Human Rights and Nation-State Sovereignty

Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary 2023 (203):99-108 (2023)
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Abstract

ExcerptHuman rights organizations for the past few decades have generally attempted to promote international law against the principle of state sovereignty in order to establish human rights norms worldwide. This approach presumes the universality of human rights is in fundamental opposition to the principle of sovereignty because this principle can be used by governments to shield themselves from outside criticism. By contrast, the U.S. State Department’s Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights has outlined an approach that emphasizes not just the compatibility between universal human rights and state sovereignty but even their dependence on each other.1 We see the results of this clash in the response to the Report by Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch and one of the expert witnesses during the commission’s proceedings.2 He sees in the Report’s foregrounding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “a frontal assault on international human rights law” because it shifts attention away from international law and toward more informal documents such as the Universal Declaration, which lays out a set of goals rather than legally binding commitments.

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