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.
Ronald C. Slye
Domestic courts play an important role in the adjudication of international law, including international human rights law. The relationship between international and domestic law has often been characterized as a continuum between monism and dualism. In a monist system, international law is automatically a part of domestic law, and a conflict between the two is resolved in favor of international law. In a dualist system, domestic law is superior to international law within the domestic legal system, while international law is superior to domestic law within the international legal system. A conflict between domestic law and international law is thus not always resolved in the same way in both systems. In addition, one of the areas with the most active use of international law in a domestic legal system is under a theory of universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction most often involves both the incorporation of international law into a domestic legal system and the assertion outward (extraterritorially) of domestic judicial system. Universal jurisdiction arose initially in the context of criminal prosecutions, but is also found to some extent in civil litigation, particularly in the United States. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, a state may assert jurisdiction over an offender regardless of the nationality of the offender or victim, the place of commission of the wrongful act, or any other link to the state asserting jurisdiction.
William F. Felice
Economic rights refer to the right to property, the right to work, and the right to social security. Social rights are those entitlements necessary for an adequate standard of living, including rights to food, housing, health, and education. Since economic rights have a social basis, and social rights have an economic basis, both classifications are considered of equal importance and interdependent. The intellectual and social dimensions of economic and social rights have evolved from at least four spheres: religion, philosophy, politics, and law. Throughout history, individuals and groups debated and accepted obligations to help the needy and prevent suffering. There were both religious and secular dimensions to these undertakings. Early human rights advocates moreover proclaimed an interdependence between civil and political rights and economic and social rights and criticized those who made too sharp a distinction between them. A central debate over economic and social rights relates to their legal validity. Some scholars argue that by their very nature, economic and social rights are not “justiciable.” Another issue is the link between economic and social rights in meeting basic human needs and the alleviation of global poverty. The right to development is also important in debates on economic and social rights, as it attempts to correct the economic distortions left by the legacy of colonial domination. Perhaps the most promising new approach to economic and social rights is Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, which focuses on what individuals need for adequate functioning.
Henry F. Carey
Economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCRs) emerged in the twentieth century as the set of “second-generation” rights after civil and political rights (CPRs). ESCRs represent the “equality” phase of human rights after the “liberty” aspect of CPRs. Despite having achieved legal respect and parity with all other CPRs, ESCRs are often perceived as having less legal clarity and required compliance in practice. ESCRs, however, have a substantial doctrine for many rights of progressive development or realization. In addition to progressive development of all the rights in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, which explains and monitors that treaty, has established a set of core obligations of states. Despite the problems inherent in the process of monitoring ESCRs, there are three major institutions which review the state of ESCRs in the world today: the United Nations (UN), states parties, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Additionally, the general direction of the literature on ESCRs is geared towards implementation and promotion of these rights. However, there is a tendency to examine ESCR violations that have a link to CPRs or to UN peace projects. There have also been various initiatives affecting second- and especially third-generation rights, such as the protection of indigenous peoples.
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.
Kevin K W Ip
Distributive justice, in its broadest sense, is about how benefits and burdens ought to be distributed among a set of individuals as a matter of right and entitlement. Political philosophers have traditionally assumed that principles of distributive justice apply only within the bounds of a given political community. However, this assumption has been rigorously challenged in recent years, as evidenced by the recent work on global distributive justice. The focus of this article includes theoretical approaches to the problem of global poverty, special obligations among fellow nationals, and global inequality. In addition to these theoretical debates, students of global distributive justice have paid considerable attention to how certain facts about the global domain might affect the grounds of their normative judgments. Therefore, it is important to focus on the application of distributive justice to certain global issues. These issues include reparations for historic injustice, climate change, transnational trade, and natural-resources ownership. These issues are inevitably global in scope and they tend to have profound impacts on the well-being of individuals around the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.