Posted by Vanessa Castañeda
Last Thursday, the 25th of September, Dr. Kathryn Sikkink gave a lecture entitled “Norm Diffusions from the Global South” at Tulane University. Sikkink is Professor of Human Rights and Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
The approach to international human rights has been widely conceptualized as a concept or norm that emerged from the Global North and West. However, Dr. Sikkink presented a more nuanced approach to the unique historical role of Latin America in the development of international human rights norms.
Within popular imaginary as well as political and scholarly spheres, the origins of human rights often times dates back to 1948 and the drafting of the core human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The popular notion is that the UN general assembly was mostly made up of countries from the Global North since the meeting predates the latest era of decolonization. Yet 20 of the 50 countries involved were from Latin America, or 40% of the total.
Moreover, often forgotten is an important meeting that took place a few years earlier–in 1945–in San Francisco. At that meeting, which essentially created the United Nations, a group of countries including Panama, Uruguay and Mexico put forth a strong call for a declaration of human rights in the UN Charter. As we know, that battle was lost. Furthermore, a full draft of the American declaration of Human Rights was written by the Inter-American juridical committee in December of 1945 and circulated in the spring of 1946. The “right to remedies,” the idea that victims have rights to remedy that is the basis for human rights prosecutions all over the world today, was formulated in the American declaration of Human Rights.
This side of history has been silenced for various reasons. Understanding this aspect of history can therefore clarify Latin America’s position in human rights today. It also reveals that norm diffusion of human rights has occurred not only from north to south, but also from south to north. Indeed, in some ways, Latin American countries have been models for other countries all over the world.