Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Human Rights Revolution

Has the Iraq war fatally undermined the concept of "humanitarian intervention" aimed at stopping human rights abuses? Have the trials of Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor discredited international criminal tribunals? Is universal jurisdiction legal?

For decades after WWII, human rights laws appeared moribund. They embodied the goals of civilized peoples, yet their provisions often seemed to enshrine unattainable aspirations that many governments ignored outright.

All that changed with the Cold War’s end. Thousands of organizations now document abuses, proselytize for change, deliver aid, and arouse public opinion. Amnesty International has more than a million members in 65 countries. Even China accepts that its human rights record can no longer be treated as taboo in international discussions.

Universal ideals of human rights increasingly guide, or are at least used to justify, the policies – including the military policies – of major powers. But what does this revolution mean for individuals and states? In a world of shrinking sovereignty, will aspirations for universal human rights lead to greater human dignity, or will they replicate the religious disputes of past ages, ending in clashes between competing visions of truth?

Project Syndicate’s monthly series The Human Rights Revolution gets to the heart of the issues with contributions from some of the world’s most distinguished statesmen and academics.

Contributors have included former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former French justice minister Robert Badinter, former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, noted critic David Rieff, and South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu.

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