On the failure of human rights movement

Posted: April 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: human rights | No Comments »

Yale professor and historian Samuel Moyn writes in the New York Times about what he sees as the failures of the human rights movement. In many ways his criticism is valid, but also somewhat misguided. As someone who has worked in the human rights field in a national level for a number of years, here is my view.

It is true that social and economic rights have not received nearly enough attention and that the human rights movement has in many ways been a failure because of its inability to address those issues. The interdependence of human rights means that weak protection of social and economic rights also weakens human rights as a whole. We also see this in our work at the Estonian Human Rights Centre: while we focus on the most vulnerable, such as gays and lesbians or asylum seekers, many people rightly ask why we do nothing for the reduction of poverty or combat economic inequalities. In our human rights report, there is very little on economic and social rights.

However, I am not sure that a focus on tackling inequality alone is going to save the human rights movement. Already accused of being left-leaning, this would mean that human rights groups would take a very strong political position that is commonly associated with the political left. It should not be the role of human rights groups to play such a partisan role. 
Also, when considering that those belonging to a minority and identifying as women are in greater risk of economic and social problems, I think that by fighting for them we also fight for a more just world in economic terms.
In addition, social and economic rights are simply not as well protected in international law, which makes it extra difficult to define the standards. The European Social Charter is not nearly as powerful as a tool as the ECHR. There are not as many monitoring mechanisms or reporting requirements that involve economic and social rights, which means that states get away with things with impunity.
The solutions are multi-sided. Of course more emphasis needs to be placed on economic and social rights, and explaining how these are human rights issues. One opportunity to do so is availed with the Sustainable Development Goals, which can be easily linked with human rights issues, especially economic and social rights ones.

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