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section heading icon     studies of human rights law

This page highlights some of the general literature on human rights law: principles, legislation, treaties.

It covers -

Reports and academic studies of particular legislation are identified in the guides. 

section marker     philosophies of human rights

The essays in Theories of Rights (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1984) edited Jeremy Waldron and Philosophical Issues in Human Rights (New York: Random 1986) edited by Patricia Werhane & David Ozar provide a point of entry into contemporary moral philosophy and human rights. On Human Rights (New York: Basic Books 1993) edited by Stephen Shute & Susan Hurley is more eclectic. Mary Ann Glendon's Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (New York: Free Press 1991) offers another perspective.

Ronald Dworkin's Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1977), Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State & Utopia (New York: Basic Books 1974), John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1971), Alan Gewirth’s Human Rights (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 1982), Russell Hardin's Morality within the Limits of Reason (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 1988) and Joel Feinberg's Rights, Justice & the Bounds of Liberty (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 1980) have been influential during the past three decades.

Feinberg's The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law - in four volumes as Harm to Others (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1984), Offense to Others (1985), Harm to Self (1986) and Harmless Wrongdoing (1988) - is of particular value.

Richard Tuck's Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin & Development (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1979) is a comprehensive introduction to the classical literature. Peter Junger's 1995 Why The Buddha Has No Rights (txt) comments on the Buddhist tradition. Perspectives on Islamic traditions are provided by Michael Cook's lucid Commanding Right & Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2001), Micheline Ishay's The History of Human Rights (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 2004) and Human Rights in Africa: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Washington: Brookings Institution Press 1990) edited by Abdullahi An-Nai'm & Francis Deng.

In Defence of Animals (New York: Blackwell 1985) edited by Peter Singer, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 2006) by Martha Nussbaum and Do Animals Have Rights (London: Icon 2005) by Alison Hillsmay provoke thought about utilitarian and other foundations of ethical systems. Same-Sex Marriage: The Cultural Politics of Love and Law (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2006) by Kathleen Hull offers a perspective on an area of contemporary debate.

For labour rights see in particular Labour Rights as Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2005) edited by Philip Alston and Child Labor and Human Rights: Making Children Matter (Boulder: Lynne Rienner 2005) edited by Burns Weston.

section marker     rights and law

Much of the literature on anti-discrimination law is dauntingly technical, self-congratulatory or overly polemical. Two useful background collections are Non-Discrimination Law: Comparative Perspectives (Hague: Kluwer 1999) edited by Titia Loenen & Peter Rodrigues and Anti-Discrimination Law Enforcement: A Comparative Perspective (Brookfield: Avebury 1997) edited by Martin MacEwen.

There is a broader discussion in the two volume The Law of Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2000) by Richard Clayton & Hugh Tomlinson and in Theodor Meron's Human Rights & Humanitarian Norms as Customary Law (Oxford: Clarendon 1989). For NGOs see in particular Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 1998) by Margaret Keck & Kathryn Sikkink.

section marker     Australian law

We have noted particular Australian works in the individual guides, for example Bede Harris' cogent A New Constitution for Australia (London: Cavendish 2002), George Williams' Human Rights under the Australian Constitution (Melbourne: Oxford Uni Press 1999), A Bill of Rights for Australia (Sydney: Uni of NSW Press 2000) and The case for an Australian Bill of Rights: Freedom in the War on Terror (Sydney: UNSW Press 2004).

Others include Chris Ronalds' Discrimination Law & Practice (Annandale: Federation Press 1998), Discrimination Law & Practice (Leichhardt: Federation Press 2004) by Chris Ronalds & Rachel Pepper, Retreat from Injustice: Human Rights Law in Australia (Leichhardt: Federation Press 2004) by Nick O'Neil, Simon Rice & Roger Douglas, Michael Kirby's Through The World's Eye (Annandale: Federation Press 2000), Hilary Charlesworth's concise Writing In Rights: Australia & the Protection of Human Rights (Sydney: Uni of NSW Press 2002) and Luke McNamara's Regulating Racism: Racial Vilification Laws in Australia (Sydney: Federation Press 2002).

Peter Bailey's Human Rights: Australia in an International Context (Melbourne: Butterworths 1990) and Margaret Thornton's The Liberal Promise: Anti-Discrimination Legislation in Australia (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1990) been largely superseded by Human Rights in International & Australian Law (Melbourne: Butterworths 2000) by Stuart Kaye & Ryszard Piotrowicz and by Human Rights & Australian Law: Principles, Practice and Potential (Annandale: Federation Press 1998) edited by David Kinley.

An official overview is provided by the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission's 255 page Federal Discrimination Law 2004 handbook. As noted on the following page of this profile, only the Australian Capital Territory currently has a Bill of Rights enactment, which serves to inform lawmakers and the community about the interpretation of the Territory's legislation rather than establish specific rights directly accessible by members of the public.

section marker     New Zealand

For New Zealand see Rights & Freedoms: the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 & the Human Rights Act 1993 (Wellington: Brooke's 1995) edited by Grant Huscroft & Paul Rishworth and Justice, Ethics & New Zealand Society (Auckland: Oxford Uni Press 1992) edited by Graham Oddie & Roy Perrett.

section marker     and other nations

For the UK and other EU jurisdictions see Anti-Discrimination Law (Aldershot: Dartmouth 1991) edited by Christopher McCrudden, EU Human Rights Policies: A Study in Irony (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2004) by Andrew Williams and Discrimination: The Limits of Law? (London: Mansell 1992) edited by Bob Hepple & Erika Szyszczak.

McCrudden and Gerry Chambers co-edited Human Rights & Civil Liberties in Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993).

Rachel Murray's Human Rights in Africa: From the OAU to the African Union (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2004), Randall Peerenboom's China's Long March toward Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2002), Stanley Lubman's Bird in a Cage: Legal Reform in China after Mao (Stanford: Stanford Uni Press 1999) and Human Rights in Contemporary China (New York: Columbia Uni Press 1986) edited by R Randle Edwards are invaluable. For the beginnings of intervention see Carole Fink's Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2004).

For Eastern Europe see in particular (Un)Civil Societies: Human
Rights and Democratic Transitions in Eastern Europe and Latin America
(Lanham: Lexington Books 2005) edited by Rachel May & Andrew Milton.

Points of entry to the literature regarding Canada include Christopher MacLennan's Toward the Charter: Canadians and the Demand for a National Bill of Rights, 1929-1960 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's Uni Press 2003) and Ross Lambertson's Repression and Resistance: Canadian Human Rights Activists, 1930-1960 (Toronto: Uni of Toronto Press 2005).

section marker     UN Declarations

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Common Standard of Achievement (Hague: Nijhoff 1999) edited by Gudmundur Alfredsson & Asbjorn Eide is a somewhat self-congratulatory collection from the human rights professoriat.

There is a more tart account in Human Rights As Politics & Idolatry (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2001) edited by Amy Gutmann, NGO's and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: St Martins 1998) by William Korey and White Hats or Don Quixotes?: Human Rights Vigilantes in the Global Economy (PDF) by Kimberly Elliott & Richard Freeman.

Questions of the applicability of human rights as a particularly 'western' and 'bourgeois' construct are explored in Human Rights: Cultural & Ideological Perspectives (New York: Praeger 1979) edited by Adamantia Pollis & Peter Schwab, Asian Values & Human Rights: A Confucian Communitarian Perspective (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1998) by William De Bary, The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1999) edited by Joanne Bauer & Daniel Bell, and Human Rights Fifty Years On: A Reappraisal (Manchester: Manchester Uni Press 1998) edited by Tony Evans.

For the UN Convention Relating To The Status of Refugees see in particular The Refugee Convention at Fifty: A View From Forced Migration Studies (New York: Lexington 2003) edited by Joanne van Selm & Khoti Kamanga, Managing Displacement: Refugees & the Politics of Humanitarianism (Minneapolis: Uni of Minnesota Press 2000) by Jennifer Hyndman and Free Movement: Ethical Issues in the Transatonal Migration of People & Money (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester 1992) edited by Brian Barry & Robert Goodin. We have highlighted other studies here.

Michael Ignatieff's 2000 Human Rights As Politics and Human Rights as Idolatry lectures (PDF) considers the 'rights debates'.

Costas Douzinas, in The End of Human Rights (Cambridge: Hart 2000) despairs of

triumphalist column writers, bored diplomats and rich international lawyers ... whose experience of human rights violations is confined to being served a bad bottle of wine.

There is a more positive view in Richard Falk's Human Rights Horizons: The Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World (New York: Routledge 2000).

Perceived tensions between human rights and state integrity - evident in claims by authorities in China and Indonesia that strengthened human rights will result in disintegration of the state and thus widespread suffering - are explored in The New World Order: Sovereignty, Human Rights & the Self-Determination of Peoples (Oxford: Berg 1996) edited by Mortimer Sellers, Religion & Human Rights: Conflicting Claims (Armonk: Sharpe 1999) edited by Carrie Gustafson & Peter Juviler, Autonomy, Sovereignty & Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights (Philadelphia: Uni of Pennsylvania Press 1996) by Hurst Hannum, Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 2006) by Harri Englund and Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention (New York: Rowman & Littlefield 1998) edited by Jonathan Moore.

For a detailed philosophical and historical analysis see The International Bill of Rights: the Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (New York: Columbia Uni Press 1981) edited by Louis Henkin, Making Sense of Human Rights (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 1987) by James Nickel and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting & Intent (Philadelphia: Uni of Pennsylvania Press 1998) by Johannes Morsink. The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen (Philadelphia: Uni of Pennsylvania Press 1998) by Paul Lauren and The Political Economy of Civil Society & Human Rights (London: Routledge 1998) by Gary Madison.

section marker     treaties and enforcement

For perspectives on treaty-making powers and limitations under the Australian constitution, of particular relevance for the UN Conventions, see Trick or Treaty? Commonwealth Power to Make and Implement Treaties - the 1995 report of the Senate Legal & Constitutional References Committee.

The federal Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade has an online Australian Treaties Library on AustLII (here), which identifies current international instruments.

There is a broader treatment in The Effect of Treaties in Domestic Law (London: Sweet & Maxwell 1987) edited by Francis Jacobs & Shelley Roberts and Delegating State Powers: The Effect of Treaty Regimes on Democracy and Sovereignty (Ardsley: Transnational 2000) edited by Thomas Franck.

For questions of enforcement - highlighted in decisions by the Commonwealth Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission regarding vilification, privacy and online accessibility - see in particular Enforcing International Human Rights in Domestic Courts (The Hague: Nijhoff 1997) edited by Benedetto Conforti & Francioni Francesco, European Human Rights Convention in Domestic Law - A Comparative Study (Oxford: Clarendon 1983) by Andrew Drzemczewski and International Prosecution of Human Rights Crimes (Berlin: Springer Verlag 2006) edited by Wolfgang Kaleck, Michael Ratner, Tobias Singelnstein & Peter Weiss.

Howard Meyer's The World Court in Action: Judging among the Nations (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield 2002) offers an introduction to the court.

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