Bringing Human Rights Home? The Promises and Pitfalls of Rights Strategies in Social Justice Advocacy
May 7, 2007
In social justice advocacy in the United States today, activists often use international human rights rhetoric, methods, standards, and institutions. What are the scope, purposes, and effects of this strategy? Is this something new? If so, how and when did this trend begin? This paper discusses conceptual issues related to these questions, with the assumption that many injustices exist but that the resources to fight them are limited. The paper differentiates legal from political usages of international rights strategies and then distinguishes internal versus external political effects of such strategies. Next, it proposes two hypotheses explaining the use of rights strategies: that this stems from deep-felt belief in their efficacy by victims of abuse; or that it stems from the availability of external funding to adopt such strategies. Finally, the paper questions activist assumptions that such strategies will be effective and discusses potential costs: overuse of rights language (rights fatigue); backlash by domestic audiences worried that international standards will trump domestic democratic processes; and possible use of international standards to limit various American rights (spillover effects).
Number of Pages in PDF File: 4
Keywords: human rights, social justice, United States, Ford Foundation, rights fatigue, rights talk, social movements, strategy, civil rights, First Amendment, free speech, Second Amendment, Columbia University
JEL Classification: K00, K33, K41, L31, Z00working papers series
Date posted: May 25, 2007
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