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The Danger of Human Rights Proliferation

When Defending Liberty, Less Is More

Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addresses the UN General Assembly in 2009 Lucas Jackson / Courtesy Reuters

If human rights were a currency, its value would be in free fall, thanks to a gross inflation in the number of human rights treaties and nonbinding international instruments adopted by international organizations over the last several decades. These days, this currency is sometimes more likely to buy cover for dictatorships than protection for citizens. Human rights once enshrined the most basic principles of human freedom and dignity; today, they can include anything from the right to international solidarity to the right to peace. 

Consider just how enormous the body of binding human rights law has become. The Freedom Rights Project, a research group that we co-founded, counts a full 64 human-rights-related agreements under the auspices of the United Nations and the Council of Europe. A member state of both of these organizations that has ratified all these agreements would have to comply with 1,377 human rights provisions (although some of these

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