The subject of this book is the moral assessment of the system of international legal human rights. This legal system is the heart, or core of modern human rights practice. International legal human rights—not some philosopher’s theory of moral human rights nor a “folk” conception of human rights—provide the moral lingua franca of modern human rights practice. The practical effect of international legal human rights exceeds their legal reach: Various actors are sometimes able to hold states accountable for violations of international legal human rights even in the absence of clear legal duties on the part of the states in question. Given the pivotal role of international legal human rights in modern human rights practice, a moral assessment of the practice must begin with a moral assessment of the system of international legal human rights. The key question is whether it is morally justifiable to have a system of this sort, given the functions it is designed to serve and the claims of authority made on its behalf.
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