The Past and Future of the Separation of Human Rights into Categories

Date Published:

Apr 29, 2009


It is a commonplace to recall that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) integrated civil and political rights (CPR) with economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR), and that the two International Covenants separated them.

Reflecting Cold War divisions, stress on one or the other of these two traditional categories tended to reveal preferences for neo-liberal or social democratic understandings of human rights, when it was not more blatantly reflective of competition between the NATO and Warsaw Pact (plus "Non-Aligned") countries, a sort of North–West vs. East–South ideological split. This article explores how the separation of categories of rights has lost its pertinence in the first decade of the 21st century. My purpose is to show how the separation into two categories is perhaps a convenient taxonomy for some, but subject to serious challenge from the perspectives of political history, the theory of rights, and contemporary policy.


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