Human Rights

 

 

Human rights refers to "the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law." The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

The idea of human rights descended from the philosophical idea of natural rights which are considered to exist even when trampled by governments or society; some recognize virtually no difference between the two and regard both as labels for the same thing, while others choose to keep the terms separate to eliminate association with some features traditionally associated with natural rights. Natural rights, in particular, are rights of the individual, and are considered beyond the authority of a future government or international body to dismiss. John Locke is perhaps the most prominent philosopher that developed this theory.

Henry of Ghent articulated the theory that every person has a property interest in their own body. John Locke uses the word property in both broad and narrow senses. In a broad sense, it covers a wide range of human interests and aspirations; more narrowly, it refers to material goods. He argues that property is a natural right and it is derived from labour." In addition, property precedes government and government cannot "dispose of the estates of the subjects arbitrarily." To deny valid property rights according to Locke is to deny human rights. The British philosopher had significant impacts upon the development of the Government of the UK and was central to the fundamental founding philosophy of the United States of America. Karl Marx later critiqued Locke's theory of property in his social theory.

A few groups, such as conceptually divide rights into negative and positive rights. By this distinction, "negative" human rights, which follow mainly from the Anglo-American legal tradition of natural rights, are rights that a government and/or private entities may never take action to remove. For example, right to life and security of person; freedom from slavery; equality before the law and due process under the rule of law; freedom of movement; freedoms of speech, religion, assembly; the right to bear arms. These have been codified in documents including the Scottish Claim of Right, the English Bill of Rights the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United States Bill of Rights and Fourteenth Amendment.

This distinction holds that "Positive" human rights mainly follow from the Rousseauian Continental European legal tradition and denote human rights and entitlements that the state is obliged to protect and provide. Examples of such rights include: the rights to education, to health care, to a livelihood. Such 'positive rights' have been codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 22-28) and in many 20th-century constitutions.

Another categorization, offered by Karel Vasak, is that there are three generations of human rights: first-generation civil and political rights (right to life and political participation), second-generation economic, social and cultural rights (right to subsistence) and third-generation solidarity rights (right to peace, right to clean environment). Out of these generations, the third generation is the most debated and lacks both legal and political recognition. Some theorists discredit these divisions by claiming that rights are interconnected. Arguably, for example, basic education is necessary for the right to political participation.

Some human rights are said to be "inalienable rights." The term inalienable rights (or unalienable rights) refers to "a set of human rights that are fundamental, are not awarded by human power, and cannot be surrendered."

Several theoretical approaches have been advanced to explain how human rights become part of social expectations. The biological theory considers the comparative reproductive advantage of human social behavior based on empathy and altruism in the context of natural selection. Other theories hold that human rights codify moral behavior, which is a human, social product developed by a process of biological and social evolution (associated with Hume) or as a sociological pattern of rule setting (as in the sociological theory of law and the work of Weber). This approach includes the notion that individuals in a society accept rules from legitimate authority in exchange for security and economic advantage (as in Rawls).

On the other hand, natural law theories base human rights on the “natural” moral order that derives from religious precepts such as common understandings of justice and the belief that moral behavior is a set of objectively valid prescriptions. Some have used religious texts such as the Bible and Qur'an to support human rights arguments. However, there are also more secular forms of natural law theory that understand human rights as derivative of the notion of universal human dignity.

Yet others have attempted to construct an "interests theory" defense of human rights. For example the philosopher John Finnis argues that human rights are justifiable on the grounds of their instrumental value in creating the necessary conditions for human well-being. Some interest-theorists also justify the duty to respect the rights of other individuals on grounds of self-interest (rather than altruism or benevolence). Reciprocal recognition and respect of rights ensures that one's own will be protected.

Ultimately, the term "human rights" is often itself an appeal to a transcendent principle, not based on existing legal concepts. The term "humanism" refers to the developing doctrine of such universally applicable values. The term "human rights" has replaced the term "natural rights" in popularity, because the rights are less and less frequently seen as requiring natural law for their existence.

One of the arguments made against the concept of human rights is that it suffers from cultural imperialism. In particular, the concept of human rights is fundamentally rooted in a politically liberal outlook which, although generally accepted in Western Europe, Japan, India and North America, is not necessarily taken as standard elsewhere. An appeal is often made to the fact that influential human rights thinkers, such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill, have all been Western and indeed that some were involved in the running of Empires themselves. The cultural imperialism argument achieves even greater potency when it is made on the basis of religion. Some histories of human rights emphasize the Christian influence on the agenda and then question whether this is in keeping with the tenets of other world religions. For example, in 1981, the Iranian representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, articulated the position of his country regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by saying that the UDHR was "a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition", which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing the Islamic law.

A final set of debating points revolves around the question of who has the duty to uphold human rights. Human rights have historically arisen from the need to protect citizens from abuse by the state and this might suggest that all mankind has a duty to intervene and protect people wherever they are. Divisive national loyalties, which emphasize differences between people rather than their similarities, can thus be seen as a destructive influence on the human rights movement because they deny people's innately similar human qualities. But others argue that state sovereignty is paramount, not least because it is often the state that has signed up to human rights treaties in the first place. Commentators' positions in the argument for and against intervention and the use of force by states are influenced by whether they believe human rights are largely a legal or moral duty and whether they are of more cosmopolitan or nationalist persuasion.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Human rights".

 

 

 

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