Comparative Constitutional Law, Democracy, Law and Religion, Whither Europe?

Upcoming Speaking Engagement: Conference on ‘Global Human Rights at Risk? Challenges, Prospects, and Reforms’, The Hague, 6-7 June 2019

On 6-7 June 2019, I will be participating in the above conference. My presentation is entitled ‘The Codification of an Expanding Number of Human Rights and the Ideal of Self-Government.’

During the presentation, I will, among other things, discuss the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of State of the establishment of a Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights. The purpose of the Commission is to ‘provide the Secretary of State advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters. The Commission will provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.’

The full abstract of my presentation reads as follows: 

If there is one word which sums up the ideal underlying modern Western political orders, it is self-government. Since 1945, the West, and in particular (Western) Europe, has witnessed the rise of modern constitutional practice. To be sure, the American and French Revolutions of the late 18th century already marked a transition from traditional to modern constitutionalism, but this modern constitutionalism somehow remained connected to traditional constitutionalism through the diverse intellectual tradition of natural law and natural rights discoverable by human reason.

Several developments after the Second World War have led to the face of modern constitutionalism changing dramatically, however. Taken together, these developments raise the question if, and to what extent, the ideal of self-government is still realized under modern constitutional practice?

One development that has impacted modern constitutional practice is the codification of an expanding number of human rights. Thus, since World War II, several international and regional codifications have taken place. Moreover, in addition to the more traditional civil and political rights, social and economic rights have also been developed. In recent decades, so-called third- generation rights are also distinguished, such as environmental rights.

At the same time, historians have already started to raise the question of whether human rights, with the advantage of hindsight, may not prove to have been more of a temporary phenomenon than was initially thought. Perhaps even more provocatively, human rights activist Aaron Rhodes, has in a 2018 book raised the question: how can an ideal that was originally emancipatory, such as that of human rights, become so ‘debased’?

The first section of the proposed paper will attempt to answer precisely this question, against the background of the theoretical framework set out above. Should the human rights component of modern constitutional practice not conform to the standards that modern constitutionalism set out to achieve, this subsequently makes an inquiry into which amendments to both the theory and the practice of modern constitutionalism in the area of human rights are required with a view to their continuing legitimacy indispensable. Such an effort will, if necessary, be undertaken in the second part of the paper.

See for more information on the conference:

See also:

Guest Lecture on “Natural Law, Human Rights, and Religious Freedom”

Upcoming Paperback Release

Press Release: ‘Twelve ILS seed money grants for frontier research at Leiden Law School’

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