chapter  6
13 Pages

The dark side of human rights 1

WithOnora O’Neill

The institutions for securing and enforcing liberty rights require an allocation of certain obligations to specified others rather than to all others. First-order obligations to respect liberty rights must be universal, but second–order obligations to ensure that everyone respects liberty rights must be allocated. If human rights are not pre-conventional, universal rights, but are grounded in the special obligations assumed by states, then there is—at the very least—an awkward gap between reality and rhetoric. The second-order obligations of states are discharged by imposing first-order obligations on others and enforcing them. The reality is that state agency and state power, and that of derivative institutions, is used to construct institutions that secure rights, and that to do this it is necessary to control the action of individuals and institutions systematically and in detail. Detailed control is needed to ‘achieve progressively the full realisation’ of very complex sets of potentially conflicting rights, which must be mutually adjusted.