The history of international human rights

14 September 2015

In this session we will focus on the history of human rights’ international expansion as an idea. The international system was initially quite inhospitable to the idea of human rights promotion, try to think why. Also, international human rights did not reach the ascendancy it has today overnight. One of the key questions is what developments facilitated the rise of human rights.

Preparation:

The idea in preparing this session is to develop an idea of the history of human rights starting from the 18th Century to the late 20th. The history of international human rights law is not necessarily linear and it is not necessarily a history of progress. It is also a contested history one that involves competing claims about what counts as human rights. Developing a sense of the dynamics and inertias of the movement and an ability to see history as constructed is crucial to develop a critical human rights distance.

 

Questions:

  • What was the contribution of 18th Century liberal revolutions to international human rights?
  • What movements foreshadowed the international human rights movement?
  • What are the factors that have historically encouraged the development of international human rights?
  • What are the factors that have historically limited the development of international human rights?
  • Does the history of international human rights reinforce the claims about their universality or does it weaken them?
  • What was the role of John Humphrey in drafting the UDHR?
  • How universal was the process of drafting the UDHR?
  • How did the adoption of the Universal declaration play out in relation to the problem of segregation in the US?

Further readings:

Web resources:

Eleanor Roosevelt on the day of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

The adoption of the Universal Declaration also gave rise to great hopes that certain struggles for rights could be internationalized, although the outcome was often decidedly ambiguous. Listen to what Malcom X had to say on human rights and the strategy of internationalization: