Should Human Rights Law Play a Role in Development?

24 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2015

See all articles by Eric A. Posner

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: September 16, 2015


Many human rights advocates believe that development agencies — agencies that define their mission as providing economic and technical aid to impoverished countries — should be required to respect and promote human rights law. This style of human rights imperialism should be resisted. While development agencies should obviously comply with domestic law and try to promote good rather than bad outcomes, there is no benefit in holding them to human rights law. Human rights law was designed for states, not for NGOs, and how it would be applied to NGOs is far from obvious. Because of the ambiguity and vast scope of human rights law, the practical effect of these proposals would be to add another layer of bureaucracy to development projects while subjecting those projects to scrutiny by lawyers with little to guide them but their intuitive notions of right and wrong.

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A., Should Human Rights Law Play a Role in Development? (September 16, 2015). U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 546. Available at SSRN:

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-0425 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)


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