Global Policy Forum

Twelve Reasons to Strenghten Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations

etohumanrightsThe ETO Consortium, a network comprised by a large number of CSOs and academics interested in human rights promotion and protection, has published a new report entitled Twelve Reasons to Strengthen Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations. The report argues that in order to overcome a deep crisis of confidence and to remain or become legitimate, States have to rediscover the primacy of human rights. Moreover they have to throw overboard some legal and doctrinal misunderstandings that have helped to curtail the powers of human rights in the past – one of them the attempted reduction of States obligations to territory. 

July 11, 2013 | ETO Consortium

Twelve Reasons to Strengthen Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations

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From the Report:

Universality of human rights means that human rights are not something restricted or limited. Moreover universality indicates that human rights are the same everywhere, for everyone, at any time. Human rights are essentially a claim to the enjoyment of “content” – be it freedom from torture, an adequate standard of living, etc.. As this claim is universal, not restricted or limited, it is made against all fellow human beings and their institutions. In particular the claim is not limited to the fellow human beings or institutions in a certain territory.

The claim turns other people or institutions into duty-bearers carrying obligations. One of these obligations is not to impair the content of the human right – i.e. not to torture, not to threaten or destroy people's adequate standard of living, etc.. The early pronouncements including the Universal Declaration of 1948 proclaimed human rights with a focus on their content without elaborating much on the duty-holders and their obligations. It was clear, however, already in documents of the 18th century that the purpose of governments is to secure the content of these human rights. In modern human rights terminology we would say that States have to protect human rights against third parties and to fulfil them, once the rights-holder failed to enjoy the content to which he or she has a claim.

Governments are thus instituted to protect and fulfil human rights. Claims under human rights being universal means they are in principle claims against all institutions, and hence against all governments. It is commonly understood that it is the person's home State that has to take – to the maximum of its available possibilities – the measures necessary to protect and fulfil the right in question. Whether these measures are sufficient to meet the claim that the right be protected or fulfilled is a contingent matter. For protect-obligations it depends on the degree of involvement of foreign actors and the needs for foreign States to get involved to protect the right. For fulfil-obligations it is entailed by the possibilities of foreign States to close the gaps in national fulfilment systems. With international relations becoming increasingly dense over the past two decades, the needs for foreign States to get involved in order to protect of fulfil human rights has dramatically increased. This implies that the claims under a person's human right increasingly involve States besides their own. For these foreign States the implied obligations are extraterritorial obligations. Altogether universality implies claims that increasingly trigger extraterritorial obligations.


Under the protect obligation, States have to protect people against business practices and economic models that abuse their human rights. It is hard for States to implement this obligation in economies that produce and reproduce human rights abuses – and at a time where economies extend beyond territory. For this matter States have to foster economies that care about people – caring economies. Under the fulfill obligation, States have to make sure that people who are not in enjoyment of economic, social or cultural rights, are provided the respective content as soon as possible. This is not possible without constant sharing of resources and income from resources. States have to institutionalize the sharing and make it obligatory. Social programs in particular are not to be based on the States taking out loans, but on a redistribution of resources and income. States must therefore foster sharing economies in order to meet their fulfill-obligations.

Report: Twelve Reasons to Strengthen Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations


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