The topic of this year’s course is “Human rights and institutions”. An institutional understanding of human rights is now common among political and legal theorists. For example, Thomas Pogge proposes that we should “conceive human rights primarily as claims on coercive social institutions and secondarily as claims against those who uphold such institutions”. Allen Buchanan, drawing on earlier work by John Rawls, postulates a natural duty of justice consisting in “the limited moral obligation to contribute to ensuring that all persons have access to just institutions, where this means primarily institutions that protect basic human rights”.
But why should institutions ultimately matter? Is not the entire point of human rights that any human being has secure and non-discriminatory access to all basic goods necessary for leading a decent life in dignity?
Still, in the absence of institutions the natural duty of justice would remain hopelessly under-determined. Institutional, ideally democratic, solutions are necessary because reasonable disagreement - about the interpretation and implementation of human rights - remains even among morally motivated and carefully deliberating persons. Furthermore, collective-action-problems such as free-riding and an exploitation of the willing remain a problem.
Given the need for institutional solutions, the natural duty of justice needs to be specified in the form of arrangements that assign particular obligations to particular actors. The state system can be conceived of as the most prominent form of this moral division of labor. If states, however, are unable or unwilling to respect, protect and fulfill their citizens’ basic human rights, the international community bears a subsidiary responsibility.
The course will consist of lectures and discussion of the above mentioned issues and will provide an opportunity for young researchers to present their projects.