The human rights enterprise is now under assault in a way that has not been seen in years.  Not only are rising authoritarian powers openly disdainful of rights principles, which they denounce as decadent and subversive, but powerful constituencies are undermining basic rights protections even in established liberal democracies.  How should human rights advocacy and social justice campaigners take stock of these trends and adapt to this challenging environment? Fifteen prominent social scientists including Sally Merry, Sam Moyn, Kathryn Sikkink, and Beth Simmons debate the effectiveness and prospects for strategies of human rights advocacy in Human Rights Futures.  Proponents of four contending approaches make their case:  stay the course, empower rights through political pragmatism, translate rights talk into the vernacular, or subordinate rights talk to more resonant social justice appeals.


Brief presentations followed by debate and discussion with contributors to the volume:


Leslie Vinjamuri, Associate Professor of International Relations, Director of the Centre on Conflict, Rights, and Justice at SOAS, University of London: “Human Rights Backlash.”

Jack Snyder, Belfer Professor of International Relations, Columbia: “Empowering Rights through Mass Movements and Religion.”

Shareen Hertel, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, editor of The Journal of Human Rights: “Reframing Economic Rights.”

Alexander Cooley, Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and Director of Columbia’s Harriman Institute: “Dictators without Borders: Counternorms to Human Rights.”




Aryeh Neier, Co-founder, Human Rights Watch

Sarah Mendelson, Former U.S. Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council at the

United Nations

Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human

Rights Watch

Andrew Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia; board member of the National Endowment for Democracy and the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch, Asia