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Do We Need Unicorns When We Have Law?

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Theoretical justifications of human rights have been troubled by many criticisms and objections. It has been objected that the source of human rights is unclear as is the meaning attached to human rights. Yet today many human rights have been adopted in positive law. Law students today need to learn about this positive law of human rights and may consider that those debates in human rights theory are pointless. This article examines the extent to which the positive law of human rights answers these questions satisfactorily. It concludes that positive law offers several important answers to these criticisms, but suggests they cannot replace the need for a normative justification. The article concludes that approaches which integrate theory and positive law are fruitful avenues of inquiry.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Queen's University of Belfast Human Rights Centre, Law School 29 University Square Belfast BT7 1NN Northern Ireland, Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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