Re-Learning the Human Rights Language: An Imperative for Our COVID-19 Era

Document Type : Original Article


Professor of International Business Ethics at the Mendoza College of Business, Department of Marketing, Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame


The inherent nature of human rights means that human rights are concrete entitlements grounded in the dignity of every human person. It is not only absent, forgotten or ignored in many cases, but when it is used, it is often confused and misused. Human rights language and law became the platform for thousands of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and served as a model for the bills of rights in the constitutions of dozens of countries liberated from colonial yokes and crumbling empires. It is thus a language of liberation. If we don’t learn and speak the language of human rights, the powerful moral language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fades away and die. The talk of dignity easily remains abstract. The historic struggle for human rights is in vain and provides no lens to face the challenges of human rights violations today. We lose the moral lingua franca that is understandable in each country and we cannot articulate the common ethical ground we need to live and work together on the planet Earth.


Morsink, J. 1999. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Morsink, J. 2009. Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Morsink, J. 2017. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Challenge of Religion. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.
Morsink, J. 2019. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Holocaust: An Endangered Connection. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
Rawls, J. 1996. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.