Author Archives: Roland Burke

About Roland Burke

Roland Burke is a lecturer in history at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. He is one of the leading historians of human rights in the world, best known for his pathbreaking book, Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights (Pennsylvania, 2011). Roland was also the recipient of the R.M Crawford Medal from the Australian Academy of the Humanities (2010), and the La Trobe Excellence in Research Award for Early Career Researchers (2010). His recent research has been focused on transnational organizations and institutions, principally the United Nations and the Group of 77.

The Rites of Human Rights at the United Nations

Abstract: Recent histories of human rights have emphasized the importance of the 1970s as the “breakthrough” moment for human rights. This article assesses this claim and proposes a more variegated and paradoxical account. It revisits the UDHR on its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1973, and surveys the fractured set of meanings that “human rights” had acquired by that time within the United Nations, national contexts and in civil society. The article points however to the shared appreciation of the power of human rights language and the Continue reading → Continue reading →

Competing for the Last Utopia? The NIEO, Human Rights, and the World Conference for the International Women’s Year, Mexico City, June 1975

In the mid-1970s, the United Nations hosted a dramatic attempt to totally transform the world economy, which appeared to be on the cusp of victory at the Sixth Special Session of the General Assembly in April and May 1974. In a moment that represented the highest tide of southern self-confidence, the Group of 77 (G-77), unleavened by the language of compromise, demanded global redistribution as a matter of right. The manifestos of this revolt of sovereigns were the Declaration on the Establishment of a New Continue reading → Continue reading →

Some Rights Are More Equal than Others: The Third World and the Transformation of Economic and Social Rights

Burke argues for the decisive influence of the Third World on the development of economic and social rights in the postwar human rights program. For states confronting extreme poverty and underdevelopment, the urgency of securing these rights was a constant refrain. Yet the challenge of delivering them in the context of immense resource constraints soon led to significant departures from the accepted formulation of the 1948 Universal Declaration, which held all rights in an organic unity. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Third World campaign would compromise their very character as “rights” wielded by the individual, transforming them instead into interstate claims far removed from the citizen.

Another response to Jan Eckel

In his impressive review article, Jan Eckel develops a detailed survey of the interaction between human rights and decolonization. Most of all, he argues that the place of human rights in decolonization was both more complex and more ambiguous than has been suggested in the works under review, both my own and Fabian Klose’s German-language monograph.