Rethinking International Human Rights: Some Basic Questions

49 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2010

See all articles by Richard Bilder

Richard Bilder

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: 1969


This article assesses the first 25 years of post-UN Charter international human rights activities, raising questions as to whether these kinds of approaches offer substantial promise of achieving human rights goals. It notes that, despite all of these efforts, the condition of human beings throughout the world seems, at best, little improved; examples of oppression, intolerance, hypocrisy, double-standards and indifference to human rights continue to proliferate; and the human rights concept seems at times even perverted to intolerant and violent ends.

Consequently, it may be useful to re-examine more realistically - and perhaps more skeptically - the validity of some of the assumptions underlying our current international human rights efforts. Among the questions the article addresses are: (1) What is “the human rights problem”? (2) Why are human rights an international problem? (3) How can international efforts help governments willing to promote human rights? (4) What can international efforts accomplish with respect to governments unwilling to promote human rights? (5) What is the role of various legal techniques in promoting human rights? and (6) What strategies have the most hope of success in attaining international human rights objectives?

The article concludes by suggesting, inter alia: (1) the need for a diversity of approaches to different types of human rights problems, tailored to particular needs, conditions, resources and possibilities; (2) an awareness that the achievement of human rights is ultimately the responsibility of each society itself and that no international program can promote or protect human rights unless the society involved is itself prepared to demand, work for, and defend them; and (3) the need for patience and steadfastness in our pursuit of human rights goals. The usefulness of current international human rights efforts may lie, not only in whatever immediate gains may be achieved, but also in the gradual universal acceptance of the human rights idea by peoples and their governments - the recognition that every human being is inherently entitled to be treated with decency, fairness and respect.

Keywords: human rights, international human rights, U.S. foreign policy, U.S. foreign relations, U.S. foreign affairs

JEL Classification: K42, K40

Suggested Citation

Bilder, Richard, Rethinking International Human Rights: Some Basic Questions (1969). Wisconsin Law Review, No. 1, pp. 551-608, 1969, Human Rights Journal (Revue de Droits de L'Homme), pp. 551-608, 1969, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper Archival Collection, Available at SSRN:

Richard Bilder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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