In This Article Human Rights and Humanitarian Diplomacy (1856 - )

  • Introduction
  • Celebrity Diplomacy
  • Business Diplomacy

International Relations Human Rights and Humanitarian Diplomacy (1856 - )
Kelly-Kate Pease, Kelly McBride
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0126


Human rights and humanitarian diplomacy is defined as the negotiating, bargaining, and advocating process associated with the promotion and protection of international human rights and humanitarian principles. There are important legal and operational distinctions between human rights and humanitarianism. Human rights are generally thought of as entitlements designed to promote human dignity. International human rights law places a duty on states to promote and protect those entitlements. Broadly speaking, humanitarianism centers on action taken by states and other actors, not because they believe individuals have a specific legal right, but because it is the moral and humane thing to do. International humanitarian law governs the law of armed conflict and the treatment of those who are not participating in the conflict. While some human rights may be suspended during public emergencies, international humanitarian law codifies human rights protections (like the prohibition against torture) where no derogation is permitted. Thus, human rights and humanitarian affairs often occupy the same geopolitical space because their end goals are similar. The creation, definition, codification, implementation, and the discovery of international human rights and humanitarian principles requires diplomacy on multiple levels. A dearth of literature exists that specifically addresses human rights and humanitarian diplomacy as its principal subject matter, in part because significant diplomatic activity related to human rights and humanitarian affairs really did not really begin until the mid-1970s, save for the initial diplomatic push for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. It was not pursued in earnest until the 1990s. Also, analyses of diplomacy tended to focus on states, their foreign policies, and the activities of their embassies and Ministries of Foreign Affairs. Much less attention was paid to nonstate actors such as Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) until the late 1990s. As such, most of the literature related to human rights and humanitarian diplomacy is treated indirectly in books and articles on: diplomacy, human rights, humanitarian affairs, IGOs, or NGOs, rather than focusing exclusively on this very specific form of diplomacy. This literature review is thus challenged to capture the dimensions of human rights and humanitarian diplomacy in these disparate pieces of literature.

General Overviews

This section explores the relatively short list of works devoted explicitly to the conduct of human rights and humanitarian diplomacy. It also includes general diplomacy texts that substantively address human rights and humanitarian affairs. It also identifies key journals that extensively cover human rights and humanitarian diplomacy.

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