Journal article

The Bearers of Human Rights Duties and Responsibilities for Human Rights - A Quiet (R)Evolution

Published in:
  • Social Philosophy & Policy. - Cambridge University Press. - 2015, vol. 32, no. 1, p. 244-268
English Recent years have seen an increase of interest on the part of human rights theorists in the “supply-side” of human rights, i.e., in the duties or obligations correlative to human rights. Nevertheless, faced with the practically urgent and seemingly simple question of who owes the duties related to international human rights, few human rights theorists provide an elaborate answer. While some make a point of fitting the human rights practice and hence regard states as the sole human rights duty-bearers merely by referring to that practice, others criticize the “state-centric” approach to human rights duty-bearers and expand the scope of the latter to include any international institution beyond the state and even private actors. Curiously, however, even those more expansive accounts of human rights duty-bearers are usually very evasive about why it should be so and especially how it should work. The time has come to broach anew the issue of the bearers of human rights duties, and responsibilities of international institutions in human rights theory, addressing two challenges: focusing on relational and directed human rights duties specifically and not on duties of global justice in general, thereby distinguishing between human rights duty-bearers and other bearers of responsibilities for human rights, on the one hand, and accounting for and justifying the point of international human rights law and practice in this respect, thereby also securing internal arguments for reform, on the other. The essay’s argument is four-pronged. It starts with a few reminders about the relational nature of human rights and the relationship between human rights and duties and what this means for the specification of human rights duties. It then focuses more specifically on the identification of human rights duty-bearers, i.e., states and international institutions of jurisdiction like the European Union (EU), and the allocation of human rights duties to them. The third section of the article is devoted to the concurrent moral responsibilities for human rights that are incurred by other various responsibility-bearers outside institutions of jurisdiction. In the final section, the essay considers the (quiet) revolution potential of the EU’s fast-developing human rights’ duties, and discusses the normative implications of the development of universal international institutions’ human rights duties stricto sensu for international law and politics more generally.
Faculté de droit
Département de droit international et droit commercial
  • English
Law, jurisprudence
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