Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Alexander Orakhelashvili
Chapter 8: International Human Rights Law Theory
Frédéric Mégret International human rights theory is a broad term that describes a variety of foundational and conceptual dilemmas which scholars and practitioners of international human rights engage with. These raise fundamental issues about the nature, purpose, transformation and direction of human rights on the global level. International human rights theory is not human rights ‘in theory’, a sort of utopian blueprint of what might be, but the theory of international human rights as the set of assumptions and general understandings that comprehensively structure the project’s very daily operation. International human rights law can be analysed here as the partly deliberate, partly accidental fusion of three ideas: international (an environment, a political set up, an idea), human rights (an ideological project), and law (a tool and a project). The resulting dilemmas are therefore simultaneously human rights, international, and legal dilemmas. Human rights raise issues of the foundation, nature, and content of right; their transplantation in the international arena raises issues about what it means for human rights to become international and for the international to become more dominated by the idea of rights; and the process of legalization of human rights internationally then creates challenges for both human rights (which may suffer distortions) and international law (which may come under challenge). In practice these dilemmas are often difficult to disentangle. This chapter merely aims to give a short overview of the sort of problems they create for those interested in developing a theory of international human rights...
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