Human Rights and Societies in Transition: Causes, Consequences, Responses

By Shale Horowitz; Albrecht Schnabel | Go to book overview

5
The United Nations and
human rights

W. Ofuatey-Kodjoe

The relationship between transitional societies and the discourse and activities of human rights activities within these societies seems somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, the revolutions and ideologies on the basis of which they gained their independence and statehood were framed in terms of the human rights of their inhabitants – and often of the right of the groups to self-determination. It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that many of these states have joined the emerging global consensus on respect for international human rights standards.1 Many of them have expressed recognition of some legal obligation – or at least of some political pressure – to treat their citizens according to international standards of human rights. On the other hand, there are developments that seem to point towards an increase in human rights violations around the world. Although no region is exempt from these violations, some of the most egregious violations of human rights have been occurring in transitional societies.

In order to understand this apparent paradox, I attempt to present an account of the evolution of the principle of human rights in the contemporary world. In this effort, I pay particular attention to the role of the United Nations in the process of the internationalization and legitimation of human rights. This is because the United Nations has been the main arena within which the international politics of human rights have been played out. It is through the United Nations that the international

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