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Human Rights in Brief

textbook cover image
Human rights day (https://flic.kr/p/5HN4fs) by Catching.Light (https://www.flickr.com/photos/catchinglight/) used under a CC BY license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Description: In all civilized nations, attempts are made to define and buttress human rights. The core of the concept is the same everywhere: Human rights are the rights that one has simply because one is human. They are universal and equal. The following pubilcation gives an overview of Human Rights across the globe. The online version of this book is availabe in several languages: Arabic, French, Farsi, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Author: United States Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs

Original source: iipdigital.usembassy.gov

Adoption (faculty): Contact us if you are using this textbook in your course

Adaptations: Support for adapting an open textbook

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Attribution 3.0 License. Copyright Yusuke Kamiyamane. Print PDF (.pdf)
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Reviews for 'Human Rights in Brief'

Number of reviews: 4
Average Rating: 3.25 out of 5

1. Reviewed by: Joshua Labove
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Teaching Assistant/Sessional Lecturer
  • Overall Rating: 3.3 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

As the title suggests, this is 'brief'. Human rights are contentious, complex, and controversial; even the most cursory introductions end up far larger than this text's modest 21 pages. As a quick review, the text is useful, but it employs largely a historical analysis--looking at the evolution of human rights discourse as notches on a timeline. Such an approach misses key junctures to be critical about the problems and failings of international human rights. As well, the text's American government authorship yields a review of human rights in a way that is lopsided, uneven, and embedded in discourses of liberal democracy.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

While the content is historically accurate, there is a clear bias throughout. Take, for instance, the very short discussion on human rights abuses by and in the United States. In a passing comment, the authors look to downplay the human rights record of the post-9/11 US suggesting that prisoner abuse, for instance is "isolated" and human rights violations against suspected terrorists can somehow be justified because they "are out to destroy everybody's rights".

As this is a text written by the US State Department, it also didn't take terribly long to call out North Korea, Cuba, and Burma as "systemic viola[tors] of human rights". This point is well taken, but could have been referenced, cited, and explained. Calling out specific states speaks more to the editorial bias than it does the strength of the claim.

The bias is clearest in these instances, but is probably best considered through what is omitted. Human rights are understood here as a bi-product of "civilized" and "liberal democracy". There is no reference to the Banjul Charter or other developments in to human rights discourse beyond the Western world.

I note that the material is culled from work by Jack Donnelly, one of the most prolific scholars on human rights. His text, "Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice" is a fantastic first year Human Rights text--I've been assigned it and assigned it myself--but this selective editing of Donnelly does him no service.

Content Accuracy Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

In general, the content is very much up to date, though a bit sketchy on the 21st century. References are made to the war on terror, but fleeting in such a way that now demand further extrapolation and discussion. Human rights as a modern concept is constantly evolving, so this text misses recent human rights struggles and protests in the Middle East such as the Arab Spring. More generally, the foundational history which is really the narrative arc of the text is up to date and not likely to demand many revisions.

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The writing is clear and lucid, but writes in a such way that removes any semblance of complexity. There is a fine balance between writing for comprehension and academic jargon that thrives on complexity. A finer balance could have been found that allowed for more nuance when discussing the way human rights work.

Still, it is clear and easy to read.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

Not much of a framework here--it is really just a pamphlet--but it is easy to follow. More vocabulary and terminology could have been offered and defined, but ultimately that is not the objective of this text. Instead, this is a very quick historical sketch of the underpinnings of human rights, leaving terminology for other readings.

Consistency Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

Not really--as a small pamphlet, it isn't likely I would assign less than the entire text for a week's reading. While there are subject headings that could be modular, the text is self-referrential and so brief that it doesn't lend itself to being broken up. I might, possibly, use the first parts, discussing history--and assign an additional reading to discuss more modern questions in human rights--but the text is hard to subdivide.

Modularity Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The text does not have the grandiose ambitions of explaining the entire history of human rights or the way human rights norms function in the modern era, so as a result, it isn't bounded by the same conventions of organization. As a pretty modest booklet heavy on photos, the editors can follow a rough chronology and raise a few issues along the way. There are no practice questions, keywords, no index, no glossary. The goals are pretty modest and so the rough organization offered works to communicate a surface-level knowledge of the issue.

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

There really is no interface or navigation here. A 21-page PDF, it reads like a booklet. It would be nice if the PDF had OCR and the text was searchable, so students could more easily move through the text, but at 21 pages, it is hardly essential, and material is still easily located.

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

There were no grammatical errors that I could find.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

As I have said, there is a clear 'Western, liberal democracy' bias coursing through the text. While it doesn't rise to cultural insensitivity for the most part, I am sure students will greet the text with skepticism.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

2. Reviewed by: AMY TUCKER
  • Institution: Thompson Rivers University
  • Title/Position: LECTURER
  • Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The text provides a brief overview of key ideas in a simple format. It provides a historical perspective in a narrative manner. There is no effective index and / or glossary provided. Simple definitions are provided throughout the text.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

The content is written from an American perspective. The source of the text is authored by the US State Department. There are no examples from other contexts.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

The historical content of this text appears to be current. Areas that will need to be updated are the current events that happen. The booklet is very short at 21 pages. It would be good to see other world examples and issues in this brief.

Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The text is written in a lucid and clear manner. It is formatted to easily read and follow. The content of this document is written in an academic manner.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

The text is 21 pages in length and is printed like a brochure or booklet. There is a historical overview of key ideas. There is no glossary, index or chapter outline.

Consistency Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

This text is a short brief overview. It would be difficult to break it down into other sections. This book might be useful to add to another course as it dose provide a historical overview of human rights.

The text is easy to follow with a newspaper style of reading along with graphics.

Modularity Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The topics covered in this text provide a historical overview from an American Perspective. The topics are clearly laid out but I would like to see more specifics with what to expect in the introduction. There are a lot of graphics in this book that can be distracting.

Organization Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

The text is a simple 21 page booklet. It has a lot of images and uses a newspaper style. The content is not searchable.

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

The text contains no grammatical or spelling errors.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The text is written from an American perspective. It does not provide worldview examples as one would expect. Also lacking Canadian content.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

This book lacks Canadian content and world views. The book requires a broader perspective.

3. Reviewed by: Dale Martelli
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Sessional Lecturer
  • Overall Rating: 2.4 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

I am not certain why this “pamphlet” would be considered a text resource. It is an U.S. government document that does attempt a balanced critique of human rights but it for the most part a superficial listing. Analytical depth is missing almost entirely; some nods here and there but just simplistic references. There is no index, glossary, or bibliography. This makes this pamphlet only useful as a secondary document to possibly teach bias. I cannot imagine doing any justice to the study of human rights with this text.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 1 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

As a historical list, it is fairly accurate. As the analysis is weak, its content is open to critique which would make this pamphlet a somewhat interesting text to demonstrate sub-text, bias, or weak corroboration. The treatment of both Carter and the Heliniski Accords are examples of shallow, insufficient, and biased treatment. I question why end with Argentina and ignoring Clinton and the American’s government role in the lack of intervention in the Rwanda genocide

Content Accuracy Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

The content is just not sufficient to even consider this criteria. It is not open in any way to update and even if one were to use it in a classroom, I am not sure why anyone would be inclined to even attempt either extension or updating. There are much better text resources out there.

Relevance Rating: 1 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The writing is very simple and clear.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

As a government pamphlet, the text and pictures are consistent. But, again, this text is shallow both in terms of terminology and framework.

Consistency Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

It would not be necessary to even consider dividing this text up; it is a poor and short offering in the first place.

Modularity Rating: 1 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

It is essentially one topic, broken into parts and reflective of its source. I don't find it logical in the sense that it is written for an American audience. From a very brief historical treatment, it moves to the U.S. as if the American experience was particularly ahistorical? In an American classroom, this might have some very limited use. I would not use this at all in a Canadian classroom. Except for the pictures.

Organization Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

This is not relevant.

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

I found no grammatical errors.

Grammar Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The pamphlet is essentially too simplistic for cultural insensitivity to even matter. It is a shopping list of topics without any real analysis. For example It mentions Amerindian conflict but is is just too shallow a reference to be of any real use.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

I indicate that this textbook would be useful for first year but only because I had to mark the bubble. I might use this in an American, grade 5 elementary classroom.

4. Reviewed by: Stephen Spong
  • Institution: Centennial College
  • Title/Position: Copyright Services Librarian
  • Overall Rating: 3.8 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The text is very much true to its title of being about human rights "in brief". At 38 heavily illustrated pages, it is shorter than the Wikipedia page for Human Rights, and unlike the heavily annotated and indexed Wikipedia page it has no index, glossary, or table of contents. That being said, if you want to have a bare basics overview of human rights, it serves that purpose (albeit with a highly biased American-centric viewpoint). It covers Locke through to post-9/11, so it certainly has the timeline covered.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

The material is strictly speaking free of errors, but it is highly, highly biased with a triumphalist American voice which is perhaps not surprising given the "America.gov: Telling America's Story" banner on the cover. One of the most egregious examples of this is the statement that "one of the features of American democracy is that self-correcting mechanisms like elections and courts tend to remedy the mistakes of earlier eras". While this statement is troubling in its self-righteous simplicity considering the whole of American history (and the results of the 2016 election playing out in real time as of this writing), what makes it particularly offensive is that it is implied that this was the remedy for slavery, suffrage, and the campaigns against Native Americans. The American Civil War is not mentioned in the body of the text and is instead referred to only in a caption of an image of Lincoln at Antietam.

I acknowledge this this is my bias, but I found that the "there are concerns in some quarters about the use of the death penalty and the adequacy of legal representation in death penalty cases" to be rather dismissive, particularly in light of the de facto human experimentation currently occurring on those being executed due to the lack of lethal injection drugs.

While the existing international structure for human rights enforcement is covered, the judicial frameworks - particularly the International Criminal Court - are given short shrift. Which is perhaps not surprising given that the United States is not a signatory to the Rome Statute. The only mention of the ICC is a sentence that expresses American concerns about its scope.

Content Accuracy Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

It is relatively up-to-date. It doesn't include any mention of Syria or the Arab Spring, but this could be included. This would be easy to include. The text is unlikely to be out of date any time soon. The only potential issue could be the Trump administration may make some of the pronouncements within - in a publication published by the State Department! - look a bit awkward.

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The text is clearly and directly written. While there is no glossary, one is not really needed, as any terms of art are explained.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

The text is very consistent. The voice is unified and the framework is very clear.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

The text is definitely modular. However, the fact that the work itself is rather brief means that breaking it down further would make it pretty granular. That being said, it could be done if 2 to 8 page sections were the goal, and each section holds up well on its own so they could be broken up in any way desired.

Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

Since the work is fairly short, the structure doesn't have to be terribly complicated - and isn't. It has a very brief introduction, history of human rights, overview of American "contributions", international and NGO overview, and recent developments. The American bend on the narrative often feels a bit forced, but even with that, it still hangs together fairly coherently and seamlessly.

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

The text is crystal clear and in a easily readable sans serif font. However, the images are poor quality and pixelated.

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

None that I could see. Well-written and in clear language.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

This is a tricky one. I would not say that the text is insensitive in what it does say, but rather what it doesn't or which is glosses over. In many respects, it is culturally relevant in and of itself insofar as representing a particular and peculiarly American world-view.

Taken in isolation, I think it skirts or glosses over a great number of issues that should be more critically assessed with regard to human rights, particularly as the United States was or is involved, such as with regard to slavery and the death penalty (my concerns of which I reviewed earlier), as well as with regard to support for regimes which abuse human rights, suffrage, Jim Crow laws, and so on. Also, the current issue of Islam and the so-called "war on terror" is really only alluded to, and in terms favourable to the "democratic west" (a term taken directly from the text).

Cultural Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

The text is actually interesting as a cultural artefact in its own right, reflecting the ways in which the United States government sees the world and their role in it. For use in a Canadian classroom it would need some fairly substantial tweaks, although this could be achieved by omitting the chapter on the American contribution to human rights and then editing the remaining text to be more impartial. It would also be helpful to include more Canadian content, particularly to reflect Canadian contributions to international human rights as well as our own struggles (truth and reconciliation leap to mind).