The Recognition of Human Rights: A Threefold Myth


The discussion of the recognition of human rights by law suffers from the acceptance of three myths: that recognition is provided for in human rights instruments, that there exist moral norms ready to be recognised by law and that recognition is what happens when a legal norm that corresponds to a moral precept is adopted. To counter the first myth, the article undertakes a close reading of the relevant passages of human rights instruments. To counter the second myth, the article observes that there exist few if any universally valid moral norms ready to be recognised by law but an abundance of other moral precepts. To counter the third myth, the article argues that what happens is rather the replication of the content of a moral precept in law. From all these, it follows that there cannot be any necessary connection between moral norms or other precepts and legal human rights. This distinctness of moral precepts and legal human rights, it is argued in conclusion, is apt to strengthen legal human rights protection: it diminishes the influence ‘traditional values’ might otherwise have on this protection.