Tilburg School of Humanities

This is a paper about ‘human rights pluralism’, and about how human rights’ inherent flexibility can be embraced by development policy-makers and practitioners in ways that can aid the goals of both development and human rights. The paper argues that, even though human rights are often expressed in legal terms – terms that are usually associated with the rigidity of obligation – human rights are inherently pluralistic. This is for two reasons. First, upon closer inspection, human rights laws, and especially international human rights laws, far from imposing rigidity, reflect substantial elasticity as regards their statement, interpretation and implementation. And second, in any case, it is and always has been a mistake not to consider human rights laws within the unavoidably influential philosophical, cultural and economic contexts in which they operate. The political, in other words, is both a necessary and desirable dimension of the legal expression of human rights. Drawing upon this conceptual basis, the paper identifies six specific ‘grammatical features’ of human rights and describes how and why they might be profitably employed by development specialists
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