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Do We Need Unicorns When We Have Law?

27 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2005 Last revised: 7 Jun 2012

Rory O'Connell

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute


Theoretical justifications of human rights have been troubled by many criticisms and objections. It has been objected that the source of human rights is unclear as is the meaning attached to human rights. Yet today many human rights have been adopted in positive law. Law students today need to learn about this positive law of human rights and may consider that those debates in human rights theory are pointless.

This article examines the extent to which the positive law of human rights answers these questions satisfactorily. It concludes that positive law offers several important answers to these criticisms, but suggests they cannot replace the need for a normative justification. The article concludes that approaches which integrate theory and positive law are fruitful avenues of inquiry.

Keywords: Human Rights, Legal Theory, Jurisprudence, Philosophy of Law

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

O'Connell, Rory, Do We Need Unicorns When We Have Law?. Ratio Juris, Vol. 18, pp. 484-503, 2005; Queen's University Belfast Law Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=845345

Rory O'Connell (Contact Author)

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute ( email )

Shore Road
Newtownabbey, County Antrim BT37 OQB
Northern Ireland

HOME PAGE: http://www.transitionaljustice.ulster.ac.uk/

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