Law as a System of Rights: A Critical Perspective

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The “rhetorical incorporation of human rights terminology” into domestic law is the central concern of this article. Over the last 20 years or so, countries have faced international pressure to conform to human rights standards in order to enjoy legitimacy. However, there is a huge gap between what is legalized as “human rights” in domestic laws and what is set forth as “human rights” in international human rights instruments. Based on this presupposition that a proper incorporation of human rights on the books is a prerequisite for putting them into practice, this study by adopting a Systems Thinking approach seeks to show that law as a soft system on the books is more than the name and number of rights. It is a complex whole whose function depends on not only the name and number of rights but also different features of rights and the relationships between them. To this end, law is conceived as a system of rights that has five major features including the “frame of reference,” “scope of rights,” “orientation of rights,” “enforceability of rights,” and “realizability of rights.” The way of codification of human rights with respect to each of these features makes a big difference in implementing human rights in practice. To develop a heuristic devise for evaluating the situation of human rights in current legal systems, the conceptual space of law as a system of rights is depicted in a matrix called a “Rights Fabric Matrix.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-138
JournalHuman Rights Review
Issue number2
Early online date30 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Jun 2014


  • System of rights
  • Frame of reference
  • Scope of rights
  • Orientation of rights .
  • Enforceability of rights
  • Realizability of rights


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