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Rescuing Human Rights
A Radically Moderate Approach

  • Date Published: February 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108405362
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About the Authors
  • The development of human rights norms is one of the most significant achievements in international relations and law since 1945, but the continuing influence of human rights is increasingly being questioned by authoritarian governments, nationalists, and pundits. Unfortunately, the proliferation of new rights, linking rights to other issues such as international crimes or the activities of business, and attempting to address every social problem from a human rights perspective risk undermining their credibility. Rescuing Human Rights calls for understanding 'human rights' as international human rights law and maintaining the distinctions between binding legal obligations on governments and broader issues of ethics, politics, and social change. Resolving complex social problems requires more than simplistic appeals to rights, and adopting a 'radically moderate' approach that recognizes both the potential and the limits of international human rights law, offers the best hope of preserving the principle that we all have rights, simply because we are human.

    • Creates a better and more realistic understanding of human rights in the world
    • Distinguishes human rights from other elements of both foreign policy and social change
    • This book is accessible to a wide audience, not just human rights lawyers and activists
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Rescuing Human Rights is a superbly researched and highly readable diagnosis of the many ailments afflicting contemporary human rights advocacy. Whether or not one agrees with his prescriptions, Hurst Hannum's comprehensive and provocative analysis clearly delineates the issues and provides an excellent starting point for debate.' John Shattuck, Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic

    'I warmly recommend this impressive evaluation of human rights as we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century. It is essential reading for human rights practitioners, teachers, politicians and concerned citizens.' Richard J. Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the UN Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda

    'With Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach, Hurst Hannum makes an important and timely contribution to a necessary stocktaking by the global human rights movement.' Peter Splinter, International Service for Human Rights (

    '[T]he power of this book is that it asks dyed-in-the-wool human rights advocates and teachers, such as myself, to rethink, reevaluate, and reconsider our assumptions and conjectures regarding human rights. There is much over which to argue. Hannum presents an important warning for human rights advocates, lawyers, teachers, and researchers: 'Expanding the formal scope of human rights is likely only to distract from the woefully unfinished task of protecting existing rights' (p. 158). This is a warning that must be given careful consideration if human rights are to endure in the foreseeable future.' Clair Apodaca, Ethics & International Affairs

    '… it is Hannum's call for moderation that is truly 'radical', and this is a laudable work for that very reason.' Donna Lyons, Human Rights Law Review

    '… an informative, well-crafted scholarly exploration that aims to rescue international human rights law from overzealous human rights advocates, regarding desirability of interpretations, strategies of human rights application, and consequences of rights enforcement … Hannum has illuminated and sharpened these and related questions in a clearly written, self-styled 'pragmatic' approach. In this well-documented inquiry, he is clear about his aim to warn against the overextension of human rights law into areas of human harms and state policy where it does not belong, while preserving its legal authority and necessity in areas where it does … Hannum frames his distinctions between appropriate and overreaching applications of human rights law in a well-documented survey of contemporary human rights legal trends and issues … Hannum takes us on a well-organized journey of doctrine, sources, precedents, and 'realistic' interpretations of human rights law flowing in its appropriate riverbed, setting out his 'radically moderate approach' to rescuing human rights law … Rescuing is a richly sourced, well written, provocative argument about the best formulation of 'limits' of modern human rights law. It deserves serious reading.' Henry J. Richardson III, American Journal of International Law

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    Customer reviews

    01st Aug 2019 by PGSplinter1

    With Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach, Hurst Hannum makes an important and timely contribution to a necessary stocktaking by the global human rights movement. Hannum argues the case for a hard-headed reassessment of what human rights are and what they can achieve, done with the aim of preventing unrealistic expansion or overreach that undermines their legitimacy and universal acceptance. His lucid argument for greater focus and humility in recourse to human rights and his call for the recalibration of the scope of human rights advocacy should form part of any discussion about the future of human rights. Rescuing Human Rights merits reading and reflection by all who study, defend or promote human rights in international fora.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108405362
    • length: 240 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.37kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of abbreviations
    1. Introduction: assumptions and principles
    2. Crime and (occasional) punishment
    3. The importance of government, for better or worse
    4. Human rights and … whatever
    5. Undermining old rights with new ones: you can't always get what you want
    6. Women, sex, and gender
    7. The flexibility of human rights norms: universality is not uniformity
    8. Human rights hawks
    9. The indispensable state? The United States and human rights
    10. The way forward: less is more

  • Author

    Hurst Hannum, Tufts University, Massachusetts
    Hurst Hannum is Professor of International Law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts. He has authored numerous books and articles on human rights and has served as counsel and advocate before European, inter-American, and UN human rights institutions.

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