Amidst bleak prognostications about the future, the human rights movement offers a beacon of hope for securing a livable world. The movement’s universality, supranationalism, and expanding emancipatory potential serve as inspiration and guide for the larger project of global transformation. The sweeping vision embodied in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has experienced constant renewal and steadfast legitimacy in the tumultuous postwar world. It has been a foundation for the pursuit of supranational governance and an antidote to the notion that the ends justify the means. The human rights movement, despite its imperfections, has a key role to play in the transformational change in human values crucial to building a just, flourishing future.
Four Pillars | Universal: A Global Heritage | Supranational: The Case for Global Governance | Emancipatory: Harmonizing Means and Ends | Expansive: Climbing the Ladder of Rights | Beyond the Human Rights Movement | Endnotes
How do armed groups use violence to create social ties? What are the conditions under which such violence takes place? In this article, I describe how armed groups use one type of atrocity, wartime rape, to create social bonds between fighters through a process of combatant socialization. As a form of stigmatizing, public, and sexualized violence, gang rape is an effective method to communicate norms of masculinity, virility, brutality, and loyalty between fighters. Drawing on literature about socialization processes, I derive a set of hypotheses about individual-level factors that may influence vulnerability to violent socialization, including age, previous socialization experiences, and physical security. I analyze the support for these hypotheses using newly available survey data from former fighters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The results show the broad applicability of considering group violence as a form of social control within armed groups, suggest some of the limits of violent socialization, and have implications for both theory and policy.
Human rights are, simultaneously, legal, moral, and political claims.2 Equally important, however, is the fact that human rights are fundamentally claims about relationships.
Evidence for Hope makes the case that, yes, human rights work. Critics may counter that the movement is in serious jeopardy or even a questionable byproduct of Western imperialism. They point out that Guantánamo is still open, the Arab Spring protests have been crushed, and governments are cracking down on NGOs everywhere. But respected human rights expert Kathryn Sikkink draws on decades of research and fieldwork to provide a rigorous rebuttal to pessimistic doubts about human rights laws and institutions. She demonstrates that change comes slowly and as the result of struggle, but in the long term, human rights movements have been vastly effective.
Attacks on the human rights movement’s credibility are based on the faulty premise that human rights ideas emerged in North America and Europe and were imposed on developing southern nations. Starting in the 1940s, Latin American leaders and activists were actually early advocates for the international protection of human rights. Sikkink shows that activists and scholars disagree about the efficacy of human rights because they use different yardsticks to measure progress. Comparing the present to the past, she shows that genocide and violence against civilians have declined over time, while access to healthcare and education has increased dramatically. Cognitive and news biases contribute to pervasive cynicism, but Sikkink’s investigation into past and current trends indicates that human rights is not in its twilight. Instead, this is a period of vibrant activism that has made impressive improvements in human well-being.
Exploring the strategies that have led to real humanitarian gains since the middle of the twentieth century, Evidence for Hope looks at how these essential advances can be supported and sustained for decades to come.
First published in 2017.
Kathryn Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her books include The Justice Cascade (Norton) and Activists beyond Borders. She lives in Cambridge, MA.