Human Rights and International Law (25): Rights Inflation

There has been a steady increase in the number of different human rights recognized in international treaties.A similar, though less outspoken growth took place on the national level. The founding document of modern human rights law, the Universal Declaration, only contained 30 rights. I’ve complained several times before about this “inflation” of rights. On the one hand, human rights serve the realization of certain universal human values, and if some of these values face new obstacles then new human rights may be necessary. For example, if the internet has now become indispensable for human communication and expression then a right to internet access should be recognized. Let’s not forget that human rights have always evolved.

On the other hand, a right should be something important. It’s exceptional by definition. Not all rules or aspirations ought to be labelled as human rights. A right is a particularly strong moral claim, giving rise to equally strong duties. A proliferation of duties makes it hard to fulfill duties, and a blurring of the lines between important and less important duties results in a loss of sense of urgency. And finally, rights cost money. The more rights we have, the less money we can spend on each.

More posts on this series are here.


4 thoughts on “Human Rights and International Law (25): Rights Inflation”

  1. More human rights and more human rights abuse. It would likewise be interesting to see a graph showing the amount of human rights abuse in the world. Your point is very valid: human rights should be “important” and the plethora of rights may be an excuse for being lackadaisical in their enforcement. With everyone calling “wolf” there may be a tendency to draw a blind eye to the real dangers and even yawn at tragedy.


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