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Evidence for Hope:
Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century
Kathryn Sikkink

Hardcover | 2017 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691170626
336 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 5 halftones. 19 line illus. 1 table. 1 map.
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A history of the successes of the human rights movement and a case for why human rights work

Evidence for Hope makes the case that, yes, human rights work. Critics may counter that the movement is in serious jeopardy or even a questionable byproduct of Western imperialism. They point out that Guantánamo is still open, the Arab Spring protests have been crushed, and governments are cracking down on NGOs everywhere. But respected human rights expert Kathryn Sikkink draws on decades of research and fieldwork to provide a rigorous rebuttal to pessimistic doubts about human rights laws and institutions. She demonstrates that change comes slowly and as the result of struggle, but in the long term, human rights movements have been vastly effective.

Attacks on the human rights movement’s credibility are based on the faulty premise that human rights ideas emerged in North America and Europe and were imposed on developing southern nations. Starting in the 1940s, Latin American leaders and activists were actually early advocates for the international protection of human rights. Sikkink shows that activists and scholars disagree about the efficacy of human rights because they use different yardsticks to measure progress. Comparing the present to the past, she shows that genocide and violence against civilians have declined over time, while access to healthcare and education has increased dramatically. Cognitive and news biases contribute to pervasive cynicism, but Sikkink’s investigation into past and current trends indicates that human rights is not in its twilight. Instead, this is a period of vibrant activism that has made impressive improvements in human well-being.

Exploring the strategies that have led to real humanitarian gains since the middle of the twentieth century, Evidence for Hope looks at how these essential advances can be supported and sustained for decades to come.

Kathryn Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her books include The Justice Cascade (Norton) and Activists beyond Borders. She lives in Cambridge, MA.


"[Sikkink] effectively demonstrates what has been done in the past, giving doubters and pessimists reason to hope about what can be done in the future. From a scholarly activist, a solid and encouraging piece of research on the status of human rights around the world."--Kirkus


"Evidence for Hope dismantles claims on both the left and right that human rights efforts have been a failure. On the contrary, social science evidence demonstrates areas of marked improvement, as well as notable setbacks. Kathryn Sikkink convincingly argues that activists should be resilient, drawing hope from institutionalized human rights ideals and from their frequent realization."--Robert O. Keohane, Princeton University and author of After Hegemony

"A fascinating and vitally important book for anyone interested in freedom around the world and how we can expand it. Kathryn Sikkink’s portrait of human rights today is optimistic in the best sense--motivated not by a temperament that sees the glass as half full, but by a judicious look at the facts and a keen analytic eye."--Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

"With this book, Kathryn Sikkink shines a light on hope in times of disarray. She exposes how activists and politicians used human rights principles and institutions to end colonialism in Africa and Asia, and state terrorism in Latin America. Evidence for Hope demonstrates that human rights matter today more than ever."--Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

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Table of Contents:

1 Introduction: Anger, Hope, and the Belief You Can Make a Difference 3
2 Response to the Critics: How to Evaluate the Legitimacy and Effectiveness of Human Rights 22
3 The Diverse Political Origins of Human Rights 55
4 The Struggles for Human Rights during the Cold War 94
5 Why Is It So Hard to Measure the Effectiveness of Human Rights Law and Activism? 139
6 What Does and Doesn’t Work to Promote Human Rights? 181
7 Conclusions: Evidence for Hope without Complacency 225
Acknowledgments 249
Notes 255
Suggestions for Further Reading 301
Index 307


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