In This Review

Universal Rights Down to Earth (Amnesty International Global Ethics Series)
Universal Rights Down to Earth (Amnesty International Global Ethics Series)
By Richard Thompson Ford
160 pp, W. W. Norton & Company, 2011

When the Declaration of the Rights of Man was adopted by the French National Constituent Assembly in 1789, the British parliamentarian Edmund Burke skeptically responded, “What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them.” In this spirit, Ford argues that human rights are best advanced when they are “brought down to earth” and turned into steady, pragmatic efforts to tackle injustice in specific political settings. The book is most impressive in its characterization of the ideas and politics that motivate the loosely organized global human rights movement, which pursues many causes but has not offered a unified, coherent vision of a world governed by international law. Still, Ford believes that the collective efforts of many individual human rights groups have encouraged an increasingly universal belief that no government should be permitted to torture its citizens, suppress dissent, victimize women, or persecute religious minorities. Ford’s message is that the political effectiveness of this global movement ultimately hinges on the ability of activists to work with local institutions to fashion reforms that address the real-world aspirations of citizens