Intro to Modern World History

10 The Global Human Rights System

Shelley Rose


This module considers the emergence of the international system of human rights after World War II. Historian Jean Quataert contextualizes this moment in Advocating Dignity: “Armed with the full weight of what history had just revealed about the human capacity for evil, this system commanded great moral authority, which its authors were able to translate in a few years into three components: (1) A permanent U.N. committee structure of oversight and norm-setting, (2) authority to codify new international human rights and criminal law and make it binding on the ratifying states, and (3) a willingness to respond to – if not mobilize – international public opinion that was becoming invested in halting grave injustices and abuses abroad.” (2009) We will discuss it here between the end of  World War II and the advent of the Cold War world in order to see how the concept of human rights both shaped, and was influenced by the historical context.


After completing Chapter 10, you will be able to

  1. Define human rights.
  2. Provide and explain the use of human rights language at an individual and institutional level.
  3. Understand the history of human rights as a dynamic and non-linear narrative.
  4. Evaluate the influence of human rights language in the international order after 1945.

Section 1:

  1. Read historian Jussi M. Hanhimäki, “The best hope of mankind? A brief history of the UN,” in The United Nations: A Very Short Introduction.
  2. Primary Source: Avalon Project, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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