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Cover Human Rights: Politics and Practice

4. Human Rights in International Law  

Rhona K. M. Smith

This chapter examines the international legal context of human rights. It first considers the historical evolution of international human rights law, with particular emphasis on the reincarnation of philosophical ideals as international laws (treaties), before discussing the principal sources of international human rights law such as customary international law and ‘soft’ law. It then describes the various forms of expressing human rights, along with the core international human rights instruments. It also explores the mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing human rights, including the United Nations system, regional human rights systems, and national human rights systems. Finally, it explains the process followed for a state wishing to be bound to the provisions of a treaty and the benefits of listing human rights in treaties.

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Cover The Politics of International Law

8. Human rights in the postwar period  

This chapter focuses on human rights, a perfect topic through which to study the interaction between law and politics in international relations. The topic of human rights offers a microcosm of the clashes and contradictions between realism and idealism, legal principles and political expediencies, state and non-state actors, and collective and individual rights, which characterize international order. The chapter defines human rights and outlines their international legal framework. The chapter then traces the postwar evolution of international human rights law (IHRL). It explains how, by the late twentieth century, the concept of human rights had captured the global imagination. It also explores the international political context in which the rise of human rights took place, including decolonization and the explosion in rights-based civil society activism in the 1970s. Finally, the chapter analyses the efficacy of IHRL in a world of sovereign states, before assessing the cultural relativist critique of human rights, which challenges their claim to universality, often from the perspective of postcolonial societies.

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Cover Human Rights: Politics and Practice

7. Contemporary Critiques of Human Rights  

David Chandler

This chapter examines contemporary critiques of human rights, focusing on the downside of human rights claims — what is commonly understood by advocates of human rights to be the ‘misuse’ or ‘abuse’ of human rights. It first considers how human rights claims conflate ethical and legal claims because the subject of rights is not a socially constituted legal subject. It then discusses the rise of human rights as well as the relationship between human rights claims and international interventions such as humanitarianism, international law, and military intervention. In particular, it analyses the ethical, legal, and political questions raised by the Kosovo war. The chapter shows that there is a paradox at the heart of the human rights discourse, which enables claims made on behalf of victims, the marginalized, and excluded to become a mechanism for the creation of new frameworks for the exercise of power.

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Cover Human Rights: Politics and Practice

19. Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights  

Paul Havemann

This chapter examines issues surrounding the human rights of Indigenous peoples. The conceptual framework for this chapter is informed by three broad, interrelated, and interdependent types of human rights: the right to existence, the right to self-determination, and individual human rights. After describing who Indigenous peoples are according to international law, the chapter considers the centuries of ambivalence about the recognition of Indigenous peoples. It then discusses the United Nations's establishment of a regime for Indigenous group rights and presents a case study of the impact of climate change on Indigenous peoples. It concludes with a reflection on the possibility of accommodating Indigenous peoples' self-determination with state sovereignty.