Human Rights and Human Welfare: Looking for a ‘Dark Side’ to International Human Rights Law

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



International human rights law has attracted a barrage of criticism over the past decade or more. One critique views international human rights law as useless and argues that it has not managed to improve enjoyment of the rights it has set out to protect. Another critique goes further: it blames the legalization of international human rights norms for a series of negative outcomes, from the neglect of development to a crisis in the realization of social rights. Some even suggest that international legal obligations are to blame for the channeling of repressive tactics from areas that are clearly foreclosed by law to gray areas where rules are less clear. We argue that these claims are often illogical and are typically unsupported by any evidence. Such arguments are themselves potentially dangerous if they sow unfounded doubt over the value of the international human rights system.


International human rights law, criticisms, claims of negative effects, empirical review, legitimacy of system, human rights research, trade-offs, hide violations, harm economic development & social justice, empirical evidence of net harms, no credible evidence of causation, dangers of arguments

Publication Title

Human Rights Futures

Publication Citation

In Human Rights Futures 60-87 (Jack Snyder et al. eds., Cambridge University Press, 2018)

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