Between Principle and Practice: Human Rights in North-South Relations


339 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-7735-1414-7
DDC 327




Reviewed by David A. Lenarcic

David A. Lenarcic is an assistant professor of history at Wilfrid
Laurier University.


Between Principle and Practice undertakes a comparative review of the
human-rights policies of Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands as they
were applied to China, Sri Lanka, Surinam, the Philippines, and
Indonesia during the middle and late 1980s. The author finds that,
despite their reputation for humane internationalism, these Western
countries generally failed to act in a consistent, coordinated, and
principled manner. They adopted policies designed to promote rather than
protect human rights, were unwilling to sacrifice vital national
interests to protest abuses, and showed a marked reluctance to attach
political conditionalities (aid sanctions) to the provision of
development assistance to violators.

Although critical of this realpolitik, Gillies remains objective in
explaining the competing priorities faced by decisionmakers, and his
arguments are based on solid and copious research; his is a reasoned
plea that more can and should be done in the way of assertively setting
international standards for defending human rights. The principal
contribution of this book, however, is its description and analysis of
the nature of Canadian, Norwegian, and Dutch diplomacy. Conversely, its
remedial prescriptions simply constitute an addition—albeit a
penetrating one—to the debate about what the “proper” or most
effective human-rights strategy should entail. The book is most valuable
for its empirical evidence regarding the complexities and dilemmas
associated with formulating human-rights policies; it adds significantly
to our understanding of the motivations behind the decisionmaking
process. As for the other level on which the book operates, the question
of how to reconcile the tension between human rights and foreign policy
remains controversial and far from clear-cut.

Gillies has produced a timely and clearly written examination of a
relevant contemporary issue. If readers can avoid getting bogged down in
the theoretical discussion, they will find its historical perspective


Gillies, David., “Between Principle and Practice: Human Rights in North-South Relations,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,