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The challenge of human rights for peace research

  • Andreas H. Hvidsten (a1) and Kjersti Skarstad (a1)


Human rights law posits a close, almost self-evident, relation between human rights and peace. Peace researchers, however, see this relation as an unsettled empirical question. In this essay, we consider the peace researchers’ (implicit) critique of human rights law. We argue that seeing the relation between human rights and peace as an empirical question rests on a largely unexamined conceptual separation of justice and peace. Re-investigating this conceptual relation reveals two positions that have different implications for human rights and peace: (1) a ‘negative’ understanding of peace as stability, and (2) a ‘positive’ understanding of peace as a working social contract. On the negative understanding, human rights may or may not be instrumentally effective in maintaining stability, which is rightly seen as an empirical question. On the positive understanding of peace, on the other hand, human rights are potentially conceptually related to peace, and the relation cannot be reduced to an empirical question. We argue that (2) is a better understanding of peace – at least the kind of peace envisioned in human rights philosophy – and provides a potential bridge between human rights scholarship and peace research.


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