The Future of Human Rights in a Global Order of Change and Continuity

8 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2012

See all articles by Par Engstrom

Par Engstrom

Institute of the Americas, University College London; Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po

Date Written: March 1, 2012


The remarkable rise of human rights is deeply connected with the expansion of the global liberal order sustained and promoted by Western States since the end of the Second World War. From dominant understandings of human rights as individual protections against a potentially threatening State to the relative exclusion of socio-economic and collective rights, Western liberal thought has fundamentally shaped both the theory and practice of human rights. Yet, in recent years much attention has been given to ‘emerging powers’ such as Brazil, China, India, and South Africa and the effects their growing influence may have on the present and future management of issues of global concern. If political, economic and social power is important in understanding the development of the international human rights regime, what are the implications as power shifts in the international system? This multi-faceted question is becoming increasingly crucial to address given incipient debates that focus on the meaning and wider implications of the rise of non-Western States.

The assertion by rising powers of alternative domestic and regional conceptions of human rights and their pursuit of different understandings of moral and political legitimacy could increasingly bring into question the extant human rights regime. The future of human rights in a changing global order is of a wider significance that goes far beyond the travails of Western policymakers struggling with the notion that their era of dominance in world affairs may be coming to an end. For human rights advocates around the world, as well as for rights-bearing people worldwide, understanding the present and future evolution of human rights constitutes one of the key challenges of the twenty-first century.

As a set of concluding comments to an edited volume on human rights in a non-Western world, this chapter focuses on two cross-cutting themes that have been given relatively scant attention in ongoing debates concerning the potential future trajectory of the global human rights regime: (i) the return of harder conceptions of State sovereignty and its implications for human rights enforcement; and (ii) the practice of human rights in an enduring international system of States.

Keywords: human rights, rising powers, non-Western world, intervention, R2P, global human rights regime

Suggested Citation

Engstrom, Par, The Future of Human Rights in a Global Order of Change and Continuity (March 1, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Par Engstrom (Contact Author)

Institute of the Americas, University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po

27 rue Saint-Guillaume
Paris Cedex 07, 75337

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