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The Human Rights Tradition and Amnesty International

The Human Rights Tradition and Amnesty International

(p.123) Chapter 5 The Human Rights Tradition and Amnesty International
Cultural Dilemmas of Progressive Politics
University of Chicago Press

This chapter reviews the cultural traditions on which contemporary human rights work relies, with a special focus on three defining documents. Two of these—the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the U.S. Bill of Rights—date from the age of democratic revolutions. These documents, along with thinkers such as Locke and Voltaire, helped construct the tradition of human rights. The third document is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations shortly after World War II. The UDHR has become the sacred text of the contemporary human rights movement. The discussion of these documents is intended as a sketch of the most important elements of the historical deposit contemporary human rights work draws upon, not an intellectual history of this tradition. The second half of the chapter takes a quick look at the organizational structure and history of Amnesty International and then examines Amnesty's appropriation of the human rights tradition, focusing on the rules it has adopted to govern its work and how it defines its organizational “mandate.”

Keywords:   human rights, Amnesty International, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights movement, organizational structure, United Nations, Bill of Rights

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