Ronald C. Slye


One of the most important issues facing the international human rights movement is the claim that human rights values are universal and not culturally specific, and thus can be used to understand, evaluate, and influence global actors. This claim has obvious political and philosophical dimensions. That the concept of international human rights is being taken seriously by both governmental and nongovernmental actors is a sign of the importance of human rights today. The number of countries ratifying the basic international human rights treaties has reached an all-time high. Nevertheless, current events are drawing into question the universality and efficacy of the human rights regime. These events include women's rights violations and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, genocide in Rwanda, violation of the humanitarian laws of war in Chechnya, and the increased use of the death penalty in the United States. It is a tribute to the resiliency and appeal of the human rights idea that efforts to address these situations have begun to attract some of the most thoughtful advocates and philosophers of the twentieth century. On Human Rights is a collection of essays that addresses both the philosophical and political dimensions of the human rights debate, and provides useful guidelines for further advances in international human rights theory and practice. The seven essays in the collection range from philosophical inquiries concerning the source of international human rights norms to powerful critiques of our current understanding of the content of these norms and suggestions about how to create, support, and sustain an international human rights culture. The essays were presented over the course of a year at Oxford University, England, as part of an annual series of lectures sponsored by Amnesty International. It appears that the only thematic demand made of contributors was that they address a subject related to human rights.