Human rights as an international political project are closely tied to claims of universality. Attacks on the universality of human rights, however, are also widespread. And some versions of universalism are indeed theoretically indefensible, politically pernicious, or both. This essay explores the senses in which human rights can (and cannot) be said to be universal, the senses in which they are (and are not) relative, and argues for the "relative universality" of internationally recognized human rights.
In recent years the UN Commission on Human Rights has been widely and severely castigated for its failures to live up to the vision of being a genuine protector of victims of human rights abuses and instead becoming a shield for the violators. This article provides an assessment of these criticisms of the Commission by exploring its historical beginnings, its notable achievements, and its manifest shortcomings, and then analyzes how these and other factors came into play when the membership of the United Nations decided to replace the Commission with the new Human Rights Council.
This article critically examines and develops an important approach in the international human rights community to the moral justification of an absolute proscription of torture, or, alternatively put, to the cogency of a non-derogative right not to be tortured. This approach involves elements of moral intuitionism, a minimal natural law position, and consequentialist arguments that ought—taken together or independently—to be convincing to all people of good will, regardless of their cultural location. The essay deploys sources from international human rights, comparative and philosophical ethics, and empirical and NGO studies about the intrinsic nature and pervasive deleterious effects of torture practices.
The people of Burma/Myanmar have suffered for two generations under military dictatorships. Their economy, legal and social orders, cultural diversity, and political freedoms have all steadily declined during that time. The country's human rights record is considered by many to be one of the worst world-wide. In the West, responses have ranged from diplomatic condemnation, to the imposition of economic sanctions, and to the withdrawal of aid and international cooperation. Countries in the region, on the other hand, have been typically less robust, more accepting of assertions of sovereign rights and concerned to promote engagement and dialogue rather than isolation and punishment. Neither approach appears to have had any discernable impact on the attitude of Myanmar's military government or on the plight of its people. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, her pro-democracy party banned, and its members persecuted; the rule of law is non existent, and the once flourishing economy is in terminal decline. New strategies to break the impasse are now being contemplated in both the West (more conditional engagement) and the East (more strident conditionality). This article analyzes a controversial Australian human rights initiative that ran in Myanmar from 2000 to 2003, which might be considered a forerunner to these new "third way" approaches. The article describes the objectives, nature, composition and implementation of the program; it assesses its advantages and disadvantages, its risks and potential, and explores some of the criticisms and praise the program engendered. It also provides a detailed backdrop against which one might draw some tentative lessons in terms of the protection and promotion of human rights in both the specific context of Myanmar, and also, by implication, in the global community's approach to intransigent, pariah states.
Human rights and intellectual property protection are two distinct fields that have largely evolved separately. Their relationship needs to be re-examined for a number of reasons. First, the impacts of intellectual property rights on the realization of human rights such as the right to health have become much more visible following the adoption of the TRIPS Agreement. Second, the increasing importance of intellectual property rights has led to the need for clarifying the scope of human rights provisions protecting individual contributions to knowledge. Third, a number of new challenges need to be addressed concerning contributions to knowledge, which cannot effectively be protected under existing intellectual property rights regimes. This article examines the different aspects of the relationship between intellectual property rights, human rights, and science and technology related provisions in human rights treaties. It analyzes existing knowledge protection-related provisions in human rights treaties. It also examines some of the impacts of existing intellectual property rights regimes on the realization of human rights. Further, it analyzes the recently adopted General Comment 17 on Article 15(1)(c) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and proposes an alternative broader reading of this provision focusing on traditional knowledge.
The separation of human rights into two distinct sets remains the underlying paradigm of most legal thinking produced on the subject of economic, social, and cultural rights. From this perspective international law appears as a static, rigid system of watertight legal compartments: even when acknowledging some interrelatedness, the compartments remain the rule nevertheless. This article is written from a perspective that takes a different view. Artificial separations are just that: artificial. Rights in real life are interwoven and each, in its own right, pose challenges to the legal mind, to provide a remedy. Justiciability is no longer a matter of perfectly dissecting and distinguishing the inseparable but of finding the key relations between apparently separate notions. Remedies can take "a myriad of forms." By looking into the practice of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights through the analysis of its case law, this article first provides a theoretical point of departure under general international law for understanding economic, social, and cultural rights as primary rules. It then analyses the current jurisprudence of the Court in its integrated approach to rights. It finally goes on to analyze the different manners in which this organ has been providing remedies for violations of these primary rules. From the implementation of interim measures in favor of HIV patients (right to health) to the development of doctrinal notions of the right to life including the right to a "dignified and decent existence" to its substantive approach to the interpretation of human rights under the American Convention, this article argues that the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights—paradoxically coming from a poverty-stricken region—is contributing to a new era of effectively dealing with violations of economic, social, and cultural rights.
Using the so called Common Understanding among UN agencies as a starting point for what is characteristic of human rights based approaches to development cooperation, the author discusses what the approach implies in the area of HIV/AIDS and food security. First, it is considered what it means that human rights are to be goals and guiding principles in development efforts. Second, the issue of human rights-based situation analysis as the basis for identifying priorities and action is raised. Third, the meaning of developing the capacities of rights-holders to claim and realize their human rights and of duty-bearers to meet their obligations is elaborated upon. Field research carried out by CARE International in Malawi is analyzed in order to put these questions into a practical context.
How resilient is the human rights norm in the counter-terrorist era? This question is explored through examining the record of two of the UN Security Council's counter-terrorist committees. The article argues that, initially, the procedures of these two committees damaged human rights protections, an outcome criticized by UN officials, human rights NGOs, and certain, mainly middle-power, states. Using the UN as a platform, they made the argument that a failure to ensure that anti-terrorist measures were in accordance with human rights standards would be counter-productive. As a result, Committee procedures have evolved and now give greater attention to the human rights consequences of counter-terrorist action.