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Rights and justice in international relations

Introduction

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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 A world of whose making? (DU301). [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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