Law and Ethics of Human Rights 7 (1):25-46 (2013)

Daniel Viehoff
New York University
Among the functions of state borders is to delineate a domain within which outsiders may normally not interfere. But the human rights practice that has sprung up in recent decades has imposed significant limits on a state’s right against interference. This article considers the connection between human rights on the one hand and justified interference in the internal affairs of states on the other. States, this article argues, have a right against interference if and because they serve their subjects. Interference by outsiders threatens to set back their capacity to serve and thus ultimately harms those over whom the state exercises power. Human rights, in turn, circumscribe the outer limits of what any state can do while plausibly claiming to be serving its subjects. On this view, human rights are distinguished from other rights because they function as cancelling conditions on the state’s right against outside interference: while interfering in the internal affairs of a state normally wrongs that state, interfering where the state fails to respect human rights does not. Contrary to what is often thought, human rights violations do not justify outside interference. They merely make a state liable to such interference. The further considerations that must enter into an all things considered judgment in favor of interference are irrelevant for determining what human rights we have.
Keywords Human Rights  Humanitarian Intervention  Sovereignty  Political Conception of Human Rights  Beitz, C.
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DOI 10.1515/lehr-2013-0003
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