In This Review

Making Human Rights a Reality
Making Human Rights a Reality
By Emilie M. Hafner-Burton
Princeton University Press, 2013, 296 pp
Purchase

Over the last 60 years, the international community has constructed a global human rights system, embodied in an expanding array of principles, declarations, treaties, courts, and transnationally organized lawyers and activists. Yet as Hafner-Burton makes clear in this important book, the system’s aspirations have far outstripped its ability to enforce international law and protect norms. Hafner-Burton argues that what is needed is not more international law but targeted strategic actions by advanced democracies -- the so-called stewardship states -- to curb the worst abuses. The book acknowledges that international laws and norms have had an impact, but mainly in stable and developed societies or in countries making transitions to democracy. Unfortunately, the people most at risk live elsewhere, in small, poor, and war-torn countries where appeals to moral or legal principles have little effect. The book argues that fighting systematic human rights abuse requires a strategy of localization, in which outside groups work with domestic counterparts to promote education and the training of military and police forces. Hafner-Burton’s sober message is that human rights promotion cannot be separated from the daunting task of building stable, rule-based societies.