Balancing Rights and Military Necessity

Did September 11 mark the end of a period of the expansion of the human rights idea and the beginning of a process of retrenchment? Leading human rights organizations - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists - fear that this might indeed be the case, and they have been steeling themselves to oppose any attempt to push back their hard-won conquests.

Ever since its inception in the early sixties, the international human rights movement had been steadily gaining ground. It campaigned with increasing effectiveness against political killings, torture and arbitrary imprisonment. It mobilized public opinion against the abuse of State power; in the process, it got the sympathetic attention of the international media and enlisted the support of democratic governments. In the years since the end of the Cold War, the movement gathered further impetus. The global agenda began to be dominated by novel initiatives for the advancement of international justice and for the protection of human rights: international criminal courts, new forms of universal jurisdiction, humanitarian intervention.

Yet in the wake of September 11, the focus of the debate has suddenly shifted, and it now revolves around the extent to which it may be justified to suspend or restrict certain rights - starting with immigration rights and the rights to due process, freedom of expression and privacy - so as to fight the so-called "War on Terror" more effectively. Many opinion makers, especially in the United States, have begun to argue openly that unorthodox wars like the battle against Al Qaeda cannot be won by adhering to the fine print of human rights law or the laws of armed conflict.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now