Human rights have become the language of justice in our globalizing world. Yet, curiously, despite many rounds of debate over moral versus political conceptions, little attention has been paid to the meaning of human rights as international legal concepts. The specific normative significance of the fact that human rights are legal norms of the international legal order and the implications this has for the nature and justice of that order has gotten lost in the fray. This article addresses Patrick Macklem’s excellent attempt to fill that gap. He is right that a key function of international human rights law is to mitigate the injustices of an international legal order that distributes sovereignty to states. A legal conception of human rights is indeed needed to get at the distinctive normative role international human rights documents play as law. But I argue that, while such an analysis can and must supplement other approaches, no adequate understanding of human rights as international legal norms can dispense with moral justifications of them. Otherwise, the purpose and specificity of human rights as distinct from the rights of corporations and other non-human entities gets obscured and the priority of the human rights of human persons, vis-à-vis other legal persons, is undermined.


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pp. 512-543
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