International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human

International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human

International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human

International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human


Covering a diverse range of topics, case studies and theories, the author undertakes a critique of the principal assumptions on which the existing international human rights regime has been constructed. She argues that the decolonization of human rights, and the creation of a global community that is conducive to the well-being of all humans, will require a radical restructuring of our ways of thinking, researching and writing. In contributing to this restructuring she brings together feminist and indigenous approaches as well as postmodern and post-colonial scholarship, engaging directly with some of the prevailing orthodoxies, such as 'universality', 'the individual', 'self-determination', 'cultural relativism', 'globalization' and 'civil society'.


There will be peace on earth when everyone's human rights are respected.

(John Humphrey)

As the new century begins international human rights have become a central focus of international relations, law and politics. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 declares that 'all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights' and that we should all 'act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood'. But what do these words mean? Who are human rights for? What standards whether individual or collective can be accepted as universally applicable to everyone? What does a 'spirit of brotherhood' imply? In other words, what constitutes the 'humanness' of human rights?

[W]e have come to understand that what we took to be humanly inclusive problematics, concepts, theories, objective methodologies, and transcendental truths are in fact far less than that. Instead, these products of thought bear the mark of their collective and individual creators, and the creators in turn have been distinctively marked as to gender, class, race, and culture. …Western culture's favored beliefs mirror in sometimes clear and sometimes distorting ways, not the world as it is or as we might want it to be, but the social projects of their historically identifiable creators.

(Harding 1986:15)

One of Western culture's most favoured beliefs is in the existence of inherent and universal human rights. Yet, after more than fifty years of effort by the United Nations and other bodies the world is still far from the full adoption and implementation of universally recognised human rights for all. The Universal Declaration was meant to be a lasting statement of basic human rights. Nevertheless, when it came to implementing these standards into a binding convention two main covenants had to be drafted (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) or 'ICCPR' and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) or 'ICESCR'). Many subsequent treaties on human rights indicate that turning universally acceptable standards into enforceable norms is very difficult.

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