During Clinton’s presidency, human rights played an increasingly important role in international affairs. Hundreds of nongovernmental agencies throughout the world defined themselves as protectors of human rights. During the 1990s, the agenda of international human rights organizations expanded to include access to health care, women’s rights, and the rights of indigenous peoples like the Aborigines of Australia and the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Americas. Human rights emerged as a justification for interventions in matters once considered to be the internal affairs of sovereign nations. The United States dispatched the military to distant parts of the world to assist in international missions to protect civilians.

New institutions emerged that sought to punish violations of human rights. The Rwandan genocide produced a UN-sponsored war crimes court that sentenced the country’s former prime minister to life in prison. An international tribunal put Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic on trial for sponsoring the massacre of civilians. The European Court of Human Rights overruled legal decisions by national courts that violated individual rights. Spanish and British courts considered charging former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet with murder, although he proved to be too ill to stand trial. It remained to be seen whether these initiatives would grow into an effective international system of protecting human rights across national boundaries. Despite adopting human rights as a slogan, many governments continued to violate them in practice.

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