Taking human rights practice seriously
: the place of international legal practice in theorising human rights

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Human rights feature prominently in moral and political discourse, and are the object of considerable philosophical interest. However, philosophical debates about human rights suffer from a lack of understanding and recognition of the role of the contemporary international legal practice of human rights (ILHR practice). Such debates are often done independently of law and many theorists assume they can simply offer an account of human rights that is separable from ILHR practice. The main proponents of this approach (the orthodox school) dismiss altogether the role of practice and deny that it is fundamental to the full understanding of human rights. The trouble is that such theories encounter serious difficulties in accounting for many aspects of ILHR practice and explaining the nexus between moral norms and legal practice. This can easily push them to engage in dogmatic attempts to force various features of the existing ILHR practice into a Procrustean bed that always fails to grasp its richness and diversity.

This thesis argues that philosophical theories of human rights should take international legal practice more seriously. The real life of human rights is interwoven with the activities of legal authorities and the norms and institutions of ILHR practice. After showing the many ways in which philosophers either downplay or misunderstand ILHR practice, I propose an alternative view that attempts to put ILHR practice in its appropriate place by showing not only the centrality of ILHR practice in the day to day life of human rights but also its importance in shaping the discourse and ultimately the theories of human rights.
Date of Award1 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLorenzo Zucca (Supervisor) & Massimo Renzo (Supervisor)

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