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A Cancer of the Soul

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The Human Right of Self-Defense

David B. Kopel
Independence Institute; Denver University - Sturm College of Law

Joanne D. Eisen
Independence Institute

Paul Gallant
Independence Institute

BYU Journal of Public Law, Vol. 22, 2008


Does a woman have a human right to resist rape or murder? Do people have a human right to resist tyranny? The United Nations Human Rights Council has said no - that international law recognizes no human right of self-defense. To the contrary, the Human Rights Council declares that very severe gun control - more restrictive than even the laws of New York City - is a human right.

Surveying international law from its earliest days to the present, this Article demonstrates that self-defense is a widely-recognized human right which no government and no international body have the authority to abrogate. The issue is especially important today, as many international advocates of international gun prohibition are using the United Nations to deny and then eliminate the right of self-defense. For example, the General Assembly is creating an Arms Trade Treaty which would define arms sales to citizens in the United States as a human rights violation, because American law guarantees the right to use lethal force, when no lesser force will suffice, against a non-homicidal violent felony attack.

The article analyzes in detail the Founders of international law - the great scholars in the fourteenth through eighteenth centuries who created the system of international law. The Article then looks at the major legal systems which have contributed to international law, such as Greek law, Roman law, Spanish law, Jewish law, Islamic law, Canon law, and Anglo-American law.

In addition, the article covers the full scope of contemporary international law sources, including treaties, the United Nations, constitutions from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and much more.

The Article shows that international law - particularly its restraints on the conduct of warfare - is founded on the personal right of self-defense.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 119 Printer-Friendly Version
Keywords: self-defense, self-defence, United Nations, firearms, guns
JEL Classification: K14, K33, N40
Accepted Paper Series