Concepts of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law: a literature review
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This literature review is the first deliverable in Work Package 3 (“WP3”) of the FRAME project. Its topic is the conceptualization of the notions of human rights, democracy and rule of law in the recent academic literature. The purpose of this review is to lay a broad foundation for the rest of the research in WP 3. This review emphasizes that human rights, democracy and rule of law are all contested concepts, meaning that they are continually subject to questioning and revision. The review first outlines the major debates regarding the conceptualization of these ideals one by one. Thus, in regard to human rights the tension between the universalist credo and particularist approaches is discussed, as are problems in relation to the conceptualization of the rights-holder, and debates concerning the content of rights and obligations. In regard to the concept of democracy various models of democracy are examined. Concerning the rule of law the debate between proponents of thin and thick definitions of the rule of law is investigated. Though the chief focus of this literature review is on conceptual questions, it is recognized that questions regarding the implementation and promotion of human rights, democracy and rule of law are closely related. Therefore this review identifies some of the key current challenges that make the realization of the ideals of human rights, democracy and rule of law so complex. At the end of the review the relationship between these three ideals is discussed. One of the findings is that these ideals are contested in similar ways, meaning that there are cross-cutting themes in the ways these concepts are challenged in the literature. These cross-cutting challenges relate to (i) the position of vulnerable groups; (ii) concerns about national sovereignty; (iii) the role of legal pluralism and informal institutions; and (iv) perceived neo-imperialism and hypocrisy. The tension between universalism and particularism can be perceived as the overarching theme of these four challenges.