Average people helped shape human rights movement, claims book

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Washington, March 14 (ANI): A new book by a Binghamton University history professor examines the history of human rights.

Published by University of Pennsylvania Press, "Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics" by Jean Quataert says average people have helped shape the human rights movement.

Quataert said: "One of the book's major contributions is that it is a global study of the human rights machinery done essentially from the grass roots and through people's movements.

"I wanted to show what a difference average people make in global politics."

The book takes the reader from the mid-20th century into the early 21st century, from the emergence of the human rights system in 1945 to the replacement of the United Nations' Human Rights Commission with the Human Rights Council in 2005. Quataert also establishes global contexts for the work of human rights advocates.

Case studies range from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the nonconformists of the Soviet Union to advocacy for gender, citizenship and socio-economic rights.

She said: "To me, human rights is not about states taking on human rights.

"It's about people devising the tools to influence the decision-makers."

A quote from environmentalist/activist Patsy Ruth Oliver opens the book's concluding chapter: "So many people don't think that one person can make a difference. But really, it has to start somewhere, so let it start with me."

The book is full of heroes who could have easily spoken the words of Oliver. There are Hebe de Bonafini and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, middle-aged and working-class women who entered the square in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1977 to protest the disappearance of family members during the Argentine government's Dirty War. The Mothers' principles and passion eventually made disappearance "a matter of international urgency," while becoming a "symbol of defiance and truth," Quataert says.

The readers are told of Gladys Tsolo, a South African activist who not only gave the world details of the nation's inhumane system, but also discussed gender injustices there. Quataert writes: "She was an indispensible part of making the women's human rights movement truly global, by forcing a different perspective than the Western feminists' into the global debate,"

According to Quataert, non-governmental organizations and people's movements eventually affected decisions made by entities such as the United Nations.

She said: "While not every person and every movement can affect a decision, collectively it is an impressive record."

Quataert started writing the book shortly after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

She said: "It was a form of catharsis for me.

"It was a personal thing I felt I needed to do under trying and difficult times."

She went on: "I thought, 'Why not take some chances? Why not push the borders of knowledge? Why not see what a new perspective can bring to this subject?'"

"If international law is going to mean anything, you need universal accountability - accountability of the U.S. as a superpower as well as Sudan as a poor country," she said. "What happens when a state as powerful as the U.S. egregiously breaks the law?"

Quataert added: "The hope for human rights is people's mobilizations.

"You can make a difference. There are many ways to get involved - writing letters, joining organizations, giving money, speaking out. This does make a difference."

The book is expected to be released in paperback this fall. (ANI)

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