The Universality of Human Rights: Pragmatism Meets Idealism

The JBI Human Rights Lecture, 2018

Hebrew University of Jerusalem International Law Forum Working Series 06-18

Hebrew University of Jerusalem Legal Research Paper No. 29

52 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2018 Last revised: 5 Nov 2018

See all articles by Yuval Shany

Yuval Shany

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law and Institute of Criminology; Israel Democracy Institute

Date Written: July 21, 2018

Abstract

The article considers some of the concrete dilemmas confronting one international body responsible for monitoring the interpretation and application of IHRL—the UN Human Rights Committee (UN HRC)—when it discusses the implementation of human rights treaty norms. Since the UN HRC monitors the implementation of a key international human rights treaty—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was ratified by most States, and which introduces a broad spectrum of rights, touching upon many sensitive issues of culture, tradition and social practice—it often meets challenges to the universality of human rights. Part One of this article discusses key features of the background political context in which the universality debate takes place before treaty bodies, such as the UN HRC, underscoring the deep ambivalence of States about human rights monitoring by international institutions. Part Two examines the specific effectiveness dilemmas that confront the UN HRC and the pros and cons of the short-term and long-term existence of gaps between law on the books and law in action. Part Three focuses on the accommodation methods developed by the UN HRC in reaction to objections founded on cultural relativity claims, and suggests that they should be read against broader concerns about the Committee’s legitimacy and effectiveness. Part Four concludes.

Keywords: human rights, human rights committee, treaty bodies, universality, cultural relativism, legitimacy, effectiveness

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Shany, Yuval, The Universality of Human Rights: Pragmatism Meets Idealism (July 21, 2018). The JBI Human Rights Lecture, 2018; Hebrew University of Jerusalem Legal Research Paper No. 29. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3217779 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3217779

Yuval Shany (Contact Author)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law and Institute of Criminology ( email )

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