Global Justice & Human Rights

Human rights, together with ecological sustainability, is my longest standing research interest relating to global justice.  Most of my published work on human rights has been in relation to ecological concerns, broadly construed. This connection was brought to the fore already in my PhD thesis on the philosophy of human rights, and my published work has taken off from there.  Issues in human rights theory itself figure in some of my teaching, but less so in publications.

My thinking these days is that “human rights” is a term too amenable to use and abuse. The idea of universal standards of human conduct towards one another can be depicted in a variety of idioms, but as soon as you start talking about “human rights” as if there were some more specific and fixed idea corresponding to the term, problems arise – not just conceptually, but also, far more importantly, in relation to legitimation arguments made in practice in legal, quasi-legal, political, and advocacy settings.

In terms of the idea of “a right” as such I have a very definite stance, which is not a particularly mainstream one in the academy these days.  I know of only one other person who shares my view! (And so would be delighted to be introduced to others!)  The one, incidentally, is Siegfried Van Duffel, and he has given tangible geographical expression to his distance from mainstream Western political philosophy by positioning himself at the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. Our kind of thinking, though, has clear parallels with the legal realists of the 20th century interwar years. I have a very rough working paper sketching out my broad view The Sense and Significance of Rights Talk: A Dialectical View (2013) and also a more polished piece in the journal Ethics that was developed as part of an explication of my underlying view On Prepositional Duties (2013). Other relevant papers include:

A Global Right of Water (2016)

Human Rights vs Property Rights (2013)

Human rights versus emissions rights: climate justice and the equitable distribution of ecological space (2007)

On the Nature of Rights: A Reply to Wenar (2006)

Ecological citizenship: justice, rights and the virtue of resourcefulness (2006)

Greening the constitutional state: environmental rights in the European Union (2005)

Environmental rights as democratic rights (2002)

Constitutional Environmental Rights and Liberal Democracy (2001)