The Ends and Means of Human Rights: From State-centric to People-centered


Chancellor Day Hall Maxwell Cohen Moot Court (room 100), 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, Emory Law School, Atlanta, Georgia, will be giving the 2012 John Peters Humphrey Lecture in Human Rights. on October 11, at 17:00 in the Maxwell Cohen Moot Court (room 100).


The present emphasis on the role of the state in defining and implementing human rights norms is paradoxical in expecting the state to clearly define and effectively protecting these rights against the state and its officials. The current paradigm is also reactive, piecemeal, slow and expensive. At best, international human rights law reacts against violations after they happen, one individual victim or group of victims at a time through a long and expensive process, to conclude with a remedy in the particular instance, which may or may not be implemented.

While appreciating that international human rights law has taken us part of the way and should continue to be used to the best results it can produce, I will argue for a more proactive, preventive approach that seeks to address underlying causes and structural factors. In particular, I am concerned with promoting a human rights culture where respect for the human dignity of others is the norm, and violations are the exception. I will also discuss the weakness of the present paradigm that fails to address non-state actors or redress their violations of the underlying norms, though their conduct may not qualify as violation of international human rights norms as such.

About the speaker

An internationally recognized scholar of Islam and human rights, and human rights in cross-cultural perspectives, Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im teaches courses in human rights, religion and human rights, Islamic law, and criminal law. His research interests also include constitutionalism in Islamic and African countries, and Islam and politics. He directs several research projects which focus on advocacy strategies for reform through internal cultural transformation.

Read his complete bio online.