Topics in Moral and Political Philosophy. Human Rights. Distinguishing features of human rights 1. HR are minimal standards : they set the “lower limits on tolerable human conduct” rather than “great aspirations and exalted ideals” (H. Shue , Basic Rights , 1996). .
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HR are minimal standards: they set the “lower limits on tolerable human conduct” rather than “great aspirations and exalted ideals” (H. Shue, Basic Rights, 1996).
HR areuniversal: they cover all countries and all people living today (although some of them only cover specific groups, e.g. adult citizens; children, women, or minorities).
NB: universal ≠ transhistorical
Problem: how abstractly should HR be formulated?
HR are high-priority norms. They are matters of “paramount importance” and their violation constitutes “a grave affront to justice” (Cranston 1967).
NB: This does not mean that they are absolute. They are “resistant to trade-offs, but not too resistant” (Griffin 2001b). There are cases in which it is permissible, and perhaps mandatory to violate these rights.
HR are political norms: they do not apply mainly to interpersonal conduct, but specify how people should be treated by their governments.
Thomas Pogge: “to engage human rights, conduct must be in some sense official”.
- HR are not only negative rights.
European Convention on Human Rights: “Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law” (Article 2.1).
UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: “Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law” (Article 4.1).
- HR are not inalienable (imprisonment)
HR are moral right possessed by all human beings simply by virtue of their humanity (Ockham, Grotius, Locke, Nussbaum, Griffin).
HR are understood as natural rights:
O1: possession of HR does not depend on special transactions, achievements or special social status, or on the fact that a legal order has conferred them upon us.
O2: we discover these rights through ordinary moral reasoning (rather than through legal reasoning)
Orthodox view: HR have political implications but their political role is not invoked to explain their nature.
Political Conception: denies O1or O2or both.
HR are distinguished from natural rights because of their political role.
D1: It should account for the distinctive importance of this class of norms. (Not every important moral consideration counts as HR.)
D2: It should be faithful to the human rights culture that flourished after 1945. (But can be critical as well.)
D3: It should have an answer to the parochialism objection (HR discourse are an ethnocentric imposition of liberal values that do not belong to non-western cultures).
HR “derive from the inherent dignity of the human person” (Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966).
HR are grounded in personhood, i.e. normative agency(what distinguishes human beings from non-human animals).
3 components to the idea of personhood:
Three categories of HR:
NB: Personhood needs to be integrated by “practicalities” in order to have a full-blown theory of HR.
Practicalities: a group of historically invariant facts about human nature and social life that determine what a certain right protects exactly.
The value of personhood is not sufficient to provide an account of HR
Personhood does not play any role in the justification of HR
Not all human beings possess the capacity for rational agency discussed by Griffin (mentally disable people, children, people in the advanced stages of senile dementia)
Should the orthodox view appealing only to one value in explaining dignity?
The bearers of the primary duties correlative to HR have a political connotation:
HR regulate the behaviour of the officials of a state (or other coercive institutions)
HR violations only occur when there is some failure on the part of officials.
HR regulate distinctively political activities or the attribution of a political status:
a)Respect and protection of HR are necessary conditions for the legitimacy of political institutions.
b) (Extensive) HR violations provide pro tanto reasons for international intervention (military intervention, economic sanctions etc.).
Objection:can the same list of HR fulfil both roles?
“Liberal constitutional rights”: rights possessed by all human beings simply by virtue of their humanity and upheld by liberal societies.
HR are a proper subset of liberal constitutional rights , i.e. those rights that generate pro-tantoreasons for military intervention against societies responsible for their violation (at least when widespread)
NB: military intervention is NOT the standard way to protect human rights (diplomatic and economic sanctions might be preferable).
Rather, the distinguishing feature of human rights is that their widespread violation generates pro-tantoreasons for military intervention.
NB: for Rawls a society that respect and protect HR is immune from all forms of intervention, including non military ones (diplomatic or economic sanctions; formal condemnation; calling on states to report on their human rights record; conditional offer of aid).