Vol. 14 No. 2 (February 2004)

CONCEPTS AND STRATEGIES IN INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS, by George J. Andreopoulos (ed.). New York: Peter Lang, 2003. 232 pp. $29.95. Paperback. ISBN 0-8204-5225-4

Reviewed by Rhonda L. Callaway, Department of Political Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY 14623, E-mail: rlcgsm@rit.edu

The genesis for this edited volume was the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and two subsequent lecture series at John Jay College and Columbia University respectively. The purpose of the text is to examine the current state of international human rights in practice. In fact, theoretical arguments regarding the nature, existence, or even origins of human rights are generally absent. The authors go beyond the theoretical exercise and focus on challenges and strategies facing individuals, activists, states, and organizations in the quest for the realization of human rights. It is implicit that the authors assume a universal approach to human rights, basing their arguments and conclusions on rights explicit in the UDHR. Thus, the types of rights addressed in this volume run the gamut from the most severe violation of personal integrity or security rights in the form of genocide to concerns regarding economic and social rights focusing on labor and education. In addition, strategies for international organizations are discussed ranging from the challenges facing global governance in the field of human rights to the role of states and organizations in the area of humanitarian intervention. Regardless of the topic, the focus remains on strategies, methods, and ways of overcoming obstacles so that human rights (of all kind) can be achieved in the coming century.

The editor, George Andreopoulos, provides an introductory chapter setting the stage for the rest of the book. Specifically, he acknowledges the important work of the human rights movement to date. However, he also recognizes that there is much to do, which is to come up with new strategies and concepts. Tipping his hat to the theoretical underpinnings of human rights, Andreopoulus points to the gap between theory and practice. Researchers in the field have long complained about the schism between the theories and the human rights documents (which serve as the basis of international human rights law) on one hand and the practices of the states that have signed on to such documents on the other. Oftentimes, the realist goals of the state conflict with the normative nature of human rights. It is this paradox that faces the human rights community and one that must be, according to all the authors, overcome if we are to witness the realization of human rights across the globe. Andreopoulus contends that the human rights movement is using outdated strategies to confront new challenges. He points to the lack of civilian protection during armed conflict as an example. In today's international system, much of the conflict is not state-based but rather ethnic and/or civil conflict, thus state-based international law does not seem relevant or applicable. The human rights community must evolve simultaneously with the new and varied sources of abuse, taking advantage of the progress already made and complementing it with new approaches and strategies.

The next two chapters focus on the UDHR specifically. Richard Falk elucidates the important groundwork established by the UDHR; while Susan Waltz provides a review of the adoption process and how it has been applied in the global South. Falk examines the foundations set by the UDHR, specifically, the universal notion of human rights, with an eye toward how to overcome one of the primary obstacles to the realization of human rights - sovereignty. Falk argues that adoption of the UDHR, and its subsequent articles, have actually required little from states since there are "no behavioral consequences." Alternatively, civil society and grass roots movements have carried out most of the important work of the human rights movement. Waltz makes a similar argument in her chapter, explaining that grass roots human rights movements in the developing countries are sustained due to the recognition that human rights are best fought locally. In addition, she points out that global South states were highly influential in the adoption process and attempts to dispel the conventional wisdom that the document is mainly a western construct.

While Falk points to the limitations and shortcomings of the UDHR, he contends that globalization may, ironically, have a positive influence on the realization of human rights. However, he warns of the excesses of globalization and its ill effects on a variety of human rights. Lance Compa, with his examination of labor rights under NAFTA, continues this theme of globalization in his chapter, "A Glass Half Full: The NAFTA Labor Agreement and Cross-Border Labor Action." Rather than jump on the anti-globalization bandwagon, Compa offers a positive view of the labor aspect of the regional trade agreement. "In the six years since it took effect, NAFTA's labor side agreement has given rise to varied, rich experience of international labor advocacy" (p.140). While many critics of NAFTA and other regional trade efforts point to the lack of emphasis on labor rights, the author points to many success stories. This chapter is well-constructed, offering an overview of the institutions of the NAALC and then cases of violations in Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Compa provides just enough information to convey the story without getting bogged down in minutia guaranteed to bore the reader. The author concludes that in general there have been modest successes stemming from the labor side agreement of NAFTA. Specifically, Compa argues that a new labor rights-trade linkage is a positive step, that a broad range of labor principles and rights have been set up under the auspices of NAFTA, that citizens and not just states can bring claims, and ultimately that the labor side agreement has provided important steps toward regional collaboration in the development of labor rights.

Many human rights activists and organizations bemoan the fact that the international community has, to date, seemed paralyzed in the face of gross human rights violations that occur within states. Two chapters address this disturbing phenomenon from different angles. Tom Farer examines the role of peacekeeping in the name of humanitarian intervention. He contends that there are many obstacles facing the implementation of humanitarian intervention-namely, the United Nations itself, the proliferation of small arms in the "global arms bazaar," and perhaps most importantly, the lack of commitment to a long-term solution in many cases. Farer suggests that the intervening states fail to stay long enough to complete the mission which entails rebuilding the political and economic structure of the state. He concludes by arguing that a single model of intervention set by any institutions cannot be expected to work everywhere. Rather, states and organizations must be flexible and attentive to the unique nature of each event.

Andreopoulos picks up the dilemma outlined earlier in the text, mainly the nexus between humanitarian intervention and sovereignty. Focusing on the international crime of genocide generally and using the Rwandan case as an example, Andreopoulos points out the problems facing international actors. He agrees with Farer in several instances, especially in the area of lack of will on the part of the UN and contributing states in the initial phase of intervention as well as in the rebuilding phase. One of the cornerstones of peacekeeping is the idea that the intervening forces must remain neutral, and Andreopoulos notes that this is seldom the case in practice. In fact, political and humanitarian considerations are often difficult to separate. Options are discussed for preventing genocide in the future, such as modifying and strengthening the UN system, creating a UN Volunteer Force, and subcontracting intervention to other organizations such as NATO or other regional security regimes.

Transitioning to socio-economic rights, Richard Pierre Claude focuses on education as a core human right. Again, there is a lack of debate regarding any typology of rights and the familiar categorization of "first-generation rights" and "second-generation rights." This is not a critique of the work, simply an observation that such arguments are not found in this article or in the text in general. Thus, readers would be advised to supplement this more practical approach with a theoretical or philosophical text, such as Jack Donnelly's UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS IN THEORY AND PRACTICE. Claude not only discusses the right to education but also expounds on the importance of human rights education, arguing that such education is required as a prevention mechanism. Ultimately, the author concludes that education promotes the full development of the human personality and is necessary (in turn) for the promotion of human rights and peace. Claude closes his chapter with some examples of creative human rights educational programs which is a good segue into the final chapter, which provides ideas about how to use education and technology in the pursuit of human rights.

The last chapter by Lloyd S. Etheredge provides some practical examples and guidelines for utilizing the internet and other technology for human rights activism. We all can point to increasing uses of the internet for a myriad of political purposes and gain. Howard Dean's political campaign and the conservative right's campaign against the CBS Reagan biography are just recent examples of the power of the internet. China's crackdown on human rights activists' use of the internet provides a telling example of the power of such technology in the human rights movement. Etheredge contends that technology can be and should be used to "create a world order that naturally generates more rapid progress for human rights" (p.85). In fact, the author contends that progress in human rights will be more readily obtained through the electronic media than through any laws or organizations in the coming decades. Ultimately, Etheredge suggests that the internet and other types of electronic technology will provide for that elusive universal global village. Of course, the internet is also the source of a vast amount of misinformation, and thus activists must be constantly aware of the abuses of mass media. The author closes with five internet projects that have the capacity to change the world, including a global CSPAN, providing terminals to the poorest countries so that they too can be wired, using the internet as an education device in the area of human rights as well as a method of global philanthropy, and finally a means of garnering economic support for further research.

Overall the text provides for some interesting chapters on a variety of human rights issues. As mentioned earlier, it would be appropriate as a supplementary text, particularly in peace studies and human rights courses where there is often a component of activism and practical approaches to addressing human rights. The chapters were relatively well-written so that undergraduates could tackle the reading without much difficulty. I found the chapters on humanitarian intervention and genocide the most interesting as they provided both challenges and problems to the current methods of intervention, interesting cases as examples, and most importantly, ideas about how to overcome the obstacles facing the human rights community in this area. The labor chapter was also well-constructed, again using ample cases as evidence for the larger arguments. The initial goal of the text, to provide new strategies, was accomplished. Each chapter, while paying homage to the early work done in the human rights movement, focused on how to challenge and motivate the human rights movement for the next century.


Donnelly, Jack. 2002. UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS IN THEORY AND PRACTICE. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


Copyright 2004 by the author, Rhonda L. Callaway.