The Point of the Practice of Human Rights: International Concern or Domestic Empowerment?
36 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2015 Last revised: 12 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 12, 2016
How do international human rights norms shape actions and outcomes in global politics, and whom do they empower and authorize to act? In this paper, I work within the political conception of human rights to challenge its central claim that international human rights chiefly provide standards for international conduct or reasons for interference. As Charles Beitz puts it, human rights are matters of international concern: They give reasons for outside agents to act when a state fails its first-hand responsibilities for protecting the rights of its residents. I shall offer a different view, on which international human rights are chiefly implemented and enforced through political action in the domestic sphere rather than in international society. International human rights norms authorize and empower individuals and groups to claim their entitlements and challenge governmental authority. This ‘domestic empowerment view’, as I shall call it, allows us to reconstruct the practice of international human rights in a way that can make better sense, compared to the dominant political conception, of salient features of that practice, such as the importance of legalization, the idea of equal status that animates many human rights, and the constructive role international human rights play in societies where the rule of law and democracy are generally respected.
Keywords: human rights, political philosophy, Charles Beitz, legalization, egalitarianism, democracy
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