Human Rights as Ethics, Politics and Law

Project leader

Elena Namli

Project description

The discourse of human rights is one of the most recognised political, legal and moral discourses in the globalized world today. At the same time and possibly for the same reason, human rights is one of the most frequently questioned concepts. The postcolonial critique, as well as critiques based upon so-called “Asian values” and the “Islamic challenge”, requires a continuous re-evaluation of human rights in politics and law. This study holds that an ethical analysis is of crucial importance for such an evaluation. The ethics of human rights is thus the main object of the investigation and is analysed as an integrated level within the human rights discourse, with special regard to the communicative aspects of human rights, politics and law.

The starting point of this project is the recognition of a number of cultural, political and
communicative circumstances which have historically constructed the discourse of human
rights and render it problematic today. Individualism and rationalism are usually regarded as some of the most important and challenging characteristics of the human rights discourse. Yet there is another aspect of the human rights language and politics which is of particular relevance for this study, namely the normative assumption of the unity of human rights standards that is widely accepted in the West, but frequently questioned in the “third world”. This study aims at a detailed analysis of the suspicion, on the part of various political agents, as well as philosophers and theologians, about the unity claim.

It is even reasonable to assume that the claim of the unity of all human rights correlates with some traditional accounts of individualism and rationalism within the discourse of human rights. In order to reduce the risk of abuse of political and economic power and to promote the human rights discourse, it is necessary to develop adequate ethical models for handling rights conflicts with regard to the contemporary trans-contextual critique.

The purpose of this study is to provide an ethical analysis of the current discourse of human rights with particular regard to trans-contextual communicative aspects of the discourse. It is neither possible nor desirable to ignore critiques of human rights politics coming from traditions which consider themselves as have been excluded from opportunities to shape the language and politics of human rights. One aim of the study is to suggest an ethical theory of rights which can illuminate and examine power aspects of human rights politics and law. The most important approach in this study is to analyse internationally recognised human rights as potentially conflicting values.

Related publications

Human Rights as Ethics, Politics, and Law. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2014.

“Universal Rights versus Sharia? Reflections on the Moral and Legal Dimensions of Human Rights Law and Sharia.” Religion and Human Rights 8.2 (2013): 139-161.

“Identity and the Stranger: A Christological Critique of Refugee Politics.” Political Theology 12.6 (2011): 813-829.

“Kolonialistiskt helgon i rättighetskatalogen. En reflektion över yttrandefrihetens status.” Religion och Existens. Årsskrift för Teologiska föreningen i Uppsala (2008): 7-18.