Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights as Foreign Policy

By Alison Brysk | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

States as Global Citizens

When and why do some states protect helpless foreigners from the abuses of their own governments, distant wars, and global crises? Dozens of Canadian peacekeepers have died in Afghanistan, defending humanitarian reconstruction in a shattered faraway land with no resources or ties to their own. Each year, Sweden contributes over $3 billion to aid the world’s poorest citizens and struggling democracies, asking nothing in return. A generation ago, Costa Rica defied U.S. power to broker a peace accord that ended civil wars in three neighboring countries. Now, that small developing country has joined with principled peers like South Africa to support the United Nations’ International Criminal Court, the body established to bring global justice to gross human rights violators— despite U.S. pressure and aid cuts. The Netherlands has led campaigns of condemnation that have shattered the impunity of torturers around the world. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are alive today because they have been sheltered by one of these nations, even at economic, political, and social costs to the host country.

In a relentlessly troubled world, some states are part of the solution. Humanitarian internationalism is more than episodic altruism—it is a pattern of persistent principled politics. Although global Good Samaritans are clearly a minority of states, they add up to more than scattered exceptions, and the small circle of like-minded states can be key initiators or swing votes on important humanitarian developments, from the antiapartheid campaign to the land mines treaty. The struggle for international human rights standards, monitoring, and implementation is often depicted as a problem of increasing the influence of transnational civil society over international institutions—and thus, indirectly affecting state policies (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 1999). However, some states directly support human rights in global institutions and project human rights in their foreign policies. Their influence can be critical for framing and ratifying treaties, creating and staffing multilateral institutions, monitoring and sanctioning offenders, assisting victims, directing resources, implementing peace processes, catalyzing transnational initiatives on emerging issues, and introducing new understandings of rights to the global agenda (Forsythe 2000).

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