Eva Brems is a Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Human Rights Center at Ghent University, Belgium.
As a political and ethical project, human rights are one, indivisible and universal. As law however, they are fragmented. Yet most situations of alleged human rights violations fall within the scope of several human rights provisions from different sources at the same time. Hence the relevance of a holistic perspective on international human rights law.
The complex architecture of international human rights law is characterized by a multitude of highly diverse sources. These sources can be differentiated in several cross-cutting ways: by governance level (regional, world), by their material scope (general, categorical , single issue), by their personal scope (universal or specific target group), by their legal force (hard or soft law) and by the type of monitoring mechanism that accompanies them.
The fragmentation of human rights law is accompanied by increasing specialization of human rights scholarship. As the field has grown, general human rights experts have largely been replaced by experts of ‘religious freedom’, ‘children’s rights’, ‘the European Convention on Human Rights’ and such. While this has brought the discipline to a higher lzevel, it has also contributed to creating a fragmented, compartmentalized view of human rights law.
In all this, there is a risk to overlook the basic fact that rights holders as well as public authorities and other duty bearers under human rights norms are confronted simultaneously with a multitude of these sources. To any particular situation, a dozen relevant human rights sources may apply. Read the rest of this entry…