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Advanced Introduction to International Human Rights Law

Dinah L. Shelton

In this landmark text, Dinah Shelton offers an insightful overview of the current state of international human rights law: its norms, institutions and procedures, both global and regional. Providing an invaluable entry point to this complex area of the law, and an insightful reference for seasoned experts, the book will prove a useful resource for professors and practitioners of international law. It will also serve as a stimulating introductory text for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses on human rights.
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Concepts and foundations

Dinah L. Shelton


The concept of human rights involves consideration of what “rights” a person possesses by virtue of being “human”, that is, rights that human beings have simply because they are human beings, independent of the infinite variety of individual characteristics and human social circumstances. What is the essence of “human” that inevitably gives right to rights, if it does? It is also necessary to consider the meaning of “rights” and the variety of legal relationships encompassed within the term. Approaches to these issues vary widely, and some scholars claim that efforts to define human rights are futile because they involve self-evident moral judgments that are not further explicable. Those who are instrumentalist in approach are more concerned with the consequences of having human rights than with a theoretical justification of rights. Many persons concerned with this topic, however, consider it useful to understand the foundations that support human rights law.

A “right” may be defined in relation to a duty of another, an immunity from having a legal status altered, a privilege to do something or a power to create or alter a legal relationship.1 One limited concept of human rights is a claim against a government to refrain or abstain from certain acts, such as torture and infringement of individual liberties. This claim may stem from a metaphysical concept such as the nature of humanity, or from a religious belief such as a divine spark inherent in each person. Alternatively, a claim of right may be based on...

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