Bringing Human Rights Home

9 May 2014
Last update: 09/05/14 19:23

Elizabeth Dale
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“All human beings…should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

So reads Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). But in this, the sixty-fifth anniversary of the UDHR, claims for human rights are much in the news. And the appeals of the Roma in Europe, the challenges to racial profiling by national security forces around the world, and the arguments in favor of the DREAM Act in the United States, suggest that twenty-first century human rights claims frequently sit at the crossroad between migration and race. The most recent issue of Law and History Review, like the language of the UDHR quoted above, suggests that this is not a recent development. Three different articles in that issue put the relationship between human rights protections, migration, and problems of racial discrimination into historical context. The result is sometimes surprising.

In the first of these essays, Alison Bashford and Jane McAdam reconsider the debates over the asylum provision of Britain’s 1905 Aliens Act.  Their article traces the evolution of the right to asylum from that Act to the UDHR in 1948, situating the right at the crossroads of international and domestic law and exploring why the broad asylum provisions in the 1905 Act were not copied in the UDHR.

Two other articles, one by Ofra Friesel, the other by Timothy Lovelace, offer close looks at the passage of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1965. Friesel’s study provides a detailed analysis of why CERD did not cover religious discrimination as well as race. Finally, the article by Lovelace looks closely at the role civil rights activists in the United States played in the drafting of that Convention, reminding us that the idea of universal, as opposed to constitutional, rights has a history even in the United States.

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