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Rights and justice in international relations
Rights and justice in international relations

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5 Rights in the international arena

5.1 Rights, justice and international politics

What happens to notions of rights and justice when we move the discussion to the level of international politics?

In fact, three crucial things happen:

  1. The meaning of rights takes its bearings from the rights discourse developed from the UN Declaration. We will investigate the effects of this, both on rights and on international politics.

  2. We find that it is not always easy to establish who the right can be claimed against. In consequence, there can be a tension between the rights of individuals and the rights and authority of states.

  3. The discussion of justice centres on the effectiveness of international organisations. The question becomes whether, and if so how, to strengthen the rights of NGOs, international institutions and international law to implement international justice.

A further dimension is added when we consider whether the development of the international human rights agenda now amounts to a form of globalisation. As Chris Brown notes:

[while] it was once the case that rights were almost always associated with domestic legal and political systems, in the last half century a complex network of international law and practice (the ‘international human rights regime’) has grown up around the idea that individuals possess rights simply by virtue of being human, of sharing in a common humanity.

(Brown, 2001, p. 599)

As you have seen, this is the core idea behind the concept of universal human rights.

In this section, we shall first look again at the international codifications of human rights and then discuss some of the problems associated with them.