The End of Human Rights

The meaning and implications of particular human rights have long been the subject of intense discussion with often widely differing interpretations, but as a society we seem to be in a period where a number of important rights are under increasing pressure.

The fault lines are clearest in areas such as freedom of conscience and the right to conscientious objection, particularly in areas such as healthcare. Human rights such as freedom of religion and belief, freedom of speech, and freedom of association are often in dispute particularly when they come up against certain issues around sexuality, identity, and equality. In addition to this, the category of human beings who are bearers of rights also seems to be in danger of being wound back and narrowed down, with worrying implications for people who fall into the category of non-persons.

To some extent human rights will always be contested territory, and it is a constant of public debate and political argument to invoke human rights as a way of privileging particular positions against others, although it is usually not difficult to sift out these claims from genuine human rights issues. However, none of this should be accepted with complacency. Human rights are too important for the well-being of a free society to be devalued by the political use of some rights against the rights of others.

The End of Human Rights? work stream undertakes a careful assessment of what is happening in current understandings and uses of human rights, to see whether there are in fact new developments unfolding which are not helpful for maintaining the credibility and importance of human rights. Particular projects focus on different areas of human rights, on the problems emerging around the ideas of personhood and human dignity, and the implications of emerging alternatives to human rights for individual freedom and a free society.

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