Conference: Putting Human Rights to the Test

Putting Human Rights to the Test: Claims, Interventions and Contestations since 1990

Veranstaltungsort: Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Apostelnkloster 13-15, 50672 Köln
Veranstalter: Arbeitskreis Menschenrechte im 20. Jahrhundert
Datum: 15.05.2019 – 16.05.2019

In the years since the end of the Cold War and the worldwide wave of democratization, the concept of human rights has profoundly shaped national and international policies. However, the past decades have clearly not seen a linear success story. While states, NGOs and International Organizations grounded important political projects or symbolic demands in human rights ideas, the principle remained heavily contested and was sometimes even strongly rejected. Emphatic hopes of a more just world order brought about by global human rights protection flourished in the early 90s only to fade away soon after. The international community watched as mass killings took their terrible toll, authoritarian regimes remained in power, and humanitarian interventions caused the breakdown of political and social order.

Historical research on this complex development has only just begun. Both empirical studies and overarching interpretations are currently lacking. Yet critical reflection on the recent history of human rights is essential for a better understanding of current world affairs. This observation provides the starting point for our conference, which brings together experts from different disciplines and world regions to advance the study of the history of human rights since the 1990s. The conference neither wants to reproduce the triumphalism of the 1990s nor the narrative of decline which has become dominant over the past years. Instead, it aims to sharpen our view of contradictory strands of development by focusing on a diverse array of actors: states, International Organizations, NGOs, politicians, scholars and experts.

Human rights did not have a breakthrough in the 1990s – they were already a well-established instrument of national and international policies. However, these years saw an extraordinary surge in the significance that national and international actors attributed to the concept. A growing number of activists and politicians began framing their concerns as human rights issues. The universal claim of human rights received unprecedented support and was adopted in interventionist practices, crossing national borders. Scholars made human rights a subject of research across the disciplines, impacting the practice of human rights activism and policies. At the same time – and often as a direct consequence of its new prominence – critics opposed the idea of universal human rights with an unprecedented fierceness. In the process, all these actors tested the limits of human rights policies. weiterlesen