About Author

Professor Kathryn Sikkink

Ryan Family Professor, Harvard Kennedy School of Government 
& Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor, Radcliffe


Book Description

Evidence for Hope makes the case that, yes, human rights work. Critics may counter that the movement is in serious jeopardy or even a questionable byproduct of Western imperialism. They point out that Guantánamo is still open, the Arab Spring protests have been crushed, and governments are cracking down on NGOs everywhere. But respected human rights expert Kathryn Sikkink draws on decades of research and fieldwork to provide a rigorous rebuttal to pessimistic doubts about human rights laws and institutions. She demonstrates that change comes slowly and as the result of struggle, but in the long term, human rights movements have been vastly effective.

Attacks on the human rights movement’s credibility are based on the faulty premise that human rights ideas emerged in North America and Europe and were imposed on developing southern nations. Starting in the 1940s, Latin American leaders and activists were actually early advocates for the international protection of human rights. Sikkink shows that activists and scholars disagree about the efficacy of human rights because they use different yardsticks to measure progress. Comparing the present to the past, she shows that genocide and violence against civilians have declined over time, while access to healthcare and education has increased dramatically. Cognitive and news biases contribute to pervasive cynicism, but Sikkink’s investigation into past and current trends indicates that human rights is not in its twilight. Instead, this is a period of vibrant activism that has made impressive improvements in human well-being.

Exploring the strategies that have led to real humanitarian gains since the middle of the twentieth century, Evidence for Hope looks at how these essential advances can be supported and sustained for decades to come.


"Evidence for Hope dismantles claims on both the left and right that human rights efforts have been a failure. On the contrary, social science evidence demonstrates areas of marked improvement, as well as notable setbacks. Kathryn Sikkink convincingly argues that activists should be resilient, drawing hope from institutionalized human rights ideals and from their frequent realization."--Robert O. Keohane, Princeton University and author of After Hegemony 

"This important book argues that human rights has worked, does work, and can continue to do so. Connecting the past to the future, this is a history that is unashamed to teach us vital lessons."--Jeremy Adelman, coauthor of Worlds Together, Worlds Apart

"Kathryn Sikkink is one of the country's most distinguished scholars of human rights and a major figure in the study of international relations. In Evidence for Hope, she makes a powerful argument that rights ideals have made impressive progress around the world in the face of strong opposition. With its insights, erudition, and gusto, this wonderful book showcases her remarkable abilities and offers important lessons for wiser human rights policy."--Gary Bass, author of The Blood Telegram

"A fascinating and vitally important book for anyone interested in freedom around the world and how we can expand it. Kathryn Sikkink’s portrait of human rights today is optimistic in the best sense--motivated not by a temperament that sees the glass as half full, but by a judicious look at the facts and a keen analytic eye."--Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

"With this book, Kathryn Sikkink shines a light on hope in times of disarray. She exposes how activists and politicians used human rights principles and institutions to end colonialism in Africa and Asia, and state terrorism in Latin America. Evidence for Hope demonstrates that human rights matter today more than ever."--Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

"Here is a powerful antidote for despair about the future of human rights. Kathryn Sikkink shows us that past progress was possible in the face of fierce headwinds and recalls that the movement’s global roots have provided the strength to weather national and regional reversals. Her book arrives in the nick of time to remind us that great success can be achieved when citizens across the world work for a common cause."--Stephen J. Rapp, former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice



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