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Human rights as a set of secular ethics, or where does the responsibilities bit fit in?

By Francesca Klug


In the context of post-war debates over human rights and the introduction of a set of positive, written rights into British law for the first time in its history, Klug directly addresses the question of responsibilities. In particular, she attempts to reply to the growing backlash in Britain against rights as a central concept in progressive thinking and politics, a backlash - barely present thirty years ago - which, interestingly, has its roots in the heady days of the 1960s. She makes plain the meaning behind human rights discourse and attempts to reclaim that meaning from the caricatures and confusions besetting the current rights and responsibilities debate. She does not suggest that the existence of human rights treaties or bills of rights by themselves confer human right, but rather that the existence of such treaties or bills of rights is more likely to lead to the protection of human rights if they are better understood as a set of values - a set of secular ethics concerned with responsibilities as well as rights - rather than as essentially formal, legal documents, which is how they are frequently presented. Moreover, she suggests that we better catch on to such an understanding quickly before human rights discourse goes the way of other progressive values systems in recent years, and gets choked out of existence by the concerted attacks upon it which are currently gaining momentum both in Britain and on the other side of the Atlantic

Topics: KD England and Wales
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 1999
DOI identifier: 10.1080/003132299128810632
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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