Human Rights and ‘Standard Threats’:  Standard for Whom?


Human rights instruments exist to respond to serious dangers that human beings routinely face, what Henry Shue terms ‘standard threats.’ According to Shue’s influential account of the structure of a moral right, these threats are ‘the targets of the social guarantees for the enjoyment of … a right.’ They are ‘common, or ordinary, and serious but remediable.’ Yet for individuals who struggle daily against serious, remediable threats that are common to their peer group, but do not routinely threaten mainstream society, this oversight has enormous implications for their security, subsistence, freedom, and dignity. This paper examines the three elements of Shue’s standard threat. It concludes by making the case that if we are to deploy this element of the structure of moral rights to justify social guarantees of protection, and to craft them in a way that takes proper account of human diversity, then we must ask: Standard for whom?