Human Rights Review

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 67–85

Human Rights, Personal Responsibility, and Human Dignity: What Are Our Moral Duties to Promote the Universal Realization of Human Rights?


DOI: 10.1007/s12142-016-0430-6

Cite this article as:
Montero, J. Hum Rights Rev (2017) 18: 67. doi:10.1007/s12142-016-0430-6


According to the orthodox or humanist conception of human rights, individuals have a moral duty to promote the universal realization of human rights. However, advocates of this account express the implications of this duty in extremely vague terms. What does it mean when we say that we must promote human rights satisfaction? Does it mean that we must devote a considerable amount of our time and resources to this task? Does it mean, instead, that we must make occasional donations to charities working to advance human rights realization? In this essay, I argue that this duty can only be constructed as imperfect. This means that it confers agent-relative discretion on us to decide when, how, and to what extent to advance the human rights of others. It also means that it is neither correlative with rights nor enforceable. As I will explain, the main reason for this is that any attempt to construct it as a perfect duty would infringe the dignity of the potential duty bearers and thereby undermine the very values that human rights practice aspires to serve. Finally, I will conclude by providing some guidelines for those who wish to comply with their imperfect duties to improve the situation of those whose human rights are in peril.


Perfect duties Imperfect duties Human dignity Rescue duties 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Research Council of ArgentinaUniversity of Buenos Aires (Argentina)CABAArgentina

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