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May 2010: The Downfall of Human Rights?

Introduction to the Month's Focal Piece Editor's introduction: The Downfall of Human Rights?

Article under review: “The Downfall of Human Rights” by Joshua Kurlantzick. Newsweek. February 19, 2010.

~ The Editors

David AkersonA Positive View of the Trajectory of the Human Rights Movement
by David Akerson

"Joshua Kurlantzick, in his article “The Downfall of Human Rights,” laments that Obama’s failure to address human rights in speeches in China may be emblematic of a retreat by the United States in regards to human rights advocacy. I would take the view that this phenomenon is merely tactical. The human rights movement relies on many weapons. That includes advocacy, of course, but also diplomacy, policy, foreign aid and assistance, and so on. Obama isn't abandoning human rights; he is making a tactical decision on timing and methodology. His administration is, at its heart, more committed to human rights than any other administration since Roosevelt."

Sonia CardenasHuman Rights Pragmatism Under Obama
by Sonia Cardenas

"Engagement makes sense only if it does no harm—if it does not itself contribute to human rights abuses. Engagement that unwittingly fuels domestic incentives to repress (through trade or security relations) or that diminishes societal groups (by not condemning abuses publicly) is at best worthless and at worst dangerous. In steering clear of ideological posturing, the Obama administration must guard against pragmatism itself becoming the new ideology: pragmatism for its own sake, after all, can be self-compromising. Obama’s human rights pragmatism still holds great promise, as long as it takes seriously the local contexts in which real people are coerced and struggle for change."

Todd LandmanPremature Judgment
by Todd Landman

"But any assessment of the state of human rights and a proclamation about the “collapse” of human rights advocacy surely needs to be more balanced, especially if it relies too heavily on Freedom House scores and a few policy utterances from a handful of democracies in the world. Human rights advocacy takes many forms. Unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral promotion by states is one avenue available, but others include the work of non-governmental organizations, the burgeoning world of academic research, and the engagement of the academic community in significant knowledge transfer activities related to human rights."


James PattisonHope, Despair, and Human Rights
by James Pattison

“Moreover, the notion that there is currently a Western indifference towards human rights can be questioned (…) More generally, the past decade has also seen the establishment of some notable international human rights mechanisms. In particular, the Human Rights Council, with its Universal Periodic Review mechanism, and the International Criminal Court offer some hope for the advancement of human rights protection worldwide, perhaps not with their direct rulings, verdicts, and procedures, but with their indirect effects of encouraging states to live up to their human rights responsibilities."

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