Book Review: Peter Van Arsdale Global Human Rights: People, Processes, and Principles

Book Review

Peter Van Arsdale  Global Human Rights: People, Processes, and Principles,

Waveland Press (2017) 117pp. ISBN 13:978-1-4786-3294-8; paper.

(Kindle e-book), ISBN 10:1-4786-3294-1 $U.S.14.20.

By  Edith W. King 

Conflicts across the world, devastating wars, human and environmental tragedies are destroying planet earth.  Today young people everywhere are directly affected by this terrorism and violence or the threat of it.  Children are constantly exposed to the acts of extremism  indirectly through the media or possibly when using social media.  This book, Global Human Rights: People, Processes and Principles addresses today’s urgent need to know more about universal human rights.  Peter Van Arsdale informs and extends a reader’s knowledge of the essential human rights — access to clean water and sanitary conditions, food security, freedom from violence and a life with dignity.

The lively, personalized written style of Global Human Rights provides a concise and focused coverage.  Rather than emphasizing protocols and covenants this book is filled with accounts of the history of human rights, the dedicated efforts and successful practices in the field.   A unique and important feature in this book is the metaphor and original illustration of the “Tree of Rights”, a universal conception.  When depicting global human rights the analogy of the tree is eminently appropriate. This diagram, (p.8) shows how human rights grow and change over time, focusing on the provision of water, sanitation, food and shelter as basic rights.  The analogy of the tree then builds on rights that are labeled “freedom of” and “freedom from.”   (See Chapter One, pages 7 – 10).  For example in Chapter 2 a reference to the Tree of Rights is employed to emphasize how essential basic needs are to the human condition. This chapter begins with a touching illustration of how access to potable water is vital and should be recognized as a human right.  The Tree of Rights is again noted by the author (p.55) referring to creative discourse and debate as crucial for human rights.  This Tree metaphor can be found throughout the chapters of the book and gives readers deeper insights into the critical significance of human rights.

The sub-title of the book, People, Processes and Principles is carried through in the creative use of “side bars” placed in strategic locations in Chapters Two through Six.  Van Arsdale points out:  “The consideration of human rights goes far beyond the explication of documents, covenants, and protocols. ….. Human rights are about people’s struggles and achievements, about their companions and their persecutors.”   The “side bars” are variously labeled CASE (a case study), Agency Action, or Champion (individual).  Van Arsdale, brings out the dedication of groups and individuals to the causes of human rights by using this unique format.  Through focusing  on the sacrifices and the contributions to human rights actions, learners can build on this information for further study and investigations.

Useful, as well, is another feature of this carefully focused  volume. Note the specific lists in the beginning and at the end of the book.  On the first pages titled “ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS” is a listing described as “an important acknowledgement of the many nations and international organizations that have dedicated a day each year to a human rights, peace, remembrance, independence, or related human welfare issues.” (p. xv- xvi)  Month by month from January to December this feature gives the names of the special day and the country where it is held — examples: January — Women’s Day (Greece);  February — Tortures Abolition Day (United Nations);  March — Liberation Day (Bulgaria).  Information, such as presented here, provides the home educator with valuable materials for year round activities and projects with international human rights content.  At the end of the book, the Glossary of Acronyms  (pp. 109 – 110) is especially helpful, not only for this book, but for use with other material such as newspapers, books, magazines, the Internet where acronyms, especially global references, frequently appear.   Additionally, Global Human Rights is reader friendly with references found at the end of each chapter, rather than listed all together at the end of the volume.

In Chapters 2 -5 Van Arsdale provides the reader with case studies from many places in the world.  He begins with a horrifying example of water and sanitary deprivation on the African continent – Kiberia, then on to hunger in Somalia, violence in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Nigeria.  Chapters contain case studies that describe genocides in Sudan, Cambodia, and New Guinea.  Further are the human rights violations in Europe and in the United States.   The author notes: “….the complex array of ethnic relations must be understood, but ethnicity does not cause genocide.  Resource exploitation, in concert with ethnic discrimination and corrupt government practices….does.” (p.69)  Key terms used throughout the book such as “victim”, “survivor”, “perpetrator”, “bystander” “witness”  are clearly defined.  The concluding chapter, “Obligated Actions; Moral and Material Possibilities” emphasizes that now “violence is the worldwide situation” (p.96). And this structural violence informs obligation for total action with  urgency as stated by the author:

When our skills are sufficient, when our resources are available, and when we are confronted with assisting those under duress, whose rights have been abused, we must act. We have an obligation.  Obligation does not mean “optional”; it means “duty” that leads to tackling the opportunity…. Human Rights and humanitarianism are linked.  Humanitarianism is defined as “crossing a boundary” to assist; risk usually is encountered by the service provider or advocate as scarce resources are used to help the vulnerable, to help those whose rights have been abused.  (p. 95)

 This theory of obligation to act on behalf of those whose rights are abused will resonate with home educators and their learners calling for compassion and risk taking as described in Van Arsdale’s narratives and anecdotes.  For example, to  highlight children’s plight, the author has emphasized that refugee children are especially vulnerable as fronts have shifted village-to village, camp-to camp. These young people are exposed to being recruited as child soldiers, and over half are unaccompanied minors often having escaped from drowning in flimsy boats as they fled war-torn places like Syria or Iraq.  The world is finally acknowledging that global migrations of desperate refugees show no signs of easing in the 21st century. (Van Arsdale, 2006; E. W. King, 2016).   Global Human Rights gives the reader specifics about what is being accomplished through models of human rights actions that succeed.  I highly recommend this book for those who know, instruct and interact with young people everywhere.

References:  King, Edith W. (2016)  Educating Students in Times of Terrorism.  Kindle.

Van Arsdale, Peter. (2006).  Forced To Flee. Lanham, MD Lexington Books.

Edith W. King, ( is Professor of Educational Sociology emerita and Chair of the Worldmindedness Institute of Colorado.

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