Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice

Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice

Jack Donnelly
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Stable URL: http:/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1xx5q2
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  • Book Info
    Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice
    Book Description:

    In the third edition of his classic work, revised extensively and updated to include recent developments on the international scene, Jack Donnelly explains and defends a richly interdisciplinary account of human rights as universal rights. He shows that any conception of human rights-and the idea of human rights itself-is historically specific and contingent. Since publication of the first edition in 1989,Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practicehas justified Donnelly's claim that "conceptual clarity, the fruit of sound theory, can facilitate action. At the very least it can help to unmask the arguments of dictators and their allies."

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6749-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface to the Third Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    This book aims to explicate and defend an account of human rights as universal rights. I do not, however, argue that human rights are timeless, unchanging, or absolute. Quite the contrary, I show that any list or conception of human rights—and the idea of human rights itself—is historically specific and contingent. Nonetheless, I argue that the particularity of human rights is compatible with a conception of human rights as universal rights.

    The book is divided into five parts. Part I sketches the outline of a theory of human rights. Chapter 1 begins analytically, looking at the character of...

  5. Part I. Toward a Theory of Human Rights
    • 1 The Concept of Human Rights
      (pp. 7-23)

      Human rights—droits de l’homme,derechos humanos,Menschenrechte,“the rights of man”—are literally the rights that one has because one is human. What does it mean to have a right? How are being human and having rights related? The first four sections of this chapter consider these questions, examining how human rights work and how they both rest on and help to shape our moral nature as human beings. The final three sections consider the problem of philosophical foundations of substantive theories of human rights.

      What is involved in having a right to something? How do rights, of whatever...

    • 2 The Universal Declaration Model
      (pp. 24-39)

      This chapter begins to sketch a particular substantive theory of human rights that I call “the Universal Declaration model,” in recognition of the central role of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights in establishing the contours of the contemporary consensus on internationally recognized human rights.¹ For the purposes of international action, “human rights” means roughly “what is in the Universal Declaration.” I do not, for reasons outlined in the preceding chapter, attempt to give a philosophical account of human rights—let alone the “best” philosophical account. Rather, I treat the body of international human rights law as providing largely...

    • 3 Economic Rights and Group Rights
      (pp. 40-54)

      There have been two principal challenges to the Universal Declaration model. Many Anglo-American political conservatives, and some philosophers, have challenged the status of economic and social rights, and many, especially on the political left and in the global South, have challenged the restriction of internationally recognized human rights almost exclusively to individual rights. This chapter considers these two challenges. Readers who wish to get on with the further development of my argument—rather than pause to pursue the more controversial elements of the Universal Declaration model—may reasonably choose to skip this chapter, in whole or in part, or come...

    • 4 Equal Concern and Respect
      (pp. 55-72)

      Chapter 2 described the Universal Declaration model. This chapter offers a series of increasingly deep and substantive—and thus increasingly controversial—justifications. I argue that the Universal Declaration model is rooted in an attractive moral vision of human beings as equal and autonomous agents living in states that treat every citizen with equal concern and respect. I will also argue that a certain kind of liberalism provides a good justification for this system of rights.

      I begin with a descriptive, empirical claim: human rights have become a hegemonic political discourse, or what Mervyn Frost (1996: 104–11) calls “settled norms”...

  6. Part II. The Universality and Relativity of Human Rights
    • 5 A Brief History of Human Rights
      (pp. 75-92)

      Universal human rights have a very particular history. Prior to the second half of the seventeenth century, the idea that all human beings, simply because they are human, have rights that they may exercise against the state and society received no substantial political endorsement anywhere in the world. Although limited applications of the idea were associated with political revolutions in Britain, the United States, and France in the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, an extensive practice ofuniversalhuman rights is largely a twentieth-century creation—and a late-twentieth century creation at that. (For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ignored...

    • 6 The Relative Universality of Human Rights
      (pp. 93-105)

      Universality and relativity are usually presented as opposites defined either dichotomously or as end points of a continuum. The primary sense of “universal,” however, as we will see in a moment, is not merely compatible with but necessarily includes an essential element of relativity. The question, then, is notwhetherhuman rights are universal or relative buthowhuman rights are (and are not) universal and how they are (and are not) relative. Exploring these various senses leads to the conclusion that internationally recognized human rights are “relatively universal” in the contemporary world.

      The first definition of “universal” in the...

    • 7 Universality in a World of Particularities
      (pp. 106-118)

      Many readers will have been struck by the fact that in the preceding chapter I did not even address, let alone identify as important,culturalrelativity. That is not accidental. Although appeals to culture are a staple of discussions of relativity and universality, I will argue that human rights are not in any important way culturally relative. The first section of this chapter explores the relationship between culture and human rights. The remainder of the chapter opens out into a broader discussion of the opportunities for and difficulties of pursuing universal human rights in a world of obvious and important...

  7. Part III. Human Rights and Human Dignity
    • 8 Dignity: Particularistic and Universalistic Conceptions in the West
      (pp. 121-132)

      In earlier editions of this book, in the course of discussing the historical particularity of human rights, I suggested that notions of human dignity have underlain the political practices of most societies. I gave no attention, though, to the substance of those ideas. This chapter and the following ones fill that gap—a major gap, given the quasi-foundational appeals to human dignity in international human rights law—arguing that ideas and practices of dignity roughly parallel the political practices discussed in chapter 5.

      In the premodern world, dignity was seen not as an inherent feature of all humans but as...

    • 9 Humanity, Dignity, and Politics in Confucian China
      (pp. 133-146)

      The Confucian tradition begins two and a half millennia ago with Kong Qiu (551–479 BCE), a scholar and teacher born in the state of Lu in eastern China. He was known to his contemporaries as Kongzi, Master Kong, and to later followers as Kong Fuzi, “our Master Kong”—Confucius. What in the West is called Confucianism is more commonly called in Chinaruxue, learning aboutru, ancient knowledge, orrujia, the school ofru. Master Kong, the leadingruscholar and teacher of his era, practiced at the cusp of the aptly named Warring States period (479–221 BCE),...

    • 10 Humans and Society in Hindu South Asia
      (pp. 147-158)

      Hinduism counts close to one billion adherents, approximately 90 percent of whom live in its birthplace, India. Its foundational revealed texts (śruti), the Vedas, took shape in the centuries around 1000 BCE, although they draw on sources and traditions that reach back much further. The Puranas, sacred texts that claim an ancestry even prior to the Vedas, were put in written form in the last half of the first millennium of the Christian era. These scriptures are supplemented by a vast store of oral traditions and texts (smrti), including the great epics (itihasa, history) theMahabharataand theRamayana, which...

  8. Part IV. Human Rights and International Action
    • 11 International Human Rights Regimes
      (pp. 161-196)

      We have seen the central and vital role of international action in the creation of international human rights norms. We have also seen, though, that international human rights law creates a system of national implementation of international human rights. Nonetheless, extensive and significant international action is a regular part of the politics of human rights. Furthermore, human rights has become a standard topic in contemporary international relations. This chapter looks at the principal multilateral mechanisms. The next chapter looks at bilateral foreign policy action.

      Students of international relations often speak of “international regimes,” systems of norms and decision-making procedures accepted...

    • 12 Human Rights and Foreign Policy
      (pp. 197-214)

      Much international action on behalf of human rights takes place in the multilateral forums discussed in the preceding chapter. Human rights have also become an increasingly important (although typically fairly modest) part of the bilateral foreign policies of many states. This chapter draws attention to both the reality and the limits of states’ concern with international human rights.

      When I first began working on human rights, in the mid-1970s, discussion of human rights and foreign policy usually centered on whether states ought to have an international human rights policy. The answer given to that question was as often no as...

  9. Part V. Contemporary Issues
    • 13 Human Rights, Democracy, and Development
      (pp. 217-234)

      Human rights has become a hegemonic political idea in contemporary international society, a widely accepted standard of international political legitimacy (see section 4.1). Development and democracy also have a comparable status in the contemporary world. Regimes that do not at least claim to pursue rapid and sustained economic growth (“development”), popular political participation (“democracy”), and respect for the rights of their citizens (“human rights”) place their national and international legitimacy at risk.¹

      The relationship between these goals, however, is complex. This chapter challenges the comfortable contemporary assumption that, as the Declaration and Programme of Action of the 1993 Vienna World...

    • 14 The West and Economic and Social Rights
      (pp. 235-253)

      Over the past three decades, discussions of economic and social human rights have become deeply entwined with controversies over the role of markets in Western democracies and economic liberalization and structural adjustment in the Third World. This political context has supported a widespread perception among human rights scholars and activists that the West is and has been hostile, or at best indifferent, to economic and social rights. Adamantia Pollis, for example, asserts “The Western doctrine of human rights excludes economic and social rights” (Pollis 1996: 318–19), and Chandra Muzaffar writes, “The dominant Western conception of human rights . ....

    • 15 Humanitarian Intervention against Genocide
      (pp. 254-273)

      The 1990s produced a “prodigious” stream of humanitarian interventions (Kritsiotis 1998: 1007) running from Somalia, through Bosnia and Rwanda, to Kosovo and East Timor.¹ This body of practice created, remarkably rapidly, a right of humanitarian intervention against genocide that, despite the shortcomings of the international responses to genocide in Darfur, remains an important feature of the international human rights landscape.² This chapter examines the legal, moral, and political dimensions of humanitarian intervention—which, as we will see, regularly conflict. I argue that when faced with massive suffering, both intervening and not intervening often seem both demanded and prohibited—especially when,...

    • 16 Nondiscrimination for All: The Case of Sexual Minorities
      (pp. 274-292)

      Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The right to protection against discrimination, recognized in Article 2, is an explicit guarantee of equal—and thus all—human rights for every person. In practice, however, international human rights law does not protect all victims of systematic discrimination. This chapter critically examines the exclusion of gay men, lesbians, and members of other sexual or gender minorities from the full protection of international human rights norms. This is an issue of intense controversy in many countries that illustrates...

  10. References
    (pp. 293-316)
  11. Index
    (pp. 317-320)