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What are human rights and what place have discussions on human rights found in international relations?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The almost non-existent place of Human Rights in International Relations from the birth of the discipline to 1985.
    1. The ambiguous relations between international liberalism and Human Rights.
    2. The fall of international liberalism, the triumph of realism, and their effect on Human Rights in International Relations.
  3. The transition between the glorious days of international realism and the consecration of Human Rights in International Relations.
    1. The slow decline of realism.
    2. New alternative theories to realism.
    3. The end of the Cold War and its positive effect on the place of Human Rights.
    4. Prospects.
  4. Bibliography.

Though they may disagree on the importance of this phenomenon, most international experts now admit that there is a growing concern, both from states and from people, for Human Rights in international relations. Human Rights are often used to legitimate an action (diplomatic pressures, economic embargo, or even war) against one state, and are now placed at the core of international law. They have therefore become a rich subject for International Relations researchers. One thing that needs to be said about this trend is that interest for Human Rights did not derive from the structure of the international society. Indeed, international law, by definition, regulates the relations between states : the international society being anarchical, international law is considered a ?law of co-operation' and co-existence, and not a ?law of subordination' (like internal law, which is based on a vertical hierarchy). Inter-state treaties are based on the pacta sunt servanda principle, that is to say on reciprocity : if one state fails to meet its obligations towards another state, the other one has the right to retaliate by stopping to meet its own obligations towards the other.

[...] Theories of International Relations, quite understandably, have always been influenced by historical events, so the perpetuation of the idea of Human Rights in modern theories of International Relations will depend on questions such as : How will the dilemma between state sovereignty principle and Human Rights universality turn out ? Is the now almost universal approval of the idea of Human Rights a sign that states will ameliorate their Human Rights records ? Will economic globalisation alone mechanically lead to democratisation ? [...]


[...] The fall of international liberalism, the triumph of realism, and their effect on Human Rights in International Relations The selfish attitude of states when confronted to major political interests or the economic crisis, the spread of fascist regimes across Europe, the resulting ?bankruptcy' of the Society of Nations, and the eventual new World War they caused, could have led to a revival of international liberalism. The creation of the Organisation of United Nations by the San Francisco Charter of June 1945, and the massive ratifying of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was doubtlessly inspired by liberal ideas. [...]


[...] The end of the Cold War and its positive effect on the place of Human Rights in International Relations Theories and states' foreign policy Yet, one had to wait until 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc for realism to be superseded as the dominant paradigm in International Relations studies. The fall of realism was not caused by the now evident domination of one state over the rest of the world (which, although the end of the Soviet rule made the risk of a Third World War vanish, does not make the typically realist question of knowing how to maintain global peace less interesting), but by its having been totally unable to predict the fall of the USSR. [...]

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