Law and Ethics of Human Rights 3 (1):40-47 (2009)

Thomas W. Pogge
Yale University
In his ambitious paper, Risse addresses many important topics ranging from very general issues about what human rights are to quite specific questions about rights to work and leisure. I comment on four themes arranged in order of decreasing generality: Risse's understanding of what human rights are, Risse's suggestion that a conception of human rights should best be "basis-driven," Risse's particular basis-driven conception of human rights, and Risse's specific position on human rights relating to labor and leisure. What grounds can Risse give us for accepting his revisionist understanding of human rights as membership rights, which is so dramatically at odds with fundamental fixed points that have been taken for granted in human rights disputes over the last 60 years or so? If Risse has his way, then the treatment of a human being by others raises human rights concerns only if she is a participant in the global order and only if her treatment is a matter of international concern. It is obvious how this understanding of human rights is welcome to those who seek to free their own conduct or their country's policies from human-rights constraints. Appealing to Risse's understanding, they will be able to block criticisms based on human rights by denying, for example, that the people of the Gaza Strip are members of the global order or by denying that the torture of Burmese citizens within Burma is a matter of international concern. For those whose human rights are in jeopardy, Risse's understanding of human rights could be a disaster. We should therefore examine very closely the arguments he may yet produce for his understanding and, unless they are hugely compelling, stick to the orthodox understanding of human rights as rights that all human beings have against all other human agents
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DOI 10.2202/1938-2545.1029
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