Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms

Summary of

Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms

By Ann Marie Clark

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Clark, Ann Marie. Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 183.

Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms is a study of how international human rights norms became solidified in the decades since 1961, when Amnesty International (AI) was founded. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed in 1948; however, state governments still maintained sovereignty when it came to internal affairs. As AI began investigating and reporting on human rights violations around the world, the organization's influence grew and AI became integral in developing enforceable international human rights norms as well as monitoring systems between nations. In this work, Ann Marie Clark describes how a series of international human rights norms got through highly contested battles and emerged as global standards. She covers how "norms dealing with torture, disappearances, and political killings have emerged", as well as "the unique historical and theoretical place of Amnesty International, and by extension other NGOs, in their emergence" (5).

After providing a brief history of Amnesty International's origins and describing some of the principles that guide the work of NGOs, Clark discusses how AI and other NGOs used their leverage "to shepherd the emergence of principled international [human rights] norms" (21). The author covers various theories on the formation of norms and describes the ways in which NGOs like AI challenged state sovereignty in order to establish human rights principles. Furthermore, Clark identifies four phases (fact finding, consensus building, principled norm construction, norm application) in the emergence of international human rights norms, calling it a case of "principled norm emergence" (32). This four-phase framework provides the structure of each of the following three chapters.

Chapter Three examines AI's efforts to establish preventative international norms concerning prisoner treatment, namely torture. AI recognized a need to influence state government behavior at a general level by developing norms. Clark looks at AI's approach to establishing such norms against torture, believing that his particular example may serve "as a template for understanding the development of norms on other human rights themes" (37). This process is revealed through an analysis of certain cases that AI focused on and is presented within the four-phase framework described in Chapter Two.

Chapter Four considers the phenomenon of state-ordered "disappearances", a covert government activity that became widespread in the 1960's and 1970's. During the time that such disappearances began to dramatically increase, especially in Latin America, no clear international laws or norms existed to prevent it, while governments remained silent about these occurrences. Again, the four-phase framework is employed to outline the history of AI's work on developing international norms for the prevention of disappearances.

Political killings, or extrajudicial executions (EJEs) are the subject of Chapter Five. AI took up this issue in the late 1970's when many governments began resorting to political killings rather than political detention. These activities were historically carried out under the rubric of national security and therefore were outside the realm of international intervention. However, Amnesty International managed to figure out a strategy to illuminate these types of atrocities and establish international norms against extrajudicial executions. This chapter, once again, outlines this process using Clark's four-phase framework.

The concluding chapter of Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms offers a review of the new and important ways in which NGOs participate in and influence international politics. Clark praises Amnesty International as a pioneer in the NGO sector and recaps how AI has paved the way for many other NGOs, especially those concerned with human rights. The two main theoretical points Clark makes in the work are: 1) that the practical techniques pioneered by Amnesty International have changed the international political system in fundamental ways and cannot be accounted for in state-centric models of norm emergence, and (2) that the process of principled norm emergence has been enhanced, and often engendered, by nonstate actors (126).