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Human Rights on a Global Scale

Katharine Young’s scholarly stature grows with her forthcoming "Oxford Handbook.”

Professor Katharine Young 

Since joining the Boston College Law School faculty in 2013, Associate Dean for Faculty and Global Programs and Professor Katharine G. Young has established herself as one of the nation’s foremost scholars on international human rights. Later this year, Young and her co-editor Malcolm Langford will publish the much anticipated Oxford Handbook of Economic and Social Rights (Oxford University Press), the definitive volume on the various rights enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

These rights, such as the right to receive an education and the right to shelter, have been codified in countless constitutions around the world; the United States has adopted some of these principles, but continues to lag behind in many areas. The US Constitution is framed largely in terms of so-called “negative” rights that bind governmental power rather than the “positive” rights that empower individuals and ensure the government provides access to fundamental needs.

“So many constitutions around the world now integrate rights to education, health care, housing, Social Security, food, water, and sanitation,” said Young. “The next step is to see what it means to be in a legal system where these are actually guaranteed.”

Her passion for the field drove her to study law at the University of Melbourne in Australia, to study abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, and eventually to Harvard, where she earned her LLM and SJD., the highest degree in law offered in the United States. Today, much of her research is focused on global sustainability and attempts to curb the effects of climate change abroad.

“The science on different energy models and sustainability is robust, but the obstacles to implementing it are often cultural, legal, and political,” Young said. “There is so much to be gained by speaking about these challenges across disciplines and national boundaries.”

Read more about Young’s work in BC News.  

Photograph by Lee Pellegrini