By recording and preserving this policy-particular history of the international human rights movement, we hope that a new generation of practitioners will gain insight into the evolution of international standards, past practices of human rights organizations, and the rationale and decision-making processes of practitioners whose early actions established the international human rights movement. Throughout the site you will find the personal views and experiences of key players as they talk about the internal decisions of the human rights organizations with which they have been associated. This may be useful for practitioners who have entered the movement as activists in recent years as well as those advocates who may not be able on their own to uncover the foundational conceptual work that has led to the emergence of the modern human rights movement. We hope that the website will help to lay that groundwork.
For example, the intellectual and normative history of the Human Rights Based Approach widely disseminated in UN circles is detailed on the government obligations page. From the narrative on this page, activists unfamiliar with the duties to respect, protect and fulfill can learn how these obligations came to be articulated. Similarly, on the page related to armed insurgent groups, practitioners can review the historical evolution by which accountability spread from a limited focus on nation states to include a wider range of non-state actors. This history provides context for UN human rights monitors’ restricted use of the term “violations” in reference to human rights transgressions committed by states, and the more generic term “human rights abuse” for all actors.
From the pages of this website, practitioners may also learn about some of the historical divisions within the human rights movement – and even within and between human rights organizations – over issues that have long since been resolved and institutionalized as commonly accepted approaches of the movement. As examples, Human Rights Watch’s decision to integrate international humanitarian law standards into its human rights work was once controversial, and activists within Amnesty International once debated whether or not states could and should be held accountable for private violence directed against women, like domestic violence, based on the existing due diligence standard. In sum, the website examines where current norms have come from and how they are continuing to evolve.
We also hope that the site becomes a place where scholars and practitioners can learn more about the ways that their work can complement each other. This approach is very much in the spirit of the original conference – a meeting that joined practitioners and scholars in a single conversation about the nature and significance of the past work and achievements of the international human rights movement. Practitioners may find it useful to download the entire conference proceedings, Human Rights: From Practice to Policy. In addition to the practitioner reflections included on this website, the entire proceedings include the conversations between practitioners and scholars that followed each practitioner reflection. Also included are the reflection of human rights scholars about the normative history of the human rights movement, their observations about themes among practitioner reflections and gaps and absences in the discussions. The scholars asked practitioners probing questions about the conceptual content of human rights, the defining characteristics of the human rights movement and its collaborative relationships and the tools of human rights change.