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Is the idea of human rights now doing more harm than good?

Speaker: Professor Conor Gearty
Chair: Professor Stanley Cohen, Centre for the Study of Human Rights
October 2004

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Abstract

Since the end of the Second World War, and especially following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1989, the idea of human rights has been assumed to be a force for good in the world. To a great extent it still is, but recent events on the ground, and the intellectual justification that has been provided for them, now raise the spectre of a commitment to human rights that undermines rather than facilitates human flourishing. What should human rights activists and scholars do when their language is used both to support invasion abroad and to legitimise the abuse of rights at home? Does the democratic commitment to human rights make the abuse of human rights more rather that less likely? Are we near a time when those genuinely committed to human rights will need to acknowledge that their phrase has been irredeemably hijacked, or is there plenty of life left yet in this historically powerful force for human good?

Professor Conor Gearty is Rausing Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE. He is also a barrister and was a founder member of Matrix chambers where he continues to practice.

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