AuthorHessler, Kristen M.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractA complete theory of interpretation for human rights law must answer two kinds of questions. First: Who should interpret international human rights law? Second: What principles should guide the interpretation of human rights law? Individual governments frequently claim the right to interpret international law as it applies to them, but this claim is contested by many United Nations subgroups and by nongovernmental organizations like Amnesty International. I argue that international institutions are more likely to give a fair hearing to people's human rights than are their own governments. Accordingly, we can conclude as a general rule that international institutions should be assigned authority to interpret international human rights law. The general rule has an exception, however. Democratic states that protect basic freedoms of speech and assembly will promote and protect their own citizens' human rights better than undemocratic states. Moreover, free democratic states, by giving a voice to all citizens, can take advantage of local knowledge about particular human rights problems and solutions, and so are more likely than international institutions to interpret human rights law with a sensitivity to the human rights of all citizens and to the locally important human rights issues. Therefore, unlike other states, liberal democratic states should have the authority to interpret international human rights law as it applies within their borders. What principles should guide the interpretation of human rights law? The answer depends on whether we take a short- or long-term perspective. Currently, the institutions of international law are relatively ineffective when compared to most domestic legal systems. While this remains the case, a principle allowing interpreters to use their judgment about moral human rights in interpreting human rights law can be justified on the basis of the contribution this would make to global deliberation about the proper understanding of moral human rights. As human rights law develops more effective, less voluntaristic institutions, this principle of interpretation should be phased out.
Degree ProgramGraduate College