The idea of human rights has come a long way. Even hard-nosed international-relations realists should recognize that the idea has become so widely accepted that nowadays it arguably has an impact. Many countries have made human rights goals part of their foreign policy. International civil society is populated by well-funded and outspoken human rights organizations. We have recently witnessed the creation of an entirely new institution, the International Criminal Court, as well as the acceptance, at the UN level, of guiding principles to formulate human rights obligations of businesses. Around the world, more and more local concerns are formulated in the language of human rights, a phenomenon known as the vernacularization, or localization, of human rights. Ordinary people increasingly express concerns in terms of human rights rather than a language that earlier might have come more natural to them. They are not just helping themselves to a legal and political machinery. They also make clear that they are articulating concerns others have in similar ways where they live.
But can this crisis be resolved and if so, how? In this compelling essay, renowned human rights lawyer and scholar Jacqueline Bhabha explains why forced migration demands compassion, generosity and a more vigorous acknowledgement of our shared dependence on human mobility as a key element of global collaboration. Unless we develop humane 'win-win' strategies for tackling the inequalities and conflicts driving migration and for addressing the fears fuelling xenophobia, she argues, both innocent lives and cardinal human rights principles will be squandered in the service of futile nationalism and oppressive border control.
Human rights are, simultaneously, legal, moral, and political claims.2 Equally important, however, is the fact that human rights are fundamentally claims about relationships.