On the Relationship Between Human Rights and Sovereignty
January 05,2015   By:CSHRS

By Zhang Xiaoling

The relationship between human rights and sovereignty is a key theoretical and practical issue that has aroused heated debate in the international human rights field. What are the viewpoints and positions of Western countries and developing countries on this issue? What is the deeply rooted reason for this debate? How can the relationship between the two be properly handled? This article will analyze these questions.

I. Origin of the relationship between human rights and sovereignty

Since the mid-20th century, an important political phenomenon has been the emergence and development of international human rights protection. Along with this, the question of the relationship between international human rights and national sovereignty has also arisen.

What is national sovereignty? National sovereignty refers to the highest authority of a state for independently administering domestic and diplomatic affairs. The concept of national sovereignty was proposed by the French philosopher and jurist Jean Bodin (1530-1596), who defined national sovereignty as the absolute and perpetual power of a nation state.1 National sovereignty has both domestic and diplomatic attributes, which respectively refer to the highest authority in governance and the highest decision-making power in independently dealing with international affairs. After the Peace of Westphaliawas signed in the 17th century, the sovereignty of nation states was defined as a fundamental principle of international relations.

Human rights ideas have existed as long as there have been human beings. In human history, the first to clearly propose human rights ideas were modern European capitalist Enlightenment thinkers, who voiced the shocking motto of freedom and equality and cultivated the natural rights theory. Human rights ideas greatly influenced the concept of sovereignty. The connotation of sovereignty gradually transformed from the sovereignty of the monarch to the sovereignty of the people.

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