The Politics of Human Rights Diplomacy

DOI10.1177/0973598420943437
1 School of Social Sciences, The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences,
Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
2 Student, Vth Year, B.A.L.L.B., The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences,
Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
Corresponding author:
Anupama Ghosal, The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Dr. Ambedkar
Bhavan 12, LB Block, Sector III, Salt Lake City Kolkata, West Bengal 700106, India.
E-mails: anupamawbnujs@gmail.com; sreeja183@gmail.com
The Politics of
Human Rights
Diplomacy
Anupama Ghosal1 and Sreeja Pal2
Abstract
The issue of Human Rights features as a prominent agenda of the United
Nations and its related international organizations. However, when it
comes to precise formulation of a country’s foreign policy in bilat-
eral or multilateral forums, the issues of trade and national security
find priority over pressing human rights violations occurring within the
countries engaged in the diplomatic dialogue. An often-employed reason
behind such an approach is the need to respect sovereignty and non-
interference of a country in diplomacy. This article aims at analysing the
potential which diplomacy holds to pressurize recalcitrant regimes to
respect human rights. In doing so, the article tries to explore the ambit
of Human Rights Diplomacy and the relationship between agenda of
politics and human rights.
Keywords
Human rights diplomacy, humanitarian diplomacy, humanitarian foreign
policy
Introduction
The complexity of devising a foreign policy revolves around balancing
and prioritizing among different agendas—security, trade and health
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
25(1) 101 –123, 2021
2020 Jadavpur University
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DOI: 10.1177/0973598420943437
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Article
102 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 25(1)
issues being the primary ones, which often feature in the bilateral and
multilateral forums. Although a number of United Nations (UN)
resolutions have been passed on the agenda of basic human rights,
bilateral diplomatic ties are rarely built on the basis of human rights
issues alone. When it comes to precise formulation of a country’s foreign
policy in bilateral or multilateral forums, the issues of trade and national
security find priority over pressing human rights issues occurring within
the countries engaged in the diplomatic dialogue. An often-employed
reason behind such an approach is the need to respect sovereignty and
non-interference of a country in diplomacy. It would be unfair to give a
blanket statement that human rights issues are ignored altogether in
foreign policies, but the fact remains that when it comes to pressurizing
recalcitrant regimes to respect human rights, diplomatic ties have not
been terminated based solely on the grounds of human rights violations
in the other state. Human rights activists have often accused developed
nations of hypocrisy for ignoring human rights violation for political
convenience, even on issues that these nations are otherwise very vocal
about (Amnesty International 2015). These developed countries are
accused of not only ignoring grave human rights abuses but also of
actively forming bilateral alliances with abusive governments for various
trade-centric aspects (The Economist 2011).
However, narrowly focusing on the so-called hypocrisy in formulation
of diplomatic relations would lose sight of the big picture at hand—the
potential that diplomacy holds for raising the standards of human lives.
In the field of international relations, it should be realized that distancing
foreign policy agendas away from politics is a futile exercise, and it is an
unwarranted one as well. Diplomacy is about politics, and so is the issue
of Human Rights. As noted, international law scholar Louis Henkin
states, the concept of human rights is a political one based on interpersonal
morality and should express a prevailing relationship between society
and the individual (Henkin 2000). An understanding of human rights
must focus on politics, for politics and morality are not ideologically
disjunctive. Moreover, advancing important agendas through the tool of
diplomacy warrants importance to the fact that diplomacy functions
around the fulcrum of reciprocity (Posner 2013).
This article aims at highlighting the ways in which the tools of
diplomacy can best be utilized for realizing the goal of human rights
protection across the globe. In order to do so, the first section of this
article discusses the ambit of human rights in the context of human rights
diplomacy. The second section of the article revolves around the

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