International human rights law did not come into existence top-down, out of the benevolent intentions of states, even though states eventually began to recognize that large-scale human rights abuses could pose a threat to the international order. Rather, it came into existence from the bottom-up efforts of ordinary people in civil society to ally with each other in solidarity and demand their rights, often through organized nonviolent campaigns and movements that pressured elites and powerholders to recognize or grant individual rights (freedom for slaves, women’s rights, labor rights, and children’s rights, to name a few). Unlike international law generally, the real source of international human rights law has been the coordinated, organized and nonviolently forceful efforts of individuals—in other words, what one can refer to as people power.
Elizabeth A. Wilson is visiting faculty at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey, USA. She is currently a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, India. Her areas of specialization include public international law and international human rights law. She holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, USA.