Human rights have long been a direct or indirect substantive topic in modern political science and, in particular, the study of human rights represents an important nexus between traditional concerns within comparative politics and those in international relations. On the one hand, comparative politics has traditionally been concerned with the functions, determinants and outcomes of different political regimes, political institutions, political culture, the relationship between states and citizens (protest and repression, social mobilization and citizenship rights, voting, elections and party systems), and large social processes such as social and political revolutions, democratization and the domestic effects of and responses to globalization. On the other hand, international relations has concentrated on the inter-state dynamics of war, peace and security; international trade, finance and development; the growth and role of international organizations; the proliferation and effectiveness of international regimes and foreign policy analysis. More recently, attention has focused on the interplay between domestic and international politics in examining the ways in which domestic political arrangements may have an impact on the international behaviour of states. The now famous notion of the ‘two-level’ game has been instructive for scholars examining the constraint of democratic institutions on state behaviour, while the large literature on the ‘democratic’ and ‘Kantian’ peace has used the tools of modern political science to examine the degree to which democracy and other ‘liberal’ variables have an inhibiting effect on the likelihood of interstate violence.
The study of human rights within modern political science fits neatly into these disciplinary developments. The history of human rights is one of the increasing internationalization of an idea that has traditionally been defended nationally.