January 9, 2014

While gross abuses of human rights continue in far too many places, it is nonsense to say, as Stephen Hopgood did [“Human rights are not negotiable,” Outlook, Jan. 5] that “the ground of human rights in crumbling beneath us.” In fact, the response to these abuses is stronger and broader, fueled by three important trends.

The first is the rise of homegrown movements in countries where the worst abuses are occurring. There are thousands of groups working to protect women and workers, support political prisoners and ensure religious freedom. Real change occurs from within societies.

Second, the Internet and new communication technologies are changing the face of human rights advocacy, providing powerful tools to record and publicize violations, mobilize activists and connect those struggling in remote places to the rest of the world.

Third is the growing recognition that human rights is not solely the domain of states. In the past 20 years, global companies have increased their focus on human rights issues. Whether addressing factory safety in Bangladesh, security challenges in mining or Internet privacy, companies are grappling with these important issues. 

Much work remains, but the foundation for human rights advocacy is stronger than ever.

Michael Posner, New York

The writer was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from 2009 to 2013.

Does the fact that abusive governments reject human rights standards mean that their populations care nothing for their rights? Had human rights proponents from different parts of the world cut and run in the face of slavery, apartheid, colonialism, mass murders, the absence of women’s rights, communism and civil wars, the outcomes would have been far worse. The quest for human rights, dignity and justice will go on as long as humankind inhabits this earth and must be supported.

Roberta Cohen, Washington

The writer is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

While Stephen Hopgood’s essay was, for the most part, well-argued, I must add a slight correction to his view of the role of religion. Human rights as moral claims are deeply rooted in religious traditions as well as in Enlightenment thought. His criticism of religion seemed excessive, especially regarding religious traditions that assert man was created in God’s image.

Lowell Larry Pullen, Ashburn