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A Wake-Up Call for Human Rights

Current criticisms of human-rights advocacy contain much truth, and rights groups must adjust their approach accordingly. At the same time, however, activists should be under no illusion that the rights movement alone can win the battle against illiberal populism.

NEW YORK – The world is going to pot, and the human-rights movement is largely to blame. That bizarre critique, popular with dictators and criminals, has taken hold even among some rights supporters who are stunned by the assault on liberal values that defines our age. Having proven unable to halt the negative tide, human-rights advocacy, we are told, is in “crisis,” “has failed,” and is in its “end times.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently established a panel that will supposedly provide “fresh thinking about human rights discourse” but will most likely undermine gender equality and reproductive freedoms. 

Clearly, rights activists must up their game. But they should be under no illusion that the human-rights movement alone can save the planet.

Many criticisms have been leveled at human-rights discourse, but three stand out. Perhaps the most common is that rights advocates have done too little to address economic inequality. Indeed, over the past four decades, the international human-rights movement has grown hand in hand with obscene disparities of wealth.

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