The idea of Universal Human Rights

Critically assess the theoretical and/or practical limits to the idea of universal human rights.

*(Originally submitted to the University of Leicester, Politics and International Relations Dept. on 12th June 2019)


In critically assessing both the theoretical and practical limits to the idea of universal human rights, this essay emphasizes that human rights provisions enshrined in international human rights instruments such as the UDHR and international human rights treaties are not static in nature.

Rather, they exert a normative effect on the values, ideas and conduct of States, institutions and individuals in ways that protects human rights, and, to some extent, support the underlying idea that human rights are universal.

Section 1 argues that although the human right norms underpinning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are perceived by some scholars to lack the legally binding effect of international law, and therefore pose a theoretical and conceptual limit to the idea that human rights are universal in effect , this limitation is to some extent mitigated by the normative impact that human rights articles in the UDHR have on the emergence of international treaties and law.

Further the practical limits to the idea that human rights norms enshrined in the UDHR act as a universal paradigm for state laws and human rights treaties is assessed by arguing that although some States may violate these norms, a significant number of other States have incorporated them into their domestic laws.

Section 2 examines the extent to which ideational power of human rights norms transcends the theoretical limits posed by realist perspectives to the idea of universal human rights. 

This is done by applying a constructivist approach that explores the ideational force that norms in human rights law and treaties exert on States officials to respect individual rights.

Section 3 evaluates the theoretical limits posed by the Westphalian system of sovereignty to the idea of universal human rights conceived as cosmopolitan norms by considering the role that democratic iteration of human rights norms has in recognizing and strengthening human rights claims made in the public sphere against States. 


The UDHR 1948

It is arguably difficult to conceive of the universality of human rights without considering the significance of the UDHR and its contribution to the contemporary development of human rights norms.

The status of UDHR, however, as a declaration of the General Assembly of the United Nations rather than as an international treaty which sovereign states have signed on and are bound by (Beitz 2001, p.271) may pose a theoretical limit to its recognition as a universal human rights charter. The legal scholar and the creator of the term ‘crimes against humanity’, Lauterpacht stated:

‘The language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…and, above all, the clearly and emphatically expressed intention of the states Members of the United Nations who voted for the Resolution of the General Assembly, show clearly that the Declaration is not by its nature and by the intention of its parties a legal document imposing legal obligations.’ (Lauterpacht 1948, p.365).  

Lauterpacht explained that the drafters of the UDHR acknowledged that its provisions were valid–

‘in the realm of conscience and ethics’ when noting what appeared to be the inconsistency between an agreement on what constituted fundamental human rights, and ‘the refusal to recognize them as juridically binding’ (Lauterpacht 1948, p.357). 

From this perspective, the theoretical limits to the idea that human rights norms underpinning the UDHR were universally recognizable and applicable could be attributed to the perception among scholars and States that UDHR embodied moral imperatives rather than legal norms binding on sovereign states.

Critics of the idea of universality of human rights argue that there are ‘no rights of the individual unless as a counterpart and a product of the duties of the state. (Dolinger 2016, p.187-188).

Such views point out that no correlative duties of States arise within the UDHR to enforce individual rights or provide remedies for their breach.  Rather, a moral obligation appears to arise in relation to Member States who ‘have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.’ (UN General Assembly, 1948).

It should, however, be noted that at the time of the drafting of the UDHR by the UN drafting committee legally binding international human rights law protecting individual human rights had yet to come into existence.

The UDHR alone was the only ‘blueprint that would serve to guide virtually all human rights developments from 1948 forward.’ (Cronin-Furman 2010, p.186).

It is submitted that although there were theoretical limitations to the idea that human rights enshrined in the UDHR were universal in the sense of being legally binding and enforceable in a domestic court of law, the universality of human rights as a concept ‘based upon the moral imperatives expressed by the UDHR’ began to be recognized and invoked by individuals globally for the first time. (Cronin-Furman 2010, p.176-177). The international law scholar, Henkin, for instance,  recognized an emerging idea of the universality of human rights when he stated:

‘The human rights idea was not universal not too long ago. I believe it has now achieved universality in significant respects.’ (Henkin 1989, p.13).

Henkin did, however, concede that an increasingly universal, political and legal acceptance of human rights did not necessarily ‘guarantee universal respect for human rights.’ (Henkin 1989, p.13).

It is submitted that these two ideas involving the acceptance of the UDHR, and respect for  its norms should not be conflated, since one need not respect such norms in order to accept their existence. This is arguably the case as the idea of universality of human rights found in the Declaration is a ‘politically more powerful language’ (Von Bernstorff 2008, p.923) for the millions of individuals who are ‘otherwise silenced by dominant societal and economic structures’(Von Bernstorff 2008, p.923) that may fail to respect and comply with such norms .

Following this analysis, the theoretical limits to the idea of universal human rights underlying the UDHR are to some extent mitigated by the normative impact that human rights articles in the UDHR have had on the global community.

The normative prescription of what constitutes respect for human rights  did not remain static, but continued to grow (Cronin-Furman 2010, p.178) as evinced some 28 years after the UDHR’s creation with the coming into force of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

These Covenants as international treaties are legally binding on signatory states. It is arguable that it was ‘not until this two principal Covenants became effective did a treaty achieve as broad coverage of human right topics as the Universal Declaration.’ (Alston and Goodman 2012, p.142).

In this respect, it is arguable that the UDHR provided the normative force and inspiration for the creation of these international human rights treaties and to some extent transcended the theoretical limitations to the idea that human rights norms within it were universal by finding legal recognition within both treaties.

The theoretical possibility therefore arises for the human rights in the UDHR to ‘develop into binding norms over time if it becomes accepted as customary international law’ (Olivier 2002, p.301). For instance, the ICCPR, a legally binding international treaty, acknowledges its acceptance of the rights in the UDHR when it states:

‘in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings ….can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights’ (UN General Assembly, 1966).


The paradigmatic effect of the UDHR on State laws

An analysis of the idea that human rights are universal evokes the question of whether human rights norms enshrined in the UDHR form a universal model for states globally to emulate by incorporating such norms into their domestic laws.

The practical limits to such a universalist view of human rights are arguably posed by States that may refuse to incorporate the rights in the  UDHR into their domestic laws.  

For instance, a more relativist approach to the idea of universal human rights appears in the Beijing Declaration 2017 adopted by the First South-South Human Rights Forum. Article 1 states:

‘In order to ensure universal acceptance and observance of human rights, the realization of human rights must take into account regional and national contexts, and political, economic, social, cultural, historical and religious backgrounds.’ (Xinhua, 2017).

It is noteworthy that the Beijing Declaration in linking the recognition of human rights to cultural and socio-political factors among other factors, makes no reference to the UDHR.  

Further individual rights rather than being unconditional in their existence, appear to be contingent upon a communitarian sense of social responsibility as highlighted by Article 5 of the Beijing Declaration which states:

‘Everyone is responsible to all others and to society, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be balanced with the fulfillment of corresponding responsibilities.’ (Xinhua, 2017).

The paradigmatic effect of the UDHR on State laws is further refuted by Dolinger who questions Henkin’s view that the UDHR’s ‘principal influence may have been to secure the recognition of human rights by states and instill the idea and the principles of human rights into the national constitutions and laws of virtually all states’ (Dolinger 2016, p.191).

In describing such a view as a ‘sweet illusion’ held by scholars, Dolinger argues that ‘a sizable portion of the member states of the UN… do not abide by the most elementary of principles contained in these international instruments.’ (Dolinger 2016, p.191)

It is submitted, however, that the importance given by the global community in the aftermath of the atrocities of world war II to the creation of the human rights articles enshrined within the UDHR suggest that the Declaration’s status as a human rights charter acts as a universal model for States to emulate in their laws.

This is exemplified by the paradigmatic effect that the UDHR has had on state laws and human rights treaties globally. Mary Ann Glendon argued that ‘in the years since its adoption, the Declaration’s aspiration to universality has been reinforced by endorsements from most of the nations that were not present at its creation’ (Alston and Goodman 2012, p.148).

Further, scholars argue that ‘the Declaration has inspired or served as a model for the rights provisions of some ninety constitutions’, with representatives of 171 countries at the 1993  Vienna Conference on Human Rights affirming by consensus their ‘commitment to the purposes and principles contained in …the Universal Declaration of human Rights.’ (Alston and Goodman 2012, p.148).

The fact that states continue to violate or disregard the provisions of the UDHR and human rights treaties that have followed it does not in practical terms entirely limit the paradigmatic effect that the UDHR has had on State practices and their laws that continue to be influenced by its human rights norms.

For instance, the constitutional provisions of Portugal, Romania, Sao Tome and Principe, and Spain provide directions to their State courts ‘to interpret constitutional norms in conformity with the Universal Declaration.’ (Hannum 1998, p. 150).

At times the human rights articles of the UDHR have been invoked as model for States engaging in human right violations to comply with.

Professor of international law, John Dugard, for instance, argues that —

the international human rights norms found in the UDHR together with the UN Charter, ICCPR and other treaties became the ‘standard of measurement’ used by the international community to oppose apartheid in South Africa. (Dugard 1996 p.308).

The universal standards of rights in the UDHR as, for instance, found in Article 4 of the UDHR prohibiting slavery or servitude in all their forms (UN General Assembly,1948) arguably serves as a powerful evaluative instrument for identifying State violations of human rights and as a basis for condemning such conduct.

In assessing the idea of universal human rights, it is imperative that one considers the question of whether human rights norms underlying international human rights law and treaties possess limited normative force in ensuring compliance by States.

In this respect, a Realist perspective rejects the universality of norms and argues that ‘there are no universal understandings of human rights’ (Johnson 2009, p.18). This is argued by some scholars to be the case since the normativity of human rights standards and its effect on states would actualize only if ‘it were in a state’s rational best interest to comply with the current agreed-upon international human rights standards.’ (Johnson 2009, p.18).

Myanmar’s officials, for instance, dismissed the International Criminal Court’s ruling that the it had jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar officials for alleged crimes against humanity over the alleged deportations of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh. (Reuters, 2018). It is arguable that Myanmar’s interests in ensuring the securitization of its borders against the attacks of Rohingya militants outweighed the need to ensure that the indiscriminate killing of civilians was avoided.

Waltz, in explaining the neo-realist perspective, asserts that:  

“Each state pursues its own interests, however, defined, in ways it judges best. Force is a means of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy.’ (Waltz 2001, p.238).

A possible significance of relying on a purely neo-realist view that limits the idea underlying the universality of human rights is that individuals would potentially be left without any legal and political recourse in cases where state officials such as those in Myanmar refuse to be held accountable for human rights violations.

It is submitted that a neo-realist understanding of human rights norms fails to fully transcend the national interest calculus of a State or its assessment of material factors such as military and economic capabilities of a state in considering the diffusion of ideas on human rights.

Further, such view does not adequately account for the ideational power underlying universal human rights norms in promoting the transference of such values transnationally and internationally across geo-political divides.  


The ideational power of Universal human rights norms to transcend the theoretical limits posed by State resistance to such norms.

This essay argues that human rights norms found in international human rights law and treaties do not exist in a moral and political vacuum.

Such human right precepts, by virtue of their inherently normative nature, possess the potentiality for evoking ideas among individuals and groups on what constitutes morally right and wrong conduct rationally and intuitively held by them.

As Sikkink states: ‘I believe there is something in the intrinsic quality of the human rights norms that gives them their force and influence’ (Sikkink 1998, p.520).

It is arguable that this potentiality for ideas encapsulated within human rights norms to transcend a merely descriptive and static function of clarifying what constitutes ethical behavior, and fulfill a prescriptive role of specifying ‘rules for appropriate behavior’(Sikkink 1998, p.520) contributes in some degree to state compliance of human rights norms within international relations.  

The issue for consideration is whether the ideational power of human rights norms transcend the theoretical limits to the idea of universal human rights posed by State resistance to such norms.

The question therefore arises as to how prescriptive norms in human rights law and treaties exert a normative influence on sovereign States in a way that convinces State officials to respect individual rights or even recognize such norms.

It is arguable that the emergence of such human rights norms take place when ‘a critical mass of relevant state actors adopt the norm’ (Sikkink 1998, p.518) as evinced, for instance by State ratification and incorporation of international human rights treaties into their domestic laws. (Cardenas 2004, p.220).

As opposed to Realism’s apparent determinism, such a constructivist view ‘expands the realm of apparent free will’ to recognize that international institutions such as the ICC ‘embody normative commitments that denote personal, national and global identities’ (Schiff 2008, p.8) of not just States, but also of others including NGOs, human rights advocate and scholars.

It is evident that the creation of the ICC was, to some extent, due to the collaboration between hundreds of NGOs in the Coalition for the ICC and States sharing similar ideals present at the July 1998 Rome Conference.  (Welch and Watkins 2011, p.928).

The fact, however, that violations of human rights norms found in international treaties continue to be committed by States in which prominent human rights activists , scholars and NGOs advocate for greater rights suggests that a combination of both realist approaches ‘that focus on power and self-interest with constructivist perspectives that emphasize the role of norms’  (Cardenas 2004, p.219) would enhance international relations’ study of universal human rights.

In China, for instance, human rights activists who advocate for freedom of expression, association or belief continue to be persecuted by the State for posing a threat to national security. (Cardenas 2004, p.226). Cardenas argues that ‘pro-violation constituencies continue to support this policy as long as the Chinese state is able to guarantee national security’(Cardenas 2004,  p.226).

In this respect, variables such as the ‘material interests of a major power, … and domestic allies in target states (Cardenas 2004, p.219) may be relevant in attempting to explain why some states continue to resist the ideational power of human rights and refuse to comply with international human rights law.  


A Cosmopolitan Universality of human rights

The cosmopolitan worldview can be traced to the philosophy of the ancient Stoic philosophers  who perceived themselves as ‘citizens of the world’ by identifying with ‘all humanity, not just their local geographical, religious, ethnic or cultural group.’(Gahir 2016, p.46).

Cosmopolitanism recognizes that:

not only are human beings ‘the ultimate units of concern’, but also that ‘the status of ultimate unit of concern attaches to every living being equally’ with ‘global force’. (Pogge 1992, p.48).

The disjunction, however, arguably exists between the cosmopolitan imaginings of an expansive idea of human rights that transcends the socio-political boundaries of states —-

and the more restrictive approach to rights adopted by states invoking the Westphalian concept of sovereignty that encompasses ‘the idea of the autonomous territorial state as the preeminent mode of political organization’ (Pogge 1992, p57-58).

A cosmopolitan morality that embraces the interests and rights of all human beings would arguably eschew ‘the concentration of sovereignty at one level’, namely within the State (Pogge 1992, p.58).

Following this logic, Pogge argues for a ‘second order decentralization away from the now dominant level of the state’ in which people ‘should be citizens of , and govern themselves through , a number of political units of various sizes, such as ‘province, state,  region and world at large.’ (Pogge 1992, p.58).

What remains problematic in the realization of this idea of cosmopolitan universality of human rights is the apparent lack of inclusivity evinced by a number of nationalistic states.

Such States may adopt a form of ethnocentrism that excludes refugees, minority groups and other marginalized groups from their societies.

For instance, the defacto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, have reportedly denounced the ‘supposed issue of growing Muslim populations.’ (Human Rights Watch, 2019). 

It is evident that the ideological tensions between the Westphalian conception of sovereignty and cosmopolitanism pose theoretical limits to the idea that norms enshrined in human rights instruments are universal.

The paradox is that ‘the revolutions that declared the rights of man also designated … in its more radical versions …there could be no rights but those declared by the nation.’ (Fine 2009, pp.10-11).

Applying this analysis to State constitutions in  contemporary society, it is significant that human rights laws built within State constitutions which were meant to protect certain individuals and groups from human rights abuses —

are at times used as the very grounds for oppressing others by, for instance, restricting those rights in respect of certain ethnical, racial or religious groups.

Such a seIective recognition of rights is exemplified by Israel’s 2018 Nation State law which states the following Basic Principles:

The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People’ and ‘the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.’ (Knesset, Basic Law, 2018).  

What is absent from these provisions is any mention of an equivalent right to self-determination for the Palestinian people living in Israel, Gaza and the Israeli occupied territory of the West Bank.

Further limits to the protection of rights of individuals are exemplified by the exercise of  the Chinese Communist party’s political powers under the leadership of Xi Jinping evinced by, for instance, acts of ‘repression and systematic abuses against the 13 million Turkic Muslims, including Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region’ (Human Rights Watch, 2019).

A further limitation to the idea of universal human rights is arguably posed by cosmopolitan’s vision of ‘a global order in which the idea of human rights is an operative principle of justice, with mechanisms of global governance established specifically for their protection’. (Fine 2009, p.8-9).

It is submitted that international law invoked by international human rights organizations face problems of legitimacy ‘visible in the diminished capacity of supra-national institutions to address social inequalities.’  (Fine 2009, p.19).

For instance, in relation  to the Israeli Palestinian conflict , the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution  adopted on 18 May 2018 condemning ‘the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, —

including in the context of peaceful protests, particularly in the Gaza Strip, in violation of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and relevant United Nations resolutions.’ (UN Human Rights Council, 2018).

Notwithstanding the fact that resolution was adopted by a recorded vote of 29 to 2 (Australia and the United States against), with 14 abstentions (UN Human Rights Council, 2018), —

Israel continues with impunity to use lethal force against Palestinians in Gaza and the Westbank.

Regardless of the argument that global institutions such as the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are not always effective in recognizing and extending the protection of universal human rights against the backdrop of State sovereignty , —

Cosmopolitan forms of justice continue to question and hold accountable the seemingly untrammeled powers of sovereign states. 

For instance, the President of the ICC, Chile Eboe‑Osuji, speaking before the UN General Assembly in 2018 refuted the claim that the ICC is an ‘usurper of national sovereignty’, emphasizing the Court’s involvement was ‘for purposes of accountability when serious atrocities have been committed’. (UN General Assembly, 2018).

To dismiss the impact that the cosmopolitan idea of universal human rights continues to have on individuals globally today would appear premature.

This is especially the case if one were to consider the historical and contemporary political realities involving state sanctioned violence  against individuals and groups deprived of State protection prior to the emergence of international human rights law and institutions.

The horrors, for instance, of being singled out for death at the hands of state officials was known all too well to ‘the survivors of the extermination camps’ who ‘could see …that the abstract nakedness of being nothing but human was their gravest danger’. (Arendt 1962, p.300).

The fact that one is human provided meagre State protection to the Nazi holocaust victims and victims of atrocities such as those committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Myanmar and Gaza.  Arendt described the holocaust concentration camp survivors in ways that recognized the vulnerabilities of human existence without the political protection of the state.

‘Afraid that they might end up being considered beasts, they insisted on their nationality, the last sign of their former citizenship, their only remaining and recognized tie with humanity.’ (Arendt 1962, p.300).

A glimmer of hope for respecting human dignity existing within and transcending beyond individual State protection, however, is not inconceivable. As Hannah Arendt argued:

‘antisemitism, imperialism, and totalitarianism have demonstrated that human dignity needs a new guarantee which can be found only in a new political principle….

whose validity this time must comprehend the whole of humanity, while its power must remain strictly limited, rooted in and controlled by newly defined territorial entities’ (Arendt 1962, p.ix).

Arendt’s plea for a ‘new political principle’ guaranteeing human dignity is emphatic in its recognition that the divide between the political realm and humanity could only be bridged by —

extending respect for human dignity to all of humanity —

and not just a majority race or political group.

Following this argument, factors such as historical or natural rights of individuals derived from natural law would, in Arendt’s estimation, fail in guaranteeing human dignity to all humans, since ‘the essence of man can no longer be comprehended in terms of either category.’ (Arendt 1962, p.298)

This is arguably the case since reliance on such subjective criteria could result in the marginalization or exclusion of individuals based on their particular ethnical, racial, cultural or political backgrounds.

As Arendt argued:  

‘This new situation, in which ‘humanity’ has in effect assumed the role formerly ascribed to nature or history, would mean in this context that —

the right to have rights, or the right of every individual to belong to humanity, should be guaranteed by humanity itself.’ (Arendt 1962, p.298).  


The ‘jurisgenerative power of cosmopolitan norms’ (Benhabib): Transposing Universal human rights into the political realm of Sovereign States

The question remains as to whether cosmopolitanism enables one to conceptualize how such individual human rights grounded in humanity are universalized and transposed into the political realm of sovereign states as political rights of individuals.   

The argument that universal human rights conceived as cosmopolitan norms are limited in their effect by the positive laws of sovereign States fails to fully account for what Benhabib describes as the ‘jurisgenerative power of cosmopolitan norms’ (Benhabib 2009, p,.696) underlying international treaties and conventions.

Following this analysis, human rights norms enshrined in international treaties are not perceived as static rules awaiting legislative ratification by States before becoming enforceable by domestic law.

Rather, these norms require interpretation and are capable of ‘democratic iteration’ by individuals within a State who wish ‘to engage with the public sphere’ (Benhabib 2009, p.696).

Benhabib defines democratic iterations as:

‘complex processes of public argument, deliberation and exchange through which universalist rights claims and principles are contested and contextualized, invoked and revoked, posited and positioned throughout legal and political institutions, as well as in the associations of civil society.’ (Benhabib 2007, p.454)

From this perspective, it may be argued that individuals participate in bringing human rights claims against States not just in the courts, but also on the streets, in media forums and other arenas of the public sphere.

They achieve this by employing arguments that human rights in instruments such as the UDHR or the ICCPR are universal in their effect, and by invoking the relevance of these rights to their particular cultural and social setting. 

Such subjective interpretations of human rights draw meanings from the ‘extralegal normative universe’ of meanings given to human rights instruments (Benhabib 2009, p.696).

Such meanings given by individuals may arise as a consequence of their engagement with culturally specific practices, —

such as the practice of the male guardianship system in relation to claims raised by women in Saudi Arabia against the restriction of their rights of association and expression found in Articles 22 and 19 of the ICCPR respectively. (United Nations General Assembly, 1966).

The practice of democratic iteration is further exemplified by the claims of the jailed human rights advocate, Qin Yongmin, whose advocacy included an article he wrote calling for the Chinese Communist Party to protect human rights under the UDHR and the ICCPR, and establish constitutional democracy (Chinese Human Rights Defenders, 2015). This was despite the fact that China, although being a signatory of the ICCPR, has yet to ratify the treaty (OHCHR, 2019).

It is not always the case that democratic iterations result in greater recognition and strengthening of human rights of individuals by States.  As Thomassen argues: ‘there is no guarantee that the process is progressive or that the process will lead to any particular outcome’ (Thomassen 2011, p.132).

Indeed, it is submitted that the outcome of arguments and claims for an interpretation or extension of International human rights law to existing State laws may be determined by socio-political variables beyond the control of a claimant.

The argument that ‘human rights norms cannot just be imposed by legal elites and judges on recalcitrant peoples but ‘must become elements in the public culture of democratic peoples through their own processes of interpretation, articulation, and iteration’ (Benhabib 2009, p.696) arguably poses a hurdle to their transposition into the political realm of sovereign states that fail to extend political democratic freedoms to all levels of society.

 This is ostensibly the case in Saudi Arabia where the male guardianship system is perceived to contribute to domestic violence against women. (Human Rights Watch 2019). This system ensures that women’s lives come under a significant control by their male relatives from the time they are born until they die.  (Human Rights Watch, 2019).

In such instances, human rights norms that guarantee rights to freedom of association and bodily integrity of women have yet to be fully incorporated into the public culture of the Saudi society due to, among other reasons, the predominantly patriarchal society.  



This essay has attempted to assess some of the theoretical and practical limits to the idea of universal human rights by emphasizing the effect that the normative nature of rights enshrined in the UDHR and international human rights treaties have on States, institutions and individuals to promote compliance with international human rights instruments.

It argues that the theoretical limits to the idea of universal human rights are to some extent mitigated by the normative impact that human rights articles in the UDHR have on the emergence of  international human rights treaties such as the ICCPR that give legal force to the norms in the UDHR, while the practical limits are to some extent countered by the paradigmatic effect that the UDHR has on a significant number of State laws and constitutions.

Further, the theoretical limitations posed by realist perspectives to the idea of universal human rights may be assessed in relation to a constructivist view that human rights norms possess the potential to influence State values and behavior in ensuring compliance with such norms.

This essay argues that the theoretical limits to the idea of universal human rights conceived as cosmopolitan norms and their influence on the political rights of individuals recognized by States is to some extent transcended by individuals engaging in the process of democratic iterations.



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