Vulnerability as a human rights variable: African and European developments

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    In human rights law the concept of vulnerability is increasingly being used to attract attention to the fact that people are differently resilient and that some are more prone to harm than others. Its use as a legal concept, however, is still embryotic and opens up to several questions. By scrutinising how the judicial bodies within two regional human rights systems – the African and the European – have referred to and used the concept, the article discusses the nature and function of vulnerability in interpreting rights. Discussing the function and the conceptualisation of vulnerability in such practice, it argues that although the idea of special protection implicit in the vulnerability thinking is not revolutionary as such, vulnerability argumentation may be seen as a supplementary safety mechanism, which can be used to widen and deepen the scope of measures of protection in cases where ‘regular’ protection is not enough to ensure the effective realisation of rights. At the same time, the article cautions against taking the neutrality of the vulnerability concept for given, as the use of the vulnerability reasoning may also lend itself to the selective protection of rights.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)777-798
    Number of pages22
    JournalAfrican Human Rights Law Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • vulnerability
    • vulnerable
    • special protection
    • positive obligations
    • regional human rights protection


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