The Human Rights Advocacy and the History of Human Rights Standards website is part of a larger project exploring the development and evolution of international human rights policy. It serves as a portal for instructors, students, advocates (practitioners) and researchers interested in the standard-setting advocacy work of the international human rights movement and the intellectual history of contemporary international human rights policy. In a systematic way, it guides users to resources that provide insight into the development and implementation of human rights policy and traces efforts to wrestle through numerous conceptual challenges.
The human rights history website project extends from a small conference held at University of Michigan in 2010 (see Origins of the Project below). As described in our notes on Using the Site, the website architecture is built around the main themes and guiding questions of that conference. Most of the individual topics included in this website were discussed at the conference and links to transcripts of the conference remarks are made throughout the site.
The website currently includes fourteen topics pages (for example, on torture, corporate accountability, the use of forensics in human rights research). Over time, it is our intention to build out additional pages on normative issues where international human rights advocates have had significant impact– on the death penalty, for example, or more recently, arms transfers. Please feel free to contact us with any ideas or suggestions you might have using the contact form below.
Origins of the Project
The website builds upon the proceedings of a 2010 conference – Human Rights: From Practice to Policy – hosted by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan. That conference brought together prominent practitioners of human rights and scholars of the human rights movement to discuss the ways in which human rights advocates and advocacy organizations have influenced international human rights policy. The conference was organized around three broad themes, which in turn provide structure for the website. The organizing questions were:
- 1. How has the content of human rights evolved over time, and what role have human rights organizations played in drawing attention to emerging issues?
- 2. How did the application of human rights norms come to be extended from states to a variety of non-state actors? How can we understand the evolving notions of “accountability”?
- 3. How have human rights fact-finding and advocacy methods developed and changed?
International human rights organizations are widely recognized for their advocacy work, but the contributions they have made to the development of international human rights norms and standards are not equally well understood and appreciated. We sought to bridge this gap by opening a conversation between academics and practitioners about decisions and dynamics that have shaped the work of the human rights movement over the past several decades.
The principal motivations for the conference were to enlarge the scope of scholarly discussion about the contributions made by practitioners to the construction of human rights norms; to draw attention to the internal processes by which human rights groups developed a concern for particular human rights problems and built definitions and understandings that have subsequently shaped the response to these problems over several decades; and to preserve this history for the next generation of human rights activists and scholars who will take an interest in it.
The 2010 conference presentations and ensuing discussions provided many insights into the concerns that over several decades drove human rights organizations to advocate the creation of additional norms and standards. Reflections by Walling and Waltz on various themes that emerged from the conference can be found in the introductory chapter of the conference proceedings. We also invite you to access a complete copy of the proceedings, Human Rights: From Practice to Policy.Return to top of page
Susan Waltz and Carrie Booth Walling organized 2010 Practice to Policy conference, maintain this website, and except as noted have prepared the text for website pages.Susan Waltz is Professor of Public Policy at University of Michigan. She has been active in international human rights work for more than 30 years and her recent research has focused on the historical development of international human rights standards. She has also been involved in efforts to conclude an Arms Trade Treaty regulating the international transfer of small arms and other conventional weapons. Susan has served on Amnesty International’s international governing board (1993-1999, including two years as international chairperson) as well as the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA (2009-2013).
Carrie Booth Walling is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Albion College and a former Postdoctoral Fellow with the Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan. Her research focuses on international responses to mass atrocity crimes including humanitarian intervention and human rights trials and how human rights norms are reshaping conceptions of state sovereignty. She is author of All Necessary Measures: the United Nations and Humanitarian Intervention.Return to top of page
Participants in the 2010 conference:
Chris Avery is the Founder and Director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, which tracks the human rights impacts of more than 5,000 companies in 180 countries. He formerly served as Legal Advisor and then Deputy Director of Research at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat.
Ann Marie Clark is an Associate Professor of Political Science, Purdue University. Her research focuses on the development of human rights norms and the influence of NGOs on state behavior. She is the author of Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms.
Stephanie Farrior is a Professor of Law and Director of International and Comparative Law Programs at the Vermont Law School. She was formerly Director of the Legal Program and General Counsel for Amnesty International. Her scholarly research focuses on the role and functioning of international organizations in protecting human rights, issues relating to identity-based discrimination, and state accountability for human rights abuses by non-state actors.
Curt Goering is Senior Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA and has recently served as representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza. Goering has been involved with Amnesty International at many levels for nearly twenty-five years. He has participated in numerous field research missions for Amnesty international during human rights crises.
Michael McClintock has worked in the human rights field for more than 30 years. He was formerly the Director of Research at Human Rights First and currently serves as a consultant and advisor to HRF’s Fighting Discrimination Program. He previously worked for both Amnesty International as a researcher and Deputy Head of Research and Human Rights Watch as Deputy Program Director.
Julie Mertus is a Professor and co-Director of the Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs Program at the School of International Service, American University. She is the author of several books on human rights including Bait and Switch: Human Rights and US Foreign Policy, Human Rights Matters: Local Politics and National Human Rights and The United Nations and Human Rights.
David Petrasek is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa. He has worked on human rights research and policy at Amnesty International, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the International Council on Human Rights Policy, and served as Director of Policy at the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. With Irene Khan, he recently co-authored Unheard Truths: Human Rights and Poverty.
Margo Picken is the former Director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia for the United Nations. She established and directed the Office of Amnesty International at the United Nations and subsequently was responsible for the Ford Foundation’s human rights program.
Nigel Rodley is a Professor of Law and Chair of the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. He is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and formerly Special Rapporteur on Torture for the UN Commission on Human Rights. Sir Nigel was the first Legal Advisor of the International Secretariat of Amnesty International. He is the author of several books related to human rights.
Kenneth Roth is the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. As a former federal prosecutor he worked on the Iran-Contra investigation. Roth has written extensively on a range of human rights issues including international justice, counterterrorism, the foreign policies of major powers, and the work of the United Nations.
Kathryn Sikkink is the Arleen Carlson Chair of Political Science and a McKnight Distinguished University Professor, University of Minnesota. Her research is in the area of international human rights norms and law, international institutions and transnational advocacy networks. She is the author of The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics, Mixed Signals: US Human Rights Policy and Latin America and Activists Beyond Borders: Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics.
Eric Stover is Faculty Director of the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley. He formerly served as Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights and was a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. He has participated in several mass graves investigations and as an “Expert on Mission” to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. He is the author of several books including The Witnesses: War Crimes and the Promise of Justice in the Hague.
Wilder Tayler is Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists and a member of the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture. He previously worked as Legal and Policy Director at Human Rights Watch and as a Legal Advisor and then Program Director with the Americas Program at Amnesty International. Tayler is the former Executive Director of the Institute for Legal and Social Studies (IELSUR) in Uruguay, a legal NGO that specializes in litigating human rights cases.
Carrie Booth Walling is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Albion College and a former Postdoctoral Fellow with the Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan. Her research focuses on international responses to mass atrocity crimes including humanitarian intervention and human rights trials and how human rights norms are reshaping conceptions of state sovereignty. She is author of All Necessary Measures: the United Nations and Humanitarian Intervention.
Susan Waltz is a Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan. Her recent research has focused on the political history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants. Waltz formerly served on Amnesty International’s International Executive Committee. She is author of Human Rights and Reform: Changing the Face of North African Politics.
José Zalaquett is a Chilean human rights lawyer and academic. He is currently Professor of Human Rights at the School of Law, University of Chile and Co-Director of its Human Rights Center. Zalaquett helped to create and then lead Chile’s Vicaría de la Solidaridad, an organization sponsored by the Catholic Church that defended those detained by the Pinochet regime and filed habeus corpus documents on behalf of the missing. He served on Chile’s National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation and has worked for, served on the board and consulted for numerous human rights organizations. He recently completed a term as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.
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