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  • International Human Rightsby Jack Donnelly & Daniel J. Whelan
  • Sarita Cargas (bio)
Jack Donnelly & Daniel J. Whelan, International Human Rights( 6thed. Westview Press, 2020) ISBN 978–0–367–21784–6, 390 pages.

Jack Donnelly's International Human Rightsis now in its sixth edition, and since its fifth it has a new co-author, Daniel J. Whelan. 1The latest edition, with probably much credit due to Whelan, keeps the book as relevant as ever. Part of the staying power of this book is its continuous updating, which acknowledges the ever-developing field of human rights. However, the sixth edition remains true to the essence that has made this a highly [End Page 963]popular book in human rights courses. It is one of Donnelly and now Whelan's most important scholarly contributions to the topic of human rights. While much of this text involves the "what" and "how" of human rights, the authors offer a unique commentary and examination of problems and solutions compared to other introductions. For example, most chapters end with a "problem" describing a controversy or conundrum followed by a "solution" proscribed by the authors. In the hands of capable scholars, this kind of text is a useful educational tool.

In researching human rights pedagogy, I have found that International Human Rightsis the single most widely used text for introductory human rights courses. Currently, such courses are taught in a variety of majors—not just political science. Thus, its appeal as a textbook is broad; it is the leading introduction of human rights for most undergraduates and likely for many graduate students. This is slightly ironic because the authors make a point of saying it was not written as a textbook, 2despite the fifth edition's back-jacket blurb by Kathryn Sikkink calling it "the preeminent introductory textbook for human rights courses," 3which it deservedly is.

Not intending it as a textbook allows the authors their scholarly leeway. For example, they say it means that they do not have to have "bland and noncommittal presentations of 'the two sides' to an argument" and thus they "have no false pretense of objectivity." 4This approach is particularly useful for revealing the contested nature of human rights work, especially because the authors are not partisan in their approach, and they succeed in a balanced presentation. When they are critical of contemporary foreign relations, it is tempered and supported with evidence.

Many readers of Human Rights Quarterlylikely will have watched this book evolve through various editions. I started teaching with the second edition, and most of the chapter titles stayed the same in the first four editions. However, early editions had only eight chapters and the latest has fourteen, up two from the fifth edition which had twelve, and now it is divided into Parts I, II, and III. Elements that remain consistent throughout all of the editions include most of Part I, specifically the chapters on the history and theories of human rights. The book's chapter on relative universality was introduced in the third edition and remains an important contribution to the field. This chapter emphasizes that human rights "are notculturally relative" 5but that relativity and universality are both essential aspects of human rights summed up in the phrase "relative universalism." 6A central debate in the field has been whether or not human rights are relative, so this discussion is worthy of its own chapter.

New to Part I is Chapter Four, mostly authored by Whelan, on the interdependent, interrelated, and indivisibility of human rights. 7It is an excellent review of the history and introduction of important terms, and it presents the definition of human rights used throughout the book. [End Page 964]Their definition, which focuses on the politics of human rights and the legal definition utilized by states, focuses on the role of states rather than lumping crime or any social injustice as human rights abuse, as readers, especially students, new to the topic tend to do.

Part II is focused on human rights mechanisms: bilateral, multilateral, and transnational. A necessary chapter on multilateral mechanisms has been in all editions, including this latest. Its...


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