Student Blog VI: The gates of the EEC: human rights and the Iberian authoritarian regimes

Author: Simon Beentjes

The date of the adoption of  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: December 10th, 1948. However, the history of its utilization in domains like politics, international law and social activism is way vaguer. In 2010, Samuel Moyn shook up the debate about the history of human rights with his groundbreaking ‘The Last Utopia’. In his book, he directs attention to a very limited political engagement with human rights before the late 1970s.[1] Though his argument is very convincing, historians have the task to look at examples that refute his argument in order to identify possible shortcomings. In this blog, I will try to highlight a possible shortcoming of Moyns work by showing how the Dutch Catholic party used human rights to escape Cold War bipolarity in the late 1960s. (more…)

Student Blog V: The Language of Human Rights: Blair, Kosovo and the Long Term Impact of Human Rights Rhetoric

Author: Ross Francis

In his work ‘The Last Utopia’, Samuel Moyn argues that a key reason for the breakthrough being placed within the 1970s is because, inter alia, the human rights movement began to transcend and the national framework. This was related to the concept of state sovereignty, and its steady erosion as the preeminent principle of the international order. Thus, appeals to human rights came to mean more than simply the protection of minorities or the right to self-government (the anticolonial movement), but became what can be seen as the rights of all individuals to an acceptable minimum of protection that transcends state borders.[1]


Student Blog IV: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination as implemented by the Dutch in the late 1960s

Author: Lyke Veen 

When discussing human rights the Dutch government has always had an interesting position. After the Second World War the attitude on human rights changed in the international community. It was in this period that the Dutch began to play a more prominent role concerning human rights. In the 1960s the Dutch started to position themselves as ‘Guiding Nation’ on human rights and over the course of the century they strengthened this position.[I] In the 1970s human rights formed the cornerstone of the Dutch International Affairs policy. While human rights were strongly represented in the International Affairs policy, the Internal Affairs policy lacked any substantial use of human rights. International human rights conventions, which the Dutch often had helped to develop in  the United Nations institutions, were ratified. However, the conventions were only used by lawyers, but hardly by Dutch policymakers.


Student Blog III: UNICEF and their use of the concept ‘human rights’

Author: Suzanne van Basten

The concept human rights is nowadays commonly used to strive for a certain level of development by global organisations and governments. This also applies to development aid organisation UNICEF, which is frequently using the term to define their goals. However, it is striking that not more than twenty years ago the concept was not used at all by UNICEF. As part of the research seminar ‘History of Human Rights’ I have studied the introduction and subsequent use of the concept human rights within UNICEF by questioning why and when UNICEF has chosen the concept human rights to define their mission. In particular I engaged in research on the effect of the Children’s Right treaty of 1989 on the introduction of the concept human rights by UNICEF. In order to answer this question I looked into the annual reports of UNICEF from the period 1980 till 2000 with a special focus on the Children’s Right treaty of 1989. (more…)

Student Blog II: LGBT human rights in Indonesia

Author: Nina Littel

From the 2000’s onwards, provincial bylaws have been implemented in Indonesia that have criminalized certain types of same-sexual practices. This was followed in 2006 by a similar nation-wide law. LGBT human rights organization OutRight Action International has described this process as ‘creeping criminalization’, through which those who engage in same-sexual activities were put in an increasingly precarious situation.[i] These regulations went together with hostile anti-LGBT rhetoric from government officials and religious bodies, inspiring religious vigilante groups to repeatedly attack LGBT events, from 2010 onwards. Often, local police failed to protect LGBT activists, despite the fact that homosexuality and transgenderism in itself were not illegal in Indonesia, and the constitution guaranteed both the right to organize, and freedom of speech.[ii]


Student Blog I: The History of Human Rights: Oliver Tambo and the Anti-apartheid Struggle

Author: Yoram Carboex

As part of my RMa degree in Political Culture and National Identities I followed the course History of Human Rights last semester. In this course, given by Dr. Paul van Trigt, we set out to gain an understanding of human rights from a historical perspective.

What became especially clear in the course was the prominent position of one particular academic in the historiographical tradition of human rights: Yale historian Samuel Moyn. In his provocative book The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History Moyn seeks to challenge the prevalent notion of human rights as deeply rooted in history. According to Moyn, we can only speak of human rights in the way we currently understand them since the late 1970’s. It was at this moment that human rights – as a social movement based on an utopian idealism – came into existence. For Moyn human rights is then an utopian ideology based on internationalism; human rights as superseding the previously dominant notion of state sovereignty. Consequently, from this period onwards, the appeal to supranational institutions and their legal protections became essential. (more…)

Beyond the last utopia? Introduction to a student blog series about the history of human rights

Author: Paul van Trigt

Human rights have  since their ‘birth’ been essentially contested concepts. Recently, they have become subject of intense debates in historiography. Sam Moyn’s provocative book The Last Utopia (2010) made in particular clear how important it is to investigate precisely which meaning human rights have been given in a particular context. Moyn argues that it is only since the 1970s that human rights have been defined as liberal freedoms based on individual dignity and protected by international law. Moyn therefore rejects long-term histories of human rights traced back e.g. to the French Revolution. Moreover, he relativizes the importance of human rights in the aftermath of the Second World War and during processes of decolonization. Of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was issued in 1948 and the concept has since then been used, but not yet on the scale and with the same meaning as it has had since the 1970s. (more…)

A blind dean for Arabic literature: the legacy of Taha Hussein

Author: Amany Soliman

In the year 1979, millions of Egyptians mesmerized in front of their television sets watching a TV series about the life of a blind man from a subaltern village in Upper Egypt who fought against poverty, ignorance and illness to become a symbol of enlightenment in post colonial Egypt. The Egyptian state television aired the series that was based on the autobiography of Taha Hussein while Egypt was getting ready to participate in the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. (more…)

Theoretical Approaches to the Human Rights of Marginalized and Excluded Individuals or Groups – Part IV: A Short Critique of Vulnerability

Author: Veronika Flegar

This is the final blog post in a series of four. In this series I seek to highlight some of the underlying assumptions of four concepts or approaches that are commonly employed to further the human rights of excluded or marginalized individuals or groups. The last three blog posts dealt with human dignity, the capabilities approach and intersectionality. This blog post will cover the notion of vulnerability. Since this is the last blog post in this series I aim to relate the notion of vulnerability to the three earlier discussed ideas and point to what the notion can or cannot add in light of the pitfalls of the other ideas. (more…)

Theoretical Approaches to the Human Rights of Marginalized and Excluded Individuals or Groups – Part III: A Short Critique of Intersectionality

Author: Veronika Flegar

This is the third blog post in a series of four in which I aim to highlight some of the underlying assumptions of concepts and approaches which are commonly employed to further the human rights of excluded or marginalized individuals or groups. The last two blog posts dealt with human dignity and the capabilities approach. This blog post will cover intersectionality before the last blog post will deal with the notion of vulnerability. (more…)