Human Rights v. Human Needs

Kevin Avruch

Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: You mentioned basic human needs at the outset, so do you dispute the nature of such grand theories like even basic human needs?

A: In fact what I disputed mostly was John Burton's logic and the way that he deployed those terms. Depending on how you define basic human needs, they exist, respiration, nutrition, and reproduction, for example. Of course there are basic human needs but when you get beyond that, like the need for identity, that looks different in quote individualistic and collectivist cultures. When you talk about a need for security as a basic human need then I think you are loading a lot of cultural assumptions into that. I think that basic human needs are as good a eristic as any to start from. I think that in terms of resolving intractable conflicts when you try to operationalize those terms they become much more complex and much more fuzzy. Very often what happens is you think you are designing something to address basic human needs like security when in fact you are not.

Q: It doesn't get interpreted that way?

A: It doesn't get interpreted that way.