Can Human Rights Law Be Saved?

Can human rights law be saved? … when many rights exist, a state can justify its failure to respect one right by insisting that it has exhausted financial and political resources trying to comply with other rights. Eric A. Posner, The Twilight of Human Rights Law.

A Local and a Global Context

Every year as I start my international law class, I engage the students in a very basic exercise. I ask them to imagine that there is no United Nations, and that they are the members of a committee mandated to establish an international organ of global governance. In thinking about the shape of the organization, I ask them to consider the priorities of the organization, its membership, the nature of rights to be implemented and enforced, modes of enforcement, and other related issues. It is always an interesting exercise—and there are a few persistent strands that run through the discussion. One is the idea that the issue of human rights is ―foreign. In other words, the violations occur out there in another society—and we here in the U.S.A. or in the West are mostly involved in redressing the situation in some way or other, mostly through various forms of assistance. We are rescuers, not victims or even potential victims. As we work our way through the exercise, we, the students and I, find ourselves encountering definitions. And we eventually arrive at a place where human rights has a local and global context—and in both we have a role as international human rights advocates. Penny Andrews, Sixty Years On: The International Human Rights Movement Today, Maryland Journal of International Law, Volume 24, Issue 1, 2009.

Laws Processes and Institutions

Since the Second World War it would be inadequate or even misleading to develop a framework for the study of human rights in many countries without including as a major ingredient the international legal and political aspects of the field: laws processes and institutions. In today’s world, human rights is characteristically imagined as a movement involving the spread of liberal constitutions among states. Henry J. Steiner and Philip Alston, International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 57.