Professor James Nickel, "Human Rights: Challenging the Indivisibility Doctrine"

October 20, 2008Duke Law News

Thursday, Oct. 23
12:15-1:15 p.m. • Room 3041
Lunch served


James Nickel will visit Duke to give a talk at the Law School, October 23 from 12:15 to 1:15. The talk will be based on his paper "Rethinking Indivisibility: Towards a Theory of Supporting Relations between Rights," a copy of which may be downloaded below.

According to the paper's abstract, "indivisibility is the idea that no human right can be fully realized without fully realizing all other human rights. When indivisibility occurs it has the practical consequence that countries cannot pick and choose among rights. This article offers a framework for understanding supporting relations between rights and gives a number of arguments against strong claims of indivisibility.

"A central thesis is that the strength of supporting relations between rights varies with quality of implementation. Rights with low quality implementation provide little support to other rights. This is why early UN formulations of indivisibility said that it occurs when the rights in question are fully realized. Even if strong claims about the indivisibility were true under high quality implementation they would be of limited relevance to developing countries because high quality implementation of rights is generally not an immediate possibility in those countries. Developing countries do not run afoul of indivisibility if they implement some rights before others."

Nickel is professor of law at Arizona State University. He is an affiliate professor in the department of philosophy and in the School of Global Studies. During 2008-09, Nickel is a visiting professor at Georgetown Law Center. He teaches and writes in human rights law and theory, constitutional law, jurisprudence, and political philosophy.

From 1982 to 2003 Nickel was professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado where he served as director of the Center for Values and Social Policy (1982-88) and as chair of the philosophy department (1992-1996).

Download Nickel's paper