Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 April 2020
Chapter 1 examines the beginnings of human rights activism in the 1930s and 1940s. It starts with a discussion of the National Council of Civil Liberties, which engaged with the question of human rights but was too close to the Communist Party to embrace them wholeheartedly. The chapter then looks at wartime initiatives, notably the debate over a ‘New Declaration of the Rights of Man‘ launched by H. G. Wells in 1940 and the Atlantic Charter of 1941, before discussing the impact of the formation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Although there was no effective ‘human rights movement‘ in this period, some groups did explore the potential of human rights in their campaigning in the later 1940s. The chapter concludes with the Rev. Michael Scott, who shot to prominence by defending the rights of the Hereros of South West Africa (modern Namibia) at the UN. Scott, it is argued, represented a new kind of political activist: alive to the potential of human rights as a weapon for fighting racial oppression in the postwar world, and able to take advantage of the new international institutions of that world.