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A History

by Aryeh Neier

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-691-13515-1
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

From a noted activist, an authoritative history of the global human rights movement from the late 18th century to the present day, with emphasis on its development since the 1970s.

Neier (Taking Liberties: Four Decades in the Struggle for Rights, 2003, etc.), president of the Open Society Foundations and a founder and former executive director of Human Rights Watch, has the credentials to tell the story of the movement's philosophical roots, its nature and strength and its goals, challenges, successes and failures. Of particular interest is his account of the policies and actions of the United States during the Cold War era and his analysis of the impact of terrorism on human rights in the past decade. In his view, the movement, which comprises thousands of organizations in many nations, has been and will continue to be a force in world affairs. The two largest and most influential organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, each receive individual chapters; others receive shorter profiles. Neier traces the development of international law, and he also question: What are rights, under what circumstances may they be temporarily abridged and what abridgements are permissible? He discusses the latter two in the context of the post-9/11 response to terrorism. Among the post-9/11 challenges has been terrorists' immunity to embarrassment, one of the movement's chief weapons, and the high priority placed by the United States on national security. This has led not only to such abuses of rights as prolonged detention without charges, coercive interrogation and torture, but also to justification by other nations of similar practices. In the final chapter, "Going Forward," Neier is cautiously optimistic about the ability of the international human rights movement to develop a comprehensive approach to terrorism and to meet such future challenges as China's support of repressive regimes, the problems posed by increasing migration of ethnic minorities to Western Europe and the protection of civilian populations in areas of armed conflict.

A fact-filled, well-documented, pull-no-punches account by an insider.