Human rights have been enshrined in international treaties for decades now, but since the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, systematic infringements of it continue to be widespread. Meanwhile technology, conflict and social change continue to throw up fresh challenges about how human rights are defined and how they are defended. Our experts recommend some of the best books on the evolution, practice, breach and defence of human rights.
Professor John Tasioulas of King's College London, Steve Crawshaw of Amnesty International, and Shami Chakrabarti of the National Council for Civil Liberties all choose their best books on the subject of human rights in general terms. We also have a number of interviews focused on countries where there have been major human rights breaches: Vanora Bennett, who covered the country for Reuters, looks at Chechnya, Philip Gourevitch of the New Yorker, who has himself written a book about the tragedy, looks at the Rwandan Genocide, and Professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom looks at June 4th 1989 in Tiananmen Square, China.
On particular themes related to human rights, Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, looks at torture; Claire Fox looks at freedom of speech, and Andrew Cayley, who has worked as a lawyer in genocide trials, talks about war crimes. Max Mosley talks about privacy and Trevor Phillips chooses his best books on equality.
The connections between human rights and literature are profound and we ignore the humanities and reading at our peril, says Lyndsey Stonebridge, Interdisciplinary Professor of Humanities at the University of Birmingham. She recommends books that best show the complex relationship between literature and human rights, from Auschwitz to Manus Island.
The Soul of the First Amendment
by Floyd Abrams
The Free Speech Century
by Geoffrey R. Stone (Editor) & Lee C. Bollinger (Editor)
Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, And The First Amendment
by Charles R. Lawrence III, Kimberlè Williams Crenshaw, Mari J. Matsuda & Richard Delgado
Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet
by David Kaye
Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All
by Suzanne Nossel
Frequently appealed to, less frequently understood, and by no means a free pass to say or write whatever you feel like: Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, the nonprofit dedicated to free expression, talks us through the best books to better understand America's venerated First Amendment.
by Ruti G Teitel
A Human Being Died That Night
by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law
by Mark A Drumbl
Imperfect Justice: An East-West Diary
by Inga Markovits
Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian Civil War
by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple
When a period of war or oppression draws to a close, how should a country face up to past wrongdoing while creating a future free of conflict? Colleen Murphy—professor of law, philosophy and political science at the University of Illinois—discusses five books that examine the issues at the heart of ‘transitional justice.’
Free speech is the bedrock of a healthy society, but how do we deal with the torrents of horrible comments—and worse—we see on the internet every day? Timothy Garton Ash, author of Free Speech: Ten Principles for A Connected World, outlines a plan for navigating the complexities and recommends the best books to help us think about free speech.
Kim Jong-un’s posturing over nuclear weapons is a distraction from more pressing concerns: the extreme poverty and disenfranchisement of his people, says North Korean defector Hyeonseo Lee. She chooses five books for understanding the hermit kingdom.
In contrast to Eastern Europe, the 1989 protests in China did not lead to the overthrow of the Communist Party. But if China’s leaders chose the right course on June 4th, 1989, why are they still frightened to come to terms with it? Sinologist and historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom picks the best books to understand events at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and around China on that hot summer night.
Alex McBride, criminal barrister and author of Defending the Guilty, chooses books that illustrate the history of trial by jury. He points to influential cases in British legal history, and shows how poor regulation of the legal profession in the 19th century resulted in some questionable practices.
North Korea expert, Andrei Lankov, says that although North Korea is a brutal dictatorship, many people nonetheless manage to lead relatively normal lives. He recommends the best books on North Korea. (NB You can buy all our expert recommendations on North Korea by clicking here.)