Rethinking accountability in the context of human rights

Res Publica 12 (3):249-275 (2006)
Abstract
Within liberal democratic theory, ‘democratic accountability’ denotes an aggregative method for linking political decisions to citizens’ preferences through representative institutions. Could such a notion be transferred to the global context of human rights? Various obstacles seem to block such a transfer: there are no ‘world citizens’ as such; many people in need of human rights are not citizens of constitutional democratic states; and the aggregative methods that are supposed to sustain the link are often used in favour of nation-state strategic action rather than human rights. So what could accountability mean in relation to human rights? This article argues that discourse theory offers resources for approaching these problems and for rethinking a normative notion of accountability in relation to human rights. It is suggested that accountability should link political decisions to universal agreements through global rights institutions and that the link should be sustained by deliberative rather than aggregative procedures.
Keywords deliberation  democratic accountability  discourse theory  global institutions  human rights  Jürgen Habermas
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