Corresponding duties

We want to finish the section on human rights theory by saying a few words about the duties that correspond to them. As indicated in the first part of the chapter, it would be misleading to reduce respect for human rights to the inhibition of state action. Even rights to “negative liberties” are fully respected only where provisions are made regarding their sufficient protection and promotion. As Shue has convincingly argued, three types of duties belong to each right: duties to avoid deprivation, duties to protect from deprivation, and duties to aid the deprived (1996, 52). Consequently, the allocation of these duties is a central task in any attempt to realize human rights. And with respect to the second and the third type, at least, a moral division of labor is required (Shue 1988; Goodin 1988).

Although ultimately only individuals can bear moral duties, they sometimes need to coordinate their actions, act collectively, and build institutions (Mellema 1997; Schlothfeldt 2007). Structures of institutions play three important roles in any approach of human rights. They improve the effectiveness of human rights actions, they specify each actor’s duties (O’Neill 1996,

130-33), and they ensure that the costs are bearable for each individual person by means of their fair allocation and the prohibition of free riding. This does not simply lessen the individual’s responsibility, however. In cases where sufficiently strong institutions are already lacking, that responsibility shifts toward contributions to create and to strengthen them.

Consequently, we can distinguish two levels of duties concerning human rights. On a first level, duties are directly linked to the objects of human rights—for example, the duty to refrain from violation or the duty to provide a certain good. On a second level, there are duties regarding the prerequisites of fulfilling duties on the first level. As already indicated, among these second-order duties are those to build or to improve institutions necessary for a full realization of human rights. Thus, the objection that certain rights are mere “manifesto-rights” (Feinberg 1980, 153), because no addressee of the corresponding duties does exist, can partly be countered. Insofar as we are able to establish such an addressee by means of coordination and collective action, and insofar as we are able to coordinate our actions and to act collectively, we have a second-order-obligation to transform the manifesto-right into an effective one.

If states are stable and constitutionally well-ordered, these problems are solved in principle, at least within the respective territory. Sufficiently strong states nowadays are the primary duty bearers in the realm of human rights. But neither do they have obligations only with regard to their own citizens, nor are they the only entities that can help individuals to get what they are entitled to. At least elementary norms such as avoiding torture and slavery, preventing genocide, and providing the means for subsistence are widely seen in literature as being backed by duties of humanity that do not presuppose any special relationship, be it a framework of cooperation, of interdependence and power relations, or of being the citizen of a state. The corresponding duties are ultimately those of humanity, and the international community, as a whole.26

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