International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human

By Shelly Wright | Go to book overview

2

White man's rights

We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms: Freedom of speech and expression; Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way; Freedom from want; Freedom from fear.

(Franklin D. Roosevelt)1


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Where do human rights come from? A full history of the debates, deals, failures and triumphs of human rights within the bureaucratic maze of the United Nations would be a fascinating one but it is beyond the boundaries of this book (see Green 1956; Henkin 1978; Humphrey 1984; Morsink 1999; United Nations 1995; Waltz 2001). The foundation for the human rights principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the American Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, but this is far from being the full story. Although the search for origins is probably futile some understanding of the different threads that have gone into the making of human rights might help to ground the current debates over their relevance and implementation.

The idea of an international 'Bill of Rights' goes back to the 1920s or earlier (Dowrick 1979:5; Waltz 2001:50-51). The introduction of human rights into international law was an important feature of the post-war years, although this may be more a product of hindsight than a genuine reflection of the priorities of the time. Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'Four Freedoms' speech in his State of the Union address in 1941 is often credited with laying the foundation for the incorporation of human rights in the post-war international order (Burns 1970:33-35; Waltz 2001:45). Human rights first became a significant part of international law under the Charter of the United Nations 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. The Declaration is a resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly, not a binding treaty. But, as Louis Henkin has noted, even in 1948 some saw it as elaborating on references to human rights contained in the Charter itself (1978:96-97). Since then it has almost certainly crystallised into customary international law (Brownlie 1992:21). Some provisions may even have achieved the status of jus cogens or 'peremptory norms' of international law taking priority over all other customary law and even treaty obligations (Vienna Convention 1969, Art. 53; see also Charlesworth and Chinkin 1993).

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International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - A Civil Religion 1
  • 2 - White Man's Rights 13
  • 3 - Witches, Slaves and Savages 36
  • 4 - Subjects, Soldiers and Citizens 62
  • 5 - Peoples of the Book 87
  • 6 - Speaking Truth to Power 112
  • 7 - Emerging Images 134
  • 8 - The Death of the Hero 160
  • 9 - Ghosts in the Machine 187
  • 10 - Becoming Human 213
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 260
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