In this paper I will illustrate the heuristic value of studying human rights as social representations. Results of cross-national studies are reported after a short presentation of social representation theory. Shared meanings in the field of human rights exist within and between cultural and national groups. Other findings concern dimensions on which individuals differ in their positioning toward human rights, related to respondents' beliefs about their own efficacy and the efficacy of institutions. These beliefs are anchored in national group membership, in value priorities and in experiences of social conflict. Studies in Geneva suggest there is a distinction between a large-scale principled agreement and much more restricted attitudes toward the application of human rights principles in specific situations.
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