Localising human rights law: a case-study of civil society interpretation of rights in Scotland

Elaine Webster, Deirdre Flanigan

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Literature, most notably in anthropology and international law, has explored experiences and contributions of local-level actors in efforts to realise international human rights. This article contributes a new and complementary perspective to one aspect of this scholarship, on the localisation of international rights language. It focuses on the localisation of legal language in a European context. It explores claims by civil society actors about the applicability of legal human rights standards, drawing upon data generated during the participative mapping process that underpinned Scotland’s first National Human Rights Action Plan. The article provides a qualitative case-study of engagements with three particular rights – the right to life, the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to respect for private and family life. It finds significant evidence of civil society actors using the language of human rights law to anchor interpretive claims about how the rights should apply, in a way that is prescribed, but not defined by, authoritative institutional interpretations. The case-study reveals how interpretive engagement with human rights law corresponds to a sense of entitlement to use the language of international human rights. It thereby contributes to a richer understanding of the drivers of, and risks to, local-level ownership of human rights language, highlighting insights for both scholarship and human rights advocacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-42
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Human Rights
Issue number1
Early online date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • right to life
  • private and family life
  • civil society
  • localisation
  • ownership
  • inhuman treatment
  • degrading treatment


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