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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


The Essentials of Human Rights
Rhona K.M. Smith and Christien van den Anker

(Hodder Arnold, London, 2005) 406 pp, PB, 19.99
ISBN 0-340-81574-4


This volume is a collection of 142 essays by eminent scholars on various aspects of human rights. Each essay is quite succinct and comprehensive and informs the reader about almost all essential aspects of the specific strand of human rights under discussion, and the editors have also nicely organised these essays under ten broad headings that reveal their central underlying idea. The book serves two interrelated purposes: Specifically, these essays inform the reader about the historical roots, traditional values, theories and critiques of human rights; this in turn equips him/her with the knowledge about rights and freedoms, institutional frameworks, legal instruments and the monitoring and enforcement of human rights. In addition to angles such as humanitarian law and criminal law, the reality of human rights in different regions of the world and the future of human rights are also covered.

Under historical roots of human rights, the essays discussed address the status of human rights before World War II and the efforts of the United Nations since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Similarly, five of the essays highlighted the importance of traditional values of Ubuntu, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam and Judaism to human rights. Various theoretical insights and critiques of human rights are discussed in some of the essays. Institutional frameworks, and legal measures and the monitoring and enforcing of human rights are also key areas covered by a large number of essays. Similarly, another major area focussed on by many of the essays concerns the field of rights and freedoms. Others also provide a flavour of humanitarian and criminal law. Besides these abstract theoretical constructs, the editors have given careful attention to essays dealing with the reality of human rights in different parts of the world. Moreover, the visionary essays on various emerging issues related to human rights (e.g., terrorism, bioethics and human security) significantly strengthen this volume.

Agreeing fully with Mary Robinson?s foreword, this volume is a significant and ideal reference, with ?everything essential at one place?. It should be of relevance to all those, ?who are new to the human rights debate? (as claimed by the editors) but also to those who are dealing with human rights as activists, scholars and researchers, mainly due to its potential for quickly broadening their horizons and knowledge base. Keeping the aim of this volume in mind, there is very little to criticise; rather the editors should be congratulated for bringing out such a compact concise volume that contains everything essential for familiarising the reader with the breadth of human rights. Their effort is worth appreciation.


Varinder Jain, Research Scholar , Centre for Development Studies, Kerala, India



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