IRLS402 AMU Lesson5 Diffusion of Norms Human Rights Enforcement To what extent can the dissemination of human rights norms impact state and/or individual behavior even without enforcement mechanisms? Remember to support your assertions.
Instructions: Your initial post should be at least 350 words. Please respond to at least 2 other students. Responses should be a minimum of 150 words and include direct questions. Human Rights Defined
According to renowned human rights scholar Louis Henkin:
Griffiths and OʻCallaghan & Roach (2008. 274) can provide further understanding of the concept of rights.
Human rights are universal: they belong to every human being in every human society. They do not differ with
geography or history, culture or ideology, political or economic system, or stage of societal development. To call
them “human” implies that all human beings have them, equally and in equal measure, by virtue of their humanity,
regardless of sex, race, age; regardless of high or low “birth,” social class, national origin, ethnic or tribal affiliation;
regardless of wealth or poverty, occupation, talent, merit, religion, ideology, or other commitment. Implied in one’s
humanity, human rights are inalienable and imprescriptible: they cannot be transferred, forfeited, or waived; they
cannot be lost by having been usurped, or by one’s failure to exercise or assert them … human rights are claims we
have upon society (Henkin. 1999. 3-4).
“There are four basic characteristics of human rights. First, regardless of their ultimate origin or justification, human
rights represent individual or group demands (usually the former) for the shaping and sharing of power, wealth, and
other human goods. Second, human rights commonly refer to fundamental as distinct from non-essential claims or
goods. In fact, some theorists go so far as to limit human rights to a single core right, or two-for example, the right to
life or the right to equal freedom of opportunity. Third, most assertions of human rights are qualified by the limitation
that the rights of any particular individual or group are properly restricted as much as is necessary to secure the
comparable rights of others. Finally, if a right is determined to be a human right, it is understood to be universal in
character, equally possessed by all human beings.”
The United Nations
After World War II (1939-45) ended, the United Nations (UN) was established, which, unlike its predecessor the League of Nations, has focused more forcefully on human rights. The UN Charter itself contains aspirational provisions designed to
internationalize human rights norms. The Preamble of the Charter states “We the Peoples of the United Nations Determined… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men
and women … do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.” Other articles require member nations to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. For example, Article 1 states that the
purpose of the UN includes promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” This is repeated in Articles 55 and 56, which pledge all nations to
work with the UN in order to protect human rights. The UN Charter also requires nations to work at both the regional and international level to develop treaties that articulate various human rights. Additionally, nation-states are expected to create
the domestic legislation necessary to carry out the Charter’s human rights provisions. Thus, the Charter sets the moral tone and principles for human rights discussion.
The International Bill of Rights
Some of the most significant human rights documents are collectively referred to as the “International Bill of Rights.” The first document in the International Bill of Rights is the previously discussed UN Charter itself. The second is the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the first UN meeting in 1945, a Panamanian delegation introduced a draft document that addressed human rights that was the work of NGOs, including the Inter-American Bar Association, the
International League for the Rights of Man, and the American Law Institute, among others. The focus on human rights at that meeting led the United Nations Economic and Social Council to establish the Commission on Human Rights in June of
1946. Following this, the UN Commission on Human Rights selected 18 delegates to begin work on this first international human rights document. The chairperson, former First Lady of the US Eleanor Roosevelt, and representatives from various
countries, including China, Lebanon, France, and Australia, all played key roles in promulgating the document and getting the UN General Assembly (GA) to pass it. On December 10, 1948, after much debate, the GA voted with little dissent to
accept the document prepared by the committee. Only five nations of the Soviet bloc, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia abstained from the vote that affirmed the UDHR. The UDHR lays out the various rights to which all people are entitled, no matter
where they live. However, the document was a “Declaration” and not a legally binding treaty. As a result, immediately following the GA’s acceptance of the UDHR, work began on legally binding treaties to codify the principles the UDHR had laid
out in international law.
Compliance with International Human Rights Norms
Issues of compliance with international human rights norms are particularly complex because of the lack of incentive
to cooperate, the absence of inter-state damage caused by violations, the nonreciprocal character of human rights
treaties, the difficulty in identifying human rights abuse, and the problem of demonstrating government responsibility
for some human rights abuse.
Furthermore, human rights regimes address an issue in which it is not always easy to decide what constitutes a
violation. Because the international system includes states with different cultures and ideologies, there is often no
common understanding of the way human rights problems should be addressed or how regime injunctions should
be interpreted. Therefore a government may consider itself to be in compliance and may even have support from
some governments but be considered to be in violation by other governments. If a government believes the case is
ambiguous, it may feel it can risk noncompliance.
Governments do not need to cooperate with other governments in order to improve human rights in their own
country. If a government wants its citizens to be free from government torture, it can stop torturing them. How
another government behaves towards its own citizens should not affect the first government’s choices. Direct effects
of respecting or violating rights do not necessarily cross borders. Because of this, cooperation in the promotion of
human rights does not rest of governments constraining their own actions in exchange for the cooperation of others,
as does cooperation in many other areas.
Assigning responsibility for a violation to a government can be difficult in some cases. Individual officials can act
contrary to instructions. Yet, unlike international environmental regimes, where a government agrees to control the
behavior of private citizens, when it comes to issues like torture, the government is only promising to keep its own
officials from using torture, not to stop citizens from hurting each other. Therefore government officials may try to
blame their behavior on private groups or individuals.
Efforts to promote compliance with international human rights norms have traditionally been limited because a
government has no immediate material interest in acting on behalf of citizens of another state. There is no self-
interested reason for external enforcement. Even when a government decides to act, the problem of choosing the
proper sanction is a complicated one. Because human rights treaties are designed to protect individuals, it does not
make sense for a government to break a treaty in response to another state violating that treaty. The violating state
would not suffer. This is recognized in article 60 paragraph 5 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which
stipulates that termination or suspension of operation of a treaty in violation “do not apply to provisions relating to the
protection of the human person, contained in treaties of humanitarian character.” Nor is it clear what other sanctions
are available. Governments have attempted to use economic sanctions but issue-linkage is often controversial, not
only with the target government but also with the domestic opinion in the applying state due to a weak commitment
to human rights values or the urgency of competing concerns.
The issue of greater awareness is an interesting one when examining the effectiveness of environmental or human
rights movements. Given the time that has passed since the beginning of these movements, it is important to focus on
when and under what circumstances these organizations were part of a change in government practice. Other
measurements of the impact of NGOs, such as changes in awareness of the issues, and changes in state language are
important to the degree that they lead to reduced pollution or human rights abuse. This is particularly challenging in
areas such as human rights which is a very sensitive and traditionally domestic issue. As Chayes and Chayes note:
“The effort to protect human rights by international agreement may be seen as an extreme case of time lag between
undertaking and performance. It is apparent that some states adhered without any serious intention of abiding by
them. But it is also true that even parties committed to the treaties had different expectations about compliance than
with most other regulatory treaties” (1993, 197).
IRLS402 LESSON 5
Human Rights Regimes
In international relations, human rights are specifically defined and outlined by the United Nations Charter. The UN
Charter establishes international norms for human rights, to which member states agree to adhere. Challenges,
however, arise with compliance, some of which include identifying violations and choosing a course of action. In
this lesson, you will also review several international organizations that act to protect human rights.
• Human Rights Defined
• The United Nations
• The International Bill of Rights
• Compliance with International Human Rights Norms
• The UN and Other Human Rights Actors
The United Nations promotes and protects human rights, set forth by the UN Charter and International Bill of Rights. States, however, may face challenges
with enforcing these provisions. It is difficult for another state to identify human rights abuses in another state. States may have little incentive to cooperate in
the first place, and at the same time, other states may have little incentive to intervene if they do not face the same abuses domestically. The UN Commission
on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and other international organizations and tribunals, all the same, strive to protect human
rights and equality and increase accountability and awareness.
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