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Rights and justice in international relations
Can the concept of human rights be applied across borders or are rights culturally...
Can the concept of human rights be applied across borders or are rights culturally specific? Is it realistic, or even desirable, to aim at an international system based on universal principles of justice? This unit takes a critical view of the assumption that ‘rights are a good thing’ and looks at the problems that arise when they are applied in the international arena.
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
- understand the different interpretations of internationally recognised notions of rights and justice;
- give examples of implementing justice in an international sphere;
- investigate questions in international studies;
- analyse the different agencies of change in the international system.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 International human rights: an introduction
- 2 The United Nations settlement
- 3 Defining rights
- 4 Defining justice
- 5 Rights in the international arena
- 5.1 Rights, justice and international politics
- 5.2 Human rights in the international arena
- 5.3 Problems with international rights
- 5.4 The influence of the Western perspective
- 5.5 Feminist critiques of international rights
- 5.6 Against whom are rights claims made?
- 5.7 Relating individual rights to state sovereignty
- 5.8 Review of criticisms of international rights
- 6 International justice – communitarian and cosmopolitan perspectives
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 Further reading
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Rights and justice in international relations
This unit is about rights and rights claims, and the idea of implementing justice in the international sphere based on the concept of rights. It is agreed by most people that ‘rights are a good thing’ and in many respects they are. However, this unit deliberately takes a critical view. It seeks to examine closely why rights are a good thing and highlights some of the problems associated with rights. In this way, we hope that the sense in which rights are still, ultimately, ‘a good thing’ can be clarified and sharpened, and the valid reasons for rights thereby strengthened. The belief in rights based on a moral assertion of a common humanity that we all share is not self-justifying, and it needs to be located within the complex political field of international relations.
In Section 2, we look briefly at some aspects of the development of internationally recognised human rights as expressed in the UN Charter and 1948 Declaration. Section 3 and Section 4 consider rights and justice by elucidating the meaning of the terms and some of the debates about how best to conceptualise them. In Section 5 and Section 6, the working definitions previously outlined are used to think about the impact that notions of rights and justice can have on international relations. In the concluding section (Section 7), we consider the future of rights and justice in the international realm.
This unit is an adapted extract from the Open University course
This is an extract from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Politics courses or view the range of currently available OU Politics courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Monday, 25th July 2011
Last updated on: Friday, 24th August 2012
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