Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Book Review

Reviewer: Teodora-Maria Daghie

Publisher: Polity Press, Cambridge UK, 2011 ISBN: 9780745639666
Author's page: Michael Freeman

Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach

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Human rights are considered universal, meaning that they should be applied regardless of any borders, ethnicity, skin colour, sex, language, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion or social status (etc). They also state that all people are born free and equal in dignity and have equal rights. At the global level we have achieved a Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various UN conventions, including those dealing with genocide, discrimination and gender rights. Freeman’s work makes an all-inclusive presentation of the concept of human rights through time up to the 20th century, summarising the key concepts and institutions.

The book is divided into nine chapters, roundly guarded by an introduction and a conclusion; they are all very logically written, providing readers a steady flow of information and supporting the arguments in a solid way. Freeman states its purpose from the beginning: to link the fundamental philosophical concepts of human rights to the political sphere and look at their evolution in the context of a post 9/11 world. Furthermore, he examines contemporary concepts such as the implications of globalisation, development and poverty, putting great emphasis on the cultural barriers and trying to foresee its evolution in the 21st century.

He argues that so far the study of human rights was to a great extent done by lawyers, stressing the need to go beyond human rights law (p. 13). This is indeed a very accurate observation as a great extent of the key textbooks is solely dedicated to it. I agree with him that much more emphasis should be put on features such as the cultural element beyond the universality of the human values and to increase the role of the social sciences in examining the phenomenon. The mechanisms and processes are very well developed and fostered by Freeman, being fully integrated in a smooth flow of arguments that successfully make a concise debate from introduction to conclusion.

As we might expect, introducing several contexts into the same framework has some significant effects that should not be understated. The study of globalisation and development from a human rights perspective should be read extensively in order to catch all of their features. Freeman has articulated most of the major evolutions that had occurred since the publication of the first edition, putting them in an elaborated and easily to be understood frame.

Focus is given to the role of the legal component, framing the origins of the human rights in the social disciplines and back in history as early as Roman law. It starts from the normative character of human rights and the positive rights, up to the 1970s and 1980s, stressing the ‘legal form’ of the academic debate of human rights, little being done in respect to other disciplines such as political philosophy. Despite the success of the European human rights regime, it did not have a great influence in the illiberal regimes outside the Western sphere of influence, but rather improved the human rights condition in countries with moderate respect of them (p. 92). Great consideration is given to the relationship between politics and law in what concerns a so-called conflict between the two, giving the examples of the international criminal tribunals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, supporting Kenneth Rodman’s view that they cannot deter a perpetrator if he has to cooperate in order to attain peace (p. 94). Others argue that though the law can protect the most basic human rights, there are problems that should be addressed politically, especially where law seems to have a limited success. Hybrid tribunals have been part of the recent history in war-torn countries; however they do not represent a long-term solution to further the cause of human rights. (p. 95).

The most important aspect of this book lies in its explanatory capacity and how it tries to have a solution-oriented approach. With a strong theoretical background and a comprehensive approach to the field, the book makes a good read for students, scholars and the general public. A great deal of information has been assembled and a number of studies are cited in a systematic and theoretical framework. Readers will certainly appreciate its writing style, layout and ease of navigation through content in the effort of catching the essential debate on the human rights issue. To sum up, Freeman’s book is an excellent and compulsory reading for students and anyone who wishes to get accustomed with the norms and concepts of human rights.

2021 - Volume 15 Issue 1