A Handbook of International Human Rights Terminology (Second Edition) by H. Victor Condé. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 536pp.
Victor Condé’s A Handbook of International Human Rights Terminology is the post 9/11 revised version of his well received first edition. Not only has the world of human rights evolved since his first edition, the “war on terrorism” introduced (or reintroduced) numerous terms related to armed conflict that have taken on added urgency. This book addresses that challenge.
The Handbook is a helpful, wide ranging aide to the study and understanding of human rights. It is designed for those just beginning their studies in human rights, especially to help them understand the sometimes complex language of human rights discourse. It is written for both lawyers and non-lawyers. While covering the wide range of specifically human rights related terms (understood broadly to necessarily include terms from the law of armed conflict and international criminal law), the book also provides definitions for the numerous general legal or political terms (such as de facto; de jure; muttis mutandis; etc.) that are often included in human rights texts without explanation.
The definitions seek to draw a balance between brevity and detail. For the most part, Condé succeeds in this regard. The wide selection of terms being defined should answer the needs of most students—and many practitioners. Indeed, the attention to non-English terms may be particularly helpful to Americans who are far too often taught to shun Latin or other non-English terms popular in the rest of the human rights world. The definitions themselves are also generally helpful, concise and relatively clear.
Condé does tend towards a certain editorialization that could be provocative in the sense that he presents an opinion in a way that suggests greater authority than it deserves. For example, in defining “First Generation Human Rights,” he asserts that the “generations” terminology has fallen into disuse and “should not be used.” [Emphasis added.] Similarly, in defining “Universality” (vs “Cultural Relativism”) he asserts the “The universality doctrine is now the predominantly accepted view.” While both of these positions can be justified, they can equally be critiqued.
Condé also tends to overtly base his human rights definitions upon a specific, Western understanding of human rights—and works an especially Rawlsian perspective into some of the terms he defines throughout the book. For example, in defining “Hate Speech” he builds a long justification to prohibit hate speech based on the equality principle of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rather than immediately justifying the prohibition on hate speech under Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which he refers to at the end of his definition), a much more explicit and natural fit.
Despite these problems, many of which can be addressed in the classroom, the book is a solid and helpful resource. It should prove helpful at the undergraduate and graduate level.
David E. Guinn, International Human Rights Law Institute
DePaul University College of Law