The term ‘human rights’ succeeds by the breadth of its application: across law, politics and culture. It functions effectively in the fields of international, regional and domestic law, while also being an important player in the world of international relations. And while doing all this, it finds time too to stand for something above politics and law, the force of goodness in the world, the importance of each individual (no matter how weak) within every polity (no matter how strong). How has the idea of human rights achieved this level of influence? What are its main challenges today? What sort of future lies in store for such universal entitlements? This article offers a broad review of the origins of human rights, their current effectiveness and the likely directions open to the subject in the years ahead. Its themes are drawn from the range of disciplines that make human rights possible. Against the odds the author finds in the resilience of human rights reasons for hope for a better future, one in which the good work done by the term greatly exceeds the damage of which – as history and current practice well shows – it is also immensely capable.
The dimension of human rights which foregrounds the weak and vulnerable should always be kept at the front of policy formation with regard to human rights.
The identification of human rights as the preserve of particular cultures or countries needs to be rejected.
Human rights need to be understood as both legal and political when it comes to policy formulation.