Document Type


Publication Date



The fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998, coming in the decade after the resurgence of Western-style liberal democracies, has generated much writing and activity over the current status and future development of international human rights law, practice, and discourse. International lawyers tend to take for granted the canon of rights that, in the wake of the Universal Declaration, have been enshrined within the body of international instruments that have been adopted within regional and global arenas. In the 1990s, these lawyers largely turned their attention away from standard setting and to issues of effectiveness. Considerable energy has been directed toward achieving universal ratification of the major human rights treaties, toward removal of crippling reservations, and toward development of innovative methods of enhancing treaty p·erformance. Thus, a number of recent studies have examined ways of improving the institutional enforcement mechanisms1 and, more generally, have grappled with issues of compliance with international law.2 Meanwhile, human rights activists and their organizations have invested significant resources in a strategy of legalitythat is, a belief that claims are strengthened when encapsulated in law. State support has been successfully mobilized to establish new institutional mechanisms (for example, the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and an individual complaints and inquiry procedure3 for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), as well as to forge agreements on such matters as an international criminal court and an African court of human rights. Attention has also been turned to ensuring international accountability for denial and abuse of rights-including by nonstate actors. This same belief in the efficacy of law has motivated campaigns, led primarily by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), to recognize the applicability ofinternational human rights to groups (notably women, children, gays, and indigenous, migrant, and displaced persons) that have been perceived as excluded from the accepted understandings of the legal instruments-thereby giving real meaning to the concept of universality.


This article has been published in the American Journal of International Law, DOI: . This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution or re-use. © American Journal of International Law (2001)