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The Making of International Human Rights
The 1960s, Decolonization, and the Reconstruction of Global Values

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Part of Human Rights in History

  • Date Published: February 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107531079

$ 32.99 (G)

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About the Authors
  • This book fundamentally reinterprets the history of international human rights in the post-1945 era by documenting how pivotal the Global South was for their breakthrough. In stark contrast to other contemporary human rights historians who have focused almost exclusively on the 1940s and the 1970s - heavily privileging Western agency - Steven L. B. Jensen convincingly argues that it was in the 1960s that universal human rights had their breakthrough. This is a ground-breaking work that places race and religion at the center of these developments and focuses on a core group of states who led the human rights breakthrough, namely Jamaica, Liberia, Ghana, and the Philippines. They transformed the norms upon which the international community today is built. Their efforts in the 1960s post-colonial moment laid the foundation - in profound and surprising ways - for the so-called human rights revolution in the 1970s, when Western activists and states began to embrace human rights.

    • Reinterprets how human rights emerged in global politics after 1945
    • Highly relevant for human rights practitioners, NGOs, international organizations and diplomats
    • Presents the political history behind the most significant attempt in the twentieth century to make religion a subject of international law
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    • Winner, 2017 Human Rights Best Book Award, International Studies Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Based on an impressive range of multinational archival and published primary sources, as well as on a solid reading of the relevant body of research literature, this book is a valuable and impressive contribution to international historical scholarship on the evolution of international human rights norms and their codification as international law in the twentieth century."
    Jay Winter, Yale University, Connecticut

    "Steven L. B. Jensen offers a fundamentally new interpretation of international human rights history, and his book will make a major contribution to this emerging field. The book is based on an impressive body of research in a wide range of countries and archives. This is a truly important work."
    Sarah Snyder, American University, Washington DC

    "This book makes a significant and, in many respects, highly novel contribution to the field. Crucially, it represents one of the few recent works that seeks to address the 1960s. The author gives ample reason to revisit this decade and, consequently, to rebalance the relative importance of the two favored decades of human rights historiography, the 1940s and 1970s. It is a work that complements the current state of the art."
    Roland Burke, La Trobe University, Victoria

    '… the most comprehensive counter-narrative produced to date. Making use of archive collections in ten nations … Jensen convincingly argues that the Global South is an active and formative player in the diplomatic negotiations regarding human rights. In addition, his illustration of how human rights became a discursive tool … provides an important counterbalance to notions of a Cold War that provided no space beyond the US-Soviet binary. … readers will particularly appreciate his skill at recreating complex diplomatic moments, and translating legal documents, meeting notes, and policy reforms into readable and frankly, riveting chapters. Not only does Jensen’s work unsettle the entire narrative of human rights history, but he also in fact requires modern historians to step back and reevaluate virtually every diplomatic development in the postwar era. This work is a critical and long-needed intervention in human rights history, diplomatic history, and indeed, modern world history.' Samantha Christiansen, H-Diplo

    'Jensen pursues two aims: to include the 1960s into the historiography on human rights and to highlight the contributions made by a number of states from the Global South, especially Jamaica and Liberia. … Jensen has written a well researched and solid book.' Philipp Kandler, Global Histories: A Student Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107531079
    • length: 326 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.51kg
    • contains: 11 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. 'Power carries its own conviction': the early rise and fall of human rights, 1945–60
    2. 'The problem of freedom': the United Nations and decolonization, 1960–1
    3. From Jamaica with law: the rekindling of international human rights, 1962–7
    4. The making of a precedent: racial discrimination and international human rights law, 1962–6
    5. 'The hymn of hate': the failed convention on elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, 1962–7
    6. 'So bitter a year for human rights':
    1968 and the UN International Year for Human Rights
    7. 'To cope with the flux of the future': human rights and the Helsinki Final Act, 1962–75
    8. The presence of the disappeared, 1968–93

  • Author

    Steven L. B. Jensen, The Danish Institute for Human Rights
    Steven L. B. Jensen is a researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. He has previously published on genocide in the twentieth century, HIV/AIDS, global health and development, and 1960s politics. He is the winner of the 2015 Ester Boserup Thesis Prize and the 2015 Rene Cassin Thesis Prize (Special Mention).


    • Winner, 2017 Human Rights Best Book Award, International Studies Association
    • Winner, 2016 Chadwick Alger Prize, International Organization Section, International Studies Association

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