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Specifying human rights

Meckled-Garcia, Saladin; (2015) Specifying human rights. In: Cruft, R and Liao, SM and Renzo, M, (eds.) Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights. Oxford University Press: Oxford, United Kingdom. Green open access

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Human rights are typically identified under specific headings: the right to life, to security of person, to freedom of expression, to freedom from slavery, to due process, and so forth. But beyond those headings, notoriously, the trouble starts. What normative content the rights have, what they mean, for the right holder and for others in terms of obligations and burdens, is a matter of specification. One could treat this specification as a legal question, the interpretation of legal provisions in statutes, prior decisions, or practices. But there is a question in morality that should influence that legal specification. That is how the rights ought to be specified in principle if they are to do the moral job that gives them their point – what is the morally justified content of any human right? What can holders of such rights legitimately claim from others and, correspondingly, what morally justified burdens does this imply for those others? One school of thought, call it the democratic specification tradition, holds that at least in part the specific moral content of human rights, not just the content of legal rights, can only be what a democratic political community decides it to be. Against this view I argue that specification requires principles that show when imposing burdens on others is justified - when it is reasonable - principles of legitimate burden. Democratic or legal institutions can only be said to genuinely specify moral human rights in so far as they act on such principles.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Specifying human rights
ISBN-13: 9780199688630
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/academic/philos...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Political Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1522160

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