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The Careless Use of “Human Rights” Will Soon Reduce Them to Ridicule – conversation with Hurst Hannum

Professor Emeritus Hurst Hannum discusses the old and new challenges of human rights and international human rights law, via an article in Mandiner.

As we are slowly approaching to the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have to recognize that human rights have become a universal common good. However, there are many old and new challenges. One of them is the proliferation of new claims of rights since human rights have become the dominant mode of discourse of the modern era as the late Jonathan Sacks put it. How, in your view, does the emergence of new claims of rights could pose a threat to the human rights system?

What we today know as “human rights” are more accurately described as international human rights law. While the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was only a “common standard of achievement,” its catalogue of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights was soon expanded and codified in binding UN and regional treaties.

The norms initially formulated in 1948 have been subsequently interpreted and expanded to adapt to the social and political changes that have occurred since the mid-20th century. This is a natural process, and few people would argue that it was inappropriate to adopt specific treaties on, for example, non-discrimination based on race or sex, children’s rights, or the abolition of torture.

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