Theodor Schilling

On the Universality of Human Rights as Norms and Rights

Section: Treatises
Archiv des Völkerrechts (AVR)

Volume 59 () / Issue 3, pp. 251-277 (27)
Published 09.11.2021

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»All human rights are universal.« This protests too much: Both the subject and the predicate of the claim are ill-defined. Human »rights« is a catch-all phrase which can signify a variety of moral and legal concepts. It may signify legal rights and norms as well as moral ones of either ideal or social existence. »Universal« are norms that apply everywhere to everyone, and rights that everyone has everywhere. So »universal« necessarily means »uniform«; qualified – non-uniform – universality is an oxymoron. The article discusses the respective claims of the different kinds of norms and rights to uniform universality. It concludes that among the different kinds of norms, moral norms of ideal existence are uniformly universal, and some of social existence may be. Legal human rights norms and other moral norms of social existence may be uniformly universal not as individual norms but only as the aggregate of parochial norms of identical content. Specific legal rights, and specific moral rights of social existence, are uniformly universal if they are granted in fact, in given circumstances, worldwide in all respective systems, but not otherwise. Only rights pretensions – rights ostensibly granted by moral norms of ideal existence – are, as the latter, unqualifiedly universal. »Qualified universality«, while an oxymoron, can be reconstructed as the synoptic view of a compound of a uniformly universal norm and parochial norms adopted for the implementation of the latter. It is not the quality of an individual norm.

Theodor Schilling Geboren 1949; Studium der Rechtswissenschaften in Erlangen und Würzburg; 1977–2006 Jurist im Sprachendienst des Gerichtshof der EG; 1984 Promotion; 1994 Habilitation; apl. Professor für öffentliches Recht, Europarecht und Völkerrecht an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.