The International Struggle for New Human Rights
Clifford Bob, Editor
2008 | 208 pages | Cloth $55.00 | Paper $22.50
Law | Public Policy
View main book page
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: Fighting for New Rights
2. Orphaned Again? Children Born of Wartime Rape as a Nonissue for the Human Rights Movement
—R. Charli Carpenter
3. "Dalit Rights Are Human Rights": Untouchables, NGOs, and the Indian State
4. Applying the Gatekeeper Model of Human Rights Activism: The U.S.-Based Movement for LGBT Rights
5. From Resistance to Receptivity: Transforming the HIV/AIDS Crisis into a Human Rights Issue
6. Disability Rights and the Human Rights Mainstream: Reluctant Gate-Crashers?
—Janet E. Lord
7. New Rights for Private Wrongs: Female Genital Mutilation and Global Framing Dialogues
—Madeline Baer and Alison Brysk
8. Economic Rights and Extreme Poverty: Moving Toward Subsistence
9. Local Claims, International Standards, and the Human Right to Water
—Paul J. Nelson
List of Contributors
Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]
Introduction: Fighting for New Rights
Why does the international human rights movement recognize certain issues, but not others, as rights violations? How do some aggrieved groups transform their troubles into internationally acknowledged human rights concerns, whereas other groups fail when they attempt to do so? Asking these questions has practical implications for victims of abuse, raises thorny policy questions for the rights movement, and opens new avenues of theoretical inquiry for scholars. In today's world, "human rights" are a pervasive political ideal and a compelling call to action. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitor violations around the globe. International organizations hold countless meetings on rights issues. Democratic governments proclaim human rights to be at the center of their foreign policies. And the media frequently highlight rights abuses.
For beleaguered citizens in neglectful or despotic states, these developments represent opportunities for overseas support. If aggrieved groups can portray their causes as human rights issues, they may be able to tap organizations, personnel, funding, and other strategic resources now available at the international level. If a transnational network then grows, it may succeed in pressuring national governments to change policies and ease repression. Of course, foreign assistance does not guarantee resolution of difficult national problems. Indeed, internationalizing a domestic conflict may backfire, hurting a group's chances of achieving its goals at home. Nonetheless, in recent years, many who claim they are repressed, abused, neglected, or excluded have described their situations as human rights issues. Some have succeeded in rousing the rights movement while others have failed. In other cases, where those affected may not have the capacity to depict their plight as a violation of international norms, outside champions have taken up the cause. Children are one example, with their rights developed primarily by adults. Yet here too the success with which champions have transformed underlying problems into major rights issues varies. Can aggrieved groups take steps to improve their chances?
For the rights movement, it is important to explain why significant problems have had difficulty gaining its attention. South Asia's Dalits (Untouchables), whose plight was long slighted by the rights movement, comprise 160 million Indians and another 100 million people worldwide. Physically and mentally disabled people, another huge population suffering abuse and neglect in many countries, have only recently attracted serious responses from transnational NGOs and international organizations. Even among rights that have won formal endorsement in international conventions, activism varies greatly—despite the movement's affirmation of all rights as "universal, indivisible[,] . . . interdependent, and interrelated." What explains this variation? Does selection follow a rational pattern?
These issues go beyond existing theory in comparative politics and international relations. Most research has analyzed how activists use well-established human rights norms to change state policy. Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink, for instance, provide case studies in which populations suffering torture, extrajudicial executions, and other gross abuses tap transnational networks. In these instances, the persecuted face difficult but well-defined tasks: alerting the world to violations of recognized norms; and convincing NGOs, international organizations, and states to act. Successful cases have common features. The perpetrators (and targets of activism) are brutal governments. The violations are civil and political, often involving widespread killings or legally sanctioned discrimination. And the evidence linking abuser to victim is relatively clear.
In contrast to existing scholarship, this volume highlights more fundamental and logically prior issues. How do groups enduring problems alien to the rights movement establish new norms or energize existing but moribund ones? Why do some activists succeed and others fail? What explains the timing of success?
Definitions and Caveat
This book proposes a framework explaining the human rights movement's adoption of new rights. By "movement," we refer to the NGOs, international organizations, state bureaucracies, foundations, journalists, individuals, and others who work, sometimes together in networks, sometimes in competition with one another, to promote ideals and values denominated in international law as "human rights." Given this definition, the movement extends back centuries. We focus, however, on the post-World War II era when governments, often under pressure from citizens, ratified many international human rights declarations, conventions, and laws. Some of these entailed the foundation of international organizations or bureaucracies devoted to rights issues. More important, in the 1960s, activists organized NGOs to act as watchdogs over state implementation and violation of human rights standards.
The issues of interest in this volume are ones long omitted from international human rights law or codified but allotted few resources by the rights movement. For much of its history, the movement devoted its efforts primarily to some of the civil and political rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Even the economic, social, and cultural issues explicitly delineated in the UDHR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) spawned little activism. Indeed, leaders of the movement often denigrated such rights as less fundamental than civil and political rights. Issues not explicitly noted in these and other instruments drew even less attention. From early on, therefore, certain aggrieved groups accused the movement of disregarding their concerns. As the movement's power and importance have grown since the 1970s, these groups have more loudly demanded inclusion of their issues. Meanwhile, other groups have organized for the first time to demand rights specifically tailored to their needs.
Adoption of a new right occurs when leading members of the movement accept a grievance they had previously ignored, devoting significant resources to it and in some cases promulgating international legal codes to cover it. Adoption does not happen easily. Rather the aggrieved must persuade the rights movement of the claim's import and its validity as a distinct right. In many cases, even seemingly sympathetic NGOs are resistant. However, if key gatekeeper NGOs can be convinced to embrace and promote a claim, this makes wide recognition of the new right more likely. While states may also adopt new claims early, most act later, in the context of campaigns involving the wider rights movement. Given these definitions, adoption clearly has degrees, with the rights movement bolstering certain issues more fully than others.
Skeptics might argue, however, that international conventions and declarations omit few if any rights. True, the UDHR, ICCPR, ICESCR, and other declarations and conventions include lofty and expansive language. But many rights detailed in these instruments have attracted little notice—or express disavowal—from NGOs, international organizations, and states. Of course, a right's codification nonetheless helps those seeking its practical revival: barring an argument that the right has fallen into legal desuetude, claimants may cite and potentially resuscitate it. Even in these cases, however, the mainstream rights movement does not expand its agenda readily. In addition, numerous wrongs go unspecified in international law, and many groups consider the broad term "human rights" insufficient for their needs. This is particularly the case for newly formed or politicized groups anxious to stamp international approval on their identities. In these cases, activists face the daunting task of constructing a new right without explicit statutory foundation.
We argue that the rise of new rights involves four distinct if overlapping activities. First, politicized groups frame long-felt grievances as normative claims. Second, they place these rights on the international agenda by convincing gatekeepers in major rights organizations to accept them. This is crucial because a handful of NGOs and international organizations hold much sway in certifying new rights. Third, states and international bodies, often under pressure from gatekeepers and aggrieved groups, accept the new norms. Finally, national institutions implement the norms.
This book focuses on the first three parts of this struggle. While national implementation is crucial to vindicating a new right, this is primarily a question of domestic politics, albeit influenced by international developments. However, this book, like most of the human rights literature, focuses on the international level. The primary rationale for this limitation is our interest in explaining both the development of new international rights and the strategic interactions between aggrieved groups and the human rights movement.
In this book, we seek to demonstrate the argument's plausibility with a series of case studies. This introduction elaborates the theoretical and conceptual backbone. The empirical chapters probe it in three contexts covering much of the ferment in current rights practice. The first three chapters discuss stigmatized minorities, including children of wartime rape, Dalits, and sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered [LGBT] people). The next three chapters turn to disability and health rights, describing claims made by mentally and physically disabled people, as well as those surrounding HIV/AIDs and female genital mutilation (FGM). The book concludes with two chapters analyzing economic and social rights. Although the movement long neglected these rights, since the late 1990s major NGOs have launched unprecedented activities concerning them. Here we discuss both the broad rights enshrined in the ICESCR and water rights, which have won significant recognition in recent years. In each of these three areas, the authors compare the degree to which key members of the rights movement have responded to novel claims in different periods. Such comparisons generate insights into the factors encouraging politicized groups to level rights claims, inducing gatekeepers to promote them, and persuading states to implement new norms.
Admittedly, this volume's categorization of claims is rough; some could probably be placed in different or multiple slots. Other classification systems are also possible. For instance, one might sort the cases according to the strength with which individuals identify themselves as members of the aggrieved group. This is difficult to measure, however, and is subject to change—not least based on the mobilizations for national and international rights described in this volume. One might also sort the cases by the extent to which the rights movement has adopted the claims. As a specific focus of activism, children of wartime rape remain off the agenda, with international organizations and NGOs having decided to avoid the issue. Until recently, the rights movement similarly ignored or rejected the other claims examined here. This was the case for claims without an explicit statutory basis, such as Dalit rights, LGBT rights, and water rights. It was also the case for economic and social rights, which key members of the rights movement long renounced despite the ICESCR, supposedly coequal to the ICCPR. However, most of the issues examined in this book have today won support from NGOs and international organizations, albeit to varying degrees. For disabled people, the process has gone furthest, with many governments quickly signing the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—although implementation of the convention's precepts remains uncertain.
Four sets of actors play the largest roles in these processes: claimants who seek new rights; major rights NGOs and international organizations, which act as gatekeepers; states, which may ratify such claims as international law and implement them as domestic law; and opponents who combat new rights.
Claimants. Most accounts have treated the first two sets of actors as components of cohesive transnational advocacy networks. But to clarify the quest for rights, this book stresses differences between claimants and gatekeepers. By "claimants," we mean groups holding grievances within their home states. This includes those demanding both individual rights and group rights, such as Dalits seeking "compensatory discrimination" for centuries of subjugation.
While many claimants act autonomously, some also attract champions, individuals or organizations not part of the aggrieved group who expend extraordinary effort to advance its cause at the early stages. These outsiders, who may have little clout within the rights movement, nonetheless have resources, skills, or positions that aid the aggrieved group in projecting its cause internationally. For example, in the struggle to make HIV/AIDS a rights issue, rather than just a medical one, Jonathan Mann, director of the World Health Organization's Global Program on AIDS, acted as a champion. Champions sometimes initiate campaigns themselves or act independently of the aggrieved. This is most likely when a group is unable to speak for itself, perhaps due to legal incompetence as in the case of children. (In such cases, accountability problems are also acute, with the weak having few ways of influencing their self-appointed sponsors.)
Gatekeepers. We define "gatekeepers" as entities at the core of the human rights movement, whose support for a claim can boost it substantially. Typically these are organizations with the largest budgets, best staffs, and greatest credibility in the rights movement. Among them we include major NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; international organizations such as the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other prominent international bodies; and human rights intellectuals. When gatekeepers endorse new issues as rights violations—something they do not do readily—they can persuade other segments of the rights movement to join in. This may occur directly, through gatekeeper campaigns on behalf of a new right and its claimants. It may also occur indirectly: because gatekeepers have reputations for integrity and reliability, their choices can subtly influence less powerful "followers." The choices of gatekeepers, communicated widely because of their easy access to other NGOs, journalists, and government officials, signal the worthiness of certain causes and, by implication, the dubiousness of others. As follower organizations compete for scarce members and funding, such signals can spur bandwagons that catapult certain issues from obscurity to celebrity.
Gatekeeper certification can be a major boon. This is especially so for claimants with limited ability to conduct campaigns themselves, although it is less so for groups capable of strong lobbying on their own. Generalizing from this point, aggrieved groups vary in their power, and these variations affect both the role of gatekeepers and the larger course of advocacy. For instance, in this book compare activism for disability rights and AIDS-related rights to that for Dalit rights. Gatekeepers appear to have played a bigger role in the latter case, probably due to Dalits' relative lack of resources to promote their cause internationally.
Human rights intellectuals are leading scholars, journalists, and others who specialize in rights issues. Through their commentary, intellectuals shape the conceptual basis for rights practice. Of course, their ideas are at best influential. They hold no formal authority over the movement, although some also head gatekeeper organizations. Yet their reputations and experience, as well as their ability to place the hurly-burly of rights work in perspective, is valuable to many in the movement. Some of today's most prominent rights intellectuals are Aryeh Neier, Kenneth Roth, Michael Ignatieff, and Samantha Power, while in the past people such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Isaiah Berlin, and Raphael Lemkin, coiner of the term "genocide," occupied similar roles.
States. States act as authoritative decision makers with the power to elevate novel claims into international law—or to reject them. In addition to making such momentous choices, certain governments may also shepherd nascent norms through a welter of international bureaucracies and procedures. The state role in developing the 1999 Mine Ban Treaty and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was extensive and by no means confined to final ratification. This suggests a larger point: the actors identified thus far may have overlapping roles, with states, for instance, sometimes acting as champions of new norms.
Opponents. Movements for new rights often trigger opposition, although most accounts ignore this or focus only on government foes. The latter are, of course, crucial to norm acceptance and implementation. But new claims face other foes. For one thing, aggrieved local groups will seldom favor internationalization unanimously, and some members may work against it. For their part, gatekeepers may oppose enlarged missions or find unfamiliar claims trivial, irrelevant, or unenforceable. This book's chapter on the rights movement's long dismissal of economic and social rights exemplifies this possibility. Most important, countermovements may arise in civil society to oppose new claims. In recent years, global campaigns for the International Criminal Court, greenhouse gas controls, family planning, and other issues have galvanized opposing coalitions. Rights movements also confront well-funded countermobilizations invoking their own norms. For instance, women's groups supporting abortion rights face opposition from religious organizations promoting the right to life. Free market organizations tout property rights as a foil to those who uphold environmental rights.
The Struggle for New Rights
Rights emerge in much the same way as other policy. While this view runs counter to recent idealization of rights, it jibes with a realistic appraisal of rights claims and rights law as politics. In this view, there are numerous human needs, grievances, and problems, the majority of which go unnoticed most of the time. Reframing these issues as rights violations is a strategic choice aimed at exerting greater pressure to solve them. By itself, however, such reformulation has little effect. The claim needs to draw backing from powerful audiences who believe that the right deserves acceptance. Optimally, domestic audiences embrace the claim, because national institutions offer the most direct way of achieving political goals within a state. But often national channels respond slowly or not at all. In these cases, activists may project their claims internationally. When gatekeepers adopt the claim as a rights issue, the right becomes a recognizable issue on the international scene. It enters the international issue agenda. In some cases, norms also rise to the decision agenda, where states either accept or reject them as international law. Finally, even if ensconced as international law, states must implement new norms.
Of course, this model does not explain how every claim gains international acceptance. The actual process is more complex than portrayed here. Gatekeepers, rather than aggrieved populations, may inaugurate claims and then search for local "victims" to exemplify violations. In recent years, a number of global campaigns have followed this top-down pattern. For instance, efforts to control the international small-arms trade were launched in the early 1990s not by those hurt by gun violence in conflict-torn societies but by NGOs based in countries at peace. The water rights case described in this volume appears to follow this pattern, with international activists starting campaigns based on opposition to World Bank privatization policies—and independently of local claimants. In all cases, there are frequent interactions between national and international levels and among the various actors. With these cautions in mind, however, we argue that the model outlined here helps clarify a complicated reality.
From Grievance to Rights Claim
The struggle typically begins with members of an aggrieved group framing their needs as rights. Despite the pervasiveness of rights language in the world today, we assume that this is a political choice and that there is nothing automatic about it. Group members must perceive their grievances as injustices within evolving international practice. In today's world, leaders of many weak groups will be aware of rights rhetoric, although this may not be the case for highly deprived, isolated, or repressed populations.
Assuming that a persecuted group is aware of the human rights environment, one might expect it to portray its claims as rights. But this will happen only if group leaders see advantages to doing so. Often these are concrete and material. Presenting a claim as an internationally cognizable right may bring support to a group and pressure on its opponents. This is because, for international audiences, invoking a right can suggest a cause's worthiness—even if the underlying grievance is complicated, ambiguous, or contested. In short, such framing may help a group achieve its political goals.
But not all wronged groups raise rights claims. As noted earlier, governments may accommodate the group. Even if they do not, certain groups will avoid the international sphere. Nationalists may find it unpalatable; pragmatists may forge alliances with civil organizations in their home states. International activism may also be unwise in societies that stigmatize foreign intervention. And even in domestic contexts where external aid is unproblematic, attracting it may appear too costly. In addition, framing a situation or grievance as a violation may disproportionately benefit certain segments of a group, usually those having greater familiarity with rights mechanisms and institutions. As a result, a group's decision to make such claims is often fraught, as several of this volume's studies document.
Nonetheless, leaders of many groups promote new rights to international audiences. But why do they not depict the grievances as abuses of well-accepted rights? For one thing, desired solutions may be different from those provided by existing rights. Many injured groups seek affirmative actions by a state, society, or corporation to help them improve their situation. They demand not simply that the targets of their activism end repressive, discriminatory, or offensive behavior, as required by "negative" liberties, but also that they take additional, positive steps. The latter may include economic redistributions, reparation payments, job reservations, or other policies affirmatively favoring the aggrieved group. In addition, the agendas of certain groups, particularly ethnically based ones, may include territorial autonomy or national independence. If international audiences recognize their situations as discrete rights issues, group members may gain a psychological lift, and group identity may deepen. This facilitates mobilization and increases power in domestic politics. Even for groups with less ambitious agendas, recognition of rights can increase assistance earmarked for the group. Foundations, NGOs, and other transnational actors, aware for the first time of an issue, will be more likely to support it. In sum, recognition of new rights can serve as a tool for fortifying or even fashioning groups. Contrary to the assertion that rights are beyond politics, they are fundamentally political.
Reformulating grievances as violations has little consequence in itself, however. While rights may act as trumps in national contexts with well-developed legal systems, the analogy fails in a global context without enforcement mechanisms. For rights to change realities, powerful actors, not just the aggrieved themselves, must recognize them.
The International Issue Agenda
When the aggrieved convince gatekeepers to promote their claims, the new right reaches the international issue agenda. Given gatekeepers' prior commitments and limited resources, their adoption of any such claim is uncertain. Yet without a gatekeeper's taking on the issue, a proposed right may not attract broader backing, including state support.
There is nothing automatic about gatekeepers' embracing problems, even those affecting millions. Despite reputations as moral actors, even well-funded NGOs and international organizations cannot accept every claim made by every group. Instead, the gatekeepers screen and frequently reject them. On what factors do gatekeepers choose? Sometimes it is a question of their having too few resources and too many issues. Choices also hinge on the match between a new claim and a gatekeeper's preexisting mandate, expertise, or method. If a proposed right does not fit, it may be rejected. To avoid this, aggrieved groups may trim the claims they originally asserted as rights, thereby meeting the gatekeepers' preexisting worldview or demands.
Decisions about adopting or rejecting a new right generate controversy within gatekeeper organizations. NGOs and international organizations are not monolithic. Even if small and hierarchical, they will invariably include individuals with conflicting roles and interests. Moreover, gatekeeper missions are often vague. As a result, claimants may win individual devotees but fail to persuade the organization. Debate over FGM and economic rights roiled Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for decades, as this volume describes.
Another issue is at stake too. Human rights intellectuals have long flagged the purported perils of rights "inflation." In 1984, Alston voiced "serious concern" about rights being "conjured up . . . 'as if by magic.'" More recently, commentators have criticized the tendency to "define anything desirable as a right." Among the charges, "proliferation" cheapens the human rights tradition, erodes consensus on rights, dilutes the moral power of rights, and weakens enforcers' will. Most worryingly in this view, rights come to serve as little more than rallying cries for mobilized political interests. To stem the threat, some have proposed rigorous criteria: rights must be fundamental, universally recognized, legally enforceable, and guaranteed to everyone. Others have suggested hierarchies of rights or have confined "real" rights to a narrow set of "negative liberties."
In some cases, gatekeepers have used these arguments to rationalize their rejection of new claims. But, in practice, it is difficult for gatekeepers to apply the intellectuals' proposed criteria, hierarchies, or standards in a purely technical way. Shifting political currents in larger society move gatekeepers. As aggrieved groups and their champions mobilize for new rights, they sometimes succeed in altering societal values and cultural landscapes. As a result, even powerful gatekeeper NGOs may come under strong pressure to expand their agendas. To appease crucial constituencies, maintain funding, and "stay relevant," gatekeepers may embrace new causes—even if they had earlier rebuffed them as being outside their mandates or inappropriate to their methods. In this volume, cases as diverse as LGBT rights and economic rights exemplify these dynamics, with gatekeepers such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International rejecting such claims for decades but more recently accepting them. For their part, aggrieved groups are unlikely to be deterred by abstract assertions that they should forgo their rights in the interests of the human rights "core." The result in recent years has been expansion, albeit halting and contentious, in the problems considered "rights issues."
The State Decision Agenda
The third aspect of the struggle involves consideration by states and the adoption of new norms. From the standpoint of international law, this ultimately means that a legal convention opens for signature and ratification. Constructivist scholars have done much to illuminate this process. Most important, their research has emphasized how NGOs and advocacy networks act as "norms entrepreneurs," in some cases advancing new rights. The success of this promotion hinges on a number of factors. As Joshua Busby has argued, these include a permissive international context in which state interests do not dominate the agenda; focusing events that increase the claim's saliency; credible information about the issue's gravity; low costs to accepting the norm; correspondence between the norm and existing cultural and political concerns; and supportive national policymakers.
In addition, scholars should recognize the contentious nature of rights campaigns. Two aspects of conflict are noteworthy. First, while most scholarship has focused on norms entrepreneurs, their actions seldom go unopposed. As discussed earlier, movements surrounding such issues as population, environment, and development have sparked powerful countermobilizations. Similarly, opposition by NGOs, think tanks, and advocacy networks has hindered norms covering women, children, the indigenous, and many others.
A second aspect of contention occurs within states. While traditional approaches to international relations portray states as unitary, there is ample justification for viewing them in more disaggregated terms. One implication is disagreement among bureaucracies or individual bureaucrats with varying sympathy for rights claims. Those in a position to block proposed norms play major roles. Long-standing U.S. refusal to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child exemplifies the influence of such veto players, in this case, conservative political leaders in the U.S. Senate.
International campaigns will have little impact without vigorous national enforcement. States must apply rules governing their own officials and, more problematically, members of their society. Thus a major reason for internationalizing grievances is to increase leverage at home. How might this occur? While the issue is not a focus of this volume, a few points are worth noting. First, foreign actors may encourage adherence to new rights regimes by starting programs with incentives for compliance, by attempting to shame the uncooperative, and by exerting pressure against misbehavior. But because compliance is primarily an issue of domestic politics, other mechanisms also matter. In some cases, international legitimation can increase a rights holder's political heft at home. This may occur through direct provision of outside funds, although this can open the group to criticism at home. Less problematically, the rights holder may gain if international legitimacy strengthens the group's identity, unity, and resolve. Such domestic processes present the most direct means of vindicating rights—by the rights holders themselves in national institutions.
This volume suggests that the rise of new rights is complex, contingent, and contentious. Of course, any group can trumpet its grievances as rights issues, but this alone has little effect. Most important in changing the group's situation is the right's implementation by governments. But in the long quest to achieve that end, adoption by gatekeeper NGOs and international organizations plays a critical initial role and is far from certain. Thus, from an aggrieved group's standpoint, it may appear that self-appointed guardians of a human rights core stonily patrol the rights frontier, admitting few new causes and favoring those conforming to the dominant rights culture. This does not mean that novel claims will always fail. This book illustrates strategies that have led to success, albeit to different degrees for various issues. But it does underline that aggrieved groups must win new rights through struggle not only with states but also with powerful nonstate actors—and that rights themselves are tools of political conflict.
Admittedly, the model presented here is an ideal type. First, in reality its parts often overlap because there are continuous interactions among local claimants, gatekeepers, and states. Second, the pattern outlined here is not inexorable. At any point, a norm may fail to advance. Third, notwithstanding the model's bottom-up nature, international champions and gatekeepers play a large role, particularly for highly repressed or legally incompetent populations. In a larger sense, the bottom-up formulation is also incomplete. Incentives offered by today's thriving international rights regime encourage the framing of local grievances as rights issues. Without widespread international acclaim for rights, problems would be portrayed in other ways, just as they were in the centuries before today's "age of rights." Nonetheless, the processes discussed in this volume—calculation of the costs and benefits of transforming domestic needs into international claims, arduous certification processes by gatekeepers, and contentious interaction between proponents and opponents—underpin the rise of new rights.
At a more conceptual level, this volume suggests that concern over rights proliferation is overblown. Human rights are political, and their precise scope will always remain disputed. In these contests, a handful of gatekeepers exerts significant influence, and a limited set of political and civil rights continues to dominate. Demands for enlargement are inevitable, however. The contemporary appeal of rights rhetoric over other expressions of grievance—and the resources devoted to ending rights abuses rather than other problems—encourage aggrieved groups to formulate particularized rights. But these will gain acceptance from the rights movement only occasionally, usually after a prolonged campaign, and often in a form less expansive than originally proposed.