International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process, Problems and Materials

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Editorial Reviews

Steven C. Poe
This is an international human rights law text of formidable length, designed mainly for use in law school courses. Yet according to the editors (p. xxxi) it has also been adopted for undergraduate and graduate political science and international relations classes. Before launching this review I should say that I am not a law school professor, but an empirically oriented international relations instructor who teaches human rights to both graduate and undergraduate students. My assessment of the book will undoubtedly be affected somewhat by that position and perspective. However, if, as I suspect, good law school texts share many of the attributes I look for in the books I use, then my review should speak to those teaching in law schools as well. The book is a useful collection of a wide range of materials pertaining to human rights, including (but not limited to) selections from international treaties, rulings by international and U.S. domestic courts, lawyers’ briefs, the reports of international human rights commissions and non-governmental organizations, U.S. law, and, last but not least, numerous condensed research articles by human rights scholars. These disparate materials are introduced and integrated throughout the book via passages written by the editors. Though any effort to summarize a massive volume with such diverse materials is bound to be inadequate, I will attempt to provide the reader with an outline of the organization scheme and a list of the issues that are given the greatest amount of attention. The book's are presented in fifteen chapters, conveniently corresponding to the number of weeks in the standard college semester. The chapters are organized in five parts. Appearing first are a preface and introduction written by the editors that efficiently summarizes the history of human rights. This introduction covers the evolution of the concept of human rights back to antiquity and highlights the important events thereafter. But its main focus is on the period after World War II, when the pace of the evolution of human rights law quickened. This chapter is useful because it economically, yet coherently, touches on the highpoints that are discussed in much greater depth in the remainder of the book. Like other passages written by the editors for this volume, it is not difficult reading and would be suitable for upper level undergraduate classes at most colleges and universities. The second part of the book, chapters two through four, deals with human rights treaties. Among the foci of chapters two and three are the U.S. ratification of treaties, states' (and again primarily the United States') practice of stating reservations to treaties, and reporting requirements under international treaties such as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State reporting is also the major focus of Chapter 4, somewhat misleadingly titled "State Reporting Under International Human Rights Treaties (Iran); Cultural Relativism." Much of the chapter deals with efforts to apply laws from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the Civil and Political Covenant in the case of Iran. Also included, however, are discussions of the U.N response to human rights abuses in Sudan and decisions of European institutions regarding the situation in Northern Ireland. The third part of the book deals with "gross" violations of human rights as defined by international laws. Among the major topics addressed by chapters in this part are U.N. procedures for dealing with serious human rights violations under Economic and Social Council Resolutions, and international fact-finding efforts. Also treated is the difficult issue of how to deal with human rights violations in the aftermath of repressive regimes. Chapter 9 treats U.S. efforts to influence the rights practices of countries around the world. This third part provides a useful summary of efforts to realize human rights. Some lacunae in the research on human rights become evident in these chapters. For example, very little is said about how effective these various efforts actually are. The fourth part of the book, Chapters ten through fourteen, deals with adjudicative remedies to human rights abuses. These chapters cover matters that of most interest to students preparing to practice law, and are probably too technical and specific for an undergraduate political science audience as well as for most graduate classes, unless their major emphasis is on international law. The editors give attention to the petition process under the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They devote a chapter to the European human rights system, with a focus on procedural issues. They also cover the use of the U.S. courts to try abuses perpetrated both at home and abroad. In the final chapter in this part (#14), the editors cover refugee and asylum law, jurisprudence, and cultural relativism. An organizational choice that puzzles me in this otherwise well-organized book is the inclusion at this relatively late point in the volume of pieces on cultural relativism and the theoretical foundations of human rights. These materials would seem to be necessary touch points to place much of the preceding material into context. A passage in chapter four does instruct students to read ahead and cover this twenty page section, but the skeptic in me can’t help but wonder if they will, unless specifically instructed to do so by their instructors. The final part of the book consists of a single chapter examining the "causes" of human rights violations, and how information gained on these causes might be used. Empirical studies of human rights (including one by the reviewer and a co-author) are excerpted and the findings discussed. Among the questions asked is, how can these findings "be put to practical use? (p. 702), a question asked too infrequently by those who conduct this sort of empirical research. As a social scientist interested in the systematic study of human right issues I was both surprised and pleased to see a chapter devoted to this vein of research in an international law text. A strength of this volume is the inclusion of devices designed to involve students in an active learning process. One such assignment calls for people to play representatives of the United States, or of the Civil and Political Covenant's human rights committee to discuss the United States' report to that body (p. 90). A similar assignment deals with the case of Iran (pp. 129-130). Finally, many of the practice-oriented questions provided in early chapters seem to be perfect guides for small group discussion exercises (e.g., you are a campaign adviser for a presidential candidate, what is your position on human rights? [paraphrased] pp. 374-5). The only substantive weakness of the volume, from my perspective as a political scientist, is that it gives insufficient attention to placing the international human rights movement in a theoretical context. Political realism has dominated human thinking about international relations thought since Thucydides, and it continues to be persuasive to many in the late twentieth century. How, if at all, does the modern movement for human rights relate to realism, as well as neo-realism, liberalism, and other international political theories? Clearly this book and the entire field of human rights law are based on the assumption that there are meaningful international laws on human rights and that (though the editors admit empirical proof is sketchy) these laws can lead to real improvements in human rights conditions. Some early attention to the alternative theories underlying this point of view would be helpful in exposing the theoretical assumptions on which this field is based. The discussion of empirical research in this law text clearly shows that scholars like Newman and Weissbrodt can profit from their reading of empirical research. For their part, Newman and Weissbrodt and other human rights law scholars whose work is published in this volume raise many theoretically important and practically relevant questions that empirical researchers should consider more carefully. Do the signing and ratification of treaties, international sanctions, U.N. reports and rapporteurs, and the other actions and institutions provided for by international law actually lead to better human rights practices? Under what conditions? These questions pose many difficult challenges to empirical researchers. Yet, should they be answered conclusively, the pay-off for social scientists, international lawyers and government practitioners, is potentially great. Would I be apt to use this text in my own classes? I will definitely consider adopting it, but am not sure what my decision will be. Clearly many parts of this text would be appropriate for both my graduate and undergraduate classes. However, one difficulty is that it covers more subtleties of the law than I would attempt to communicate to either of these audiences. In order to make this adoption decision I would have to ask whether the number of pages assigned would justify the amount students would have to pay for the book. I would think, however, that this impressive volume would be a very good text for a course in human rights law, which, of course, is its intended purpose. Law school professors who teach such classes will want to give this volume a close look. Many of the human rights instruments referred to in the reading are included in a companion paperback SELECTED INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS AND BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR RESEARCH ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW. Included are many of the U.N. conventions and other U.N. human rights instruments, as well as European, African and American documents, as well as relevant U.S. documents. Also included is a Bibliography of sources for those wishing to conduct research on international human rights law, including a listing of Internet sites and other electronic resources.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870843686
  • Publisher: Anderson Publishing Company OH
  • Publication date: 1/1/1990
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 812

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