The Concept of Accountability and Human Rights Violations

Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No. 2023-26

Forthcoming in Michelle Duin & Kristin Henrard (eds), Research Handbook on the Accountability for Human Rights Violations: What, Who, What For, How, To What Extent, 2024, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

20 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2023 Last revised: 19 Dec 2023

See all articles by Carolyn Moser

Carolyn Moser

Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law

Date Written: December 6, 2023

Abstract

Accountability serves as a central concept in modern scholarship. Its usage spans various disciplines, often carrying diverse interpretations and nuances for different audiences. At its core, accountability is about ensuring that those in power are held responsible for their actions and omissions. This contribution aims to unpack the conceptual essence of accountability in the public sphere through a five-part framework. First, tracing its semantic origins and conceptual trajectory, we explore how accountability evolved from a top-down control mechanism, where subjects were called upon to render accounts to the sovereign, to a bottom-up construct tied to exercising power in democratic systems. Additionally, we examine how accountability has gained prominence in governance frameworks beyond the nation-state paradigm, which include transnational networks and non-state actors. Second, acknowledging the multidimensional nature of accountability, we present the ‘5 W’ framework, encompassing the key questions of who, to whom, for what, why, and in what way. Third, we delve into different types of accountability, in particular political, legal, and administrative, while alluding to alternative categorizations. Fourth, we explore various approaches to the study of accountability, which depend on one’s understanding of the concept’s form and function. We learn about accountability as a virtue and accountability as a mechanism, and discover different perspectives on accountability ranging from a democratic focus on controlling delegation to a constitutional focus on countervailing powers ensured notably by judicial and parliamentary actors. Finally, we develop some thoughts on the realities of accountability, in particular in relation to human rights. By providing a comprehensive analysis of accountability, this contribution offers a profound understanding of the complexities and implications of holding state but also non-state entities accountable for their exercise of public power, including for human rights violations.

Keywords: accountability, human rights, public power, democratic governance, multidimensional concept

Suggested Citation

Moser, Carolyn, The Concept of Accountability and Human Rights Violations (December 6, 2023). Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No. 2023-26, Forthcoming in Michelle Duin & Kristin Henrard (eds), Research Handbook on the Accountability for Human Rights Violations: What, Who, What For, How, To What Extent, 2024, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4655627

Carolyn Moser (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law ( email )

Im Neuenheimer Feld 535
69120 Heidelberg, 69120
Germany

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