Justifying International Legal Human Rights

| December 2016
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In The Heart of Human Rights, Allen Buchanan emphasizes the distinction between moral human rights (MHRs) on the one hand and international legal human rights (ILHRs) on the other. MHRs are the moral rights held universally by all humans simply in virtue of being human. ILHRs are the legal rights at the heart of international practice, which are articulated in the United Nations’ International Bill of Rights and related legal documents. One of the most controversial aspects of Buchanan’s account of human rights is its denial of any significant role for MHRs in the justification of the content of ILHRs. This is at odds with the orthodoxy, according to which there is a close connection between MHRs and ILHRs. In particular, Buchanan challenges what he calls the “Mirroring View,” according to which each ILHR constitutes the reflection of some corresponding MHR.

Buchanan is right to subject the Mirroring View to scrutiny; and although I agree that it should be rejected, in what follows I argue that his alternative account of the justification of ILHRs is also problematic. I argue that rejecting the Mirroring View does not entail the irrelevance of MHRs to the justification of the content of ILHRs, and I propose an alternative account that avoids the shortcomings of the Mirroring View while nevertheless placing MHRs at the core of the justification of ILHRs.

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Category: Book Symposium: The Heart of Human Rights, International Law and Human Rights, Issue 30.4

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