For human rights to be established there must be both strong popular support and a clear legal or policy mandate, as with many civil rights provisions today. Social movements must therefore advocate for the recognition of “rights,” and make them appealing to policymakers, lawmakers, policy analysts, and judges. Second, legal mandates must codify these “rights.”
Advocates should also focus most of their energies on state and local governments. Local activists often have more access to and influence over local officials, and human rights claims tend to draw more attention from hometown press. What’s more, federal officials are more open to adopting new practices that have already been shown to work at the state and local level.
Public officials have a role to play, too. Policy analysts should start to frame issues in human rights terms. Legislators, on the other hand, should begin by conforming U.S. law to outstanding treaty obligations. They should follow up by ratifying key human rights treaties, especially the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Lastly, they should begin referring to human rights instruments in legislation, or better, consider requiring human rights impact assessments of appropriate legislation and policies.
For a change in norms to be durable, it must start at the grassroots and be enshrined in law or policy. Only once human rights have become a part of our political identity will we be able to realize the world they envision here at home.
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