Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics

Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics

Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics

Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics


In Advocating Dignity, Jean H. Quataert explores the emergence, development, and impact of the human rights revolution following World War II. Intertwining popular local and national mobilizations for rights with ongoing developments of a formal international system of rights monitoring in the United Nations, Quataert argues that human rights advocacy networks have been a vital dimension of international political developments since 1945. Recalling the popular slogan "Think globally, act locally," she contends that postwar human rights have been shaped by the efforts of people at the grassroots. She shows that human rights politics are constituted locally and reinforced by transnational linkages in international society. The U.N. system is continuously reinvigorated and strengthened by its ties to local individuals, organizations, and groups engaged in day-to-day rights advocacy. This daily work, in turn, is supported by the ongoing activities from above.

Quataert establishes the global contexts for the historical unfolding of human rights advocacy through thorough studies of such cases as the Soviet dissident movement, the mothers' demonstrations in Argentina, the transnational antiapartheid campaign, and coalitions for gender and economic justice. Drawing from many fields of inquiry, including legal studies, philosophy, international relations theory, political science, and gender history, Advocating Dignity is an innovative work that narrates the hopes and bitter struggles that have altered the course of international and domestic relations over the past sixty years.


The origin of this book in some ways reflects my own intellectual biography as a German historian. It follows from my earlier study of the medical philanthropic associations run by patriotic women in the territories of Germany during the long nineteenth century. in the l860s, when many Central European states signed the Geneva Conventions, these associations became part of the state and, after the wars of unification, the national German Red Cross. These ties drew me to the International Red Cross and Crescent movement and its wartime humanitarian relief services and also, for the first time, to international law. I had to grapple with many problems at the heart of this project on human rights: for example, the place of norms in power politics, of rights traditions in state-building, and of the role of history-writing in the struggle for a more just and peaceful world order. My readings on the International Committee of the Red Cross also pushed my interests beyond German borders and into a world of transnational networks and connections.

To place this book solely in the context of scholarly research, however, misses much of its passion. As a historian, I always have been deeply committed to teaching and writing about a past that is vital to the present. I tell my students that history is one of the great humanistic disciplines because it continuously speaks to the concerns and issues of each new generation. This book, I hope, practices what I preach. Based on my years as a working historian, this book reflects my conviction that historical perspectives are necessary for critical understanding of present-day challenges. As a historical inquiry, the book explores the emergence and development of human rights thinking and organizing and their impact on the course of global and domestic politics since l945. and it does so partly by drawing on the voices, perspectives, and activities of the many courageous individuals and groups who took up the struggle for human rights in specific local, transnational, and international contexts.

Much is at stake in writing about human rights advocacy. the topic captures many ethical visions of a different future premised on human dignity: of global justice, equality, and nondiscrimination; of individual . . .

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