Are Human Rights Still Relevant in International Politics?

Since the establishment of the United Nations

The human rights discourse has appeared to be an insular universe. It is regarded as a system with its own standards, methods, and institutions. It is also perceived as a domain of experts that has yet to resonate with ordinary people's daily activities. The emphasis has primarily been on the influence of human rights laws on international relations and the formulation of foreign policies. This could not be a problem if the primary focus was on human rights as a goal to be achieved. Nonetheless, what permeates international politics is that human rights are used as a tool to enhance the credibility of the state while also undermining the integrity of other nations.

Human Rights in International Politics

This the issues of human rights are divided into two spheres that include offensive and defensive human rights. Offensive human rights suggest an emphasis on violations committed by other states. A good example of such cases has been the common practice in the relations between the US and Cuba, which has been characterized by motions to censure the rival state with regard to human rights atrocities (Steiner, Alston & Goodman 2008, p. 116-118). Defensive human rights makes reference to the practice of entering into agreements, treaties, or ratifications that seek to domesticate human rights laws in the constitution of a state not as a means of enforcing these regulations, but for use as a point of reference when the state is questioned about the nation's record in terms of human rights. This difficult to administer because state obligations can only be enforced at the international level after the UN issues a resolution of non-compliance, which is punished through sanctions. However, this rarely happens due to weak international governance systems.

Human rights have become deeply entrenched in both study and practice of international politics

Various theories of international relations have made an attempt to explain the function of human rights in diverse ways, which have persuasive arguments that denote a juxtapositioning of the sovereignty of the state as well as the notion of the universal moral order (Fortman, 2011, p. 6-8). Although the cold war restricted the immediate emphasis on human right issues in the United Nations, the developments in the UN activism, activists, and the growth of non-government organizations have forced the incorporation of these laws into the diplomatic procedures and process of most states (Forsythe 2012, p. 46-49). This process has revealed the presence of contentious human rights issues in relation to the cold war period.

The culmination of the cold war hostilities ushered in the development of liberalism and human rights activism

However, the commencement of the war on terror has demonstrated that some nations are cascading the implementation of human rights to the norms that existed during the cold war period. This is due to the actions of some states to reject or reinterpret various principles that were previously espoused by a majority of nations. These issues have raised concern about the state of human rights and how they can be implemented by nations in foreign policy (Porsdam 2012, p. 56-59). Even though some of the principles of human rights are being reverted, different states are constantly confronted with diverse challenges associated with human rights. However, some states manifest varying degrees of protection domestically and promotion abroad of human rights issues.


Even though most of the attention is correctly focused on the transformations of international norms such as issues about torture and denial of civil liberties, the world has also witnessed a significant evolution in the practices and concepts geared at protecting human rights at the global level. This is evident in frameworks such as the obligation to protect and its resultant focus on interventions geared at protecting human rights. It is also manifested in the acknowledgment that the prevention of atrocities against human rights is vitally important.


Forsythe, D. P. (2012). Human rights in international relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fortman, B. G. (2011). Human rights in the context of international relations. Retrieved from

Porsdam, H. (2012). Civil Religion, Human Rights and International Relations: Connecting People Across Cultures and Traditions. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Pub.

Steiner, H. J., Alston, P., & Goodman, R. (2008). International human rights in context: law, politics, morals: text and materials. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

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