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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

Human Rights in International Relations
David P. Forsythe

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000
247pp. Index. Pb.: 12.95; ISBN 0-521-62999-3. Hb.: 32.50; ISBN 0-521-62000-7.

This is a comprehensive, well researched and easy-to-read book on how human rights (HR) are constructed, used, abused and manipulated in global politics. David Forsythe is one of the world's leading political science scholars in the area of HR and here he provides a text designed for scholars, students, the general public and policy makers. To assist the readers, each chapter contains 'discussion questions' and a useful guide for further reading. It is an excellent book for anyone interested in international HR.

The author argues that his purpose is 'to show how and why human rights standards come into being, impact the notion of sovereignty, become secondary or tertiary to other values and goals, are manipulated for reasons other than advancing human dignity and social justice, and sometimes change behavior to improve the human condition' (vii). The book does all these things in nine chapters. In the first chapter, Forsythe examines HR from several perspectives, and points out how international norms, including HR standards, come to reflect the preferences and interests of the great powers. Thus the construction of HR have to be understood, in part, in the context of global power configurations. He juxtaposes HR to state sovereignty, and explains sovereignty as a social construct.

The remaining chapters deal with the process of establishing HR standards, the global and regional applications of HR norms, including European, African and Western hemispheric standards, the international criminal justice system, foreign policy in comparative perspective, and the role of NGOs and transnational corporations in HR diplomacy. Each of these chapters makes rewarding reading. Forsythe emphasizes that the international law of HR is based on liberalism, while the practice of HR reflects a realist world. He demonstrates that the application of human rights throughout the world, especially since the 1940s, constitutes the liberalisation of realism.

In the chapter on international criminal justice, Forsythe examines the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the 1998 Rome statute on a standing International Criminal Court. While he believes that measures need to be taken to protect human rights and prevent ethnic cleansing, Forsythe is skeptical about the protection of HR through international criminal justice. He dismisses 'judicial romanticism' because he believes it 'is not an adequate policy; it is a moral posture' (p. 106). He concludes that it 'is highly likely that there is no perfect solution to the problem of past atrocities' (p. 107).

Forsythe explains well the relationship between HR and state sovereignty. He also reminds us that the French and American revolutions redefined state sovereignty as popular sovereignty. His analysis of sovereignty is very helpful, but perhaps due to space constraint, it does not draw the connection between popular sovereignty and HR. Human rights, which underpin popular sovereignty, and state sovereignty could be seen as two sides of the same coin.

Samuel M. Makinda: Murdoch University, Perth, Australia.

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