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International Human Rights Law 101: A Way Forward


The international arena is defined by norms that govern the manner in which both state and non-state actors perform. The seeming everyday ubiquity of such norms, though, can make them quite difficult to define. One of these concepts is international human rights, often touted yet rarely fully defined, which governs how politicians form policies, craft rhetoric, and engage in diplomacy with other states. This International Human Rights Law 101 series helps to provide the reader several useful historical and contemporary definitions to better understand the concept, along with several tools of analysis to examine modern case studies. Therefore, this 101 series is comprised of seven different articles which help to contextualize international human rights and the laws it governs, in both a historical and contemporary context.

The International Human Rights Law 101 series is therefore divided into six parts:

1. International Human Rights Law 101: What is International Human Rights Law?

2. International Human Rights Law 101: What is International Humanitarian Law?

3. International Human Rights Law 101: The United Nations

4. International Human Rights Law 101: The International Court of Justice

5. International Human Rights Law 101: Human Rights & The Bosnian War

6. International Human Rights Law 101: A Way Forward

International Human Rights Law 101: A Way Forward and Conclusions

With the eve of the 21st century and the growing adoption of globalization, the international arena appears wildly different in scope and composition than it did during the Hague Conventions of the late 19th and early 20th century. Additionally, many wars considered unprecedented for its era have become part of history as other more deadly and prolonged forms of combat have gained popularity, such as the rise of intrastate and technological warfare. Simply put, both international relations and international human rights law have evolved dramatically since the events of a century ago. The final article in this 101 series, therefore, takes a special look at contemporary arguments about the relevance of international human rights law in the 21st century and the potential avenues its evolution may indeed take in future geopolitical events. The first section briefly describes the newest human rights action plan adopted by the United Nations in an effort to hasten response time and ensure accountability within the organization.

Figure 1: Current trends in globalization have led some to become worried about the state of the future for international human rights.

Rights Up Front Action Plan Adopted by the Secretary-General in 2013, the Rights Up Front Action Plan was created as a result of an internal United Nations investigation into the inaction present during the Sri Lankan conflict (Gilmour, 2014, p. 242). It “proposes a singular mechanism for collecting and analyzing information on serious violations and a regular, timely process for translating this information into action”, effectively streamlining the UN procedures for analyzing human rights abuses (Gilmour, 2014, p. 241). More specifically, the plan aims to create a “scanning mechanism” of sorts which allows to ensure accountability and permits a forum for UN leadership to discuss newest developments. A key development is certainly the shift in mentality towards “the centrality of human rights in all aspects of UN work”, introducing new internal mechanisms to follow in states where violations appear on the horizon (Gilmour, 2014, p. 243). These mechanisms are strongly exemplified in the UN’s response to the deteriorating situation in both the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan in 2013. Here, the Secretary-General’s stronger calls for action in the CAR along with a hastened development of an inquiry commission and measures against targeted individuals allowed the UN’s crisis response team to act more swiftly than it had in other situations (Gilmour, 2014, p. 243). In South Sudan, the UN Mission acted decisively in opening the gates of a UN base to fleeing civilians. It is estimated that over 75,000 people ended up successfully fleeing to UN camps within the state, where they were subsequently offered assistance from UN peacekeepers on the ground (Gilmour, 2014, p. 243).

Figure 2: UN Peacekeepers in the CAR, 2016.

Despite these relative gains within the past decade, cautious optimism seems to permeate the international human rights community as to the benefits of the Rights Up Front Action Plan. Challenges continue to remain, as the following section of this 101 article aims to list the current pitfalls faced by the international community in their efforts to strengthen human rights globally. The Future of Human Rights Law As global political and economic power appears to be shifting in the 21st century, trends such as growing urbanization, poverty, and population growth appear at the forefront of many discussions regarding international human rights law. In fact, the preoccupation of such trends has led to an increasing focus in international relations literature as to the relevance of international human rights (National Intelligence Council, 2012). This article therefore examines the predictive role of various trends such as increasing migration and technological advancement on the future of human rights. Technological advancements in “information and communications technology (ICT); automation and advanced manufacturing technology (that may dramatically alter existing global supply chains); resource technologies (for example, breakthroughs in securing food, water and energy supplies through new technologies or advancements in agriculture); and life sciences and health technology” are likely to occur, with the possibility of global and profound consequences on how both individual people and states utilize ICT to their advantage (National Intelligence Council, 2012, p. 83). Along with continued rise in education and literacy rates, a more cultured world “suggests more people will be aware of their rights”, with a louder voice to defend them (Petrasek, 2017; European Strategy and Policy Analysis System, 2012, p. 74). Such greater individual empowerment helps in turn to fuel increased economic development, spurred on by a more educated world (National Intelligence Council, 2012, p. 10).

Figure 3: As interstate migration continues to increase, many anticipate ripple effects in the realm of international human rights.

Growing urbanization is partly fueled by migration from the state’s countryside; however, interstate migration is projected to continue to increase throughout the 21st century. As a result of growing political instability within states, the devastating effects climate change may have on local food and water supplies, and wealth disparities among countries, it is estimated that there will be a significant increase in interstate migration (International Council on Human Rights Policy, 2007, p. 46). Noting the fact that many irregular and temporary migrants are often excluded from rights guaranteed by the state’s constitution, it is estimated that there is likely to be a stark increase in human rights abuses targeted at these groups, such as employment discrimination, denial of both political and private rights, and arbitrary detentions (Petrasek, 2017). This brief analysis of possible key trends illuminates important issues for international human rights organizations to consider when preparing for the future. Regular discussions of international human rights, therefore, has proceeded to slowly adopt these conversations of key trends into future analysis. Many niches of international relations have adopted the net negative effects of climate change into their discussion, analyzing how scarce resource trends and rising temperatures exacerbate intrastate conflicts and interstate migratory patterns. As such, the relevance of international human rights law in the global system still remains pertinent, though its scholars often take into account contemporary developments in global trends to inform their discussions.

Bibliographical References

Dobbs, R. et. al. (2012). Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class. McKinsey Global Institute. European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS); Institute for Security Studies. (2012). Global Trends 2030: Citizens in an interconnected and polycentric world. Institute for Security Studies, European Union. Retrieved from:

Gilmour, A. (2014). The Future of Human Rights: A View from the United Nations. Ethics & International Affairs, 28(2), 239–250 Retrieved from: International Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP). 2007. Catching the Wind - Human Rights. (Tenth Anniversary Report). Versoix, Switzerland. National Intelligence Council (US) (Ed.). (2012). Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds: a Publication of the National Intelligence Council. US Government Printing Office. Retrieved from: National Research Council. (2013). Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Petrasek, D. (2017, November 18). Global trends and the future of Human Rights Advocacy. Sur. Retrieved from

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