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 11: Where hope meets expectation between human rights idealism and pragmatism

David Kinley

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


As a concept, human rights have application and impact at the levels of both an aspirational ideal and pragmatic implementation. The differences between the two perspectives are evident in rhetoric as well as legal and policy pronouncements, often rubbing along relatively uncontroversially in Western democracies. For many civil and political rights, such as privacy, free speech and freedom of association, there is an unspoken acceptance that on a day-to-day basis, the ideal is tempered by many and various practical necessities, and it is only in times of crisis that the ideal is called upon to reassert or reassess more lofty expectations. The 2011–2012 News International phone-hacking scandal in the United Kingdom illustrates the point. This was indeed a crisis that elicited questions as to what ought to be the balance between rights and responsibilities of the parties involved, including: journalists, media magnates, politicians and the police. And yet despite such a widely cast net and the big fish it caught, it was played out via paroxysms of heated debate over the intermingled boundaries of privacy, news media and the public interest, and not by way of the paralysis of an overreaction in favour of one particular right over another. This however is not always the result of such rights clashes, as the modern history of anti-terrorist laws worldwide, both before but especially after 9/11, bears testimony, in its purported preference for security over personal freedom.

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