HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


Why do we have human rights? What ought to be the function of such rights in the global order, and to what extent does this help define what they are? Who needs to do what to realize these rights? In response to such questions this paper develops a conception of human rights that thinks of them as membership rights in the global order. Human rights are derived from contingent but relatively abiding political and economic arrangements. This conception has some intuitive disadvantages, but makes clear how human rights can be of genuinely global relevance; can explain why the language of rights (rather than goals or values) is appropriate here in the first place; derives human rights from relatively simple foundations; and can account of the range of disagreement that persists about precisely what should count as a human right.


Risse, Mathias. "What are Human Rights? Human Rights as Membership Rights in the Global Order." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP08-006, February 2008.