Summary of Universal Human Rights

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These are boom times for authoritarianism. More than half the global population lives under non-democratic rule, suffering poverty, famine, a silenced press, persecution, surveillance, censorship, and a host of other horrors. Human rights stand as a bastion against strong-arm tactics of all kinds – but they rely on people to understand and claim them. Jack Donnelly’s comprehensive text has become a classic in the field since its first publication in 1989. Donnelly, a professor of international studies at the University of Denver, details the history, theory and practice of human rights, spotlighting the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This lucid, wide-ranging and activist account tackles the knottiest questions – cultural relativism, humanitarian intervention, group rights – head on. Donnelly isn’t afraid to share unconventional opinions about the West’s stance toward economic and social rights, and less invested readers might find some sections dry. Nonetheless, getAbstract highly recommends this thorough, intelligent book, which provides abundant food for thought, as a solid base for engagement on a crucial subject. The third edition includes extensive updates and new material.

About the Author

Jack Donnelly is Andrew Mellon Professor and John Evans Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. His other books include International Human Rights and Realism and International Relations.



Definition of Human Rights

A right specifies something to which a person is entitled. Rights confer power: Right-holders may act to secure the things to which they are entitled. Human rights are rights people have simply by virtue of being human. All humans possess equal human rights because they are equally human. The fact that people can never lose their status as humans implies the inalienability of human rights. And the fact that all people are human implies the universality of these rights. Typically, rights operate silently and become the subject of discussion only when some question arises. Since human rights queries are often settled in the legal arena, the law then becomes the sphere for action and debate.

Qualities of Human Rights

In addition to being held by all humans, human rights possess universality in the sense that nearly all governments and societies today respect and agree on human rights principles. This level of agreement exists because, around the world, dignity needs protection from political and economic threats. The specific human rights published in lists such as the International Covenant on Civil and...

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