International Human Rights and the Challenge of Legitimacy
In: The legitimacy of international human rights regimes: Legal, political and philosophical perspectives, edited by Andreas Føllesdal, Johan Karlsson Schaffer and Geir Ulfstein. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge (2013), pp. 1-31.
38 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2013 Last revised: 24 Apr 2014
Date Written: April 15, 2013
International human rights regimes as they exist today are perplexing. On the one hand, international human rights emerged virtually out of the blue at the end of the second world war and had their political breakthrough in international affairs only by the mid-1970s. By now, they have become institutionalized as a set of elaborate international practices, almost universally recognized, if not always respected, by key international actors. And yet, on the other hand, international human rights practices increasingly face potentially disabling skepticism and critique, resentment and even resistance from many of the agents involved. Across the world, governments call into question the authority of the international institutions and instruments they themselves have agreed to create or join.
Are governments justified in their criticism and resistance towards international human rights norms and institutions? What grounds the legitimacy of the continuously developing global architecture of international human rights law and the international courts and treaty bodies established by human rights conventions?
These are the topics that this volume addresses. It contributes to an increasingly lively research literature spanning the disciplines of law, philosophy, political science and international relations. This introductory chapter serves, first, to give some examples of the type of political controversies over international human rights regimes that motivate this volume; second, to place the volume in current academic debates about international human rights and about the legitimate authority of international institutions; and thirdly, to outline the topics covered in the individual contributions.
Keywords: human rights, legitimacy, international courts, authority
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