8. “International human rights cause”

Origins and use:

This phrase was incorporated in the original title of China’s draft resolution presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 on “Promoting the International Human Rights Cause through Win-Win Cooperation”. That wording was so contentious that China ultimately changed it to “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights”.


Implications for human rights:

Categorizing human rights as a “cause”, in the sense of a principle, ideal or goal, detracts from the fact that human rights are a set of well-established and highly developed legal obligations. It almost implies that human rights are open to discretion, in effect something optional for the state to “take up” should it so choose.

The preamble of the UN Charter suggests that human rights are, to some extent, the very raison d’être for the UN’s existence. Human rights have been enshrined in global, regional and national law and standards. They are protected, implemented and constantly developed by global, regional and national institutions.

The use of the phrase “international human rights cause” risks presenting human rights as a fuzzy concept that has yet to be fully determined and defined, rather than one firmly grounded in international law and increasingly defined over more than 70 years.