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Contributor(s): Professor Conor Gearty

Released on 24 February 2012

'What are human rights and where do they come from?', asks Professor Conor Gearty in the latest Burning Issue lecture from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Gearty, a professor of human rights law and a practising barrister, looks at the history of human rights and ideas that have informed their development such as democracy and dignity. He challenges the notion that human rights are a western idea, a mere 'cultural accessory', or that they can be used to justify 'necessary evil' – as an excuse to go to war or to torture as part of interrogation for example.

The lecture explores the reality of what it is like to be deprived of one's human rights through interviews with a victim of torture and a psychologist.

Professor Gearty argues: "We risk our culture if we collude in the idea that our way of life is so valuable that we can afford to depart from it in order to secure it."

The lecture is the third and final of LSE's 'Burning Issues' lectures – a short series of interactive talks, designed to showcase the social sciences to a non-academic audience.

In the first lecture, ‘Parasites – enemy of the poor’, Professor Tim Allen questions the effectiveness of our fight against one of humankind's most endemic invisible enemies. In the second lecture, the 'Right to Die', Professor Emily Jackson tackles the provocative issue of assisted dying.

The Burning Issue Lectures are supported by the LSE Annual Fund and Cato Stonex (BSc International Relations 1986).

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