Will human rights survive the 21st century?
Is the modern human rights framework doomed? Will people even be discussing human rights in fifty years?
The modern doctrine of human rights, based in the idea of equal dignity of all people, was codified in the ashes of World War II. Along with establishing the United Nations, global leaders believed that protecting human rights would prevent so many of the dark atrocities that took place during the war.
The high watermark of human rights may have been the 1990s. The International Criminal Court was being established in the Hague, while General Pinochet was facing extradition to Spain for his acts of torture while acting as head of state in Chile. There was an optimism in the international legal community that the rule of law was in its ascendance, and that some sort of cooperative, global system of governance based on a variety of treaties and procedures was organically growing.
It is cliched to say, but it is true: 9/11 changed everything. The US, the ostensible champion of the rule of law in the global order, turned away from human rights law in favor of indefinite detention of prisoners, torture, extrajudicial killings through mechanized drones, and wars of aggression. In doing so, the US gave a de facto green light to other regimes to continue or increase their human rights abuses.
Today, in the era of Trump, those who study human rights have to confront a serious question: will human rights survive this century? How can a legal doctrine dependent on the support of major powers, including the sole superpower, survive at a time when no great power is willing to support the idea?
All things being equal, it is good that countries like Germany and the EU at large continue to support human rights. But their support is not enough.
If human rights loses its champions, the rule of law will suffer dramatically. And without the rule of law, the world returns to a state of nature, where life will be nasty, brutish and short. It also means humans will have learned nothing from World War II.