Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Center for Law and Philosophy


This article has been published by the journal Transnational Legal Theory. The article is an expanded and revised version of the lecture I gave at the opening plenary session of the 24th IVR World Congress in Beijing, September 2009, which was entitled and previously uploaded as ‘Human Rights in a New World Order.’ The unrevised ‘Human Rights in a New World Order’ speech will appear in the IVR proceedings as well as in translation in Chinese. The present article is made available for download here immediately after publication by special arrangement with the journal. The article is a reflection on the importance and some of the problems involved with the practice of human rights in international relations in the age of globalization. Beginning with rights in general to claim that their justification is in protecting and advancing individual interest, and distributing power to individuals. This is the main distinctive contribution of human rights in the international arena: they empower individuals, and voluntary organizations, endowing them with a voice alongside states and multinational corporations, and creating an additional channel of political action. I argue that human rights recognized in human rights law and practice are not universal rights, but they are syncronically universal, pertaining to all human beings alive today. I explain and justify that feature by the fact that human rights set a limit to state sovereignty. This fact makes clear the importance of impartial, efficient and reliable institutions for administering and enforcing human rights. Where such institutions are impossible there are no human right. Even when they are possible we face the risk that the practice of human rights would lead to an international regime which is blind to cultural diversity, and tends to serve the interests of big businesses and nothing more. This – I claim – is not something inseparable from the idea of human rights, but it confronts its practice with as yet unresolved problems. The human rights to education and to health are used to illustrate the points made in the paper.