University of Waterloo
As the title of the book suggests, Rhoda Howard-Hassmann believes that human rights matter. Indeed, they matter a lot. Despite their limitations – particularly on questions of enforcement and compliance – rights remain the best tool for enabling individuals and communities to live lives of dignity, something that can only be realized when states commit to respecting the full spectrum of human rights of their citizens. Drawing on scholarship from across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, she expounds upon the contributions of each of the major categories of human rights – civil and political rights, economic and social rights, cultural and collective rights – to this quest for dignity, as well as the obligations of state and international actors to uphold each set of rights. In doing so, she ably dissects and refutes arguments (many of which are based on faulty or misleading reasoning) that suggest that rights have little relevance beyond the experience of the West. Highly accessible, the book is a superb synthesis of an entire field of scholarship. It will undoubtedly appeal to those who are new to the topic, and it will serve as a wonderful reference for those who work in the field. The depth and breadth of Howard-Hassmann's analysis is truly impressive. The book is as enthralling as it is timely. It is a tour de force, a must-read for scholars and practitioners of human rights alike. Compelling and provocative, it is a much-needed response to recent waves of scholarship that not only challenge claims of universality but suggest that human rights are increasingly ill-suited for the times, a product of a passing era.