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Human Rights: From Legal Transplants to Fair Translation
Wisconsin International Law Journal (2017)
  • James M. Donovan
The current regime of international human rights suffers from three shortcomings: First, it has failed to adequately address the reality of cultural diversity. Second, the formalized human rights treaties have been ineffective in their ability to compel states to reform their behaviors, and third, the uncontrolled growth in the number of human rights weakens the impact of appeals to that standard.

Although treated as independent problems, this paper finds that these three limitations are sufficiently linked such that a remedy to the first will simultaneously resolve the others. Parts I and II of the paper describe how the imposition of human rights values onto some societies may inflict unintended harms to the extent that those actions undermine the justification and support for human rights altogether. Against that background is the challenge to find ways to realize the goods of the human rights project without injuring those it intends to benefit.

Drawing extensively upon multiple disciplines—most notably the philosophical exchange between Joseph Raz and Jeremy Waldron, and the methodological suggestions of Alison Dundes Renteln and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im—the article focuses on linking human rights laws with local values. The result should be human rights expressed in a manner in which all peoples can see themselves. If they are no longer viewed as hegemonic intrusions, human rights will be openly recognized and consequently more successfully observed. Finally, the structural limitations of the suggested procedure will necessarily support only a small number of human rights.
  • Human Rights,
  • legal anthropology,
  • legal transplant,
  • cultural diversity
Publication Date
Spring 2017
Citation Information
James M. Donovan. "Human Rights: From Legal Transplants to Fair Translation" Wisconsin International Law Journal Vol. 34 Iss. 3 (2017) p. 475 - 534 ISSN: 0743-7951
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