UC Law Journal


Mary Robinson


To address the underlying and unresolved human problems of injustice and despair, the Lecture argues that Americans must take the international human rights agenda seriously in the United States and around the world. The lack of significant progress to date in addressing the most pressing human rights challenges has been due in large part to the failure to confront them as problems of injustice instead of seeing them simply as problems of inadequate resources or lack of political will. While in the United States and Europe the focus since 9/11 has been on state security and combating acts of terrorism, millions of other people on the planet continue to be at daily risk from violence, disease and abject poverty. The key to change lies in empowering people to secure their own lives. For this people need the means to try to hold their governments accountable, at local and national levels. The Lecture notes that following the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, a number of steps were taken at the international level which helped strengthen efforts to better define and implement economic, social and cultural rights. Important strides were also made by UN agencies and programs, and human rights activists and NGOs in every region began increasingly using international treaties to press their governments into making legislative and policy changes in areas relating to education, health care and other social issues. But the Lecture argues that problems of precision in how human rights standards can be applied in different policy making situations remain, especially in economic and social policy fields. The progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights requires a complex interaction of policies and programs in a wide range of sectors and institutions. What shouldn't be left out of that discussion is the extent to which the human rights vision, legal framework, methods and strategies could support and strengthen U.S. social justice activism today. The Lecture contends that the U.S. government's ongoing aversion to international law and institutions and the lack of awareness about international standards amongst the general public among others must be faced. The key lies in renewing a commitment here at home to achieving all human rights for all people.

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