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Human Rights: Ideology and Aspiration, Reality and Prospect

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By the end of the twentieth century, human rights, a political-philosophical idea, had become an ideology, the ideology of our times, achieving nearuniversal acceptance, with little dissent. Ours has been described as the Age of Rights.1 International human rights—international concern with the condition of human rights within national societies—was conceived during World War II, and its normative and institutional foundations were established during the decades after the war. In this chapter I trace the development of international institutions and of the international law of human rights, describe the successes and failures of international human rights during its first half century, and suggest how this edifice of norms and institutions has contributed to the human rights conditions of billions of human beings at the end of the twentieth century. Looking ahead, I offer the outlines of an agenda for the new century.

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  1. The reader may find exposition and explanation of unfamiliar terms in a growing number of books and articles including some devoted specifically to human rights, among them: Louis Henkin, Gerald Neuron, Diane Orentlicher, and David Leebron, Human Rights (New York: Foundation Press, 1999)

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  2. Henry Steiner and Philip Alston, eds., International Human Rights in Context (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

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  3. Lord Acton, quoted in Hersch Lauterpacht, International law and Human Rights (New York: Praeger, 1950), p. 126.

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  4. President Woodrow Wilson declared that to be an aim of U.S. entry into World War I. See Woodrow Wilson, “An Address to a Joint Session of Congress (Fourteen Points Address),” (1918), in Arthur S. Link, ed., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Vol. 45 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 534.

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  5. See Louis Henkin, “Human Rights from Dumbarton Oaks,” in Ernest R. May and Angeliki Laiou, eds., The Dumbarton Oaks Conversations and the United Nations 1944—1994 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

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  6. See Vratislav Pechota, “The Development of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” in Louis Henkin, ed., The International Bill of Rights: The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).

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  7. See generally Dominick McGoldrick, The Human Rights Committee (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)

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  8. Manfred Nowak, U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary (Arlington, VA: N. P. Engel, 1993).

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  9. “The participants were content with the non-binding character of the [Helsinki] accord; for the United States it also obviated the need to seek consent of the U.S. Senate.” See Louis Henkin, International law: Politics and Values (Boston: M. Nijhoff, 1995), p. 181.

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  10. Protocol No. 11 to the European Convention replaced the original system of implementation consisting of a commission and a court working part-time, with a single, enlarged, full-time court. See Nicolas Bratza Q.C. and Michael O’Boyle, “The Legacy of the Commission to the New Court Under the Eleventh Protocol,” in Michele de Salvia and Mark E. Villiger, The Birth of European Human Rights Law (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1998), p. 377

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  11. See Philip Alston, “The Commission on Human Rights” in Philip Alston, ed., The United Nations and Human Rights: A Critical Appraisal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)

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  12. See generally A. H. Robertson, Human Rights in Europe: A Study of the European Convention on Human Rights (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993)

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  13. Mark Janis and Richard S. Kay, European Human Rights Law (Hartford, CT: University of Connecticut Law School Foundation Press, 1990)

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  14. The United States is a member of the Organization of American States and thereby committed to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, adopted in May 1948. The United States signed the American Convention of Human Rights in 1978, subject to reservations, understandings, and declarations but, as of early 2000, the United States has not ratified the Convention. See chapter 6 in this volume. For further information on the American Convention generally, see Scott Davidson, Inter-American Human Rights System (Brookfield, VT: Dartmouth Publishing, 1997)

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© 2000 Samantha Power and Graham Allison

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Henkin, L. (2000). Human Rights: Ideology and Aspiration, Reality and Prospect. In: Power, S., Allison, G. (eds) Realizing Human Rights. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, New York

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4039-7311-5

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-03608-7

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