Rethinking indivisibility: Towards a theory of supporting relations between human rights

James W. Nickel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Indivisibility is the idea that no human right can be fully realized without fully realizing all other human rights. When indivisibility occurs it has the practical consequence that countries cannot pick and choose among rights. This article offers a framework for understanding supporting relations between rights and gives a number of arguments against strong claims of indivisibility. A central thesis is that the strength of supporting relations between rights varies with quality of implementation. Rights with low quality implementation provide little support to other rights. This is why early UN formulations of indivisibility said that it occurs when the rights in question are fully realized. Even if strong claims about the indivisibility were true under high quality implementation, they would be of limited relevance to developing countries because high quality implementation of rights is generally not an immediate possibility in those countries. Developing countries do not run afoul of indivisibility if they implement some rights before others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)984-1001
Number of pages18
JournalHuman Rights Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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