. In the 1930s British novelist and activist H. G. Wells cast much of his advocacy for social reform in terms of a global regime committed to human rights. Such efforts, however, represented only a small fringe of civil society. Even those who believed that all human beings had an extensive set of equal and inalienable rights—a distinctly minority idea in an era that had little trouble justifying racism, sexism, and colonialism—did not suggest that other states had rights or obligations with respect to those rights. And not a single state endorsed the idea that governments had international human rights obligations to their own citizens.
This began to change during World War II. As the Allied powers reflected on the nature of their struggle with Hitler’s Germany—and on how to justify the war to their own citizens and the rest of the world—respect for human rights became an increasingly central theme. In his January 1941 State of the Union address, nearly a year before the United States entered the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt framed the Allied war effort in terms of securing four fundamental freedoms: of speech, of religion, from want, and from fear. This initial statement was further elaborated by Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill, who negotiated a statement of Allied war aims in the Atlantic Charter of August 1941. The January 1942 Declaration by United Nations claimed that “complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands.” From late 1942 on, human rights were a part of postwar planning efforts within both the American and the British governments, the two leading Allied powers.
The immediate impetus for international action, however, came in 1945 as Allied governments and publics began to reflect on the Holocaust, Germany’s systematic mass murder of millions of innocent civilians, a crime that the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin had recently named genocide. Before the war, little was done to aid Jews trying to flee Germany and surrounding countries. Some who escaped were even denied refuge by Allied governments, including the United States. During the war, no effort was made to impede the functioning of the death camps. The Allies did not even target the railway lines that brought hundreds of thousands to the slaughter at Auschwitz and other camps. The world watched—or, rather, turned a blind eye to—the genocidal massacre of six million Jews, a half-million Gypsies (Roma), and tens of thousands of communists, social democrats, homosexuals, church activists, and just ordinary decent people who refused complicity in the new politics and technology of barbarism. As the war came to an end, though, Allied leaders and citizens, previously preoccupied with military victory, finally began to confront this horror.
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, which began in 1945, introduced the novel charge of crimes against humanity. (These crimes were distinct from already-recognized violations of the laws of war, which had been codified at the beginning of the twentieth century in the so-called Hague Laws.) For the first time, officials were held legally accountable to the international community for offenses against individual civilians, not states, whether or not those civilians were citizens of the governments that committed the crimes.
These shocking crimes were crucial in mobilizing broad support for international action. But they were only the tip of the iceberg. Many organizations and individuals had already recognized that wartime atrocities had been preceded by, and built on, years of systematic state-imposed violations of fundamental rights. Prior to the instigation of the Final Solution, Jews and others perceived opponents and “deviants” in Germany had been stripped of many of the civil, political, and economic rights they held prior to Hitler’s rise to power. In addition, there was general agreement that the worldwide economic depression and ensuing economic insecurity of the 1930s contributed significantly to the rise of rights-abusive regimes and to the unraveling of the international system, which precipitated the war. Proposals for the protection of fundamental rights thus become a central focus of postwar international institutions, leading to the incorporation of human rights into the Charter of the United Nations, which was adopted in San Francisco in the summer of 1945.
The Preamble of the U.N. Charter lists as two of the four principal objectives of the organization “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,” and “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” Likewise, Article 1 lists as one of the four purposes of the United Nations “to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
These statements were in themselves revolutionary. Even more radical was the creation in 1946 of the Commission on Human Rights under the auspices of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Commission quickly began to define these abstract statements of postwar optimism and goodwill. The original Commission was composed of eighteen elected members who were broadly representative of the (then fifty-one) members of the United Nations. Its first task was to draft an “international bill of rights,” which would include a declaration of principles and a legally binding human rights convention (treaty), along with institutions and procedures for their enforcement. The Commission quickly decided to focus its attention on the first part of the bill, which in 1948 became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The initial drafts were written by John Humphrey, a young Canadian member of the Commission’s staff, and René Cassin, the French member of the Commission. There was widespread and essential participation, though, by non-Western representatives. The drafting committee included P. C. Chang of China (the vice chair of the Commission), Charles Malik of Lebanon (the rapporteur of the Commission), and Hernan Santa Cruz of Chile. Each, along with the chair of both the Commission and the drafting committee, Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States, played a major role in shaping the Declaration.
2. The Universal Declaration
By the fall of 1948, after barely a year and a half of work, the Commission had completed a brief statement of principles. It was adopted as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly on December 10, 1948. (December 10 is thus celebrated globally as Human Rights Day.) The vote was forty-eight in favor, none opposed, with eight abstentions. Saudi Arabia abstained principally because of provisions that allowed Muslims to change their religion. South Africa abstained because of the provisions on racial equality. The six Soviet-bloc states (USSR, Byelorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukrainian SSR, and Yugoslavia) abstained (ostensibly) because the document was insufficiently detailed, especially with regard to the specific duties of individuals toward their states.
Although most of Africa, much of Asia, and parts of the Americas were still under colonial rule, the Universal Declaration had global endorsement. It received the votes of fourteen European and other Western states, nineteen states from Latin America, and fifteen from Africa and Asia. And the countries that later achieved independence were at least as enthusiastic in their embrace of the Declaration as those who voted for it in 1948. In Africa in particular, the Universal Declaration was liberally referenced and frequently quoted in independence-era constitutions.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration states its foundation: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The substantive bookend is Article 28: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” In between, Articles 2–27 lay out a comprehensive set of rights that have come to define what we mean by internationally recognized human rights. Article 2 recognizes the right to nondiscrimination. An extensive series of civil and political rights are recognized in Articles 3–15 and 19–21, including rights to life, liberty, and security of person; an array of legal protections and civil liberties; and the right to political participation. Articles 16–18 and 22–27 recognize a wide range of economic, social, and cultural rights, including rights to an adequate standard of living, social security, work, rest and leisure, family, education, and participation in the cultural life of the community. Article 29 indicates that people also have duties to their community that set parameters for the exercise of rights. Article 30, the final article, states that nothing in the Declaration may be interpreted as justifying any act that aims at the destruction of any of the enumerated rights in the Declaration.
Even today the Universal Declaration provides the most authoritative statement of international human rights norms. This vital document is reprinted in the appendix.
3. The Covenants
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not, in itself, legally binding. (It describes itself as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”) The Commission thus moved immediately to drafting a treaty to give binding international legal force to international human rights norms. The initial draft “Covenant on Human Rights” was quite short—eighteen articles, focusing exclusively on civil rights. After quite a bit of debate, however, the General Assembly directed the Commission to include economic, social, cultural, and political rights as well.
The new draft, though, was unwieldy. Furthermore, there was significant disagreement over monitoring and adjudication mechanisms and a proposed reporting procedure for economic, social, and cultural rights. Many on the Commission—mostly Western states—believed that the new draft should be divided into separate Covenants. Others—mostly from the postcolonial global South—disagreed, arguing that the indivisibility of human rights was paramount. After much debate, in both the Commission and the broader United Nations, the General Assembly in 1952 directed the Commission to draft separate Covenants on civil and political rights and on economic, social, and cultural rights. (To guarantee the notion of unity, though, the two Covenants, once completed, were to be simultaneously adopted by the General Assembly.)
Many accounts of this period in the history of human rights erroneously blame the East-West ideological divide, the Cold War, for the division of the Covenant. The documentary record, however, tells a different story. There were differences of opinion and ideology between the West and the communist world over the nature of rights. But by far their biggest divide was over the role that the United Nations would play in monitoring the implementation of the Covenant(s) and adjudicating disputes between states over violations. Most countries agreed that the United Nations should play a role, albeit a weak one (see Chapter 4). The Soviet Union and its allies, however, rejected any form of monitoring or oversight by the United Nations.
The Cold War, though, did play a role in debates within the United States about different categories of rights and the supranational role of the United Nations. A coalition of cold warriors, isolationists, and racists (who did not want additional international scrutiny of legalized racial discrimination in the United States) forced newly elected president Eisenhower to agree not to support any human rights treaty that would emerge from the United Nations. On the Commission, the United States began to argue that perhaps the best way to ensure human rights would be through the provision of technical assistance and support to countries, rather than through binding treaties. Nonetheless, by 1954 the Commission finished its work on the Covenants and sent them to the General Assembly, whose Third Committee dithered over the drafts for nearly a dozen years, less because of Cold War wrangling than the wariness of most states of a legally binding treaty. In addition, the delay reflected a shift in focus of the growing bloc of postcolonial states toward fighting colonialism and racism.
The adoption in 1963 of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, followed quickly by a legally binding Convention two years later, indicated a renewed emphasis on human rights standard setting. A coalition of Third World and Western states, with Soviet-bloc support, pushed the drafting process to completion. In December 1966 the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) were adopted by the United Nations. Although the Covenants make a few substantive revisions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, most notably adding a right of self-determination of peoples, they for the most part reaffirm and elaborate on the 1948 Declaration.
The U.N. Charter’s human rights provisions, the Universal Declaration, and the Covenants are often referred to collectively as the International Bill of Human Rights. They state the minimum social and political guarantees recognized by the international community as necessary for a life of dignity in the contemporary world. Table 1.1 summarizes their content.
Table 1.1 Internationally Recognized Human Rights
- The International Bill of Human Rights recognizes the rights to:
- Equality of rights without discrimination (Dl, D2, E2, E3, C2, C3)
- Life (D3, C6)
- Liberty and security of person (D3, C9)
- Protection against slavery (D4, C8)
- Protection against torture and cruel and inhuman punishment (D5, C7)
- Recognition as a person before the law (D6, C16)
- Equal protection of the law (D7, C14, C26)
- Access to legal remedies for rights violations (D8, C2)
- Protection against arbitrary arrest or detention (D9, C9)
- Hearing before an independent and impartial judiciary (D10, C14)
- Presumption of innocence (D11, C14)
- Protection against ex post facto laws (D11, C15)
- Protection of privacy, family, and home (D12, C17)
- Freedom of movement and residence (D13, C12)
- Seek asylum from persecution (D14)
- Nationality (D15)
- Marry and found a family (D16, E10, C23)
- Own property (D17)
- Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (D18, C18)
- Freedom of opinion, expression, and the press (D19, C19)
- Freedom of assembly and association (D20, C21, C22)
- Political participation (D21, C25)
- Social security (D22, E9)
- Work, under favorable conditions (D23, E6, E7)
- Free trade unions (D23, E8, C22)
- Rest and leisure (D24, E7)
- Food, clothing, and housing (D25, E11)
- Health care and social services (D25, E12)
- Special protections for children (D25, E10, C24)
- Education (D26, E13, E14)
- Participation in cultural life (D27, E15)
- A social and international order needed to realize rights (D28)
- Self-determination (E1, C1)
- Humane treatment when detained or imprisoned (C10)
- Protection against debtor’s prison (C11)
- Protection against arbitrary expulsion of aliens (C13)
- Protection against advocacy of racial or religious hatred (C20)
- Protection of minority culture (C27)
Note: This list includes all rights that are enumerated in two of the three documents of the International Bill of Human Rights or have a full article in one document. The source of each right is indicated in parentheses, by document and article number. D = Universal Declaration of Human Rights. E = International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. C = International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
4. The 1970s: From Standard Setting to Monitoring
The comprehensiveness of the International Human Rights Covenants meant that further progress on international human rights would now depend primarily on implementing these standards—an area in which the United Nations had been, and still is, far less successful. The existence of international norms alone does not give the United Nations, or anyone else, the authority to implement them or even inquire about how states implement (or do not implement) them. However, by ratifying the Covenants, states agree to follow international human rights standards by complying with certain reporting procedures. But, as we will see in more detail in Chapter 5, these obligations do not even begin to provide international enforcement or implementation of the standards.
In the late 1960s, however, the United Nations began to move, very tentatively and in largely symbolic ways, from merely setting standards to examining how states implement these standards. In 1967 Economic and Social Council Resolution 1235 authorized the Commission on Human Rights to discuss human rights violations in particular countries. In 1969 the racial discrimination convention came into force, requiring parties to file periodic reports on implementation. In 1970 ECOSOC Resolution 1503 authorized the Commission on Human Rights to conduct confidential investigations of complaints that suggested “a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The United Nations operates under severe structural constraints. It is an intergovernmental organization (IGO), established by a multilateral treaty (the U.N. Charter) among sovereign states, who are its members. Delegates to the United Nations represent states, not the international community, let alone individuals whose rights are violated. Like other IGOs, the United Nations has only those powers that states—which are also the principal violators of human rights—give it. Thus, perhaps more surprising than the limits on its human rights monitoring powers is the fact that the United Nations acquired even these limited powers. It may be of little comfort to victims, but we cannot ignore the limits imposed by state sovereignty in assessing the human rights achievements of the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations. Although sovereign states have agreed to these norms and procedures—they participated in drafting them and consented to them by ratifying human rights treaties—they designed them to be weak and highly circumscribed (see Chapter 5).
Modest progress on monitoring continued in the 1970s. In response to the 1973 military coup in Chile, the United Nations created the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Situation of Human Rights in Chile. In 1976 the International Human Rights Covenants entered into force, leading to the creation of the Human Rights Committee (HRC), which is charged with monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Human rights were also explicitly and systematically introduced into the bilateral foreign policies of individual countries in the 1970s, beginning in the United States. Although practice fell short of rhetoric, these bilateral initiatives helped to open space for new ways of thinking about and acting on international human rights concerns, as we will see in some detail in Chapters 7 and 8.
The 1970s also saw substantial growth in the number and range of activities of human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), private associations that engage in political activity. Such groups act as advocates for victims of human rights violations by publicizing violations and lobbying to alter the practices of states and international organizations. Best known is Amnesty International (AI), which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and has an international membership of more than seven million people. Chapter 9 briefly examines transnational human rights advocacy.
Table 1.2 Key Dates in the Evolution of International Human Rights Norms and Institutions
- 1941 (January): Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”
- 1941 (December): Atlantic Charter
- 1942: Declaration by United Nations
- 1945: United Nations Charter adopted
- 1946: Creation of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights
- 1948: Adoption of the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- 1950: Decision to include economic and social rights in the Covenant on Human Rights
- 1952: Decision to divide the Covenant into separate treaties
- 1954: Initial drafting of the Covenants completed by the Commission on Human Rights
- 1965: Adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
- 1966: Adoption of the International Covenants on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- 1968: International Conference on Human Rights held in Tehran, Iran
- 1969: CERD enters into force
- 1970: U.N. Economic and Social Council adopts 1503 Procedure (petitions mechanism)
- 1975: Helsinki Accords link human rights protections to security cooperation in Europe
- 1976: International Covenants enter into force
- 1977: Amnesty International wins Nobel Peace Prize; U.S. State Department makes human rights a foreign policy priority
- 1979: United Nations adopts Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- 1981: CEDAW enters into force
- 1984: United Nations adopts Convention Against Torture (CAT)
- 1987: CAT enters into force
- 1989: United Nations adopts Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); enters into force the same year
- 1990: United Nations adopts Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers (CMW)
- 1993: World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, Austria
- 1993: Establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
- 2003: CMW enters into force
- 2006: U.N. Human Rights Council replaces the Commission on Human Rights
- 2006: United Nations adopts Convention on Protection Against Enforced Disappearance (CED) and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
- 2008: CRPD enters into force
- 2010: CED enters into force
5. The 1980s: Further Growth and Institutionalization
Multilateral, bilateral, and transnational nongovernmental human rights activity continued to increase, more or less steadily, through the 1980s. New treaties were adopted on discrimination against women (1979), torture (1984), and the rights of the child (1989). In 1985, ECOSOC established an independent Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that, along with the Human Rights Committee (which oversees implementation of the ICCPR), began to review periodic reports submitted by states (see §5.3). The Commission on Human Rights undertook thematic initiatives on disappearances, torture, and summary or arbitrary executions and a larger and more diverse group of countries came under Commission scrutiny.
The process of incorporating human rights into bilateral foreign policy also accelerated in the 1980s. The Netherlands, Norway, and Canada developed particularly prominent international human rights policies (see §8.7). The European Community (predecessor of the European Union [EU]) introduced human rights concerns into its external relations. A few Third World countries, such as Costa Rica, also began to emphasize human rights in their foreign policies.
The 1980s also saw a dramatic decline in the fortunes of repressive dictatorships. Throughout Latin America, military regimes that had appeared unshakable in the 1970s crumbled in the 1980s. By 1990 elected governments held office in every continental country in the Western Hemisphere (although the democratic and human rights credentials of some, such as Paraguay, were extremely suspect). In addition, there were peaceful transfers of power after elections in several countries in 1989, including Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, and Uruguay.
In Asia the personalist dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in the Philippines in 1986. South Korea’s military dictatorship was replaced by an elected government in 1988. Taiwan ended four decades of imposed single-party rule. In Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was elected president in December 1988, ending a dozen years of military rule. Asia, however, also presented the most dramatic human rights setback of the decade—the June 1989 massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The changes with the greatest international impact, however, occurred in Central and Eastern Europe. Soviet-imposed regimes in East Germany and Czechoslovakia crumbled in the fall of 1989 in the face of peaceful mass protests. In Hungary and Poland, where liberalization had begun earlier in the decade, Communist Party dictatorships also peacefully withdrew from power. Even Romania and Bulgaria ousted their old communist governments (although their new governments included numerous former communists with tenuous democratic credentials). And in the USSR, where glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) had created the international political space for these changes, the Communist Party fell from power after the abortive military coup of August 1991. The Soviet Union itself was dissolved four months later.
6. The 1990s: Consolidating Progress and Acting Against Genocide
The 1990s was a decade of gradual, but generally positive, change in most regions—punctuated by striking examples of the most retrograde barbarism (see Chapter 10). In Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe, the progress of the 1980s was largely maintained. In many cases, such as El Salvador and Hungary, liberalization substantially deepened. In a few countries, such as the Czech Republic, Argentina, and Mexico, full democratization was achieved. In most of the former Soviet republics, however, the human rights situation remained—and remains—discouraging.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where one-party and no-party states remained the norm throughout the 1980s, political liberalization was widespread in the 1990s. Progress, however, was inconsistent and often not very deep. Nonetheless, the November 1991 electoral defeat of Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s president for the first twenty-five years of its independence, was an important democratic first for the region. And the end of apartheid in South Africa, which held its first elections under the principle of universal suffrage in 1994, was a dramatic change indeed. More typical, though, was Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, where the military annulled the results of elections in 1992 and 1993 and General Sani Abacha exercised particularly harsh military rule over the country from 1993 until his death in 1998.
In Asia the picture in the 1990s was also mixed but generally positive. South Korea and Taiwan consolidated democratic, rights-protective regimes. Cambodia, with a substantial assist from the United Nations, cast off Vietnamese occupation and freely elected a government that was by far the most liberal it had seen in decades. Tentative and partial liberalization occurred in Vietnam. Indonesia saw limited political reform with the expulsion of the Suharto regime in 1998. And India, for all its problems, remained the world’s largest multiparty electoral democracy.
China, however, despite its substantial economic opening and political reform, remained a highly repressive, Stalinist-party state. Burma continued to repress its internal democracy movement and rebuff international pressure for liberalization. Afghanistan suffered under the theocratic brutality of Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. North Korea consolidated its position as the world’s most closed and politically backward state. And many Asian governments and elites began to argue that international human rights standards did not apply in their entirety in Asia.
Sadly, though, the mixed picture in Africa and Asia was far more encouraging than that in the Middle East. Hafez al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Mu’ammar Gadhafi sustained their personalist dictatorships in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, respectively. Religious intolerance and the suppression of all dissent remained the norm in Iran. The Gulf states remained closed and undemocratic. Increasingly violent Islamic fundamentalist movements led to growing repression in Egypt and plunged Algeria into a shockingly brutal civil war. About the only examples of substantial progress in the 1990s were modest liberalization in the monarchies of Jordan, Morocco, and Kuwait.
International action showed a similar pattern of solidifying past gains and modest progress in selected areas. Perhaps most striking was the decisive rebuff of arguments by China and other countries at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993 against the full implementation of internationally recognized human rights in the short and medium terms. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action constituted a bold restatement of the fundamental tenets of human rights as “universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” The Programme of Action set an ambitious agenda for strengthening the human rights system at the United Nations. And it declared unequivocally that many widespread and overlooked injustices—most notably violence against women—constitute violations of human rights. The creation at the end of 1993 of a high commissioner for human rights proved to be an important step in expanding both the scope and the depth of multilateral monitoring (see §5.2). Such events, particularly when coupled with the changes in national practices already noted, signified a deepening penetration of the international consensus on human rights norms.
Human rights also became a more deeply entrenched and less controversial concern of bilateral foreign policy. National nongovernmental human rights organizations and advocates became a significant part of the political landscape in a growing number of countries in the Third World and former Soviet bloc. Transnational human rights NGOs also increased their prestige and influence.
In one area, however, the 1990s saw not incremental growth but unprecedented change, namely, the development of a practice of legitimate military humanitarian intervention against genocide (see Chapter 10). This was a dramatic reversal of Cold War–era (and earlier) practice.
Although the 1948 Genocide Convention established genocide as an international crime, the almost universal practice during the Cold War era was international inaction. In places such as Burundi, East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Guatemala, Cambodia, and Uganda, genocide (killing large numbers of people because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or culture, with the aim of exterminating the group) and politicide (mass killing for other political purposes) were met by verbal expressions of concern but little concrete action, except by neighboring states such as India, Vietnam, and Tanzania with strong selfish interests in intervening.
Even with the Cold War at an end, the international community failed to take effective steps to stop the violence that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, which included genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. And, in 1994, the international community was paralyzed when three-quarters of a million Rwandans—about one-seventh of the population of the entire country (the proportional equivalent of more than 45 million Americans today)—were massacred in a mere one hundred days.
These dramatic failures, however, galvanized new efforts. Ad hoc international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, created in 1991 and 1994, respectively, revived the Nuremberg precedent—or, perhaps more accurately, began a process that transformed Nuremberg from an isolated exception into a precedent. The adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998, which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, marks an even deeper normative transformation. And the interventions in Kosovo and East Timor in 1999 consolidated an international practice of humanitarian intervention against genocide (see §§10.4 and 10.6).
7. Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century
The human rights record of the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century has been decidedly mixed. In many countries, the human rights progress of the 1980s and 1990s was maintained or even extended. This has been especially striking in Latin America. In sub-Saharan Africa as well, steady if limited and often fitful progress has been most typical, although the Congo, Sudan, and Somalia continue to suffer under decades-long humanitarian crises, and new crises, have emerged in Mali, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic. Elsewhere, however, efforts to improve human rights conditions, such Georgia’s 2004 Orange Revolution, Ukraine’s 2005 Pink Revolution, and Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution, either failed or were ultimately reversed. And although the Arab Spring popular uprisings of 2011 resulted in the removal of long-entrenched dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, human rights conditions in these countries (and across the Arab world more generally) remain discouraging—and Syria has descended into barbarous war waged by the Assad government against the bulk of its population (see Problem 7 in Chapter 10).
The “global war on terror” initiated in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States led many to fear that human rights would once again be pushed into the background in international politics, as had occurred during the Cold War. As we will see in Chapter 12, though, the reality has been much more complex. In a few instances, rights-abusive regimes (e.g., Pakistan) have been able to parlay antiterrorism into protection from international human rights pressures. In many countries (e.g., the Philippines and Russia), antiterrorism has added to existing rights-abusive practices. In many liberal democracies, some human rights have been subjected to limited infringements. And U.S. abuses of (often illegally held) prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo, as well as the kidnapping and international transport (extraordinary rendition) of suspects, have provoked widespread national and international criticism. But there has not been the same kind of systemic negative impact as was seen in the Cold War. International human rights policies in general seem about as robust as at the turn of the millennium, and, at worst, the war on terror has produced only a modest downturn in global respect for some civil and political rights.
Globalization poses a much more serious new challenge to human rights. States are the central mechanism for implementing and enforcing internationally recognized human rights. Even if the threat to states posed by globalization is exaggerated, the relative capabilities of states are declining, especially when it comes to being able to extract revenues to support social welfare programs that realize economic and social rights. No alternative source of provision, however, seems to be emerging to fill the resulting gap. Therefore, as we suggest in more detail in Chapter 11, global markets are likely to be a much greater threat to human rights in the coming decades than either terrorists or the war against them.
8. The Global Human Rights Regime
In the decades since the end of World War II, a normatively robust global human rights regime has developed. (An international regime is conventionally defined as a set of principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures that states and other international actors accept as authoritative within an issue area.) States, however, have largely retained for themselves the responsibility—and the sovereign right—to implement these rights in their own territories.
Of the hundred or more treaties that address human rights issues, broadly understood, seven are usually taken to provide the core of international human rights law: the two 1966 International Human Rights Covenants; the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.1 As of December 2016, these treaties had an average of 175 state parties,2 that is, states that had ratified or acceded to the treaties and thus were bound by them in international law. This represents an astonishing 89 percent ratification rate. We have come a very long way from the early 1940s, when even genocide was not legally prohibited.3
This extensive and substantively admirable body of international human rights law, however, is not matched by comparably strong international implementation procedures. As we will see in more detail in Chapters 5 and 6, states have largely reserved for themselves the right to interpret the meaning of their international human rights obligations and to implement them in their own territories. International law, in other words, has established a system of national implementation of international human rights. International human rights norms have been fully internationalized. Implementation of international human rights obligations, however, remains almost entirely national.
There is, of course, an immense amount of national and international human rights advocacy. States, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and private individuals promote human rights every day in every country of the world. Their efforts, however, are focused ultimately on states, which still hold not only the duty but also the right to implement human rights in their own territories.
The shortcomings of this system of national implementation of international human rights are obvious and will be discussed in some detail in later chapters. Here, though, we want to emphasize the independent contribution of international human rights norms. International human rights law has been so widely endorsed because its normative force is seemingly inescapable in the contemporary world. Even states like North Korea and Belarus, which have never given any serious attention to implementing internationally recognized human rights, are parties to at least some core human rights treaties. And even cynical endorsements of these norms are of real practical significance for national and international human rights advocates.
Without an internationally agreed-upon list of human rights, national human rights advocates would be subject to charges of political or cultural bias, inauthenticity, and even treason. But when repressive governments today level such charges at their critics, those critics can reply that all they are doing is advocating rights that the government itself has repeatedly endorsed, including by accepting binding international legal obligations. This decisively shifts the burden of persuasion from the advocates of human rights to the governments that are violating those rights. Of course, might regularly triumphs over right, especially in the short run. But national human rights advocates are supported by international human rights norms. This makes a real practical difference in all but the most closed and repressive countries. And in countries with even merely not-too-bad human rights records, these protections are of immense day-to-day value to advocates and activists.
Similarly, when transnational human rights NGOs, foreign states, and regional and international organizations raise concerns about a state’s human rights record, those states cannot credibly respond that it is none of their business. All states in the contemporary world have accepted that human rights are a legitimate subject of international politics, much as they hate to have their shortcomings brought to the attention of national and international audiences. And all states have agreed that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Human Rights Covenants provide an authoritative set of international human rights norms. As we will explore in more detail in Chapter 10 on humanitarian intervention, there is a widespread consensus among states that, at the most basic level, sovereignty cannot be invoked as a shield against criticism for the most serious of human rights violations: sovereignty is conditional rather than absolute.
International human rights law has taken off the table debates over whether there really are human rights and what belongs on a list of human rights. The scarce resources of human rights advocates thus can be focused on the real work of implementing internationally recognized human rights.
For all its shortcomings, the body of international human rights law rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has both armed human rights advocates and disarmed their opponents, at least normatively. This fundamental redefinition of the terms of national and international political legitimacy is the principal legacy of the global human rights regime.
The plan of the book expands upon many of the themes and issues that we’ve touched upon in this historical overview. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 explore in some depth key and foundational philosophical and historical questions. Chapter 2 examines theories of human rights, including sources and justifications for human rights, obligations for respecting and protecting human rights, and the problem of human rights versus state sovereignty. Chapter 3 explores the universality of human rights, the idea that all human rights are held equally by all humans, everywhere. Chapter 4 looks at the indivisibility, interrelatedness, and interdependence of different categories of human rights, providing a different perspective on the universality of human rights.
Part 2 of the book explores how human rights goals are achieved through international institutions (at the global and regional levels, in Chapters 5 and 6), state actors (through their foreign policies, in Chapters 7 and 8), and transnational, nonstate actors (through research and advocacy work, in Chapter 9). These are the major actors in the global human rights regime.
Finally, Part 3 looks at three contemporary challenges for international human rights: humanitarian intervention against genocide and other crimes (Chapter 10), globalization (Chapter 11), and terrorism (Chapter 12).
- What explains the changes in human rights norms and practices over time? Consider the following possibilities:
- Changing moral sensibilities. Are our moral views all that different from those of other generations? If so, what does that suggest about the universality of human rights? Or is it that we now feel freer to act on these values? If so, why? What is the relationship between changes in ideas and changes in policy?
- Changes in the character of international relations. Have peace and prosperity changed our views of human rights? Growing international interdependence? The end of the Cold War? Decolonization? And then what about post-9/11 changes?
- Changes in national human rights practices. Or is it that we are now doing better at home and thus want to project that progress abroad? Are we still doing better at home after 9/11?
- How deeply have these changing views toward international human rights penetrated? We often talk about international human rights, but action regularly falls far short of rhetoric. Why? Is it due to a lack of real interest? Constraints on our ability to achieve our objectives? Competing objectives?
- What accounts for the weakness of international human rights enforcement? What would be required to overcome the existing impediments? How costly—economically, politically, and in human terms—would this be? Would these costs be worthwhile? Do you think that change is likely in the next few years? The next few decades? What factors would lead you to expect continuity? What factors suggest change?
- What kind of actor is best suited to pursue the protection and promotion of international human rights: individuals, NGOs, states, or intergovernmental organizations? How do your assessments vary with the nature of the target of action? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each type of human rights advocate?
There are a number of good introductory overviews of international human rights. The best, in our opinion, is David P. Forsythe, Human Rights in International Relations, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Those with a somewhat more theoretical inclination might prefer Michael Freeman, Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011). Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008) and Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011) are good places to start for those with a historical bent. Samuel Moyn’s Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), which became an almost instant classic when it was published, argues that the contemporary human rights era did not really begin until the 1970s. Philip Alston and Ryan Goodman, International Human Rights—Texts and Materials (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), is a massive compendium of excerpts from a wide range of legal and nonlegal sources that, although directed principally at law students, contains much of interest to those with little or no interest in international law.
There are also several good general readers. Patrick Hayden, ed., The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2001), includes a large and excellent selection of international documents, extensive excerpts from important historical and contemporary theorists, and excellent essays on a wide range of contemporary human rights issues. Even after fifteen years it remains a fine book and a great value. Micheline Ishay, ed., The Human Rights Reader, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2007); and Jon E. Lewis, ed., A Documentary History of Human Rights: A Record of the Events, Documents, and Speeches That Shaped Our World (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003), are complementary volumes that together provide good coverage of history and theory.
David P. Forsythe, ed., Encyclopedia of Human Rights (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), is the general reference work. Attention should also be drawn to Human Rights Quarterly. This interdisciplinary journal is generally considered to be the best scholarly journal in the field, but its articles are typically quite accessible to the average reader.
The websites of Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org), Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org), Minority Rights Group (http://www.minorityrights.org), and other NGOs have much useful current information on human rights situations in individual countries. The site of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (http://www.ohchr.org/english/) is a superb resource for international law and activities of the U.N. system.
On the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), is the standard study, offering a theoretically informed history of the drafting of the Declaration and a thoughtful analysis of its content (although many readers will find the level of detail on drafting somewhat ponderous). Mary Ann Glendon, >A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2001), is excellent and immensely readable, although, as its title indicates, it is somewhat more limited in its scope. John P. Humphrey, Human Rights and the United Nations: A Great Adventure (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Transnational, 1984), is a memoir by the most senior human rights official in the early years of the United Nations Secretariat. On the role of the smaller states in the drafting process, see Susan Waltz, “Universalizing Human Rights: The Role of Small States in the Construction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly 23 (February 2001): 44–72; and Mary Ann Glendon, “The Forgotten Crucible: The Latin American Influence on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Idea,” Harvard Human Rights Journal 16 (2003): 27–39. For a detailed account of the drafting of the two Covenants, see Daniel J. Whelan, Indivisible Human Rights: A History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), Chapters 3–5.
For critical perspectives on international human rights that see the entire enterprise as, at best, seriously distorted by hegemonic American dominance, see two books and one edited collection by Tony Evans: U.S. Hegemony and the Project of Universal Human Rights (Houndmills, UK: Macmillan Press, 1996); The Politics of Human Rights: A Global Perspective, 2nd ed. (London: Pluto Press, 2005); and Human Rights Fifty Years On: A Reappraisal (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1998). See also David Chandler, ed., Rethinking Human Rights: Critical Approaches to International Relations (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). For recent reappraisals of the overall effectiveness and legitimacy of the global human rights project, see Emilie M. Hafner-Burton’s Making Human Rights a Reality (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013); and Stephen Hopgood, The Endtimes of Human Rights (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015). Stephen Hopgood, Jack Snyder, and Leslie Vinjamuri, eds., Human Rights Futures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), is a wide-ranging survey of past achievements and future challenges. Alison Brysk and Michael Stohl, eds., Expanding Human Rights: 21st Century Norms and Governance (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2017), emphasizes the need to expand the range and focus on contemporary human rights advocacy, a theme that is also thoughtfully explored in Alison Brysk, Human Rights and Private Wrongs: Constructing Global Civil Society (New York: Routledge, 2005).