This article discusses international human rights.
Human rights as a product of modernity are hugely successful in terms of number of treaties and ratifications, activities of international human rights bodies, expansion into new areas such as relations between private actors, and real progress achieved in areas such as the abolition of the death penalty. At the same time, several contemporary developments may, in the long term, erode the concept of human rights as developed since the Age of Enlightenment and undermine support for it. Three challenges are in the foreground: (1) the decline of state power, in particular the phenomenon of fragile states and the negative impact of weak state institutions on human rights such as the prohibition of torture; (2) the utilitarian challenge to the validity of core human rights guarantees, particularly in the context of the war on terror; and (3) the loss of empathy as a precondition for recognizing the rights of others even if they are our enemies. Abstract published by arrangement with Sage Journals.