Human Rights

Human Rights

Old Problems, New Possibilities

Edited by David Kinley, Wojciech Sadurski and Kevin Walton

Reflecting on the various dichotomies through which human rights have traditionally been understood, this book takes account of recent developments in both theories of rights and in international human rights law to present new ways of thinking about some long-standing problems.

Chapter 1: Human rights: moral or legal?

Tom Campbell

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, law and society, politics and public policy, human rights


No one who is inspired by, or even just attracted to, the idea of human rights is likely to doubt that they have great moral significance. Human rights are generally understood as constituting the most fundamental and important moral claims that human beings can justifiably make on or against each other. This is manifest in the evident moral import of their standard content, as exemplified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the numerous subsequent treaties and conventions. Whatever else we may say about them, human rights carry a high moral charge. It is also generally accepted that human rights are indeed rights, rather than goals, values, guidelines or aspirations, in that they represent the most basic entitlements of all human beings and can, therefore properly be demanded or required rather than merely sought or requested. It seems apposite therefore that human rights be regarded as a class of moral rights, these being understood as morally justified claims on other people relating to the protection and furtherance of interests or autonomy of the rights holders. The distinctiveness of human rights within the category of moral rights is then traced to a combination of their universality and their overriding moral weight.