Recognizing Human Rights Problems

Who determines what should be considered a human rights issue?

What is required to place an issue on the human rights agenda?

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helped set in motion the processes that led to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and since the birth of the contemporary human rights movement in the early 1960s they have been influential in the conception and negotiation of international human rights norms and treaties.  As recounted by practitioners, however, the development of human rights norms has not been a linear or uncontested process.  Human rights practitioners rarely started out with the intention of building normative standards or legal instruments.  In many cases, activists became involved in such processes only as an extension of their advocacy work.  And there has been an extended conversation about questions that may seem very basic, including:

  • How do we know the difference between a human rights violation and other egregious harms?
  • How far can the idea of human rights be expanded without diluting the power of the human rights movement?
  • Does growing the content of human rights reduce the the cohesion of existing norms?

In this section of the website we introduce several issues that lend themselves to consideration of the internal processes by which human rights practitioners helped develop new human rights norms. These case narratives illustrate how the substantive content of human rights has evolved over time and how the role and importance of human rights NGOs have similarly expanded.

TORTURE

ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES

INVOKING STANDARDS OF INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW

THE INDIVISIBILITY OF ALL RIGHTS