Human Rights Regimes


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.


     Merriam Webster defines regime as a form of government or a government in power (Webster 2013). Using this definition one could assert that a human rights regime is a form of government with a specific aim to uphold or act with authority in regards to human rights. Equally true would be a description that portrays a government force that takes on many forms. To marry these definitions would allow for a broadened imagination of a powerful governmental force that takes on many different forms and is capable of competing with other types of governments. Such is the case when, as David Kennedy put it, “a cadre of diverse professionals travels the world denouncing governments and promoting human rights” (Kennedy 2001). Among these different forms of government are non-governmental organizations (arguably a misnomer, but NGOs are undoubtedly involved in the process of governing), international institutions, private foundations, specialized journalists, attorneys, and more. Jack Donnelly points to Stephen D. Krasner’s definition: “principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actor expectations converge in a given issue-area” (Donnelly 2013).


United Nations and the Security Council

     Human rights regimes were constructed by human rights professionals who desired to establish what Donnelly refers to as ‘structured regularity despite anarchy’ (Donnelly 2013). Prior to World War I, human rights were arguably non-existent. However, the United Nations arose as an international human rights regime during the late 40s following the crimes of Hitler which created a demand recognized by the international community. The UN and other human rights regimes have made much progress in regards to the declaration and promotion of human rights norms. They do so by establishing a framework for the development and enforcement of human rights. For instance, the UN established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 which paved the way for many legally binding treaties. The UN Security Council (UNSC), can impose sanctions, mandate peacekeeping operations, and authorize use of force in extreme cases (Council on Foreign Relations 2013). The UN Charter encourages member states to work fervently with regional arrangements to settle disputes locally. Regional organizations have courts where citizens can appeal human rights violations. Further, nongovernmental organizations have keen awareness of violations as they conduct expert research on the ground. This positions them to advocate relentlessly on behalf of victims and ensure governmental abuses do not go unrecognized. These regimental establishments create opportunity for human rights to be upheld, but lack the ability to offer guarantees. Some governments resist compliance with international norms because they feel it infringes on their cultural or social values. Still others are hesitant because some of the worst violators of human rights refuse to cooperate or sign binding treatise. For human rights regimes to become more effective their progress will have to be measured by their ability to affect implementation and compliance at a cross national level. One step in that direction would involve increasing treaty signatures, codifying them domestically, while ensuring governmental transparency and monitoring.


Quasi-universal Human Rights

     Recently, I have been using the term quasi-universal to describe the idea of human rights as all states have not embraced the UDHR. Additionally, I would not promulgate the UN as being the most successful in regards to an individualized measurement of success achieving human rights. But I do look at human rights, and human security in this context (for the sake of international dialogue and as an applicable approach to studying IR), as sort of a doctrine accepted or rejected by the international community. The NGOs, IGOs, and other actors that make up the human rights regime are a united force willfully or un-willfully. This dilemma exists in much the same way that Christian churches have various denominations, para-church organizations, and strategically focused ministries with differing approaches to proselytization, but all missions build their momentum and take direction from the bible. For instance a Christian rock band claims to have led someone to Christ after the concert. How do they intellectualize what it means to lead someone to Christ? They do so by pointing back to the bible. The act of the band and the bible are then legitimized synergistically. Human rights regimes have the UDHR as their bible, if you will. When Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and others achieve some level of victory regarding human rights, how do they intellectualize or legitimate what they have done quantitatively or qualitatively? They point back to the human rights pre-scripted in the UDHR. Who is responsible for and positioned to take credit for this doctrine? The UN!


Prospect of Definitive Expansion

     I believe that expanding the existing definitions would definitely allow others who currently object to hold themselves accountable to not using a theoretical or philosophical objection to prevent them from committing to protect human dignity. It has been eloquently stated before that sometimes the best way to gain cooperation is to make it as if the idea belongs to the other party in the first place. My immediate question here follows: Were any of the members of the UDHR drafting committee non-western? I postulate yes! If not, I am wrong and stand to be corrected. But if so, I believe any non-westerner who opposes the philosophical principles outlined in the UDHR bears the responsibility to articulate and submit with strict responsibility their philosophical principle priorities allowing for the opportunity to have the philosophies engrafted into the current definitions in a reasonable and agreeable fashion. They would need to do so with an understanding that if a majority of non-western states could agree to this synchronization, the minority would be subjected to compliance and any refusal or outright defiance of these newly synchronized international norms would constitute a loss of sovereignty and retroactively evoke the right to use military force to provoke compliance.

The Majestic ICC and a Deal-brokering UN

     If human rights regimes are like preachers of a human rights doctrine, the International Criminal Court (ICC) must be like the judgment seat of Christ. The verdicts and indictments that come out of there will carry the prowess to exonerate the legitimacy of the UDHR and glorify its birthday. In contrast, a lack of verdicts and indictments would work to delegitimize the UN! Furthermore, NGOs essentially exist independent of governmental influence. That is not to say, however, that NGOs do not compete against each other and compromise in ways that succumb to or favor governmental preferences. A hardline realist approach to analyzing NGOs dedicated to protecting human rights would most likely offer incentives to those NGOs to persuade them to cooperate in a way that would foster opportunities for them to expand economically by working with the UN instead against it. This would balance powers and mitigate the risk of the NGOs causing the UN to lose credibility and longevity over time. In essence, if they legitimately threaten to replace you competitively, offer them a job! I suppose this is already going on, but we will see more NGOs and INGOs attempting to become agencies, departments, arms, divisions, etc. within the UN in the future. In accord, contractual partnership agreements will exist binding them to not act in a way that opposes the UN.


Council on Foreign Relations. (2013, June 19). Publications. Retrieved November 20, 2013, from Council on Foreign Relations:

Donnelly, Jack. “International human rights: regime analysis. “International Organization 40, no. 3 (Sunmer86 1986): 599. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 20, 2013).

Kennedy, D. (2013). Publications. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from Harvard Law School:

Webster, M. (2013). Regime. Retrieved November 20, 2013, from Merriam Webster:


One thought on “Human Rights Regimes

  1. Pingback: National Human Rights Consciousness Week 2013 Calendar | chr - idp project

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