Pragmatism and Multidimensionality in Human Rights Advocacy
Human Rights Quarterly, Forthcoming 2018
20 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2017 Last revised: 14 Nov 2017
Date Written: June 30, 2017
Human rights appear to be in a state of existential crisis, with academics proclaiming the “endtimes” or “twilight” of the field and a growing sense of human rights pessimism among many commentators. As an adaptation to the challenging contemporary climate for human rights, some critics have asserted that the field needs to become more pragmatic and flexible, and less legalistic. Unfortunately, these calls for reform are rarely accompanied by details, and the literature on the nature of human rights pragmatism is fairly thin. This article will explore what such a pivot might entail. My central contention is that while more flexible and less law-centered approaches can play a useful role in advocacy, they also come with risks and tradeoffs that need to be assessed. The concept of human rights is fundamentally multidimensional, oscillating between moral, legal and political domains, drawing power from each one of them. A truly pragmatic turn in human rights will not involve categorical sensibilities about the value of law-centered approaches in all times and places, but will instead emphasize the opportunities and advocacy hooks available in a particular context, whether moral, legal, political, or otherwise.
Keywords: Human rights, advocacy, pragmatism, pessimism, international law
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