In her latest book, The Hidden Face of Rights: Toward a Politics of Responsibilities
(Yale University Press), Kathryn Sikkink puts forward a framework of rights and responsibilities; moving beyond the language of rights that has come to dominate scholarship and activism, she makes the case that human rights cannot be truly implemented unless we also recognise that there are corresponding obligations to implement those rights.
Recognising that talk of responsibility, obligation and duty are often unpopular - because people do not like to be told what they ‘should’ do - Sikkink advocates that we rethink how we conceive of responsibility – it should not be limited to backward-looking blame attribution, but should be expanded to become one of forward-looking responsibility; instead of just asking who is to blame, responsibility should be expanded to ‘what together can we do?’
In making this argument, she focuses on five key areas – climate change, voting, digital privacy, freedom of speech, and sexual assault - to demonstrate how responsibility is engaged. She provides many examples of grass-roots initiatives where people can choose to adopt the rights and responsibilities model for collective action.
There are fewer more pertinent concerns for our times. Sikkink’s book will make you rethink your own responsibilities, and as a citizen of the world, ‘what together we can do’.
is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Jane Richards is a doctoral candidate in Human Rights Law at the University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include disability, equality, criminal law and civil disobedience. You can find her on twitter @JaneRichardsHK where she avidly follows the Hong Kong’s protests and its politics.