Academic journal article The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics

The Globalization of Human Rights Law and the Role of International Financial Institutions in Promoting Human Rights

Academic journal article The George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics

The Globalization of Human Rights Law and the Role of International Financial Institutions in Promoting Human Rights

Article excerpt

The dawn of a new millennium is a particularly fitting occasion to reflect on achievements in the field of international human rights law and to consider the challenges that lie ahead. There is only one word that comes to mind in describing what has been achieved in the last half-century, and that word is "revolution". Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the world has witnessed the adoption, signature and ratification of about forty international conventions and numerous declarations, establishing norms and standards in almost every conceivable area of human rights law. From the tiny acorn planted by the Universal Declaration, a mighty oak with many branches has grown to provide the most formidable legal framework the world has ever known for the protection of human rights.

If one person has to be singled out for his legendary contributions in advancing the cause of human rights, it is without question our distinguished honoree, Professor Louis B. Sohn. Armed with the power of his pen, his persuasive advocacy, and his indomitable spirit and perseverance, Louis Sohn has stormed the corridors of power here and abroad to plead his cause. By any definition, his campaign has been a remarkable success, particularly when one considers that human rights is only one of several areas in which he has made a lasting contribution to the development of international law, the others being the law of the sea, disarmament and arms control, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

In order to get a true measure of Professor Sohn's contributions to the development of international human rights law, one has to understand what he and other human rights champions like the late Eleanor Roosevelt and John Humphrey were up against. Following the adoption of the Universal Declaration, there were many who questioned the legal status of the Declaration.1 Among the scholars who doubted that the Declaration was a legal document imposing legal obligations were Lauterpacht2 and Oppenheim.3 On the other hand, scholars such as Sohn,4 Humphrey5and Waldock6 firmly held the view that the Declaration is good law and imposes legal obligations. To cite just one incident from my own experience, not long after Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn first published in 1958 their landmark treatise, WORLD PEACE THROUGH WORLD LAW,7 which farsightedly proposed among other ideas an International Bill of Rights,8 I had the pleasure of meeting the late Professor Myers McDougal at the Yale School in 1966. When I told him that I was a student of Professor Sohn at the Harvard Law School, he quipped with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, "Oh, poor Louie and his world law, he's heading off on cloud nine!" Some years later, McDougal himself published his own book on human rights and world public order.9 I have no doubt that, if Myers McDougal were alive today, thirty-four years after his remark, he would be the first one to stand up and cheer Louis Sohn for his remarkable contributions leading to the development of an international law on human rights.

The theme of my paper is this: The revolution we have witnessed in the development of an international law of human rights over the last half-century has burnished the consciousness of mankind forever. It is now the duty and obligation of "every individual and every organ of society" (in the words of the Universal Declaration),10 including the international financial institutions, to help promote human rights.


Throughout the ages, princes and politicians, city-states and nations, and parliaments and congresses have tried in one form or another to draft constitutions and declarations to recognize the civil liberties and fundamental freedoms of people living in their territories. In June 1215, King John gave his assent to the Magna Carta, a charter of liberties extracted from him by the English barons.ll More than half a century later, in neighboring France, a revolutionary manifesto, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, was adopted by the National Assembly. …

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