Human Rights and State Sovereignty

Human Rights and State Sovereignty

Human Rights and State Sovereignty

Human Rights and State Sovereignty

Excerpt

Human rights as a focus of concern have come alive politically and intellectually, especially in the United States, but also worldwide, in the last few years. Certainly President Jimmy Carter's human rights diplomacy has played a part in this process. Other developments have also helped: the award of a Nobel Peace Prize to Amnesty International, the inclusion of a human rights section in the Helsinki Final Act, the general acceptance of basic economic needs as an element of human rights, as well as the humanitarian rhetoric habitually used by such symbolic global figures as the secretary general of the United Nations and the Pope.

It is, as yet, too soon to appraise this new prominence. Is it one more fad in world affairs that will pass from the scene shortly, perhaps even before the disappearance of Jimmy Carter from the White House? Recall how quickly after the ending of the Vietnam War the ecology movement was put back "on the shelf." And yet, something nonfaddish has persisted in the shape of an abiding environmental constituency long since the faddists dropped out. I suspect it will be the same with human rights. The prominence won't last, but neither will the obscurity return. Some fundamental things have happened in relation to concern about human rights nationally and globally that will not be easily reversed.

There has always existed the danger that human rights would become the preserve of sentimental legalists and dogged propagandists, that is, of those who thought the world automatically became a better place every time platitudes were inscribed in a legal form and of Cold Warriors who used some of these platitudes to increase international tensions and military spending through their strident denunciations of "the enemy" state and its ideology. There is emerging now, I think, a more sophisticated appreciation of human rights among mainstream students of international relations, although this deepening appreciation should not be confused with a new consensus. Indeed, there is more disagreement than ever in foreign policy circles about whether and to what extent it is a good idea to take human rights seriously as an instrument for the pursuit of national interests.

At principal issue is the basic understanding of international society as a political system. The main contours of debate can be suggested. On one side is the belief, perhaps best represented in the writings of Hedley Bull and R. J. Vincent, that the promotion of human rights is at odds with the . . .

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