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Raz on Human Rights and Sovereignty

Following Rawls I will take human rights to be rights which set limits to the sovereignty of states, in that their actual or anticipated violation is a (defeasible) reason for taking action against the violator in the international arena. This is Rawls’s and my answer to the first of the two questions an account of human rights faces: while human rights are invoked in various contexts, and for a variety of purposes, the dominant trend in human rights practice is to take the fact that a right is a human right as a defeasibly sufficient ground for taking action against violators in the international arena, that is to take its violation as a reason for such action.

Such measures set limits to state sovereignty for when states act within their sovereignty they can, even when acting wrongly, rebuff interference, invoking their sovereignty. Crudely speaking, they can say to outsiders: whether or not I (the state) am guilty of wrongful action is none of your business. Sovereignty does not justify state actions, but it protects states from external interference. Violation of human rights disables this response, which is available to states regarding other misdeeds.

Joseph Raz (2007), “Human Rights Without Foundations.” Unpublished Paper. Available here.

Snippet and link taken from Larry Solum’s Legal Theory Blog.

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