About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

108 Colum. L. Rev. 1758 (2008)
Human Welfare, Not Human Rights

handle is hein.journals/clr108 and id is 1790 raw text is: ESSAY
Eric A. Posner*
Human rights treaties play an important role in international relations
but they lack a foundation in moral philosophy and doubts have been raised
about their effectiveness for constraining states. Drawing on ideas from the
literature on economic development, this Essay argues that international con-
cern should be focused on human welfare rather than on human rights. A
focus on welfare has three advantages.
First, the proposition that governments should advance the welfare of
their populations enjoys broader international and philosophical support
than do the various rights incorporated in the human rights treaties. Sec-
ond, the human rights treaties are both too rigid and too vague-they do not
allow governments to adopt reasonable policies that advance welfare at the
expense of rights, and they do not set forth rules governing how states may
trade off rights. A welfare treaty could provide guidance by supplying a
maximand along with verifiable measures of compliance. Third, the human
rights regime and international development policy work at cross purposes.
Development policy favors the poorest states, whereas the human rights re-
gime condemns the states with the worst governments: Unfortunately, the
poorest states usually have the worst governments. This Essay surveys vari-
ous possible welfare treaties as alternatives to the human rights regime.
The U.S. State Department annually publishes a list of nations that
violate human rights.' Many NGOs do the same.2 These lists identify
states that torture dissidents, detain people without charging them, sup-
press religious minorities, and commit other abuses. The reports con-
demn violators of human rights and urge leading states to pressure
human rights abusers until they bring their conduct in line with interna-
tional standards. Indeed, the United States imposes certain legal disad-
* Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School. Thanks to
Matthew Adler, Jack Goldsmith, Emilie Hafner-Burton, Martha Nussbaum, Cass Sunstein,
John Tasioulas, Noah Zatz, and participants at a talk at UCLA Law School and at a
conference on human rights at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, for
comments, and to Robert Tannenbaum for research assistance.
1. E.g., Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor, U.S. Dep't of State, 2006
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (2007).
2. E.g., Amnesty International Report 2007: The State of the World's Human Rights
(2007); Freedom House, The Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive Societies
(2007); Human Rights Watch, World Report 2008 (2008) [hereinafter Human Rights
Watch, World Report].

What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing thousands of academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline.

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most