Early in the Clinton administration, the United Nations Human Rights Commission was holding hearings in New York on the compliance of various member states -- including, for the first time, the United States -- with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I was there because I was working at Human Rights Watch, but in the gallery observing the proceedings were a number of more surprising visitors -- not just the professional UN watchers but a wide variety of advocates for civil rights and social justice, some of them quite poor themselves.
Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry By Michael Ignatieff,
with contributions by K. Anthony Appiah, David A. Hollinger, Thomas W. Laqueur,
and Diane F. Orentlicher. Edited and introduced by Amy Gutmann. Princeton
University Press, 187 pages, $19.95
Is the world moving forward or backward when it comes to honoring and
protecting basic human rights? In Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry,
Michael Ignatieff sees both progress and retrenchment. Since the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, there has been a "global diffusion" of the
central ideas and language designed after World War II to "create fire walls
As I write, the United States is preparing to execute Timothy McVeigh on May 16. If the death penalty is to exist at all, it's hard to imagine a more compelling candidate--a terrorist and mass murderer, apparently sane and unremorseful. Yet, remarkably, there are stirrings of debate about McVeigh's execution, led by the doubts expressed by some of the families of his Oklahoma City victims. When the hardest of hard cases gives so many people pause, it's clear that an opportunity is at hand for a public reappraisal of capital punishment in America.