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Reviewed by:
  • The International Struggle for New Human Rights
  • Marjon Kamrani (bio)
The International Struggle for New Human Rights (Clifford Bob ed., Univ. of Pennsylvania Press 2009) 192 pages, ISBN 978812241310.

The International Struggle for New Human Rights edited by Clifford Bob, is a welcome addition to scholarship on human rights transnational networks, global civil society movements, and the rhetorical uses of rights speak.1 The volume builds on and complicates the important contribution of Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s well-known, Activists Beyond Borders.2 Keck and Sikkink’s concept of transnational advocacy networks (TANs) develops the concept of organizing civil society volunteerism. In their model, a mobilized, marginalized majority through networks of activists “who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services” work to change norms and achieve their goals.3 Exemplified by selected human rights movements and environmental movements, TANs, according to Keck and Sikkink, are networks of voluntary associations, [End Page 1162] with each constituent articulating a great need of assistance, emerging from the bottom up, organizing harmoniously, and contributing to democratizing global governance. TANs emerge when local groups’ aspirations are blocked by states in order to leapfrog the state itself and to appeal to the global level for change. Thus, TANs constitute incipient global civil society, empowering the excluded and subjugated through participatory processes.4 TANs, then, do not replace the state, but seek to serve as a counter-force to make it more accountable.

The International Struggle for New Human Rights moves beyond the assumption that only the most in need, oppressed, and marginalized groups have the ability to internationalize their grievances through civil society organizing. Specifically, the volume highlights groups that have recently and successfully utilized human rights framing and rhetoric to gain international support for their cause and traces the why and how of this process. By focusing on new human rights movements rather than previously well established movements, the book helps explain how success is not simply about the nature of the issue or the need of a group. Rather advocacy success is about introducing a compelling narrative, situating the issue in human rights organizational culture, and in playing by the already established rules of power (gaining support of large well-funded NGOs).

The primary focus of the book is on how groups ultimately reach their goals in the new cutthroat world of getting one’s claims noticed by a global audience, aiming to provide a recipe for success. “Successful cases have common features. The perpetrators (targets of activism) are brutal governments. The violations are civil and political, often involving widespread killings or legally sanctioned discrimination. And the evidence linking abuser to victim is relatively clear.”5

In his introductory chapter, Bob argues there are four distinct overlapping processes by which new rights gain success.

[F]irst, politicized groups frame long-felt grievances as normative claims. Second, they place these rights on the international agenda by convincing gatekeepers in major rights organizations to accept them. Third, states and international bodies, often under pressure from gatekeepers and aggrieved groups, accept the new norms; and, finally national institutions implement the norms.6

In this process Bob also argues there are four key actors involved: 1) claimants made up of actual victims or champions of these victims, 2) the gatekeepers in the form of organizations like NGOs and IOs who support these claims and have the resources and voice to make the claims international causes, 3) the states which implement and codify the claims, and 4) opponents who either combat these new rights because they see the strategy of turning the claim into a human right as unrealistic or potentially harmful to their true interests or those who obstruct the claim entirely, viewing it as contrary to their own moral, religious, or legal visions. [End Page 1163]

The book is divided into chapters, each of which is written by an expert in a particular area of advocacy. Each author more or less agrees with Bob’s assumptions on processes and actor involvement and thus uses these four processes and key actors to tell a story of how new human rights claims emerge. The eight chapters...


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pp. 1162-1166
Launched on MUSE
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