Death Toll Rises in Iraq and Questions Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

death toll rises in Iraq and questions are raised regarding the foreign policies practiced by the United States, books like Jack Donnelly's International Human Rights become particularly relevant. American intervention in Iraq has become one of the salient political issues of our time, one that begs a thorough investigation of the need for international human rights policies. In his book, Donnelly presents a thorough overview of the politics of human rights, tracing its role in domestic and foreign policies since the Second World War. In fact, the author notes that before the 1940s, international human rights were of little importance. Isolationism and strict respect for national sovereignty guided foreign relations policies and precluded nations, individuals, or organizations from taking action to promote human rights outside of their own communities. Pointing out how the Holocaust moved human rights into the realm of international politics in conjunction with a burgeoning global economic marketplace, Jack Donnelly offers his readers insight into the overall development of international human rights awareness and official policies. In addition to providing a historical context, Donnelly also offers a brief theoretical analysis of human rights, including central philosophical and ethical concepts from utilitarianism to universalism. From this foundation knowledge in history and theory, the author launches into richly researched case studies of specific regions of the globe that offer clear evidence for the pressing need to develop more effective, globally relevant human rights initiatives. These initiatives, moreover, must transcend the relative impotence of current policies that overemphasize domestic sovereignty prerogatives, economic gain, and preservation of political power. Donnelly's book, which was written almost a decade before September 11, needs updating due to the dramatic events that have occurred after that day. However, as a well-written, academic yet accessible primer, International Human Rights is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding human rights and international relations in general.

Donnelly is unafraid to weave opinion with fact; International Human Rights therefore accomplishes far more than an informative textbook would. Donnelly hopes to introduce his readers to the basic concepts underlying international foreign policies and human rights. Yet he also tries to emphasize moral imperatives by underscoring the personal meaning of human rights. Thus, the author takes human rights from an abstract and academic position and places it squarely within the realm of daily reality: these are the daily realities we face today as the war in Iraq becomes sneakier and deadlier and as human rights violations, as well as civil rights violations, increase on behalf of the American government. It is precisely because many readers of Donnelly's book will be Americans that International Human Rights is essential reading for any student of international relations. Moreover, International Human Rights can also fill a gap in the layperson's library, a gap created by the mainstream media's inability to break free from presuppositions of American exceptionalism and interventionalist exceptionalism that create situations like Iraq.

This paper will first briefly summarize the book, which is divided conveniently into six solid chapters and further into subsections. Included in this summary will be an analysis of the author's use of sources and tools such as tables, illustrations, and appendixes. Next, a critical analysis of Donnelly's book will take into account his writing style, his choice of subject matter, his selection of case studies, the relevance of the book to scholastic research, and other general critical observations of Donnelly's work. Although International Human Rights deserves accolades, like any piece of writing it is not free from flaws or imperfections. Finally, a conclusion will draw together both summary and critical analysis. Recommendations and suggestions for further research or more questions will be presented. Furthermore, the book's potential to influence changes in foreign policies will be examined.

The purpose of the first chapter of the book is to locate human rights in the scope of world history. Human rights were, as Donnelly points out, not a political issue at all until World War II, when Hitler forced the rest of the world to take heed of gross violations of human rights. Only such an obvious wake-up call could stir the world into taking action. Prior to World War II, though still extant today, reign supreme the concepts of national sovereignty and nonintervention. Respect for local jurisdictions, however, waned when Hitler waged his campaign against millions of innocent civilians. Following the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1945-1946, various official measures were taken to create international policies protecting human rights. The United Nations played the main role in the creation and implementation of these official measures. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights led to International Human Rights Covenants and to the International Bill of Human Rights, which Donnelly provides in full in an appendix of the book. Moreover, Table 1.1 on page 9 lists some specific rights accounted for in the International Bill of Human Rights such as the right to education, the right to marry and found a family, and the right to presumption of innocence. Box 1.2 provides some fundamental, basic, underlying information on how international treaties work, to explain the political authority and relevance of documents like the International Bill of Human Rights.

The Cold War thwarted attempts to create a global community and consensus on human rights. Moreover, Donnelly points out that the International Bill of Human Rights never was nor is a treaty that is legally binding in international law, rendering it and the United Nations in general relatively ineffective in addressing human rights issues and violations. In the 1960s, the United Nations assumed more power to actively monitor states suspected of human rights violations. However, by far the most significant shift in the international pursuit of human rights policies rose with the advent of the non-governmental organization (NGO). The NGO operated "free of the political control of states," and did not "have broader foreign policy concerns that may conflict with human rights objectives," (14). Donnelly notes that the 1990s give rise to a whole new set of political issues impinging upon the creation of effective international human rights policies.

In this chapter, Donnelly first defines his terms more clearly, going so far as to emphasize that the very definition of what it means to be human is fundamental to the definition of human rights. The author shows how human rights act as a function of a society's political structure and how they indicate the "moral standards of national political legitimacy," (21).

Next, the main function of this chapter is to provide the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of international human rights. Human rights policies can be based on one or several different, often competing, philosophical viewpoints. Donnelly briefly outlines a few such as utilitarianism and Kant's categorical imperative. Utilitarianism proposes the greatest good for the greatest number of people, whereas Kant suggests a universally applicable principle of morality that treats people as the ends, not the means. In other words, it would be the duty of the state to honor and respect the individual.

Such moral philosophies usually if not always govern the creation of a domestic and international foreign policy on human rights. One of the problems with creating an international human rights policy is that so many conflicting viewpoints cannot compete in one effective doctrine. Moreover, many philosophies or theories actually deny the importance or even existence of human rights to begin with. In particular, power politics, referred to as realism or realpolitik, is based squarely on Machiavellian philosophy stressing the saliency of the pursuit of power and security at all costs, even at the expense of what many would consider human rights. Based on the "kernel of truth" that human beings are essentially egotistical beings, power politics ruin the chances of drafting effective, compassionate, authentic policies of human rights (33). Realpolitik places the supremacy of power over the rights to human dignity. Another theory that obstructs the creation of effective human rights policies on an international scale is cultural relativism, which denies the existence or relevance of any universal, timeless moral imperatives; rather, ethics are culturally and historically specific and therefore laws cannot dictate human rights.

Furthermore, Donnelly describes different categories of human rights, mainly economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights. These categories are weighted differently by different people, organizations, and nations and can cause conflict when a global human rights policy needs to be created. Later on in Chapter 6, Donnelly describes how the United States emphasizes civil and political rights at the expense of economic and social rights, whereas the opposite is true in communist and even socialist forms of government.

Other problems that Donnelly addresses in this chapter include the fundamental concept of sovereignty, the essential anarchy of the international society, and the three basic competing models of human rights policy: statist, cosmopolitan, and internationalist. Statist policies emphasize state sovereignty, and current world affairs dictate a human rights policy-based loosely on statism. On the other end of the spectrum, Donnelly describes the…

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