Globalization and Human Rights

Edited by Alison Brysk on The University of California Press – Introduction, Transnational Threats and Opportunities:

Globalization—the growing interpenetration of states, markets, communications, and ideas across borders—is one of the leading characteristics of the contemporary world. International norms and institutions for the protection of human rights are more developed than at any previous point in history, while global civil society fosters growing avenues of appeal for citizens repressed by their own states. But assaults on fundamental human dignity continue, and the very blurring of borders and rise of transnational actors that facilitated the development of a global human rights regime may also be generating new sources of human rights abuse. Even as they are more broadly articulated and accepted, the rights of individuals have come to depend ever more on a broad array of global actors and forces, from ministries to multinationals to missionaries.

What are the patterns of the human rights impact of globalization? Are new problems replacing, intensifying, or mitigating state-sponsored repression? Are some dynamics of globalization generating both problems and opportunities? How can new opportunities be used to offset new problems? And how has the idea and practice of human rights influenced the process of globalization?

How does globalization—which liberals claim will promote development, democracy, personal empowerment, and global governance—instead present new challenges for human rights? Globalization is a package of transnational flows of people, production, investment, information, ideas, and authority (not new, but stronger and faster).1 Human rights are a set of claims and entitlements to human dignity, which the existing international regime assumes will be provided (or threatened) by the state. A more cosmopolitan and open international system should free individuals to pursue their rights, but large numbers of people seem to be suffering from both long-standing state repression and new denials of rights linked to transnational forces. The essays in this volume show that the challenge of globalization is that unaccountable flows of migration and open markets present new threats, which are not amenable to state-based human rights regimes, while the new opportunities of global information and institutions are insufficiently accessible and distorted by persistent state intervention.

The emergence of an “international regime” for human rights (Donnelly 1986), growing transnational social movement networks, increasing consciousness (Willetts 1996), and information politics have the potential to address both traditional and emerging forms of human rights violations. The United Nations has supervised human rights reform in El Salvador, Cambodia, and Haiti, while creating a new high commissioner for human rights. The first international tribunals since Nuremberg are prosecuting genocide in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Transnational legal accountability (Stephens and Ratner 1996) and humanitarian intervention promote universal norms and link them to the enforcement power of states. Thousands of nongovernmental organizations monitor and lobby for human rights from Tibet to East Timor (Boli and Thomas 1999). Alongside principled proponents such as Amnesty International, globalization has generated new forms of advocacy such as transnational professional networks (Doctors without Borders), global groups for conflict monitoring, and coalitions across transnational issues (Sierra Club-Amnesty International). New forms of communication allow victims to videotape their plight, advocates to flood governments with faxes, Web sites to mobilize urgent action alerts. But the effectiveness of global consciousness and pressure on the states, paramilitaries, and insurgents responsible for long-standing human rights violations varies tremendously. And access to the new global mechanisms is distributed unevenly, so that some of the neediest victims—such as the illiterate rural poor and refugee women—are the least likely to receive either global or domestic redress. (Read the whole long rest on The University of California Press).

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