The Future of the Human Rights Movement

| June 12, 2014
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This essay will make three main points. First, the human rights movement is richer and much more complicated than a narrow focus on major Western transnational nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) would suggest. Organizations such an Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are crucial, but they are not the dominant actors they were in the 1970s or 1980s. This is a positive development, because the success of the movement depends in large part on authentic and locally relevant rights movements throughout the world. Second, the movement has not achieved all of its multifarious (some would say, proliferating) goals, but it has contributed tremendously to the basic-rights chances of many people around the world. Third, despite some significant success, the movement faces challenges of which most activists are already acutely aware. Some of these challenges are external, and others are internal to the movement itself. Strands of the movement face official opposition to their operation, and even existence, from governments reasserting powerful counterclaims of security and state sovereignty. Human rights organizations (HROs) also face internal tensions about how to prioritize specific rights; difficult strategic decisions about how, where, and when to compromise when pragmatism seems necessary; and perennial issues regarding perceived elitism and professionalism of HROs on the one hand and local experience and suffering on the other. These are reminders that there is nothing inevitable, unidirectional, or unanimous about the success of human rights. However, none of these challenges will be fatal, and most strands of the movement are likely to adapt rather than collapse or disintegrate, at least in the foreseeable future.

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Category: Issue 28.2, Roundtable: The Future of Human Rights

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