Human rights diplomacy

Navigating an era of polarization
Research paper Published 19 April 2023 ISBN: 978 1 78413 561 4 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135614
Delegates sit at desks under the multicoloured and textured ceiling of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations room at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

In an era of increasing polarization between great powers, and amid profound and overlapping global challenges, principled leadership and careful diplomacy on human rights are urgently needed. The norms and tools of the multilateral human rights system offer ways to address global crises. But it remains in question whether, and how, human rights diplomacy can respond effectively.

The US and China champion competing human rights paradigms of democracy vs development, but these represent neither a holistic view of human rights nor a sustainable way forward. Despite the disincentives that polarization creates for other, less powerful states, innovative ideas and new leadership are emerging within the system – particularly from countries in the Global South. Such efforts present a potential way out of the current impasse.

This research paper aims to provide an overview of the most significant challenges and trends in human rights diplomacy – including the systemic challenge posed by China and the emergence from the Global South of a more diverse agenda – and to propose ways to preserve and reinvigorate the multilateral system for the protection and fulfilment of human rights.