The ‘Human Rights Component’ of Foreign Policy

The Case of Italy between Self-conceptions and the Pursuit of Reputation

by Pietro de Perini (Author)
©2022 Monographs 186 Pages
Series: Human Right Studies, Volume 12


Framed into the broader conceptual debate that addresses the controversial
role of human rights in the foreign policies of states, this book
aims to critically investigate whether, how and to what extent human
rights matter in the definition of Italy’s external action. The focus of this
study, which considers a period ranging from the end of the Cold War
to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, is placed on the whole ‘human
rights component’ of foreign policy, which is intended as the combination
of three dimensions that are part of the same policy effort but
can analytically be distinguished among them: ‘institutional dialogue’;
‘multilateral initiative’ and ‘bilateral emphasis’. This book investigates
the consistency of this whole foreign policy component between the
content and scope of the human rights discourse of Italian foreign policy-
makers domestically and internationally and the actual efforts put
in place by the country to advance the global human rights agenda, its
institutions and procedures in both multilateral and bilateral settings.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Table of Acronyms
  • Introduction
  • 1. The International Human Rights Agenda and Its Political Relevance
  • 2. The ‘Human Rights Component’ of Foreign Policy
  • 3. Italian Foreign Policy and Human Rights: Why It Matters
  • 4. Research Objective, Conceptual Framework and Main Argumentation
  • 5. Time-Frame of Analysis and Methodology
  • 6. Structure of the Book
  • Chapter 1 Foreign Policy and Human Rights: Between Moral Principles, Material Interests and Role Conceptions
  • Introduction
  • 1. Foreign Policy: Some Key Considerations
  • 2. Why Human Rights in Foreign Policy?
  • 3. Global Good Samaritans or Constantly Weighing Among Competing Priorities?
  • 4. National Role Conceptions and the ‘Human Rights Role-set’
  • Conclusions
  • Chapter 2 The Place and Weight of Human Rights in Italy’s Foreign Policy Initiative
  • Introduction
  • 1. Italy’s Foreign Policy Posture: An Overview
  • 2. Being a ‘Middle Power’ and the Choice for Multilateralism
  • 3. Human Rights in the Italian Foreign Policy Discourse
  • 3.1 Methodological Notes
  • 3.2 Main Findings and Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Chapter 3 The Institutional Dialogue between Italy and International Human Rights Mechanisms
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Actual Performers of Italy’s ‘Human Rights Role-set’
  • 1.1 Institutional Organisms
  • 1.2 The Contribution of Civil Society
  • 2. Strengths and Weaknesses of Italy’s Institutional Dialogue
  • 3. Italy’s Domestic Performance from an External Perspective
  • Conclusions
  • Chapter 4 Assessing the ‘Human Rights Component’ of Italy’s Foreign Policy Through Its UPR Performance
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Promises of the UPR: Exposing Domestic Implementation, Commitment, and International Perceptions
  • 2. The UPR of Italy in Context
  • 3. Italy as a Recommending State: What, towards Whom and How?
  • 4. Italy as a State Under Review: ‘Same-old’ and ‘Brand-new’ Challenges
  • 5. Italy’s Responses to UPR Recommendations
  • Conclusions
  • General Conclusions
  • References
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Series Index

←12 | 13→


This book aims to critically investigate the commitment of Italy to promote and protect human rights in its foreign policy. For several decades, especially after the end of the Cold War, Italian policy-makers have insisted on what they define as the country’s traditional and firm support for an international agenda built on the advancement of human rights and other core values such as democracy, the rule of law, and good governance. However, even a cursory observation of the country’s international behaviour on issues related to human rights exposes contradictions and shortcomings that eventually provide a less straightforward picture of Italy’s ‘role model’ stance on these matters. Analysing the consistency between the content and scope of the human rights language spoken by Italian foreign policy-makers domestically and internationally, and the actual approach that the country has adopted to advance the international human rights agenda, its institutions and procedures, this book seeks to expose whether, how and to what extent human rights matter in the definition of the country’s foreign policy.

Before elaborating on the research design, argument and structure of the book, however, a brief contextualisation of what is intended with international human rights agenda and how this agenda is conceptualised and empirically approached in this research needs being provided.

1. The International Human Rights Agenda and Its Political Relevance

Formally introduced in the international political order emerging after the Second World War with the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Charter in San Francisco in June 19451, human rights have increasingly achieved a crucial position in international politics and become, together with peace and development, one of the three pillars on which the Organisation has developed its global political agenda. For more than 75 years, this achievement has been substantiated through the creation and expansion of an impressive and dynamic system of norms, ←13 | 14→standards, procedures and mechanisms, which scholars often refer to as the global or international human rights regime (Brysk 2009, 221; Donnelly and Whelan 2020). Over a similar time span, regional regimes (or systems) for the promotion and protection of human rights have been developed under the auspices of regional and sub-regional intergovernmental organisations such as the Council of Europe (CoE, since 1950), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE, formerly the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe – CSCE, since 1975), the Organisation of American States (OAS, since 1948), the African Union (AU, formerly Organisation of African Unity, since 1981), and the League of Arab States (AL, since 2004). With the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, also the European Union (EU) has officially started recognising human rights as both a foundation of European integration and an objective of its incipient common foreign policy (Smith 2014).

At the global level, UN-mandated, which is rooted in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948, there are currently 18 legally binding instruments which set forth internationally accepted human rights standards and related obligations for states parties. Some of these instruments have a more general scope, such as the two International Covenants of 1966, respectively, on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights. These are complemented by a set of international conventions and additional protocols that aim to protect the human rights of those belonging to specific social groups that are often in a vulnerable position (women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants workers) or prohibit repugnant practices by state authorities, such as torture, racial discrimination, and forced disappearances2. Replicating this global pattern, sometimes even anticipating it3, a wealth of human rights legal instruments has been adopted by the mentioned regional organisations and opened to the acceptance of their members, favouring subsidiarity and a more inclusive and flexible ‘multi-level governance’ of human rights standards (for an overview of international and regional human rights law, see de Shutter 2019).

←14 | 15→Together with the definition and adoption of these standards, the UN and regional organisations have established mechanisms (composed of governmental representatives or independent experts) which are tasked with either negotiating and promoting human rights regionally and globally, or periodically assessing the compliance of states with the implementation of internationally agreed human rights obligations on their territory. This task, in particular, is performed by providing observations and recommendations on the actions that states should undertake to further improve and guarantee the enjoyment of protected rights by their citizens. As will be further elaborated in Chapter 3, states can also decide to allow these mechanisms to conduct country visits and receive and investigate individual complaints by victims of human rights violations (and indeed many states have done so) (see Simmons 2009; Forsythe 2018a). While these regimes may significantly differ in terms of the categories of rights covered by adopted norms and standards, the extent of tools made available to promote and protect these, and the effectiveness of enforcing and monitoring mechanisms4, they all share the continuous endeavour to make the dignity of all human beings, their equality, inclusion, safety and participation fulfilled everywhere, at times cooperating with, at times criticising involved states.

In addition to the periodic monitoring of national compliance and to the activities to advance the human rights agenda in ad hoc intergovernmental forums, such as the UN Human Rights Council, these same goals are pursued also through a continuative, although not always coordinated and integrative, effort to maintain human rights as a central concern among the evolving priorities of international affairs, fostering an increased interaction (and intersection) with other core agendas. Such agendas include that on collective security and peacemaking – namely with regard to the doctrine of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (ICISS 2001; Annan 2005) and the progressive evolution of the mandates of peacekeeping operations (Gledhill et al. 2021) – and that devoted to the promotion of development assistance (with increased attention to the environment), whose most recent blueprint is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in 2015 (Fukuda-Parr 2016). The humanitarian agenda has also increasingly taken a human rights direction (Petrasek 2010), also ←15 | 16→making aid conditional on the commitment of receiving states to human rights and democracy (Fox 2002).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (October)
Bruxelles, Berlin, Bern, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 186 pp., 9 fig. b/w, 10 tables.

Biographical notes

Pietro de Perini (Author)

Pietro de Perini, Ph.D in International Politics (City, University of London), is a researcher at the University of Padova Department of Political Science, Law and International Studies. He is affiliated with the University Human Rights Centre “A. Papisca” and is co-editor-in-chief of the Italian Yearbook of Human Rights series.


Title: The ‘Human Rights Component’ of Foreign Policy
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188 pages