restricted access Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms (review)
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Human Rights Quarterly 23.4 (2001) 1111-1114

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Book Review

Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms

Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms, by Ann Marie Clark (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001) 183 pp. with index, ISBN 0-691-05743-5.

This book makes an important and timely contribution to the growing scholarly literature on the role of norms and the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in international relations. It complements several other recent books on the development of human rights norms and the role of ethical values and standards in international affairs, such as Johannes Morsink's The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent, Martha Finnemore's National Interests in International Society, and Paul Gordon Lauren's The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, by extending the accounts found in these works to more recent developments in the normative framework of human rights that have taken place since the drafting of the UDHR in 1948. It also extends and refines the argument of other recent works on the role of NGOs in international affairs, such as William Korey's NGOs and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "A Curious Grapevine," and Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink's, Activists Beyond Borders, by providing an explicit theory of how human rights NGOs have influenced the development of international human rights norms. [End Page 1111]

Clark's book focuses on the question of "where international norms come from and how they emerge." 1 She examines several hypotheses about this question. First, she argues that the norms on torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial executions that emerged in the 1980s and which she examines in detail in her case studies, cannot plausibly be thought to have emerged directly from the sense of moral outrage and guilt induced by the experience of the Holocaust. This is the general explanation that Johannes Morsink gives for the ethical content of the Universal Declaration. Morsink argues that the particular human rights norms found in the UDHR can each be traced back to particular forms of Nazi oppression, and that the modern idea of human rights arose largely as a normative response to this particular system of oppression. But Clark points out that by the 1960s much of the impetus that had sustained the creation of human rights norms immediately following the Second World War had dissipated, and another explanation is needed for later additions to the canon of internationally recognized human rights.

The central theoretical question is, "Why do states sometimes agree to place themselves under normative constraints that may limit their future freedom of action?" She examines and refutes the standard realist explanation that these norms reflect state's interests on the ground that such norms limit state sovereignty. She also argues, but not entirely convincingly, that regime theory, "does not provide a convincing explanation for the sustained development of human rights norms in the international system." 2 Regimes coordinate international activity on the basis of mutual interest. It is possible to argue that it is in the mutual interest of states to have a set of agreed upon norms for human rights, so long as the enforcement mechanisms associated with these norms are weak. Such a system allows states to practice a familiar kind of hypocrisy in which they routinely employ human rights norms as a political tool for criticizing the behavior of other states, while also avoiding having to actually fulfill the obligations imposed by these standards themselves. One can plausibly argue that this is exactly the system we presently have. But, in any case, Clark does show that the emergence of human rights norms that limit state sovereignty, but which states nevertheless come to accept as legitimate constraints on state behavior, represent a problem for realist and state-centric approaches to international relations theory, because, as she says, "the moral aspects of international norms cannot be completely subordinated to state purposes." 3

Clark's alternative hypothesis and her main theoretical conclusion is that: "Principled norms in the human rights...