What is International Human Rights Law? Three Applications of a Distributive Account

43 Pages Posted: 17 May 2007

See all articles by Patrick Macklem

Patrick Macklem

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 8, 2007


The standard normative account of international human rights law is that its overarching mission is to protect universal features of what it means to be a human being from the exercise of sovereign power. This article offers an alternative account of the field, one that locates its normative dimensions in its capacity to speak to distributive injustices produced by how international law brings legal order to international political reality. On this account, human rights possess international legal significance not because they correspond to abstract conceptions of what it means to be human but because they monitor the distributive justice of the structure and operation of the international legal order itself. This account both draws on and departs from cosmopolitan conceptions of distributive justice in contemporary international political theory. It sheds normative light on why some human rights merit international legal protection despite the fact that they might lack some of the properties required by a universal account of the field. It illustrates these claims by describing how indigenous rights, minority rights, and rights to international cooperation and assistance mitigate some of the adverse consequences of how international law distributes sovereign power among a variety of legal actors it recognizes as states.

Keywords: international human rights law, international law, human rights, indigenous rights, minority rights, right to development, sovereignty, international distributive justice, global justice

Suggested Citation

Macklem, Patrick, What is International Human Rights Law? Three Applications of a Distributive Account (May 8, 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=986713 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.986713

Patrick Macklem (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
416-978-3873 (Phone)
416-978-7899 (Fax)

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics