Human Rights and Democracy

Authored by: Paul Voice

The Ashgate Research Companion to Ethics and International Relations

Print publication date:  September  2009
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754671015
eBook ISBN: 9781315612935
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043546


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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out an ambitious, controversial and often ignored set of rights that are meant to apply to signatory states. While there is disagreement about the meaning and interpretation of the Declaration there is widespread agreement in the West about the fundamental nature of these rights and their applicability to all persons regardless of nationality. Furthermore, even among states that do not subscribe to the Declaration or that resist its hegemony there is the apparent need to defend against and explain away allegations of human rights abuses. While the hegemony of human rights as a standard against which to judge to the behavior and legitimacy of states (and transnational organisations and corporations) is well established, more recently the idea of democracy as a universal standard of state government (and even global government) has been asserted. This chapter asks: in what way, if any, are human rights and democracy connected? To ask this question is to invite a great deal of philosophical difficulty. Human rights and democracy are contested concepts both in their content (what they mean) and in their scope (what areas of political, social and economic life they apply to). Therefore, our response to the question will depend, in part, on what we understand by both democracy and human rights. Below I identify three ways democracy and human rights can stand in relation to one another.

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