Global Justice and Human Rights

Week of: 
August 24, 2008
What is it: 

What constitutes a just society?  What are the obligations of liberal democracies to ensure the rights and well-being of the citizens of other countries?  What kinds of interventions and institutions are most suitable to the task of preventing war, disease, and poverty in the world today?  John and Ken discuss the requirements of justice with Helen Stacy from Stanford Law School.

Listening Notes: 

In this episode, John and Ken contemplate the concept of Global Justice. The world is filled with atrocities and crippling poverty. Is this a question of justice? What should we do to make sure that the global community has its needs met? When are military interventions justifiable as a method of preventing genocide? What about misogynistic cultural practices?

Helen Stacy, a special guest from Stanford Law School joins the show to help John and Ken navigate through these treacherous waters. Stacy originally practiced law, but eventually became fascinated with the question of why our law courts are ultimately incapable of preventing crimes. Even though the international community is nominally opposed to genocides, unsanitary drinking water, and countless other such tragedies, we do remarkably little to prevent or stop them from occurring.
But then again, asks Ken, are all local tragedies to be treated as injustices? Given that they are evils which can be stopped and result from economic inequities, Stacy seems convinced that they should. Moreover, there line between global and local issues is hazy at best, and local issues can easily become relevant internationally. For instance, the practice of genital mutilation—a common practice in nations like Ethiopia, was brought into the United States, where it is not only taboo but can be criminal.

How much work should be done to make sure that international institutions are capable of dealing with these ethical transgressions? What should be done, and where? Some look back on our long history of violence turmoil and feel pessimistic about the feasibility of serious reforms towards remedying global injustices. Philosophers have only been thinking about justice in global terms for twenty or thirty years, so how much legitimacy does this approach really have?

On the other hand, as Stacy points out, it seems like our awareness of global problems will only increase through new media and news coverage. Not only is our awareness of global justice here to stay, but it will probably grow with time. Still there are some complications. For instance, how can you seriously think about issues like prevention of problems if you never actually see them happen? Nevertheless, it seems like progress is a real goal, and will come closer as global sympathy and democratization rise. Let’s hope so.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 6:12): Polly Stryker interviews Fahim, a survivor of the ethnic cleansing that followed the collapse of Tito's regime in the former Yugoslavia. He and his wife were sent to a concentration camp where they lived to through unspeakable atrocities and sometimes saw hundred of people killed in a single night. Eventually, he was expelled from the country and escaped to safety. Nevertheless, he still waits to see justice brought to the leaders behind the ethnic cleansing. Because the International Criminal Tribunal does not use the death sentence, he is forced to watch as his former tormentors walk away with lesser punishments than he believes they deserve.
  • Philosophy Talk Goes to the Movies (seek to 45: 40): John and Ken discuss one of the finest movies to ever ask questions about global justice: Hotel Rwanda.  This film does for the Rwandan genocide what Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust, and brings a morally nuanced perspective to its portrayal of the situation.

Helen Stacy, Senior Fellow, Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University

Bonus Content: 


Philosophy Talk Goes to the Movies: Hotel Rwanda

Related Resources: 

Online Resources


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