Latin American foreign policies and
Human rights as found in international law are a relatively recent addition to the agenda of international affairs, dating mostly from 1945. Political antecedents, however, have been present in the international arena for a long time. 1 Moreover, political controversy is not a new feature of the international discourse on human rights.
Almost two hundred years ago, Napoleon's armies conquered Europe supposedly in the name of “liberty, equality, fraternity” – and thus arguably to spread the “rights of man” over the old world. During the height of colonialism in the nineteenth century, the Western version of human rights provided the foundation at home for the “white man's burden” abroad and its “civilizing mission” as articulated primarily by the British and French. The rights of man became part of the West's ideological arsenal in its fight against Nazism and Fascism during especially the 1930s and 1940s. The collective human right to the self-determination of peoples, championed by President Wilson as a guarantee for peace after the First World War, became a potent ideological weapon in the hands of African and Asian independence patriots after the Second World War.
During the Cold War years, the West saw itself as standing for liberal democracy and individual rights in the face of the totalitarian threat, even as the West was undermining those very same values in places like Guatemala from 1954. Much of the global South invoked the notions of social and economic rights as the rationale for their demands for a fairer international economic system. A majority of third world intellectual and