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INR Week 6 discussion

Open Posted By: ahmad8858 Date: 20/02/2021 High School Report Writing

Week 6 Discussion


1.By tying its formulation to particular ethical traditions, how does Justificatory minimalism suppose it will avoid unnecessary obstacles?

2.Why do Skeptics find the New Human Rights Mandate has not lived up to its “Mandate?’

3.In “Why did Annan Fail,” which of the explanations (you can chose more than one), contributed most to the lack of success in negotiating a cease fire?


answer only 1 of the 3 questions

300 words.


+ INFORMATION 

https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/1208/Kofi-Annan-Despite-flaws-UN-Human-Rights-Council-can-bring-progress


https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/why-did-kofi-fail/325137/


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATkJe8iADhc&t=92s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH6Y2jUaLvI



STUDENTS EXAMPLES


Skeptics say that the New Human Rights Mandate did not live up to its mandate and that we should get rid of it in its entirety. These critics explain that it did not lead to the fundamental changes that this mandate promised would occur. Some of these critics have even advocated that western and democratic states should leave the council and instead look to help progress human rights in some other forum. There is also a strong belief that by not allowing authoritarian states to be elected as members, the whole effectiveness of the council is largely diminished. Skeptics also argue that the amount of money and effort being put into this is not worth the small incremental progress. Those who do not agree with the skeptics and their idea of removing the new human rights mandate do concur that the council is not living up to its promises or its full potential, however, they believe that with time it will. These people also disagree with skeptics because they believe that this mandate has allowed many members of the council to break free from regional stigmas and work together with leaders from all around the world in order to advance human rights.  

References: 

“Kofi Annan: Despite Flaws, UN Human Rights Council Can Bring Progress.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 Dec. 2011, www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/1208/Kofi-Annan-Despite-flaws-UN-Human-Rights-Council-can-bring-progress. 


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3.In “Why did Annan Fail,” which of the explanations (you can chose more than one), contributed most to the lack of success in negotiating a cease fire?

Unfortunately, Syria’s ongoing civil war has been one of the most conflicting wars due to the various domestic sides, foreign allies and outside groups involved. In “Why did Annan Fail”, I believe that one of the main reasons the ceasefire was unsuccessful was Bashar al Asad’s failure to implement Annan’s peace plan. Assad continued ordering attacks against rebel-held towns and villages, sadly these attacks impacted millions of civilians, destroyed thousands of homes and left millions of refugees worldwide. Furthermore, I also believe that the involvement of powerful countries, especially the veto ones, further complicates matters. These countries were primarily concerned with their economic and military ties with Syria despite the number of civilian deaths. As of 2016, the United Nations estimated a total of 400,000 deaths since the war started in 2011. 


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3.) Annan's proposed cease-fire for Syria's Civil War was a failure, thanks to a conglomeration of the proposed explanations in the article. However, the reasons behind the conflict and the deeply invested interests of major world powers in the strategically important Syrian nation stands out as holding the greatest share of culpability. Russia's interest in the region is particularly noteworthy given Syria's coast with the Mediterranean. The preservation of Syria's regime and resources without concession is of utmost concern to Russia, so any commitment on the side of Assad and his allies weren't genuine. The same can be said about American and western Europe's foreign policy. The United Kingdom, France & the United States had invested weapons and funds into Syrian rebels in order to further their chances of deposing Assad and contain Russia's influence in the Middle East & Mediterranean. The distribution of those investments into a variety of disorganized rebel factions who occasionally fell to infighting or opposing other western-funded groups is indicative of the west's priorities in Syria as containment of Russian influence before anything else. Were they to fully commit to Annan's ceasefire plans or end the war, Russia would continue to maintain a strategic advantage in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. In other words, all major parties in the Syrian Civil War had no intent to stop fighting.


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2.Why do Skeptics find the New Human Rights Mandate has not lived up to its “Mandate?’

The new Human Rights Mandate is a commission to start protecting all human rights. Established in 2000, the council put a lot of effort to start promoting implementation of the UN, introduce new strategies to better protect human rights, report, coordinate, and integrate. “We will not solve our problems in isolation. To be sustainable and effective, solutions to complex global issues – like climate change, global inequalities, the mass movement of people, transboundary conflicts or epidemics – must be cooperative" (Michelle Bachelet). There are skeptics because so much money and resources have gone into the investigation, reporting, and education in other countries with little outcome. With the effort and energy being given the change is not great enough. 

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/AnnualAppeal2020.pdf (Links to an external site.)

https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/srhrdefenders/pages/mandate.aspx


Category: Mathematics & Physics Subjects: Algebra Deadline: 24 Hours Budget: $80 - $120 Pages: 2-3 Pages (Short Assignment)

Attachment 1

Week 6: Minimalism and annan’s failures?

human rights protection inr 4075

Human Development Index

”The HDI was created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.”

1.) Health Life Expectancy at Birth 2.) Education 25 years and beyond 3.) Standard of Living as measured by GNI.

Cohen Minimalism

“ Justificatory minimalism aims to avoid imposing unnecessary hurdles on accepting an account of human rights, by intolerantly tying its formulation to a particular ethical tradition.”

His conception of Human Rights

Ethical Traditions Explored

Confucianism

Islam

Three conditions

Place violators of international HR standards, on the international agenda

Empower domestic opposition groups

Create a transnational pressuring of groups.

Key Questions driving their work to think about:

Do Human Rights Abuses end because perpetrators are persuaded they are wrong?

Do they care because Leaders care about their international image.

Do they believe they are to be held accountable?

Kofi Annan

8 April 1938-18 August 2018

Ghanian Diplomat

Seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations

January 1997 to December 2006

Kofi Anna Obituary

Why did Annan Fail?

Failed to implement a cease fire between Bashar al-Assad and opposing forces.

Failure of Logistics

China, Russia & Iranian Challenge

Both the West and Arab States are to blame

Or was it just Assad’s?

The Human Rights Council

The new Human Rights Council has not lived up to its Mandate

Replaced the Commission on Human Rights w/the Human Rights Council

“Recent events in the Middle EastNorth Africa, and elsewhere once again demonstrate that we must have a credible, balanced, and preeminent global body to expose human rights abuses and take actions to alleviate them. ”

Do we have sufficient reasons for giving up on the council?

“It is true that conducting effective diplomacy and changing political dynamics is hard, but working to find agreement with countries that have disparate worldviews has always been a difficult endeavor. ”

Questions

By tying its formulation to particular ethical traditions, how does Justificatory minimalism suppose it will avoid unnecessary obstacles?

Why do Skeptics find the New Human Rights Mandate has not lived up to its “Mandate?’

In “Why did Annan Fail,” which of the explanations (you can chose more than one), contributed most to the lack of success in negotiating cease fire?

Attachment 2

PDFlib PLOP: PDF Linearization, Optimization, Protection

Page inserted by evaluation version www.pdflib.com – [email protected]

The Journal of Political Philosophy: Volume 12, Number 2, 2004, pp. 190–213

Symposium: Toward International Consensus

Minimalism About Human Rights:

The Most We Can Hope For?*

Joshua Cohen Philosophy & Political Science, MIT

I. HOPE

AT THE conclusion of his book Human Rights, Michael Ignatieff says that“we could do more than we do to stop unmerited suffering and gross physical cruelty.” Efforts to halt such suffering and cruelty are, he says, the “elemental

priority of all human rights activism: to stop torture, beatings, killings, rape and

assault to improve, as best we can, the security of ordinary people.”1 Ignatieff

describes this focused concern on protecting bodily security as a minimalist outlook on human rights. And he distinguishes human rights minimalism from

more expansive statements about the content of human rights and more ambitious

agendas for their promotion—agendas that might extend both to a richer array

of civil and political rights, and to social and economic rights.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights presents one such more

ambitious agenda. Its account of human rights extends well beyond minimalist

assurances of bodily security, to comprise rights associated with the rule of law

(Arts 6–11), political participation (Art. 21), work (Art. 23), education (Art. 26),

and culture (Art. 27). And neither of the 1966 Covenants on human rights

(which entered into force in 1976) is a minimalist charter—certainly not the

Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, but equally not the International

Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with its provisions on self-determination

(Art. 1), rights of peaceable assembly and freedom of association (Arts 21, 22),

© Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 238 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.

*I presented earlier versions of this paper at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the MIT Center for International Studies, the Center for Ethics and the Professions at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Boalt Hall, the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools and as a Romanell-Phi Beta Kappa Lecture at MIT. I am grateful for comments from audiences on all these occasions, and in particular to Charles Beitz, Alyssa Bernstein, Robert Goodin, Donald Horowitz, Michael Ignatieff, Patrizia Nanz, Robert Post, Samuel Scheffler, Judith Thomson, and three anonymous reviewers for The Journal of Political Philosophy. I also wish to thank Daniel Munro for research assistance.

1Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and as Idolatry (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 173.

MINIMALISM ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS 191

political participation (Art. 25), and equality before the law (Art. 26).2 In

response to the criticism that minimalism is simply a political strategy—and not

an especially plausible one—for defusing authoritarian objections to human

rights by reminding authoritarians that they do not have to do very much to stay

in compliance, Ignatieff denies that minimalism is simply strategic. It is, he says,

“the most we can hope for.”3

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant says that the three great philosophical questions are: “What can I know?”; “What should I do?”; and “What may I

hope?”. The first question expresses the interests of our reason in its theoretical

use; the second question expresses the interests of our reason in its practical use.

The third joins the interests of both theoretical and practical reason: given the

demands of morality and what we know about how the world does and might

work, what sort of world, we ask, is it reasonable to hope for, and to strive to

achieve?4 The world that the minimalist imagines—a world without torture and

with genuine assurances of bodily security for all—is no small hope, and I do

not wish here to dispute Ignatieff’s assertion about elemental priorities—about

the relative importance of rights of bodily security. But I do wish to dispute the

idea that human rights minimalism is “the most we can hope for.” Minimalism

may be more than we should ever reasonably expect. But hope is not the same

as expectation. And human rights minimalism draws the boundaries of hope too

narrowly.

This is a large thesis, and I do not propose to argue for it fully. Instead, I will

concentrate here on one apparently attractive route to minimalist conclusions.

The route I have in mind begins with an emphasis on the value of toleration and

an acknowledgement of ethical pluralism, and ends in human rights minimalism.

Ignatieff suggests this argument when he says that: “The universal commitments

implied by human rights can be compatible with a wide variety of ways of living

only if the universalism implied is self-consciously minimalist. Human rights can

command universal assent only as a decidedly ‘thin’ theory of what is right, a

definition of the minimal conditions for any life at all.”5 If human rights are to

apply to all, as basic demands on social and political arrangements, then it seems

desirable that they be acceptable to all: that they command “universal assent.”

And if we want them to be acceptable to all, then—in view of the wide range

of religious, philosophical, ethical, political outlooks that are now endorsed in

different societies, and that we can expect to persist into the indefinite future—

the content cannot be very demanding, perhaps no more than a statement of the

protections required “for any life at all.”

2For the Declaration and Covenants, as well as other human rights conventions and charters, see the “Annex on Documents” in Henry J. Steiner and Philip Alston, International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

3Human Rights, p. 173. 4Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen Wood (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1998), A805–B833. 5Human Rights, p. 56.

192 JOSHUA COHEN

This case for human rights minimalism suggests a dilemma for more expansive

conceptions of human rights. According to the dilemma, we can be tolerant of

fundamentally different outlooks on life or we can be ambitious in our

understanding of what human rights demand, but we cannot—contrary to the

aims of many human rights activists—be both tolerant and ambitious. Just as

some people argue that deep disagreement pushes us to a minimalist conception

of democracy, with an emphasis on electoral competition, or a proceduralist view

of justice, the suggestion is that, in the case of human rights as well, disagreement

dissipates substance. I disagree with the thesis about democracy and justice, and

also want to dispute the thesis about human rights. I deny that more ambitious

projects of human rights are bound to be objectionably intolerant.

So the proposed route to minimalism begins in toleration and ends in a very

thin set of normative principles. To assess it, I need first to describe it more

precisely. And describing it will require a distinction between two views that play

a role in theoretical discussions of human rights. Both have a claim to the title

“minimalist,” but they are very different from one another in content and role.6

I will call the first view substantive minimalism, which is a position about the content of human rights and, more broadly, about norms of global justice. The central

idea of substantive minimalism is that human rights are confined to protections of

negative liberty: and, even more particularly, to ensuring against restrictions on

negative liberty that take the form of forcible intrusions on bodily security.

The second view I will call justificatory minimalism. Here, in contrast with substantive minimalism, we have a view about how to present a conception

of human rights, as an essential element of a conception of global justice for

an ethically pluralistic world—as a basic feature of what I will be referring to

as “global public reason.” Justificatory minimalism is animated by an

acknowledgement of pluralism and embrace of toleration. It aspires to present

a conception of human rights without itself connecting that conception to a

particular ethical or religious outlook; it minimizes theoretical aspirations in

the statement of the conception of human rights with the aim of presenting a

conception that is capable of winning broader public allegiance—where the

relevant public is global. The conception is presented, as Rawls suggests in his

account of overlapping consensus, as a “module,” and the case that the module

can win support from different ethical and religious traditions is a matter of

argument within those traditions, with, of course, different traditions offering

different lines of argument.7 (I will make some remarks later about how such

argument might proceed.)

In the service of a practical reason, then, the justificatory minimalist minimizes

philosophical depth. That ambition is important, but it needs to be properly

6I believe that Ignatieff uses the term “minimalism” to cover both; Human Rights, pp. 55–6. 7John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 12, 145.

My emphasis in this paragraph on how the human rights conception is presented follows Rawls’s account of the second feature of a political conception of justice. See Political Liberalism, p. 12.

MINIMALISM ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS 193

understood: and in section II of this essay I will discuss and reject what I will

refer to as “skeptical” and “empirical” variants of justificatory minimalism, and

propose an alternative formulation which does not—contrary to the line of

thought sketched above—have substantively minimalist implications.

Of course justificatory minimalism is not the only proposed route to

substantive minimalism, with its focus on rights associated with bodily security.

Five considerations are commonly offered for resisting more demanding lists of

human rights, for example, social and economic rights, as well as a richer class

of civil and political rights:

• They threaten to overtax the resources and disperse the attention required

for monitoring and enforcing human rights;

• More expansive lists of social and economic rights cannot be fully realized

because their realization is simply too costly, and for that reason are not

genuinely speaking lists of rights; • Because rights correspond to obligations, and we cannot give determinate

content to the obligations associated with social and economic human rights

in advance of their institutionalization, there are no economic and social

rights;8

• Expansive lists threaten an (undesirable) substitution of legal principles for

political judgments, of often uncompromising rights claims (“rights talk”)

for informed and more supple political deliberation and judgment; and (a

partly related point);

• Expansive lists threaten to subordinate the political self-determination of

peoples (within acceptable limits) to the decisions of outside agents, who

justify their interventions in the language of human rights.

Though I will say something about the fourth and fifth of these considerations

near the end of this essay, my principal focus here is on the thought that pluralism

and toleration, expressed in the idea of justificatory minimalism, lead us to a

substantively minimal account of human rights.

II. JUSTIFICATORY MINIMALISM

The central idea of justificatory minimalism is that a conception of human

rights should be presented autonomously: that is, independent of particular

philosophical or religious theories that might be used to explain and justify its

content. Jacques Maritain—perhaps the central figure in mid-20th century efforts

to reconcile Catholic social thought with democracy and human rights, and who

participated in discussions leading to the Universal Declaration—formulated the

idea as follows: “Yes, we agree about the rights, but on condition that no one

8For discussion of the merits of this line of argument, see Onora O’Neill, Bounds of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), chap. 6; Henry Shue, Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and US Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980); Amartya Sen, “Towards a Theory of Human Rights,” unpublished.

194 JOSHUA COHEN

asks us why.” The point of developing a conception of human rights, capable of

being shared by adherents to different traditions, he said, was to create

agreement “not on the basis of common speculative ideas, but on common

practical ideas, not on the affirmation of one and the same conception of the

world, of man, and of knowledge, but on the affirmation of a single body of

beliefs for guidance on action.”9

Maritain’s point of view makes considerable sense if we think of a conception

of human rights as designed to play a certain practical role, to provide “guidance

on action,” as he puts it. The practical role, as I will understand it, is to provide

a broadly shared outlook, across national boundaries, about the standards

that political societies, in the first instance, can be held to with respect to the

treatment of individuals and groups; and correspondingly, the treatment that

individuals and groups can reasonably demand, and perhaps enlist assistance

from outside in achieving. Or if not a shared outlook, at least a broadly shared

terrain of deliberation about the standards to which political societies can

reasonably be held, and when they are appropriately subject to external criticism

or interference. An account of human rights is one element in an ideal of public reason for international society.10 Because that society comprises adherents to a wide range of distinct ethical and religious outlooks, justificatory minimalism,

with its ideal of autonomous formulation or presentation, is an intuitively

plausible desideratum. And its point is not simply to avoid a fight where none

is necessary; the point is to embrace the value of toleration.

A. HUMAN RIGHTS: CONTENT, ROLE, AND RATIONALE

To develop these points more fully, I need first to say something more about

what a conception of human rights is, and about what I have described as its

practical role. Think of such a conception, then, as having three elements.

The first is a statement of a set of rights, of the sort that we find in the

Declaration and the Covenants: there are many such statements, and substantial

disagreement about which rights belong on the list: about whether human rights

include social and economic rights, and if so which ones; but also about whether

there is a human right to democracy, and, if not, what kinds of representation

and accountability might be matters of basic human right.11

9Cited in Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2001). On the background of Maritain’s views of human rights in broader efforts to rethink the fundamentals of Catholic social thought— especially the relative significance attached to notions of the human person and the common good— see John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: Norton, 2003), chap. 7.

10Rawls refers to the public reason of the “society of peoples” in The Law of Peoples (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 54–7. I do not wish here to engage the issue of whether “peoples” are the moral agents in international society. Thus the less theoretically committed term “international society.”

11On the human right to democracy see Thomas Franck, “The emerging right to democratic governance,” American Journal of International Law, 86 (1992), 46–91. Rawls rejects the right to democracy as a basic human right in favor of a weaker requirement of organized group consultation.

Such disagreement is of course the normal situation when it comes to

issues of justice: disagreement comes with the territory, and should not be taken

as a sign of a deficiency. We can assume that the disagreement is genuine—

not simply a matter of people talking past each other, as it would be if

different proposed lists of rights represented so many different ways of

assigning meaning to the term “human rights.” Nor need we interpret the

disagreement as showing that statements of human rights are simply ways of

presenting power and interest in normatively attractive garb. Instead, there may

be broad agreement about the practical role of human rights as global, public

standards, disagreement about the content of the rights suited to that role, and

a practice of argument that aims to clarify and perhaps narrow the terms of

disagreement. Thus global public reason—and the idea of human rights in

particular—provides a terrain of deliberation and argument about appropriate

norms (specifically, I will suggest below, about the requirements of treating

individuals as members), not a determinate and settled doctrine awaiting

acceptance or rejection.

Second, the role is to present a set of important standards that all political

societies are to be held accountable to in their treatment of their members: it

offers, in the language of the Declaration, “a common standard of achievement

for all peoples and all nations.”12 A statement of human rights presents, as is

commonly said, a set of limits on internal sovereignty, or—perhaps better—

presents conditions on which a state’s internal sovereignty is acknowledged.13

The idea that there are such limits on internal sovereignty is often said to be a

fundamental departure from the Westphalian conception of sovereignty that

prevailed from the mid-17th century until the end of World War II. Stephen

Krasner has suggested an alternative view. Krasner points out that the norms

of Westphalian sovereignty were persistently violated throughout the period

of Westphalian sovereignty by externally guaranteed protections of rights.

According to Krasner, the change at the end of World War II is best understood

as a shift from abridgements of sovereignty in the name of minority group rights

to abridgements in the name of individual rights, rather than a shift in the basic

conception of sovereignty itself. Krasner is certainly right to emphasize that

protections of minority rights were abridgements of conventional norms of

internal sovereignty. But more recent developments seem to have changed the

content of the regnant norms, and not simply the pattern of “organized

hypocrisy” in their abridgements.

In any case, human rights standards represent a partial statement of the

content of an ideal of global public reason, a broadly shared set of values and

norms for assessing political societies both separately and in their relations:

MINIMALISM ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS 195

12Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Steiner and Allston, International Human Rights in Context, p. 1376.

13See Stephen D. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999). I am indebted to Thomas Christensen for discussion of the point in the text.

196 JOSHUA COHEN

a public reason that is global in reach, inasmuch as it applies to all political

societies, and global in its agent, inasmuch as it is presented as the common

reason of all peoples, who share responsibility for interpreting its principles,

and monitoring and enforcing them. The precise ways of exercising that

responsibility—who exercises it (international courts and other institutions,

regional bodies, individual states, non-governmental organizations) and with

what instruments (ranging from monitoring, to naming and shaming, to

sanctions, to force)—varies widely. Often, acting on the principles of global

public reason may consist simply in observing the implementation of its

principles by separate political societies, or perhaps in assisting in their

implementation. The more immediate responsibility for interpreting and

implementing the principles will—as the Declaration and Covenants

emphasize—typically fall to those political societies themselves, in part—though

not only—because of the value of collective self-determination affirmed in

Article 1 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.14

Now it might be argued that the human rights identified by principles of global

public reason are identical in content to the basic natural rights that individuals

would have even in a pre-institutional state of nature. But—and here I follow

an illuminating discussion by Charles Beitz15—that claim about identity of

content, whatever its merits, should not be presented as issuing directly from a

conceptual identification of human rights with natural rights. These concepts are fundamentally different, as is evident from the fact that many of the rights

enumerated in the Universal Declaration and the 1966 Covenants—including

rights to a fair hearing and the right to take part in government—have

institutional presuppositions, and thus could not be rights in a pre-institutional

state of nature, assuming there are such rights. Instead, a claim about identity

of content between human rights and natural rights would need to be defended

through a substantive normative argument to the effect that the rights implied

by the most reasonable principles for global public reason—the standards

of individual treatment appropriate to use in holding political societies

accountable—are, contrary to the Declaration, the very same rights that

individuals would hold in pre-institutional circumstances. That conclusion, if

true, would be surprising. Why should reasonable norms of global responsibility,

in a world with separate political societies and substantial interactions—

economic, political, cultural—across and among those societies, have the same

content as the norms for a very different setting, in which there are no organized

14Thus Article 2 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires states to adopt the “legislative and other measures” needed to give effect to the rights; Steiner and Allston, International Human Rights in Context, p. 1382.

15Charles Beitz, “Human rights as a common concern,” American Political Science Review, 95 (2001), 269–82; “What human rights mean,” Daedalus, 132 (2003), 36–46; “Human rights and The Law of Peoples,” unpublished.

MINIMALISM ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS 197

political societies and institutions at all?16 My point here, though, is not to

dispute the thesis that human rights are identical in content to natural rights,

but simply to characterize its status.

A third element in a conception of human rights is an account of why the

rights have the content that they have. A conception of human rights is not given

simply by a list of rights together with an account of the role of human rights,

but also by some view about why certain rights are suited to that role: why it is

appropriate to require that political societies ensure those rights. It is here that

justificatory minimalism has real bite. Given the practical role of a conception

of human rights, we need to avoid formulating the rationale for human rights

(as well as their content) by reference to a particular religious or secular moral

outlook. So we should avoid saying that, for example, human rights are

preconditions of the autonomous moral agency prized by Kantians, or for

fulfilling divinely imposed obligations, whether the preferred statement of the

obligations is found in Thomistic or Lockean natural law theory, or some

formulation of the shari’ah.

Instead, I propose that human rights norms are best thought of as norms

associated with an idea of membership or inclusion in an organized political society. The relevant notion of membership is a normative idea—it is not the

same as, for example, living in a territory—and the central feature of the

normative notion of membership is that a person’s interests are taken into

account by the political society’s basic institutions: to be treated as a member

is to have one’s interests given due consideration, both in the processes

of authoritative decision-making and in the content of those decisions.

Correspondingly, disagreements about human rights may be seen as proceeding

on a shared terrain of political argument, and can be understood—unlike

disputes about the content of natural rights—as disagreements about what is

required to ensure membership—about what consideration is due to each person

in a political society.

The importance of the notion of membership in an account of human rights

is suggested by the breadth and substance of the rights in the Universal

Declaration and the Covenants—including rights to education, work, and

cultural inclusion, as well as assembly, expression, and participation. To be sure,

some human rights (to life and to personal security, for example) are not tied

only to membership, but are more plausibly associated with demands of basic

humanity, irrespective of membership. But the guiding thought behind the more

capacious list seems to be that an acceptable political society—one that is above

reproach in its treatment of individuals—must attend to the common good of

16One might argue that human rights are the result of applying natural rights to the circumstances of an organized political society. So, for example, the right to equality before the law might be derived from a natural right to bodily security, along with some reasonable assumptions about the conditions for protecting that right in a society with a legal system. I do not find this argument compelling, but cannot pursue the reasons here.

198 JOSHUA COHEN

those who are subject to its regulations, on some reasonable conception of that

good, and ensure the goods that people in the territory and subject to political

rule need in order to take part in the political society. Human rights claims, then,

identify goods that are socially important because they are requirements of

membership. Failing to give due consideration to the good of members by

ensuring access to these goods is tantamount to treating them as outsiders,

persons whose good can simply be dismissed in making laws and policies:

no-counts, with no part to play in the political society.

One rationale for the emphasis on membership is suggested by the idea

of political obligation. Thus, on a plausible account of political obligation,

attending to the common good, on some interpretation of that good, is necessary

if the requirements that a political society imposes on people under its rule are

to have the status of genuine obligations and not mere forcible impositions. If

an account of political obligation along these lines is correct—and it certainly is

more plausible than a theory of obligation that ties political obligations to

justice—then the rights that are required if individuals are to be treated as

members would be identical to the rights that are required if the requirements

imposed by law and other regulations are to be genuine obligations.

Two final points of clarification. First, in emphasizing that acceptable

arrangements acknowledge rights as a way to acknowledge and uphold the status

of membership, I do not wish to deny that human rights protections were

particularly animated by more specific concerns about genocide, torture, and

other extreme forms of cruelty. But as the Declaration and Covenants indicate,

the concerns were not confined to those evils, but included other forms of social

exclusion, perhaps understood as both objectionable in themselves and as

opening the way to more hideous forms of treatment. Second, in associating

human rights with membership in an organized political society, I do not mean

to exclude the thought that those rights can also be understood as articulating

the conditions of membership in a more global society. But much of our lives as

“global citizens” continues to be lived within particular political societies, with

distinct institutions, even as it is substantially affected by external decisions

and practices. So if national and transnational institutions worked to ensure

reasonable conditions of membership in organized political societies, they would

thereby go some distance to ensuring the rudiments of global membership as

well.

A conception of human rights, then, has three elements: a statement of what

the rights are; an account of the role of human rights as standards of practical

reason that can be used by a range of different agents in assessing all political

societies in their treatment of their members; and a view about why the rights

are as they are, given that role. The idea of justificatory minimalism is that each

of these elements—including the account of membership and affirmation of its

importance—should all be presented autonomously or independently, so that

they can be affirmed by a range of ethical outlooks, for the varying reasons

MINIMALISM ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS 199

provided by the terms of those different outlooks, and then used as a basis for

further argument about and elaboration of the content of human rights.

B. JUSTIFICATORY MINIMALISM: NEITHER SKEPTICAL NOR EMPIRICAL

To appreciate the force and plausibility of this requirement of autonomous

formulation, we need to distinguish justificatory minimalism from two

positions—skeptical and empirical—with which it might be conflated.

The first position is a set of familiar nihilistic or skeptical claims about the

need for so-called anti- or post-metaphysical political theorizing. Those claims

deny the truth or reasonableness or knowability of traditional views about the

foundations of human rights in philosophical theories about …