Group Identities and Human Rights: How Do We Square the Circle in International Law?

in Populism, Memory and Minority Rights

Abstract

The identity of groups of an ethno-cultural variety has long fallen within the remit of international human rights law. In this context, discussions have been largely concerned with the legal status of groups and/or the nature of the legal right(s) in question. While acknowledging the importance of these dimensions, in this article I seek to provide an alternative account by discussing the continuities and discontinuities in articulating the very concept of group identity. I first examine the potential, limitations and eventual hybridity of human rights practice across the spectrum of minority/indigenous identities. Then, I critique a range of instabilities in human rights discourse relating to the idea of group identities, their personal scope and the role of international law. I argue that such instabilities do not merely mirror the ambivalent outlook of the relationship between human rights and group identities; they raise the broader question of whether there is a relatively more coherent way to capture the legitimacy of group claims. I conclude by pointing to the outer limits of identity claims, the understated interplay of sovereignty and inter-group diversity, and the need to unpack the reasons why certain groups merit protection in the way they do.

Populism, Memory and Minority Rights

Central and Eastern European Issues in Global Perspective

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