Human Rights in International Law: Three Generations or One?
46 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2015
Date Written: October 28, 2014
International human rights are often portrayed as corresponding to three generations. First generation rights refer to civil and political rights, specifically, those enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, such as freedom of expression and the right to vote. The second generation concerns economic, social and cultural rights, specifically, those enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, such as rights to housing and to form a trade union. The third generation typically is said to include the right to development, the right to self-determination, minority rights, the right to a healthy environment, the right to peace, and the right to ownership of the common heritage of mankind. This essay argues that what generational accounts fail to grasp is the fact that, despite the diverse sets of interests they seek to protect, human rights in international law share a common purpose, which is to mitigate injustices produced by the ways in which international law brings legal order to global politics. In this sense, civil and political rights and social, economic and cultural rights, as well those thought of as third generation rights, comprise but one generation: a single population of entitlements, speaking to the structure and operation of international law. This essay, I hope, will introduce readers to The Sovereignty of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, forthcoming), in which I explore its thesis at greater length.
Keywords: Human rights, international law, social, economics, cultural
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