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Article

Micheline Ishay

As a focus of academic inquiry, human rights gained legitimacy only after World War II. While the subject received consistent attention within the field of international law, greater attention from other disciplines became more significant in the mid-1960s. Yet, it was after the Cold War, in the era of globalization, that human rights research became a well-entrenched interdisciplinary field. Even though no encompassing history of human rights was yet to be found in the late twentieth century, many important historical human rights studies had already appeared. Until the Cold War, the study of international relations had been grounded in efforts to integrate political theory and history. As ideological confrontation heightened during the Cold War, history became more descriptive, formalistic, and divorced from political theory, or from any normative or political purpose. With the end of the Cold War, the advance of globalization, the war on terror, and the current meltdown of the global economy, the past 20 years have sent a succession of electric shocks through the nervous system of the international order. The sense of being buffeted by unpredictable events stimulated new efforts to comprehend the direction of history, or, alternatively, to assert its timeless truths. Despite a significant body of enriching historical scholarship, however, it remains the case that both history and historiography have been widely overlooked, not only in the burgeoning human rights academic field, but also in most disciplines within the social sciences.

Article

Sonia Cardenas

The modern state’s role vis-à-vis human rights has always been ambiguous. States are the basic guarantors of human rights protections, just as they can be brutal violators of human rights. This basic tension is rooted in the very notion of statehood, and it pervades much of the literature on human rights. As the central organizing principle in international relations, state sovereignty would seem to be antithetical to human rights. Sovereignty, after all, is ultimately about having the last word; it is virtually synonymous with the principle of territorial non-interference. Meanwhile, humanitarian intervention would at first glance seem to be a contravention of state sovereignty. Yet not all observers interpret human rights pressures as a challenge to state sovereignty. Modern states can be highly adaptive, no less so when confronted with human rights demands. One of the principal, if overlooked, ways in which states have adapted to rising global human rights pressures is by creating new institutions. This is reflected in the formation of national human rights institutions (NHRIs): permanent state bodies created to promote and protect human rights domestically. These state institutions are remarkable due to their rapid and widespread proliferation around the world, the extent to which they sometimes represent a strategy of appeasement but nonetheless can be consequential, and their potential for domesticating international human rights standards.

Article

Pat Lauderdale and Nicholas D. Natividad

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues estimates that there are over 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic, and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Dialogue and political negotiations with indigenous peoples has a long history that began at least a half a millennium ago when the notion of an inter-national” community and the concept of the nation-state became dominant. Since that time, the concepts of sovereignty, self-determination, rule of law, and human rights have led to the establishment of the frameworks and structures of organization that are now referred to collectively as modern international law. But unlike most modern international human rights law, which emphasizes rights of the individual, indigenous peoples generally think in terms of collective rather than individual rights. Because indigenous peoples’ “law” suggests the importance of collective rights, it renders a culture of responsibility and accountability to the collective. At present, international indigenous rights are a type of superficial bandage, giving the appearance of propriety to the crisis faced by the hegemonic “international system of states.” Therefore, indigenous rights standards propagated by organizations such as the UN currently are largely symbolic. However, they could potentially lead to real change if they are coupled with widespread acknowledgment of the fact that diverse societies exist throughout the world with different forms of social organization and diverse conceptions of law.

Article

Given the systematic threats facing humanity, there is an urgent need for new thinking about the human rights project. The most prevalent form of global abuse exists in the form of violence against women and children. Sexual violence has been considered the most pervasive, yet least recognized human rights, abuse in the world. Equally prevalent among the modern sources of threats to physical integrity rights are the pervasive practice of torture and the issue of poverty and the threats it poses to human dignity and human rights. Individual civil-political rights and the rights of minorities, including women, ethnic and religious minorities, and indigenous people have been protected at times and violated at other times by states. Moreover, some observers argue that group rights should be properly understood as an extension of the already recognized collective rights to self-determination of people. But this broad spectrum of human rights violations can be organized into two categories: domestic and international. The domestic sources include both local and national sources of human rights abuses, and international sources entail international and global dimensions. These analyses are interconnected and reinforcing, but they can be contradictory at times. Understanding such complex interrelations is a necessary condition for describing factors and processes leading to abuses. In an applied sense, this understanding is essential for suggesting how we should proceed with the protection of basic human rights. Although there is agreement on the most pressing problems of human suffering, there is no consensus over the answers.

Article

The issue of human rights presents a dilemma for the discipline of international relations (IR) in general and the literature on international institutions in particular. Since international human rights institutions are primarily, but not exclusively, concerned with how states treat their own citizens, they seek to empower individual citizens and groups vis-à-vis their own governments. A major concern is whether such institutions make a difference for the protection and promotion of human rights. This concern has spawned a series of research questions and some major lines of enquiry. The study of human rights regimes has developed at the interface between IR and international law, along with the norms and practices of global human rights institutions. In addition, human rights has been institutionalized globally through the United Nations system and the connections between the development over time of international human rights institutions on the one hand, and their relative effectiveness in shaping human rights behavior on the other. The development and impact of international human rights law and policy have also been influenced by regionalism. While the research on human rights regimes has provided important insights into the role of institutions in narrowing the gap between the rhetoric and practice of human rights, there are crucial areas that need further scholarly attention, such as the domestic actors and institutions that act and could potentially act as “compliance constituencies” and conduits of domestic implementation linking international human rights norms to domestic political and legal institutions and actors.

Article

Peter J. Dixon, Luke Moffett, and Adriana Rudling

The devastation brought by war leaves behind irreparable loss and destruction. Yet over the past 100 years there has been a concerted effort by states, both within their territory and following conflicts with other states, to resolve the past through reparations. As a legal and political tool, reparations can affirm values in a postconflict society through recognising suffering and responsibility, as well as helping those most affected by the conflict to cope with their loss. However, the scale of harm and damage of war may devastate a state’s capacity to redress all victims, and states may have more pressing priorities to reconstruct and encourage development. While the guns have been silenced, the motivations and ideologies that fueled and justified violence may continue, politicising debates over which victims are deserving of reparation or absolving the responsibility of certain actors, causing reparations to be delayed or dropped. Where reparations are made, furthermore, assessments of their effectiveness in meeting their goals are both challenging and necessary. This article addresses these issues, providing a snapshot of the key debates in the area, the continuing gaps, and the need for further research.

Article

Anja Mihr

Human rights education (HRE) is a set of educational and pedagogical learning methods aimed at informing people and training them in their human rights. The earliest foundation of HRE is found under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which guarantees the right to education. HRE became a widespread concept in the 1990s with the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 on the UN Decade for Human Rights Education from 1995 to 2004. With this decade, all UN member states agreed to undertake measures to promote and incorporate HRE in the formal and non-formal education sectors. However, toward the end of the UN Decade it was clear that only a few governments had complied with these requests. Instead, most of the promotional work for HRE was done by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs, foundations, academic institutions, and international organizations have edited and published most of the literature in the field of HRE over the past four decades. Publication figures estimate over 2000 publications since 1965, and the number is growing, particularly in the non-English speaking world. Most materials focus on a particular human rights issue such as gender, children, torture, or freedom rights. In the future, HRE is expected to be more local and community based as well as more target group–orientated.

Article

Audrey R. Chapman

The right to health and health services is generally framed as the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Like other human rights, the right to health confers to all people specific entitlements and imposes duties on governments to protect and promote them. It reflects a broadened sense of governmental responsibility for the welfare of its citizens and a more inclusive understanding of human rights. All countries, including the United States, have ratified at least one binding human rights convention that includes a provision on the right to health. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations more than six decades ago, has given rise to a series of international human rights instruments that legally obligate states to implement their provisions. The two most important of these are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Despite substantial progress, a number of issues still need to be addressed for the realization of the right to health, such as the lack of political commitment on the part of many states with regard to implementation and the weakness of the international human rights system. Furthermore, many states which have ratified international or regional human rights instruments that recognize a right to health or have relevant constitutional provisions still do not invest the necessary resources or apply human rights standards to the framing of health policies.

Article

Nadejda K. Marinova

Trafficking and smuggling in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. In the world today, there are more slaves than at any other time in human history—these present-day slaves are the victims of human smuggling and human trafficking. Human trafficking refers to the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. This may encompass providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage, or the extraction of organs or tissues, including for surrogacy and ova removal. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. The 1980s saw human trafficking emerge on the political agenda of states as well as of supranational and international organizations. By the early 1990s, human smuggling—which is extremely important in illegal migration—has prompted policy attention. The academic scholarship on human smuggling focuses on the factors for the increase of trafficking, the structure and organization of smuggler networks, and on the question of whether smuggled individuals are victims or perpetrators of a crime.

Article

Transnational human rights networks refer to a form of cross-border collective action that seeks to promote compliance with universally accepted norms. Principled transnational activism began to draw sustained scholarly attention after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the creation of a new type of information-driven and impartial transnational activism, embodied in organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Scholarship on transnational human rights networks emerged during the 1990s within the subfield of International Relations and as a challenge to the state-centric and materialist bias of the field. In their 1998 book Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink describe the key role that transnational human rights groups play in global affairs. Focusing on rights-based activism, Keck and Sikkink show how transnational advocacy networks (TANs) can influence domestic politics. The concept of TANs is dominated by the purposeful activism of nongovernmental organizations and driven by shared principles, not professional standards. A number of studies have challenged the core assumptions about the effectiveness of principled human rights activism, arguing that international support plays no significant role compared to the autonomous efforts of domestic activists. One way to overcome these challenges and criticisms is for the transnational activist sector, as well as other types of non-state actors, to move beyond the principles/interests dichotomy and take a closer look at the internal dynamics of participant NGOs.

Article

Chandra Lekha Sriram, Olga Martin-Ortega, and Johanna Herman

The relationship between human rights and armed conflict is rooted in historical debates among religious, philosophical, and international legal scholars about the nature of a just war, and appropriate conduct in war, which also have come to underpin and international humanitarian law. An understanding of the links between human rights, war, and conflict can begin with conflict analysis, as human rights violations can be both cause and consequence of conflict. In the most general sense, grievances over the denial or perceived denial of rights can generate social conflict. This may be the case where there is systematic discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, caste, religion, language, gender, or other characteristics. Alternatively, human rights abuses can emerge as a result of violent conflict. A conflict may have been undertaken by the parties primarily out of concern to promote a political or ideological agenda, or to promote the welfare of one or more identity group(s), or over access to resources. Human rights are also potentially transformative of conflicts and may make their resolution a greater challenge. Thus, conflicts that begin as conflicts over resources, religion, or ethnic or territorial claims, may, as they progress, create new grievances through the real and perceived violation of human rights by one or more parties to the conflict.

Article

Shannon Lindsey Blanton and David L. Cingranelli

Foreign policy analysis emerged as a subfield ino the late 1950s and early 1960s, when scholars began to focus on substate factors and on the decision making process in evaluating foreign policy. It was during this time that the United States embarked on an effort to establish internationally recognized legal standards aimed at protecting individual human rights. The United Nations Charter and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) made human rights promotion the responsibility of all member nations. But it was only in the late 1970s that human rights became an important component of quantitative foreign policy analysis. Numerous developments, including the Helsinki Accords of 1975 and the International Human Rights Covenants in 1976, helped elevate human rights concerns in the U.S. foreign policy making process. The scholarly literature on the subject revolves around three key issues: whether governments should make the promotion of human rights a goal of their foreign policies; whether the increasing use of human rights language in foreign policy rhetoric has been translated by the United States and other countries into public policies that have been consistent with that rhetoric; and whether the foreign policies of OECD governments actually have led to improved human rights practices in less economically developed countries. While scholars have produced a considerable amount of work that examines the various influences on the policy making process—whether at the individual, institutional, or societal levels of analysis—relatively few of them have focused on human rights perse.

Article

Until recently, the role of women in nationalism and governance has received little scholarly attention, perhaps because men have historically exercised near exclusive control over nations and states. This is ironic because it is women who create the nation/state. The intersection between gender and nationalism can be broken down into three categories. The first category is women as biological reproducers of the nation. The second category includes women participating centrally in the ideological reproduction of the collectivity and as signifiers of ethnic/national differences. The third category involves the idea of gendered militaries and gendered wars. Women also affect the structure and power relations in the international arena as victims of various international crimes that have traditionally gone unnoticed because of the bias towards male dominance. One example is mass rape. National identity created through the construction of woman as nation allows women to be a target of war. The idea that women are symbols of national territory and identity makes targeting them a main tactic used by enemy groups. In the area of human rights, most conceptions stem from Western visions, which do not always mesh with local, tribal, or non-Western citizens. For women's rights truly to exist, human rights focus must change because it has been constructed with a male bias and understanding.

Article

For centuries, women have been struggling for the recognition of their rights. Women’s rights are still being dismissed by United Nations (UN) human rights bodies and even governments, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. It was not until the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria that states began to recognize women’s rights as human rights. However, this institutional change cannot solely be credited to the UN, but more importantly to the work of international women’s organizations. According to the social movement theory, these organizations have been permeating intergovernmental structures and, with the help of their constituents and experienced leaders, framing women’s rights as human rights in different ways throughout time. It is through mobilizing resources and seizing political opportunities that women’s rights activists rationalize how discrimination and exclusion resulted from gendered traditions, and that societal change is crucial in accepting women’s rights as fully human. But seeing as there are still oppositions to the issue of women’s rights as human rights, further research still needs to be conducted. Some possible venues for research include how well women’s rights as human rights travel across different institutions, violence against women, how and in what way women’s rights enhance human rights, and the changes that have taken place in mainstream human rights and specialized women’s rights institutions since the late 1980s as well as their impact.

Article

Elisabeth Prügl and Hayley Anna Thompson

Feminism seeks to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to such opportunities for men. Until now, women face serious inequalities based on social institutions such as norms, cultural traditions, and informal family laws. Scholars argue that this aspect has so far been neglected in international policy debates, and that there needs to be further discussion about the economic status of women (labor force participation); women’s access to resources, such as education (literacy) or heath (life expectancy); and the political empowerment of women (women in ministerial positions). In some instances, social norms such as female genital mutilation or any other type of violence against women–within or outside of the household–not only violate women’s basic human rights, but seriously impair their health status and future chances in a professional career. Gender stereotypes are also frequently brought up as one disadvantage to women during the hiring process, and as one explanation of the lack of women in key organizational positions. Liberal feminist theory states that due to these systemic factors of oppression and discrimination, women are often deprived of equal work experiences because they are not provided equal opportunities on the basis of legal rights. Liberal feminists further propose that an end needs to be put to gender discrimination through legal means, leading to equality and major economic redistributions.

Article

Transnational organizing by groups dedicated to promoting the rights of gay men and lesbians is not a particularly new phenomenon, though it remained rare in the postwar era. It was not until the advent of the sexual liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues became more prominent. Moreover, despite their diversity, these transnational groups and networks have been able to speak with an increasingly unified voice and have begun to set out a relatively coherent vision for global LGBT human rights organizing. Over the past two decades, transnational LGBT human rights activists have become increasingly successful in getting their voices heard and demands met within prominent international organizations such as the EU and UN. This success, however, has varied dramatically across organizations. Perhaps not surprisingly given the Western origins and biases of transnational LGBT movements and human rights principles, as well as the greater levels of tolerance towards homosexuality in the region, LGBT rights organizations have had their greatest successes in Europe. Generally speaking, however, there has been a significant expansion of LGBT rights over the past 20 years. Yet despite these dramatic developments, the study of LGBT politics has remained peripheral to most fields within the discipline of politics, though there has been an empirical turn in LGBT research.

Article

Robert G. Blanton and Shannon Lindsey Blanton

While various forms of slavery and forced labor have existed throughout human history, trafficking in humans is a relatively new area of global concern, as specific laws date back only to 2000. As a legal concept, human trafficking is defined according to its requisite acts (recruitment, transport, harboring of victims), means (use of force, fraud, or coercion), and purpose (exploitation). As a basis for scholarly analysis and public policy, trafficking can be viewed in terms of multiple dimensions, as it constitutes a criminal activity, an egregious abuse of human rights, and a pervasive illicit market. Each of these frames suggests different scholarly approaches to examining trafficking, as well as different policy responses to combat it. For example, a criminal activity frame connotes a prosecutorial response toward traffickers by state agencies, while a human rights-based approach suggests increased attention and services to trafficking victims. There is a significant, though underdeveloped, body of scholarship on the causes of human trafficking. Broadly put, extant work focuses on economic, political, and demographic variables, each of which are part of the wider array of factors that can make trafficking more or less likely. Economic factors can be assessed at both micro and macro levels, ranging from the cost–benefit analyses of traffickers to macroeconomic factors such as poverty and globalization. Political correlates of trafficking include armed conflict, the presence of peacekeepers, and the strength and capacity of domestic political institutions. For their part, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can also play a significant role in shaping state responses to trafficking. As trafficking commonly involves the movement of people across borders, some of the same demographic factors that drive migration are also associated with trafficking flows. Taken as a whole, there are still many underexplored avenues for future research. While well over a thousand articles and books have been published on human trafficking since 2000, a majority of extant research is non-empirical in nature, including general overviews of trafficking or analyses of relevant laws. A key factor contributing to this relative dearth of empirical literature is the lack of comprehensive data that reflects the complex and nuanced nature of trafficking. Given the policy-relevant nature of human trafficking, as well as its implications for human rights, there remains a great need for additional evidence-based research in this area.

Article

Feminism has provided some new perspectives to the discourse on human rights over the years. Contemporary feminist scholarship has sought to critique the liberalism on which the conception of formal “equality” in the international human rights laws has been derived on a number of grounds. Two of the most pertinent critiques for this discussion are: the androcentric construction of human rights; and the perpetuation of the false dichotomy between the public and private spheres. This exploration of the relationship between liberalism and women’s human rights constitutes a significant shift in which many feminists had realized that the emphasis on “sameness” with men was limited in its utility. This shift rejected the “sameness” principle of the liberal feminists and brought gender-specific abuses into the mainstream of human rights theory and practice. By gender mainstreaming international institutions and future human rights treaties, specific women’s rights could be defined as human rights more generally. Feminists have since extended their critique of androcentrism and the public–private dichotomy to the study of gender inequalities and economic globalization, which is an important systemic component of structural indivisibility. In particular, the broader women’s human rights movement has come to realize that civil-political liberties and socioeconomic rights are inextricable, though there is disagreement over the exact nature of this relationship.

Article

Gender, religion, and politics are closely intertwined, and both have a significant impact on international relations (IR). There is a large body of literature dedicated to the intersections between gender, religion, and IR, and they can be categorized into matters regarding female subordination, human rights and equality, and feminism and agency. Religion has been historically, traditionally, and androcentrically gendered both in practice and ideology. A good portion of the literature on the linkages between gender and religion in the IR context discusses the ways in which women have been subordinated within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Their religious subordination can be linked to legal equality, and the different forms of subordinating women implicitly and often explicitly lead to the inequality of women. Scholars who address this issue vary widely between being critical of the religions that perpetuate inequality and a dearth of women’s rights, to arguing in support of religion but in critique of its application and cultural practice. In addition, as women’s rights are but one element of the international engagements of various forms of feminism, scholars also engage in a range of discussions on political agency and the critical analysis of gender from both within and without religious and secular feminisms.

Article

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), endorsed by 189 governments at the Millennium Summit, propose a concerted global effort to reduce the incidence of severe poverty and many of its most serious manifestations over a twenty-five-year period. The MDGs offer crucial insights into the politics of poverty and poverty reduction in international affairs. Their political dimensions can be analyzed in terms of agency, the nature and limits of accountability, the use and manipulation of quantitative goals for political ends, the dangerous illusion that MDG objectives can be accomplished in large part by mobilizing more development assistance, and the MDGs’ distinctly apolitical approach to the structural causes of poverty. The MDG initiative should be situated in three ongoing streams of debate and discussion: the debate over the relative priority of growth and of human development for poverty reduction; the tension between the assertion of rights and the enunciation of donor-driven goals as the political engine of poverty reduction; and the debate over the roles of markets and of state direction and regulation. While the MDGs concentrate on increasing aid flows to reduce the incidence of poverty and its manifestations, international trade and finance arrangements too often impede rapid progress. This is evident in water privatization, trade rules, and anti-retroviral medicines for HIV/AIDS patients. A way forward is to integrate the MDGs more deeply with human rights guarantees. Donors, for example, must take seriously the 2002 Draft Guidelines for the application of human rights to poverty reduction strategies.