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How Demanding Should Human Rights Be? An Interdisciplinary Workshop

October 13-14, 2017
9:30am - 6:00pm
Harris Hall 108, 1881 Sheridan Road (Northwestern University, Evanston Campus)

We welcome interested faculty and graduate students. Please write to Sarah Peters ( so that you can access the papers in advance. We expect participants and audience members to read papers in advance, since there will be no formal presentation of papers.

human rights workshop

human rights schedule

International human rights are classically understood to be “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” (Preamble, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). However, it is unclear how demanding international human rights standards should be taken to be. Should they be understood as minimal standards of treatment below which no State can fall without strong international condemnation, or are they co-extensive with ambitious and ideal demands to which all States should strive and whose achievement may require strong international cooperation?

This two-day workshop will bring together top scholars in the field of international human rights law and philosophy to debate these important normative and political questions. A local audience of scholars and practitioners will be invited to participate in the discussion as well. A particular emphasis will be placed on the real-world implications, legal or not, of these abstract moral questions about human rights and on the interaction of human rights, globalization in general, and global capitalism. Participants will provide full papers in advance of the workshop. Since this is a workshop format, all participants will be required to read all the papers in advance, and each discussion period will begin with a commentary on the assigned paper. All speakers will also function as commentators.


Cristina Lafont (Northwestern University)
Samantha Besson (University of Fribourg)
Karen J. Alter (Northwestern University)

Invited Participants:

Karen J. Alter (Northwestern University)
Elizabeth Ashford (University of St. Andrew’s)
Samantha Besson (University of Fribourg)
Eva Brems (University of Ghent)
James Cavallaro (Stanford University, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights)
Jean Cohen (Columbia University)
Adam Etinson (University of St. Andrew’s)
Andreas Follesdal (University of Oslo)
Pablo Gilabert (Concordia University)
Dieter Grimm (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin & Yale University, former Constitutional Court Judge)
Turkuler Isiksel (Columbia University)
Cristina Lafont (Organizer, Northwestern University)
George Letsas (University College, London)
Christopher McCrudden (Queen’s University, Belfast & Michigan University)
James W. Nickel (Miami University)
Françoise Tulkens (Catholic University of Louvain, former judge at European Court of Human Rights)

Sponsors: Global Capitalism & Law research group (Buffett Institute), Critical Theory Cluster, Kreeger Wolf Foundation, EDGS (Buffett Institute), Political Science Department, Philosophy Department, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Pluricourts, University of Oslo University of Fribourg