What makes a right universal?
Gillian Caldwell is the Executive Director of WITNESS, an international human rights organization that provides training and support to local groups to use video in their human rights advocacy capaigns. Caldwell was a Co-Director of the Global Survival Network (now WildAid), where she coordinated the two-year undercover investigation into the trafficking of women in Russia that culminated in her 1997 film, Bought and Sold. She is the leader of the Witness to Truth video project in Sierra Leone that urges the government of Sierra Leone to implement TRC recommendations. Caldwell was the reipient of the 2000 Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership award and has been named one of 40 Outstanding Social Entrepreneurs by the Schwab Foundation, a 2003 Tech Laureate by the Tech Museum, and a Special Partner by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. Caldwell received her BA from Harvard University and her JD in human rights law from Georgetown University. Her videos have been shown as evidence in legal proceedings, such as the international war crimes investigation against Slobodan Milosevic, in the Sierra Leone Truth Commission proceedings, and at the UN. Ideas recorded on: 8/13/07
Question: What makes a right universal?
Gillian Caldwell: That’s a big debate; which rights are universal and which rights are or should be left to the discretion of countries. Or in the U.S. context even, what should be left to the federal government versus what should be left to the states. Again, politics play into this of course because the so-called first generation rights were the civil and political rights like the right to vote or the right to freedom of speech.
The so-called third generation rights – social, economic and cultural rights – which were being pushed for more often by the developing world and/or by social democracies in communist countries are only slowly beginning to gain some credibility at a global level. So there’s always been this priority and primacy placed on the right be free from torture; but when you start to talk about the right to housing, there are lots of questions even amongst the westerners who are advocating and who have been leading the human rights movement about the enforceability of those rights because the economic implications are so substantial.
Caldwell, on the role of politics.
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