Human Rights – © by Encyclopedia Britannica

 

Rights that belong to an individual as a consequence of being human. They refer to a wide continuum of values that are universal in character and in some sense equally claimed for all human beings.

 

It is a common observation that human beings everywhere demand the realization of diverse values to ensure their individual and collective well-being. It also is a common observation that these demands are often painfully frustrated by social as well as natural forces, resulting in exploitation, oppression, persecution, and other forms of deprivation. Deeply rooted in these twin observations are the beginnings of what today are called "human rights" and the legal processes, national and international, associated with them.

 

Historical development

 

The expression "human rights" is relatively new, having come into everyday parlance only since World War II and the founding of the United Nations in 1945. It replaces the phrase "natural rights," which fell into disfavour in part because the concept of natural law (to which it was intimately linked) had become a matter of great controversy, and the later phrase "the rights of Man," which was not universally understood to include the rights of women.

 

Origins

 

Most students of human rights trace the historical origins of the concept back to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was closely tied to the premodern natural law doctrines of Greek Stoicism (the school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium, which held that a universal working force pervades all creation and that human conduct therefore should be judged according to, and brought into harmony with, the law of nature). The classic example, drawn from the Greek literature, is that of Antigone, who, upon being reproached by Creon for defying his command not to bury her slain brother, asserted that she acted in accordance with the immutable laws of the gods.

 

In part because Hellenistic Stoicism played a key role in its formation and spread, Roman law may similarly be seen to have allowed for the existence of a natural law and, with it, pursuant to the jus gentium ("law of nations"), certain universal rights that extended beyond the rights of citizenship. According to the Roman jurist Ulpian, for example, natural law was that which nature--not the state--assures to all human beings, Roman citizen or not.

 

It was not until after the Middle Ages, however, that natural law doctrines became closely associated with liberal political theories about natural rights. In Greco-Roman and medieval times, natural law doctrines taught mainly the duties, as distinguished from the rights, of "Man." Moreover, as evident in the writings of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, these doctrines recognized the legitimacy of slavery and serfdom and, in so doing, excluded perhaps the centralmost ideas of human rights as they are understood today--the ideas of freedom (or liberty) and equality. (See liberalism.)

 

For the idea of human (i.e., natural) rights to take hold as a general social need and reality, it was necessary that basic changes in the beliefs and practices of society take place, changes of the sort that evolved from about the 13th century to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), during the Renaissance and the decline of feudalism. When resistance to religious intolerance and political-economic bondage began the long transition to liberal notions of freedom and equality, particularly in relation to the use and ownership of property, then were the foundations of what today are called human rights truly laid. During this period, reflecting the failure of rulers to meet their natural law obligations as well as the unprecedented commitment to individual expression and worldly experience that was characteristic of the Renaissance, the shift from natural law as duties to natural law as rights was made. The teachings of Aquinas (1224/25-1274) and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) on the European continent, and the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right of 1628, and the English Bill of Rights (1689) in England, were proof of this change. All testified to the increasingly popular view that human beings are endowed with eternal and inalienable rights, never renounced when humankind "contracted" to enter the social from the primitive state and never diminished by the claim of "the divine right of kings."

 

It was primarily for the 17th and 18th centuries, however, to elaborate upon this modernist conception of natural law as meaning or implying natural rights. The scientific and intellectual achievements of the 17th century--the discoveries of Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton, the materialism of Thomas Hobbes, the rationalism of René Descartes and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the pantheism of Benedict de Spinoza, the empiricism of Francis Bacon and John Locke--encouraged a belief in natural law and universal order; and during the 18th century, the so-called Age of Enlightenment, a growing confidence in human reason and in the perfectability of human affairs led to its more comprehensive expression. Particularly to be noted are the writings of the 17th-century English philosopher John Locke--arguably the most important natural law theorist of modern times--and the works of the 18th-century Philosophes centred mainly in Paris, including Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Locke argued in detail, mainly in writings associated with the Revolution of 1688 (the Glorious Revolution), that certain rights self-evidently pertain to individuals as human beings (because they existed in "the state of nature" before humankind entered civil society); that chief among them are the rights to life, liberty (freedom from arbitrary rule), and property; that, upon entering civil society (pursuant to a "social contract"), humankind surrendered to the state only the right to enforce these natural rights, not the rights themselves; and that the state's failure to secure these reserved natural rights (the state itself being under contract to safeguard the interests of its members) gives rise to a right to responsible, popular revolution. The Philosophes, building on Locke and others and embracing many and varied currents of thought with a common supreme faith in reason, vigorously attacked religious and scientific dogmatism, intolerance, censorship, and social-economic restraints. They sought to discover and act upon universally valid principles harmoniously governing nature, humanity, and society, including the theory of the inalienable "rights of Man" that became their fundamental ethical and social gospel.

 

All this liberal intellectual ferment had, not surprisingly, great influence on the Western world of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Together with the practical example of England's Revolution of 1688 and the resulting Bill of Rights, it provided the rationale for the wave of revolutionary agitation that then swept the West, most notably in North America and France. Thomas Jefferson, who had studied Locke and Montesquieu and who asserted that his countrymen were a "free people claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature and not as the gift of their Chief Magistrate," gave poetic eloquence to the plain prose of the 17th century in the Declaration of Independence proclaimed by the 13 American Colonies on July 4, 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Similarly, the Marquis de Lafayette, who won the close friendship of George Washington and who shared the hardships of the American War of Independence, imitated the pronouncements of the English and American revolutions in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of August 26, 1789. Insisting that "men are born and remain free and equal in rights," the declaration proclaims that "the aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man," identifies these rights as "Liberty, Property, Safety and Resistance to Oppression," and defines "liberty" so as to include the right to free speech, freedom of association, religious freedom, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and confinement (as if anticipating the Bill of Rights added in 1791 to the Constitution of the United States of 1787). (See Lafayette, Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, marquis de.)

 

In sum, the idea of human rights, called by another name, played a key role in the late 18th- and early 19th-century struggles against political absolutism. It was, indeed, the failure of rulers to respect the principles of freedom and equality, which had been central to natural law philosophy almost from the beginning, that was responsible for this development. In the words of Maurice Cranston, a leading student of human rights, " . . . absolutism prompted man to claim [human, or natural] rights precisely because it denied them."

 

Criticism and acceptance

 

The idea of human rights as natural rights was not without its detractors, however, even at this otherwise receptive time. In the first place, being frequently associated with religious orthodoxy, the doctrine of natural rights became less and less acceptable to philosophical and political liberals. Additionally, because they were conceived in essentially absolutist--"inalienable," "unalterable," "eternal"--terms, natural rights were found increasingly to come into conflict with one another. Most importantly, the doctrine of natural rights came under powerful philosophical and political attack from both the right and the left.

 

In England, for example, conservatives Edmund Burke and David Hume united with liberal Jeremy Bentham in condemning the doctrine, the former out of fear that public affirmation of natural rights would lead to social upheaval, the latter out of concern lest declarations and proclamations of natural rights substitute for effective legislation. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Burke, a believer in natural law who nonetheless denied that the "rights of Man" could be derived from it, criticized the drafters of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen for proclaiming the "monstrous fiction" of human equality, which, he argued, serves but to inspire "false ideas and vain expectations in men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life." Bentham, one of the founders of Utilitarianism and a nonbeliever, was no less scornful. "Rights," he wrote, "is the child of law; from real law come real rights; but from imaginary laws, from 'law of nature,' come imaginary rights. . . . Natural rights is simple nonsense; natural and imprescriptible rights (an American phrase), rhetorical nonsense, nonsense upon stilts." Hume agreed with Bentham; natural law and natural rights, he insisted, are unreal metaphysical phenomena. (See conservatism.)

 

This assault upon natural law and natural rights, thus begun during the late 18th century, both intensified and broadened during the 19th and early 20th centuries. John Stuart Mill, despite his vigorous defense of liberty, proclaimed that rights ultimately are founded on utility. The German jurist Friedrich Karl von Savigny, England's Sir Henry Maine, and other historicalists emphasized that rights are a function of cultural and environmental variables unique to particular communities. And the jurist John Austin and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein insisted, respectively, that the only law is "the command of the sovereign" (a phrase of Thomas Hobbes) and that the only truth is that which can be established by verifiable experience. By World War I, there were scarcely any theorists who would or could defend the "rights of Man" along the lines of natural law. Indeed, under the influence of 19th-century German Idealism and parallel expressions of rising European nationalism, there were some--the Marxists, for example--who, although not rejecting individual rights altogether, maintained that rights, from whatever source derived, belong to communities or whole societies and nations preeminently. Thus did F.H. Bradley, the British Idealist, write in 1894: "The rights of the individual are today not worth serious consideration. . . . The welfare of the community is the end and is the ultimate standard."

 

Yet, though the heyday of natural rights proved short, the idea of human rights nonetheless endured in one form or another. The abolition of slavery, factory legislation, popular education, trade unionism, the universal suffrage movement--these and other examples of 19th-century reformist impulse afford ample evidence that the idea was not to be extinguished even if its transempirical derivation had become a matter of general skepticism. But it was not until the rise and fall of Nazi Germany that the idea of rights--human rights--came truly into its own. The laws authorizing the dispossession and extermination of Jews and other minorities, the laws permitting arbitrary police search and seizure, the laws condoning imprisonment, torture, and execution without public trial--these and similar obscenities brought home the realization that law and morality, if they are to be deserving of the name, cannot be grounded in any purely Utilitarian, Idealist, or other consequentialist doctrine. Certain actions are wrong, no matter what; human beings are entitled to simple respect at least.

 

Today, the vast majority of legal scholars, philosophers, and moralists agree, irrespective of culture or civilization, that every human being is entitled, at least in theory, to some basic rights. Heir to the Protestant Reformation and to the English, American, French, Mexican, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, the last half of the 20th century has seen, in the words of human rights scholar Louis Henkin, "essentially universal acceptance of human rights in principle" such that "no government dares to dissent from the ideology of human rights today." Indeed, except for some essentially isolated 19th-century demonstrations of international humanitarian concern to be noted below, the last half of the 20th century may fairly be said to mark the birth of the international as well as the universal recognition of human rights. In the treaty establishing the United Nations (UN), all members pledged themselves to take joint and separate action for the achievement of "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion." In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), representatives from many diverse cultures endorsed the rights therein set forth "as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations." And in 1976, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, each approved by the UN General Assembly in 1966, entered into force and effect.

 

Definition of human rights

 

To say that there is widespread acceptance of the principle of human rights on the domestic and international planes is not to say that there is complete agreement about the nature of such rights or their substantive scope--which is to say, their definition. Some of the most basic questions have yet to receive conclusive answers. Whether human rights are to be viewed as divine, moral, or legal entitlements; whether they are to be validated by intuition, custom, social contract theory, principles of distributive justice, or as prerequisites for happiness; whether they are to be understood as irrevocable or partially revocable; whether they are to be broad or limited in number and content--these and kindred issues are matters of ongoing debate and likely will remain so as long as there exist contending approaches to public order and scarcities among resources

 

Nature

 

Despite this lack of consensus, however, a number of widely accepted--and interrelated--postulates may be seen to assist, if not to complete, the task of defining human rights. Five in particular stand out, although it is to be noted that not even these are without controversy.

 

First, regardless of their ultimate origin or justification, human rights are understood to represent individual and group demands for the shaping and sharing of power, wealth, enlightenment, and other cherished values in community process, most fundamentally the value of respect and its constituent elements of reciprocal tolerance and mutual forebearance in the pursuit of all other values. Consequently, they imply claims against persons and institutions who impede realization and standards for judging the legitimacy of laws and traditions. At bottom, human rights limit state power.

 

Second, reflecting varying environmental circumstances, differing worldviews, and inescapable interdependencies within and between value processes, human rights refer to a wide continuum of value claims ranging from the most justiciable to the most aspirational. Human rights partake of both the legal and the moral orders, sometimes indistinguishably. They are expressive of both the "is" and the "ought" in human affairs.

 

Third, if a right is determined to be a human right it is quintessentially general or universal in character, in some sense equally possessed by all human beings everywhere, including in certain instances even the unborn. In stark contrast to "the divine right of kings" and other such conceptions of privilege, human rights extend, in theory, to every person on Earth without discriminations irrelevant to merit.

 

Fourth, most assertions of human rights--arguably not all--are qualified by the limitation that the rights of any particular individual or group in any particular instance are restricted as much as is necessary to secure the comparable rights of others and the aggregate common interest. Given this interdependency, human rights are sometimes designated prima facie rights, and it makes little or no sense to think or talk of them in absolutist terms.

 

 

Fifth and finally, human rights are commonly assumed to refer, in some vague sense, to "fundamental" as distinct from "nonessential" claims or "goods." In fact, some theorists go so far as to limit human rights to a single core right or two--for example, the right to life or the right to equal freedom of opportunity. The tendency, in short, is to de-emphasize or rule out "mere wants."

 

In several critical respects, however, this last postulate raises more questions than it answers. What does it mean to say that a right is fundamental? Does it entail some bare minimum only, or, more plausibly, does it admit to something greater? If the latter, how much greater and subject to what conditions, if any? In other words, however accurate, this last postulate is fraught with ambiguity about the content and legitimate scope of human rights and about the priorities, if any, that obtain among them. Except for the issue of the origin and justification of human rights, no cluster of preliminary human rights considerations is more controversial.

 

Content

 

It cannot be disputed that, like all normative traditions, the human rights tradition is a product of its time. It necessarily reflects the processes of historical continuity and change that, at once and as a matter of cumulative experience, help to give it substance and form. Therefore, to understand better the debate over the content and legitimate scope of human rights and the priorities claimed among them, it is useful to note the dominant schools of thought and action that have informed the human rights tradition since the beginning of modern times.

 

Particularly helpful in this regard is the notion of "three generations of human rights" advanced by the French jurist Karel Vasak. Inspired by the three normative themes of the French Revolution, they are: the first generation of civil and political rights (liberté ); the second generation of economic, social, and cultural rights (égalité ); and the third generation of newly called solidarity rights (fraternité ). Vasak's model is of course a simplified expression of an extremely complex historical record; it is not intended as a literal representation of life in which one generation gives birth to the next and then dies away.

 

The first generation

 

The first generation of civil and political rights derives primarily from the 17th- and 18th-century reformist theories noted above, which are associated with the English, American, and French revolutions. Infused with the political philosophy of liberal individualism and the economic and social doctrine of laissez-faire, it conceives of human rights more in negative ("freedoms from") than positive ("rights to") terms; it favours the abstention rather than the intervention of government in the quest for human dignity, as epitomized by the statement attributed to H.L. Mencken that " . . . all government is, of course, against liberty." Belonging to this first generation, thus, are such claimed rights as are set forth in Articles 2-21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including freedom from racial and equivalent forms of discrimination; the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person; freedom from slavery or involuntary servitude; freedom from torture and from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile; the right to a fair and public trial; freedom from interference in privacy and correspondence; freedom of movement and residence; the right to asylum from persecution; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and the right to participate in government, directly or through free elections. Also included is the right to own property and the right not to be deprived of one's property arbitrarily, each fundamental to the interests fought for in the American and French revolutions and to the rise of capitalism.

 

Of course, it would be error to assert that these and other first-generation rights correspond completely to the idea of "negative" as opposed to "positive" rights. The right to security of the person, to a fair and public trial, to asylum from persecution, and to free elections, for example, manifestly cannot be assured without some affirmative government action. What is constant in this first-generation conception, however, is the notion of liberty, a shield that safeguards the individual, alone and in association with others, against the abuse and misuse of political authority. This is the core value. Featured in almost every constitution of today's approximately 160 states, and dominating the majority of the international declarations and covenants adopted since World War II, this essentially Western liberal conception of human rights is sometimes romanticized as a triumph of Hobbesian-Lockean individualism over Hegelian statism.

 

The second generation

 

The second generation of economic, social, and cultural rights finds its origins primarily in the socialist tradition that was foreshadowed among the Saint-Simonians of early 19th-century France and variously promoted by revolutionary struggles and welfare movements ever since. In large part, it is a response to the abuses and misuses of capitalist development and its underlying, essentially uncritical, conception of individual liberty that tolerated, even legitimated, the exploitation of working classes and colonial peoples. Historically, it is counterpoint to the first generation of civil and political rights, with human rights conceived more in positive ("rights to") than negative ("freedoms from") terms, requiring the intervention, not the abstention, of the state for the purpose of assuring equitable participation in the production and distribution of the values involved. Illustrative are the claimed rights set forth in Articles 22-27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right to social security; the right to work and to protection against unemployment; the right to rest and leisure, including periodic holidays with pay; the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of self and family; the right to education; and the right to the protection of one's scientific, literary, and artistic production.

 

Yet, in the same way that all the rights embraced by the first generation of civil and political rights cannot properly be designated "negative rights," so all the rights embraced by the second generation of economic, social, and cultural rights cannot properly be labeled "positive rights." The right to free choice of employment, the right to form and to join trade unions, and the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, for example, do not inherently require affirmative state action to ensure their enjoyment. Nevertheless, most of the second-generation rights do necessitate state intervention in the allocation of resources because they subsume demands more for material than for intangible values according to some criterion of distributive justice. Second-generation rights are, fundamentally, claims to social equality. Partly because of the comparatively late arrival of socialist-communist influence in the normative domain of international affairs, however, the internationalization of these rights has been somewhat slow in coming; but with the ascendancy of the Third World on the global stage, intent upon a "revolution of rising expectations," the second-generation rights have begun to come of age.

 

The third generation

 

Finally, the third generation of solidarity rights, while drawing upon, interlinking, and reconceptualizing value demands associated with the two earlier generations of rights, are best understood as a product, albeit one still in formation, of both the rise and the decline of the nation-state in the last half of the 20th century. Foreshadowed in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that "everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized," it appears so far to embrace six claimed rights. Three of these reflect the emergence of Third World nationalism and its demand for a global redistribution of power, wealth, and other important values: the right to political, economic, social, and cultural self-determination; the right to economic and social development; and the right to participate in and benefit from "the common heritage of mankind" (shared Earth-space resources; scientific, technical, and other information and progress; and cultural traditions, sites, and monuments). The other three third-generation rights--the right to peace, the right to a healthy and balanced environment, and the right to humanitarian disaster relief--suggest the impotence or inefficiency of the nation-state in certain critical respects.

 

All six of these claimed rights tend to be posed as collective rights, requiring the concerted efforts of all social forces, to substantial degree on a planetary scale, and implying a quest for a possible utopia that projects the notion of holistic community interests. Each, however, manifests an individual as well as collective dimension. For example, while it may be said to be the collective right of all countries and peoples (especially developing countries and non-self-governing peoples) to secure a new international economic order that would eliminate obstacles to their economic and social development, so also may it be said to be the individual right of all persons to benefit from a developmental policy that is based on the satisfaction of material and nonmaterial human needs. Also, while the right to self-determination and the right to humanitarian assistance, for example, find expression on the legal as well as the moral plane, the majority of these solidarity rights tend to be more aspirational than justiciable in character, enjoying as yet an ambiguous jural status as international human rights norms.

 

Thus, at various stages of modern history--following the "bourgeois" revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, the socialist and Marxist revolutions of the early 20th century, and the anticolonialist revolutions that began immediately following World War II--the content of human rights has been broadly defined, not with any expectation that the rights associated with one generation would or should become outdated upon the ascendancy of another, but expansively or supplementally. Reflecting evolving perceptions of which values, at different times, stand most in need of encouragement and protection, the history of the content of human rights also reflects humankind's recurring demands for continuity and stability.

 

Legitimacy and priority

 

This is not to imply that each of these three generations of rights is equally acceptable to all or that they or their separate elements are greeted with equal urgency. First-generation proponents, for example, are inclined to exclude second- and third-generation rights from their definition of human rights altogether (or, at best, to label them as "derivative"). In part this is due to the complexities that inform the process of putting these rights into action. The suggestion of greater feasibility that attends first-generation rights because they stress the absence rather than the presence of government is somehow transformed into a prerequisite of a comprehensive definition of human rights, such that aspirational and vaguely asserted claims to entitlement are deemed not to be rights at all. The most forceful explanation, however, is more ideologically or politically motivated. Persuaded that egalitarian claims against the rich, particularly where collectively espoused, are unworkable without a severe decline in liberty and quality (in part because they involve state intervention for the redistribution of privately held resources), first-generation proponents, inspired by the natural law and laissez-faire traditions, are partial to the view that human rights are inherently independent of civil society and are individualistic.

 

Conversely, second- and third-generation defenders often look upon first-generation rights, at least as commonly practiced, as insufficiently attentive to material human needs and, indeed, as legitimating instruments in service to unjust domestic, transnational, and international social orders--hence constituting a "bourgeois illusion." Accordingly, while not placing first-generation rights outside their definition of human rights, they tend to assign such rights a low status and therefore to treat them as long-term goals that will come to pass only with fundamental economic and social transformations to be realized progressively and fully consummated only sometime in the future.

 

In sum, different conceptions of rights, particularly emerging conceptions, contain the potential for challenging the legitimacy and supremacy not only of one another but, more importantly, of the political-social systems with which they are most intimately associated. As a consequence there is sharp disagreement about the legitimate scope of human rights and about the priorities that are claimed among them.

 

On final analysis, however, this liberty-equality and individualist-collectivist debate over the legitimacy and priorities of claimed human rights can be dangerously misleading. It is useful, certainly, insofar as it calls attention to the way in which notions of liberty and individualism can be, and have been, used to rationalize the abuses of capitalism; and it is useful, too, insofar as it highlights how notions of equality and collectivism can be, and have been, alibis for authoritarian governance. But in the end it risks obscuring at least three essential truths that must be taken into account if the contemporary worldwide human rights movement is to be objectively understood.

 

First, one-sided characterizations of legitimacy and priority are likely, over the long term, to undermine the political credibility of their proponents and the defensibility of their particularistic values. In an increasingly interdependent and interpenetrating global community, any human rights orientation that does not genuinely support the widest possible shaping and sharing of all values among all human beings is likely to provoke widespread skepticism. The last half of the 20th century is replete with examples.

 

Second, such characterizations do not accurately mirror behavioral reality. In the real world, despite differences in cultural tradition and ideological style, there exists a rising and overriding insistence upon the equitable production and distribution of all basic values. U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms (freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear) is an early case in point. A more recent demonstration was the 1977 Law Day speech by then U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, in which he announced the U.S. government's resolve "to make the advancement of human rights a central part of our foreign policy" and defined human rights to include "the right to be free from governmental violation of the integrity of the person, . . . the right to the fulfillment of such vital needs as food, shelter, health care, and education, . . . [and] the right to enjoy civil and political liberties." Essentially individualistic societies tolerate, even promote, certain collectivist values; likewise, essentially communal societies tolerate, even promote, certain individualistic values. Ours is a more-or-less, not an either-or, world.

 

Finally, none of the international human rights instruments currently in force or proposed say anything whatsoever about the legitimacy or rank-ordering of the rights they address, save possibly in the case of rights that by international covenant are stipulated to be nonderogable and therefore, arguably, more fundamental than others (for example, freedom from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life, freedom from torture and from inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, freedom from slavery, freedom from imprisonment for debt). There is disagreement, to be sure, among lawyers, moralists, and political scientists about the legitimacy and hierarchy of claimed rights when they treat the problem of implementation. For example, some insist on certain civil and political guarantees, whereas others defer initially to conditions of material and corporeal well-being. Such disagreements, however, partake of political agendas and have little if any conceptual utility. As the UN General Assembly has repeatedly confirmed, all human rights form an indivisible whole.

 

In short, the legitimacy of different human rights and the priorities claimed among them are a function of context. Because people in different parts of the world both assert and honour different human rights demands according to many different procedures and practices, these issues ultimately depend on time, place, setting, level of crisis, and other circumstance.

 

International Human Rights: Prescription and Enforcement

 

Before World War II

 

Ever since ancient times, but especially since the emergence of the modern state system, the Age of Discovery, and the accompanying spread of industrialization and European culture throughout the world, there has developed, for economic and other reasons, a unique set of customs and conventions relative to the humane treatment of foreigners. This evolving International Law of State Responsibility for Injuries to Aliens, as these customs and conventions came to be called, may be understood to represent the beginning of active concern for human rights on the international plane. The founding fathers of international law--particularly Francisco de Vitoria (1486?-1546), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), and Emmerich de Vattel (1714-67)--were quick to observe that all persons, outlander as well as other, were entitled to certain natural rights; and they emphasized, consequently, the importance of according aliens fair treatment.

 

Except, however, for the occasional use of treaties to secure the protection of Christian minorities, as early illustrated by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years' War and established the principle of equal rights for the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions in Germany, it was not until the start of the 19th century that active international concern for the rights of nationals began to make itself felt. Then, in the century and a half before World War II, several noteworthy, if essentially unconnected, efforts to encourage respect for nationals by international means began to shape what today is called the International Law of Human Rights (which for historical but no theoretically convincing reasons has tended to be treated separately from the International Law of State Responsibility for Injuries to Aliens).

 

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous military operations and diplomatic representations, not all of them with the purest of motives but done nonetheless in the name of "humanitarian intervention" (a customary international law doctrine), undertook to protect oppressed and persecuted minorities in the Ottoman Empire and in Syria, Crete, various Balkan countries, Romania, and Russia. Paralleling these actions, first at the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) and later between the two world wars, a series of treaties and international declarations sought the protection of certain racial, religious, and linguistic minorities in central and eastern Europe and in the Middle East. During the same period the movement to combat and suppress slavery and the slave trade found expression in treaties sooner or later involving the major commercial powers, beginning with the Treaty of Paris (1814) and culminating in the International Slavery Convention (1926).

 

In addition, toward the end of the 19th century and continuing well beyond World War II, the community of nations, inspired largely by persons associated with what is now the International Committee of the Red Cross, concluded a series of multilateral declarations and agreements designed to temper the conduct of hostilities, protect the victims of war, and otherwise elaborate the humanitarian law of war. At about the same time, first with two multilateral labour conventions concluded in 1906 and subsequently at the initiative of the International Labour Organisation (ilo; established in 1919), a reformist-minded international community embarked upon a variety of collaborative measures directed at the promotion of human rights. These included not only fields traditionally associated with labour law and relations (for example, industrial health, safety, and welfare; hours of work; annual paid holidays) but also--mainly after World War II--in respect of such core human rights concerns as forced labour, discrimination in employment and occupation, freedom of association for collective bargaining, and equal pay for equal work.

 

Finally, during the interwar period, the Covenant establishing the League of Nations (1919), while not formally recognizing "the rights of Man" and while failing to lay down a principle of racial nondiscrimination as requested by Japan (owing mainly to the resistance of Great Britain and the United States), nevertheless committed the League's members to several human rights goals: fair and humane working conditions for men, women, and children; the execution of agreements regarding traffic in women and children; the prevention and control of disease in matters of international concern; and the just treatment of native colonial peoples. Also, victorious powers who as "mandatories" were entrusted by the League with the tutelage of colonies formerly governed by Germany and Turkey accepted as "a sacred trust of civilization" responsibilities for the well-being and development of the inhabitants of those territories. (The arrangement was carried over into the UN trusteeship system and had serious repercussions more than a half century later in relation to the mandate entrusted to South Africa over the territory of South West Africa [now Namibia].)

 

As important as these pre-World War II human rights efforts were, however, it was not until after the War--and the Nazi atrocities accompanying it--that active concern for human rights on the international plane truly came of age. In the proceedings of the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg in 1945-46, German high officials were tried not only for "crimes against peace" and "war crimes" but also for "crimes against humanity" committed against any civilian population even if in accordance with the laws of the country where perpetrated. While the tribunal, whose establishment and rulings subsequently were endorsed by the UN General Assembly, applied a cautious approach to allegations of "crimes against humanity," it nonetheless made the treatment by a state of its own citizens the subject of international criminal process.

 

Human rights in the United Nations

 

The Charter of the United Nations (1945) begins by reaffirming a "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." It states that the purposes of the United Nations are, among other things, "to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and selfdetermination of peoples . . . [and] to achieve international co-operation . . . in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion . . . ." And, in two key articles, all members "pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in cooperation with the Organization" for the achievement of these and related purposes. It is to be noted, however, that a proposal to ensure the protection as well as the promotion of human rights was explicitly rejected at the San Francisco Conference establishing the United Nations. Additionally, the Charter expressly provides that nothing in it "shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state . . . ," except upon a Security Council finding of a "threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression." Moreover, although typical of major constitutive instruments, the Charter is conspicuously general and vague in its human rights clauses, among others. (See United Nations, Charter of the.)

 

Thus, not surprisingly, the reconciliation of the Charter's human rights provisions with the Charter's drafting history and its "domestic jurisdiction" clause has given rise to not a little legal and political controversy. Some authorities have argued that, in becoming parties to the Charter, states accept no more than a nebulous promotional obligation toward human rights and that, in any event, the United Nations has no standing to insist on human rights safeguards in member states. Others insist that the Charter's human rights provisions, being part of a legally binding treaty, clearly involve some element of legal obligation; that the "pledge" made by states upon becoming party to the Charter consequently represents more than a moral statement; and that the "domestic jurisdiction" clause does not apply because human rights, whatever isolation they may have "enjoyed" in the past, no longer can be considered matters "essentially within the domestic jurisdiction" of states.

 

When all is said and done, however, it is clear from the actual practice of the United Nations that the problem of resolving these opposing contentions has proved somewhat less formidable than the statements of governments and the opinions of scholars might lead one to assume. Neither the Charter's drafting history nor its "domestic jurisdiction" clause nor, indeed, its generality and vagueness in respect of human rights has prevented the United Nations--on the basis of individual petitions, statements from witnesses, state complaints, and reports from interested nongovernmental organizations--from investigating, discussing, and evaluating specific human rights situations. Nor have they prevented it from recommending or prescribing concrete action in relation to them, at least not in the case of "a consistent pattern of gross violations" of human rights, provided there has been a majority persuasive enough to force the action desired (as in the imposition by the Security Council in 1977 of a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa). Of course, governments usually are protective of their sovereignty (or domestic jurisdiction). Also, the UN organs responsible for the promotion of human rights suffer from most of the same disabilities that afflict the United Nations as a whole, in particular the absence of supranational authority and the presence of divisive power politics. Hence, it cannot be expected that UN actions in defense of human rights will be, normally, either swift or categorically effective. Nevertheless, assuming some political will, the legal obstacles to UN enforcement of human rights are not insurmountable.

 

Primary responsibility for the promotion of human rights under the UN Charter rests in the General Assembly and, under its authority, in the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary body, the Commission on Human Rights, an intergovernmental body that serves as the UN's central policy organ in the human rights field. Much of the commission's activity, initiated by subsidiary working groups, is investigatory, evaluative, and advisory in character, and the commission annually establishes a working group to consider and make recommendations concerning alleged "gross violations" of human rights referred to it by its Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (on the basis of communications from individuals and groups, pursuant to Resolution 1503 [1970] of the UN Economic and Social Council, and sometimes on the basis of investigations by the subcommission or one of its working groups). Also, the commission has appointed special representatives and envoys to examine human rights situations on an ad hoc basis, who, in the course of preparing their reports, examine reliable information submitted in good faith, interview interested persons, or make on-site inspections with the cooperation of the government concerned. (See United Nations Commission on Human Rights.)

 

In addition, the commission, together with other UN organs such as the International Labour Organisation (ilo), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (unesco), and the UN Commission on the Status of Women, drafts human rights standards and has prepared a number of international human rights instruments. Among the most important are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (together with its Optional Protocol; 1976), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976). Collectively known as the International Bill of Rights, these three instruments serve as touchstones for interpreting the human rights provisions of the UN Charter.

 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

 

The catalog of rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted without dissent by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, is scarcely less than the sum of all the important traditional political and civil rights of national constitutions and legal systems, including equality before the law; protection against arbitrary arrest; the right to a fair trial; freedom from ex post facto criminal laws; the right to own property; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Also enumerated are such economic, social, and cultural rights as the right to work and to choose one's work freely, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to form and join trade unions, the right to rest and leisure, the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to education.

 

The Universal Declaration, it must be noted, is not a treaty. It was meant to proclaim "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" rather than enforceable legal obligations. Nevertheless, partly because of an 18-year delay between its adoption and the completion for signature and ratification of the two covenants, the Universal Declaration has acquired a status juridically more important than originally intended. It has been widely used, even by national courts, as a means of judging compliance with human rights obligations under the UN Charter.

 

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol

 

The civil and political rights guaranteed by this covenant, which was opened for signature on December 19, 1966, and entered into force on March 23, 1976, incorporate almost all of those proclaimed in the Universal Declaration, including the right to nondiscrimination. Pursuant to the covenant, each state party undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the covenant "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." Some rights listed in the Universal Declaration, however, such as the right to own property and the right to asylum, are not included among the rights recognized in the covenant. Similarly, the covenant designates a number of rights that are not listed in the Universal Declaration, among them the right of all peoples to self-determination and the right of ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and to use their own language. To the extent that the Universal Declaration and the covenant overlap, however, the latter is understood to explicate and help interpret the former.

 

In addition, the covenant calls for the establishment of a Human Rights Committee, an international organ of 18 persons elected by the parties to the covenant, serving in their individual expert capacity and charged to study reports submitted by the state parties on the measures they have adopted that give effect to the rights recognized in the covenant. As between the state parties that have expressly recognized the competence of the committee in this regard, the committee also may respond to allegations by one state party that another state party is not fulfilling its obligations under the covenant. If the committee is unable to resolve the problem, the matter is referred to an ad hoc conciliation commission, which eventually reports its findings on all questions of fact, plus its views on the possibilities of an amicable solution. State parties that become party to the Optional Protocol further recognize the competence of the Human Rights Committee similarly to consider and act upon communications from individuals claiming to be victims of covenant violations.

 

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

 

Just as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights elaborates upon most of the civil and political rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights elaborates upon most of the economic, social, and cultural rights set forth in the Universal Declaration: the right to work; the right to just and favourable conditions of work; trade union rights; the right to social security; rights relating to the protection of the family; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to health; the right to education; and rights relating to culture and science. Unlike its companion International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, however, this covenant is not geared, with modest exception, to immediate implementation, the state parties having agreed only "to take steps" toward "achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the . . . Covenant," and then subject to "the maximum of [their] available resources." The covenant is essentially a "promotional convention," stipulating objectives more than standards and requiring implementation over time rather than all at once. One obligation is, however, subject to immediate application: the prohibition of discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights enumerated on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, or political or other opinion; national or social origin; property; and birth or other status. Also, the international supervisory measures that apply to the covenant oblige the state parties to report to the UN Economic and Social Council on the steps they have adopted and the progress they have made in achieving the realization of the enumerated rights.

 

Other UN human rights conventions

 

The two above-mentioned covenants are by no means the only human rights treaties drafted and adopted under the auspices of the United Nations. Indeed, because there are far too many to detail even in abbreviated fashion, it must suffice simply to note that they address a broad range of concerns, including the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide; the humane treatment of military and civilian personnel in time of war; the status of refugees; the protection and reduction of stateless persons; the abolition of slavery, forced labour, and discrimination in employment and occupation; the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid; the elimination of discrimination in education; the promotion of the political rights of women and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women; and the promotion of equality of opportunity and treatment of migrant workers. (For particular agreements, see Human Rights: A Compilation of International Instruments, 3rd ed. [1978], published by the United Nations.) Many of these treaties are the work of the UN specialized agencies, particularly the International Labour Organisation (ilo), and many also provide for supervisory and enforcement mechanisms--for example, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination established under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of December 21, 1965.

 

UN human rights declarations

 

In addition to developing human rights standards and procedures through treaties, the UN General Assembly, impressed by the impact of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also has resorted to the proclamation of declarations as a means of promoting human rights. Adopted in the form of a resolution of the General Assembly, which technically is not binding on the member states in the sense of a treaty, a declaration, particularly when it enunciates principles of great and solemn importance, may nevertheless create within the international community strong expectations about authority and control. Perhaps the best known examples subsequent to the Universal Declaration, while not devoted exclusively to human rights considerations, are the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960) and the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-Operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (1970).

 

Human rights and the Helsinki process

 

Post-World War II concern for human rights also has been evident at the global level outside the United Nations, most notably in the proceedings and aftermath of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, convened in Helsinki on July 3, 1973, and concluded there (after continuing deliberations in Geneva) on August 1, 1975. Attended by representatives of 35 governments that included the natocountries, the Warsaw Pact nations, and 13 neutral and nonaligned European states, the conference had as its principal purpose a mutually satisfactory definition of peace and stability between East and West, previously made impossible by the period of the Cold War. In particular, the Soviet Union was concerned with achieving recognition of its western frontiers as established at the end of World War II.

 

There was little tangible, however, that the Western powers, with no realistic territorial claims of their own, could demand in return, and accordingly they pressed for certain concessions in respect of human rights and freedom of movement and information between East and West. Thus, at the outset of the Final Act adopted by the conference, in a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations Between States, the participating governments solemnly declared "their determination to respect and put into practice," alongside other "guiding" principles, "respect [for] human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief" and "respect [for] the equal rights of peoples and their right to self-determination." It was hoped that this would mark the beginning of a liberalization of authoritarian regimes.

 

From the earliest discussions, however, it was clear that the Helsinki Final Act was not intended as a legally binding instrument. "Determination to respect" and "put into practice" were deemed to express moral commitments only, the Declaration of Principles was said not to prescribe international law, and nowhere did the participants provide for enforcement machinery. On the other hand, the Declaration of Principles, including its human rights principles, always has been viewed as at least consistent with international law. Additionally, the fourth of four sections (commonly known as "baskets") of the Final Act provides for the holding of periodic review conferences in which the participating states are called upon "to continue the multilateral process initiated by the Conference." But most importantly, ever since their adoption, the Final Act's human rights provisions have served as important and widely accepted yardsticks for external scrutiny and appropriate recourse to perceived violations.

 

In sum, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other such declarations of the UN General Assembly, the Helsinki Final Act, though not a treaty, has created widespread expectations about proper human rights behaviour, and consequently it has inspired and facilitated the monitoring of human rights policy. Assuming some cordiality between East and West, the Helsinki Process may be said at least to hold out the potential for modestly beneficial results in the human rights arena.

 

Regional developments

 

Action for the international promotion and protection of human rights has proceeded at the regional level in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East. Only the first three of these regions, however, have gone so far as to create enforcement mechanisms within the framework of a human rights charter. The Permanent Arab Commission on Human Rights, founded by the Council of the League of Arab States in September 1968 but since then preoccupied by the rights of Arabs living in Israeli-occupied territories, has not brought a proposed Arab Convention on Human Rights to a successful conclusion and so far has tended to function more in terms of the promotion than the protection of human rights.

 

European human rights system

 

On November 4, 1950, the Council of Europe agreed to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the substantive provisions of which are based on a draft of what is now the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Together with its five additional protocols, this convention, which entered into force on September 3, 1953, represents the most advanced and successful international experiment in the field. A companion instrument, similar to the later International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, is the European Social Charter (1961). The charter's provisions are implemented through an elaborate system of control based on the sending of progress reports to, and the appraisal of these reports by, the various committees and organs of the Council of Europe. The instrumentalities created under the European convention are the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. The convention also makes use of the governmental organ of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers.

 

The commission may receive from any state party to the convention any allegation of a breach of the convention by another state party. Also, provided its legal competence to do so has been formally recognized, the commission may receive petitions from any person, group of individuals, or nongovernmental organization claiming to be the victim of a violation of the convention. In such cases, the commission is charged to ascertain the facts and to place itself at the disposal of the parties to secure "a friendly settlement . . . on the basis of respect for Human Rights." If no such solution is reached, the commission is called upon to draw up a report, stating its opinion as to whether the facts disclose a breach, and to recommend action to the Committee of Ministers, including referral of the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

 

The jurisdiction of the court extends to cases referred to it by a state party whose national is alleged to be a victim of a violation, by a state party against whom a complaint has been lodged, and by any state party that may have referred the case to the commission. The court may not, however, receive a complaint by an individual applicant. Moreover, it may receive state complaints only if the defendant state has accepted its jurisdiction. This may be done ad hoc for a particular case or by a general declaration accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the court. In either event, and in cases referred by the European commission as well, the judgment of the court is final. If a question is not or cannot be referred to the court, then the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe makes a final decision on human rights complaints.

 

The instrumentalities of the European convention have, over the years, developed a considerable body of case law on questions regulated by the convention; and the provisions of the convention are deemed, in some European states, part of domestic constitutional or statutory law. In countries where this is not the case, the state parties to the convention have taken other measures to make their domestic laws conform with their obligations under the convention.

 

Inter-American human rights system

 

In 1948, concurrent with its establishment of the Organization of American States (oas), the Ninth Pan-American Conference adopted the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, an instrument similar to, but coming a full seven months before, the Universal Declaration of the United Nations and setting out the duties as well as the rights of the individual citizen (a throwback, perhaps, to Greco-Roman and medieval natural law theories). Subsequently, in 1959, a meeting of consultation of the American Ministers for Foreign Affairs created, within the framework of the Oas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has since undertaken important investigative activities concerning human rights in the Americas. Finally, in 1969, the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights, meeting in San José, Costa Rica, adopted the American Convention on Human Rights, which made the existing Inter-American Commission on Human Rights an organ for the convention's implementation and established the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which sits in San José.

 

Both the substantive law and the procedural arrangements of the American convention, which entered into force in 1978, are strongly influenced by the UN covenants and the European convention, and they were drafted also with the European Social Charter in mind. Under the American convention, however, unlike its UN and European predecessors, the right of petition by individuals, groups of individuals, and nongovernmental organizations operates automatically. Under the UN system, the right of petition applies only when the state concerned has become a party to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and under the European system a special declaration by the states concerned is required. On the other hand, again in contrast to the European system (but not the UN system), interstate complaints under the American convention operate only among states that have expressly agreed to such procedure.

 

African human rights system

 

In 1981, following numerous pleas by the UN Commission on Human Rights, interested states, nongovernmental organizations, and others dating as far back as 1961, the Eighteenth Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity (oau), convening in Nairobi, Kenya, adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The charter became effective on October 21, 1986, after it was ratified by a majority of the 50 member states of the oau.

 

Like its European and American counterparts, the African charter provides for the establishment of an African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, with both promotional and protective functions and with no restriction on who may file a complaint with the commission (thus signatory states, individuals, groups of individuals, and nongovernmental organizations, whether or not they are victims of the alleged violation, may all file). In contrast to the European and American procedures, however, concerned states are encouraged to reach a friendly settlement without formally involving the investigative or conciliatory mechanisms of the commission. Also, the African charter does not call for a human rights court. African customs and traditions, it is said, emphasize mediation, conciliation, and consensus rather than the adversarial and adjudicative procedures that are common to Western legal systems.

 

Four other distinctive features of the African charter are especially noteworthy. First, it provides for economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights. In this respect it bears resemblance to the American convention, but it is distinctive from the European convention. Next, in contrast to both the European and American conventions, it recognizes the rights of groups in addition to the family, women, and children. The aged and the infirm are accorded special protection also, and the right of peoples to self-determination is elaborated in the right to existence, equality, and nondomination. Third, it uniquely embraces two third-generation, or "solidarity," rights "as belonging to all peoples": the right to economic, social, and cultural development and the right to national and international peace and security. Finally, it is so far the only treaty instrument to detail individual duties as well as individual rights--to the family, society, the state, and the international African community.

 

International human rights in domestic courts

 

Using domestic courts to clarify and safeguard international human rights is a new and still evolving approach to human rights advocacy. In addition to the inevitable interpretative problems of applying conventional and customary norms that are fashioned in multicultural settings, controversial theories about the interrelation of national and international law plus many procedural difficulties--carrying such labels as "standing," "act of State," and the "political questions doctrine"--burden the party anxious to invoke international human rights norms in the domestic context. To be sure, considerable progress has been made, as perhaps best evidenced in the far-reaching decision handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1980 in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, in which the court held that the international prohibition of torture is unequivocally established in the law of nations and therefore to be honoured in U.S. courts. But as human rights scholar Richard Lillich has cautioned, " . . . in all likelihood the [national] judiciary will have to experience much more international human rights law consciousness-raising before [wholesale resistance to its domestic application] is rejected."

 

Conclusion

 

Whatever the current attitudes and policies of governments, the reality of popular demands for human rights, including both greater economic justice and greater political freedom, is beyond debate. A deepening and widening concern for the promotion and protection of human rights, hastened by the self-determinist impulse of a postcolonial era, is now unmistakably woven into the fabric of contemporary world affairs.

 

Substantially responsible for this progressive development has been, of course, the work of the United Nations, its allied agencies, and such regional organizations as the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States, and the Organization of African Unity. Also visibly helpful, however, particularly since the early 1970s, have been three other factors: the public advocacy of human rights as a key aspect of national foreign policies, made initially legitimate by the example of U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter; the emergence and proliferation of activist nongovernmental human rights organizations such as Amnesty International (winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace for 1977), the International Commission of Jurists, and diverse church-affiliated groups; and a worldwide profusion of courses and materials devoted to the study of human rights both in formal and informal educational settings. Indeed, in light of the weaknesses that presently inhere at the intergovernmental level of global and regional organization, it is likely that each of these factors will play an increasingly important role in the future.

 

To be sure, formidable obstacles attend the endeavours of human rights policymakers, activists, and scholars. The implementation of international human rights law depends for the most part on the voluntary consent of nations; the mechanisms for the observance or enforcement of human rights are yet in their infancy. Still, it is certain that a palpable concern for the advancement of human rights is here to stay, out of necessity no less than out of idealism. As Nobel laureate and political dissident Andrey Sakharov once wrote from his internal exile in the Soviet Union:

 

The ideology of human rights is probably the only one which can be combined with such diverse ideologies as communism, social democracy, religion, technocracy and those ideologies which may be described as national and indigenous. It can also serve as a foothold for those . . . who have tired of the abundance of ideologies, none of which have brought . . . simple human happiness. The defense of human rights is a clear path toward the unification of people in our turbulent world, and a path toward the relief of suffering.