Global Institutions and Human Rights
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Thomas Pogge has famously argued that the present arrangement of international institutions that allows for human rights violations to occur on an ongoing basis is unjust, and further, that powerful states that create and maintain these institutions are responsible for the resulting human rights violations. By setting the rules of economic and political interaction in the global forum, the world’s rich and powerful stack the deck against the global poor, making sustainable development difficult and making extreme poverty, malnutrition, and premature death common outcomes. Pogge concludes that this implication of responsibility creates a moral requirement for powerful nations to take immediate steps to reform the global institutional order in such a way as to minimize the number of foreseeable human rights violations that occur within it. I believe that Pogge is only partly correct in his analysis. In this paper, I argue that the global institutional order, which is comprised of a complex web of global and regional organizations with both political and economic aims, is not unjust as Pogge suggests. However, even if the maintenance of these institutions does not constitute an injustice, I believe that there remains an important sense in which powerful states that support the present arrangement of international institutions are responsible for ongoing subsistence rights violations. Establishing this responsibility means that states that continue to support present institutions are then also morally responsible for ensuring these human rights violations are remedied as a matter of justice. In his 2007 book National Responsibility and Global Justice, David Miller provides the sort of account of responsibility that I believe is lacking in Pogge’s work. Differentiating between moral responsibility, outcome responsibility, and causal responsibility, Miller shows that what we mean when we determine a party is “responsible” for a particular outcome can depend on several factors, viz., the foreseeability and the justification for harm. I argue that the sorts of remedies that are required in cases of moral responsibility, outcome responsibility, and causal responsibility turn out to be quite different from one another.